|October 26, 1998|
by Roger Lotring
Legs bent at the knees, his body arched back to create a striking contrast with the smoke billowing from the sunburst Les Paul guitar turned sideways, resting upon his midriff...
For anyone with the heart of a 13-year-old kid ensconced in a bedroom shrine of Kiss posters, the indelible image of Ace Frehley tearing into one of his distinctive guitar solos is synonymous with the sound of the melodic, hard driving rock and roll that was the soundtrack to the adolescence of countless millions of fans. With the success of a reunion tour characterized by numerous fans rekindling the spirit of youthful enthusiasm, it might also be said that for many, the sound of Kiss is a flowing fountain of youth.
It was just five days before the start of the band’s current tour at Dodger Stadium when Ace phoned in from Los Angeles to talk to Prime Choice. Speaking slowly, occasionally almost mumbling, his thoughtful drawl hinted slightly of his native New York accent that was periodically punctuated by his infamous laughter. Recuperating from a bout with bronchitis, Ace approached a myriad of topics ranging from subjects as diverse as his former residence in Wilton, Connecticut, and its adjoining studio, to his fascination with technological advances in the form of computers and space colonization.
Naturally, the conversation turned toward the band’s latest release, Psycho Circus, and the evolution of his songwriting contribution in the form of a song titled “Into The Void.” Surprisingly, much of the conversation delved into subjects of a more personal nature as he candidly addressed his overindulgent reputation. He also spoke openly of his tendency toward premonition and the vision that foretold of the Kiss reunion, as well as a glimpse of his own mortality and his belief in predestination. Similarly, he repeatedly spoke of his daughter with an affection that clearly revealed a sense of fatherly pride.
What follows is nearly the entire transcription of an hour-and-a-half conversation that reveals hints of the different sides of Ace Frehley—father, guitarist, and kid from the streets of New York who was destined to set the stage for those who followed by playing lead guitar in a band called Kiss...
Well, with the start of the tour right around the corner, I think anticipation is running really high among fans as to what to expect musically from this tour. What songs do you think we’ll hear that are different from the last time around?
We’re adding a couple of [songs]. Well, actually, let’s start first with the new album, Psycho Circus. We’re beginning the set with “Psycho Circus,” which is the first single. Then we’re gonna do “Into The Void” around the middle of the set. I’m gonna follow that up with my guitar solo. Did you see the last tour?
Yes, I did.
Yeah, remember when I went up and did Beethoven up on one of the corners of the stage?
This year, I’m gonna do 2001. [Laughs]
Cool! That’s a nice touch... right around “2,000 Man” somehow?
[Laughs] No, I don’t think we’re doing “2,000 Man” yet on this tour, but it may change, I don’t know. We’re still shuffling songs around. We’re also gonna do “Within” off the new album, which I think is a good heavy number. And as far as new songs—old new songs—I think we’re doing “Nothin’ To Lose,” “She,” and that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.
I think the 96/97 tour worked really well to re-establish the classic material and re-establish the band. That having been said, do you feel like now, with this tour, you have the luxury of experimenting a little bit? I mean, for instance, an acoustic version of “Beth,” similar to what you guys did with MTV Unplugged, would be really cool.
I think it might be cool, but we’ve always done “Beth” with the soundtrack and the orchestration. I think that’s kinda sacred to the fans when Peter comes out alone and sings to the track.
But with any of the songs, do you feel that now that you’ve sort of re-established the band with the fans that you’re locked into playing everything [in a particular way]?
I think the fans really wanna hear the songs the way they sound on the record. I mean, that’s the feedback I get from most fans, y’know? I don’t really experiment with the solos. The solos I played on the album—on the records—are usually the solos I play. I usually don’t change ‘em very much or go off on a tangent. [Laughs] I remember when I was a kid and I used to go see bands, and if you’ve listened to an album a thousand times, or even a hundred times, and you hear the song and then the guitar player plays a completely different guitar solo, it kinda throws you for a loop. You go, “Wait a minute... that’s not what’s on the record.” But when he plays it note for note, you go, “Wow, that sounds just like the album!” That’s what kids get off on, I think.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have a turntable at our house, so I used to have to go to my grandmother’s. And she had one of those old turntables that almost looked like a coffin on legs. [Ace laughs] And I remember I used to go over there and I’d put on Alive II, and like you were just saying, when you listen to an album over and over again, you expect to hear things a certain way. I remember as a kid, there was this one bit in the middle of your solo [on “Shock Me”], and I just thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. Years later, when everything came out on compact disc, it wasn’t there—it was the record skipping. [Ace laughs uncontrollably] And I always thought it was just this cool little bit that you did!
It was the scratch on the record!
Yeah! But I was disappointed. I mean, even to this day, I listen to it on disc and it’ll be like, “Wow, y’know, that cool little bit that he did isn’t there,” even though I know it was a scratch on the record. [Laughs]
[Laughs] That’s a first. I’ve never heard that story before. Where are you from?
I am actually right in between the two casinos.
I used to live in Wilton.
Yeah, you had the studio down there, right?
Yeah, we recorded The Elder there—part of it. It doesn’t even exist any more. I mean, the family that bought my home—I pulled all the equipment out—he’s not in the music business, so I don’t know what the hell they use that big space for. But it’s a shame a musician didn’t buy it, because he could’ve utilized [it]. I mean, the control room and the recording room were acoustically made so incredible. Basically, we copied the specs from Criteria down in Florida. The control room was shaped like an octagon. It was really a cool sounding room.
It’s a nice area, too, Connecticut. That’s not too far out of the city anyway, is it?
One thing I hated about that house was once you got off the highway, you had to go fifteen minutes through winding roads. I lived about a half a mile from Dave Brubek’s. But those roads at night are really like, y’know, the blind turns and stuff.
I hear ya. The house that I grew up in and lived in for many, many years was the same sort of thing. Y’know, it’s not far off of a main road, but once you get off of that main road, it’s the same thing. And it is a real bitch at 2:00 in the morning. [Laughs]
I just bought the coolest mansion in Westchester, and it’s like, right off a main highway—less than a mile. But you just make a couple of turns, and you think you’re in the middle of the country. You don’t know you’re off a main thoroughfare.
