Originally Published: July 1991
Author: Drew Masters
What a difference a year makes. Last year, we boldly "trashed" the Alice Cooper album Trash is "pop fluff", and in retaliation we were denied an interview with the God of Ghoul himself. Of course, Trash went on to sell three million albums worldwide, and "Poison" was a hit everywhere, so not everyone agreed. Now, Alice is back with a vengence. His latest album, Hey Stoopid, on Sony Music, is far superior to Trash, far heavier, and just way more cool. Being the bold M.E.A.T. dude that I am, I went right after Alice's jugular (something Alice probably enjoys), pointing out the fact that, to this writer, Trash was fluff in comparison to Hey Stoopid.
"Without the Desmond influence, it's a heavier album," casts Alice, in defence. "This time I really wanted it to be an Alice record. Trash did great, selling three million copies, with 1.5 mil in the US, and 1.5 mil elsewhere, and I've got nothing against it. In fact, it's still selling steadily. There are songs on it, like 'Poison', that I think are real Alice songs, that I really like, but I don't think that 'House Of Fire' and 'Bed Of Nails' are really Alice. But, once you get into the studio, you don't really hear that until the production is out. It wasn't until later on that I saw that some of the songs weren't really quite me. It would have been perfect if we'd written more of the unique things, like 'This Maniacs In Love With You', but I think it got a little overbearingly Desmond on some of the songs. I'll be honest with you - I didn't catch it until some time after the album was done.
"I was lucky about one thing," Alice continues, " 'Poison' was very uncorporate for a hit single. It was very out there. And that was the main hit off that record, and I'm glad it was 'cause it was one that was really unique sounding. It kinda paved the way for me to write the things for this album. Trash, though, really surprised me - I thought it was going to go platinum, but it just went crazy. I feel this album is going to do better than Trash. It's got a lot more texture and is heavier - a lot more Alice. Trash had pretty much only one attitude of Alice, whereas Hey Stoopid has a lot more of Alice's attitudes. It's a nastier album."
So what makes Hey Stoopid the classic heavy metal album that it is? Just look at who Alice worked with. "I worked with Nikki Sixx on a few songs, and with Rachel Bolan on one - that one didn't make the album, but I had fun working with him. I worked with a lot of different people," he begins, including, "Zodiac Mindwarp, Jim Vallance, Mick Mars, and Desmond Child. The first thing that these people have to do is to get past nervousness of working with me. If I was going to write with someone who I emulated, I'd be nervous too. It got to a point where we had to get past that so that we could really get down to business. I'd go to these parties and award ceremonies and I'd bump into these guys and say, 'Let's get together and write something someday,' so I took people up on it. I'd call and say 'I'll be at your house at three,' and they'd be like, 'What?' It was fun.
"The most fun though, was working with Jack Conte 'cause he really understood early Alice Cooper music. Songs like 'Love's A Loaded Gun', 'Snakebite', 'Little By Little' and 'Hey Stoopid' are pure Alice. I got to write with a lot of different writers on this album, and I got to work with (producer) Peter Collins because I didn't want to work with a songwriter/producer - I wanted a sonic producer. I spent from last August to January writing this album - 50 songs in total - and what I've come to understand from my career is that the most important thing to an album is the quality of the songs, not the length of time you spend in the studio."
"It's much heavier," continues Alice. "I've always been a hard rocker. If there's anything you're going to want to hear on an Alice record it's my attitude, my voice and hard rock. So when 'Feed My Frankenstein' and 'Snakebite' came along I went 'Yes!' I can't wait to play them onstage 'cause they're pure Alice. When I did them in the studio I was thinking about how great these songs are going to look onstage. And that's how I usually gauge a good song for me."
Good songs and albums have never been a problem for Alice, but for a while good record sales were. In the '80s, Alice seemed to drift about endlessly, with album after album released with barely a buzz happening around it. Alice, seeing his career Spinal Tap its way to the bottom, decided that a change of labels may cure his ills. "I think that my record comapny saw what had happened with Aerosmith - we were both perfectly parallel in what happened to our careers. At a certain time we were both huge, and we almost killed ourselves with excess during an era when nobody was playing our records. Now we've come back at the same time and are doing well on the charts - probably better than we did then.
