Ace Frehley interview: Space Oddity
He was the odd man out in Kiss, but Ace Frehley came into his own on his solo records. Twenty years since his last release, the original Space Ace returns to earth with Anomaly.
Ace Frehley strides purposefully into a sushi bar in North Hollywood, his bearing every inch the rock star. Dark glasses hide the strange downward cast of his eyes—an inheritance from his Dutch mother—and he sports a black beard that gives him the look of an inscrutable warlord, conferring a gravity and a self-assurance that he never had before, not even in 1977, when Kiss were named the most popular band in America by no less an authority than the Gallup Poll. “That gave me a sense of false confidence,” Frehley says of the honor. “For a while I believed that we were better than we were.”
At the time of our meeting, Frehley is just weeks from releasing Anomaly, his first solo album in more than 20 years, which will be issued in September on his own Bronx Born Records label. The new songs ripple with authority and radiate a sense of danger that recalls the wanton spirit and fire-breathing heat of his early years with Kiss. The track “Genghis Khan” is a Kashmiri nightmare wrought in guitar exotica, while the instrumental “Fractured Quantum” picks up the frenetic thread Frehley began on his self-titled 1978 solo debut and continued with on his subsequent records. Then there’s his indulgent cover of Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” which recalls some of a rock band’s racier exploits. “Oh, I got my share,” Frehley says, when queried about Kiss’ body count.
As much as his fans have been waiting for Anomaly, they want to know why it took Frehley 20 years to follow up on his previous release, 1989’s Trouble Walkin’. “I’m still shocked when people say, ‘You haven’t done a studio record in 20 years,’ ” he says. “I try to make excuses for it, but the truth is I just wasn’t with it.”
Frehley is referring to his past drug and alcohol use, which hindered both his creativity and his musical ambitions. Those impediments vanished three years ago when he got sober. He says, “All my creative powers were unleashed. I wasn’t sedated anymore.” Undoubtedly, his problems had been exacerbated by his dismissal from the group he cofounded and whose success he helped create: after performing with Kiss in February 2002, at the close of the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies, Frehley was unceremoniously replaced by former Black ’n Blue guitarist Tommy Thayer. Seven years after Frehley was fired, the subject still rankles him.
For many Kiss fans, his departure was a major letdown. Ace Frehley humanized the monsters of rock, whether with his maniacal laugh or his failure to put on airs. “I’m just a down-to-earth guy,” the man once known as “Space Ace” says without a touch of irony. But that lack of pretense is part of his appeal. Bill Aucoin, Kiss’ former manager, says, “Ace was always the one who would tell it like it is.” Apparently, that quality endeared him to many. The preponderance of Kiss fans that use the Facebook application “What Kiss Member Are You?” chose Ace as their favorite of the foursome, as did 79 percent of the respondents to a 2007 poll at DemocraticUnderground.com. As one fan wrote, “He was the George Harrison of Kiss.”
Frehley appreciates those sentiments but finds them ironic. “If I’m so popular,” he asks rhetorically, “why did they replace me with Tommy Thayer?”
As the sushi arrives, Ace settles in for what turns out to be an in-depth and candid discussion about getting clean, cutting his new album and putting Kiss behind him for good.