That’s the same as where I grew up. In fact, my wife and I are looking at buying some of the property. It’s the coolest thing, y’know? You’re close enough that the grocery store or gas station is two minutes away, but yet nobody knows you’re there ‘cause you’re out in the woods.
I’m five minutes from a 24-hour 7-11.
[Laughs] That’s perfect, y’know?
The house has three levels, and I built a 24-track digital studio behind a mirror-tiled wall in the basement where the bar is. When you walk into the basement, y’know, you think that’s just the basement. And then there’s a special hidden buzzer. This door opens up, and then there’s drums. And then to the right, there’s a control room. I got a 32 ADA Mackey board. I’m gonna get the automation feature once I get off the tour. SoundTools, y’know? And I got about six computers in there, and DATs, and cassette players, and high-definition TVs—digital editing. This week, I’m getting a Silicon Graphics Machine. I’m real excited about that because the people that are doing our 3-D stuff, they render everything on SGI machines. I’ll be able to render things a lot quicker because I wanna do some animations myself for the tour. Y’know, I did the morphing at the end of the last tour when our four faces morphed from one to the other. I did that on my laptop one afternoon. [Laughs] I love doing morphs. It’s so easy.
Is it really?
People think it’s so hard. I mean, if you know what you’re doing—I can morph two people and loop them in a half-hour. [Graphic arts] is what I was gonna do if I didn’t get into music. I went to Dealor Clinton High School [sic]—four thousand boys. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Sucks to be you, man!
I was like, the top artist in the school. I was like, the head of the art department’s—I was his pet. He’d always like, write me late passes and get me out of trouble. He had his doctorate in art, and he was just terrific. Me and him got along famously together. Then he passed away, and they ended up kicking me out of the school. [Laughs] They transferred me to Roosevelt on Fordham Road in the Bronx. I was there around the same time they wrote that movie, The Bronx Tale. I used to walk past that bar where they had the fight scene with the bikers. I had to walk past that bar, like, all the time, ‘cause I was playing with a band with two of the guys that lived in that neighborhood. That bar is only about six blocks from the high school. It was kind of a feeling of deja vu when I saw that film because while I was going to school there, I remember one day there were cops at every entrance. And I said, “What the fuck’s going on here?” They said, “Oh, there was a big fight between the blacks and the whites—the Italians—and we’re just making sure there isn’t going to be any more trouble.” That’s so weird, y’know—that time frame. The period that that movie was shot was exactly the time frame when I was going to the school. It was kinda trippy.
It’s gotta be kind of weird to have [a movie] like that and have your daughter watching it, trying to explain it.
My daughter is so cool.
I heard she’s going to art college.
She just started. She’s going to Parsons, but she wants to switch to visual arts next year. I just got her an apartment in Manhattan. I go down there and crash with her, and we just get along great. She’s so cool, she’s so talented. She’s so ahead of everybody, y’know? She’s only eighteen, but she has the brain of a much older woman. She’s so mature for her age. She’s flying out here Wednesday. She’s gonna stay to the concert and stuff. She is probably the one person in the world who saved my life, y’know? When she was young and I was still wild and reckless, I came to the realization—y’know, that one moment of clarity when you realize you’re doing too much of this or that, and you’re going over the edge—I just looked in the mirror and I said, “My daughter needs a daddy. It’s time to grow up.” I cleaned up my act and continued on with my life, and things have been going better ever since.
Isn’t that funny how it usually happens like that? I mean, before I got married, it was the same thing. It’s a deal where you’re not thinking about just yourself anymore; you’ve got to realize there’s somebody else, too.
That’s depending on you.
Yeah, exactly. And when you go off and do some hair-brained crazy shit, you gotta remember there’s somebody who needs you to come home.
Yeah, somebody home biting their nails, saying, “Where is he? Is he gonna come home tonight, or am I gonna get a phone call?” [Laughs]
Yeah, and it’s funny, but I never ever looked at it that way before. Looking at it from that point of view, I guess they’ve got a point.
I think that’s God’s plan, y’know? I think having children and stuff forces you to grown up. And even though I’m 47, y’know, I still think like a twenty-year-old.
Well, God bless you. You have to, y’know?
But I’m much more responsible now. I used to get nervous in my twenties, y’know, before I went on stage. I always had to have a couple of drinks or something. And now, when I play, I don’t get nervous at all. It’s so weird. I play sober and it’s just so much more enjoyable. I get off so much looking at the faces of the kids in the audience. For two hours, they’re gonna forget about all their problems, and they’re so involved in the show. No matter what’s going on in their lives, they forget about it. It’s just like seeing a James Bond movie for me. I watch a James Bond movie, I forget about everything. I just get involved in the James Bond film—y’know, pure entertainment, I think. That’s what Kiss is all about—not just music, but entertainment, y’know? We’re there to take you away from your problems, and rock and roll all night and party every day for those two hours you’re at the concert. And there’s people, y’know, they either love us or they hate us; there’s no middle ground.
Yeah, but at least you’re not ignored, y’know?
Yeah. I mean, I’ve heard very few bad reviews, though, on the new album, which is nice. The album has been received very well by the press all over the world.
A reviewer... right.
Right. But after listening to it a couple more times, it became something a little bit more pure. It’s almost like I reverted to being thirteen years old again. I stopped scrutinizing it and found that I started hearing different things, like little guitar licks or drum beats that I really loved. And I realized it’s bullshit to sit here and analyze it. I should look at it from a point of view of a thirteen or a fourteen-year-old. [Ace laughs] No, really!
I hear ya.
I really, honest-to-God, wish that it was as easy to listen to music as when I was thirteen when I wouldn’t be so critical about something. For example, a Kiss album would come out, and I knew I was going to like it because I liked the band and I liked what they did. I find that I don’t love things as much or as immediately as I did when I was a kid, and I really kind of miss that.
