ALICE COOPER - No Regrets
Interview by Mitch Lafon
It’s not every day you wake up and realize you’ll be talking with an American icon, but today was one of those days. ALICE COOPER has long surpassed being just a “rock star.” He’s as Americana as apple pie and white picket fences, and so, for 15 minutes, I got to ask a living legend a few questions...
Alice Cooper: “Hey Mitch! How you doing?”
Mitch Lafon: Good and much better now that I’m talking to you. I’ve been prepping all day by listening to Flush The Fashion and Zipper Catches Skin.
AC: “Wow! I haven’t actually sat down and listened to those albums in a really, really long time.”
ML: Me neither, but nothing says Alice Cooper like ‘My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life Today’.
AC: “That Was ‘The Day My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life’ – that whole album (Zipper Catches Skin)... I took a Weekly World News and I just found headlines like ‘Aspirin Damage’... every single song title was from a headline from the Weekly World News and the funny thing about those is that once you create the headline there’s a rhythm to it (sings – That Was The Day My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life). It actually created the song. It creates the rhythm of the song and whatever it was I was stuck with that (laughs).”
ML: Let me ask you about touring since you’re coming to Montreal (October 16th) and Cornwall (October 17th) – It’s 2006 and you’ve done it all. Why does Alice still find the need to tour?
AC: “Because it’s what I do. It’s like anything else – why does (Bob) Dylan tour? Why do the Stones tour? I feel more comfortable onstage than off-stage. So, when I go out on tour – I just go ‘I’ll be on the road for four months… great!’ When you’ve done it for 40 years that just what you do. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be looking for an acting job. Of course, I could have retired 30 years ago, but you sit there and go ‘Well, Jagger’s up there on stage’ and we just did a couple of shows with them. And I’m five years younger than him and as good of shape – why would I stop? And I still think our show is the most theatrical out there.”
ML: It’s a great show, but you’ve got other stuff going on at home – the restaurant, the golf...
AC: “But those things to me are ‘third-ary’ and ‘fourth-ary.’ If someone were to tell me, you can’t play golf for two weeks. I’d go ‘OK, that’s no problem.’”
ML: But if someone said you can’t tour for a couple of years...
AC: “I’d sit there and go ‘What am I going to do?’ You know I could make records and act and do movies, but the idea of being on a stage where the audience reacts immediately to what you do... you get that immediate satisfaction. Maybe that’s what it is – being an attention junkie. I’d probably not even be looking at movie acting. I’d be looking for stage acting – something on Broadway. Only because it would be another immediate audience thing.”
ML: You mentioned albums and again you’ve done this for over 30 years. You’ve got songs like ‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘Is It My Body’, ‘Be My Lover’ – what motivates you to keep making albums? Dirty Diamonds just came out a year or so ago... another great album by the way.
AC: “Thank you – the last two albums have been back to the garage. Every single rock song – ‘Steal That Car’, ‘Woman Of Mass Distraction’... every one are live. It’s the band playing live. I would go in and do the vocal afterwards and the band would say ‘Let me fix that guitar’ – ‘Ah, NO!’ I want it to sound like a band. I don’t want it to sound like it’s been overdubbed. Certain songs like ‘Jesse Jane’ and ‘Pretty Ballerina’ – yeah, fine we’ll go in and produce on those, but when it comes to the hard rock songs I want all this live. I get inspired by listening to bands like The Strokes, The Vines, the White Stripes, Jet and groups like that because I’m sitting there listening and all of a sudden this song comes on and I’m like ‘Who was that?’ It sounds like a Detroit garage band – cool! They’re sounding like what we sounded like when we used to play with Iggy Pop and The Stooges and the MC5. The one type of rock ‘n’ roll that will never die is the five kids in the garage. I think 30 years from now in Montreal, there will be some 16-year-old kids in the garage saving their money up to get their guitars and learning Rolling Stones songs and AC/ DC songs and Guns ‘N Roses songs.”
ML: And Alice Cooper songs...
AC: “And Alice Cooper songs, but only the more demented ones.”
ML: Like the Dead Dog one. But why? You could sit back and do the whole nostalgia thing. Why is it important to make fresh songs?
AC: “Because I can. Every day I sit here and hear two or three phrases and think ‘Ah, that’s a great song.’ I can’t escape it. I think we could write an album a year maybe two albums a year and I would just keep going.”
ML: Like the good old days when there was a March release then a November release...
AC: “Yeah and I would have no problem with that. As long as there are human beings on the planet, I’ll never run out of things to write about. We’re the greatest source of hypocrisy and humour and sex and stupidity and smartness. Human beings are capable of anything and that’s what makes great songs. I don’t write about buildings and things. I write about the irony of people.”
ML: There’s a lot of humour in your songs which most people don’t seem to catch.
AC: “And the ones that do, I really appreciate it. When someone comes and reads off a line and says ‘That was really funny.’ I go ‘Wow! Somebody got it. Great!’ But still you’ve got to have a great hook. You have to have a great drummer – a guy that can really lay it down. You have to have a great guitar player and that verse or that lyric has to be married to that chord structure for it to really work and that’s something I learned by listening to the Rolling Stones and The Beatles and The Yardbirds and The Who and even Burt Bacharach. When you want to hear the construction of a song listen to something by Brian Wilson and that’s really how great songs are written.”
