Burn - January / February 2004

(January 2004)

Originally Published: January 2004

Public Animal #9

Shy, introspective, reluctant... that's some other guy. This is Alice!

Author: Sion Smith

Alice fell into my lap the very same year that I started school, 1979. For that I hold him responsible for the best and worst times in my life. The downside of loving Alice was that I was labelled an outsider... even by other metalheads. The upside is the same reason. You can't buy that sort of notoriety. The Alice Cooper Show ain't the greatest live album in the world, but it was the best introduction to the genre I could ever have had. But the end of 1979, I had begged, borrowed and on one occasion, shoplifted, Alice's entire back catalogue.

From that moment on, my perspective on rock was changed forever. Why go to a show where the band played their back catalogue note for note. With a little effort you could have a Black Widow stalk you, or you could be put in a straightjacket and hunted down by a nurse with a big-ass hypodermic. Why, you could even be beheaded. That was what I wanted from a show. Otherwise, I could sit at home and recreate most other bands live performances.

That was how my 12 year old mind worked back then. This is how my 35 year old mind works now. But you get used to things being the way they are, learn to appreciate that not everybody wants to work on that level and you get into the fact that there are some great live bands out there. Then Alice tours again and you're right back where you started. Alice is the Big Show. Game Over.

The first true Alice Cooper album in most peoples mind, is 1971's Love It To Death. With the inimitable Bob Ezrin on board, the classic line up (Alice, Neal Smith Drums and Vocals, Dennis Dunaway Bass and Vocals, Glen Buxton Lead Guitar and Mike Bruce Rhythm Guitar), stuck their collective stake in the ground and laid down a slab of vinyl the likes of which had not been seen before. Featuring the classics Is It My Body, I'm Eighteen and of course, The Ballad of Dwight Frye -- a ballad (natch) dedicated to the man who immortalised the servant character in both Frankenstein and Dracula (amongst others). Love It To Death was an infallible way to begin a decade and for the next 6 years, Alice Cooper ruled both the rock underground and mainstream.

As far as most people are concerned, Alice has always been around. Sometimes he's in the public eye, sometimes not, but today... today. Hmm. Well, today we're together to talk about the latest Alice Cooper album The Eyes of Alice Cooper. General consensus has it that it's the best album he's made in years. Let us begin:

You're the last one today! I'll be gentle with you...

Shouldn't that be the other way around? How about if I ask you stuff you don't normally get asked to ease the boredom?

I'll bet you can't...

OK, do you play an instrument because I've never seen you play?

Hey, that's a good one. I do play guitar but I'm not worthy to pick up my guitar players amp. I play enough to get by.

Like, just enough to write?

I don't write on it, no. I can play any Ramones song. I used to play As Tears Go By in high school. I played guitar once on Eighteen on a few tours, but with all these great guitar players, why should I even pick one up, besides it kind of humanises Alice a little bit too much.

That's a good point! Good album by the way.

Thanks. I'm really using my band to the most use which makes taking them and saying we're going to write just for the guitar players. We're going to rehearse the song, take a dinner break and record it but we're not going to go back into it, we're not going to do overdubs. I want the album to sound exactly like what you guys sound like. I don't want to put any make up on it. I want it so that if there's blood and juice on the track or if it speeds up a little bit, good. That's the way the band plays. If it doesn't end up exactly on that note and if you're a little late or a little early, good. It gives it some colour. The band was so nervous that they were going to get in the middle of a track and not know how to play it. So I said, well if we don't, let's go rehearse it again, but I want these tracks to be bass, drums and two guitars. It was non-negotiable. That way I'd just do the vocal over it, and in some case I could do that while they were playing. I said we might add a guitar or add something else but we're not going to overdub the parts. So we took 20 takes of each track and then picked the best one. To me that's what makes the album so fresh and fun sounding.

The word he speaks are true! The Eyes of Alice Cooper is a bombastic album. It also finds itself being hugely relevant to today's market. It's not a 'metal' album, not even a 'hard-rock' album, which is maybe what was expected. Eyes is a full on rock n roll carved in the same vein as those cherished early Alice albums and other such luminaries as MC5, the Stooges and T-Rex.