Well, that’s normal, though. I mean, it’s like, we did a couple of TV shows this past week. We shot Millennium, and we shot Mad TV. It just brought back memories of when we were shooting the Kiss movie, Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park—hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. And it all came back to me how much I hate doing movies and television. For us, it’s a lot harder because we have to put on the makeup and the costumes, and hurry up and wait. And then the makeup starts to run, and you’re sweating or you’re upset. You’re trying to eat, the makeup starts to crack, and you gotta re-touch it. It’s like, a pain in the ass, y’know? I hate putting the makeup on when I’m not performing, but it’s something I gotta do. It’s all worth it when I perform and I see the kids’ faces. By the end of the show when we do “Rock And Roll All Nite And Party Every Day” and everybody’s up on their feet, I just walk off the stage with a good feeling, saying, “Hey, I did my job and everybody had a good time,” and move on to the next show.
As far as Psycho Circus is concerned, what goals did you and the rest of the band set out to accomplish with this album, and do you think you succeeded?
Me and Peter got involved with the album a little later than Paul and Gene; they started pre-production before we came out [to Los Angeles]. We came in on the album after a lot of songs had been picked by the producer, ‘cause Paul and Gene did demos and stuff. And I was in New York in my studio that I threw together real quick. Y’know, I just put three ADATs and a board [together]. I had tons of outboard gear. Anton Fig came up, and Sebastian Bach came up, and we wrote a couple of songs. My bass player from my solo band came up, and we wrote “Into The Void,” which was originally called “Shakin’ Sharp Shooter.” Originally, when I played that song, it was rejected. And I thought the guitar riff was great; I thought the music to the song was great, but Paul and Gene and the producer rejected it because they didn’t feel it was strong enough, and it wasn’t so much in tune with the themes of the other songs. Gene said to me, “Why don’t you rewrite the lyrics and write something about space, about yourself... y’know, like you’re in a black hole, or you’re in the void.” I said to myself, “Yeah, “Into The Void,” that sounds good.” [Laughs] I wrote the song around that, and I did it in twenty-four hours. The next day, I came in and just sang the song, and it happened. I think it’s one of the best songs on the record. I mean, everybody’s got a little input in it. Paul helped me rearrange the song, musically; Gene came up with the title; Peter played a great drum track. We rehearsed it in just a small rehearsal studio. In the afternoon, we went over to the studio we were tracking in, and we did three or four takes. We ended up keeping the first take, which I loved, because the first take always has spontaneity. That’s the same way I approach guitar solos. I never figure out solos anymore. I basically just have a wing it kind of approach, y’know? Basically, as long as I know what key the solo is in, I try to kind of empty my mind and not think about anything, and just say, “Hit the record button.” I just play without thinking. Usually, the first take is the solo, even with mistakes. I usually just end up punching in any clinkers—bad notes—and I would say probably seventy-five percent of my solos on the last five or six albums I’ve worked on have been first or second takes. Because what happens is, after the third or fourth take, y’know, even if you’re playing the same notes, it doesn’t have the feeling; it starts sounding mechanical.
Oh, yeah, it’s calculated after that point.
Whenever I start to really think about what I’m playing, I may play it better musically, but the feeling isn’t there.
Well, like you said, it’s gotta have that spontaneity; it’s gotta be instinctive.
Yeah, yeah. A lot of musicians don’t realize that, y’know? I never went to music school; I never took a guitar lesson, but everybody in my family plays an instrument. My mother and father both played piano, and my brother and sister both played piano and acoustic guitar. My brother and sister were like, into folk music—the Peter, Paul and Mary songs, Simon and Garfunkle songs, and all that shit. I would screw around on a folk guitar with nylon strings and I’d go, “Yeah, this is kinda interesting.” I went to my friend’s house one day, and he had an electric guitar he had just bought with a tiny little amp. I turned the volume up to ten and I hit one chord, and I said, “I’m in love.” [Laughs] And that was the end... that was the beginning. [Laughs] I got an electric guitar for Christmas that year, and within a year or two, I was like, flying on the guitar.
Many years ago, I read a Kiss biography written by Robert Duncan. His opinion in the book was that once, maybe twice per album, Ace Frehley really cranks it up to full steam and pretty much outshines every other rock guitarist. I’m curious... where on Psycho Circus do you feel that you’ve really cranked it up to full steam?
I like the solo in “Into The Void.” The solo in “Within” is good. The solo I did on “In Your Face,” which is a Japanese import, is a happening solo.
Personally, the solo on “You Wanted The Best,” I thought that—
No, I meant that one; I meant that song. That’s one of the best solos on the record on “You Wanted The Best.”
I just felt that contained everything that I always liked about Ace Frehley solos all wrapped up in one.
I think that was a first take, if I’m not mistaken. But, y’know, Paul plays a couple of solos. I don’t remember which solos—I know there was a couple of solos that Paul had played and I re-played them. I’m not sure whether or not they used mine or Paul’s solo, or doubled them or whatever. Paul did some guitar work on the record, some real cool, cool stuff. He wrote the solo for “Psycho Circus,” y’know, and it sounds like me. I play it live. I played it in the studio, and I’m not sure whether or not they doubled it, or kept mine, or kept Paul’s.
Well, in the long run, the bottom line is it’s Kiss.
Yeah. I mean, a lot of times, I played bass on songs. Gene plays guitar on some songs.
It strikes me as really funny that people make such a big deal about that. But when you look at any other great band in the history of rock and roll... y’know, the Stones...
Yeah, Keith [Richards] plays bass on a lot of songs.
Oh, yeah. I mean, I think there’s even stuff that [producer] Jimmy Miller played the drums on, instead of Charlie Watts.
Yeah, I don’t think it matters. I think as long as the end result has the flavor of the band, it’s obvious who it is; it doesn’t matter who’s playing what. I think Psycho Circus is a good record. I think if me and Peter came out a little earlier and got more involved with the production, it would’ve been a better album. But, y’know, who knows? After this tour, I think Psycho Circus is gonna be a big album.
Do you consider it to be the definitive Kiss album?
Nah, I would say the definitive Kiss album is probably Alive! or Destroyer, or the first album. Those three, I think, all are special records. But my favorite Kiss song, by far, is “Deuce.”
Even after all these years, huh?
