INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND JARNO HUOVILA
LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
The legendary Space Ace Frehley, of KISS fame, finally returned to Europe, after almost a decade, and unleashed his first solo shows in the UK in twenty years. At his shows in Sheffield and London, Ace rocked in front of sold-out crowds of fans from all over Britain and Europe. Present were all the hallmarks fans could have possibly have wished for, from the career-spanning spectacular set list to the smoking guitar. Along with his new band, comprising of Anthony Esposito [ex-Lynch Mob], Scot Coogan [ex-BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION] and Derrek Hawkins, Ace practically brought the house down and proved to any doubters, that he’s back! The day after the band’s spectacular performance at London’s Astoria, we hooked up with Anthony Esposito, Ace’s bass player, to catch up on the latest happenings in Ace World. Read On, Rock Soldiers!
ACE FREHLEY BAND AND NEW ALBUM
How did you end up playing bass for Ace Frehley and how has it been to work with him?
I started about two and a half years ago; a Hell’s Angel’s friend of mine introduced me to Ace. He says “You need to meet Ace and Ace needs to meet you.” he put us together and Ace had some songs, he’d always have some demo songs that he was working on. We took everything and made a big long CD full of all the versions of all the songs, gave them working titles, started to pull everything that was floating into a room on board. OK, let’s work on this, the verse on this would go great with the fucking chorus… oh, let’s try it. Then we got in a room, it was me, Anton [Fig] and Ace and we just started playing, we started trying things and matching things. And Ace has the best impulses of a songwriter, his intuition when he writes songs is so genius, the way he picks “Oh, we could do this…!”, he’s so brilliant. So we basically took everything and then started recording when I had the studio in School House. We had Jay Messina engineering, and we went in and recorded all these songs and then sat back. We listened, we mixed three songs, we recorded maybe fifteen, sat back and listened to them, and he was like “You know, this one should be faster. This one, maybe this guy was better to play to play drums on.”, So Scot [Coogan] got on five songs, we re-recorded some of them. That’s where it is now, and then Ace goes “I feel like singing today.”, So we’d do a lead vocal that day. The record is about 85% finished, and it’s fucking amazing. It’s like he wanted to like in the 1978 record where it wasn’t just one sound, it was a bunch. Like you listen to “Fractured Mirror,” and then you go to “New York Groove” and then you go to “Rip It Up,” they’re all different kind of vibe, but they’re great songs. That’s how this record is.
The band lineup has been shuffled around a bit since those early sessions, hasn’t it?
That’s another thing; we’re just starting to get going. So when we geared to go up on these tours, we started to put a band together, Scot [Coogan] flew out in March with my other friend Jason Hook who plays with Alice Cooper now, and that was the band. We got together, played four days, and Ace’s going “Great, I love this. This is the lineup.” and then Ace was like “Let’s record some more.” Ace plays all the guitars, so Jason had nothing to do from March until Halloween, he said “I can’t sit around for ten months and wait.”, So he got the Alice Cooper gig and went out. That opened the door for Derrek, I’ve known Derrek for years, so we checked him out, and he was awesome, perfect. So now Derrek’s in, and Scot’s first gig was Halloween, everything sort of sneaks up on us. Before you know we’re doing a tour, “Oh, we need shirts, we need a backdrop.” and Ace does all the graphics, so we wait for Ace to do it. It not like most bands who’ll go to a graphic designer for the T-shirt company. Ace goes back, he draws it, he gets inspired, so it takes time for Ace to do that. There will be more shirts on the May tour.
When Ace started putting together this new lineup for his solo band, was there a particular reason why certain ex-members didn’t get involved, like Ritchie Scarlett for example?
Because it’s his new, Ace’s whole life’s new.
Did you ever even consider using any of them again in this lineup?
Yeah. He [Ace] and I did, but that’s Ace’s thing. There are a bunch of reasons why he wanted to do it that way. And he would have to answer that question.
