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Originally Published: October 1991
Author: Dell James
In the ever-changing, here-today, gone-later-today world of rock and roll, it's refreshing to know that there will always be at least one constant:
Alice Cooper. For 21, yes, 21 records, Alice has been delivering his own personal brand of psycho rock, which teeters on the edge between brilliance and insanity. But it's an insane world, so fault him not for entertaining us with certain realities we turn our cheeks to, certain closets we leave unopened. Alice has always been coy, yet honest with his audience, and his latest effort, Hey Stoopid, is neither a put-down nor a sermon. He's only opening closed eyes to certain situations.
Certain stoopid situations.
Last time around, Alice & Co. went out for over a year, Trash-ing the world from Budapest to Aulstralia. Upon completing this large-scale tour, Cooper decided to throw a new wrench into the machine. He embarked on a theatre jaunt that hit 25 major cities, playing venues that held from 2500 to 4000 fans--meaning there was no such thing as a bad seat! These venues included The Ritz in New York, The Fox in Detroit, The Marquee in London, and The Cathouse in Hollywood (on Halloween, no less!). This year, Alice started a world tour as part of a five-band bill, along with Judas Priest, Motorhead, Metal Church and Dangerous Toys. Obviously this is a large venue/stadium extravaganza. His solo headlining stint assaults the planet later this year. Just prior to the completion of Hey Stoopid, RIP went into the studio with Cooper. Here's the skinny...
As we speak, you are putting the finishing touches on your latest release, Hey Stoopid. Where is Alice 1991 musically?
After 20 records-this is my 21st-I've finally reached the point of realizing that the record is in the writing. These last two records, we've spent more time writing than recording. In this day and age, there's a lot of great producers, a lot of great studios, and so many great players out there, that I think what bands today need are great songs, and not just parts of songs. I hear a lot of things on the radio that I'm into until it reaches a certain point, and then I'm like, "What happened to this part?" We wrote 40 songs for this album and ended up using 14. That's writing with a lot of different people and just seeing what fits. It's almost like a puzzle. I used to be very closed-minded about who I wrote with, thinking that if I wrote with other people, it wouldn't be pure Alice. That's a really stupid attitude. What an arrogant attitude.
But Alice Cooper, at least the image, is one of rock and roll's most arrogant stars.
Yeah, I can understand that, but I think I'm a little more secure now. I used to protect myself by only writing records for myself and never using outsiders on my records. Now I can reach out and say, "Slash, I've got this song, and it would be great if you played on it, because it's perfect for your style of playing." I only pick people to play their kind of thing if it fits the song. I'm in a good position that way because I'm really not nailed to a band. I can pick and choose people for certain songs, and ask them if they want to play. I don't assume they're gonna play just because I asked 'em to. Luckily, the people I've asked have been very nice.
Besides having Ozzy Osbourne singing backups on the title track, what are some of the collaborations and "guest appearances" that occured during the making of Hey Stoopid?
Well, I've always been a big fan of Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction. When they broke up, they sent me three of four songs to listen to--things they were gonna use, I guess, but since they split up... It was really hard because all of the songs were really good. "Feed My Frankenstein" was the one where I figured I could just do a little surgery on the lyrics, it would be perfect. I really liked the tape Zodiac sent me. His vocal was almost exactly what I wound up doing. It was me doing an imitation of him doing an imitation of me. Steve Vai and Joe Satriani both do solos, one right after the other, on "Frankenstein." I really like that song. We're dipping into a lot of things musically. "Dangerous Tonight" is a song that Desmond Child wrote the music for, and I did the lyrics. It's sort of a vampire song in disguise. I'm really happy with that one, but I can still see going a little farther. We haven't added all the candy on it yet. I wrote a song with Dick Wagner, "Might As Well Be On Mars," that, when we finished it, was 100% complete. Desmond suggested a double chorus, so on this record, Desmond and I only did like one and a half songs together. There's one song, "Wind Up Toy," that's reminiscent of "Steven." A little boy [complete with the eerie little boy voice] involved in a really sick situation. That's always been a fun voice for Alice Cooper to do.