It’s funny... maybe it’s because it’s the first Kiss song I ever heard. When I went to audition for the band—y’know, I saw the ad in the Village Voice—ironically, I got there early and Bruce Kulick’s brother, Bob Kulick, was auditioning. I was just kind of sitting in the corner practicing my guitar. Gene came walking over to me—he didn’t know me—and he says, “You think you could put that guitar away? I think you’re making the other guy nervous.” [Laughs] I said, “I didn’t mean to offend anybody. I’m just trying to warm up, y’know?” He goes, “Yeah, but, y’know, your turn’ll come.” So, anyway, immediately I sensed this guy—I dunno, I didn’t get a good vibe. Basically, after he left, I set up my Marshall amp, and Paul, Peter and Gene, they said, “Listen, we’re gonna play you a song. Listen to it, it’s in the key of A.” Or, in reality, A flat, because we tune down a half-step. I heard it, and I loved it! I mean, it was just so driving. And they said, “This is the place where the solo is.” They played it once and they said, “Plug in and do your stuff.” When it came time for the solo, I just pulled every cool lick I’ve every played out of my hat and out of my repertoire of solos. They said, “We’ll get back to ya.” Two weeks later, they called me back and I played with them again. They sent me out of the room for a couple minutes. I came back in, they said, “You’re hired.” [Snickers] It’s trippy... but I had a feeling it was gonna work out because not only did I enjoy the music and hit it off with the guys, but I was into theatrical rock and was willing to wear makeup and do anything to make it. And everybody in Kiss was when we first started out. When we first started, the New York Dolls were popular on the New York scene, and they were kinda doing glam rock. Alice Cooper was huge. He was on the cover of every magazine. I’ll never forget the night me, Paul and Gene went to see Alice Cooper at the Garden, and he was doing the Billion Dollar Babies tour. We were just blown away. But, at the same time, y’know, the gears were turning in our minds going, we could do this, but we could do it better. [Laughs] And... we did. [Laughs]
Wait a second... okay, Rog, I’m back... in the New York groove. [Laughs] I wish I was in New York. I hate L.A.
It’s funny, every time I come back from L.A., the first thing I do when I get off the plane is look up. You can see the sky and there’s fresh air! [Laughs]
I tell ya, though, I like Malibu.
I have an actor friend of mine, Mark Chapman, who used to play the evil doctor in Swamp Thing for three years on USA network, and a couple other movies—feature films. He’s got a place out there with his wife and his kid—made me godfather to his son. He’s been in the movie The Langoliers with Stephen King; he played that English guy. Me and him click really well. I used to be really, really tight with John Belushi. Me and him used to go out and go on three-day binges. I’d leave on a Friday, come back on a Sunday or a Monday. Afterwards, it would take me two days to recover. [Laughs] The last time I spoke to him was two weeks before he passed away. I had decided to go on the wagon ‘cause I was just kinda going overboard at the time. He had just flown in from the West Coast, ‘cause he was in the middle of doing a movie, and he wanted me to go out. I said, “John, I’m on the wagon.” And he goes, “C’mon...” I said, “I can’t. I just made a commitment to myself, and I just wanna chill out for a month.” He goes, “Alright, well, if you change your mind, call me.” That was the last I heard from him. Two weeks later, he was dead.
Kinda eerie, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah. But... I don’t know. I believe in fate. I mean, if people are gonna self-destruct, they’re gonna self-destruct; there’s nothing you can do about it. I mean, at one point before I quit Kiss, I was kinda in that frame of mind where things weren’t going well at home [and] things weren’t going well with me, Paul and Gene. We were arguing a lot—Peter had left the group a couple years earlier. The only one I really got along with was Eric. [Laughs] I basically, y’know, I was—I told my shrink, “I’m feeling suicidal.” He said, “Well, y’know, if you’re feeling suicidal, then you better get out of the band.” When I quit the band, Gene just didn’t get it. He took it really personal ‘cause they ended up losing a major record deal because of it. To this day, I keep telling him, “Gene, I left the group because if I didn’t leave the group, I was gonna kill myself probably.” I was self-destructing. Gene’s never gotten fucked up, y’know, so he doesn’t understand it.
Right. A different perspective on it, a different frame of mind.
He just didn’t get it. I think he’s still pissed off about it deep down inside that I walked out on them. It’s something I didn’t wanna do, and it wasn’t anything malicious. It was just basically survival. I couldn’t go on anymore with them. I just needed to get away. But, y’know, I tell Gene now, I say, “Gene, if I never quit, we wouldn’t be doing a reunion.” [Laughs] We’re bigger now than we were in the late 70’s when we were peaking. So he goes, “Well... maybe you’re right.” Y’know, everything happens for a reason. Now, we’re getting along better than we’ve ever gotten along. We’re all older, we all have kids. We’ve all matured, and we kind of respect each other’s privacy and respect each other more as people and musicians. It’s nice, and this could go on for many years, as long as that’s maintained.
If we could, I’d like to talk a little bit about the rumors of a Kiss concert at the site of an alleged UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico. How much of that is because of your instigation? I mean, after all, you are the “Space Ace.”
Actually, I had nothing to do with coming up with that idea. I mean, the called me from L.A. when I was in New York working on my demos, and they said that’s when they wanted to have the first show, on the Fourth of July. I said, first of all, it’s in the middle of the fuckin’ desert. It’s only gonna be about a hundred and twenty degrees. And how the fuck do you get there? It’s not off a main thoroughfare. There isn’t a lot of hotels. We kinda re-thought it and realized that on the Fourth of July, a lot of people like to have barbecues and get together with the family—celebrate being an American, being free. I mean, this is the greatest country in the world. And whenever I’m in Europe and I come back from the European tours, the first thing I do is get on my knees and kiss the fuckin’ ground, because there’s no place like America. Y’know, Americans who haven’t left America, people who haven’t gone to Mexico or toured Europe extensively, don’t realize how good they got it here.
Oh, hell, no. In general, I think, as Americans, we take a lot of it for granted.
Yeah, especially the people who haven’t been outside of America. It’s just... land of the free, home of the brave. [Laughs]
It’s pretty well known that you’re fascinated with technology, particularly computers, which we were talking about. Now, Kiss is starting to explore the possibilities of the internet. I’m curious how much input have you had in the development of http://www1.kissonline.net ?