But you did end up having Anton Fig (ex- Frehley’s Comet, KISS) play the drums on the new record?
He’s great. I love Anton; he can’t count to four, everything is five or seven, like time one two three four five. He doesn’t count to four, and I’m a rock guy, everything’s four. It was great playing with him, really fun. They have tons of stories, the two of them get in a room and it’s all “Remember the time…” [laughs]
Have any outside writers been contributing to the songwriting on the upcoming record?
No. In the beginning, I started working with Ace before anybody else, before Anton got involved, and he actually asked me if I wanted to co-write with him, and I was like “No, the more I get involved, the less it’s going to be what the fans want to hear. Your fans wanna hear you singing your songs. They want to hear where your head is at and what’s going on in Ace World right now. It’s your record, I’ll help you, but your fans want your ideas, and it’s important that you give them what’s up there right now. Nothing in between, you, them, that is it.” So there were no co-writers.
Will the forthcoming album be titled PAIN IN THE NECK as has been rumored?
No, it’s a song title. It doesn’t have a title yet. It could end up being the title, but it’s not the title. There’s no title right now, or there might be in Ace’s head, and he just hasn’t told me yet.
Are there any other song titles or details that you’re at liberty to divulge?
I only know the titles that he’s got written on the wall, I don’t know if that’ll be the final title of the song.
Guess we’ll find out soon enough?
Yeah, I know that there are ten songs, there’s only going to be ten songs on it, and one of them will be instrumental.
How you got any idea who’s going to release the record once you’ve got it finished?
He’s got a bunch… he’s not even… You know, Ace is the opposite of everyone else in that band [KISS]. He doesn’t do anything by money; he doesn’t care. He doesn’t’ consider things, like when we do merch, he doesn’t do a shirt because he thinks it would sell, he does a shirt because he likes it [Note: That explains the lack of any kind of merchandise at the UK gigs, dammit.]. The same thing with his songs, he likes playing that way that song that will be the way we’ll do it. Same thing with this decision, the last thing on his mind is a label because it’s not… the music’s the most important. He goes “This record’s got to be great, my fans waiting for so long, I don’t want to let them down, I want to give them a great record.” And if we do the right thing and we make the right record they’ll be tons of people who’ll want to make money off it, because that’s all they do, put it out and make money off it.” So there’s already plenty lining up for it, so he’s not worried about it.
Be honest here… which one do you think will be out first, Axl’s CHINESE DEMOCRACY or Ace’s new album?
It’s funny; did you hear that new thing that Dr. Pepper did? Like I said I play with the guys with Axl, I play with Richard and Frank [Fortus]. We’re always like “When’s your record coming out?” [laughs] I just have a funny feeling Ace will be out first “laughs.”
Well, that’s certainly good to hear.
Anthony and Ace live at Astoria U.K
TOURING AND DEALING WITH SPACEMAN
How long has it been since you last toured on this scale that you’re now doing with Ace?
It was probably with George [Lynch]; we did a tour in 2001 or 2002 that was pretty long. But then he broke up the band for personal reasons, and I was like “That’s it; I don’t ever want to play with you again.”
How has it been with Ace, what have been the best and worst things so far?
Like any kind of machine you’re constantly pulling out weak things and replacing them with stronger things and adapting until we built this thing that can go. So it’s kind of like you show up one day and need this, so the next day you have that. Then it’s just about getting it to where it’s a very working machine, and then your mind is just freed up to create. Like it’s frustrating when he shows up to a sound check, and his guitar amp doesn’t work, now all his focus is getting the rig to work as opposed to being able just to rip and play and get off on the sound. So in order to get to step ten, one two three four have to be there. And over the last couple of months, first we did two gigs at Halloween, we did four gigs at New Years, and then we did this run where we just did about thirty shows. So just about now we know what needs to be changed, which songs work and which don’t. Like we do stuff in sound check that we don’t do [in the show], “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Strutter,” “Ozone,” “Fractured Mirror,” there’s like stuff floating. The three guys, we get to sound check before Ace, so we’ll work on some stuff, and if he wants to come in and play with it, then we’ll play it. It’s just a matter of working things in and out, it’s an evolution process, and every day it gets better.
