ACE FREHLEY is back and once you get hit with the attack of his strident new record Anomaly, you’ll realize that his coupla decades away from his solo career in earnest did not constitute time wasted. Sure, Ace has been wasted more times than DEF LEPPARD has deferred to song doctors, but now clean and sober, he’s found himself making strong stadium rock statements sure to trade punches with those on the KISS album arriving in October.
“I thought it kind of went along with the kind of person I am,” sez Spaceman, asked about titling this titillating record with such a big word. “I’m the kind of guy who thinks outside the box, who’s been in all kinds of crazy situations, the ups, the downs, and everywhere in-between. You know, the fact that I’m still walking around this earth, I must be an anomaly, right?”
The term indeed fits, because inside of what one might call, loosely, hair metal anthems, there’s an oddball effect, stemming from some of the complex melodic choices made…
“I usually write something on acoustic guitar, and then I development it, from just a single track,” answers Ace, on writing somewhat “freer” than he did in the old days. “I’d use a drum machine or something just to keep the beat, and then I just let my imagination run wild (laughs). Something like ‘Genghis Khan’, you know, that was like the hardest song to mix, because it was over a hundred tracks. That’s pretty much my favourite song on the record, in terms of breaking some new ground. And the guitar intro, I added last fall, and pretty much, I was going to end that song with this melody line that develops after the second breakdown, and basically I ended up throwing a wah-wah guitar solo on the end, for the fade, so you know, that song developed into a monster. I think we all know who Genghis Khan is, if we remember history. Basically I wrote the song, and I just pictured something heavy, plodding, and about strength. I just thought about what Genghis Khan represented and I figured the song had some similarities, so I went with that title.”
Even though this one sports a bit of vocal out of the blue, it is essentially an instrumental, and not the only one… “Well yeah, ‘Fractured Quantum’ is pretty much a continuation of the Fractured series, and I actually ended ‘Fractured Quantum’ with an effect I used on the first record, from back in ‘78, the self-titled solo album. Basically I play a figure on a double neck guitar, but used the pickup from the neck that I wasn’t playing on, and that’s how you get that resonant bell sound.”
“I remember developing ‘Pain In The Neck’,” continues Ace, on one of the record’s stand-out heavy rockers, “and yeah, out of the blue I came up with that weird bridge (laughs), which kinda has some yodeling and this oompah-pah feel, and I don’t know where that came from. I have actually no idea - it just did. We were working on it one day and I said wait, let’s just go in a different direction here. And yeah, I guess it shows growth in my writing and producing. I’m finally starting to blossom, you know, in my 50s! – who knew? (laughs).”
Textures, tones, tenacity… there’s lots on this record that make you think it was a big, plush coke spoon production from the ‘80s. Not so says a technologically-tilted Ace. “I’ve always had a ton of hobbies. First and foremost, you know, computer graphics and computer art and design. So I’m able to focus on that a lot clearer, without waking up with a hangover these days, which is nice. This is the first album I’ve produced, so that was a learning process. This is the first album I’ve done completely digitally. So working with ProTools for the first time, exclusively, was a treat and a learning experience, which I really enjoyed, and I can’t wait to work on a new upcoming album next year. It’s so easy with ProTools; basically you can run around with your laptop and work out of a hotel room. With the editing and plug-in stuff, it’s just limitless.”
Judging from the results, you’ve picked it up fast… “Well, you know, I’ve made a lot of records and I worked with some of the greatest producers in the business, Eddie Kramer, Bob Ezrin, to name a few, and so I learned a lot of tricks from those guys and came up with a couple of my own, and that’s what it’s all about, right?”
Right, and also right is hearing Frehley exercising those scratchy pipes, as the only vocalist on the record, even if live, he shares that role with his bandmates. “It’s an Ace Frehley album, and I read the fan mail, and most of the fans really don’t want anyone else to sing the songs but me. So I tried to listen to my fans, because those are the guys who play the rent, you know?”
Prompted for a lyric or two he’s proud of, Ace says, “There’s a song called ‘It’s A Great Life’, which I kind of wrote for my dad, who passed away around 2000, and he had a great saying: ‘It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.’ And that always stuck with me, to be a survivor, and it helped me follow through with my dreams. Basically that song… it’s a departure for me, because the guitar solo in that, I guess you would label it as a jazz guitar solo. I tried to break some new ground musically on this album, and I achieved that. And ‘A Little Below The Angels’ is talking about the idea that certain problems and crises you’ve been through in your life, it gives you a cleansing feeling, and that song is about some of the trials and tribulations I’ve been through in my life. But luckily I ended up on my feet, like a cat.”
All good then, on the health front? “Pretty much. I mean, I had a complete physical a few months back, and everything seems to be intact. All I can do is thank God, you know? I have a lot of friends over the years who abused drugs and alcohol like I have, and some of them have hepatitis, some of them have to deal with the damage. Pretty much, my doctor says I’m OK. All I can do is thank God and count my lucky stars and try to move forward.”
As alluded to, Ace’s old band is moving forward as well. “I’ve heard one song,” says Frehley, “‘Modern Day Delilah’, and I thought it was a really good song. Paul is a good songwriter - he knows how to put a song together. The only thing I didn’t get about the song, is I think I was reading an interview where they said they were going to try recapture the sound of the ‘70s - I didn’t get that from the song. I felt that it sounded more like something they did from the ‘80s, after I left the group. But it was a good song, and I wish them well, and a lot of luck with the new album.”
“Most people cite my ‘78 self-titled Ace Frehley solo record with Kiss, as their favourite Ace record,” says Frehley in closing, modestly omitting the fact that it’s been far and away the fan favourite of the four simultaneously launched solo records from the band in that year. “And I tried to take that record apart and figure out what made it tick, tried to get into the same mindset as I was back in 1978, and I think I captured some of the same textures, and I think I got a good vibe from that record. You know, I asked a couple of interviewers this past week what they thought, and one guy said to me, ‘This new album could be a son of - son of that record. It’s a closer follow-up to that record than any of your other ones.’ And if I got that, I think I hit my mark.”
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