Originally Published: March 1988
Author: Greg Fasolino
As I pick up the telephone receiver and listen with awe to the friendly tones emanating from the other end of the line, it begins to dawn on my consciousness that this is truly the voice of Alice Cooper, the man whose face has haunted my dreams (and probably yours too!) With a rampaging new LP, Raise Your Fist And Yell, a Godzilla of a tour, a fiendish cameo in John (Halloween / The Thing) Carpenter's new horror epic Prince Of Darkness, and across-the-board respect from the hard rock community, Alice Cooper is not only back, but here to stay for some grandly gruesome time to come. Yet the humorous, down-to-earth guy on the phone rapping with me bears little of no resemblance to that ghoul-faced concert persona we all know and love. Nonetheless, The Coop had a lot to say about what his evil half is up to.
What can you ask someone who's been interviewed a zillion time?
Alice: Well, I could tell you about the new show. We're adding a lot of new special effects this year. It's the new improved "gore" version of Alice Cooper. We're using many more gallons of blood.
Did you do anything with horror FX-master Tom Savini?
I met with Tom on the last tour. We went over to his house in Pittsburgh, sat down and looked at all the stuff. The only hard thing is that he's working on films almost constantly. Same with us. We never really connected, but we're good friends. I'm sure we'll probably end up doing something. On this show we ended up using people we used on the last tour, and everything's working perfectly. We had to actually start making some of the special effects two or three months ago to get 'em built by the time the tour started. There's a gallows they had to build, a travelling gallows ala Hellraiser, and there's a bride that explodes into blood.
How do you feel now about the success of your "comeback" last year?
We were never involved in the big surge of videos in the early '80s, even though we did the first videos, and we really didn't have a product that was up to standard until Constrictor came out. When we did Constrictor, I found the right writer, Kane Roberts, the right producers, the right engineers. It all came together at one time, and suddenly metal and hard rock was getting popular again. All these bands you would see on MTV had a little percentage of Alice Cooper in them, and they admitted it. I'd read interviews by every single one of these bands that said "Our biggest influence is Alice Cooper and Aerosmith, blah blah blah," so I knew if there were that many people trying to imitate Alice Cooper, why not do the real thing? As far as I was concerned, I was skinny and thin, and my hair was all there, and I was still mean, so I was ready to go!
Now people won't need the imitations any longer.
The great things is, I think if there's a place in history for Alice, it'll be the fact that we opened up theatre, and that kind of really bizarre stage image that most people are doing now. Every bit of torn clothing and eye makeup and ratted-up hair, I mean we did it first. But at the same time, I don't believe in dwelling on what we did. I could sit here and say "Hey listen, we had 15 gold albums." To me that's not as important as Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell. Those are like my first two albums I figure. All those other albums were Phase One of my career. We're into Phase Two now. I think it's a much healthier phase.
You seem to have so much vitality now.
That really has a lot to do with my physical state. Mentally, I'm sicker than I ever was. There's stuff now that we never would have dreamed of doing in the early days. And that's kinda neat that we have the freedom and technology to do a lot of splatter effects. We were limited before. And I have a band that plays better than any other band I had. Physically I'm in really good shape. I do two or three miles a night, not jogging. I run for time. I think another thing that a lot of people get confused about: I know it's not young, but I'm 39. A lot of people think I'm 48 years old. I've been popular since 1970, so people think that I'm ancient. I'm younger than Dio. I'm just about the same age as some of the guys in Motley Crue.
You look younger now than you did 5 years ago!
I tell you the truth, 5 or 6 years ago, when I was drinking, I was physically a mess. I looked like I was 50 years old. I weighed 10-15 pounds more. I'm down to 140 pounds now, and I rip through the show, and this is the hardest show we've ever done physically. The Nightmare Returns, the last one we did, was a monster. It was a sprint. There was not one second of relaxing anywhere in that show.
What prompted your shift to a more metal sound?