I haven’t had that much input because, to be totally honest with you, I’m more of an isolationist. When I turn on my computer, basically, I’m more into just doing art and animations. In my lifetime, I’ve probably been on the internet about fifteen or twenty times. [Laughs] Y’know, just check out certain sites and find out—actually, I usually log onto acefrehley.com and go to the chat room, and see what people are talking about or saying about me. [Laughs] That’s about it, y’know? I don’t go online a lot, ‘cause I don’t have a lot of free time. Rather than surf the internet, I’d rather be working on an animation. Right now I’m working on an animation of the four of us spinning in a cube with a curved mirror behind us with fog. I got some really cool new programs, and I’m trying to get something that we could use to end the show with before encores; something that I can loop, rather than just the four faces morphing like it was on the last tour. Y’know, with the help of this SGI machine, it’s gonna be amazing, because I’ll be able to still use my Mac programs and just send ‘em to the SGI machine and let the SGI machine render—it’ll probably take about 1/100th of the time than it takes a Mac to render it. You know what I’m really excited about that nobody fuckin’ knows about? I talk to people about this, and nobody fuckin’ knows! You got to people, “What do you think about the ISS?” And they go, “What? What organization is that?” I go, “I’m talking about the International Space Station that’s being built, [Laughs] that we’ve already started building; and it’s gonna be completed in the year 2003.” It’s gonna be the size of two football fields, and you’re gonna be able to see it from the Earth with the naked eye—and nobody knows about it! What’s the deal?
Everybody’s spending all their time looking at all this other crazy shit on the internet. [Laughs]
[Laughs] It was in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science—they had a special on it with a big foldout. They showed it with the huge solar panels and all this stuff. By the year 2003, there’s gonna be six people living on it. It’ll be able to accommodate a seventh, if they have a visitor... which is gonna be me! [Laughs] I don’t care how much I have to pay for the ticket, I wanna go!
Oh, shit, if they’ll send John Glenn back up there, the least they can do is let him move over and make some room for Ace Frehley.
Sure. I’ll get up there and I’ll do my guitar solos in one of those space outfits. [Laughs] But I was reading some real interesting things about it. When you take a shower in space, you have to press the water onto your body to clean yourself, and then you gotta vacuum it off. If you can get ahold of the issue, they put out an issue that’s a special. The main three countries that are involved—sixteen countries are involved, but the main three are the United States, Russia, and Japan. But then they’re talking about how making medicine up there, they can make it a lot better. Like, they were talking about making insulin and stuff. Once they start doing experiments up there... they’re gonna find a cure for AIDS up there, I guarantee.
Oh, no doubt.
Absolutely. ‘Cause, like, the zero gravity, it’s just like, nothin’. You get better test results. Things happen the way they’re supposed to be. Down here on Earth, when we make experiments, we’re affected by gravity and pollution, and people that are retarded... power surges. Up there, everything is kinda like... I dunno. I mean, I believe that the only way that the human race is gonna survive is to start colonizing space and setting up colonies on the moon, and then space stations.
Oh, sure. I mean, look at the rate we’re going down here.
A friend of mine came in from Australia a month ago and was telling me that you can only stay out on the beach for fifteen minutes in the sun because the ozone layer down there—the hole in the ozone layer. The rate of skin cancer down there has quadrupled in the past five years.
Isn’t that amazing, the rate that that has happened?
Well, y’know, they keep burning down the rain forests, and people continue to use aerosol cans and other things that deplete the ozone layer. The hole’s getting bigger. This planet, y’know [laughs to himself]—I don’t see this planet being... y’know, they’re talking about [how] they’re turning around the environmental problems here, but I think it’s already too late. The only way the human race is gonna survive is colonizing space and other planets. But I think we’ll survive. And I know for a fact I’m gonna take a ride on the space shuttle before I die, ‘cause I’ve seen it... I’ve seen it. I get flashes... I get like, three or four second flashes—they’re premonitions—and every time I get them, they come true. Like, I remember when I was doing the Unplugged session, and the day after that, y’know, I got a premonition. Just for like, three or four seconds. I was playing onstage in makeup, and Gene was looking at me, sticking his tongue out. And I told Peter, I said, “Y’know, we are gonna do a reunion.” He goes, “Well, I don’t know about that; they’re just talking about it.” I go, “Peter, I’m tellin’ ya, we’re gonna be doing the reunion tour, probably within a year.” And it all fell into place.
I was reading an interview in the latest issue of Metal Edge. According to that, Peter says that he plans on wrapping up his tenure with Kiss following this tour. What does that mean for you and the future of the band?
Peter told me he’ll hang in there as long as there’s a demand for it. If this tour is as successful as the last tour—or more successful, possibly because the show is more elaborate. The TV screen is twice the size of the old one, Peter’s drum kit flies over the audience.
Oh, with the 3-D?
No, literally. [Snickers] Gene flies up and sings “God Of Thunder” over the audience instead of on top of the light truss. There’s gonna be a couple of new surprises on top of the 3-D bullshit. I mean, the 3-D is just gonna be an extra added cool thing. But, I mean, even if you’re not wearing the 3-D glasses, the show’s gonna be bigger and better than it was on the last tour. So, I think we got a home run before we even get started... and I mean that humbly.
As of next year, you guys will be eligible for nomination to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Given the fact that, despite the legacy that you guys have left, you’ve never really been seriously acknowledged by critics. What effect, if any, do you think induction into the Hall of Fame might have?
I think that’s changing, though. Y’know why? Because a lot of the older critics are ex-Kiss fans. [Laughs]
Well, yeah, absolutely.
A lot of moms and dads are Kiss fans, and they’re bringing their kids to the show. [Laughs]
Well, y’know, it’s kind of funny... whenever I write anything about you guys, it’s kind of like a running joke with anybody who knows me. [Ace Laughs] It’s like, this is a serious review here, and they’re like, “C’mon...” That was always the joke: “No, I swear to God, man, it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.” And they’re like, “But you said that last year.”
Y’know what pisses me off? I’ve read reviews where you know the reviewer wasn’t at the show—and he pans us, y’know, puts us down. Just from what he writes, you can tell he wasn’t at the show. Even if you don’t like Kiss and you don’t like our music, how can you not report the fact that the fans went completely apeshit?
Oh, I agree with you!
By the end of the night, the whole audience was standing up singing “Rock and roll all nite and party every day.” Whether or not you like the band, at least report the truth.
