A Conversation With Ace Frehley
Ace Frehley is more than just the former lead guitarist of KISS, he’s also an immensely successful solo artist whose sound – both vocals and guitar – is immediately identifiable. For decades Ace has blazed a path all his own and inspired millions of fans and musicians along the way. His new solo album, appropriately titled Spaceman, is out October 19. I’ve listened to Spaceman numerous times and it’s fantastic – easily one of his best. Ace was kind enough to speak with me about his new record and a variety of other topics. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Your new solo album Spaceman kicks off with a great rock song, “Without You I’m Nothing,” that you co-wrote with Gene Simmons and Gene plays bass on the track. What was it like sitting down to write a song with Gene again?
It was effortless. Me and Gene have always remained on good terms, pretty much. I had been doing some appearances with Gene to help him sell his crate, his Vault. After a couple of those, I told him I was doing a new record and I invited him down to write a couple of songs with me. He came down a week later and we wrote two songs: “Without You I’m Nothing” and “Your Wish Is My Command.”
Gene also plays bass on “Your Wish Is My Command.” That song title sounds like something Gene came up with. Was that song title his idea or yours?
He came up with both titles. I wrote the majority of the lyrics. He came up with the bass riff and he had the idea for me to play those chords in “Without You I’m Nothing” and it evolved from there. We did “Your Wish Is My Command” on acoustic guitars and we did “Without You I’m Nothing” with me on electric guitar and him on bass. We did it using Pro Tools in my home studio, and I built the tracks around that.
Did you ever consider having Gene sing on one of the songs he wrote with you?
I thought about it but he’s so busy it’s ridiculous. He’s like a workaholic. God bless him but I can’t do what Gene does and he’s two years older than me. We’re doing Australia and Japan together and he’s flying in the day of the first show because, I think, he’s doing a show in Canada a day or two before. He’s not even going to be on my flight because I’m flying in a day early. The time is so screwy, at least I’ll have a day to recover. But he’s flying in the day of the show. (laughs) That’s Gene! (laughs)
On your last album, Origins Vol. 1, you performed “Fire and Water” with Paul Stanley and you guys sounded great together. How did that come about?
I gave Paul a phone call and I asked him if he wanted to sing a song on my new album. He said, “Yeah, sounds like fun.” We were talking about doing a Who song. He brought up “My Generation.” I called him back and said, “What about ‘Fire and Water’?” He’s a big Paul Rodgers fan. Paul said, “Ace, that would be great. Let’s do that one.” I cut the track without vocals. Then I emailed him the Pro Tools file and him and his engineer put down the vocals. He sent it back to me and I was blown away by the way he sounded.
What was it like recording the “Fire and Water” music video with Paul?
It was great. I remember at the end of the shoot I said to Paul, “We’re going to do some smoking guitar shots of me in the hallway. You can leave if you want to.” He said, “No, I’ll stay to the end, just in case.” He was really very positive and having a good time, and so was I. It was a real positive experience and we ended up doing that little interview that’s on YouTube.
This year Gene has been selling The Vault to fans around the world and you’ve joined him for a few of these Vault Experiences, playing songs with him live, telling stories, and hanging out with the fans. What have those experiences been like for you?
It was fun. I was there when he was presenting people with The Vault and then I’d sign autographs for them. Then me and Gene would sit down with acoustic guitars and play some songs, make mistakes. It was just silly stuff. We didn’t plan anything. That’s what I liked about it. (laughs) I’d start playing a song and then he’d start playing a song. (laughs) I’d hit a wrong chord and it didn’t really matter because the fans knew it was impromptu. The good thing about being on the road with Gene then is I was in the process of mixing the two songs him and I worked with for my new album. I’d continually have him come to my room after we finished the Vault Experiences and I’d play him mixes and get his feedback and pass it on to my mixer, Warren Huart.
You have a significant amount of unreleased songs and demos. When will those see the light of day?