(Producer Bob) Ezrin had a lot to do with what our sound was in the early days. We were basically a Yardbirds band. My favorite band in the world was the Yardbirds ...and the early Who. They were like the early metal bands. Led Zeppelin was just an offshoot of the Yardbirds. And I've always had a guitar player in my band that was like a guitar hero. So when I got Kane, I said "Look, I really want to capture the energy behind what's going on in metal, but I don't want to make it dumb. I want it to be clever metal. So lyrically and arrangement-wise we're gonna play a lot of different things, but when it comes to energy, I want a bass, drums, and guitar to just scream. I want it to be relentless." And that's really what we got. I wanted to take the best parts of metal and add it to the best parts of Alice. And what you get then is heavy metal Alice, y'know? Which is the kind of music I enjoy anyway. In L.A., the only station I listen to is KNAC, 'cause they play 24 hours of high-energy music.
So you're pleased with the musicians you have now?
This band is great. We have a musical rehearsal for three weeks before we go into dress rehearsals, and this band has got all the stuff down in two days. I can say "OK, take it from third bar of the second part of the song" and they start right there. Everybody knows the stuff backwards, I went into this thing on a good level. I took songs like "Eighteen" ..."Billion Dollar Babies"...songs that you HAVE to do onstage, and left them alone with the songs for a week. I said "Kane, just rearrange them. Play 'em the way you'd play 'em in 1988." And I'd come back in and the song was right there. It was totally the same song, only now it's got the slant, the '88 kind of sound that I want to hear. I said "I don't wanna do them like the record at all. Please don't feel confined by the arrangements. It's like clay, just play with it til you like it." Then I came back in and polished it up, said "OK, let's lose that, let's take that back in," and you got a brand new sound. A song like "Public Animal #9" or "Under My Wheels" suddenly sounds like it was written last week. I don't stifle them and say "OK, now you just play this" and forget about it. I really want them to be as creative as they wanna be, without forcing them. And then when they get onstage, I tell 'em upfront, "This is not gonna be like any other thing you've ever been involved in. When you get onstage in an Alice Cooper show you're gonna have an education in theatre, because you're gonna have to be this guy, then this guy, and I'm gonna tell you things to do that you're not gonna agree with at the time, then you're gonna see how they work the stage." A lot of times a guy will have to step out of his own character a little bit in order to make the scene work. My drummer and keyboard player went to see Whitesnake and Motley Crue, and after three songs they realized nothing was happening. It looked great and sounded great, but they're so used to seeing something theatrical happening in every song that they got bored. Our philosophy is to never let the audience get a second to rest. You just keep 'em moving all the time.
"Freedom" is a strong statement against censorship. Is that a subject important to Alice?
When we started writing it, I said "Somebody ought to give the PMRC both barrels." Not just being subtle, let's just give 'em a shot of Alice in this thing. Because there's something real un-American about the PMRC. It starts out with the premise that every kid out there is so stupid that they don't know what they're listening to, that every kid that buys a record is too dumb to understand satire, or humor, or horror. That's where these people are missing it. Not that I'm against the PMRC. The PMRC for some reason is one of the most necessary evils I've seen in my life. They've really brought outlawism back to rock 'n' roll, which I think is healthy. I can only criticizes their philosophy, I don't criticize the fact that they exist. I kinda enjoy them. They're a burr under the saddle that gets you going.
Well, if anybody's horse is galloping this year it's certainly Alice's. By the time you read this, the Raise Your Fist And Yell tour will probably have turned your town into charred rubble and your family into quaking blobs of tremulous gelatin. All the more reason to watch for the second part of our feature on the genuine boogeyman himself, where FACES uncovers further facets behind the mortal mask of Alice Cooper.
Raise Your Fist And Yell
As an admitted fanatic of Alice's work in the first half on the early '70s, I could complain about this "modernized." metallicized Cooper. In particular, Kane Roberts' guitar playing makes too much of the record sound like Ozzy or Ratt. Put it this way: he ain't no Glenn Buxton. On the other hand, nothing can deny the fact that it's simply great to have The Coop back in action. The saving grace of RYFAY, of course, is Alice himself, looking more ghoulish than ever, his voice still stunning in its evil intensity, and with his witty, horrorshow lyrical gifts intact (who else could pull of a line like "My leather is black and so are my eyes"?). His vitality makes the LP more than listenable on crunchers like "Freedom" and "Prince Of Darkness," but the finest moment here is the 3-song "slasher trilogy" that closes side 2, comprising "Chop Chop Chop," the gothic keyboard elegy "Gail" (which recalls "Mary-Anne" from Billion Dollar Babies), and the masterpiece "Roses On White Lace" (one of the most stirring cuts Alice's waxed in many eons). May he reign as Horror-Rock Rex forever.