I agree with you wholeheartedly. The sad thing is that happens with just about any band. Whether you like ‘em or not is completely irrelevant. It’s almost like with the Academy Awards. They never nominate the stuff that [millions of] people have gone to see. How can you argue with the fact that so many people enjoy something? That’s gotta give it some kind of merit.
Exactly. So, y’know, I mean, I take all that shit with a grain of salt. The bottom line is the Kiss Army is growing by leaps and bounds.
Well, sure... we’re all having kids now!
Exactly. [Laughs] It was funny, I asked my daughter in ‘96 when she was sixteen, I said, “What’s the buzz on the street with the kids?” ‘Cause she always hung out with the hippest crowd—y’know, the wildest crowd—like I did. I said, “What’s the buzz on Kiss right now on the reunion tour?” She’s going, “Y’know, to be honest, Dad, most of my friends aren’t into Kiss. But they’ve all been told that it’s the greatest show on Earth—rock and roll show—and everybody wants to go to see you guys. Not necessarily hear the music, but to see the show.” Once you come and see Kiss, you either love us or you hate us. I think most of the people, once you see a Kiss show, you kinda get spoiled because I don’t think there’s anybody out there that’s doing a bigger or a better show than us.
I don’t think anybody can, actually, at this point. How do you think the evolution of rock and roll would have been different if Ace Frehley had never picked up a guitar?
Ah... I couldn’t even comment on that. I’m a fatalist, y’know? I think I was meant to pick up the guitar; I was meant to be in Kiss; Kiss was meant to happen. Everything that happens in my life is just like... I feel like somebody’s up there orchestrating it. [Laughs] There’s just too many weird coincidences that have happened in my life. Y’know, I’ve had twelve, fifteen car accidents where most people would’ve been dead ten times. Driving a Delorian a hundred miles an hour against traffic on a highway, getting away with just a couple of fender benders. And, y’know, I’ve seen flashes of my death; I’ve seen it clearly. I’m laying in a bed with grey hair, and I got all my family and grandchildren around me; I look like I’m in my seventies or eighties. I know I’m not gonna die young.
That’s got to be a comfort, too, knowing that you’ve got family and loved ones that are going to be there, y’know?
My family’s great, y’know? Very supportive. Me and my daughter, in the past year since I got off the road, have really gotten a lot closer. To me, that’s worth more than ten million dollars. [Snickers] Because, for awhile, we had a falling out. At that point, I was really screwing up my head. Now, me and my daughter are tighter than we’ve ever been before. I go down to her apartment and we can hang out. No matter what we do, if we just hang out and decide to just watch videos and order pizza and we just chill out, y’know? We’ll end up passing out on the couch together, wrapped up in a quilt. [Laughs]
Yeah, but that’s what it’s all about, y’know?
Yeah, I mean, you can’t buy that. That is like, to me, more enjoyable than playing Dodger Stadium. [Laughs]
Well, y’know, if you’re lucky enough to be blessed with something like that...
I got more blessings than—sometimes I feel I don’t deserve ‘em. But, in the same token, my motto, as far as life is concerned, is to treat people the way I would like to be treated. So, I mean, if I meet somebody—and let’s say they’re a ditch digger—I’ll treat them the same way I would treat Paul or Gene. I don’t see anybody any different. I don’t think anybody’s better than anybody else because they’re a millionaire, or they’re a rock star, or they’re an accountant, or they’re a sanitation [worker].
No. The bottom line is we’re all human beings, y’know?
Yeah. Unfortunately, some people don’t see things that way. But I think that comes across; I think the fans know that about me.
Yeah, I think so.
Maybe it’s because I was born on a different planet—Jendell. [Laughs Jokingly]
[Laughs] Y’know, it’s funny... I was telling you before the story about listening to the record with the skip and everything. [Ace Laughs] I got another one you might get a kick out of. March 1st, 1985, the Agora Ballroom in West Hartford, Connecticut... we didn’t know what you looked like without the makeup, and we all went to the show because we wanted to see Ace. There’s this guy standing out there, and he just looks every fuckin’ inch the rock star. He’s got the look, the pose, and we’re like, “Wow! So that’s what Ace looks like!” And then there’s this other guy off to the side noodling around with his guitar, but we’re more fixated on this rock star guy. The show started, and the guy who was noodling around with his guitar walked to center stage and started singing... and we thought Richie Scarlet was you! [Ace laughs] We’re watching him, and like, “Hey, wait a minute... his lips aren’t moving. Who’s singing? That’s Ace? Fuck!” Hey, we didn’t know, man! We didn’t know what you looked like without the makeup.
I’ve known Richie for, God, twenty years; he’s like my brother. We still keep in contact. I still keep in contact with all the old guys from my band, y’know? We were very, very close. I’m closer with those guys than I am with Paul and Gene because we had fun on and off the stage. I mean, I love Paul, I love Gene, and I love Peter, but usually, y’know, on our days off, we spend it apart from each other—probably because we know each other so well and we all want our own space. And we know we’re gonna be going on tour for a year-and-a-half tour of the world. And, y’know, we’re trying to get—one of my best friends lives out here, and couple other close friends live out here. When I have my days off, I like to be with people that I’m not gonna see for awhile.
I remember a show you guys did... you came out for the encore, and I remember Richie had a black t-shirt and it said “Who The Fuck Is Keith Richards?” And I swear to God, I was the only one laughing at it.
A lot of people think he looks like Keith.
Doesn’t he? I’m standing there laughing my ass off, and everybody’s like, “What are you laughing at?” I’m like, “Don’t ya get it? Nah, never mind... you don’t get it.” [Ace Laughs] Y’know, out of all the misconceptions you’ve ever heard about yourself, which one do you find the most amusing?
The fact that people think I’m a space cadet and I’m not intelligent. Y’know, I can sit down with a professor and talk about quantum physics. I’ve read all of Einstein’s books on the Theory of Relativity, and I’m very proficient on a computer. A lot of times, people think I’m just some—y’know, when they hear about my reputation as being a party animal, and a drunk and drug addict, that’s the biggest misconception. People sit down and talk to me, and they realize, y’know, I’m a very bright individual and can talk just about any subject. And I’m knowledgeable about it, ‘cause I do a lot of reading.
