Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and original KISS lead guitarist, Ace Frehley has a new solo album coming out on October 19 called Spaceman; meanwhile KISS recently announced their multi-year ‘End of the Road’ farewell world tour. We got a chance to talk with Frehley about this and more over the phone recently.
Interview: Ace Frehley
Houston Press: Why did you decide to call your new album Spaceman?
Ace Frehley: Actually it was Gene Simmons' idea. [Laughs] I was doing a question and answer session with him in Miami at one of his Vault Experiences and I originally wanted to call the record 40 Years Later because it’s been 40 years since my first solo album and I was kind of polling the audience to get a reaction and it was kind of lukewarm and then Gene got on the microphone and said [Imitating Gene's Voice] “Ace you have to call it Spaceman,” so I went along with Gene’s idea.
Houston Press: That outfit you're wearing on the cover of your new album; who came up with that? Was is something a wardrobe designer made for you or is that your own outfit?
Ace Frehley: Well if you check the internet you can find pictures of me in a similar outfit sitting on a plexiglass chair which was a photo session I did with makeup. The photo session was done with Barry Levine who at the time was a very big rock photographer and we did several sessions with him over the years. But I’m sitting in a plexiglass chair with a silver jumpsuit and there’s fog inside the chair and around me. So we kind of did a takeoff of that photo session with this new album cover.
Houston Press: I listened to your new album and I really liked it; the song 'Without You I’m Nothing' was that written about anyone in particular?
Ace Frehley: Well Gene came up with that title and pretty much I wrote the remainder of the lyrics. And he came up with the chord structure and the bass part and you know I wrote the bridge and filled in an interesting solo.
Houston Press: What about the song 'Bronx Boy?' What was it like growing up in The Bronx? I’m from Texas; I know about The Bronx in New York City only from the movies. What was it like?
Ace Frehley: It was tough. You know it was a place where you could walk two or three blocks and go to the store and end up getting beat up. [Laughs] You know, by some tough guys. So eventually I got sick of getting beat up so I made friends with the tough guys and joined a gang; then I had protection. But then I realized I really didn’t want to be in the gang because I didn’t like the stuff they were doing so around the same time I joined the gang I also picked up the electric guitar so what happened was over a period of two or three years I started doing gigs on the weekends when the gang would meet and go out and raise hell. And they called me up and I’d say “I can’t go I have a gig to do.” So music kind of saved my life with that whole scene.
Houston Press: The song 'Pursuit of Rock and Roll'; that’s one of my favorite ones on the new album. You mention some of the bands and artists you are a fan of, like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the lyrics.
Ace Frehley: Yeah. That song has been kicking around for a while you know. Anton Fig is playing drums on that but pretty much what me and my engineer did is re import it from a two-inch reel of tape and then erased everything but the drums and I rewrote the song. I left Anton Fig’s drumming on there because it’s wonderful.
Houston Press: So you did some touring with Gene Simmons recently how did that go?
Ace Frehley: It was really painless. I mean I invited him to come down to my home studio in Rancho Sante Fe, California and he came down and within three hours we had written two songs so it was the quickest two songs I ever wrote. [Laughs]
Houston Press: So it seems like you and Gene and Paul Stanley are getting along a lot better these days. Paul provided the vocals on a song on your last album before your recent work with Gene.
Ace Frehley: Yeah we’ve kind of patched up any negative vibes at this point. We call each other on the phone just to say hi. I was up in LA ten days ago I had a listening party and I called Paul and invited him to the Rainbow; unfortunately he had to go to Vegas to promote his new Puma sneaker. [Laughs] Yeah everybody is so busy these days. Gene’s always off doing something, now he’s the spokesperson for a cannabis company. I think it’s called Invictus MD. But you know he’s always been very enterprising; I’m happy just coming up with good music and touring and recording and spending time at home relaxing. I like the balance.
Houston Press: You’re on a roll lately as you’ve been putting out albums on a regular basis now, some very good albums. Space Invader that was a great album and Origins, Vol. 1 with the cover songs was cool, and now this new one. Are you going to keep this schedule going and put out albums on a regular basis?
