Live Wire

Originally Published: 1991

Alice Cooper

Mike Smith gets the hot LIVEWIRE story!

Author: Mike Smith

Being the big ALICE COOPER fan I am, I couldn't wait to receive a copy of the new HEY STOOPID album. After the success of his TRASH LP, Alice had a whole new legacy to live up to. Restoring The Coop to platinum selling levels and spawning MTV friendly hits with the speed and accuracy of a Cenobite flaying it's victim, TRASH put Alice back on the track with a selection of Desmond Child produced radio rockers. No doubt about it, tracks like "Poison", "Bed Of Nails", and "House Of Fire" had the hooks and chachy choruses that helped bring yet another new audience of Alice fanatics. But they also had a sound so reminicent of prime BILLION DOLLAR BABIES era Cooper excitement that all long time Alice fans knew the man was indeed back. Yep, with the tenacity of Jason Vorhees, the man behind the mask had returned to slay'em again!

Back to the new album. Early reports had the new masterpiece combining the new contemporary sound of TRASH with a songwriting vibe a little more reminicent of classic Alice. In fact it was described as a head on collision between the previous record and the legendary LOVE IT TO DEATH. And what d'ya know, one listen, and it's all that and more! On top of it, we get a new tour right off the bat! Teaming up with co-headliners Judas Priest, plus virtually the whole Columbia/Epic roster of roof raisers including Dangerous Toys, Motorhead, and Metal Church, Cooper was off on the Operation Rock'n'Roll tour. Which was marching along just fine, despite the recession, when, Alice phoned LIVEWIRE from Atlanta, GA

"It's going great." He declares with real enthusiasm. "The idea of working five bands is like a summer travelling festival. And we're getting really unbelievable responsive audiences, it's great. Most of the shows are outdoors which is fun cause I know the next ten months is going to be indoors in Europe and Canada and everything. So doing these outdoor dates is really a treat. It's a five six hour event. The nice thing about the recession is it's forcing packages like this to go out. I'm glad, I think it's great. It's forcing the ticket prices down for the kids. I'd rather see 20,000 kids there at 8 dollars a ticket than 3000 at $30 a ticket. I think it's great that the kids are getting a break on the price."

Despite the amount of bands on the bill it seems there's been only friendly competition, with both Cooper and Priest content to trade off the top bill position nightly.

"Actually the prime position is second to last. More people are vying for that position now than going last." He laughs. "It's one of those where it's the prime slot. But it's great working with Priest, their stone cold pros. They've been around almost as long as we have and they know all the short cuts and all the survival tactics. It's fun to work with them."

All talk of the ticket prices and recession allowences aside, the show itself hasn't been allowed to suffer. In fact, in true Alice fashion, things are even bigger this tour!

"What we did was we kind of went the opposite way. Everybody's kind of pairing their shows down because of the expenses. We ended up spending $500,000 on all new special effects, different kinds of lighting effects and Cooper-esque kind of things. I had done the guillotine so much and the hanging so much that I insisted that we do all new things for this show. It's fun for us cause we get to do, not only do we get to do the older material the classic stuff but we can do things from Trash, because it was very successful and we can do things from Hey Stoopid because it's really doing well. For a touring band that's always great to be able to inject ten or 12 new songs."

Speaking of the new songs, it seems the classic era Cooper sound of the record was somewhat planned out. Alice's co-writers on this touring outfit were given their homework to do.

"In fact some of the writers that worked on this with me really went back and studied Killer and Love It To Death. And songs that they started sending in just the music part, cause I did the lyrics, were very similar. Loaded Gun had a real 18 kind of feel to it. And I said you guys don't even know how hard that is to write, just to recapture that feel. And they did a good job with it."

"Jack Ponte and Vic Pepe are the two guys that went back and did their homework on early Alice stuff as soon as I got that music it was very easy for me to write around it because I had song titles and I had subject matters. What I was going to do when I heard the actual chorus line, I'd say 'this is perfect for this idea' and this thing here sets up perfect for this. We actually wrote 50 songs not with Jack and Vic but all together, we ended up writing 50 sings will all these different writers, and had to pair it down to recording 15, so there's 35 songs there that went the way of, they're somewhere on tape. And every once in a while when we get ready to do the next album we'll go back and listen to some of it and say 'Does that work there what about the chorus for that verse, does that work, let's change all the lyrics totally but that music works. So they're not really gone."

Along with picking talented producers and co-writers, another trademark with both TRASH and HEY STOOPID is the array of top name guest stars. With this release he's recruited a roster that includes Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Slash, Ozzy, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Steve West, a few Baton Rogue guys, not to mention the return of Zodiac Mindwarp. All these appear in varying roles as co-writer, musical conributers, and star soloists. Guitarist Vinnie Moore was a guest, but he graduated to the official band for the tour. A lot of times it seems it's just a case of having a few friends stop by the studio, and letting the tape start rolling.

"Yeah, it's fun," Cooper admits. "The nice thing about LA is it's where the fraternity lives, the fraternity all live there. I try to pick the right people for the right songs, if you're going to do a song that hi-tech horror thing then Satriani and Vai are great on that guitar, they're great for that. If you're going to do something that really street and nasty and talk the street language then you want Slash. So I think that there are people that really specialize in certain guitar sounds. Nikki Sixx on bass on certain things and Mick Mars a very creative guitar player, I got him on a song called "Die For You" which we wrote together. He had so many great orchestration ideas that were guitar orchestrations not just . . . normally maybe some of these lines would have been cellos and pianos let's do all that with guitars, he really did some creative things. It's also kind of a luxury that I have, I think cause of sort of the history, the certian amount of 'It's Alice, let's do it." Actually Nikki and Mick were very much fans it seems.