I’m considering it. It’s going to be a major undertaking. I have over 100 reels of two-inch tape, dating back to when I had my studio in Connecticut. I have all the solos to the songs on The Elder because we recorded a lot of The Elder at my studio in Connecticut. A lot of jam sessions, including ones with guys from Alice Cooper’s band. Neal Smith, the bass player. I don’t even remember half the people from these jam sessions. I’d have to revisit those tapes. I’ve had them locked away in a vault for years. Then it’s a major undertaking because you have to bake the tapes. A two-inch tape, after a while, starts to deteriorate. What you do is you bake it in an oven. I forget the exact process. But once you bake it you get one good play out of it and then the tape starts shredding with every consecutive play. You get one good take so you transfer everything on to a hard drive and put it into Pro Tools and then you have a perfect copy. It’s going to take me six months to a year to complete that project. I have unreleased photos. Over 100 cassettes of demos from Gene, Paul, Peter. Rough mixes. Stuff that nobody’s got. Photographs, videos. I have videos of us rehearsing in upstate New York. We used to rehearse in an airplane hanger. I had one of the first black-and-white video cameras and recorders and I had it on the road with me so I recorded some of that. I’ve got so much crazy stuff I have to revisit. It’s going to take me a while to put that all together.
Your band is opening for Gene’s band in Australia and Japan. How did that come about?
While doing the Vault Experiences with Gene, he made me the offer to open for his band. I was offered a decent amount of money but what’s going to save me a lot of money is using his band instead of my own. I’ve jammed with Gene’s band a couple times and they know all my songs. That’s going to save me, probably, $40,000 or $50,000 dollars. So, that’s money that’ll be going into my pocket since I’m not using my band. Flying everybody, putting them up in hotels and paying salaries is a lot.
So you don’t play the same KISS songs, will you and Gene be comparing setlists before all of the shows?
Yeah, I would imagine so. There are so many songs to choose from. Especially in Australia, they always want me to do “Talk To Me” because that was a hit in Australia. (laughs) I’ll, pretty much, be doing songs that I wrote plus KISS favorites that Gene’s not performing. We’ll compare setlists. That should be easy because there are so many songs to choose from and his band knows them all. It’s going to make my life easy.
Lots of KISS fans are excited about you being on The KISS Kruise this fall. How did that come about?
I originally got a phone call from Doc McGhee. The amount of money he offered me wasn’t anything close to what I got on the Rock Legends cruise I did a couple years ago. I told him, “Unless you come back to me with a lot more money, I’m not interested.” Several months later, he got a hold of my agent and they worked out an amicable number that we could all be comfortable with.
For The KISS Kruise, will you have to run the songs you want to perform by Gene and Paul first or are they giving you the freedom to play whatever you want?
We haven’t discussed that. If they have a problem with my setlist, we’ll discuss it on the cruise. I’ve got so many songs to choose from, I’m sure we can work out something that won’t offend anybody.
Do you plan on playing deep cuts on The KISS Kruise?
I’m going to try and do a few more songs off my ‘78 solo album that I’ve never done before. I’ve got some other surprises I’m going to pull out of my hat of tricks. (laughs) But I don’t want to give away anything right now.
Earlier this year you reunited with your former Frehley’s Comet bandmates. What was that experience like for you?
That was fun. It was fun for me and it was fun for the audience. It was a lot of fun. (laughs) It wasn’t the first time I had reunited with them. I had played with those guys at The Chance, a theater in Poughkeepsie, New York. But I don’t think everybody was involved. Anton wasn’t there. What made the KISS Expo in Indianapolis special was we had Anton fly in and that was the original four guys. Me, Anton, John Regan, and Tod Howarth.
Speaking of John Regan and Tod Howarth, would you consider doing a full tour where Four By Fate opens for your band and then John and Tod join you for a few Frehley’s Comet songs during your set?
