Interview by SickthingsUK
Photos courtesy of Greg Hampton
GREG HAMPTON is the multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician and producer/arranger of the new Alice Cooper concept album 'Along Came A Spider' and he kindly offered to answer some questions for SickthingsUK about the making of the album.
SickthingsUK: Hi Greg. Thanks for taking time to chat to us about the new album. As a general introduction to our readers, could you tell us who you are and your background.
Greg Hampton: I am a producer/artist & guitarist/songwriter. I am from Texas originally, I came to LA in the 80's and gotten in a band and sang and played guitar, knocked around for as few years.. That’s when I met Eric Singer around 1987, I think... Am currently in a rock band ''SCIENCE FAXTION'' with myself on vocals & guitar, Bootsy Collins on bass guitar, Buckethead on lead guitar and Brain on drums... It's a seriously heavy and funky rock band.... It will be out on MASCOT/ SONY in August.... The first single at rock radio will be ''Looking for Eden'', It's kinda like Audioslave meets Nine inch Nails 2099, really wild!
SickthingsUK: For someone who may not be familiar or clear on what it is a "Producer" does, can you tell us what the job of a music producer is?
Greg Hampton: A producer will arrange the music, write music, work with the artist in how they want to mold their vision of their work, collaborate in writing, play multiple instruments, be a psychiatrist, be driven to personally go to a psychiatrist! Get as much out of the artist as possible and push them - and try to get the best out of them... In Alice's case it was very challenging, because of his incredible legacy....
SickthingsUK: How did you get involved with 'Along Came A Spider'?
Greg Hampton: I sat down with Alice and Shep and told them what I had in mind, and AC explained to me about his concept then.... I work with a few different record labels as a producer-songwriter/A&R Rep, and SPV is one of them... then I called them and told them what I wanted to do... and what it was going to cost them!. I had officially met Alice and Shep a few years ago when Alice got his star on Hollywood blvd and Shep invited me and Carmine Appice (Carmine discovered Eric Singer) to the private luncheon after the cerermony.... but at the meetings in October I discussed my feelings with Alice about getting away from the band jamming together in the same room situation, because my personal feelings were to take it somewhere else musically and try to go somewhere else musically - but still reference certain elements of his career and Shep subsequently said it would be my call - with Alice of course.
SickthingsUK: You co-produced this album with Danny Saber. Did you split the same job or did you both contribute different aspects to the project?
Greg Hampton: Alice, Danny ,and I would sit every single day writing these songs...
We would all come with various ideas every day and start building the songs from scratch that way... Danny is an amazing bass player.... he plays keys and guitar
and engineers. I play guitar, bass, program synths, percussion... and sing... never aspired to be an engineer...
but the main talent is ALICE COOPER. This guy truly is a genius!! And his mind
and his retention of his past work is just shocking... So every day way would start new songs, continue to work on 'the new one' song of that day, then go back to another earlier idea, skip around a bit - to keep things fresh. The band guys had given about twenty demos from various demo sessions. They had put those together over the coarse of a year or so.... but it really seemed
like there were a few gems that really stood out..
I cut all of the drums at my place with just Eric and I... just because we have been friends for twenty years and we really get on well... Really he is one of the great rock drummers of all time, he understands exactly what I want - from a drummer's standpoint.
SickthingsUK: It's been mentioned you and Danny were already fans. What are your personal favourite Alice albums?
Greg Hampton: I was more of a lifelong Alice fan... I would drive my mother crazy playing 'Billion Dollar Babies'
over and over and over as a little kid... I have probably 21 Alice records or cd's, they all have very special moments... 'Billion Dollar Babies', 'Welcome To My Nightmare', From The Inside', 'The Last Temptation',............
I COULD GO ON AND ON!
I was 18 (no pun intended!) when I had just come to LA - when I got to go hang around the studio on 'Special Forces'. [SF Producer] Richard Podolor was my mentor.
SickthingsUK: 'Along Came A Spider' is Alice's first concept album in several years. How did you, Danny and Alice approach this?