"I don't think my music, or music in general, has changed that much since the seventies," he says. "When I listen to Guns N' Roses or Skid Row or Jane's Addiction I hear '70s influenced bands. They've got it down - '70s rock was very experimental and guitar-orientated. I'm a guitar freak, and it's my record; that's why there's monster players like Satriani, Vai, Slash, Vinnie Moore, and Mick Mars on this record."
The inclusion of all this young individualistic talent would make you think that this album may stray away from Alice's trademarks, but with Alice at the helm it sounds vintage Cooper. Yet, with Alice staying true to his roots, doesn't he worry if his '70s sound could sound dated in the '90s? "When I get together in the studio with a song, I can tell if it's dated sounding or doesn't belong," he answers. "I just have an instinct about it that's right for now, and that goes for the show too. So I don't sit around and think too hard about it. We wrote 50 songs, but there were 38 songs that didn't belong on this album. They might be on an album later on, and some of them might even be better than these songs. I don't psychoanalyze it too much. I just go with the feel."
"The trick," continues Alice, "is to choose the right songs and make them fit together. I narrowed it down to 15 songs, and had to pick 12 for the album, and I ended up going 'This song; this song, this song,' quite fast. The first order I picked them in was the one that ended up on the album. So instinctively, I was right on the money this time (laughs)."
If anyone's counting, this is album number 21 in the Cooper chronicles, with several of his albums going platinum and gold. And by now, if anyone knows what they're doing, especially when it comes to making an album, it's surely Alice Cooper. How does he keep the creative fire alive after all these years? "I know more what to expect in the studio," states Alice, "but I'm always just as excited about doing any record, maybe more with this one, as I was when I was doing 'School's Out', or any of them. I'm not jaded to them at all - everytime I go in I say to myself, 'I can't wait to see what happens today.' So I'm not in the least bit bored with it. Every single album you do reflects a period in your brain. 'From The Inside' was done when I'd just gotten out of mental institute for drinking, and that's where I was right then. When 'Welcome To My Nightmare' was done when I was into this creepy mood. With 'Trash', I must have been going through some sort of sexual thing (laughs). So now with 'Hey Stoopid', I feel there's a lot of fun on this album. It sounds like a good, fun summer album to me - I'm in a good mood at this point. Even the nasty songs have got a nice sense of black humour to them."
One of Hey Stoopid's highlights is the pairing of Satriani and Vai. How did Alice manage to get them together? "They're friends to begin with," says Alice, "and Satriani was Vai's teacher. When I got down 'Feed My Frankenstein', I sent them a tape of it, told them Nikki Sixx was playing bass on it, and said I'd love to hear you guys play on the same track. I thought it'd be semi-historical. I wanted this song to be a Frankenstein, so I wanted the two best monster guitarists on it. They agreed and they had real fun with it."
The first single/video is for the title track, 'Hey Stoopid', an anthemic song speaking out against teenage suicide, which also includes, ironically, Ozzy Osbourne as a guest vocalist. "I wasn't out to write another 'School's Out' anthem for the summer," declares Alice, "but I think that I naturally write that way with big sing-a-long choruses. I think we got that with 'Hey Stoopid' - everybody likes to sing that chorus, and, at the same time, everybody thinks it applies to someone else (laughs). They go, 'I know who he's talking about.' The great thing about it is that I got to write a monster hit-sounding record, and it had a message to it. You know, there are 'street-smarts' and 'street-stupids', and teenage suicide is street stupid. It's so stupid it deserved its own spelling - S-t-o-o-p-i-d!
"I would hate anyone to think that Alice is preaching," he continues. "That's why the line 'This ain't your daddy talkin' ' is in there. I've seen it all, but I ain't your parents and I ain't here to preach to you, but let me just tell you how I see it. Kids look up to Alice like they did for the Fonz - someone who's anti-establishment, but still has common sense and is cool for it. Hopefully by Alice saying that suicide is stupid will get across to kids - 'Alice says suicide is stupid... great now we don't have to do that."
