We’re all your children, Alice… “Yes – you and Rob Zombie and Kiss and all these other bands, I know. My disobedient children”.
And we’re both laughing. Laughing because speaking with Alice Cooper is both pleasing and easy conversation. And easy to forget you’re speaking with a legend who’s sold more than fifty million records, who took on America and the world with antics that had never been seen or heard before, at a time when that world wasn’t ready for it. Immortalised by Salvador Dali, buddied up with Jim Morrison, hanged, electrocuted…we just don’t have the space to tell the whole story. But that was the seventies and – in 2021 – Alice has a new album out: Detroit Stories. And it’s a corker.
I’m guessing it’s been a long time since you’ve had more than a few months off? “The last ten years have been literally two thirds of the year on the road. Between Alice Cooper and the Vampires (Hollywood Vampires, Alice’s side project with Joe Perry and Johnny Depp), I finish my tour and go right out with the Vampires. So, when everybody else goes home I’ve got another two months going with a different band”.
Where was your last show before it all stopped? “We got into Berlin and finished the show and got the message: ‘You’ve got thirty six hours to go. We’re closing the borders down. Everything’s cancelled. Get outta town.’ That was March 7 2020′.
What’s the current state of lockdown for you at the moment? “In Arizona we’re out now, there are like twenty five thousand people a day getting vaccinated and I’ve already had my two shots so I’m all ready to go. And I heard in England twenty million people have been vaccinated. I can see the world opening up pretty soon to concerts, especially in America. Every city is doing what we’re doing here so, everything’s open here -malls are open, movie theatres are open…”
Maybe we’ll get to see that James Bond movie I’ve been hanging out for… “My gosh I’m waiting for this thing! Now we’re sitting here thinking ‘this better be good!’” (laughter)
How is it being in both bands? “The best thing is everybody in my touring band are best friends – they’re the best players I know and they’re best friends. There’s no ego going on, nobody complaining, none of the crap that happens with bands, none of that ever happens. It’s always laughing backstage. They all look good; they all play great. I’ve never heard a bad night (laughs) everybody’s so good that there’s no such thing as a bad night. And it’s the same thing with the Vampires. We’ve been together seven years and have never once had an argument. It’s a pleasure playing with either band”.
Congratulations on Detroit Stories, it’s a kicker! You’ve really captured the soul of what you’ve always been about, but also something of your Detroit roots… “Thank you. Yeah. You know it’s a funny thing about being from Detroit… you can’t get away from it. When I started working with this (the album) band I had Wayne Kramer (MC5) on guitar, Mark Farner (Grand Funk) on guitar and Johnny Bee on drums (Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels)- all Detroit guys, you know, – these guys live, eat and everything Detroit. And I’m listening to them play a rock and roll riff and I notice there’s a certain amount of R&B in there, it’s in the DNA and they can’t help it. And normally I would say ‘oh no I don’t want that’ but since it’s about Detroit I said ‘no leave it in I want all that’. In fact, there are certain songs, like $1000 High Heel Shoes – where I said let’s turn that into a Motown song – we need to represent Motown – we’re in Detroit. Then we had a blues song where I said: ‘well, let’s get Joe Bonamassa, Steve Hunter on this’ and I’ll play blues harp on it – I get to play blues harp – because the blues is part of Detroit. Punk is part of Detroit. But basically, it’s just a Detroit hard rock album, guitar driven, every song is guitar driven”.
Absolutely. But with a lot of flavours on it. And you’ve managed to maintain the legendary humour that’s always been a part of Alice Cooper, from the very first album onwards. “Yes! And some people never really got it. You know it’s always been there – even in the days when people hated us because they thought we were some kind of incredible cult from another planet. They never bothered to listen to the lyrics, that were very satirical and very self- deprecating and they only saw what they wanted to see. It took a long time before people got it. ‘Oh, this is funny’ or ‘Oh, this is dangerously scary’!”