Greg Hampton: Again with such a legacy of music, it is not easy... but we really were referencing 'Billion Dollar Babies', 'Welcome To My Nightmare', 'The Last Temptation', and 'Brutal Planet' as a good boiler plate.. but trying to keep it fresh...
SickthingsUK: Alice had been saying in interviews over a year ago that he had many songs ready for the album. Approximately how many songs had you and Danny been presented with at the start of this project?
Greg Hampton: Like I said they had demoed about 20 songs...When I sat down with Alice (Oct 27th 2007) I already made up my mind... I really wanted to work with this legend... He was one of my childhood heroes, so WITH Alice... I really had to get across MY INTENTIONS, and assure them that I would get the label to let us have total creative control, and make them (the label) commit financially to promote it the way an icon like Alice should be treated.
SickthingsUK: You and Danny ended up writing much of the material yourselves. Did you just use musical ideas you already had floating around or did you start from scratch?
Greg Hampton: Well, when Alice and I sat down we discussed direction and felt it would be 'Billion Dollar Babies' meets Nightmare/Brutal Planet and ''The Last Temptation''. I just was finishing up SCIENCE FAXTION... But the week we had our first meeting I had already started writing music and experimenting with ideas only for Alice... The next day after Alice and I sat down and talked, I spent a 12 hour day and came up with most of the music and structure of ''I Am The Spider''. We pretty much kept all my guitars AND CRAZY SOUNDS&EFFECTS from that first day with just my assistant Jeremy and me. Some things were written differently, starting with ideas from scratch, after Alice would come in with a title and basic themes/imagery.
SickthingsUK: Did you usually have the music written before Alice wrote the lyrics or were the music and lyrics written in tandem?
Greg Hampton: When Alice got off tour (Dec. 2007) he went to Hawaii for the holidays... and to get us started I sent him a cd -''fed ex'' of finished music on 11 songs.... he really liked 4 of them which ultimately become 'I Am The Spider', 'Catch Me If You Can', and 2 of the bonus tracks (which wont tell & spoil the surprise). Alice is the main lyricist... I did contribute some as well... I had the title on 'Catch Mm...' also... Working with Alice is a challenge also... It got a bit weird watching all of those movies about serial killers... And reading all of those books about those twisted freaks! Remember - I know where your spending your nights!!.....
SickthingsUK: Did Alice request certain songs to be heavier or lighter after hearing them or request certain types of songs beforehand to fit in with his concept?
Greg Hampton: No, we were pretty spot on - He did make us take off the mandolin that was originally on ' Killed by Love', ''LEAVE THAT FOR ROD STEWART PLEASE', but he said it was up to us, But HE IS THE LEGEND! so we were totally sensitive to what his legacy is and what he wanted.
SickthingsUK: How did the recording process go? Did the band come in and lay down basic tracks, or was it all built up piece by piece digitally?
Greg Hampton: Eric Singer is pretty much the only guy from the band who played live with Danny and I... The guys in the band came in and played ALOT on the three songs they had written.... One song that was very different though.... Alice kept telling me he had these lyrics for something he wanted to call 'Vengeance Is Mine'. The music for 'Vengeance Is Mine' was written and pretty much completely finished one morning over coffee with my little hand help recorder.... The next day Eric came up, and it was just me and ERIC at my place for the most part. We finished the entire backing track. the wahwah leads in the verses I was just goofing around but I kept it!... then I took the track up to Danny's the next day. Alice loved it... DANNY added the little ''Iron-man'' type riff in the middle breakdown bit. We cut Alice's vocals the same day... and SLASH added some extra screaming lead guitars a few weeks later at my buddies studio in Nth Hollywood... I think we had about 16 hours total into the entire song... including ALICE'S vocals and the final mix.
SickthingsUK: There's a track up on your Myspace page called "ACDarkness". Was this an idea for Alice, or is the name just a coincidence I'm reading too much into?
Greg Hampton: That's funny - never thought of that comparison - just coincidence! ... No, it was originally written for an English female singer that won second place on ''Pop Idol'' (an english show) Roxanne. Her producer is my friend Gary Miller (David Bowie, Cher, etc). He said he really liked the track... but her record was put on hold I think....
