"A lot of bands have a small cake and a lot of icing. We have a lot of cake and a lot of icing! (Laughs) If you don’t have the music, you have nothing but a puppet show."
A few hours before he put the entire Hellfest at his feet, Alice was kind enough to organize a small press conference. Radio Metal and its armada of snoopers could not possibly miss such a good opportunity to glean a few pieces of information and sent an emissary to join a handful of colleagues. The game, however, was not easily won: as Olivier Garnier, promotion manager, told us, Alice Cooper didn’t want this press conference to take place during the Twisted Sister show. Why, you ask? Because he wanted the journalists to go and see Dee Snider’s gang rock the stage rather than listen to his own ramblings. Alice confesses his great respect and friendship with Twisted Sister, and particularly with their frontman:
“They’re very old friends of ours. Dee and I have done so many things together. He’s one of the best. He knows how to work the audience, he’s great. […] We’ve done a few things together. We just recorded some stuff that was pretty interesting, but I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day! But he’s great.”
Alice Cooper’s career total no less than 40 years. He’s one of the only artists who managed to endure through the decades while always adapting to the era. In this respect, it’s incredible to see 40-year-old songs, such as the classic, innocent “I’m Eighteen’, performed alongside “Wicked Young Man”, a song set in a very modern and brutal era. The man does splits at every concert, and yet neither the show nor the repertoire seem to suffer from it. His hand is still present, his genius still palpable. What’s more, Alice Cooper remains an absolute reference when it comes to offering shows with real theatrics. Those shows played a major part in the building of his reputation and inspired many other artists, from Rob Zombie to Marilyn Manson. But in the end, what makes Alice Cooper a popular figure after all these years ? What’s his recipe for success?
“First of all, we don’t do anything without the music first. The music is the cake, and Alice Cooper is the icing on the cake. We spend about 90% of our time on the music, and 10% on the theatrics. Once the script, the music, is written and works (like you’re gonna see tonight, it will be 28 really rehearsed songs), you can add the icing on the cake. A lot of bands have a small cake and a lot of icing. We have a lot of cake and a lot of icing! (Laughs) If you don’t have the music, you have nothing but a puppet show. You have to have those songs; you have to have “I’m Eighteen”, “Poison”, “School’s Out”, “Elected”, “Feed My Frankenstein” and all that. That all has to be in the show to make it work. If it were just the theatrics, who cares? It’s the band first. […] We absolutely refuse to do a dull show. Every single night, the band gives 100% on stage. We just refuse to do a bad show. So the band and myself, our attitude is to kill the audience every night. I don’t care if it’s a hundred shows, that’s the only way I know how to do it. I think once you do that, the audience realizes that you can go on as long as you want to. You can go thirty years as long as you keep doing that. If you go up there with half feelings, the audience can sense that. So tonight, we’re gonna go up there to kill the audience. […] (Speaking about his musicians) These guys are great. And tonight, I’m throwing three songs at them that we haven’t done in five years. I haven’t told them yet!”
"We mock the devil more than we praise him. I have no friendship with him at all!"
Speaking of the show he was about to give on Saturday, June 19th 2010, Alice Cooper must know that the festival underwent a few attacks, most notably for its demonic imagery – and that of certain bands. With a show called “Theatre Of Death”, that offers a blatantly phantasmagoric universe, it was obvious that Alice was the target of some of the critics. And yet, as he told the local journalists, he considers himself to be a good Christian! But what of the demonic aspect of his shows?
“I think I kinda make fun of it a little bit. When we finished the tour with Rob Zombie, somebody said: “Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie don’t worship the devil, they make fun of him”. Which is probably closest to the truth. We mock the devil more than we praise him. I have no friendship with him at all! […] I don’t know one band that worships the devil, but I know a lot of politicians who do! If rock bands worship the devil, I think it’s almost in jest. I certainly can’t think of any bands that actually worship the devil. Again, I think it’s more about making fun of him.”