"Yeah, in fact a little nervous." He laughs. "I think we kind of had to get past the nervousness and it was funny because I was going, 'Let's pretend like we've been in a band together for a long time and then we can really work'."

Aside from the aforementioned Vinnie Moore, there's also a couple of new names, and a couple of TRASH veterans in the HEY STOOPID touring band.

"I have two veterans, guys that worked with me all the way through the Trash thing. Eric Singer on drums, and Derek Sherinian on keyboards, three new guys up front, Stef Burns from Y&T plays guitar on the album. Actually he played a lot on the album, most of the guitar on the album and Vinnie Moore plays guitar on stage now with us and some on the album and Greg Smith, Vinnie's bass player is with us now. So it's a really strong band, really strong sounding band onstage."

This line-up also appears in the first video clip for the title song, along with guest stars Ozzy and Joe Satriani. Along with getting some really heavy MTV rotation, it also appears to have sent out a positive message to some fans as well. All this with being a really strong visual package in the Cooper tradition.

"That was the real trick of that," says Alice. "With a song that is an anti-anything song, if you ended up looking like you're preaching, boy, that doesn't work. But if you can come off as going ' We got the message across and everybody had fun with it, the more astute people got the deeper message, there's alot of levels to this video and there's alot of levels on that message. I get alot of letters saying if it weren't for that video or if it weren't for that song, I might have been in real trouble cause I was comtemplating that."

"You'd be surprised how much of that goes on," he continues, sounding genuinely concerned. "One of the main reasons why I wrote this song was from reading just sporatic mail, going 'My family's screwed up, my dad's an alcoholic and my mother's this and that, I don't care what happens to me'. When you get that kind of mail you start to go 'Wait a minute, this person, one bad turn and there going to off themselves. And you start to hear all the warning signs and I just thought it was a good way of saying . . . if you were going to call me up and say, 'Alice, this is Mike, I'm going to kill myself' I'd say, 'Hey stupid, what are you trying to do?' I'd talk to you like a friend, right? I wouldn't say 'Now, Now Mike . . .' I'd say 'Hey stupid' that's what I'd do with one of my best friends, I'd call them a dummy, so I figure that's the way to talk on that level to them, they're going to listen to that."

"The way I see it, everything that used to be fun is now deadly." Alice ponders. "Sex is deadly, drugs are deadly, everything you sort of . . . 'when I'm a teenager, boy I'm going to get into that' now they're saying 'I can't touch any of that because I'm going to die'. I think there is a bit of a death fixation. We just saw an entire war on television, live. It was the most fascinating thing I've ever seen in my life. You realize that we're talking about real death. I think the audience is getting positive??? They're getting more aware . . . 'Geez, I could die any day couldn't I' something that you never thought about when you're a kid. When I was a teenager I never thought about dying. I couldn't wait to go out and try and get a beer, you know. Those are sort of like small charming things in our decade are now gone. Now these kids are going 'Gee, I better not touch that, I may be dead tomorrow.' Kids are going through a very serious thing, it's too bad, it seems like they're much too serious at this age."

Despite his reputation as the king of horror and shock rock, Cooper sees some of today's bands as taking things too far. Theatrics are one thing, but Alice is a little shocked himself as how seriously fixated some of metal's heavier thrash acts are taking things.

"I'm so down on this death rock thing. When I see these bands coming out and going 'Yeah, let's burn an upside down cross and I'm going to kill every Christian that I can find. I sit there and go 'Where's this guy from and where's the sense of humor here'. I've always been involved in doing theatrics and making fun of getting my head cut off and stuff and making it look real. But there's always been a great sense of humor to it. Some of these people are getting seriously demented and that's coming from Alice Cooper, you know. I've always thoguht it was supposed to be fun, not serious and these guys are taking it to seriosuly."

This is no way to suggest that Alice Cooper of all people would want to limit our rock'n'roll freedom of speech. Or agree with those who would suggest that a song or lyric couold influence a person's actions. In fact part of the reason for the appearance of Ozzy in the "Hey Stupid" clip was for the sake of the much maligned Mr. Osbourne showing up in an anti-suicide rock vid.

"To me that was all important," he states, "to kind of give the PMRC a bit of a slap in the face, saying Ozzy/Alice these are the people in your top ten hit list and we're doing an anti-suicide song so leave us alone. They keep conjuring up witches and devils all the time, through lyrics. Sure you can pick a song apart and interpret it any way you want to, or play it backwards or forwards, but this is a real thing, this is actually supposedly helping to cause them not to commit suicide so I was kind of hoping it would be a nice big bomb in their camp. Well we can't talk about Ozzy and Alice anymore, at least we're doing something positive. I don't want to be lumped in with the satanic thing, I never have been and never will be."

From my own viewpoint there seems to be an irony to Ozzy and Alice teaming up, considering the former's retirement plans. Here we are with two rock icons, legends even, both reasonably close in age, and yet they seem to be at such different crossroads. Far from being ready to hang up his rock'n'roll hat, Alice Cooper 1991 is ready to take on a whole new world of rockers.

"I mean, I don't know why he's retiring, maybe he's tired of the whole thing." Alice considers. "To me when TRASH came out that was like a brand new career for me. Most of the 15, 16 yr. old kids, think Trash is my first album and this is my second album which is great with me. I think that's terrific, cause as soon as they find out, they go to the Alice Cooper bin, and they go 'wait a minute look at this, 20 other albums in there," he laughs. "And they go 'We better get hip to this'. I get on stage now, and look down and 15 yr old kids know every lyric to "Eighteen" and "Under My Wheels", "School's Out", so it's really nice to see that reaction."