When I was younger, "Steven" used to genuinely scare me. It was one of those songs that really hit a nerve. Certain Black Sabbath songs had the same effect, but none as effectively as "Steven."
Every time I see Steven Tyler, I tell him it's about him.
On "Feed My Frankenstein," Nikki Sixx's bass tone and groove are signature Sixx.
Yeah, on that song I said, "Let's get a little looser. Let's not make it mathematical. Let's get it gutsy, get it down there where it makes ya move." So I didn't really want Neil McDonald on it. I wanted Nikki, and it worked great. I wrote a song with Nikk, Mick Mars, and Jack Valence. I went over to Nikki's, and we just started messing around on a song, but I was leaving for Vancouver the next day to work with Valence. I told him, "listen to this, and see if there's anything on there. I think there is." Pretty soon, the song was right there. It's called "Die For You." It's a power ballad, but it's a real Alice power ballad. I have to be very careful with ballads. I try to stay away from them. When I do write them, there's always something a little off about them. I want them to be a little off center.
"Only Women Bleed"?
Yeah. That song sounded like it belonged on the radio, but was twisted enough that, after you finished listening to it, you felt a little dirty.
Where does your "dark" creativity come from?
I think that's just built in. I watch every horror movie that comes out, and I think that I'm to the point that I'm numb with it. When I go to video store and find some new horror, I go, "Yessss!" When I tour, I bring a suitcase with like 50 or 60 videos in it, and each tape has three movies. I love doing movies. As a matter of fact, I just had a part in the new Nightmare On Elm Street movie, the final Nightmare On Elm Street movie. I play Freddy's abusive step-father. I play this really bad character who made Freddy what he is today.
How do you feel about making music videos?
Videos are now getting to the point where they're so predictable. But they're still the necessary thing. There's hardly anything that hasn't been done on video. It's like writing an original rock 'n' roll song. I'm not going to be defeated by it, but it's almost like you have to go with fixed images. The only thing I think we can do differently is attitude--get across the Alice attitude!
Of the new material you just previewed for me, the song that immediately captured me was "Love's A Loaded Gun," in the sense that that song is classic Alice that can be placed alongside songs found on Lace and Whiskey, Etc.
I wrote that one with Jack Ponte, a fellow we discovered in New Jersey. He ended up writing five or six songs on the album with us. We wrote a song called "Hurricane Years" that belongs on Love It To Death. He wrote some of "Snakebite", which easily could have been found on Killer. These songs, or at parts of them, strike familiar chords inside me that feel really comfortable. Real classic Alice, but with the new techno-productions and the sounds you can get in the studio. It really brings it up to date. Still, it's not that far from the old Alice sound.
Although Trash was quite commercially successful for you, it still left Alice fans desiring a bit more.
This is going to be a more satisfying album than Trash was. That's not taking anything away from Trash, because it really did what it was supposed to do. It put Alice back in the game.
There even seems to be more bite in your vocals. Was that done purposely?
Totally. I've got growling in key down to an art. The rough voice is my stage voice, so it's pretty easy for me to do it in the studio. I'll tell ya who can do my voice pretty good: Axl. When I went in to do "The Garden" with Guns, it was amazing. Axl says, "I do your voice pretty good on this," so I tried to do his voice doing mine. We traded voices for a while. When I first heard a demo of "The Garden," I had to do a double take. I have a feeling that their record is really going to do unbelievably for them. The great thing about it is, it's going to open up rock 'n' roll for this summer. You've also got Hey Stoopid coming out, Skid Row and Metallica. Finally, radio will get another dose of real heavy rock 'n' roll.
Was it just me, or was there a serious lull in rock and roll as of late?
It's not like how it used to be, where you could do two albums a year. We did Love It To Death and Killer in the same year. Now you do one record every two years, because there's so many places you have to play. You're so spread out that, hopefully, you'll make a record with five singles on it. The longevity of a record is the secret of its success. Right now, it seems as if people are l"Alright, we need some real rock 'n' roll."