Interview by SickthingsUK
Photos courtesy of Keri Kelli
Keri Kelli was born in Huntington Beach, California on September 7th and joined the Alice Cooper band in 2006 replacing fan favorite Ryan Roxie who left to be with his young family in Sweden. A veteran of the L.A. music scene Keri has performed with a long list of bands including Slash's Snakepit, Dad's Porno Mag, and his new project 'Saints Of The Underground'. SickthingsUK finally catches up with Keri to find out a little about the newest Alice Cooper band guitarist.
Hi Keri, and thanks for answering a few questions for us. Did you always want to be a musician?
Yeah I think so! My parents were really into music, stuff like the Stones, Beatles, Johnny Winter and the Coop! My dad also played a little bass so it was just natural for me to be into music in general at a young age. My mom took me to my first concert to see Queen at the Forum in LA on December 12TH 1978...It was Killer!
I saw somewhere that you say you can play any stringed instrument, a favorite being the cello. Something we could hear on the upcoming Cooper album?
I’d like to play some fun stuff on the CD if I could pull it off properly! I should dust off my violin now and start practicing.......
To give people unfamiliar with your career a quick catch up, let's run through a few of the better known things you've done over the years. 'Big Bang Babies' seems to have been you're first recording project, which lasted for some years. What can you tell us about the band?
BBB was a band I started in like 90/91. It was sort of a Commercial Pop/Rock kinda thing, similar I suppose to Bon Jovi at that time. The band was extremely popular on the LA scene to the point of doing multiple nights headlining places like the Roxy and the Troubadour. We did alot of recording with various producers etc. but could never land a proper recording deal so finally we hung it up at the end of 1993.
B.L.O.W. seemed to have a truckload of problems. First a forced name change to Rubber, and then an album that was never released. What happened?
Wow, I can’t believe you have heard of that! I'll try to make this short... I started writing with various songwriters after the BBB thing and eventually landed a Publishing deal with All Nations. It was actually a Production/Publishing deal that encompassed me making a CD with producer Michael Lloyd (The Osmonds, Leif Garrett, Shaun Cassidy, Stryper). We had Myron Grombacher on Drums (Pat Benatar), which was very cool, and I did the guitars, bass and vox. We got 80% of everything tracked but I, as well as my manager at the time, could not get on the same page with Michael and All Nations on what we thought needed to be done to complete the CD. Basically I was released from my obligations at that point. The name change came from a band, I believe, had just come out with the same name in the UK.
While Rubber was hitting problems, you also played with Pretty Boy Floyd for a while as well, and Tal Bachman. I know Roxie played on a Bachman album, were you working with him in the same time period?
I knew the Floyd guys from back in the BBB days. They basically called and asked if I could help them out. Sounded like fun since I really wasn't doing too much at the time. We did some shows around LA and Phoenix and recorded an EP at my Studio. Tal came about in 1998. I believe what got me started playing with him was a conflict with some Cooper dates Ryan was doing. Tal really didn't do too much when I was with him. A lot of it was Press, Radio, Label showcases and parties to get everybody excited about the CD that was about to come out. Just Los Angeles and New York stuff.
Next up on the list was the infamous 'Dad's Porno Mag' along side Ryan Roxie. The DPM album is a real undiscovered classic, yet the band seems to have always fallen into second place to the members other projects. Do you wish there had been more time to build the band up or was it always a side project?
DMP was a very cool little project! I think it was always unfortunately gonna be a "side" type band as everybody had other "Full-Time" gigs going on. We all had a great time playing shows and basically wreaking havoc wherever we went!
'The Newlydeads' released three albums between 1997 and 2001 and featured ex-Faster Pussycat singer Taime Downe losing his glam roots for a more industrial sound. As I understand it you only played on the second album, 'Rebound', which was a remixes album. Other material for an another record never saw the light of day?
To be honest, I don’t know what CD's I'm on! Taime is a friend and again asked me to come and play guitars and write some stuff at his studio. We tracked a Shit load of things. The bummer I thought with that project was Taime always wanted to keep changing songs, rewriting, scrapping songs etc.. There are always elements of that when you’re making a CD, but after a year with no CD, and no live shows, it just became a "project" to me. It was fun creating with Tamie though! He would lay a drum groove and I would just start riffing out forever. The next day I'd come back and he would have made a killer song out of it. Taime's a cool cat....
Eric Singer (another Alice connection) brought you into contact with 'Shameless', and you co wrote and produced the 'Splashed' album as well as producing their new album recently. Did you actually play on 'Splashed' as well?
Actually Alex (Shameless Bassist) contacted me directly in like 2000. Including the new CD (Eric is also on it) I've done 3 CD's with him. It’s a unique band. They basically have a bassist and guitarist and hire various guest singers, guitarists and drummers. I've played on all of their CD's. Other guests have included Eric, Bruce Kulick, Gilby Clarke, Jani Lane, John Corabi, Steve Summers, Stevie Rachelle......Ah who else.. Tracii Guns. That’s about all I can remember right now. Alex sends me his demos about a month before and I give him all of my production thoughts and we just basically map out who's playing on what, and start cuttin’ it! It’s pretty fast and furious when were doing the CD's, which I think is good, cause its raw and not too "over-thought".