You know, every time an Alice album comes out, you site there and you think it's a good album. Alice is keeping up with the times, but this one transcends that completely. you have to sit and say, this isn't a good album, this is a great album. This is back to the likes of From The Inside...

Thanks again! It's a very satisfying sounding album. These are real Alice songs. Like, What Do You Want From Me is such an Alice song, Man of The Year - we did a little tip of the hat to the Sex Pistols on that one. Bye Bye Baby, we tipped the hat to the Stones on that. Those are very believable, Alice sounds like that too.

Yeah, but Detroit City is out and out Alice.

That's our little anthem. There are some real gems on there. Old School, High School, that is such a good song. I love that record. There are three or four real gems on there.

I think Backyard Brawl is one of the better songs on the album...

You know that was one song... well it was the last song we cut. Mudrock put stuff on it he sent it to us, and I went, this song doesn't make the album. All the guys were going 'Oh, you gotta...' and I'm going, "Listen, I love the germ too, I love the riff but, it's not up the quality of the other stuff. It's half done!" We argued back and forth and finally, I called up Mudrock and said, OK, you know the part at the end where they go down at the end and the other guitars that are buried bring them all up into the break. So that when it gets to the break it doesn't just sit there. If you can bring it to life using the existing tracks, we'll keep the song. He obviously found a way to do that.

Do you tend to oversee everything like a Godfather then?

I know when it's right and I know when it's wrong.

Because you know Alice and how Alice should be perceived.

Exactly. I know when a song is coming out and they're patting each other on the back and I go, "Guys, this B section is not Alice. I've lived with it for a week and I listen to it and every time it gets to that section I cringe." They go, "Why?" So I say, "because Alice wouldn't say that, Alice wouldn't go there musically. We either have to change that or dump the song. I never dump that song, but a song is a piece of clay. We can shape it the way we want to, but just don't fall in love with the demo.

"We can take this piece and just move it and rewrite it, but right now it doesn't work." And they grumble a bit, and then we rewrite it and when we're finished they go, "Hey it works well now!"

That's something that Bob Ezrin used to do with me and now I do it with the band. It works. If I'm not happy with it, no matter how happy everyone else is...

Bob Ezrin - the greatest producer the world has ever known? Open to debate perhaps, but he's certainly seen Alice through the best and worst of time and left a decent enough legacy that Alice is able to forge his band in the manner he sees fittest, to keep taking Alice Cooper onto new levels...

You have a good band around you right now.

They are great. When they're not playing me, they have a group called Glam Nation and they are the best glam band I have ever heard.

They play early Bowie, Mott the Hoople, the Sweet and they do these fake British accents and they've got horrible hair and glitter clothes and everybody thinks they're British. They're little guys and they have that Small Faces kind of look.

Presumable Eric doesn't play with them.

Oh yeah, he plays with them.

The guy never seem to stop working.

Right -- but when I plug 'em into my band, I say I don't want to lose that sense of humour, but I don't want you to lose that sense of glam arrogance either. Those bands where very arrogant.

You've never 'classed' yourselves as glam though, have you.

No, and even though I've seen us labelled as that -- and maybe we were even more glam than a lot of bands that were supposed to be glam -- the one thing I liked about glam rock was that it was king of upper-crust...

In a really 'down-crust' kind of way?

Yeah, in a really trashy way.

The Dolls pulled it off pretty well

We used to do a log of shows with the Dolls, and they idolised Alice Cooper. We were the first with the makeup. They were all out pretty much drag queens. The band wasn't really very good. Johnny was great, but he was the only real player in the band, and they were fun to watch the first time, but when you really listened to them, they were pretty hard to listen to. People remembered the Dolls as being a lot better than they actually where, but I liked them personally. To be honest with you -- and this is really gonna sound like heresy -- but I never thought the Ramones were anything more than a really good garage band.

