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The Stop Smiling Interview with ACE FREHLEY
An Online Exclusive
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
By Sam Weller
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Ace Frehley is as iconic a fixture of the 1970s as Star Wars and Studio 54. With his towering silver moon boots, smoking guitar, and metallic greasepaint, the original lead guitarist of KISS has global, if not galactic image recognition. The Space Man helped launch KISS into the stratosphere of popularity with his walls of bar-chords and guitar solos that eschewed all-that Malmsteenian noodling and, instead, went for a more memorable, less-is-so-much-fucking-more, pentatonic-scale magic.
Ace Frehley was always the true musician in KISS, and the fans knew it. He also had, quite arguably, the coolest stage presence of any rock guitarist — ever. And while his cohorts in costumes, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, wanted to rock and roll all nite and sell merchandise every day, for Frehley, the bedrock of KISS was always the music, rather than the t-shirts, condoms, and yes, even the KISS coffins.
KISS began on the streets of New York in the early 1970s, amidst the same punk and glam scene that launched the Ramones and the New York Dolls. Frehley never lost site of his rock and roll roots. He left the self-appointed “Hottest Band in the World” in 1982, rejoined the group again for a hugely successful reunion tour in 1996, and departed once more, this time, apparently, for good, in 2002. Frehley’s ongoing battles with drugs and alcohol over the years are the stuff of rock and roll cliché. His vices also caused seismic rifts between him and his KISS band mates — a fact for which he shows genuine remorse. Now clean for three years, Ace Frehley returns with his first solo album in nearly two decades, released on the anniversary of his sobriety. Anomaly, put out on his own Bronx Born Records, shows a more mature side to the Ace of Space. The ever-present Les Paul guitars still serve as the launch pad, but some of the lyrics on tunes like “A Little Below the Angels” find the guitar player more reflective, still looking to grow as an artist. The thirteen tracks on Anomaly are vintage Ace Frehley — an armada of electric guitars roaring from Marshall stacks. Stop Smiling sat down with the Space Man in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, to catch up on his current rocket ride.
Stop Smiling: It’s been twenty years since your last solo disk, Trouble Walkin’. In that time, you finally kicked drugs and booze. How much did sobering up contribute to finally completing Anomaly?
Ace Frehley: It helped me get focused and actually made me a lot more creative and more productive. It’s hard to finish a record with a hangover [Laughs]. Life’s good to me now.
SS: You’ve been sober for three years. In fact, Anomaly was released on the anniversary of your last drink. Have you gone through periods of sobriety before?
AF: A couple years, actually. I relapsed in Las Vegas. I hooked up with a bunch of gals at the VH-1 Rock Honors and one thing led to another [Laughs]. But after that, you know, I got professional help. Meetings always help. It keeps you firmly planted.
SS: Is there still the temptation?
AF: Not like it used to be. The first year is the toughest. The tour I did last year, it’s the first tour from beginning to end that I’ve ever done sober and I was nervous about it. But I stayed close to friends of mine and I got through it. So now when I think about the new tour coming up, it’s not so much of an issue with me any more. But I still have to be vigilant, you know?
SS: What are the touring plans behind Anomaly?
AF: We’re putting it together right now. It’s changing every day. But we’re definitely doing some shows in September and October and November, I guess. I don’t know how long it’s gonna go — we’ve just been putting it together in the last couple of weeks.
SS: The landscape of the music industry is completely different today than when you were in KISS, and even when you put out your last record in 1989. What do you make of the current state of the music business?
AF: I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of years. I learned how to use and really understand Pro Tools. I’m amazed at how much digital downloading has changed the business. I didn’t realize how many people aren’t buying CDs anymore. Records were gone a long time ago, but there’s still a dedicated few who buy vinyl. So I’m pressing some records too.
SS: What are your opinions on illegal downloading?
AF: The way to combat that is to do an interesting package, something that people want to buy, not just for the music. You know, dedicated fans are going to want the real product. I haven’t done that much research on the people who do illegal downloads, but it’s no different than stealing something off a shelf in a store.
SS: It appears like you are really bringing a DIY ethic to the release of Anomaly. It’s released on your own label, Bronx Born. What else are you taking on?
AF: The web site was put together by me and my assistant and a couple of other people. I have a team of people doing Facebook and Twitter. Obviously I can’t sit around all day and Tweet and read every message. But you know, I check on that stuff from time to time when I get a free minute. It’s interesting because you are getting a daily read out of exactly is going on with fans, blow by blow, and not only do I read what kids are writing to me, but also the comments on YouTube are real interesting and very insightful.
SS: You made a YouTube commercial for your new disk. There’s a nice homage to your teleportation powers in the camp classic, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. How’d that commercial come about?
AF: That was my assistant Frank’s idea. He scripted the whole thing. I was doing an instructional DVD out in California and basically we said, we’ll do the DVD, but you have to shoot an HD commercial and they went for it. We just shot that whole thing in one night.
SS: Your daughter is now 28. Does she do all the social networking stuff?
AF: I’m pretty sure she has a MySpace. She’s working now. She’s staying busy. She’s down in Florida now.
SS: Are you still married?