Ace finds his own space to exorcise his demons
September 25, 2009
GRAVITY might be partially responsible but balance was never one of Ace Frehley's strong points. The spaceman in Kiss toppled over regularly on stage in their early 1970s days as he was getting used to wearing platform shoes. Later, as one of the era's most popular guitar stars and a big drinker, car crashes were among his offstage spills.
''Space Ace'' wrestled with addiction long after he left the band in 1982 but a few years ago gave up alcohol for good and has used the renewed focus to come up with his first solo album in 20 years, Anomaly.
"I got sidetracked for a while, y'know," he says in his slightly hazy-sounding New York drawl of the two decades. A few reunion-related Kiss tours took some time, then "I had some struggles with my own personal demons." He later "visited my other planet, Jendell, which is where I'm originally from", he says, laughing, "and I came back a new man".
Wherever it happened, the sobriety worked. "I'm a lot more focused, more energy, more creative, so it helps me all round, y'know."
Kiss were never the most respected band musically - it was more their blazing spectacle of cartoonish fantasy that made them one of the biggest draws in the '70s. But Frehley's spacious, tastefully melodic licks brought him a decent slice of credibility amid the circus.
Anomaly is a strong return, everything considered. It is steeped in a '70s hard-rock sensibility and, while not averse to clunky cliches lyrically, delivers some likeable tracks, particularly at acoustic turns. There are plenty of driving riffs, big intentions and autobiographical reflections. His guitar can still shine, even if it's not allowed to smoke.
As Kiss's spaceman persona, long interested in science fiction, Frehley was known for using guitars laden with special effects that shot rockets or glowed with light. But the old favourite that billowed smoke ran into trouble on tour in the United States last year.
"I wasn't able to use the smoking guitar in many of the places because of the fire-marshal laws," he says. He is now working on a guitar with a permissible fog machine that "is gonna fix that - and, uh, hopefully a lot of other things", he says amiably.
It is far from the over-the-top pyrotechnics of Kiss shows in their '70s heyday, recreated with Frehley in a hugely profitable 1996 reunion tour that later led to a "farewell" tour that proved to be but one in a series of seemingly endless road trips for a band whose album sales have passed 80 million.
Frehley left in 2002 and thinks it is a shame that the band, under the driving forces Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, never knew when to call it a day and now continues with two relative newcomers performing in the original members' make-up. (Their new album, Sonic Boom, is due out on October 6.)
"It seems like they've just continued on and on and on, y'know. What started out to be a reunion tour turned out to be I don't know what," says Frehley, 58. "The thing that bothers me the most about it is that the fans seem really upset about it. I go on the internet and I read what the fans are writing."
Frehley's excesses have led him to be publicly sledged by the band's core - especially Simmons - over the years, but he says he has "no hard feelings''. He is happy to leave them to it, though. The reunion tour ''was a lot of fun, y'know, but I also kind of felt like I was going back in time and, after several years of working with them again, I wasn't growing as a musician. I was wearing old costumes and I was playing old songs … I need to grow as a musician and a songwriter and move forward with my life.''
Ace Frehley plays at the Enmore Theatre on October 20. Anomaly is out now.