Alice Cooper Details Revamped Tour, Upcoming New Music: Exclusive Interview
Alice Cooper is going back to his roots on an upcoming solo album. Specifically, he’s heading to the Motor City.
“We’ve already done four songs, all [recorded with] Detroit players. You know, because I was born in Detroit and I think that Detroit is the home of hard rock,” Cooper tells UCR. “When the actual album starts coming out, I want it to have the flavor of that. The Detroit sound is Alice Cooper. That’s where we wrote Killer, Love It to Death, School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies."
Cooper actually felt that way from the first, despite his original group's Arizona roots. "I’ve always looked at Alice Cooper as sort of a Detroit band, really – because we never ever, very rarely, do you ever let a keyboard take over," he adds. "We’re a guitar band. We’re a guitar rock band. That’s what we’ll always be. ‘Under My Wheels’ is probably what an Alice Cooper Detroit band sounds like.”
There will be a bit of a wait for the new music that Cooper’s working on with producer Bob Ezrin. Up first is a live album from the Hollywood Vampires, which was recorded in Switzerland, followed by a new studio album from the Vampires titled Rise, which is set for release on June 21.
“There’s a lot of material out right now,” he says. “We really don’t need an Alice album out for a while.”
And, as always, there will be plenty of touring. In addition to the current slate of concerts on tap for Hollywood Vampires, Cooper is preparing for his next run of solo dates, cleverly dubbed “Ol’ Black Eyes Is Back.” He's promising a revamped stage show for the upcoming dates.
Still, when you’re Alice Cooper – someone who has seemingly done everything shocking – it would appear to be increasingly difficult to present an entirely new experience.
“When you get to a point where you have 27 or 28 studio albums, there are maybe 10 to 12 songs that you have to do,” Cooper concedes. “You have to do these songs. You have to do 'Poison,' you have to do 'School's Out,' 'Under My Wheels,' 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' – you know, those are the songs. 'Feed My Frankenstein,' those are the songs that the audience would be very mad if you didn’t do. So, you do those. And since you’ve been doing those songs for 40 years, how do you do that song now visually and make it different? That’s the trick.”
Watch a Classic Clip of Alice Cooper Performing 'School's Out'
Cooper says that’s where the “brainwork” comes in. He's been working to figure out how to make all of the songs flow together, both musically and visually, very much like a Broadway show. “If you say 'Welcome to My Nightmare,'" he adds, “You don’t just say it. You give them the nightmare.”
He cites “Ballad of Dwight Fry” as another example. “When you’re doing ‘Dwight Fry,’ well, Dwight Fry has to be in the straitjacket. He can’t just do the song, because he needs to be in the straitjacket. Well, how do we get him out of the straitjacket? Well, you have to put a nurse in there. What would happen if he broke out of the straitjacket and killed the nurse? That’s a reason to get him in the guillotine.”
The Alice Cooper show, as it turns out, is a complicated thing. And eventually, even Alice must meet his maker.
“You can never let the villain go without being punished. As much as I love Darth Vader, I know that he had to get it. As much as I liked all of the villains, I would feel really bad if Hannibal Lecter didn’t get thrown in jail or something,” Cooper says. “So since Alice is the villain and does some dastardly things on stage, there is sort of a public hanging or a public guillotine, where the audience gets involved. The audience screams and Sheryl [Goddard, Cooper's wife] goes up there as the nurse and she looks at the audience, like, 'What do you want to do with him?' And they're a part of it now. ‘Cut his head off! Hang him!’ And then they do it. The moment happens, the head comes off.”
Of course, it can’t end there. As Cooper notes, Alice does come back out triumphantly for the encore, but this time, there’s balloons and bubbles and the shock rocker is wearing a white top hat and tails. The tide has turned, the audience is satisfied and he says, “they walk out of the show going, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that.’”
Still, Cooper realizes that it’s ultimately about the music, and he and the band never fail to deliver on that front as well. He promises that you won’t find him playing any tricks with your favorite songs as you remember them.
