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The Stop Smiling Interview with ACE FREHLEY

SS: You are known for your “smoking guitar” effect on stage. Were there any special effects that you had planned while you were the Space Man in KISS that never came to fruition?

AF: The only effect that I had ready to go, I think it was ’79 or ’80, I had a fiber-optic run through my guitar neck and I was going to blow up stuff with a laser beam and right around that time Blue Oyster Cult had blinded somebody in the audience and all of a sudden there was legislation about using lasers. We had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in lasers and we ended up scraping the whole idea because of all the regulations. So that ended up turning from a laser beam coming out of my guitar to rockets.

SS: Did you ever have any Spinal Tap moments when firing those rockets from your guitar? Were there any mishaps?

AF: The original rocket guitar was a little chancy. One day I almost hit Gene with a rocket. So we had a band meeting after that and we actually worked out something pretty cool. They put a mercury switch in the neck so it couldn’t fire horizontally. It had to be at least at a thirty-degree angle or more. If the guitar was level, it wouldn’t fire. 

SS: What did your parents think the first time they came out to see KISS with the make-up and the platform shoes and the costumes and the bombs going off?

AF: They were very accepting. I remember when they saw the first album cover, I don’t think they understood it, but I think once they saw us perform live they kind of got it. It was exciting for them to see me up there and seeing a sold out house with the crowd going crazy. I don’t think it was too important to them to see how we looked, but I think it was important for them to see that I was successful.

SS: Your parents are both gone now?

AF: My Dad died around the turn of the century and my Mom died in 2003.

SS: You said your parents were able to witness your success in the 1970s. You had a lot of money back then, a lot of cars, a lot of guitars. You built a state-of-the-art recording studio on your property. How many guitars did you own at the peak of your collection?

AF: At one point I had about 150. Today I have, maybe 70.

SS: What’s the prize possession in that lot?

AF: Some of my Les Pauls. A couple of quite old acoustics. A couple of Strats and Teles.

SS: You’ve been insanely loyal to Les Paul guitars. It’s now your image. You used to play other styles of guitars — Explorers, Stratocasters. Why do play Les Pauls exclusively?

AF: It’s just an all-around great guitar. You plug a Les Paul into a Marshall and you turn it up — it’s a no-brainer. Some of the other guitars you have to work a little more. And when you are in a group like KISS when you are worried about special effects and your make-up and your hair and your costume, you really want something that’s a workhorse. And that’s what a Les Paul is. It pretty much doesn’t fail you. 

SS: And what happened to your recording studio, Ace-in-the-Hole?

AF: I sold the house and the studio with it, but I built a new recording studio.

SS: Even though you are recording on Pro Tools on a computer? You have an analog studio?

AF: I have both. I resisted Pro Tools for years. I bought a Pro Tools rig years ago, but I never hooked it up. In 2007 I got teacher to sit with me and because I’m computer savvy it wasn’t that hard to grab.

SS: You’ve worked on this album for a long time. What’s the oldest composition of Anomaly?

AF: A song called “Sister.”

SS: And you played that live on solo tours back in the 90s.

AF: Yeah.

SS: What’s the most recently penned song on the new record?

AF: “A Little Below the Angels.” I rewrote that song three times. The song is kind of about my recovery and my struggles in my life. Originally there were drums from beginning to end. It had electric guitars and at the very end I felt that it was not capturing what I had intended. Initially I wrote it on an acoustic so I just went with that.

SS: There’s a maturity and depth to some of the lyrics on this new album that we haven’t really seen on an Ace Frehley album, or in your work with KISS for that matter. There are references to your faith, for example. How religious or spiritual are you?

AF: I was brought up a Lutheran. My Dad taught Sunday school and I used to go to Church every Sunday. But just like everybody else, once you hit puberty you stop showing up for Sunday school [Laughs]. But I still have a faith in God and it’s got me through some tough times.

SS: Another introspective track on Anomaly is “Too Many Faces.” What’s the inspiration behind that song?

AF: You know, it might have something to do with the KISS make-up, but it’s not all about that. It’s also about how people show one face and they have another one behind that. My whole life I’ve seen different sides of people and I think it’s not just about make-up, but about how people change their faces. They show one face but they are really something else.

SS: Metaphor.

AF: I get that all the time. People read stuff into my lyrics that I didn’t even see, but maybe I wrote it subconsciously.

SS: KISS came of age during the dawn of the New York glitter and punk scene. What are your memories of being a part of that?

AF: We toured with the New York Dolls and the Runaways. I have real fond memories of that. It was great. There were so many different bands, but the Dolls and Kiss were really the only bands to emerge and really take it to the next level, and us even more than the Dolls, obviously. I was real good friends with Arthur Kane, the bass player. We used to be drinking buddies way back when. He was one of the sweetest, most soft-spoken guys. A sweetheart of a guy. That whole scene was such a special time. 
 

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