Originally Published: July 1991
Author: Valerie Potter
Recording a new Alice Cooper album has always involved a few "Keep Out" signs being nailed up around the studio. But for his latest, Hey Stoopid, Alice dusted down the welcome mat and invited contributions from fellow metallers Nikki Sixx, Slash and Zodiac Mindwarp. And, a few weeks ago, he even asked Hot Metal's Valerie Potter to drop by for a chat....
Attempting to follow up an hugely successful album like Trash must present an almost overwhelming temptation to duplicate the magic formula, but Alice Cooper has never been known for playing safe. While a large measure of Trash's accessibility was attributed to jobbing song smith Desmond Child, who co-wrote all but one of the tracks as well as producing it, some critics felt that Child's input diluted Cooper's harder musical edge and - well, his downright nastiness.
However, for Hey Stoopid, Peter Collins, best known for his work with Queensryche, is manning the controls and Child has only contributed to two songs of the fifteen songs that Alice is considering for the album, with other co-writers included Jack Ponti, Jim Vallance and Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx. Certainly, the two unmixed tracks that I heard in the studio were rockier and more visceral than the Trash record, with Alice's vocals sounding mean and gritty.
"It was obvious on the last album that we wanted radio play and I don't think there's anything wrong with that," said Alice. "Aerosmith were in exactly the same position; they came back and made records that could go on the radio, and they didn't give anything up to do that. Just because all the lyrics aren't about chopping old women's heads off and putting them in the microwave....!"
Trash achieved that objective worldwide, reaffirming Alice's popularity in territories where he was already known and breaking new ground by establishing him as major attraction in Japan, a country in which, surprisingly, he had enjoyed little success previously. Had he expected the album to be such a huge hit?
"I don't think you ever do an album and expect it to be a big hit. When we did School's Out, I didn't expect it to be a big hit, or when we did Billion Dollar Babies. There's no such thing as a sure thing. I could do a duet with Madonna and it wouldn't be a sure thing! And the reason is that you just can't predict what the radio's going to do. I don't know, I'm almost sure that this (new album) is going to be bigger than Trash - but I wouldn't bet my car on it!"
Just as Trash featured guest performances from a number of name musicians, the new record will include "cameo appearance" by some notable rock heavyweights.
"It's fun to use different guys on the album," Alice enthused. "All of my albums have always been very closed; nobody aloud into this world, except Alice! But from the Trash album, I think just by gaining confidence, I opened it up a lot more, to be able to ask Steven Tyler or Jon Bon Jovi to sing on it. On this album, I wanted it to really be something that fits, so Slash is perfect for Hey Stoopid have he gave it right what I wanted it to have. And I did some work with Mick Mars and Nikki on a couple of things that worked perfectly; I didn't want to just throw them on."
On being asked about the new songs, Alice started throwing out titles and comments at random.
"Hey Stoopid is an anti-suicide song. It's great that we've got Sting saving the Amazon down there and we've got Peter Gabriel working with Amnesty and a lot of rock and rollers devoting their time to saving one thing or another, which is terrific, but I thought it was more important to save the kids!
"I wrote Feed My Frankenstein with Zodiac Mindwarp, which was my favourite band for a long time when they were together. They sent the song in and I did a little doctoring on the lyrics and it came out great. There's a song called Little By Little, which is pretty sexy. I've found there's always a little bit of bondage in a lot of my songs - I don't know where that comes from! Hurricane Years is a song I wrote with Ponti, which is like one of those 'hold on' anthems. A spider can hold onto a web in a hundred mile an hour wind and that was the analogy in it: hold on like a spider! And there is one song called I'm Dangerous Tonight, which is one of the best vampire songs of all time!"
I asked after a song called The Ballad Of Alice Cooper which Jon Bon Jovi once told me he'd written for Alice around the time of Trash, but which didn't make it onto the album.
"It didn't make this album either!" Alice answered, laughing heartily. "And every time I see Jon, he gives me one of these 'Hey, how's the song doin'?' looks and I go...(catches his breath). And it really is a good song! But you know the reason why I can't do it? 'Cause he's talking about me and I really can't do that! I told Jon, 'Jon, it's such a great song, you do it about me, but it's hard for me to sing The Ballad Of Alice Cooper about myself!' We laugh about it every time I talk to him - and for the rest of my life, every time I see him, he's going to ask me when I'm going to do that song!"
With such a wealth of material to choose from, Alice's immediate task was to make the painful decision as to which four tracks to discard from the fifteen recorded after which he would start work on the set for his forthcoming world tour. He intends to divide the new stage show into three parts, with equal time being allotted to material from Hey Stoopid, Trash and his back catalogue, the last allowing what he terms "the dangerous Alice" to take over the stage.
In view of the care with which Alice plans his stage act, I asked him how far he took the live show into account when he's writing material?
"A lot of it leaks in, you know," he answered. "I'll be honest with ya, I cheat at the stage every once in a while! I'll be getting ready to write a lyric and I'll write it this way just 'cause I know what it's going to look like on stage, whereas if I'd written it that way, it might have flowed a littlebetter, but this is going to give me more access on stage."
Which is more important then - the way the music is performed on stage or the way it's recorded in the studio?
"Well, one doesn't live without the other. Both are as important: that's why I surround myself with the best players. The guy in my stage band has got to be able to play Eighteen and make it sound like it belongs on the same album an Hey Stoopid and Trash; it's got to sound as fresh as the new stuff and that's quite a hard thing to ask somebody, especially when we're doing 24, 25 songs in a show. 75% of my audience are 15 to 25 - I draw the same people as Aerosmith, Guns and Motley - but the other 25% are the old school and they want to hear some of these old songs exactly like the record and so I have to make sure that the band can play it that way, too."
Of course, both old and new fans alike expect to be thrilled and chilled by the traditional shock horror stunts that Alice stages during the theatrical segment of his show. Trying to sound intelligent, I advanced a garbled theory that, despite his murderous nature, Alice's stage alter ego actually performed a useful social function by living out our nightmares on our behalf. Thankfully, Alice understood what I was trying to say.
"Yeah, there is a really useful thing there - I know what you mean. It's sort of like Halloween coming once a year; you need Halloween! If you watch movies, you need to see a real scary one every once in a while to give you that flavour! I think Alice provides that.
"The Alice show is an event, not just a rock concert. It's like 'Alice is coming in four months!' - and so's Christmas! I want people to look forward to the fact that we're coming into town, not like 'Who we gonna see this week? Okay, lets go and see Alice....' I want them to go, 'Wow, Alice is here! Boy, what's going to happen in the new show?!"
Patience, you lot - with British dates currently being pencilled in for the end of summer, Halloween will be here sooner than we think!