Ace Frehley: I’ve already started on Origins, Vol. 2. I just got my studio wired up last week because I recently moved and were in full tilt and I’m kicking around songs for Origins, Vol. 2 already before this album even hits the streets. [Laughs]
Houston Press: So what about the KISS ‘End of the Road’ Farewell Tour, were you asked to go out on that or not at this point?
Ace Frehley: I haven’t been asked to do anything with KISS. The fans are talking about it but I haven’t got the phone calls so until that happens it’s still up in the air.
Houston Press: Would you be open to that?
Ace Frehley: If it was presented to me in the right way and the money was right, sure. I would do it for the fans more than anything.
Houston Press: I read online that you might be doing some weddings in Vegas, is that true? Like walking people down the aisle or something like that?
Ace Frehley: [Laughs] Well what happened was Paul and Gene’s assistant Keith Larue, who’s also a good friend of mine as we’ve done some work together in the past, suggested I do a signing at the KISS Mini Golf in Vegas. So I said alright that sounds like fun and then like two or three weeks later he said "you know they have a wedding chapel there Ace, you can make x amount of dollars to just walk somebody down the aisle and take a few pictures," so I said that sounds like fun. [Laughs] So that’s how that came along. It was just the people running the KISS Mini Golf and Keith and I think Eric Singer has done it, and possibly Paul, I’m not sure. I think it could be fun so I said yeah I’ll do it.
Houston Press: Any good memories of Houston? Is Houston a good rock and roll city? You can be honest with us.
Ace Frehley: Houston is a great rock and roll city. So is Dallas, so is Austin, you know I’ve played them all several times and always had a great response. You know there’s a lot of great rock and roll fans down there, I just make sure I wear my cowboy boots on those shows. [Laughs]
Houston Press: Are you going to go on tour anytime soon?
Ace Frehley: I’m doing the KISS Kruise October 31; that’s five days and after that I have at least four shows in Florida and then I’m coming home to start recording Origins, Vol. 2 and I think I have a signing in December at an Expo in New Jersey like ten days before Christmas and then I’m taking the holidays off and then I have like three or four shows in northern California at the end of January. And that’s pretty much all I have booked at the moment.
Houston Press: Why did you decide to cover the Eddie Money song 'I Wanna Go Back' on the new album?
Ace Frehley: I’ve always loved that song and I was lying in bed with Rachael and that video came on; we were watching videos on YouTube you know and I really identified with the video where he went back to his old high school because I had pretty much done that with The Village Voice in New York. They did a interview with me and they wanted me to go to the Bronx and see where I went to high school and where I used to hang out and so I identified with the song and I loved the melody and the lyrics and the whole message of the song. But Eddie Money’s version is pretty much all keyboards and sax so I said I think it would be nice to just layer on a shitload of guitars but keep the melody. [Laughs]
Houston Press: So what is the Bronx like today is it different from when you were growing up or the same?
Ace Frehley: No it’s different.
Houston Press: Not so many gangs today?
Ace Frehley: I don’t think it’s the same; I’m sure there are more gangs now. It was always a tough place I think it may even be tougher now because a lot of people moved north out of the Bronx into the suburbs.
Houston Press: The song 'Off My Back' is that aimed at anyone in particular?
Ace Frehley: Not really. I just drew from experience of maybe some girlfriends that I couldn’t get rid of. [Laughs]
Houston Press: 'Quantum Flux' is the new instrumental. What is a Quantum Flux anyway? Do you know?
Ace Frehley: No, I have no idea. [Laughs] I just try and continue to make fans happy by putting 1 instrumental on every studio record.
Houston Press: 'Rockin' With the Boys' that kind of reminded me of 'Beth' a little bit. You know kind of similar lyrics, similar theme.
Ace Frehley: I had written that chorus in the '70s believe it or not. But I was never happy with the verses or the bridge so that songs been kicking around for like 40 years and finally I revived it and wrote new lyrics for the verses and wrote a good bridge and it really all came together for this record.
Houston Press: So what do you think Paul and Gene will do if this really is their farewell tour? Will they go on with their own individual bands and stay in music do you have any idea? Any thoughts?
Ace Frehley: I can never tell what those guys are gonna do you know they’ll say one thing and then they do the opposite, so you know. They change their minds like the weather. [Laughs]
Houston Press: The song 'Your Wish Is My Command' what is that song about?