Perhaps it had something to do with the times? People today are far more desensitised than back then, but back in those days Alice Cooper was maybe a step too far for what people were ready to accept? “I think so. First of all, back then it was a hippie’s world, and we were closer to A Clockwork Orange than hippies. We cared more about Corvettes, blondes and switchblades (laughs).
So, we didn’t fit into L.A., we didn’t fit into San Francisco, we didn’t fit into any of those hip places. We did fit into Detroit though – because there was Iggy and The Stooges, The MC5, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Suzi Quatro… and all the bands were straight up rock n’ roll in your face and to me that’s where we belonged, right there, and we made that our home. And I was from Detroit, I was born there so it was in my DNA to start with y’know?”
The album has a live band feel about it, all playing together. “Well, that was it. We weren’t gonna layer this album. We had it all written and we started playing and I said ‘Wait a minute, Bob (Bob Ezrin, producer),” I said: ‘this band is so good, let’s just teach them the songs and let them play live. Let’s record ten takes of each song and just find the one that feels the best. I mean, I don’t want it to be perfect. I want it to be rock n’ roll.” It’s just that these guys do play pretty perfect though (laughs). And we didn’t need to change anything, they just nailed it, every take! And even the original band – the original band nailed it – they played everything live in the studio also. You know, it takes a really good band, like the Foo Fighters, they’re such a good live band, in the studio, they don’t really need to layer anything, they just get up and play it. I mean, I’ve sung with that band many times and they do my stuff as good as my band does. A really good band, same with Green Day. They too can get up and play live all night and sound like the record. It’s a lost art. I wish it wasn’t, but it’s a bit of a lost art.(Referring to the use of live vocal tuning technology)- everybody wants to make sure the lead vocals and the background vocals are perfect and all that – it’s cheating! If I told my touring band, we were gonna do that, they’d quit! ‘Coz that’s an insult to us, so we’re never gonna do that” (laughs).
You have a long history with Bob Ezrin. Is he still the hard taskmaster now in the studio as he’s famous for? Still a hardarse? “Oh yeah. He can be very cynical. But he expects you to understand that that’s him having fun. At the same time, he’s gonna drag the best stuff outta you. He’s gonna make you do it until it’s right. And then, his name is on it, so he’s gonna make sure – whether it’s Deep Purple or Alice Cooper or anybody he’s working with – he’ll just make them do it until it’s right. But he’s got a really great sense of humour and he really knows what he’s doing. There are times I’d question, I’d say ‘Why are we doing that? Why are we putting an Oboe under that guitar?’ And he’d say ‘Because it needs to be supported’. And I’d go ‘Are you ever gonna hear it?’ He goes ‘Nope’. And it’s better to be there-but those are the little things I’d never think of”.
So, he’s still finding ways to challenge you. “Oh yeah. Especially vocally. There’ll be times when I’ll say: ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to sing the fifth there as a harmony and hit that note’ and he’ll go: ‘oh yeah you can’. And it’s really so, up there but by the end of the day…”
You’ve done it. “I’ve done it”.
But no more burying you under a bunch of folding chairs? “Well, back then it was fun because we were experimenting with everything. Doing Dwight Frye (The Ballad of Dwight Frye from the Love It to Death LP, 1970), you know, put him (Alice) in a straightjacket. If you really wanna get a performance of a guy being claustrophobic – keep him in a straightjacket for six hours. Believe me it’ll work!” (we both laugh).
Social Debris and I Hate You both feature the original band (Dennis Dunaway – bass, Neal Smith – drums and Michael Bruce – guitar. Lead guitarist Glen Buxton passed away in 1997).
The lyrics to I Hate You cracked me up! “Yeah, ‘cos every band when they break up, everybody hates each other. And it’s either over money or egos or girlfriends or something, and they never talk to each other again. Our band, we didn’t really break up, we basically didn’t divorce, we separated. We all kinda drifted in different directions, but we always stayed in touch. There was never a time when we weren’t in touch with each other over the thirty to forty years. And if Dennis needed me to sing on a project he was doing -sure-send me the tape. And if I knew that Dennis and Neal were in town and we were playing anywhere near there, I’d say ‘c’mon down, come onstage, the audience will love it.” So, we stayed in really close touch all the time. They’ve been on my last four albums, playing every bit as good as they’ve ever played”.