ML: What are the plans for new music?
AC: “January is coming up and the actual title is ready to go. The band is already working on seven or eight songs. We’ll be in the studio in January and it’ll be done in January. I love to go in, do it and get out.”
ML: What is the title?
AC: “I wish I could tell you, but it’s so Alice Cooper – it’s scary (laughs), but believe me it’ll make the biggest Alice Cooper fan and the least one very satisfied.”
ML: I like that title right there – It’s So Alice Cooper – It’s Scary.
ML: Let’s talk about the old band – Michael, Neal, Dennis and Glenn (rest in peace). How was it working with those guys? You had a certain chemistry and vibe.
AC: “Well, we went to high school together. You know what I mean? We were on the track team together. We were in journalism class together. We went to college together. We went through the Vietnam draft together. We did all that... I accidentally shot Neal when we were out shooting rabbits while we were drunk. There’s so much history between us. We starved together then all of a sudden we went from being the most hated band in L.A. to the number one band in England. So, how does that happen? We were at the right place with the right stuff.”
ML: Do you think you’ll do a small tour with them or something one more time with them?
AC: “We’re actually doing a Christmas show in Phoenix. The Alice Cooper Christmas Pudding Show at The Dodge Theatre and every year I get a bunch of guys together. Last year, it was Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick and the Tubes... It’s a five hour variety show and the money goes to the Solid Rock foundation - for inner city kids. This year I called Neal, Dennis and Mike and said ‘Why don’t you guys come in and we’ll do the original band for half an hour? We’ll do ‘Nice Guy’ and ‘Under My Wheels’ and ‘Eighteen’ and ‘School’s Out’ and all the hits and they said ‘Yeah sure.’ There never was any animosity between the band when the break-up happened. It was more like – everybody was just bushed. We were tired. One guy wanted to do his own album. Another guy wanted to do his own album. I think they were burned out on the theatre. Whereas, I was thinking ‘No no let’s take it further.’ I was thinking Welcome To My Nightmare and they were thinking ‘Let’s just do an album and not the theatre.’ We were on totally different tracks and that’s really what it was.”
ML: Have you heard Dennis’ new album Bones From The Yard?
AC: “I just got it. I haven’t heard it yet.”
ML: You’ll like it. It’s really good.
AC: “Well Dennis is so clever. Dennis has always been THE artist in the band. By the way – he’s a great artist... graphic artist. He always came up with the weirdest stuff. All the stuff on any of the early albums that was really out there was Dennis. All the stuff that was really commercial was Mike Bruce and myself. When it came to songs like ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ that was a single. That was Mike Bruce and me. When it came to things like ‘Blue Turk’ that’s Dennis and I. All the trippy stuff was always Dennis. He was a big Pink Floyd fan. He was the first one that came to me and said ‘Listen to this.’ It was Pipers At The Gates Of Dawn and I listened to it and went ‘Wow, that’s really cool. That’s the best psychedelic band I’ve ever heard.’ Dennis was the guy that could have joined Pink Floyd and fit right in. He used to bring in Stockhausen and all this electronica and we would sit and listen to it. I wasn’t always interested, but I would sit and listen to it with him.”
ML: Let me ask you about sobriety – you’ve been clean and sober since...
AC: “25 years!”
ML: Has it been hard to maintain it and do you look back at the early ‘70s stuff (like ‘Good To See You Again’) and think ‘If I could have been like I am today, it could have been that much better.’”
AC: “When I look at the stage footage I go ‘That was pure Alice,’ but that was a different Alice to the Alice we have now. That was the outrageous society’s whipping boy Alice who was drunk all the time and was stooped over and kinda half there.... and every kid that was an outsider totally related to him. They were outsiders too – they weren’t with the pack. I totally got that, but when I got sober I immediately went ‘That Alice doesn’t work anymore.’ I need an Alice now that is a dominatrix. I need an Alice now that is the arch-criminal. The Moriarty – the smarter than society villain and that’s the character I play now. I kinda made him arrogant. There were two very definite Alices - the alcohol Alice and the non-alcohol Alice. It has not been hard at all.”
ML: And you don’t look back with any regret and say ‘Damn, if I had just...’
AC: “Oh, no no no – The real Alice fans’ four favourite albums are the four blackout albums. The ones that I wrote totally subconsciously and I go back now and listen to them and go ‘For somebody who doesn’t remember writing that song, recording or touring it, that’s a pretty cool song!’ (laughs).”
And with that my time was up.
ML: Well, I’ve got a million more questions.
AC: “Of course, but save them for next year. The new album will be out next year.”
ML: Well, I look forward to seeing you on October 16th in Montreal and the 17th in Cornwall.
AC: “Sure and bring your little daughter with you.”
ML: She’ll be the three-year-old singing along to all the songs. She’s watched the Live At Montreux DVD so much that even I’m getting sick of it!
AC: “Like I’m not a sucker for that (laughs). That’s great.”
For more info visit: www.alicecooper.com