Latest Release: Space Invader (E1 Music / Riot!)
Kiss took platinum record sales to new heights by implementing a merchandising revenue stream that ultimately changed the nature of the music industry forever. Their live shows remain huge productions of epic proportions which few have surpassed. At their most potent and before waning sales required their iconic make up to be removed in 1983 to retain their fanbase, their good natured and disillusioned guitarist Ace Frehley had already jumped ship. Ace embarked on a solo career that has weathered substance abuse, a dubious farewell reunion and muck raking via the media and books. He has produced yet another cracking rock album and will soon return to tour Australia. Before a couple of tours across the States in support of his latest album Space Invader, Loud chatted to the Spaceman about what still drives him to pick up the guitar and write new songs.
Your latest album, Space Invader is great. Do you feel it is a companion album to Anomaly or a natural musical progression?
I wouldn’t call it a companion album. I think it is a heavier album and the songs are more diverse. It might have a bit of a vintage feel, by design. I got a different mixer this time around. On Anomaly I used Marti Frederiksen whereas on Space Invader I used Warren Huart, an English chap. I was really happy with the way he mixed the record. He used a lot of analogue gear and tape delay to give it a vintage feel which is what I was striving for and I think I succeeded.
There are some nice effects. ‘Inside the Vortex’ has got some really good effects.
Yeah, we decided towards the end of finishing up the album to go with the space theme. The last two songs I wrote were ‘Space Invader’ and ‘Past the Milky Way’ and yeah, I’m really happy with the feel of the album. A lot of people have been saying it is a feel good record. I had a lot of fun recording it so I think that sort of came through on a lot of the songs. I’m pleased with the reaction I’ve gotten around the world.
There are also a lot of guitar solos. Also, it seems you’ve gone back to that old school thing of fading out solos during the outro.
Yeah in retrospect I shouldn’t had faded out all of the songs. There were a couple of songs that had good ending solos but I got into a groove with the mixing and everything got faded out. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have let two or three of the songs end with the original ending. Maybe I can do that down the road on a re-release.
What sort of acoustic guitars were you using?
I used Gibson Guilds and Taylors. I have six and twelve string versions of each of those guitars. So I used a variety of those and I have a Dobro [resonator guitar]. I used a lot of Les Paul guitars but also a lot of Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters to fatten up the sound. I had a lot of fun doing it with a couple of tape delays and stuff. I had fun playing the solos and editing or piecing them together. It is a lot easier to piece together a solo these days with digital editing than it was years ago with tape.
How do your current Gibson Les Pauls compare to the Custom models with DiMarzio pickups that you were using back in the days of playing in Kiss?
Well, Gibson does an incredible job of recreating old guitars in the custom shop. It is almost indistinguishable. The ‘Budokan’ [1976 cherry sunburst replica] model that they made had fifty aged versions of it and if I closed my eyes I really could not tell the difference between the original and the copy. They have just gotten that good at doing it. I have another guitar being released this year which is a version of my 1978 two pickup Standard [Gibson Les Paul Standard] that I used on my ’78 solo album [Ace Frehley].
On Space Invader, were there any particular Les Paul guitars that were most suited for the solos?
Most of the solos were done with a couple of my favourite Les Pauls. You know, some Standards and Customs [Gibson Les Paul Custom] that I use in the studio. I don’t think I did any solos on Fenders, I think all the solos were on my Les Pauls.
You mentioned your solo album from 1978 and previously you’ve stated you were using Fender Telecasters and Gibson Explorers on them. Do you think that branching out and adding those different tones made it more successful?
I used a wide variety of guitars in 1978. The way I did it then is not that much different to the way that I do it now. The only difference is that it all goes into Pro-Tools eventually. On my ’78 record I used a lot of Fender guitars and mixed them in with Les Pauls and a variety of acoustics. That is not dissimilar to the way that I do things now.
Production wise, you used Eddie Kramer. Can you elaborate on the experience?
Well obviously Eddie Kramer isn’t producing my records anymore but I learnt so much from working with him and from producers like Bob Ezrin. I learned a lot tricks, microphone techniques, how to use compressors and limiters and about other play units. Every producer and mixer has their own little quirks about how they use outboard gear and stuff. I’ve worked with a lot of great guys so over the years I’ve gotten a wealth of knowledge. I’m really looking forward to starting to produce other bands in the future.
Production skills that you’ve gained must be second nature to you now.
Pretty much but the one thing that I have to be cognisant of is when to produce a song. I have to step back and not look at a song as a guitar player but as a producer. Sometimes I under compensate. I think I did that a little on Anomaly because some of the fans commented that they liked the record but thought I could have done more guitar work. So on this record, I did more guitar soloing than I did on the previous record and the fans seemed to be receptive. I’ve got to keep my ears open and listen to my fans, it is helpful.
The song ‘Past the Milky Way’ has your signature harmonised guitar lines in it. Did you spend a lot time on constructing harmony guitar lines?
Yeah, I doubled that in harmony. I did not use an effects pedal. That technique is kind of a throwback to a song I did on my ’78 solo record. I did a solo like that on the song ‘Ozone’ and by design I tried to incorporate some of those elements from my solo album into this latest album. My fans say that my ’78 album is one of their favourite Ace albums so during the recording process I listened to that album several times to try to recapture some of those elements.
You’ve also done guest spots on various albums such as playing on ‘Foxy Lady’ for Eric Singer’s band [Eric Singer Project – Lost and Spaced]. Do you enjoy that sort of thing?
It is always fun guest starring on people’s records. My next album is going to have a lot of guests playing on it because I’ll be doing an album exclusively of covers and remixes so there’ll be a lot of guest artists.
Influences wise, I believe it was both Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix that got you into playing guitar. They were both theatrical to an extent. Since being in Kiss, you’re regularly mentioned as influencing numerous guitarists.
Well a lot of the top players cite me as an influence and constantly, wherever I go, people say to me, ‘you’re the reason I picked up the guitar’. So I realise that I had a big impact on a lot of guitar players. It is not something that I think about that often. But, when I do think about it, I say to myself, ‘maybe I should have practised a little more over the years’. I did not realise that I was going to be a major influence on a lot of musicians but it just goes with the territory, I guess.
Would you say people recognised or better appreciated your guitar playing skills when the solo album was released in 1978?
I think that it was a milestone in my career. It was the first solo album that I put out and was a revelation for me because I released during the recording of that record that I was actually more creative away from the guys in Kiss than with them. It was kind of the writing on the wall for me. I realised that one day I would be leaving Kiss to pursue my own career. Four years later I ended up leaving the band.
Speaking of Kiss, how do you feel about your book No Regrets now that you’ve had time for it to settle, as it were.
I was happy with the way that it turned out. It hit the top ten on New York Times bestseller list and most of the people I’ve talked to enjoyed the book. It is a fun read. Presently I’m working on a second book but I’m not sure what the title will be. I could be No Regrets II or Some Regrets. I don’t know. Haha.
Are you planning to listen to Space Invader on vinyl? Are you into the format?
Yeah, I have about six thousand albums in my record collection. I still listen to vinyl and I sometimes, once in a while, throw stuff on the reel to reel tape player. Of course there is digital and CDs. I listen to all the different formats and each format has its own little niche but yeah I don’t get locked into one.
Ace Frehley is touring in April:
29/4: Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane QLD
30/4: Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
1/5: Wrestpoint Showroom, Hobart TAS
2/5: Forum Theatre, Melbourne VIC
6/5: The Gov, Adelaide SA
7/5: Astor Theatre, Perth WA