ALICE COOPER - Always Mr. Nice Guy

May 19, 2012, 5 years ago

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By Mitch Lafon

Rock icon ALICE COOPER needs no introduction. He called in to head office recently for a twenty minute ‘sprint’ interview. We moved quickly from topic to topic speaking about his upcoming tour with Iron Maiden, his role in the Tim Burton movie Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp, and so much more. You’ll be on tour this summer with IRON MAIDEN. What kind of Alice Cooper show can fans expect? Full show or more bare bones?

Alice Cooper: “When you’re the guest star on somebody else’s tour... We’ll be doing about an hour, so it’ll be more of a sprint. We’re going to do all the hits of course, but it’ll be a very high energy show. We’re going to pack as much stuff as we can into one hour.” Kind of like what you did at the Harley Davidson show in Montreal (at the Bell Centre) back in January...

Cooper: “Well, that was pretty bare bones. That was no theatrics at all. This will have the guillotine and all that stuff. Then when we do our own headline shows... Iron Maiden only work two or three nights a week and we’re used to working five or six nights a week. So, on what will be their night off; we’ll be doing our own show (our one hour and forty minute show) in other venues. We don’t like too many nights off (that’s just the way we are).” But you also don’t like to do too many shows in a year...

Cooper: “We do a hundred shows/ hundred cities which takes four or five months.” That’s a nice way to do a tour at this juncture...

Cooper: “Yeah, I think so. We used to do sixty-five cities in seventy-two days when we we’re doing Nightmare. That was ridiculous, but when you’re twenty-seven years old - you’re indestructible. Our show now... I’m sixty-four years old and I was twenty-seven during Nightmare. I have, by far, more energy in this show than I had then because that’s back when I was drinking. It was focused and I never missed a show and you wouldn’t know that I was drinking on stage. In fact, I never did drink on stage - just drinking in general; you’ll notice that this show (now) will be a lot higher energy than the Nightmare show was.” You’re also welcoming back guitarist Ryan Roxie to the band...

Cooper: “That was a calculated move. We have Orianthi (who’s a show onto herself). Ryan Roxie is his own show by himself. It ends up that Tommy Henriksen is my anchor (with Chuck Garric in the middle) and he ends up doing a show. It’s just show guys up there and I have to tell them that when Alice is doing a theatrical bit to back off. When Alice drops back then go ahead and, by all means, be a rock star. If you’re anything but that - I will kick you in the butt! I need for ‘you guys’ to be not in the least bit inhibited on stage. It’s a great band all the way around. My drummer, Glen Sobel, is one of the great drummers.” On Welcome 2 My Nightmare, you actually went back and worked with some of the original members (Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway and Michael Bruce) as well as members from the first Nightmare album (Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter). Fans have wondered why has there not been a tour or more shows with the ‘original’ guys?

Cooper: “We’ve done some shows like The Whiskey and...” The Jaegermeister 4D show...

Cooper: “Yeah, we did two or three things with the original band. The one thing you have to understand is that we lost Glen (Buxton). Glen was our Keith Richards. So, that’s a big loss and Steve Hunter took his place (which was okay). Neal and Dennis are still Neal and Dennis. They play exactly the same way. Mike (Michael Bruce) has a problem with his knees and he has a hard time standing up for a long period of time. If you went out and tried to do a series of an hour and a half shows; I don’t think physically that it would be possible. I haven’t quit touring since 1966. I’m in shape for going out and doing a hundred cities and I know how to do it, but if you haven’t toured in thirty years on a big show - all out with a lot of energy... You would suddenly feel your age (I think). I’m putting that delicately only because those guys are all great players.” It’s important to be diplomatic...

Cooper: “If you’re not used to it or really not in shape for it, I don’t think you’d be able to do a big tour.” Rigors of touring aside, would you consider bringing them back for the next album and subsequent albums?