We'll I'll be a heretic as well then, because I never really liked them that much either.

They were a New York band and they were kind of just like this dumb rock n roll band that I would put at the same level as the Misfits, but when people started glorifying how great their music was, I just kind of go... wait a minute...

But there's two definitive schools of thought with rock isn't there. There's the side you can't be, like Alice and Kiss, and then there's the street level side of it, where you can actually be any of those guys. Most of those types of bands look like some guys that live down the street from you anyway.

Yes -- and I totally connect with it on that level. Joey was a buddy of mine -- they were all friends of mine -- but musically when people ask me to really critique it, well...

Some thing with the Stooges, but they were the only band in the world that I ever said I don't want to go on after -- Iggy and the Stooges. Back in those days, I would have gone on after the Stones, the Who, but not Iggy. The audience is exhausted after Iggy and you can't get them back.

No matter what you do up there, you cannot get them back. So when they were opening for us, I'd say 'hey, we'll go on first tonight...' Iggy knows how good he was on stage.

Oh for a night where Iggy really was playing with Alice -- that would be a groundbreaking rock n roll show right now, and a much needed shot in the arm to a generation who think the White Stripes invented the game...

You've managed to get it right somehow. Through the 30 or so years you've been around, you've always managed to miss the pigeonholing and the bandwagons. Whereas the Kiss trip in 2003 is a nostalgia trip, you can't say that about Alice because he's still valid and creative. How have you managed to hold onto that?

Well, I don't consider us a rock band, I consider us a guitar band. My mentality is, that we're a really good hard rock band. When I put a band together, I know what I'm listening for. I'm listening for guys who have got rock sensibility. I'm not talking Journey sensibilities or Rush, I'm talking about guys that probably played a little Chuck Berry, maybe a little Rollings Stones. When I picked up Ryan and Eric, they played the new stuff and then they played the old stuff, but they didn't just play it, they played it even with the guitar sounds from the amps being exactly right, and they knew it and they got it dead on.

When I said "that's great", they said, "you gotta understand this is the stuff we cut out teeth on and we can't wait to get onstage and play." So I thought if they love it that much, I'm gonna go ahead and let them do it. Then when they got on stage, they had all this stage-look and the stage-thing... yeah, I've really got a good band here.

Other guys at the time who came in to audition, they were doing the whole shredding thing, and some were doing stereotypical rock guitar stuff like hammering...

...had they not ever listened to Alice Cooper?

Well, you know, I had to say to them that you got to play more like Joe Perry than Steve Vai. More like Slash because that's closer to down the middle rock n roll.

Well, I made the comparison in the review of the album. There's a very Appetite feel about it and the two guys sounds a lot like Izzy and Slash.

That's the school of rock they came out of. Someone asked me the other day, if you weren't doing what you're doing, what do you wish you could've done. I said, been the lead singer in Guns n Roses -- too good of a band to waste. So many good songs.

We're being signalled that it's time to wrap it up. Which is probably wise because I'll just sit here all day shooting the shit...

Hit me with one more good question -- and nothing like, if a train left Boston at 6pm doing 120 mph - OK?

Er... OK, as a horror movie buff -- House of 1,000 Corpses -- comment?

Great! Very funny. It's Rob doing what he does really well. It's a cross between the Hills Have Eyes and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but with all of Rob's sense of humour.

Did he ask you to be in it?

No, and I can understand because it would have detracted from the movie. It would have been characters you know and then you wouldn't have got those great characters you have. I really thought it was funny. Funny and well done -- and I guarantee he'll do another movie. I hope he does. Rob's one of my best friends and if I was gonna pick two people in the world, personality wise, that would be my twin brothers -- it would be Rob and Al Yankowizc. Weird Al... I relate to him more than anybody out there.

So endeth the lesson in longevity in rock n roll with respect and integrity intact. You can't fire that cannon at a lot of the old crew. Sure the Alice ride has been crazy at times but when it comes to doing the right thing, ain't no-one out there quite like Alice...

(Originally published in Burn magazine, January/February 2004)