It’s chemistry. “Here’s a great example of that. The last tour we did of England, we did our regular show, the curtains were closed, and then when the curtains opened back up, for the encore, it was the original band. Not the touring band. And the audience went wild. And the review was: ‘The Alice Cooper show was crisp and clear and so tight – and then it got dangerous. The original band played heavier. And I don’t know what it is, but they could manage to make every song sound like a threat! (Laughter) I even sing different with them. I sang with them for so many years -I change the way I sing when I sing with the original band”.
That’s the Chemistry. “It is. And again, we couldn’t have more fun in the studio. I said: ‘so let’s tear each other apart. I mean, let’s just roast each other’- ‘Dennis you write a verse about Neal, Neal you write a verse…we’ll all destroy each other.’ And really it was a tip of the hat to Glen Buxton. Glen was our Keith Richards. He was a section of the band that couldn’t be replaced, cos nobody played like Glen. The closest thing would be Syd Barrett (original Pink Floyd guitarist), probably. So, when he left, he took a huge personality out of the band. At the end of the song, we say ‘we hate you-cos of the hole you left on stage’. That couldn’t be filled with anybody else”.
The cover art is cool, too. Kinda like the Bat signal. “It had that kind of a feel to it. I thought the spirit of Alice should be looking over Detroit. Protecting the city. It came out great, I explained it and it came out so good. The record company (earMUSIC) got it right. They are so good. They are like an old school record company; they do the promotion; they do the artwork. Someone sent me pictures of Alice Cooper projected on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and on the Palace in London (laughing), Alice Cooper on Buckingham Palace! I couldn’t believe they went that far to promote something, but it’s amazing. We’re Number one in so many different places. For a twenty eighth album to be Number one is pretty cool”.
Knowing your work ethic – and knowing you’ve had this extensive time off, and that you’ve just put a new album out- – I’m guessing you’ve already started work on the next one, yes? “The next one’s already in the works”…
I knew it! (laughter). “AND the one after that… there’s two Alice albums in the works! And a new Vampires record too…”
So, three albums then? “Well, we’re sitting around you know, we can’t go on stage, what are we gonna do? Everybody, you, me we’re gonna go into studios and record. You’re gonna write, demo. The next two years there’s gonna be an avalanche of albums coming out. You won’t know who to listen to first!”
Let’s hope it gives rock and roll a shot in the arm. It seems to have got a little legit over recent years, with parents encouraging their kids to get into Rock Schools and such. “Oh absolutely! Rock Schools! Remember when it started out? Rock n’ roll was outside looking in. We were pirates, which was cool cos that gave us the edge. Then we became the main course and I think we lost our edge. Now I think rock n’ roll is again on the outside looking in. Now, we’re on the outside looking in, which is a good place to be”.
When you’re preparing to go onstage, suiting up, putting the make-up on, do you still, after all these years, feel that transformation from everyday Alice to onstage Alice? “Yes, I would miss it if I didn’t feel it. I could be backstage talking to Chuck (Garric, Alice Cooper bassist) about football and as soon as that stage curtain goes up immediately my posture changes, because Alice is a villain and he doesn’t slouch and he’s all encompassing, and he’s very arrogant and he’s very condescending, and he’ll do the whole show and then as soon as the curtain comes down, he’ll be ‘and anyways – football’… (we both laugh). You become the character you are onstage and as soon as it’s not there anymore – you’re back to normal. You know – you’re in a band”.
Yep, it’s the same, we’ll put makeup on and suit up and things change… There’s an audience there and your personality goes from this to this (indicates growth) “It does. You’re bigger than life – and it should be that. Not enough bands that do that – you know (in meek voice): ‘Well, I hope you like us tonight’. Well, you’re not gonna hear that from us. We’re gonna grab you by the throat and shake you for two hours and then let you go”.
Detroit Stories is out now. Read our review of the album HERE