They opened for us for a few shows. I don’t know about a full tour. If they don’t want too much money. One of the reasons we didn’t use them on full tours in the past is because they wanted too much money. There are bands that pay me to play in the opening slot. Believe it or not, that happens a lot in the music business. If there’s a young band that a record company wants to push and there’s a lot of money behind them, they’ll pay the headliner to let the band open for them. (laughs) There’s a lot of different angles. When you pick an opening act, you also want to know if they’re going to sell some tickets. Sometimes it’s easier to pick up local talent that has a following in the town you’re performing in. We do that a lot. There’s no set formula when I tour. I leave it open.
Next year KISS is embarking on the first year of its three-year “End of the Road” tour where Gene and Paul are finally saying farewell to the fans. Will your band be opening for them on this tour?
I haven’t been approached. The last time I spoke with Paul and Gene they told me they’re retiring. (laughs) Who knows what’s going to happen.
Will you be taking part in these “End of the Road” shows in any capacity?
I haven’t been asked but that doesn’t mean I won’t be participating. It’s really Paul and Gene’s call. I’m flexible and we’ll see what I’m told in the future.
Speaking of the “End of the Road,” have you given any thought to how you want to retire?
I think a KISS reunion would be the ultimate way to go out but I’m not sure that Paul, Gene, and Peter agree on that. I think the fans want it. Every time I go on the internet, it seems that 90% of the KISS fans want a full-blown reunion. I don’t know if it’s possible or if it can happen. I’d be willing to participate if the numbers were right. No one really knows what’s going to happen. At this juncture, Paul and Gene are calling the shots. My relationship with Paul and Gene has really improved over the past few years, immensely, because of my sobriety. I’m no longer the drunk, unreliable guy anymore. I take care of business and I show up on time. That may be a big factor in the future. I’ll be celebrating 11 years of being sober on September 15.
If KISS decides to do one final studio album and they asked you to join them on a track or two, would you be willing to do so?
Sure. If they were smart, they’d ask me to co-produce it. I’ve been producing my past three or four albums. I have a good ear and I’ve become a much better songwriter now than I was then with them. Just listen to my last four albums. Rather than inviting me to play a couple of songs, I think it would be the best of both worlds if they invited me to do a collaborative effort with them. Not only am I bringing to the table my production skills and my writing skills, I’m also bringing my vocals and my guitar playing.
At a 2016 concert in Wilkes-Barre, PA concert you collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital. What happened that night? Did you have a heart attack?
I didn’t have a heart attack and I didn’t collapse. I just felt faint and I didn’t realize I was suffering from exhaustion. Earlier that day, I did a long in-store CD signing and that wore me out. I hadn’t been drinking enough water so my heart started fluttering, which is a sign of fatigue and dehydration. I couldn’t come out to do any encores so I went to the hospital and everything came back fine. On top of it, the doctor ordered an angiogram to make sure nothing was wrong with my heart. That’s when they shoot the dye into your heart to see how the blood is pumping. That came out 100% perfect. The doctor said to me, “Jesus, Ace! I’m 45 and I wish I had an angiogram that looked as good as yours.” Go figure, right? (laughs) They hydrated me with fluids at the hospital, I stayed overnight and I left the next day.
Do you know what your next album will be? Will it be Origins, Vol. 2 or something else?
My next album will definitely be Origins, Vol. 2, as per my contract with eOne.
Do you know what songs you’ll be putting on there or do you still have to figure it out?
I’m thinking of songs all the time. All I really have to do is think about songs that influenced me. That’s what I did with Origins, Vol. 1. There are still a lot of other songs that influenced me that didn’t make it on that first record. It’s going to be an easy record to do. The great thing about doing covers is you don’t have to write the songs. They’re already written. You just have to put your own spin on it. “White Room” was pretty challenging because I felt that Cream had done a perfect job with that. So, I changed the solos a little. Everything else is, pretty much, true to the original recording.
Back in 2010 you got engaged to your fiancée Rachael. When do you two plan on getting married?
We’ve engaged for 10 years. The problem is I’m still legally married to my first wife and her health hasn’t been that good. I’m not in a position to force a divorce on her so I can marry Rachael but that’s going to happen down the road.