At Radio Metal, what we’re most interested in is Alice Cooper’s future. Because even if the artist can boast four decades of a successful career, he still has a bright future ahead of him. And it appears Alice is currently writing a new album – an album that we heard was a sequel to the mythical Welcome To My Nightmare, no less…
“I’ve heard that too! I’ve got the three new songs right with me. (He shows a CD out of his jacket) I’m very happy with working with Bob (Ezrin) again. It’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and it’s the next nightmare. Thirty years later, he has another nightmare, and this one is even worse than the last one. […] I haven’t worked with Bob in a long time. After the 35th anniversary of Nightmare, I said: “Why don’t we start writing something else?” And he said: “Why don’t we just do Part Two?” We’d never done part two, so I went: “That’s a great idea. Let’s get me and you together, I think we can still get Steven Hunter and Dick Wagner. We’ll put some of the original people on it and add some new people.”
"I didn’t think that we could recreate the sound, but the first three things we did are identical to that era. [...] Without even trying, it sounded just like Nightmare."
Bob Ezrin – now that’s a name that will make Alice’s oldest fans quiver with impatience ! The famous producer played a major part in the creation of Alice Cooper’s greatest hits, such as “Love It To Death”, “School’s Out”, “Billion Dollar Babies” or, precisely, “Welcome To My Nightmare”. Bob is known for defining the Alice Cooper sound in the 70s, but aside from his work as a producer, he also took part in the writing process, in some musical arrangements and, sometimes, acted a musician. Their last collaboration dates back to 1983, with the album “Dada”, even if Bob was credited on “Blow Me A Kiss”, from Brutal Planet, in 2000.
“He was our George Martin. He took a band that had a lot of good ideas and a lot of good sounds, and he put it into the form of Alice Cooper. Once he did that, we took off. We did at least ten albums together. […] I think it’s gonna be an entirely new rebirth of Alice Cooper with Bob Ezrin.”
So if Bob Ezrin is back at the wheel for Welcome 2 My Nightmare, does that mean we will come across old acquaintances like Prakash John and the rest of the gang as well?
“I don’t think we’ll get Prakash, but we’ll get some of the new, talented people that have shown up since then.”
So no names to feed our fantasies for now…
“No! But I can tell you it’s gonna be really good. I’m so over the moon about the first three songs we’ve written. I’m so happy, it sounds exactly like Part Two.”
Speaking of sound, what will it be like? Is the goal to revisit the past, just like with Dirty Diamonds, or rather to set this sequel in the current world, and therefore give it a resolutely modern sound?
“I didn’t think that we could recreate the sound, but the first three things we did are identical to that era. In fact, we purposely added a few 70s things to it to give it that 70s sound. Without even trying, it sounded just like Nightmare. If we can keep that going, it will really be something. It captures an era.”
"I can’t imagine not being bigger than before! [...] Now a lot of people are doing this: Lady Gaga is doing that kind of staging, everybody’s doing it. So we’re gonna have to take it up to another place."
At least that’s clear. Alice might be incredibly enthusiastic, we cannot but see a trend in this desire to create sequels to mythical albums. A trend not always well-perceived by the fans, given the results (rarely high enough to meet their expectations). We can most notably mention Queensrÿche’s Operation Mindcrime II, Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe II or Helloween’s Keepers Of The Seven Keys : The Legacy; these are all good albums, but clearly lack the genius of their predecessors. When he sees all his colleagues miss their targets, isn’t Alice afraid this album won’t meet the extremely high expectations set for it?
“First of all, I love the fact that you call it an “album”, because I want to release a lot of these on vinyl. I love the idea of vinyl. In the last year, vinyl went up 89% in sales, because kids are tired of buying air. They download a song, and they get nothing. When you pick up an album, you go: “Oh, it’s got a picture of the band, it’s got lyrics, it’s got this and this”. People want a little bit of ownership to the band. I mean, of course it’s gonna be mostly CDs. But I’m not afraid of that at all. I started the sequel, and to me, if the album is great, that’s all I care about.”
It’s a fact, the download trend is a blight that makes any form of art look virtual and annihilates any passion you might have had for the object itself. But record companies should also rack their brains to offer products that will make a difference. Nowadays, several labels offer gorgeous limited editions. Back in the day, we all remember the vinyl edition of School’s Out. In this perspective, what can we expect for Welcome 2 My Nightmare?
“I really hope we can release a limited edition. Maybe when you open it, a moth flies out or something! Or a scorpion will bite you!”
So what will this new nightmare look like on stage? Alice Cooper has a reputation to defend – especially since, nowadays, more and more artists offer pretty extravagant shows.
