INTERVIEW: Ace Frehley - (ex-KISS, Solo Artist)
Updated: Mar 17
When we think back across the seventy years that we have been blessed with Rock N Roll, there are many names that we can be grateful for, for their contributions to Rock, for their inspiration to many who have followed. There are however only a handful of those who truly epitomize the term ‘Rock Star’. Whilst most may be familiar with the persona of ‘The Spaceman’, his tenure as one of the founding members of KISS is not where he has had his greatest success. ‘Space Ace’ hit the heights of the charts with his single ‘New York Groove’ and his debut self-titled solo album went platinum. He is ranked as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, despite never having a guitar lesson.
He goes by many names but we know him as Ace Frehley and we got to chat to him about his new release ‘Origins Volume 2’. This is a follow up to ‘Origins volume 1’, a collection of songs that Ace feels inspired him through his early years. Considering Ace is the reason I first wanted to pick up a guitar, this was a huge moment for me, I still couldn’t bring myself to tell him that but I am humbled I got the chance to chat with him. They say never to meet your idol but I wasn’t let down at all, Ace is truly a gentleman who loves music and giving any credit where its due. I was in awe of his reason to want to record and release ‘Lola’, his want for inclusion and understanding is refreshing in what sometimes feels like a dark world.
Elle Jay: Hi Ace, its Elle Jay from The Rockpit, how are you doing?
Ace: I’m great, how are you doing?
Elle Jay: I’m great thank you, and thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us this morning
Ace: It’s my pleasure, have you heard the record?
Elle Jay: I have, and what a record it is! You’ve managed to retain the integrity of the songs whilst adding that ‘Ace’ flavour that we know and love.
Ace: Thank you very much, I’m really happy with the way it turned out and I hope the fans feel the same way.
Elle Jay: I’m sure they do, looking at the reaction up to now from the release of ‘Space Truckin’ and ‘I’m Down’ the fans love what you have brought to the table, again adding that Ace flavour to tracks they already know.
Ace: Yeah, it’s fun putting your stamp on to songs of people who have influenced you. You know the whole British Invasion, when I was a teenager, it really influenced me. All those great guitar players really taught me how to play guitar, I never took a lesson, I just listened to the records and just figured out the guitar solo and that’s how I got my style.
Elle Jay: That’s cool, and these songs are ones you would play back when you played the club scene in New York?
Ace: Oh yeah sure, we did Led Zeppelin, Cream and Hendrix, it taught me, gave me endurance and was a huge influence on my style, then I joined KISS and I can hear that you know. My style is just a collaboration of Jeff Beck and Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, you name it.
Elle Jay: You definitely have your own style of play that is so unique to you both in your original music and in covers, its apparent on prior releases especially within Origins Vol 1 and now Vol 2. I read you played bass as well on ‘Origins Volume 2’, were there many changes to the team you recorded ‘Origins Volume 1’ with?
Ace: I pretty much did ‘Origins Volume 2’ with my engineer Alex Salzman, he actually played bass on a lot of the tracks, I just let him take over. After knocking out all the guitar work and doing the vocals you know, he’s a very good bass player and keyboard player, so I let him play bass on a lot of the tracks. We pretty much recorded a lot of these songs with a click track and added the drums at the end, then we sent it off to the mixer and it turned out wonderful. When I record, I use old guitars, old amps, old pre amps, I try to get that vintage guitar sound before it goes to hard drive, before it all gets knocked down to digital
Elle Jay: Was there a particular vintage guitar you used throughout the recording?
Ace: I usually record the basic tracks with a Les Paul, a lot of times I’ll double things with Fenders, stats and telecasters, I’ll use the Danelectro once in a while. Then I’ll also double a lot of the electric guitar parts with acoustic guitar parts and tuck the acoustic guitar low in the mix so you really don’t hear it but its there to support the rhythm.
Elle Jay: Wow, that’s so cool, there’s a real depth to the tracks and the layering is shown especially on the tracks you play with John 5, ‘I’m Down’ and ‘Politician’ which I have to say is my favourite track off the record. How do you find collaborating with so many new musicians?
Ace: All of the guest stars are good friends of mine, I’ve known Robin Zander from the seventies, I’ve known Lita (Ford) from the seventies, they both opened for KISS. John 5, I met while I was doing the reunion tour and we’ve been friends ever since, Bruce Kulick I met fifteen, twenty years ago, I think out of all the guitar players that have replaced me, Bruce is probably the best guitar player out of them all, he definitely blows Tommy Thayer out of the water
Elle Jay: Haha, no one can ever replace you in that band I’m sorry but you’re my favourite, you’re ‘THE’ original Spaceman.
Ace: Haha, thank you.
Elle Jay: So, when you were heading into record the album, did you have a broader range of songs that were whittled down to these final tracks or did you go in knowing that these were the songs for it?