Because of such enormous success, do you feel that you’ve been able to live your life to the fullest?
No. I think whenever you become a celebrity, you have to give up a lot of things people don’t understand. Being on the road nine months out of the year affects your relationships at home, like your family, your friends, your loved ones. Everything has its price. I can’t go to amusement parks, restaurants, anywhere without people recognizing me. Y’know, nine times out of ten, I’m usually gracious enough to give people autographs and stuff. But, y’know, once in awhile, some asshole will come over to me just as—if I’m eating soup, just as I’m putting the food in my mouth, they’ll grab my hand and say, “Hey, can I have an autograph?” And I’d say, “You think you could be nice enough to wait until I’m finished eating?” [Laughs] Y’know, some people just have no fuckin’ manners.
But, I must say, ninety-five percent of the Kiss fans that I’ve met are very patient. As long as I say I’ll give you an autograph, just give me some space, they’ll wait patiently... that’s cool.
Do you have any more unrealized ambitions, musical or otherwise, that you have an overwhelming urge to pursue at this point in your life, other than what we’ve talked about, like the space shuttle?
One thing I love to do is produce. I’ve produced a couple of bands. I mean, nothing ever really happened with ‘em, but I enjoy getting a young band into the studio and guiding them, and making them feel at ease. I mean, especially if they’re a real talented band, and they’re real eager and they have good writing skills, and they have a good repertoire of songs. I find it fascinating to be able to pull the best performance out of them. And I know how to do that. The first thing is to first of all, make them feel at ease. You’re never gonna give your best performance if the producer makes you feel like you gotta do it my way, and blah, blah, blah. I just tell everybody, “Listen, everybody just chill out.” A lot of times, they’ll say, “Let’s rehearse the song a couple times, and then we’ll track it.” I always tell the engineer to record the rehearsals, and they’re usually the tracks we keep. [Laughs] They’re relaxed and they’re not thinking; they’re not going, “Oh, this is going to tape.” I tell [the engineer] to unscrew the red bulb so they don’t know it’s being recorded. [Laughs] There’s little tricks like that, ‘cause, y’know, I’ve recorded twenty-five or thirty albums. I know that sometimes when you work with producers who are kinda dictators, it doesn’t help you make a better record.
You speak from experience. How was Bruce Fairburn to work with?
Bruce was pretty cool. Bruce turned out to be—me and Bruce became good friends during the course of the record. We really over-cut [material]. I think we had sixteen or seventeen songs in the can, but Paul and Gene wanted to limit the American release to ten songs. “Shakin’ Sharp Shooter,” before it became “Into The Void,” was a good song. But, as I said earlier in the interview, they didn’t think that the lyrics went with the theme of the album. The day before we were supposed to cut “Into The Void,” Bruce took me aside and he said, “There’s five songs already that we have to cut from the album, and they’re all good songs. I’m not sure it’s worth spending the time on tracking this song, because it may not hold up as well as some of the other ones that we’re gonna cut.” And I said, “Bruce, all I want you to do is give me twenty-four hours. Just give me one day in the studio. I’ll rewrite the song. I’ll practice it with Peter, and we’ll go in and we’ll cut the basics. I’ll rewrite all the lyrics in one day, and I guarantee you, you’ll be happy with it.” And he said, “You deserve that... okay.” That’s what I did. I just rewrote the song, rewrote the lyrics. In fact, the day I went in to write the lyrics, I still didn’t have the third verse, and they kept saying, “C’mon, it’s time to do the vocals.” And I said, “Wait, I’m just finishing up the third verse.” [Laughs] I had to put earplugs in my ears because I was hearing stuff coming out of the control room. I needed total silence because I was concentrating on the verses. It came out great. But I’m the kinda person, you gotta fight for everything you get. You gotta believe in yourself. Luckily, I followed through with that song, because I knew the riff in the song had potential; it was just a matter of pleasing everybody. But I gotta say, y’know, it’s a better song now than its original version. That’s the process, y’know? It’s crazy. But I work well under pressure. I may bitch and moan, but when I’m under pressure, I probably do my best work. But, y’know, the street kid, I’ve been backed up into a corner before, and I’ve had to fight my way out. And I usually did. [Snickers] I can deal with it.
Well, y’know, it’s no secret that the last couple of albums you recorded with Kiss before you left were kind of difficult. Comparatively, how was the creative process that resulted in this album different from those previous experiences? Was it easier? More enjoyable, maybe?
This one was easier because I was sober. And in the time I had left the group ‘til the time I had rejoined the group, I had the luxury of having my own band and calling my own shots, and being the boss. Just working with different people and learning more about the recording process from beginning to end. I feel much more comfortable in the studio, and more proficient in dealing with engineers and assistant engineers, producers—I just understand the whole process a lot better. Having my own studio at home, I can engineer myself. I’m a terrible mixer, though [laughs], because I have a lot of hearing loss from over the years. I end up cranking up too much—I make it too bright because that’s where a lot of my hearing loss has been depleted from the spectrum that my ear hears. As far as working in the studio, I feel so much more comfortable now because I’ve produced other groups; I’ve owned my own studio. I’ve worked with Kiss in the past, walked in stoned all the time. Now, it’s a pleasure to walk in sober and be on top of things, to know exactly what I’m doing and be in sync with everybody. To be on the same level as Paul and Gene, we can relate a lot better, and that’s one of the reasons the band’s getting along a lot better. That’s one of the reasons Paul and Gene decided to do the reunion tour, because, for awhile, I was out there; I was in the ozone. [Laughs] We couldn’t relate to each other. But now, we’re both on the same level. When I say something and they say something to me, we’re on the same wavelength and it works. And, it’s a lot more enjoyable.
Is it difficult for you sometimes, talking about some of your experiences with your daughter, hoping, “God, I hope she doesn’t do half the shit I did!”