"Hey Stopid" is accompanied by a video, a format that Alice Cooper helped pioneer. "We did videos, both for songs and for our shows, when there were no places to play them. I felt then that shows like 'Welcome To My Nightmare' should be recorded for all time. We thought that the stuff we were doing then was so natural to be on film that it was so important to at least have a visual record of it. The fun part with videos now is trying to come up with something new. The video for 'Hey Stoopid' was a six-day shoot. The idea behind it was to take the audience on a rollercoaster ride to Alice's psyche. It was a really fun video to do." (Alice will also be seen on the big screen in September as he portrays Freddy's father in Nightmare On Elm Street Part 6).
The Alice Cooper experience isn't complete without witnessing him live, where the spirit of Alice comes eerily to life. This time out his show is part of the great Operation Rock 'N' Roll extravaganza that coincided with dates in Canada in Montreal (August 17) and Toronto (August 19). "I think this tour is great," says Alice, enthusiastically. "It's good for the audience as they're going to get to see us and Judas Priest do our entire hour and 15 minute sets each with all our special effects. They're seeing two headliners in one show, and nobody's suffering for it. And I think the other three bands [Motorhead, Metal Church, and Dangerous Toys] are going to go up there and kick ass too for 40 minutes each. It's almost a festival thing, which to me is really fun. Judas Priest and I are alternating headline position from night to night - Rob and I are really good friends, so there's no ego thing going on. When the record company came to us, they asked us timidly what we thought of it, and we said, 'Great! Good idea!' They were shocked that we were so easy to deal with. I mean, what's it matter? We're both going to get up there and slay the audience. I think it's more fun now to work like this." Alice went on to state that his two favourite tour stops of all time are Detroit and Toronto.
Alice current touring band is comprised of Vinnie Moore and Steph Burns (ex-Y&T) on guitars, Greg Smith on bass, Eric Singer on drums, and Derek Serinian on keys. Many M.E.A.T readers may know that Sudbury-Toronto guitarist Pete Freezin (ex-VO5) was one of Alice's last tour guitarists, but isn't on this tour contrary to reports we'd heard recently. Alice explains - "Pete's now forming something in New York. Pete's great - one of my favourite guys in the world. When it came to doing this album and stage show I had to pick the guys who were right for it. Pete was great for the Trash tour 'cause it was so street. I think that Pete's gonna have it made 'cause he's got the same thing as Kane (Roberts) had, only he's a lot more street orientated. He's got the looks, can play great, and all he has to do is write some material and get together with the right people. Kane's doing okay, but I think he's run into the same problem I did - he has to be more Kane on his next record. He's one of the best guitarists I've ever heard in my life, but he's gotta bring it out more on his next record."
Getting back to the show, this has always been the staple ingredient in Alice's bag-o-tricks. And, even when his albums were received only lukewarm, his shows have always been sell-outs. What does Alice attribute to his continued live success too? "For one thing," he begins, "Alice has never been wimp. Everytime he goes out onstage, he goes out with total vengence - he wants to burn the audience for the entire show. He's never walked onstage humble at all. And that's just the way Alice is - it's not the way I am; it's him. At the end of the show I want the audience as tired as I am. Usually at the end of the show, I'm doing jumping jacks saying, 'Hey look, I'm still going and you guys are tired!' That's just Alice - he's an arrogant, egotistical, sadistic character, but you'd hate him if he wasn't like that. People need Alice to be like that. If I were a kid in the audience, Alice would be my favourite rocker because he is like that. That's how I judge Alice, and when I can't make Alice like that, then I shouldn't be him."
Many fans have a favourite rocker or group, and Alice Cooper, not unlike the Greatful Dead, has "Cooper-heads" who follow him on the road where ever he goes, especially overseas. "Europe is a madhouse!," exclaims Alice. "I'll see the same faces in the front row for 25 shows - these guys save up all year and quit their jobs so that they can go on the road and attend all my shows, like an Alice quest. I see them everywhere - they stay in the same hotels, eat in the same restaurants, and they take pictures every day. And they wear the makeup at all times. It's really weird. I get to the point that I start missing them if they're not there. I think what they've ultimately found is a spokesman for them - someone who can say the things that they're not allowed to say. They're so steeped in it that they believe in it. I mean, they know me better than I know me. They know lines in the songs which I've forgotten. It's scary, but it's great."
