Boston Herald

Originally Published: October 03, 2003

Alice Cooper goes back to bare-bones rock

Author: Rod Harmon

Alice Cooper is fed up with rock 'n' roll.

Well, that's not exactly true. He's fed up with the current state of rock 'n' roll and all its pretentiousness.

"When I got into a rock band, it was so I didn't have to hear about my parents talking about tax cuts and who was going to get elected, and all that stuff," he said from his home base in Phoenix. "It was the music that took you away from all those things.

"So I hate it when rock is used as a responsible tool. Rock 'n' roll should be very irresponsible."

It might seem ironic that the man who made rock concerts theatrical events would complain about the commercial state of the business. But during Cooper's heyday of the early '70s, the music was as stripped down as the stage props were abundant. Albums such as "Killer", "School's Out" and "Billion Dollar Babies" were gritty, unpolished gems that contrasted with the prog-rock that dominated FM radio, and was as much a personification of the Detroit sound as the MC5 and the Stooges.

Now that garage rock is popular again, Cooper's returning to his roots. His new album, "The Eyes of Alice Cooper", sheds the bloated trappings of his last few albums for a bare-bones approach that sounds like it was recorded in 1971. In fact, he's calling his current outing the "Bare Bones Tour."

We recently talked to Cooper about his decision to go retro during a break in tour rehearsals and promotional appearances.

Q: Your new album really harkens back to your classic 1971-74 output.

A: Yeah, it was time. I had done three major story albums. "The Last Temptation" was a really good musical album, sort of "Something Wicked this Way Comes." And the next two albums, "Brutal Planet" and "Dragontown," that was a two-part thing, and it was way heavy. I mean, the subject matter was apocalyptic and soul-searching, and religion and death, and hell and the whole thing. After those two albums, I really wanted to go back to fun rock 'n' roll.

Q: How much did the garage-rock revival of the White Stripes, the Vines and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have to do with you going back to your roots?

A: Man, it had so much to do with it. I've always been one of those guys who could look at what was going on and predict what was going to happen next. As soon as I saw this pop idol thing, I said, "Garage rock is going to make a huge comeback." And it did. I mean, the White Stripes, the Vines, the Strokes, there's probably 100 bands like that now. They're high school bands that are doing old-school music.

To me, that's great, because they're really good little bands. And they're an answer. There's a bunch of kids out there going, "I'm so tired of this hip-hop (stuff). I really want to hear a rock 'n' roll band."

Q: It seems to be shedding new light on old Detroit bands as well. The Stooges are touring for the first time in 30 years, and there are rumors of a MC5 reunion.

A: And the neat thing was, we grew up with those guys. Every weekend, we played with the Stooges, the MC5 and Ted Nugent. So that's like old-home week for us. I told them we should do a pure, old-school, Detroit tour with all those bands. That'd be great-Alice, Ted, Iggy and the MC5 would be a great tour.

Q: It certainly would. Getting back to the sound of the new CD, the guitar technique sounds eerily like Glen Buxton's work, and even your vocals seem to go back in time. How did you accomplish that?

A: It was an idea that the only way to get that is to act like the old band. The way we used to do it was, we would write a song, we would rehearse it for eight hours, take a dinner break and then record it. And then the band says, "Well, I want to go back in and fix those two notes there," and I'm going, "No. You can't." "Why?" "Well, because the guitar's already leaked into the drum mikes, and it's in the tracks. You can't just go in and pull it out. It's too hard to do that. You can add to it, but we're not allowed to go back and mess around with the basic tracks." Which means that bass, drums, guitars, everything is already there.

So I love that idea, because my band is so tight, they can pull that off. And I don't care if it speeds up a little bit, and I don't care if the bass doesn't hit exactly on that guitar chord at the end. To me, that's what gives it some color, some life. I'm so tired of high-tech rock 'n' roll, and I've been guilty of that myself. I've done albums that were so squeaky-perfect clean, we almost squeezed the juice out of those songs.

Q: People really love the dirty, live-in-the-studio sound.

