ACE FREHLEY – "Music Saved My Life ... Most Of The Guys I Hung Out With Are Either Dead Or In Jail"
October 19, 2018, a month ago
Let’s not get carried away here. We’re not at sober Michael Schenker levels of quality and quantity here, but sober Ace is certainly exciting his mass fan base with solid and charming songs of a Kiss-like nature, now through three pro-grade albums of original material, namely 2009’s Anomaly, 2014’s Space Invader and now Spaceman—in between there was a covers album called Originals Vol. 1.
Spaceman finds Ace semi-celebrating his beloved 1978 debut with a few subtle parallels, but also it’s a record often about himself, with autobiographical songs told plain an’ point blank, and then sung in his ragged, bed-headed, amusingly punk rock voice.
“Well, they’re different songs,” laughs Frehley, asked to express what’s different this time out. “Space Invader was a concept record around a lot of space songs and stuff. This one, you know, there’s a couple of autobiographical songs on it. People seem to be picking up on ‘Bronx Boy’ and also the cover of the Eddie Money song is a little autobiographical because when I watched the video, it brought back memories of me going back to my old high school.”
“Bronx Boy,” about the allure of gang affiliation, is in fact the record’s first single, of which Ace explains, “For the lyrics I drew from me growing up in the Bronx. A friend of mine, Ronnie Mancuso, came over to my studio. ‘What’s that song?’ He had it pretty much written with different lyrics. And I didn’t like them, but I liked the music, so I completely rewrote all the lyrics, changed the arrangement a little and that’s how ‘Bronx Boy’ was born.”
The sentiment of this hard-charging rocker begs the sentiment: did Kiss save Ace’s life?
“Well it wasn’t Kiss that did that,” reflects Frehley. “It was just music in general. I was hanging out with gangs when I was 13 or 14, but I also picked up the guitar at age 13. So by the time I was 14, 14-and-a-half, I already had put a band together and started doing gigs on weekends. Which is when the gangs would congregate and get in trouble. So I’d get the phone call: ‘Yeah, hey, we’re gonna have a rumble tonight’ or ‘we’re gonna steal a car’ or do this or do that. And I’d say, ‘I can’t go. I got a gig.’ So music kind of saved my life. Most of the guys I hung out with are either dead or in jail.”
Elsewhere there’s “Without You I’m Nothing,” one of two co-writes with none other than the God of Thunder. “Well, Gene came up with the title and I came up with the original bass riff and all these chords to play and then pretty much I wrote about 90% of the lyrics, wrote a bridge and did that extended solo. Yeah, I made it my own.”
What Ace also makes his own is most of the bass playing on the record, although Frehley demurs on that front, figuring, “Gene is a much better bass player (laughs). I think Gene is one of the most underrated bass players in rock ‘n’ roll. I love that he uses a pick. You get more of an edge. Yeah. I just think Gene is one of the most solid bass players in rock ‘n’ roll and he doesn’t get the credit. So no, I don’t play bass as good as him. I kinda just follow the chords and play simple, as simple as possible. I don’t get too complicated with my bass lines. But when I do that, it allows the drums and the guitar to cut through. If you get too busy of a bass line it takes away from the guitar and drums.”
Aside from Gene co-writing, Gene adding a little bass, and Anton Fig (drummer on the ’78 debut) returning for a couple of tracks, another cool element of Spaceman is the way Ace massages in acoustic guitar.
“Pete Townshend,” says Ace, asked where that came from. “Yeah, I would have found invariably he has an acoustic tossed under the electric and that’s something I’ve been doing since my first solo record 40 years ago. And the secret to doing that is to play the same part on an acoustic, but just tuck it down in the mix so that you really don’t hear it that much, but if you take it away you miss it.”
As for another element that taps the 1978 debut on the shoulder… “Both records have nine songs,” laughs Frehley. “I’m a little superstitious about that. Funny, I don’t know if it was my 40th anniversary, but I wanted to try and make it as good as possible and you know, so far I’ve been getting a lot of positive reaction from the people who’ve heard it. So I‘ve got my fingers crossed. I don’t know how the fans are gonna react to it, but so far what they’ve heard, they’ve liked.”
And then there’s Anton Fig. “I used Anton on my first solo album,” explains Frehley, “and I used him on probably six records, until I moved out to California. He’s pretty much one of the best drummers I’ve ever worked with. And the reason he’s on this album is because I revived two tracks that he played on a while back and I erased the music and just kept the drum tracks. And then re-wrote all the music and re-did all the vocals.”
“Well, they’re fun to play,” says Ace on the subject of his spacier prog songs, of which this record’s “Quantum Flux” might be counted. “What happened with ‘Quantum Flux’ was I originally had recorded a nice song with Eric Singer from Kiss; we had done a blues song called ‘Those Empty Bed Blues.’ And I was sitting with my mixer, Warren Huart, and I said to Warren, ‘You know, Warren, these songs are all great but we don’t have an instrumental and I only want to do nine songs.’ He said, ‘Well, you got anything under your hat?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I have an idea for an instrumental.’ I started playing it on the guitar. I was just sitting on his couch and he goes, ‘That’s great. Let’s cut it!’ (laughs). So we cut it with a click track and we did a bunch of overdubs. And Warren actually plays a little guitar himself. And then we got Matt Starr to come in and play to the click track and he did a great job on the drums and that’s how ‘Quantum Flux’ was born.”
“I love the remake of the Eddie Money song I did,” continues Ace, who classes “I Wanna Go Back” as another one of the record’s autobiographical selections, even though Eddie most definitely was not thinking about Space Ace when he wrote it back in the mid-‘80s. “If you listen to those lyrics, it’s about going back to your old high school. Which I actually did do when I was doing an interview for the Village Voice. We went back up to the Bronx and we went to my old high school and went to places where I used to hang out. And when I saw the video of Eddie Money… I think it was his comeback hit, if I’m not mistaken. In any event, I just loved that song. I think the lyrics are brilliant; the melody is brilliant. And I knew I could do a good job on it because it was in my range. And so I took a stab at it and it just started coming out great. And we just kept overdubbing and improving on it more and more and did a cool solo. If you listened to the Eddie Money version, it’s pretty much all keyboards and sax, and my version is pretty much all guitars.”
And what was high school like for you? Were you a quiet guy?
“I was never quiet,” chuckles Ace. “I wasn’t a big fan of high school. No, I actually dropped out in my senior year because I was working with a band a lot and I didn’t think I needed it. And then my girlfriend talked me into going back to school and I got my high school diploma. I went to register at college for a couple of courses and all the courses I wanted were already closed. So I was stuck. I figured I had to make my living as a musician. So yeah, at that point, it was do or die for me.”
(Photo by: Jay Gilbert)