By Daniel Tucceri
Long before corpse-paint and scary masks became standard fare in heavy metal, KISS stood alone in an era recovering from the horror of flower power. Where sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were of primacy for their contemporaries, image was everything for KISS. Paul Stanley’s ‘Starchild’ was the romantic who made women weep, whilst Gene Simmons’ ‘Demon’ ensured concerned mothers did the same. Where Peter Criss lived nine lives as ‘The Catman’, Ace Frehley was no mere mortal as ‘The Spaceman’. ‘Space Ace’, as fans affectionately called him, brought visual and musical flair to a band that otherwise kept things pretty black and white. “The Spaceman character was kind of like an extension of my alter ego”, the rock legend begins. “I’ve always been fascinated with sci-fi films and technology.”
On his first solo album since 2009, Frehley is flashy as ever on ‘Space Invader’. Some fans and critics are going as far as saying it’s his best effort since his ‘Frehley’s Comet’. The minute he answers the phone from sunny San Diego, Frehley lets rip with his trademark laugh. No interview with KISS was complete without it, with the fun loving Frehley always flanked by the slightly more serious Stanley and Simmons.
“About halfway through the process, we came up with the title, and then it kinda took on a life of its own and I started writing songs that were more geared to a space theme”, describes Frehley on ‘Space Invader’s creation. “I don’t know where a lot of my creative stuff comes from. Sometimes when I’m writing lyrics, it seems like it’s beamed into my head by an alien or something!” he laughs.
“During the mixing process, I ended up writing ‘Space Invader’ and ‘Past the Milky Way’. Those were the last two songs to end up on the record and they were the biggest surprises for me”. An even bigger surprise was ‘Space Invader’s debut in the US Billboard Chart Top 10, making it the most successful solo release by any KISS member to date. It’s yet another case of Space Ace having the last laugh; when each member of KISS simultaneously released a solo record in 1978, Frehley outsold them all.
“It just makes them look silly when they put me down, saying that I’m done and I’m through”, declares Frehley, who pulls no punches when discussing his former bandmates. “And then I come out with a record like that. It just makes them look foolish”.
For Frehley, going solo was inevitable as Simmons and Stanley dominated the group’s creative direction. “All I know is that when I put out my first solo album in 1978, with the hit ‘New York Groove’, I realised I was more creative away from those guys than I was with them”.
“It’s nice that today I’m in control of my destiny”, adds Frehley. “I don’t have to have other people dictate to me how things should be”.
To many observers, relations between Frehley and those two particular bandmates have appeared nothing short of acrimonious. Simmons and Stanley, both Jews, have even claimed Frehley was an avid collector Nazi memorabilia and taunted them about their heritage. “I’ve always had a gun collection and a knife collection and I was very fascinated with German steel”, the guitarist clarifies. “It just kind of happened by accident, you know? I was always fascinated with the Nazis in the way that they always had the coolest uniforms, they had the coolest weapons. I don’t believe in their political views, or what they did to the Jews, that was an unfortunate situation. But, a lot of people have to admit that they had something that, up until that point in time, nobody’s ever really achieved, even though it all ended up going down the drain”.
Frehley certainly isn’t one to hold back, especially when asked if his former bandmates are flogging a dead horse. “Well, they don’t have me in the band!” he replies with a trademark Frehley laugh. Despite all the supposed bad blood, Ace maintains he and his former bandmates remain on good terms. “We’re all friends. The press kind of blows things out of proportion, that we all hate each other, but that’s really not the case. When we see each other, we all get along and we’re brothers. The body of work we’ve created can’t be taken away and it’s stood the test of time”. Even Paul and Gene? “Yeah, I can call any of those guys any time and talk about stuff”, Frehley states with certainty.
One need only view footage of KISS’s induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to believe him. Undoubtedly an honour for both he and his bandmates, Frehley prefers not to dwell on former glories. “A lot of people cite me as being a major influence in their lives, I try not to think of that too much” the modest axeman admits. “I prefer to stay in the now and look into the future rather than dwell on the past”.
As for the future, Australian audiences can look forward to seeing Ace Frehley on tour toward the end of April. His first visit in five years will boast what he promises to be the best line-up yet, featuring long time collaborators Richie Scarlet on guitar, Chris Wyse on bass and Scot Coogan on drums. From there, Ace and band are headed to Europe to perform at Hellfest and the Download Festival.
‘Space Invader’ is out now via E1 Music.
Friday 24th April
WELLINGTON James Cabaret
Saturday 25th April
AUCKLAND The Studio
Tuesday 28th April
BRISBANE Tivoli Theatre with Witchgrinder and Blonde on Blonde
Thursday 30th April
SYDNEY Metro Theatre with Graveyard Rockstars and Witchgrinder
Friday 1st May
HOBART Wrestpoint Showroom with Taberah
Saturday 2nd May
MELBOURNE Forum Theatre with Graveyard Rockstars and Witchgrinder
Wednesday 6th May
ADELAIDE The Gov with The Babes and Imogen Brave
Thursday 7th May
PERTH Astor Theatre with Legs Electric and Psychonaut