Smile Politely

Ace is back … and he told you so!

Ace Frehley, legendary guitarist and founding member of KISS, released Anomaly on September 15, his first solo album since 1989’s Trouble Walkin’. Anomaly entered Billboard’s Top 100 at a respectable #17 and has received critical acclaim as a return to form for the man once known as “The Spaceman.”

He will be at The Canopy Club in Urbana on Monday, November 9. Tickets for the 7 p.m. show are $20 in advance, and 16 Second Stare and Verdict are slated to open.

I had an opportunity to speak with Ace recently. He’s on the road supporting the new album with a hotshot band featuring Anthony Esposito on bass, Derek Hawkins on guitar and Scott Coogan on drums.

Paul Barrel: Anomaly is obviously an Ace Frehley album — there are familiarities in song structures and voicings, yet it demonstrates a growth in songwriting. How did you approach writing for this album?

Ace Frehley: Same way I always approached it. (laughs) I get ideas from music I hear … I don’t have a set way. Sometimes I start with a riff idea or a lyrical idea or take from something I’ve written in the past. I believe I broke some new ground on this album and even if you’re not an Ace fan there’s a song on the album that anyone can relate to.

Paul Barrel: “The Return of the Space Bear” is hilarious (iTunes only bonus track). Using the transcript from KISS’ appearance on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder was brilliant.

Ace Frehley: It was kind of silly, wasn’t it? (laughs)

Paul Barrel: That is a legendary appearance. Did you have any contact with Tom Snyder after the taping.

Ace Frehley: I don’t believe I did. He came back to the dressing room after the show and, you know, we were chatting and he said he had a lot of fun talking to me. It was pretty obvious in the interview. He kind of stuck Gene, you know? (laughs)

Paul Barrel: Getting back to Anomaly — looking through the credits, you played most of the guitars and a lot of bass on the album. I read a long time ago that you used to double track your parts with a Fender Telecaster or even an acoustic to fill out the sound. True?

Ace Frehley: Oh yeah, that’s still my process. I usually do a bed track with a Les Paul and then a lot of times I’ll double it with a Fender or an acoustic because they have different harmonic ranges and give you a thicker overall rhythm track.

Paul Barrel: You have recorded and toured consistently since the early/mid 1970s. Tell me about the changes you’ve seen in the music and recording industries over the last four decades.

Ace Frehley: When I entered the biz it was albums and then I saw the advent of cassettes (laughs) and CDs and now downloading is becoming the standard for a lot of younger people. I think it’s great. Anyway you can access music or the more ways you can make music accessible just gets more music into the hands of the listener.

Paul Barrel: With the changes that have gone on in the industry since the 1970s, how have you adapted to remain relevant?

Ace Frehley: You just gotta stay on top of it. This is the first album I did completely digital. That was a big change for me. Working with Pro Tools allowed me to edit quickly and efficiently … compared to the days of two-inch tape where I would have to cut the tape with a razor blade and then tape it back together. We’ve come a long way. A lot of people say that tape sounds better than digital recording. I used a lot of old microphones into old pre-amps. I also used a slew of vintage Marshalls. Basically, if you don’t overload the digital bus you can get pretty much the same sound and warmth as the albums that came out in the ’70s.

Paul Barrel: What should concertgoers expect from Ace Frehley live in concert 2009?

Ace Frehley: I’ll be performing a cross-section of my hits and obviously there will be some new songs off the new CD, which I’m really excited about. We’re doing “Outer Space” and “Sister.” I really want to work up “Genghis Khan” … probably “Fox on the Run.” I don’t want to do the same set every night – like to switch it up a little. With YouTube, you do a set and it ends up on there and everyone knows what you’re doing live. I also want to do a few songs that I’ve never played live before … pull them out of the archive. I don’t want to give those away yet. (laughs)

Paul Barrel: Are you playing your signature Les Pauls on the road?

Ace Frehley: Oh yeah, I‘ve got a bunch of the cherry sunburst ones that came out in 1997 or 1998 and some modified Les Pauls too. There’s a new signature model supposed to be out by the end of the year. It’s a blueburst and I have a couple of those with me too. We’re fine tuning the details on the new signature guitar — it should be available as both a Gibson and an Epiphone.

I also just got a new smoking guitar that’s kind of hip. I’ve struggled with fire marshals over the years … you know, shooting off fireworks in clubs. The new smoker has miniature fog machines built into it … there aren’t any restrictions on that.

Paul Barrel: You’re a guitar collector. There’s a famous story of you pawning a 1959 Les Paul Standard to finance a trip to Atlantic City. What’s the “one that got away”?

Ace Frehley: It’s true. I miss that ’59 … it’s probably the one that I miss the most. It was the guitar that I tracked most of my parts on my first solo album (1978). I still buy guitars all the time. Old guitars sound great, but Gibson is making some guitars now that, by my ears, sound just as good as the vintage ones.

Paul Barrel: There was a time when KISS and other bands put out albums two times a year. It was a great marketing strategy presumably driven by the limitations of vinyl. With the transition expanded formats bands seem to throw everything they’ve go on an album — usually resulting in a lot of filler and longer periods between releases. Is there too much pressure on bands these days to fill the space?

Ace Frehley: We put pressure on ourselves. I actually work best under pressure. When I have a deadline I do a lot better (laughs) than maybe when I don’t … because, sometimes I get lazy. For me, deadlines work.

Paul Barrel: Recently, it was announced that KISS is on the ballot for induction into the Rock and Roll. There’s been speculation that the selection process is not the most democratic. With KISS being added to the ballot this year do you think the door is opening for other bands which may have been ignored up until now?

Ace Frehley: I really don’t get involved with the politics of that stuff. I’m honored that we’re up for being inducted. I don’t take much notice on how votes are cast. I focus on the music. Awards and accolades are great but they don’t make you.

Paul Barrel: Besides KISS, are there any bands you believe should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that currently are not?

Ace Frehley: Not at all (laughs) … to be honest.

Paul Barrel: Anything else?

Ace Frehley: I just want to thank all my fans for their continued support over the years. I have the greatest fans in the world.

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