A: Yeah! And you don't get a chance to get tired of the songs! The band would be in there with their shirts off, it's hot, and it's summertime, and we're playing and everything like that. And I said, "Treat this like a rehearsal. We're learning this song, and just play the hell out of it." Then we sat back and said, "OK, let's take this third take, it sounds really good." And that's it. The band goes, "Really?' And I go, "Yeah, here's the song for tomorrow." (Laughs.)

Q: What did (producer) Mudrock bring to the table?

A: I had other producers. They were saying, "OK, we can get A&M Studios for the month of June-July." And I was already going, "We're only going to need two weeks." And as soon as I dropped that bomb on them, they were like, "I don't really want to do that."

It just so happened that Mudrock was working with another band. We were in a rehearsal studio, and he came in and listened. He says, "You should really do this stuff live in the studio." And I said, "What are you doing the next two weeks?" (Laughs.) He said, "The act I was working with just dropped out." And I said, "Well, you're our producer."

Q: I notice that you've also gone back to the spider makeup circa "Love it to Death," instead of your classic clown-style makeup. Was that part of the getting back to the basics approach?

A: Absolutely. I wanted to take it all back to that era, because I think that era is alive again. And I don't mean fashion-wise, I mean sound-wise. I think it's really like a piece of candy right now. Every time I hear a song where you can tell it's a band playing and a lead singer singing, and there's not 28,000 vocals on it, I just go, "Oh, yeah-cool!"

Q: Well, it's called rock 'n' roll, it's not called soft 'n' pretty or slick 'n' polished.

A: Yeah! I am so tired of the hip-hip thing, it's the same video over and over. I'm so tired of the college wimp-rock thing. I mean, some of this stuff they're putting out is so introspective and so, "I smoked way too much dope, and I am looking so deep into myself, that only I know how depressed I really am." And I'm listening to this stuff going, "Stop. I don't want to hear it."

Q: What do you think when someone like Marilyn Manson emulates you?

A: In the very beginning, I thought, it was way too close. What I was kind of watching was, "Is Marilyn going to paint himself into a corner and not be able to get out?" I think he's gotten past that whole, "I'm the devil" thing, and he's created this character that's sort of a grotesque burlesque, which I think is very cool. I mean, now it's something nobody has done.

I don't look at him and go, "He's doing Alice Cooper." I think he took some cues from Alice Cooper, and I think we certainly opened the door for him. But after that, I always say, "Once the door's open, you guys are on your own. Whatever crawls through, crawls through."

Q: When you started out, everyone was into the flower-power, hippie movement. They must have hated you.

A: Oh, they hated us, all right. When we lived in Phoenix, we had to go out as a gang. You never went out alone with long hair, or the cowboys would kill ya. I mean, we weren't looking for trouble, we were just looking not to get killed. So if somebody jumped a long-haired guy, there would be seven other long-haired guys around so we did have that mentality of protecting ourselves, and it wasn't that far away from breaking bar stools, everybody taking a leg and beating your way out of a club. People don't get that, but it was reality for us.

Q: You mentioned thinking whether Marilyn Manson was going to paint himself into a corner from which he couldn't get out. Did you ever reach a point where you were afraid of that yourself?

A: I created Alice as rock's premier villain, and I made him such a classic character, that I think he will outlast almost all the heroes. Alice to me is as much a literary character as Capt. Hook or the Joker. He's part of the American fabric now, whereas he could have just been a flash in the pan.

When you get a lot of hit singles and a lot of big albums, you're suddenly another thing. Now you're commercial, now you are the standard. So I've always kept Alice on the cutting edge. I've always made sure all the albums have all been hard rock albums. And I think the thing that's kept us here is the fact that we're consistent. You know what you're going to get.

Q: In the lyrics to "Be My Lover," there's a line that goes, "She asked me why the singer's name was Alice. I said, 'Listen, baby, you really wouldn't understand.'" Do people understand it now, or are they still pretty much clueless?

A: Oh, they understand it now. They understand I was trying to (tick) off every parent in America.