No, my kid’s just like anybody else. I look at my kid, and one part of me wants to keep her as my little—she’s still my little baby. But, y’know, the bottom line is she’s eighteen, she’s started college, she’s living alone in Manhattan. She’s very independent, she’s very bright, she’s very talented. Through her teens, she experimented with stuff, she admitted to me. She got through it and realized it wasn’t for her, thank God. I think she’s a better person for it. I’m not promoting experimentation, but, y’know, everybody’s curious. Until you’ve experienced something, you don’t know whether or not—you don’t know what people are talking about. But I draw the line when it comes to hard drugs. I’ve never experimented with heroin because I don’t have to. I have good friends of mine who experimented with it and died. I’ve never read anything about heroin where, yeah, it’s a good experience, and you can do it for twenty years and enjoy it, like having a cold beer. It doesn’t work that way with heroin, or any other hard drugs. I think experimenting with the things that aren’t as heavy as that, I think all kids do that. If your kid’s lucky enough to get through it unscarred, you’re lucky.
Well, that’s the thing, too, being realistic about it. I see so many people who have kids who are your daughter’s age, and they’re just completely oblivious. It’s like, don’t you remember what you were like when you were that age? They’re just oblivious to what their kids are doing. I think they just want to live in some kind of bubble and not talk to their kids, or not be a part of what’s going on. They just want to imagine it’s Leave It To Beaver or something.
When I was touring with my band, early 90’s when she was like, fourteen, fifteen, she started getting into the rave scene. I know she was going out to these raves and coming back the next day. I wasn’t happy about it, and whenever I was home, I’d say to my wife, “You can’t let this kid stay out all night and not come home.” She’d go, “Okay.” And then as soon as I left to go on the road—my wife wasn’t that great of an authoritarian. Basically, my daughter did what she wanted to do, y’know? I wasn’t happy about it when I heard about it on the phone, but she got through it unscarred. She experimented with certain things, but she realized it wasn’t for her. Now, she’s really, really into her art and her career. She’s got a real positive outlook on life, and she’s very motivated. I’m very excited about it. I’m very happy for her because I see that. There’s that period from puberty on where some kids either make it or they don’t. She basically got through it pretty well, and it looks like she’s on her way to a good career. She’s pretty level-headed. Y’know, you could drop my daughter off in the middle of Times Square at four o’clock in the morning, and she wouldn’t freak out; she’d know exactly what to do. You can’t say that about every kid, y’know.
As a father, that’s got to be a bit of a relief.
It is. I mean, she told me she’s seen a guy walk up to a friend of hers and blow his brains out; she saw the brains splatter on the wall. I’ve never even seen that, and I’ve seen a lot of shit. She’s been around, my kid, but you live and you learn.
Maybe she inherited some of her old man’s street smarts, y’know?
I think so. She definitely takes after me. Whenever we’re laying in bed together watching videos, my wife will walk in and she’ll go, “Oh, there they are, the bookends.” [Roger and Ace both laugh] Facially, she looks a lot like me, and personality-wise, she’s a lot like me, too. We have the same sense of humor. We just get it at the same time when we’re watching a movie. I thank God for that. One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten is my daughter.
Wrapping things up, you’re getting ready to go back out on the road. The tour starts on Halloween, right?
The tour kicks off Halloween, then we have a couple days off. The 5th and the 6th, we’re shooting our footage for the feature film on New Line Cinema called Detroit Rock City. I’m terrible with names, but you know the kid from Terminator II, Eddie something.
All I know is I got a phone call from one of the assistant producers today, and he said that the dailies are just coming out great. I said, “See if you can throw some of ‘em on a VHS and ship it out to me; I wanna see some of the footage.” But this could be a big movie [and] we could just enhance our career even more. I know we shot Millennium, and supposedly Paul got a copy of it and said it looked great. We’re all doing cameo appearances on that. I’m playing a fifty-five year old sheriff with a beer belly, grey hair, and a moustache. [Roger and Ace both laugh] Peter’s like, my deputy, and we walk out of a hotel room where Paul and some girl just had their throats cut. There’s blood all over the place, and Lance Henriksen—the star—we meet him in the hallway, and Peter’s all upset. And I’m like, thrilled with the crime scene, going, “Yeah. Oh, best crime scene I’ve seen since 1985. It looks like a bloodmobile exploded all over the wall.” [Roger and Ace both laugh] And there I am all dressed up in a policeman’s outfit with a moustache, and the shades and the hat.
[Laughs] I’m dying to see it.
I gotta tape that!
And Mad TV, y’know, we did a really fuckin’ hysterical skit with this guy imitating Michael Jackson—it’s so fuckin’ funny. It’s like, us against Michael Jackson, and he sends four little kids after us to beat us up. We stick out our hands, and we got our hands on their heads and they’re like, swinging, but they can’t hit us. The power of Kiss like, goes into their bodies through our hands. They turn around [and] they have Kiss makeup on and they go beat him up. [Ace and Roger both laugh] It is fuckin’ trippy!
When does that air, the Mad TV?
That’s on right before our show.
And then the tour starts in the middle of November.
The first show’s Boston, the 12th.
I had actually heard there was a chance that you guys might be up in Hartford rehearsing for about a week or so. I don’t know if that’s the case or not...
I think we’re gonna base ourselves out of Manhattan and just fly out to do the shows, fly back. Basically, during the course of the tour, we’re just gonna base ourselves out of three or four cities. Y’know, shoot to the airport at three or four o’clock, fly in, do the soundcheck, put on the makeup, do the show. Take off the makeup, shoot to the airport and fly back to the main city.
Right. So when you’re up here doing New England and the East Coast, it’ll be out of New York.
Yeah, we’ll be basing ourselves out of Manhattan. In the Midwest, we’ll be basing ourselves out of Chicago. In L.A., we’ll base ourselves out of L.A. doing the West Coast. Y’know, it’s so much easier and it’s less stressful because you don’t have to unpack, and it’s less traveling—just hop on a jet. You don’t have to go through airports and deal with all that crap; you just fly out of a private airport. Meet us at the airport, shoot over and do the soundcheck. Makeup, show, take off the makeup, and we’re back in our beds by 1:30 in the morning.
Not bad, not bad at all. I guess you guys are supposed to be in Hartford the night before Thanksgiving.
I don’t have the schedule in front of me, but if you say so, you’re probably right. [Laughs]
I hope so, ‘cause then that means I can sleep in the next morning; I don’t have to get up and go to work. [Laughs]
That sounds like a beautiful thing.