“I can’t imagine not being bigger than before! Technology came a long way since Welcome To My Nightmare. The reason my shows were over the top was because there was nothing like it. There was nobody doing that kind of staging. Now a lot of people are doing this: Lady Gaga is doing that kind of staging, everybody’s doing it. So we’re gonna have to take it up to another place.”
"Well, everybody sits back and contemplates and goes: “Well, I probably shouldn’t have become an alcoholic”. But in retrospect, without that, we wouldn’t have had From The Inside, which was one of my favorite albums. [...] I wouldn’t have taken that alcoholism away now that I think of it."
When the news of this sequel was revealed, the most faithful fans were reminded of fond memories, and they started fantasizing about a reformation of the old Alice Cooper Group and, who knows, about a complete tour...
“Actually, Dennis and Neil are writing two songs on this album. And we’re gonna bring Glen back from the dead! […] We have actually been on stage. We did a Christmas show, we did it three or four times. Neil and Dennis and Michael and myself got together and did like an hour. […] A complete tour, I don’t know. I’ve been touring for thirty years since the band broke up, and physically, it’s very hard. I know I’m physically ready, I can do it. But they’re really good friends, and it’s always great to watch them get together. When they come to the shows, I bring them on stage. It’s always great to see these guys together, but they have their own lives. I don’t think they can afford to commit that amount of time away from their own lives. And they might not want to do a tour, but they might never admit it. But we wouldn’t mind doing a one-off. We really do like getting together and saying: “Let’s do an hour of the hits”. We don’t even rehearse, it’s just like being in the old days, they know every single song.”
If we’re going to brood over the past, let’s talk about the re-issue of old albums. Every great hard rock band has been through it, from Deep Purple to Whitesnake, AC/DC, Motörhead or even Twisted Sister. Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare recently went through a facelift. What of the others?
“We’re always working on re-issue plans. We have a lot of plans. We’re actually working right now on issuing a DVD of “The Nightmare” TV special with Vincent Price. We have a saying in rock’n’roll that no matter who you are, you end up on Rhino! Because when you want to do a re-issue, you always go to Rhino. Rhino does amazing packaging; they do the best packaging of anybody. Nobody minds being on Rhino, we love being on Rhino!”
"[...] I really like crappy movies! I’m not really big on production movies, but I try to find the dumbest horror movies I can."
Over time, Alice Cooper had to develop true acting skills to make his shows convincing. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see him take part in a movie once in a while. The last film to date is Suck, a comedy about vampires with a pretty rock’n’roll cast!
“It's a great movie, but it probably won’t win the Academy Award! There’s Iggy Pop, and Moby, who plays a heavy metal singer named Meat. The vampires wipe him out. Who else’s in it? Henry Rollins, Alex Lifeson from Rush, my daughter Calico… I play sort of the oldest vampire, the king of vampires. But nobody really knows that till the end. The other vampires are just kind of: “Move aside!” But it’s very funny; it’s really got some funny bits in it.”
Suck is not the only movie in which Alice Cooper played a part: in 1984, he was starring in Monster Dog.
“Monster Dog is exactly the kind of movie I rent, because I really like crappy movies! I’m not really big on production movies, but I try to find the dumbest horror movies I can. Monster Dog is right there!”
To conclude, one word on his biggest prides:
“My kids. My marriage, 34 years. In fact, I’m proud that I’m still here. I’ve done… what, how many albums, now? 26, 27 ? Since then I’ve probably worked every year, six months out of the year. The Alice Cooper thing is continuous. It’s like Ozzy, it’s like Aerosmith, it has a continuous life to it. Brutal Planet and Dragontown were interesting, different shows. The Last Temptation was kind of a theater show. It has its own life. Along Came A Spider should be a show, and probably will be, later on. This one we’re doing tonight is in four acts. And in order to get me from act to act, they have to kill me, so they’ll kill me four times tonight. First I go to hell, then from hell to the mental hospital, and they have to kill me every time.”
And on his regrets…
“Well, everybody sits back and contemplates and goes: “Well, I probably shouldn’t have become an alcoholic”. But in retrospect, without that, we wouldn’t have had From The Inside, which was one of my favorite albums. And I think every time you run up against something that’s almost life-threatening, it changes you. It turns you into a better person if you defeat it. I wouldn’t have taken that alcoholism away now that I think of it. It got close, though; I was very close to visiting my old friends on the other side.”
This post is also available in: French