Cooper: “Oh, absolutely! Neal, Dennis, Mike and I are best friends. Even when the band broke up, there was never a lawsuit. There was never anything except, ‘I hope you do well with what you’re going to do.’ Neal wanted to make an album. Mike wanted to make an album and Dennis wanted to make an album. Everybody wanted to make an album except Glen. Glen was Holden Caulfield. He just said, ‘whatever you guys want to do; I’ll do it.’ I was probably the last one that wanted to make an album and that’s where Nightmare came from. It was time. We had toured for seven years without a break and I think everybody was exhausted. I brought up the ‘hey I have an idea for a show that’s going to make Billion Dollar Babies look tired.’ I think that’s where I lost them.” They wanted to strip things back. Now, let’s move on to Bob Ezrin (who did Nightmare 2). What does he bring to the Alice Cooper sound? He’s truly captured your ‘essence’.

Cooper: “When we work together it’s like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.” Which we’ll get to in a minute...

Cooper: “We know each other upside down and backwards. I can go in with Bob Ezrin and say, ‘here’s the idea of the story. Let’s not do part two of Welcome To My Nightmare. Let’s just give Alice a new Nightmare.’ You have a different nightmare every night. You dream totally different stuff every night. Let’s give Alice an entirely new nightmare. What would be a nightmare for him in 2012.” Or 2011...

Cooper: “Or ’11 at the time. Well, technology would be a nightmare for him. Disco would still be a nightmare for him. We just started writing down things or ideas... Things that would really bother Alice. A nine-to-five job would really bother Alice. Then when we decided who’s going to play the devil. Not a scary devil, but a provocative sensual devil. She we got KE$HA and I said, ‘I don’t want you to be scary. I want you to be a temptress (which is still a trait of the devil).’ So, we approached that one differently. I said, ‘let’s do a disco song because Alice still hates disco.’ We challenged ourselves on a lot of these songs. Bloodbath Boogie Disco Fever had every cliché you could think of and ended up being a really good disco song. Definitely a slap in the face to disco.” Will you continue working with Bob?

Cooper: “Oh, yeah.” Are you ‘prepping’ a new album for 2013?

Cooper: “We’ve already started talking about what the next album is...” And do you want Bob to produce it?

Cooper: “Absolutely. In fact, this album would never have happened if Bob had said, ‘I don’t really want to do part two or Welcome 2 My Nightmare.’ We never would have done the album because his input means that much. I would have gone and done another idea for another album, but this idea was too good. It was the thirtieth anniversary and I said, ‘let’s go back and visit it. Let’s even pull some of the hooks from Nightmare and let them creep around.’ Every once in a while, in the new songs, you’ll hear little section of Steven or Welcome To My Nightmare just to connect it back to the first one. There’s no such thing as ‘we can’t do that’ when working with Bob. We’d be laughing and saying, ‘we can do this and this and this.’ So, I’d look at him and say, ‘well why don’t we do a disco song? Let’s sit down and lay down a disco track except make it scary... When he goes to the disco. He lines ’em up against the wall and shoots them with a machine gun then buries them, but they just keep coming back to life. That would be an Alice nightmare disco song, so it’s Disco Blood Bath Boogie Fever.” I really loved the album. I gave it a 10/10 review. I truly loved it’s tongue-in-cheek qualities.

Cooper: “Oh, thank you very much... He’s on a train that crashes and he’s the last man on earth. He wakes up and looks around and as soon as he’s finished that song there are applause. He turns around, there’s the Congregation and he has to deal with them. I loved the way each songs moves the story around.” I also loved that you took songs that Neal Smith had written or Dick Wagner had written either from other albums or as demos and incorporated them on the album.