SickthingsUK: 'Along Came A Spider' is a surprisingly upbeat album, considering it's a concept album about a serial killer. This has surprised many fans. What are you thoughts on how the songs and the concept go together?
Greg Hampton: You know there were some other very complex dark pieces of music that we composed for this and presented to Alice... but it was really how HE was ''feeling it'' that we would build on... so his instinct on a musical piece with matching titles and or lyrical themes would be the directive, from his perspective.
SickthingsUK: Slash has guested with Alice before, as has Ozzy (on 'Hey Stoopid') but how did Ozzy come to be playing Harmonica on 'Wake The Dead', when Alice also plays harmonica and could have done it?
Greg Hampton: Danny and Oz originally were messing with the idea a few years ago...
SickthingsUK: What was Ozzy's input in writing 'Wake The Dead'?
Greg Hampton: The original idea that Danny and Ozzy was what we built it from... Then Alice took it and ran with it. We just had to hold on.... ALICE moves pretty quickly when he is inspired and in ''the moment'.' Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones) is a mutual friend of Danny and mine going back many many years so he started getting involved on vocal arrangements and background vocals and really added a lot.
SickthingsUK: On the song 'I Am The Spider' how did you achieve the background sound of what, at least to me, appears to sound like rats squeaking and scuttling around?
Greg Hampton: That is a combination of crazy guitar motifs/parts... and guitar effects, and some odd synthesizers run thru some guitar stomp boxes. That is almost all from the first day I worked on the song (back in october), I was definitely in the mad scientist mode.
SickthingsUK: With Danny and yourself playing much of the guitar on the album, how much were Jason, Keri and Chuck involved with the project?
Greg Hampton: Those guys are an amazing live band!... Jason Hook is really one of the most underrated guitar players in rock (worldwide) today... They really treat the classics with respect... but on this record Danny and I had a pretty good idea as to how we wanted it to sound. Tthe guys played mainly on the songs they had written.
SickthingsUK: The album has a very modern sound to me, kinda a cross between old school songs with a modern feel in the sounds and arrangements. Was that something you were purposely aiming for from the start?
Greg Hampton: Yes, like I said before starting, referencing and being respectful of all of his great body of work was really the key... That was one of the reasons I picked Danny Saber to co-produce... His background covers a lot of styles also and he has a keen sensibility to acclimate to whatever artist he is working with and immerse himself in their past... And also Danny and I had known each other quite a long while.. it just seemed right for us to look to the future!
SickthingsUK: What kind of specific challenges did you face as a producer on this album?
Greg Hampton: Are you kidding? Alice has worked with the greatest producer's in music history...
Bob Ezrin, Roy Thomas Baker , Ritchie Podolor, David Foster,
can go on and on... So to be aware of the production on all of that incredible body of
work and keeping it modern, was the biggest challenge.
SickthingsUK: What was the most difficult song to record?
Greg Hampton: 'Salvation'. It started with Alice bringing in the title, I was sitting on the couch with the guitar and started playing the chorus guitar chords. Danny started adding the piano and string parts and changes... All while Alice was over sitting writing lyrics, but the song probably took the longest. Bernard came in and really added some great vocals, but the song really kept building AND BUILDING... The key is to have the guts to say ENUFF!! Also one of the bonus tracks that will be on the I-TUNES bundle only, was really tuff....... Alice changed the chorus four times!
SickthingsUK: With a back catalog such as Alice's, with hits such as "I'm Eighteen,"> "School's Out" and "Poison," did you consciously try to produce something that would stand up with all of those songs?
Greg Hampton: No, you cant really try and do it that way... It has to happen on its own... The best songs seem to just come flying out of you anyway! You kinda got to get out of the way and let them happen.
SickthingsUK: Standard question, but what was the coolest thing about working on the album? Any amusing stories?
