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Originally Published: October 2008
Author: Phil Freeman
Alice Cooper - once a band, now a living legend. After nearly 40 years, Alice Cooper the man is still one of the mostrevered and respected figures in metal and hard rock. His bloody, theatrical stage shows inspired everyone from Marilyn Manson to GWAR, but it's his underrated skills as a songwriter and lyricist that have kept anthems like "Generation Landslide" and "No More Mr Nice Guy" on the radio and pumping up crowds since the early 1970s. He's just released his latest concept album, Spider, so we got him on the phone to talk about the past, the present and the future of Alice Cooper.
In the age of MP3, is it nubris or faith in your audience to put out a concept album?
You know, I'm at a point now where I know I'm making records for my fans, I don't think you're breaking any new ground out there. And I htink it's probably the same way with Ozzy or anybody. The trick of making a concept album is, you have to have songs that if you pull them off the concept they still work. In other words, you don't need the story for the songs to work. But that's wht I'm good at, and that's what I do.
Your last two albums before this one, The Eyes of Alice Cooper and Dirty Diamonds, had a much more stripped-down garage feel.
Absolutely. Detroit garage rock. But right before that I'd done three story albums in a row - The Last Temptation, which I really liked, that was sort of a Something wicked This Way Comes, and then Brutal Planet and Dragontown, which was a two-parter that was kind of apocalyptic. And after that I went, OK, enough of this, this is getting too heavy. It almost felt political to me after awhile, and I don't want any part of politics. At the end of that, I said, I really just wanna write rock 'n' roll songs now. But I always throw the monkey wrench into the works - I told the band, "We're gonna write the song in the morning, rehearse the song in the afternoon, and record the song at night, live. I don't wanna do overdubs." In other words, make the band the hero of the album, not the producer and not the studio and not the special effects. I said, "I'd really like to hear a great garage band do 12 songs." And to me that's what I did on both those albums. Then, at the end of that, I said, not it's time to tell another story.
A lof of older acts have been putting out great records in recent years, catering to the people that really care.
There's such a resurgence of classic rock, and I think it's because the younger bands aren't producing any classic songs. And I'm not one of those curmedgeoinly old rockers that goes, "Ah, when we were writing..." It really is true, though. When we were writing songs, we really had to write good songs to get on the radio. I had to write a song better than Bowie, Bowie had to write a song better than Elton, you know what I mean? Bob Ezrin would not let us put a filler track on an albm. He said, "Every song on this album has got to be something unique and something that is really Alice Cooper." Whereas I listen to a lot of young bands and I want to like 'em, and I get to about the third song and I say, OK, they aren't even trying on this song. I hear, like, "Teenager" by My Chemical Romance and I'm pissed off I didn't write that song.
It's a great song, isn't it? And they don't have another one like it.
No! That's what I'm saying. You get one like at that, and I'm going, boy, if the whole ablum was like that, this would be a Def Leppard album, or this would be an album that you could play all the way through without taking it off. But I heard that one song and I said, that is great. "Been Caught Stealing" [by Jane's Addiction], I went, what a great record. Every once in a while you hear one that you just kick yourself for not coming up with yourself.
Stephen King said he was into drugs at one point that there are books he doesn't remember writing. Given your own substance abuse problems, are there albums or tours you don't remember?
I have about three or four albums like that, yeah. I honestly don't remember writing Special Forces, I don't remember writing Zipper Catches Skin, I remember segments of Dada, and Flush The Fashion I remember. But there's three albums there - I don't remember touring with those. And the crazy thing is, the diehard fans, those are their favorite albums.
Yeah, some people are fiercely loyal to those records.
I had a guy that came up to me the other day and looked like he could have been chief of police in any small town in middle America. He said, "Hey, Alice Cooper, huh?" And I thought for sure he was gonna say, "What's your handicap?" You know, the whole thing. But he says, "DaDa, I listen to that album every day." And I could have fallen off my chair. But it goes to show you, all these people have got backgrounds, and somehow they connected to those really weird albums. And it was probably the drugs they were on at the time, you know, because honestly, those albums were really out there. Some of those songs - I listen to 'em now and I really like 'em, so the subconscious part of me that was writing it was having a great time. I almost went to go back an dfind 20 songs off those albums and re-record them, because it would be fun now to give them a really good recording.