Cooper: “When we did the hall of fame show, Neal, Dennis, and Mike were there and I told them I want you guys to each write a song with us. So, Dennis wrote ‘Runaway Train’ which was something he had on one of his albums [ed. note: it was the song ‘Subway’ on his 2006 Bones From The Yard album.] I said let’s take ‘Subway’ and re-work it. I want Alice to be on a Runaway Train where he can’t get off and is chained to it. It’s going to crash and he can’t do anything about it. Neal had a section of a song [ed.note: the song was Evil Voodoo Moon from the Neal Smith KillSmith Two album.] which we pulled out and we said, ‘let’s make this a tribute to the Rolling Stones.’ ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’ is a pure 1965 Rolling Stones song. So, we put the hand clapping in there and anything the Rolling Stones did in the ‘60s. Michael came in with ‘When Hell Comes Home’ about an abusive father. On that one, I told the guys, ‘I want you to play this  one live in the studio.’ The reason was that it was the type of song that would have been on Love It To Death or Killer. I wanted to recapture what we sounded like in that era and the only was to do that was to play it live in the studio.” It needed to be raw.

Copper: “Raw and I didn’t have to tell them to ‘stylize’ it as a ‘70s song because that’s just the way they play. Bob and I never had to give them one bit of direction. They just started to play and Dennis had his signature bass, Mike played it exactly how he would have played it in the ‘70s, and Neal played it will all the same exact fills that he would have done in the ‘70s. I kept looking at Bob and going, ‘we don’t have to say anything. Just let them play.’ I see our time is winding down, so let’s move on to Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. You had a wonderful cameo and you’ve been in other movies such as Wayne’s World and Roadie. You always seem to play ‘Alice Cooper’...

Cooper: “Yeah and I keep telling them, ‘I’d rather play the priest. I’d rather play the school teacher. I’d rather play the nerdy father. I had fun playing Freddie’s father in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. In Suck, I got to play a bartender that was really a bad ass vampire. There was a lot of dialogue to learn and to me THAT was acting. It wasn’t playing Alice. It was real acting.” Your shows are theatrical. You’d think you’d want to do more acting...

Cooper: “In Dark Shadows, Alice was the perfect character... He (Johnny Depp) is coming back to life in 1972 and to make it realistic the teenage girl says, ‘I want to have a party.’ The only way to make it a cool party is to have Alice Cooper at the party. So, he says ‘fine. Get this Alice person,’ and he kept referring to me as that ‘Alice woman.’ It’s the funniest joke in the whole bit. What amazed me is that Alice and his music had a good ten minutes of screen time in the movie. They used Ballad Of Dwight Fry...

Cooper: “And they connected that up to the girl’s story (being in the straight jacket). I love the way that Tim... Tim is a huge fan of that song and both Johnny and Tim said, ‘we gotta do Dwight Fry,’ and Tim weaved the story around that song. So, it tells the story about how they put her in an insane asylum, in a straight jacket with the ‘I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here.’ He did a magnificent job of weaving those two things together.” Let’s move on to your Solid Rock organization (

Cooper: “It’s up and running right now. We have 30 000 square feet and, in fact, my daughter is teaching dance there tonight. We have guitar lessons, bass lessons... The whole idea is to give kids a chance to do something that they don’t know they can do. You have kids out there selling drugs on the streets, robbing stores and stuff. That same kid may be the best guitar player in Arizona except he’s never had a guitar in his hand. So come on in - we’ll give you the guitar, we’ll give you the lessons and all you have to do is show up and learn. That’s it - it’s so simple.” But you’re a rock star. Why not just buy six Lamborghinis and vacation in Hawaii. Why is it important for you to give back to the community?

Cooper: “I grew up in Phoenix. I went to elementary school, high school and college here. When people say, ‘so you’re a Christian now...’ Well, that doesn’t mean sitting around on your knees praying all day. What do you do as a Christian that can help a kid out? I’m not beating them over the head with a Bible. I’m saying, ‘how about me investing some time in you and making your life better.’ The only thing it’s costing me is time. So, what? I have tons of time and it’s the same thing with Sheryl. She said, ‘I’ll go in and teach.’ So, to me, the whole idea is investing time with kids who probably don’t have parents that are giving them any time.” And kids who probably don’t know who Alice Cooper is (quite frankly).