'Warrant' came next but you didn't stay that long. One album of covers and then off to play with Slash. Was it simply a case of getting a better offer?
It was kind of a trippy thing. I was still in RATT at the time, but Stephen Pearcy had just left and we had no singer so the band was in flux. I had been writing a bunch of tunes with Jani for about 6 month prior, so they just asked me if I could do some shows with them. While I was on the road with them, I got the call from the Pit. They asked me to come to the house (Slash's) when I got back, which was just like 2 weeks later, and the rest is history.
Slash's Snakepit of course have a ton of connections with Alice Cooper. Eric Dover was the singer for a while, Roxie worked with them on album before you took over for the 'Ain't Life Grand' tour? Is replacing Ryan becoming a habit!?
It’s just a kookie thing! You know when the phone rings you answer it, never knowing who might be on the other end. Ryan and I are bro's and I believe some people think I would be a logical fit for their band.
Working with Slash and having access to that sort of big band setup must have been cool. Did you ever get to record with the band?
Slash and all the cats were killer... Man did we have a blast!! I mean outta the gate touring and hangin’ with AC/DC that year was legend! We rehearsed for a few months over at Slash's house with a schedule of Monday - Saturday from 2PM till whenever. We would jam for a while, play some pool, drink some beer and pretty much repeat that till someone had to get home! Snakepit had planned to do another CD, but around that time, Slash said he wanted to take some time off around the holidays. That’s when I believe he did a jam somewhere with Duff and that was pretty much the beginning of Velvet Revolver.
From there you worked with Ratt and Warrant, two bands that seem to be suffering endless business blues with people joining and leaving and former members fighting. How did you manage to keep out of all that?
To be honest, since I was not a "Partner" in the band I just kinda tried to steer clear of any drama. There's enough of that going on as it is! I just wanted to plug in and rock.
Many people may not realize that you've kinda been on the fringes of the Alice Cooper circle for a while now having worked with Slash in Snakepit and Ryan Roxie back in the late nineties. Did you ever get to see any Alice shows back then and wonder what it would be like to be up there?
The first Coop show I saw was 1986 or 87 at Long Beach Arena with a guy in my band at the time that was a Coop fanatic. The next time was in 2001 when they had me out to a Production rehearsal and show in Vegas.
When did you get the call up from Alice and how did it feel?
I felt great. I was like where do you want me to be and what do you want me to play. I just rolled in and did my thing.... It was very cool jammin’ with all the guys. Actually every night is really an honor playing all the great tunes from the decades with your brothers!!
I read on kerikelli.com that you first got a call from Alice back when 2001, and then again when Eric Dover left (?), but it didn't happen at the time. What happened?
Ah....It was just a situation that was possibly gonna come up, so they just wanted to be covered if an emergency was to happen.
I've always wondered how Alice recruits new musicians. Certainly in recent years, as shown by the number of interconnections between the players, he seems to get recommendations from the current band. Did you have to audition, and if so, how does that work? What I mean is do you get told to learn certain songs (and if so which ones) for the audition? Does Alice take part or just watch?
I think most of the time it is from a recommendation. I don’t think too many bands do the "Cattle Call" type thing anymore. I obviously knew Eric, Chuck and Alice a little from the Vegas thing and just met Damon that day. You basically come jam some of the big tunes and leave. They do give a list of tunes, but I actually only played a couple of them and off the cuff we jammed some other ones. Alice is there and does partake in a little vocalizing!
Alice's show seems slightly different to most other bands setup with the theatrics, choreography, and Alice's lack of song introductions etc. How does this compare to your previous bands, where I would assume you have much more freedom up on stage to do what you want?
I think its pretty killer since its definitely different for me. Alice lets us do whatever we want; you just need to be certain places on cues. This years show is really gonna be great!!
How much freedom do you have to stamp your own style and identity on the songs? Do you try and play the old material the way it was originally?
I try to find a balance of respecting the integrity of the original stuff. I've been getting some tunes together for the new tour and really playing the licks note-for-note. The only time I believe we were really going crazy with guitar leads last year was in Black Widow. Alice wanted a big "Guitar Duel" type thing and wanted all the psycho guitar type stuff. It worked out cool for that section of the show.
Was it hard fitting into the band when they had been playing the same show for a year previously and could probably play it in their sleep?
Luckily, I have a pretty good memory! I just learned all the songs they sent over to me and we basically ran the whole set the first day at rehearsal. It was pretty much Damon and I splitting up different parts and them telling me about where to be during certain songs for staging. I don’t think I put them through too much hell at rehearsal!
(From Shoesalesman): Do you and Damon switch guitar parts during the tour to gain more experience with all guitar parts?
Not really...We did change a few tunes through out the tour. We would just say you play this, I'll play that and it was a done deal. I think both of us pretty much know the different parts, it was just really splitting them up in the beginning.
