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Ace Frehley prefers to use plug-ins when recording because of the flexibility they offer in the mixing process. “If you record the effect into the mic, you can’t get rid of it,” he says.
“Toys” starts off with massive layers of guitars. Talk us through how you build up a sound like that.
I use the same formula that I started using in 1978 with [drummer] Anton Fig and [legendary producer] Eddie Kramer on my first solo album, Ace Frehley. First we cut basic tracks—drums and rhythm guitar. Once we decide on which track we like, I’ll overdub a scratch bass. Then we have the foundation for a song and you start overdubbing. Some of the songs don’t sound like they have that many guitars, but there are a lot of layered guitars that are tucked. I double or triple everything. You know, some of them have 10 or 12 guitar tracks. But a lot of them are tucked low and subtly used to boost certain parts. I like to do octave parts. Something I did with Paul Stanley back in the ’70s was if he was playing a low part, I’d play the inversion of it. That way you get a much thicker sound.
For the multiple parts, would you use the same gear setup?
I’d vary the guitars. Most of the stuff I track with a Les Paul. Then, a lot of times I’ll double stuff up with Fenders because they have a different sound. So you blend the two sounds together. Live, I exclusively use Gibson Les Pauls, but in the studio I use a variety. If you listen to the early Who records, Pete Townshend used a lot of acoustics tucked under the electric guitars. That’s something I learned from Pete, and I incorporate it on some songs on the record.
Your tone changes in the middle of the solo on “Starship.” After one phrase, it sounded like the next phrase entered using a different setup.
Different guitar, different amp setups. That’s the beauty of Pro Tools and digital editing. We did it section-by-section. That’s why there are so many varied parts in that song. That song calls for it. It’s the premier instrumental on the record. I think it’s great the way it goes through different genres of sound.
When you covered Hello’s “New York Groove” on your first solo album back in the day, it reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the highest charting single of any Kiss member’s solo albums. What inspired you to cover Steve Miller’s “The Joker” on the new album?
That was eOne Music’s idea. I was a little resistant because I didn’t think the song was, maybe, heavy enough, in respect to the other songs on the record. But I think I made it my own and heavied it up. I put a rockin’ solo on it. I also gave it a “New York Groove” kind of swing on the choruses and rhythm.
The solo in “The Joker” has a lot of power. How do you conjure up that energy in a studio environment?
I empty my head, know what key I’m playing in, and just go. Obviously, I’d get the tone first and get the levels right, working with an engineer. Some of the stuff I engineered myself, but I would say that for 90 percent of the solos, I worked with an engineer. I like to free myself up from the task of worrying about levels and buttons and whatnot.
How many takes would you typically do?
I usually do about five or six takes. We’ll listen to them and a lot of times we’ll take the front end of one solo, the middle part of another, and the tail end of another. People have been doing that for years. I’m not gonna cop to the idea that I do a solo from beginning to end flawlessly. Very few people do that these days. Sometimes I’ll do a composite solo of three or four takes, and memorize and double it. Sometimes that comes out better than the actual edited composite. Sometimes I’ll favor the original and have the doubling of the composite solo tucked under.
Then you’d have to relearn what you improvised. Is that pretty hard to do?
Depends on how complicated it is. The real fast stuff I do, yeah, sometimes it takes a little patience. Because most of the stuff I play, right after I play it, I forget it.
I understand you wrote “Inside the Vortex” on bass.
Yeah. You’re doing your homework. I wrote that on my old sunburst Fender Precision. It’s actually the same bass I used on my ’78 solo record. I was fooling around with it and going through a distortion unit and an envelope filter, and I just came up with that riff and then I built the song around that.
That riff has a lot of stops and starts. Is that the bass influence?
It’s a little Led Zeppelin-esque. I like the direction it goes in and where it takes you.
Tell us more about the guitars you used on the album.
Mostly Les Pauls, but like I said, to double up parts, I’d use some Strats. I also used a big load of Gibson acoustics, some Guilds, Taylors, and a couple of Dobros. Stuff that I collected over the years. Live, I still favor my AFS [Ace Frehley Signature] Les Paul. Those are still my favorite guitars made by Gibson Custom. The “Budokan” is a real close second.
Why is that?
I don’t know [laughs]. When you play ’em, you’ll know. They just kill. I’m trying to figure out what my next model will be. I’m talking about possibly putting out a tobacco sunburst Standard, which was the first Les Paul I used with Kiss, or maybe the black triple-pickup. I should take a poll and see which one wins.