Cooper: “A lot of these kids have no idea who Alice Cooper is. Some of them do, but a lot of the Spanish kids that come in... Sheryl had 400 girls come in the first night for dance and you know what they were fascinated by? Ballet. They’d seen street dancing and they can all street dance, but when they saw ballet; they were fascinated by it. They had never seen ballet before and to them; it was unbelievable. When you introduce something to kids who think they’ve seen everything and they get knocked out by it enough that they want to keep coming back and learning about it. Then you’ve won half the war.” That’s very honorable. Is the plan to stay only in Phoenix or to expand to other cities?

Cooper: “This is the prototype and we’ve already had six or seven other cities call us and say, ‘build one here.’ As far as we’re concerned if they come up with the finances to do it; we will build it and show them how to do it. The only trick about this is that there is no catch to it. A kid is coming in purely to learn and that’s it. If it’s an Islamic kid, a Jewish kid... It doesn’t matter to us. We’re giving them an alternative to something that will probably kill them or put them in jail.” You’re getting them off the streets...

Cooper: “Yeah. That’s exactly it and we’re giving them something to do.” That’s incredibly important. I don’t mean to cut that off, but as we’re running out of time. Let me ask you about the new DVD - The Strange Case Of Alice Cooper (recorded live in San Diego in 1979)...

Cooper: “I sat in watched it for the first time in thirty years because they wanted me to do comments... So, I’m doing comments and picking it apart because I forgot all about the show and I’m laughing my head off going, ‘that’s funny. That’s a great bit. What’s going on here?’ I forgot about the dancing bottles and all the insanity that was going on in that show. It was a fun show.” Are you happy to have it out on DVD?

Cooper: “Oh, yeah. Well, there are so many Alice Cooper shows. Every time we go out, we do a different version of the show. This is one that was coming out after Nightmare and King Of The Silver Screen (1977-78 tour). Alice was sober now... I’m looking at a whole different Alice. It’s interesting to go back and look at that little section of your life.” Did you study it on any level?

Cooper: “There was a lot of ‘what was I thinking?’ I realize now that if I were to go back and do that show; I would do it with more finesse. I would do it a lot less chaotically and I would spend more time on the singing of the song rather than the performing of the song. When I did that I was not physically in the best shape. I was just out of the hospital and I just wanted to get back to work. I wasn’t in the physically best shape of my life. I would love to go back and do that show now... In the shape I’m in now and in the ‘voice’ I’m in now. It would be a much smoother show.” You just mentioned that you’d focus more on the singing. Are you more of a singer now or are you still more of a general entertainer (and I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way)?

Cooper: “There’s a point that I got to (when I got sober) that I said, ‘I have to spend more time on the actual vocals of these songs. Yes, the theatrics come pretty easily, but let’s make sure I sing these songs and really hit the notes. I really have to sing it like the album and let the theatrics come after that. In The Strange Case Of Alice Cooper, it was getting back on stage after a year off and it looked like I wanted to put everything in and as fast as I could. That’s okay. That was the attitude and fun part of that show. It was kinetic and chaotic, but I would do it differently now.” It’s also interesting to see it now knowing what happened with your health and all the weight you lost a few years after that...

Cooper: “And then gained weight because of the fact that when you stop drinking alcohol; you lose a lot of weight and then you want to put the weight back on. So, you start drinking Coca-Colas and then you have to lose that weight. I was like Robert De Niro for awhile, but I don’t think I ever got over 160 pounds. That would have been heavy for me.” And finally, when you’re on tour - you’ll love watching these horrible Hong Kong movies. Any recommendations?

Cooper: “I just finished watching one called, Tokyo Shock, and there was one called, Gothic Diane something... It was just so out there. I sat there with my mouth open and went, ‘this is unbelievable’. She had an umbrella and was dressed with this gothic black hair. She, of course, killed seventy-five people in the first two minutes. It was such insanity that... Those are the ones that I really appreciate. If somebody went to the trouble of making this movie that doesn’t make any sense - I’m more than happy to watch that.” Well, thank you. Been a big fan for over thirty five years and my son’s middle name is actually Cooper.

Cooper: ‘That’s quite an honor. Tell him I said ‘hi’ and to ‘clean his room.’”

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