On a scale from 1-10, where are the band at, performance wise, right now then?
Well… 7. I think we’re 70% of where we could be. I mean we’re a really good band, and we’re better than a lot of the bands out there right now. This band could be incredible in time.
You have a pretty nicely balanced set list at the moment, was it difficult to compile?
It evolved. Derrek, I and Scot are all KISS fans, so we try to tell Ace what we would like to hear without making it sound like we’re fans. Like “You know I always loved the end of “Black Diamond” I think we should stick the end of “Black Diamond” here.” or like just in the car I’m like “You know, you used to do this solo thing at the end, I think it was “Watching You” or “She”, we should put that somewhere in the set.”.
It’s cool to hear the stuff like the portion of “Torpedo Girl” in the set…
Oh yeah, Ace wanted to do a medley, because he used to do a medley with Ritchie [Scarlett] and all those guys and it always went over well. I think “Speeding Back” we could probably do the whole song and the people would love that. Like the crowd seems to start bouncing, that one always gets a good response. He’s got so much great stuff, and then he’s got all the KISS stuff that he played on, even if he didn’t write it. Like that solo in “Love Gun,” oh man.
Are there any plans in place to film some shows on this tour for a DVD release perhaps?
We shot a couple already. We shot the Halloween one, and we shot the one that we just did in New York last week. We don’t know we’re talking about it; Ace’s got some great ideas. We wanted to because it’s the 30th anniversary of the solo record, maybe go out and do like ten or fifteen in the States, do a month of shows where we’ll just play the solo album start to finish. You know, the backdrop of the solo album and go out and just play that, just select show, smaller places. There’s so much stuff; he’s got great ideas. It’s about picked, execute and deliver.
This week we’re going to go back with Tim Hatfield who did Keith Richards’ records, and he’s going to engineer and we’re going to go up to Ace’s house, it’s going to be Ace, me and Tim. We’ll be doing that, and I’m sure while we’ll be doing that, I’ll be on the phone to the merch companies and getting all that happening. Ace really wants the record to be great, so that’s why he’s in no rush to finish it. He wants the fans to be happy, it can’t be less than great, and I’m telling you it is. It’s so fucking great. I’m so proud to be on it, like I felt this way, not as much, but I did feel proud being on “Wicked Sensation” [with LYNCH MOB]. Like when I did “Wicked” with George, we’d sit down and listen to the songs on that record, and I was proud of that record. This one I’m even more proud of because I grew up an Ace fan and now I’m a part of creating music with him and being part of him delivering his vision right now.
One thing I’m wondering is that there’s presently no official ACE FREHLEY website, is there?
That’s another thing; right now we have a guy designing a website on MySpace, so that’ll be up soon. By the time the record comes out everything will be in line, you’ll have a place to go for information, a place to get music, a place to get shirts, a place to get hats and all the other stuff. He’s got so many ideas, but we’re on “Ace time” [laughs].
As you said, new Ace merchandise and website are coming. Are there any other plans in the works?
We’re actually trying to contact the distributor here to get the old Ace albums, get copies and have him sign them and sell them, like an autographed 1987 solo album. You know, sell those, TROUBLE WALKIN and all that stuff. I think there are only two Frehley’s Comet’s, the one solo and then TROUBLE WALKIN and the live one, those would be the ones he would sell. It’s amazing he’s been playing [all this time], and there are only five albums. TROUBLE WALKIN came out in 1989, so it’s been almost twenty years.
The second part of this interview focuses, among other things, on LYNCH MOB and Anthony’s career outside ACE FREHLEY. Check it out!
ACE FREHLEY BAND LIVE AT LONDON 2008