Ace Frehley: Well Gene came up with the title and me and him wrote the song and then I pretty much came up with the remainder of the lyrics and came up with the idea to just start with just the acapella vocals and I’m real happy with the production on this record and the mixing.
Houston Press: Space Center Houston has a new exhibit called Mission Mars and you have a new song on your album called 'Mission To Mars' as well. Have you always been interested in space travel?
Ace Frehley: Well I’ve been a sci-fi fan since I was a kid you know and when I joined KISS we all had to come up with characters so I invented The Spaceman. So I’ve had a fascination with sci-fi and astronomy and space travel from a young age so it all makes sense to me. I believe eventually were going to colonize Mars and go further.
Houston Press: What’s the best sci-fi movie in your opinion?
Ace Frehley: Well one of my favorite old vintage ones is Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen. Probably my second favorite old sci-fi film is The Day the Earth Stood Still with Michael Rennie.
Houston Press: Do you collect any old movie posters or stuff like that?
Ace Frehley: Yeah I have a bunch of posters in storage; I have so much stuff it’s crazy. I just moved into a new mansion and I have to get a lot of stuff framed. I probably have like a 100 8x10 photos of me with other celebrities. I was just in my garage going through a box that I found like 3 pictures that Keith Emerson who recently passed away signed to me. I just have so much stuff. But I’m always busy. [Laughs] So it’s going to be awhile before I pull all that stuff out of storage and get it framed and put it up in the new house. But eventually it will all get done. I have to prioritize my time. What’s more important: framing an 8x10 or writing a song?
Houston Press: I noticed the new albums you have been putting out have been released on vinyl in addition to the other formats; are you a fan of vinyl records?
Ace Frehley: Well vinyl’s making a comeback, I just saw on the Internet yesterday that one of my vinyl records is already sold out. So I don’t know what’s happening but it seems like there’s been a huge resurgence of vinyl and especially my fans seem to appreciate vinyl. My record company I think is putting out three or four different versions of the record on vinyl with different covers and different color records and stuff. So their doing a great job in the marketing area.
Houston Press: What kind of relationship do you have with (original KISS drummer) Peter Criss these days? Do you talk to him regularly?
Ace Frehley: I’m still friends with Peter we’ve always been good friends. I mean he recently retired, didn’t he? I think he did his final show several months ago in New York. So you know there’s not much to talk about if he retires but you know many rock stars have been known to come out of retirement. [Laughs] So who knows what’s going to happen with Peter.
Houston Press: You are planning on writing another book is that correct?
Ace Frehley: I’ve already started. You know I have enough stories on the road to write five books. That first book I came out with just scratched the surface. So I’ve been jotting down stories that come to mind and I probably have about 3 chapters written or close to it.
Houston Press: So why did you leave KISS the last time? I’m sure you’ve answered this hundreds of times already but just refresh our memories.
Ace Frehley: I had just had enough at that juncture in my life. But I was still fooling around with drugs and alcohol which clouded my judgement. If it wasn’t for that maybe I wouldn’t have quit but luckily I got sober 12 years ago and since then things have been going onwards and upwards especially my relationship with Paul and Gene over the last couple of years so it’s all positive.
Houston Press: Did you ever have any kind of relationship with (second KISS lead guitarist) Vinnie Vincent? I’m just curious.
Ace Frehley: Somebody asked me that the other day. I never even met him. [Laughs]
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Houston Press: Because he is making kind of a little comeback himself.
Ace Frehley: I don’t know if you’d call it a comeback. [Laughs]
Houston Press: Well, trying to I guess.
Ace Frehley: [Laughs] I heard Vinnie showed up at one of Gene’s Vault Experiences and Gene was on the stage with him for about 5 minutes and then walked off. [Laughs] So who knows what’s going to happen; the sky’s the limit, I’m one of those guys that never say never you know, anything can happen. And people ask me is there going to be a KISS reunion with you or maybe Peter and I say what’s going to make it happen is when promoters call up Doc McGhee and say we're going to pay you double the amount of money if you get Ace and Peter back. So it’s all about dollars and cents these days. So we'll see what happens. I like the fact that nothing is set, nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen and that includes me. [Laughs] I like spontaneity and not knowing what the future holds.