Interview: Alice Cooper
The shock rocker talks Halloween, horror and Jim Morrison before his Edinburgh show on 31 Oct, 2012
Alice Cooper is a shock rock legend he practically invented the excessive stage shows names like Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie now employ. However it’s not just about the monsters, the costumes and the onstage executions, ‘School’s Out’ is still an anti-authoritarian classic 40 years after it’s first release, add to that killer tracks like ‘Elected’, ‘Eighteen’, Feed My Frankenstein’ and ‘Poison’ and Alice Cooper delivers on every level. We caught up with The Coop in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was just in from a round of golf before heading to rehearsals for his tour.
How did the Alice Cooper persona first come about?
Back when we first started they were all rock heroes - The Beatles, The Stones, The Who -- but no rock villains. And I said ‘why not a rock villain? Why aren’t I the dark force?’ I’ll be just as commercial in terms of music as The Beatles, The Stones, The Who and everybody, it’ll be hard rock but with a darker and funnier stage presence. So Alice Cooper was born to be rock’s villain.
Back when we first moved to Los Angels, we’re from Arizona, the very first people we ran into were Jim Morrison and The Doors, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Keith Moon [The Who], Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. All my big brothers and sisters were heavy drinkers, I was the little brother tagging along with these people, I was a complete no name and I was trying to keep up with these guys. For a long time I watched them hit 27-years-old then they died and I kind of leant at that point that you had to be able to separate you and your image or you were going to die. Jim Morrison had to be Jim Morrison all the time, Keith Moon had no off button. Alice Cooper went on stage for two hours but then I’d leave Alice up there so I didn’t drink myself to death.
Now you are almost as famous for the stage show as the music.
It was something that I did that no body else did. I wasn’t afraid to take it further. Our first criticism was that if you’re a theatrical band you can’t be a good musical band. Nobody could understand you could do both. I always put together the best guitar players, the best bass players the best drummers. In order to do theatrics you have to musically be able to do it 100% because if you just get up there and just do theatrics you won’t last very long. You need ‘Eighteen’, ‘School’s Out’, ‘Poison’ and ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’, you have to have hit records like that in order to do the theatrics, that was the first thing on our minds if we did a ten hour rehearsal, nine hours were on the music, the theatrics came pretty easily.
What have you got planned for this year’s tour?
An Alice Cooper show is always going to be a party. It’s going to be in three parts, there’s definitely going to be a glitzy glam beginning, then it goes to a nightmare area, then we’re going to do a ‘raise the dead’ section. I used to have a drinking club called the Hollywood Vampires and it was Keith Moon, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, all the guys that used to go to the Rainbow Club and just drink every night. So I’m going to raise the dead and do an eight song tribute to those artists with two songs from Lennon, two from The Doors, two from The Who and two songs from Hendrix.
Do you feel a pressure to make each show more spectacular than the last?
You can top it or you can just do something different. It doesn’t necessarily have to top it but it has to take the audience to a different place. I think the audience knows we have to do the hits, ‘Schools Out’ and ‘Poison’ and all those songs but it’s about how do we do them. Musically it’s like the records but what are we going to see? What is the attitude going to be? Who’s in the band? How are they going to play it? And to me that’s the fun part of it, staging it.
Where did you get the idea of the onstage executions?
The onstage executions took the show to another level. I think when you have a villain, it’s not satisfying unless the villain gets justice at the end. As much as I like Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader or Dracula it’s not satisfying until he gets staked or Hannibal Lecter gets caught, to me that’s the satisfying part of the show. As soon as the execution happens Alice is reborn, he comes back out in a white top hat and a tux and goes ‘well they got me for a second but I’m back’.
Are the stunts dangerous?
When you are putting your head in a guillotine every night and the blade weighs 30lbs and it’s a real guillotine, it only misses you by 5” it’s never a fun thing. I put my head in there every night going ‘please don’t let this be the last night’. It’s a timing thing, to make it look right you have to have an element of danger in there. The same thing with the hanging, when I do the hanging the noose only misses me by half an inch and I mean it’s a real noose and my real neck so it could easily go wrong.
Why do you think horror and hard rock go so well together?
To me horror, comedy and hard rock all seem to be in bed together. If you go and see a horror movie isn’t it kind of so close to being a comedy? So if you take this character as far as you can take him it’s going to be comedy and horror at the same time. I didn’t mind spending the money and taking the time and turning it into a big production as long as the music drove it. If you took at the theatrics away my band could still play with Led Zeppelin or Thin Lizzy we could still play with every good band out there.
Have you enjoyed starring in various horror films over the years?