But the core of his audience has always been regular rockers. With a career spanning years such as Alice's, he's bound to have fans and followers from years ago. "I'd say that 70 percent of my audience now is 15 to 25," says Alice. "I feel I have the same basic audience as any other major rock band. But the other 30 percent are total die-hard, Cooper-to-the-bone characters who live and die on my older material. If I didn't play 'Billion Dollar Babies', 'I'm 18', 'School's Out', 'Only Women Bleed', they'd kill me! The trick is how to do these songs each tour and keep them fresh for myself. But suddenly I get up there and the songs are fresh and simple to do."
There have certianly been changes in Alice Cooper over the years, and Alice is the first to admit them. But now what does he feel is, if any, the advantages to the Alice of the '90s compared to the Alice of the '70s or '80s? "The most important thing, is that I'm more focused now than ever before," he admits. "Alice was more of a victim years ago because I was an alcoholic. Alice acted like a victim onstage - a little sucker - because I was sick myself. Alice is physically better in shape, more than I was when I was 25. The Alice character onstage now is more dangerous than before because of this. He's more vicious. Before, he knew whatever he did the audience was going to love it, but now he goes out and works for it. This tour, we're doing 'Generation Landslide' just to prove that I can do that song live 'cause before I couldn't do it 'cause I couldn't remember the lyrics 'cause of booze."
And, of course, Alice just wouldn't be Alice if there wasn't some spilling blood, some chopping of heads, some gore and grossness! A show that only Alice could get away with. "That's true," says Alice. "It wouldn't be an Alice show if there wasn't a certain tinge of redness to it. I mean, we were doing Gwar before Gwar - not to their extreme, but in principle. What I like about the show now is that we just rock the first eight tunes, then I go off stage, put on the makeup, and give them this middle section that's dark - where I turn into the real evil Alice. On this tour we're doing 'Feed My Frankenstein', 'Cold Ethyl', 'Sick Things', 'Only Women Bleed' and some other songs during that part. The theatrics will be really heavy. Then, we rock it into a big finale. I can get away with doing the show I do 'cause the world public has given Alice sort of a license to do what he wants.
"When we first started," continues Alice, "we could only do what we could afford to build - we created our own guillotines and gallows. But now we're more advanced than that - on this show I dissolve into a film, shown up on a screen, and then re-appear onto the stage. All these great illusions take a month of rehearsals, but now we can do them 'cause we have the money and the technology. My philosophy has always been music first - 80 percent of the time is music, and the other 20 percent is the stage stuff. If the music doesn't back it up then it shouldn't be onstage."
Alice Cooper us possibly at the height of his popularity, despite a climate in the metal industry to sign up every band in sight. With all the new talent around him, I felt compelled to query him as to what he feels keeps fans, old and new, coming to him over the others. "If you could call it anything, you could call it security," states Alice, bluntly. "I think that people can come to an Alice show, or buy and Alice record, and they know they're going to get their money's worth. We've always made it like that for the last 20 years. Even when we didn't have hit record, we could still sell anywhere 'cause people were coming out knowing they're going to see a great show. Now I'm making music that when a fan buys my record, they can relate to it too. I believe that's why so many people are getting into bands that either are from the '70s like myself or Aerosmith, of that have that '70s groove like Jane's Addiction or Faith No More. People know what they're getting a complete package. A lot of bands can been seen on MTV and they look great, and sound great on record, but when you go see them you go, 'Geez, this sucks!' I think people are really going more for quality - I hate to use that word for Alice Cooper (laughs), but that's the bottom line. You have to be quality through and through, and people are now supporting it."
People are supporting Alice Cooper now in 1991, but what about in the years to come? It's well known that Alice is in his 40s. Can Alice Cooper survive into the 21st century? "At this point, I can't see why not. This tour and album has all, if not more, energy than Alice has had ever before. I can't even think about the thought of retiring. It doesn't even enter my mind. I go out and run three miles a night at 7:10 per mile, and I think that as long as I can do that I can still get onstage. I'm saying to the guys in my band that they'd better be in shape or else I'm gonna blow them off the stage (laughs).
"The thing is," continues Alice. "is that I still love rock music. I still love hearing what's going on and new things that are getting accepted. When I first heard Faith No More, I thought, 'Great record! This deserves to be a hit,' And when I saw them live, I thought, 'Great! - these guys are out of their minds.' And because they did make it, it encourages me. Alice will always be like that - I can't control Alice."