How did you enjoy getting soaked opening for the Stones a few months back?
That was really something man... I gotta tell you, were standing in the back saying to each other "are we gonna get shocked...Or Killed"??? Finally we had to hit it and it was not just raining, it was a downpour the entire show. We were all troopers on that one. Everybody's gear got ruined, the pedal-boards, the pick-ups in the guitars etc... But the fact that we were up on the Stones' stage in the pouring rain in front of 50,000 people was just priceless. Man, the Coop AND The Stones... Come on... Legend!
What was the deal with the Buckethead impression at the Halloween show (Note: at the Halloween show in foxwoods, 2006, Keri appeared for the encore wearing a KFC bucket on his head like guitarist Buckethead)?
That was great! I had a friend coming to the show and was trying to find something funny to do at the end of the show. So I had him get the Wig and the KFC bucket! I didn't tell anyone except Brian my tech and I got to tell you, all the guys couldn't believe it. We were all laughing and hitting wrong notes! I like to try to keep everyone laughing.... That was a cool memory.
Has Alice managed to get you addicted to golf yet, as seems to have happen to several other band members?
I play a little bit; I actually call it "beating balls around". I have a set of clubs from my friends company and sometimes hit at the course near my house. I did go out with Damon and Chuck in Norway! I might play more this year.... Coop is Psycho on the course. I know he shot like a 68 or 69 last year and was ecstatic about that.
Tech Stuff: You favour GMP guitars, and Diamond amps. Do you use anything else on stage?
I have a bunch of GMP guitars, but have been playing 70's Les Paul’s and some 70's strats lately. The Diamond amps are a killer new product! Their heads and cabs are all top-notch technology and construction. The heads are 100 Watt and all tubes, reminiscent of a late 60's Marshall Plexi and the cabs are all 100% Birch wood with Celestion Vintage 30 watt speakers just like the Old Marshals. The tone is Huge!! I dont really play too many pedals, just a Wah, Volume Pedal, and Phase 90...That’s about it.
The kerikelli.com site looks amazing. Are you a netgeek or is it something you just use occasionally when needed?
Thank you very much! I do not do all that Internet computer website stuff. I thankfully have a website LORD that keeps that sucker tight!!
You recently signed a deal with Diamond Amps and appeared at the NAMM convention in Anaheim in January (as will Chuck, Eric and Damon). Do you enjoy those sort of industry things?
There kinda cool...A little bit of a hassle to be honest. One of the greatest things was Damon and I got to play a set with Lemmy (Motorhead) at the big Coffin Case/Diamond/Dimebag tribute show. It was off the chain man!!!
There's a new Alice Cooper album in the works and you've been working on it. Are the band recording AND writing it? Any other info about what's going on??
Regarding the new Coop CD, We have completely demo’d I believe 16 tunes. There’s about 10 more tunes musically in various stages of completion. From what I was told, we will unfortunately not start the actually recording until the end of the year.
'Saints Of The Underground' is your newest project, a new band featuring Jani Lane (ex-Warrant) on vocals, Bobby Blotzer (RATT) on drums and Robbie Crane (Vince Neil, Ratt) on bass. Chuck Wright's (ex-Alice Cooper bassist) name was also announced. What happened to him?
How this whole thing started was from a jam band Jani, Crane, and I first put together in ‘98... We would just play cool covers from the 70's... Bobby came into the fold about 2001 or so and we did it whenever we all had time. Out of the blue, a production company asked if we would like to do an original CD and we thought great! Robbie had just bought his own business and was very rapped up in that at the time, so Bob, who knew Chuck from the old days, asked him to cut the bass on it. Crane has his business fully staffed now so he is back in the fold.
The band was originally going to be called 'Angel City Outlaws'. Why the name change (although the new one is cooler!)?
Yes, that was the original name of the project. Crane and I were on the phone trying to come up with something. Originally it was "Angel City Misfits". I never really liked ACO and I thought if were gonna do an original CD lets have a real name. So, I came up with S.O.T.U. and the others all liked it.
Legendary producer Andy Johns mixed the new album, ‘Love The Sin, Hate The Sinner’. What was it like working with him?
He's a crazy Legend! Andy's really a great guy and has incredible ears, plain and simple!
There are two covers on the record. Tom Petty's "American Girl" seems an odd choice. Why that song?
Is it odd..?? It’s a huge song here in the states... I really like the tune and its one we used to play back in the 98/99 days so it seemed to be a no brainer. I also like how we cranked it up a bit!
When is the SOTU album die to be released?
I think it will be toward the end of the year (4TH quarter). Were talking to a few labels now trying to sort out the best placement for it.
Any final thoughts/things you'd like to add.
I'd just like to thank everybody at SickThingsUK and all the other Cooper websites, for all the love and support for myself and the band. All the great people that come out to the shows and to the websites, and of course, Coop. The band guys and all the crew that work their asses off every night to get the show up!!! See you all this Summer!
Thanks to Keri for taking the time to answer the questions. Check out the following links for more info and to take a listen to some of Keri's other projects.
www. KeriKelli.com Official site