Ace: Nah, I only had two or three songs that I knew I wanted to record and then we just started picking them as the process continued, I didn’t have all eleven songs in my mind. You know we finished one and I’d look at my engineer and go ‘what’s another song?’ We would start listening to songs on YouTube and say ‘that’s a good one’ and then the criteria would begin, can I sing it? I’m not a virtuoso singer, I don’t really consider myself a lead singer, you know I’m really surprised I pulled off a Led Zeppelin lead vocal. ‘Lola’ was a challenge, I got the help from my new girlfriend Lara Cove to sing backgrounds on Lola and that turned out wonderful and ‘Space Truckin’ was a challenge. You know one of the biggest challenges was doing a Paul McCartney vocal on ‘I’m Down’ and that worked out great too.
Elle Jay: Ah, I was going to ask who did the backings on ‘Lola’, I wasn’t sure If Lita had done them for you, I love the harmonizing throughout the track
Ace: Well originally it was Rachael Gordon, my old girlfriend who did the background vocals but we broke up fifteen months ago. So last Christmas when I moved in with my new girlfriend Lara, I asked her to replace Rachael’s vocals and her vocals actually sound better than Rachael’s did, so it was a huge compliment, she just made the song that much better I think, I think it’s a hit single.
Elle Jay: Definitely, like I said I really love the harmonizing between the two of you.
Ace: Yeah, I think when it first came out, because of the subject matter, you know talking about a transvestite back in the sixties, it was a little off colour, but its 2020 now, nobody cares if somebody is gay, in the closet, out of the closet, standing next to the closet, it really doesn’t matter. What people do behind closed doors is their business, you know two consenting adults? I think Lola can be a hit today because I don’t think people care anymore sexual preference
Elle Jay: That’s so true, I think its what we need now during these dark times, an upbeat song that is so inclusive.
Ace: Yeah, you know yesterday I celebrated fourteen years sober and I had picked the song ‘Kicks’ by Paul Revere & the Raiders because it has such a good message for the youth of today, it’s an anti-drugs song. I ended up adding that solo that was never existed on the original version, I did a three-part harmony solo, I worked that out with my engineer, Alex Salzman, we just had fun with it you know. The beauty of doing the ‘Origins’ series is I don’t have to write the songs, you can fool around with other people’s material, kinda make it my own and hopefully it comes out good. I’m really happy with the end result, I’ve put a lot of effort into it.
Elle Jay: Its definitely a great record, is there a song that you think was so good the day it was released that is just too good to ever be covered?
Ace: Oh, I don’t know! You know, on ‘Origins Volume One’, I called up Paul Stanley to do a lead vocal, he originally brought up ‘My Generation’ by The Who, and I said to him that is just one song that you can never redo, its such a unique song. I knew he was a fan of Free and Paul Rodgers, he knew Paul Rodgers, he had met him a couple of times, so I brought up ‘Fire and Water’ which was a little more of an obscure song. Paul jumped at the chance to do the vocal on that and I think he did a great vocal, so good that we ended up doing a video as well and that turned out great as well.
Elle Jay: Is it correct you’re currently in the studio recording original songs for your new album?
Ace: That’s right yeah, my next album, I don’t have a title for it yet but I’ve written three new songs and I’m writing new ideas every day, it probably won’t be released until the fall of next year. I resigned to eOne a couple of months ago, I have three more albums to do with eOne so the next album is a studio record, then were going to do an ‘Origins Volume 3’ and follow that up probably with another studio album
Elle Jay: Do you have any song ideas for Origins 3?
Ace: I haven’t thought of a list yet but people are already trying to start one for me, friends of mine are making recommendations. I did an interview with one gentleman from England and he said ‘Ace, why don’t you do a Doors song’?’ And I’m a huge fan of The Doors and I promised him I’d do a Doors song, so I have to do a Doors song on Origins 3, that’s about as much as I can tell you
Elle Jay: Oh, I’m keen as hell to hear that, I’m a huge Doors fan. I read the solo that you played with KISS on ‘She’ which you have now covered during Origins 2 was inspired by Robby Kreiger?
Ace: I pretty much ripped of Robby Krieger’s solo, then I had my guitar player Jeremy do a guitar harmony to it, so it wasn’t a complete rip off. I give credit where credits due, you know Bob Ezrin wrote the solo in ‘Detroit Rock City’, me and Paul didn’t write that solo. Bob Ezrin gave us the notes to play and Paul figured out the harmony and it worked out great, it’s a magnificent solo and it goes down in Rock N Roll history as one of the classic solos but I didn’t write it.
Elle Jay: I didn’t know that, I do love your version of ‘She’ though, I think it’s a real classic yet updated version.
Ace: Thanks, after recording the eleven songs the record company asked for a bonus track and they wanted a KISS song and my touring band had been performing ‘She’ live prior to the pandemic and having a lot of fun doing it, so when they asked for a KISS song, ‘She’ came to mind immediately. It was easy to track as I was already familiar with playing it live, so I tracked it and sent it down to my band in Nashville and it gave me the chance to showcase the vocal abilities of my touring band
Elle Jay: Well thank you so much for your time today Ace, its been a pleasure talking to you.
Ace: Thank you so much, have a great day.