I just did Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp and Suck with Malcolm McDowell, I love doing horror films because again I think I appreciate them for all the right reasons. Rarely do you see a good scary movie any more, an original one. 30 Days of Night was a good scary movie; Silent Hill was good; the original Salem’s Lot was one of the great vampire movies of all time; a lot of Dario Argento’s Italian horror movies, like Suspiria, are great. A lot of the stuff is very schlocky and kind of silly but I still watch it because it’s fun.
You took the lead in 1984’s Monster Dog, did you enjoy the experience?
Taking the lead in Monster Dog was very weird. I’d just finished my drinking career and I had just gotten out of rehab and I really wanted to see if I could work sober. So I had to find something where I could go to work every day and get up at 6 in the morning put make-up on, know my lines and act in a movie as a straight lead actor and I said ‘this is going to be a real good test for me.’ So I went to Spain and did this movie and they promised it would only be released in the Philippines [laughs] of course it became one of the great turkeys of all time which I love. That’s the kind of movie I rent. But it proved to me I could work sober. I’m just glad they didn’t want to do a sequel.
Was 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare your own way of telling a horror story?
To me the lyrics always drive what’s going to happen on stage. People always ask how I plan a stage show, I say ‘just listen to the lyrics of Welcome to My Nightmare, it writes itself’. It starts on a bed and things come up form under the bed and Alice has to deal with all these little sections of the nightmare. When I was writing the song I was literally writing the script for the show.
And what brought you back to it for 2011’s sequel Welcome 2 My Nightmare?
I was working with [producer] Bob Ezrin and he mentioned it’s the 35th anniversary of Welcome to my Nightmare, but lets not do part two lets just give Alice a new nightmare, let’s just figure out what would be a nightmare for Alice in the modern day. Disco would still be a nightmare for Alice, a 9 to 5 job would be a nightmare for him, a beach party would be a nightmare.
Do you believe in the supernatural?
I watch Ghost Hunters all the time on TV, in fact Ghost Hunters International are always in Scotland wandering around in castles and stuff. 80% of the time they can debunk it the other 20% I think there is definitely a supernatural dimension, that isn’t something you want to get involved in to be honest. I think you can open those doors and you don’t know what’s going to crawl through, so be careful about doing séances and ouija boards.
Why do you think songs like ‘School’s Out’, ‘Elected’ and ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ have lasted so long?
I think that era of music is just classic rock music. I listen to ‘Smoke on the Water’ and Jimi Hendrix stuff and all the bands Pink Floyd, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and 16-year-old kids are still listening to that music and the reason is because a lot of the new bands are just not producing. I’m a big fan of young bands, I want them to be snotty rock’n’roll bands, I want there to be a new Guns n’ Roses and a new Aerosmith, it’s just there are very few. What’s left are the bands that are still here that still do that. I think we’re better now then we were then, musically we’re better, physically we’re better. I went to see Iggy & the Stooges, Deep Purple and they’re better musically than they were back in the day. Kids like to hear those songs that they’ve heard on the radio all their life and when they actually hear a classic band there’s something historic about that.
Duff McKagan is one of the support acts looking forward to playing with him?
I really like putting together bands that work with me. Duff’s band is a hard rock band, they get up there and rock the place, I don’t want a wimpy band I want somebody who’s going push us. We toured with Rob Zombie and they were great and I just did some shows with Iron Maiden and both bands pushed each other every night. We would do a set and kill the audience, then Iron Maiden would get up there and have to kill ‘em again. I like the idea of two great bands on stage together pushing each other.
What do you think of the bands and artists, like Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, who you have obviously inspired?
I wish there were more. I can’t believe so many young rock bands want to be acoustic or they want to wear brown corduroy pants with a scruffy beard and a little t-shirt and say ‘this is rock’n’roll’. I say ‘you’re just lazy’. You listen to the music and it’s boring, it’s boring. I like bands like Green Day, bands that get up there and just tear your head off. That to me is rock’n’roll I always love it when they go ‘here’s the newest coolest band they’re the number one band’, they look like guys in the mall and they’ve got an accordion in the band your not a rock band if you have an accordion in the band. You need three Stratocasters, come on!
Why did you choose Edinburgh for your Hallowe'en show this year?
Every time we go to Edinburgh we go to the castle and see all the witchy places there and finally someone took me seriously and said ‘let’s do Edinburgh on Hallowe'en.’ You know how they have the cities bidding for the Olympics, Edinburgh won this year, you want to be with Alice Cooper on Hallowe'en night [laughs].
Have you got a Hallowe'en message for our readers?
If you are coming to our show I want you in costume, we’re playing Edinburgh on Hallowe'en night I want to see some theatricality in that audience. The Usher Hall’s probably already haunted to start with.