Originally Published: May 16, 2000
Author: Don Zulaica
"I'm probably the only father that bangs on his kid's door and says, 'Will you please turn that up?'"
In 1975, he welcomed you to his nightmare. On June 6th, still Alice after all these years, Cooper will release his 24th album, "Brutal Planet" (Spitfire).
A three-week promotional tour will kick off on May 20th in Europe, followed by summer dates in Sweden, Russia, Germany, Holland and the U.K. He returns to the United States in August (dates TBA).
Conceptually, the new album is Cooper's apocalyptic vision of a world gone wrong, but musically, it stays true to the 30-plus years of heavy, guitar-driven rock that has brought him a worldwide following.
Don Zulaica caught up with Cooper rehearsing in Scottsdale, Ariz., to talk about the album, the business and the state of rock and roll.
Has there been any critical response yet to the new album?
The first review I read of "Brutal Planet" called it "a tragic waste of plastic." I have to laugh because 30 years ago, most of the press were saying, "They'll last about three minutes," and here we are 24 albums later, still doing it.
As flamboyant as you were back then, it must have seemed like a joke.
People don't realize, as bad as we were back then, we were serious. They thought, "Well, you guys are having a goof," because of the image and the whole name thing. We honestly wanted to be a good band, that was our biggest concern. Ten hours a day in the garage, learning how to play. We figured we had to compete with bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, and from that day, I think I worked my band harder than anybody when it comes to rehearsals.
How have you managed through all the years to stay impervious to popular musical trends? You've always stuck to your guns.
I still believe that the heart of rock and roll is five guys in a garage. Two guitars, bass, drums and a lead singer. If you look at the bands that have stayed around, it is that. Aerosmith, great garage band. The Rolling Stones, probably the greatest garage band of all time. Those were hard rock bands, and those are the bands we learned from. I've never gotten tired of hard rock music. Music will go in tangents. It will go to rap, a little bit of country-western, so many different things, but it always comes back to hard rock.
What do you think of the new breed of bands today?
There's a lot of good bands out there today. People want me to sit around and knock them, but that's really wrong. Rob Zombie has given heart and soul to industrial music. I was hearing industrial for a long time, and always thinking, "Gee, this stuff is cold." Heartless, just a pulse. And on top of it, the lyrics are just total despair. How fun is that?
I always look for the songwriters in a band. Jakob Dylan is a great songwriter. "One Headlight," when I heard that for the first time, I went, "Yes! That is really good." It's definitely in the genes, and it sounded effortless to him. The guys in Collective Soul, great songwriters.
What about someone who obviously has taken a lot from what you've done, like Marilyn Manson?
The thing about Manson, he's a really good marketer. He knows how to press all the right buttons with the press, and he's very good theatrically. If I were to give Manson one bit of advice, I would say, find yourself a great songwriter. I also wish he would add a little more sense of humor to his show. Maybe it's so dark, the sense of humor, that nobody's getting it. Most people come to me and say, "The big difference between you and Manson is the fact that I leave your concert and it's fun, I felt like I was at a great party. I leave a Manson concert and I'm depressed." And I think, that's not my job. I'm not here to depress people. I may get into some depressing subjects...
...like on "Brutal Planet."
Yeah. There were some songs that I just didn't want to write, but I couldn't let some of these things go by without writing about them. A song like "Blow Me a Kiss," I'm talking about senseless killings. It's not like I could understand any killing at all, but if somebody is going out and saying, "I'm going to go kill 20 abortion doctors" or something, then he has an agenda. People that just go into school and say, "I'm going to kill you 'cause you're black, gay, you're afraid, because I saw you in biology class"--that song was hard to write for me because there's no rhyme or reason for these murders. You can't let that go by. They're part of our society, and to me, they're part of "Brutal Planet." My job is to still entertain the audience, as heavy as the message is. But this whole tour and package is a warning. I want people to have fun at the show, but at the same time I'd like them to think, "Man, I don't want to go live there."
While you've kept consistent with your music, how has the music business changed during your career?
When we signed a contract with Frank Zappa, all we cared about was getting in a studio. If you were to ask me the next day, "How much money did you get? What kind of points do you have?" I would have said, "I don't know. I don't care." All I cared about was getting a record out. To me, I'd do this for free. Up until five years ago, I didn't care how much I made on an album. I still really don't know, to be honest with you.
I am concerned now that there are bands with 18 year-olds that have hit records, and they can tell you they have 1.3% of the T-shirt sales and own 14% of the gross profits. I think, "Why would you even care? Just get out there and rock and roll!"
On top of it, the record companies are banks. They're not record companies anymore. When we did "School's Out," the president, vice president, head of A&R at Warner Brothers, everybody was at the recording studio at 2:00 in the morning, talking about lyrics, the tracks, the concept. They were so involved in the career building of Alice Cooper, they wanted Alice to do 20 albums with them. That's when a record company was a record company. That just doesn't happen anymore. [Record companies] could care less now. They know that a band right now is worth two albums, maybe, and then it's over. So everybody is in it for the fast buck, and that's too bad. There's a glut of music. Anybody who wants to make a record can make a record, there's no prerequisite.
For us--and I admit it's old school, but I still believe it's the right way to do it-- we performed for six years live without even thinking about recording. When we finally got a record out, when we got in front of an audience, we could deliver. We knew how to perform it. These bands now, they get together, they play for three months, they write some good songs, some guy puts them in a studio, they get in front of an audience and it's like, "Huh?"
But as far as my business, Alice Cooper has always been very involved in the entire marketing and production of Alice Cooper, because I like to have fun with that part of it. I like to make fun of Alice. I've made Alice my favorite rock star. And if there's ever a time that he's not my favorite rock star, then there's something wrong.