“They want to hear those songs and they want to hear them the way that they want to hear them. In other words, I’m not going to do a reggae version of ‘I’m Eighteen,’” he says, laughing. "I’m going to do the version that makes them go, ‘Yes!’ Because when I go to see the [Rolling] Stones, I want to hear ‘Brown Sugar’ the way ‘Brown Sugar’ sounds.”
He’s excited about Rise, the next album from his all-star “bar band” with actor Johnny Depp and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry – though Cooper previously confirmed that he was largely uninvolved with the Hollywood Vampires' writing process this time.
Listen to the Hollywood Vampires Perform 'Who's Laughing Now'
At the time, Depp was facing a wave of negative press – including a controversial story by Rolling Stone – that left a lot of people concerned about his well-being. Cooper says that naturally, his bandmate put what he was feeling about all of that into the material.
“I think he wrote a lot of songs on this album that are [to] get back at people,” Cooper says. “‘Who’s Laughing Now’ is him going, ‘Okay, you’ve set out everything you can do to destroy me, who’s laughing now? I’m still here. And I’m making these records and I’m still going to make movies and I’m still a better actor than most of the people out there. Who’s laughing now?’ There’s two or three songs like that on the album that I’m singing and going, ‘Wow, I’m the voice of Johnny’s anger. [Laughs.] Normally, I’m writing songs that concern me. Now, I’m sort of the mouthpiece for Johnny, which is great.”
He enjoyed being somewhat removed from the initial songwriting process. “It was really interesting for me, because when I do my show, I write all of the songs and I know why I wrote them and I know what they’re supposed to be,” Cooper explains. “On a lot of this album, I was on tour when they were writing this stuff and I would go in and touch this up and they’d say, ‘Okay, let’s cut this here, what do you think about this?’”
Cooper was often able to resist the normal urge to offer his editorial view. “On a lot of these songs, I did not go there. I said, ‘I’m not going to add what I would do here, because I don’t want it to sound like an Alice Cooper album,’” he says. “I want this to be the personality of the Vampires. And if that means that the B section goes too long, good, let it go too long. Normally, I would cut that in half, but I said, ‘No, no, let’s let it go long.’ If I think that doesn’t make sense right there, I kind of go: ‘Yeah, but that’s the personality of this song. Let’s not make it make sense. Let’s let it hang right there, so that it has a quality to me that I would never go there, but I did go there. To me, it was really interesting to do this album and kind of keep myself out of arranging it. It’s just more exciting for me to be the last voice in this thing.”
Guitarist Tommy Henriksen, one of Cooper’s longtime associates, got the nod to take the production reins on the new Hollywood Vampires album. “We let Tommy produce it. Tommy was the guy in there writing with Johnny, writing with me, writing with Joe – and he was also recording it, doing the demos,” Cooper says. “By the way, Tommy can do the best imitation of my voice that I’ve ever heard. He played me a couple of things and I went, ‘I don’t remember singing that!’ I went, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Because he has my phrasing down. He has everything down, to the point where it’s a little scary – because I really thought it was me singing. [Laughs.] So I said, ‘Take the helm of this.’”
Henriksen previously worked in a similar role with 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, an album where Cooper says the guitarist was “sort of a co-producer.” Ezrin, Cooper's long-time producer, gave his blessing: “I think Bob just said, ‘Tommy, you can do this. Go ahead, produce this album.’ And he did and he really did a great job on it.”
He relishes the Hollywood Vampire shows, saying it provides a unique opportunity to step outside of what people typically expect from an Alice Cooper concert.
“It’s really kind of cool to play one show where I am in a cover band or I am in a bar band like the Vampires and I don’t have to be Alice,” he says. “I can talk to the audience; I can make jokes. I can do anything I want to do in the Vampires. When I do my show, Alice never talks to the audience. I want Alice in that show to be not human. Not relatable. Until the very end and then he relates to the audience.”
But with an always-busy schedule, how does the self-proclaimed “Golf Monster” carve out time to hit the links? Don’t you worry about that. “I find a way every morning when nobody needs me from six o’clock until about 10 o’clock,” Cooper says, with a laugh. “That’s when I’m on the tee. I play six days a week at least.”