Greg Hampton: Sitting next to Alice Cooper elbow to elbow on the couch writing month after month, eating red vine licorice whips, drinking diet cokes everyday.... was probably about as coool as it gets! Being that I was a fan, he told us so many great stories from the 70's, really a lesson in music history... reaffirming why I AM SO BLESSED TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS FOR A LIVING TODAY! I really can't tell you the stories though, I might end up like the rest of the victims!
SickthingsUK: The album has already received a mixed response from fans who have heard it. It seems they either love it or hate it! How do you feel about that?
Greg Hampton: You know that is a tuff question.... Being a fan myself I can understand what they are saying.... but if the haters can do a better job best of luck to them!... and hopefully I can be on the board criticizing their work someday!
SickthingsUK: You have a couple of other projects I wanted to mention. Tell us about your band Razor Ball with Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels.
Greg Hampton: Reeves and I started working together in late 200 .... He had just left David and moved to LA from Boston... We meet thru some mutual friends, it was very organic really.... We were both into weird pedals. We were both big fans of certain guitar hero's from the 1970's..... We really played off of each other like a Ronnie Wood/Keith Richards nterplay......ON STEROIDS! Reeves is absolutely an insane guitar player (literally) and we started writing together, then we decided to make a side band project out of it, and spent several years writing that record on and off... He had also worked with Danny Saber when he was with Bowie so we had quite a few mutual friends.... He would come to the Razor Ball sessions and spray paint all of his pedals red! so I could not tell what he was using...!! So when he walked out of the room I would take digital photo of the pedal and count all of the knobs etc... and go online and figure out what he was using that way! There is more than one way to skin a cat!
SickthingsUK: The other big project seems to be your new band Science Faxtion which involves bass legend Bootsy Collins, Primus and Guns n' Roses drummer Brain and fellow GNR guitarist and solo artist Buckethead. That's quite a collection of talent. How did the band come together?
Greg Hampton: I approached Bootsy to do a traditional old school funk record... and he said he would really like to work with me but he really wanted to move forward in his life musically... and do a heavy rock record 'like Nine inch Nails or something....' and I told him I was writing some stuff like that for a movie submission. Sent him one of those tracks, and he said ''baby who is the singer on that track? That mug can sing!!" and told him it was me... that really what my first calling was singing.... but it had been many years... Then he said ''BABY -YOU DA NEW SINGER'! It's gonna be me you BUCKET AND BRAIN the nucleus! fast forward to 2099!" so it became a concept record based on some theories he told us about.... the rest will eventually be history.........!! ( and will rock your ass off )
SickthingsUK: I've yet to hear any Science Faxtion material. From what I've read it's another concept record. Does it help having a central theme when writing?
Greg Hampton: It's really tuff, when your working with an icon like Bootsy... He's a grammy winner, he's already in the rock -n-roll hall of fame.... the bar is set pretty high..... It really kept all of us on our game.... Writing from a theme and concept that he was so passionate about, and getting completely engrossed in a lyrical theme I really knew nothing about was extremely challenging!! He has accomplished a lot in his life.... so coming of that record going directly to working with Alice ( on a theme about serial killers) was pretty tuff.... but it could be worse!
SickthingsUK: Your next project involves unreleased tapes of the late great Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple), a very different job involving matching new performances to 30 year old tapes. What drew you to this idea?
Greg Hampton: I am co-executor to the Tommy Bolin estate, and he was my biggest influence as a guitarist... I feel he was better than Hendrix.... so it is a passion that have been luckily involved with for sometime.
SickthingsUK: Do you have a message to the Alice fans who are eagerly awaiting the album?
Greg Hampton: Try to have an open mind... LISTEN TO THE CD AT LEAST 20 TIMES before you condemn it ... ALICE COOPER DESERVES ALL OUR RESPECT! for the ones who already love it.... YOU GUYS HAVE GREAT TASTE !
Thanks once again to Greg for giving us this insight into the album. You can get more info about Greg from his web site, http://www.greghampton.com, or his Myspace pages at http://www.myspace.com/greghamptonmusic and http://www.myspace.com/greghamptonlistening. There is also a Razor Ball Myspace page where you can take a listen to them.