INTERVIEW: Ace Frehley On His New Album And What Went Wrong At The Rock Hall Of Fame

It’s not uncommon to hear fans opine that the best Kiss album isn’t a Kiss album at all, but is actually the 1978 solo album from their extraterrestrial former-lead guitarist Ace Frehley. So it was welcome news when Ace let it be known that he was looking back to that first solo album while putting together his latest, entitled Space Invader, which came out last week. From the thick, memorable guitar riffs to the spacey artwork courtesy of Ken Kelly, who painted the cover of Kiss’ landmark Destroyer album, there’s plenty for Kiss and Ace Frehley fans to get excited about. And that’s a nice change of pace considering all the drama that surrounded past and present members when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the affable and good-natured Bronx native remains reflective about the incident, as you’ll read below, and is excited to be taking his new album on the road. So let’s turn things over to him or as his former-bandmate Paul Stanley would say “ACE FREHLEY, LEAD GUITAR!! COME ON!!!”

VH1: What are your feeling now about the events surrounding Kiss’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Ace Frehley: The rock and roll hall of fame was an exciting experience. We could’ve been inducted 15 years earlier you know, but we finally got inducted this year in April. I know there was a little controversy going on preceding the event. Originally we were asked to perform and at the last minute Paul and Gene decided they didn’t want to perform with me and Peter(founding Kiss drummer Peter Criss). Me and Peter were up for it. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was insisting that only the four original members perform and you know, Paul and Gene opted not to do it, after 40 years they couldn’t give the fans 15 minutes. Go figure. I think they’re going to regret that decision.

Ace Frehley at th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tell us about your new album Space Invader.

Well you know, the last album I put out was 5 years ago and it was called Anomaly and people liked the record but the one comment that I got from fans was that there wasn’t enough guitar work and fans were saying it’s not heavy enough and I aim to please so I decided to do a heavier record with a lot more guitar work and I think I achieved that. Over the course of the recording process I listened to my ’78 solo album (Ace Frehley), which many of my fans cite as their favorite Ace record, and I tried to incorporate some of those elements into this new album and I think I achieved that. And I think there’s a couple of songs on this new record that I think are kind of new. I co-wrote two songs with my fiancé Rachael Gordon. She’s a great lyricist and I don’t write melody and lyrics like her so I think that takes the album in a slightly different direction. I think it shows growth too.

The cover of Space Invader, Ace Frehley’s latest album.

What are some of your favorite songs on the album?

Well the opening track turned out great, it’s called “Space Invader.” I wrote “Change” and “Immortal Pleasures” with Rachael, like I said. “Toys” is a real kick ass rocker. “Inside The Vortex” I wrote on an old Fender Precision Bass and it’s a heavy, heavy riff song with galactic overtones. There’s a few more straight ahead rockers that hopefully Kiss fans will fall in love with, and I wrap up the whole record with an instrumental called “Starship” which pretty much is a signature for me. Every solo album I’ve released has a signature instrumental and it’s a little bit faster than the “Fractured Mirror” series and I’m real excited. I can’t wait to hear the feedback from the fans. So far the reviews have been overwhelmingly favorable so we’ll see what happens. We’re planning shows right now, US shows in the fall then after the New Year, Europe Japan and Australia.

1978’s Ace Frehley album was one of four solo albums released by the members of Kiss in the same day.

What do you think it is about your first solo album that makes it such a fan favorite?

You know, I was in that mindset at that point where we had just finished filming that movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park for Hanna-Barbera and you know, there was some tension between the 4 of us. We had been touring and working together constantly for several years and it was a welcome departure for all of us to get away and go off on our own and I felt like I had something to prove because I was an unproven solo artist so I tried extra hard to put on my producer shoes and my composing shoes and the rest is history.

Kiss’ debut album is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. What are some of your memories of recording it?

The first album was a lot easier than the second album and I’ll tell you why; we had been playing those songs live and rehearsing them for pretty much a year going into the studio. We had our parts pretty much set but when we hit the road and when we got back in the studio, they wanted us to do a second record and we had to come up with songs fast. There was a lot more pressure on the second album than the first but there was also that tension and excitement of your very first record with your group so that was there and when we went to the studio the second and the third time, we had something under our belt. But I mean, it was real exciting for me, the only other time I had been in a professional studio was with a group that I was in called Molimo. We were in the RCA studios to track demos. It was where Frank Sinatra used to record and that was my first taste of a real recording studio.

Ace Frehley on stage with Kiss in the 1970s.

What were the first bands that made you want to play guitar?

Well initially I started playing guitar when I was 13 so pretty much The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But after a couple of years, there was the influx of that whole English invasion and bands like The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. Those are the guys that really did it for me. I mean, Hendrix just took a guitar and did things that no one ever did before and I wanted to do the same thing you know? I was lucky enough to work with Hendrix’s producer Eddie Kramer, so I was halfway there.

Did you ever get to see Hendrix play back then?

Yeah, I roadied for Jimi Hendrix. 1970, Randall’s Island, the Peace Concert. It was a big three day bill and I snuck backstage and once they realized it they asked me if I could do anything. I think they were short road crew. I said I could do anything; set up amps, set up drums, next thing you know 10 minutes later, I’m setting up (Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer) Mitch Mitchell’s drums. He comes walking over and the drum tech said “Mitch, which snare are you going to use?” and I didn’t realize it was Mitch Mitchell initially because he had changed his image from the afro (he had in the JHE) to the headband and the beard, so I didn’t recognize him initially. It was insane. I was floating for days after that and I got the nod from Jimi and here I am, walking around with the (Jimi Hendrix debut record) Are You Experienced? album in high school and next thing I know I’m setting up Mitch Mitchell’s drums so it was a real special day.

Were you always a science fiction fan going back to when you were a kid?

People ask me that all the time. “Where did you get the idea for your character?” It’s my alter ego. I grew up in love with sci-fi; The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, the list goes on and on. I was always fascinated with sci-fi. I was always fascinated with astronomy and my best two subjects in school were science and art and it goes kind of hand in hand, I designed the kiss logo…and what am I talking about?(laughter)

Ace Frehley live in concert.