Power Play

Originally Published: October 2001

Twice as Smart... And Twice as Sick

Can there be anybody in the developed world that does not know the name and face of Alice Cooper? As living rock legends go, he's the nastiest, the most over the top, the originals cock-rocker. Currently riding on a wave of popularity created by the success of last year's "Brutal Planet" and a tour that left audiences wide - yed and breathless, he releases new album "Dragontown" this month. Described by Alice as being conceptually and musically joined at the hip with "Brutal Planet", it carries on from the point at which its predecessor left off, delivering another fatal does of Cooper vitriol. Sick and twisted as ever, Cooper's obsession with sex, death and money continue to feature heavily on "Dragontown". He even goes so far to exclaim that he wants to be God. Presently wowing audiences in the States with his over-the-top stage show, he has promised to return to these shores soon to play the new material for what he describes as his number one audience.

Calling from his home in Phoenix, Arizona, Alice began by explaining that there was a heat alert due to the searing 120-degree temperatures. Thankfully, excess temperatures are a common occurrence in Arizona so most places, Alice's included, are airconditioned. Wanting to ease things in gently, I asked if Alice's schedule afforded him much spare time to relax in the heat.

"Well, you know, putting "Dragontown" together and putting the stage show together and the artwork and everything is pretty much full-time around here," he explained. "We're doing the "Brutal Planet" show again, but we're moving into the second version of it now for "Dragontown". That means revising everything, putting new songs in, taking old songs out and adding new old songs, so we're doing quite a bit of surgery on the show."

Naturally Alice was keen to talk about new album "Dragontown", which continues the story from last year's "Brutal Planet", which in turn follows on from "The Last Temptation". The three albums are being categorised by some - though not Alice - as a trilogy. And although they have common themes, musically the albums are diverse, so I asked Alice what he thinks links them together.

"I didn't really think of "Last Temptation" as being part of it," he mused, "but it might have been a prelude to it. But I think that "Brutal Planet" and "Dragontown" are definitely connected at the hip. They have the same producer, same writer, just basically saying that we didn't really cover it all in part one. There were at least twelve songs that I wanted to use to continue to get the point across. I wanted to make it heavier and I wanted to make it more diverse - not just like "Brutal Planet", but like the worst part of "Brutal Planet". I wanted to take it deeper into this place. I think that thirty years from now, you'll listen to these two albums together. And I feel much more comfortable doing this kind of rock 'n' roll than doing more subtle rock. I kinda like the idea that "Brutal Planet" and Dragontown" are the kind of albums where every single song on the albums could be a stage song. There are other albums that I've done where I listen to them and think that there are maybe three stage songs on them. With "Brutal Planet" and "Dragontown", I'm thinking 'Jeez, we can do all 24 of these songs in a row and it would have its own personality."'

Interesting as it might be to hear all of 'Brutal Planet" and "Dragontown" played back to back live, Alice's backcatalogue contains too many must-play classics for him to be able to shoehorn more than a handful of new songs into the live set, but he confirmed that he would be trying to include as many as possible from "Dragontown".

"We've got about six or seven that we're adding into the show. Of course we're going to do "Dragontown", which is the opening cut," he confirmed, "and we're going to do "Triggerman". It's pretty much going to be the ones that are going to rock the stage best. If I can just keep the audience hammered for about an hour and forty-five minutes, I'll be happy. I've got that kind of energy and I want the audience to get it."

After the success of "Brutal Planet", I wondered how important it was to Alice to have Bob Marlette and Bob Ezrin on board for "Dragontown". As he explained, although Marlette's involvement with the writing and production side of the albums is critical, it is Ezrin's contribution that Alice values the most.

"Well, I always want to include Bob Ezrin on anything theatrical. He was basically my go-to guy on every single theatrical album I've done. I've always consulted Bob Ezrin because he comes in from another view, a different angle; he's a little bit more classically trained and comes in with a perspective that I don't have. A lot of times, I say 'Listen to this,' and he'll come in and say `Yeah, you got it, but you didn't go far enough," or "You got it, but you went too far here.' Really, he's the only person that I truly listen to when it comes to that kind of criticism of the album. Basically, we created the Alice Character together."

I asked Alice if, after all these years of shocking people, he struggled for inspiration.

"Well, I don't even think about shocking people anymore," was his unexpected reply. He went on to say "I think it's more about entertaining the audience. I think that every once in a while you can startle the audience; you can do something that they're not expecting, but as far as shocking the audience goes - short of cutting a limb off or killing yourself up there for real - I think the audience is almost unshockable. We're living in a day and time now when the news is more shocking than anything we can do on stage, so I am going much more for quality rather than just shock value. I want the audience to walk away saying 'That was really interesting. Alice just blew my head off up there. He got me for an hour and forty-five minutes, and I laughed, I was scared, I was intrigued, it was sexy, it was funny, it was stupid, it was intelligent.' And I want to hit them with much more than just brutal strength."

Thinking about the individual songs on "Dragontown", I'd found 'It's Much Too Late" and "Every Woman Has A Name" surprising in their stark contrast to the style of the rest of the album, so I asked Alice what his thinking behind them had been.

"I created a place with "Dragontown "that is kind of a parallel Hell and in some cases I did the unthinkable; I took some of rock's greatest heroes, who are supposed to be in Heaven, and sent them directly to Hell," he chuckled. "I sent Elvis to Hell and I sent John Lennon there. "Its Much To Late" is a total tribute to John Lennon. I did all the Beatles background for that; I even gave it that little nasal John Lennon sound on the vocal. And on "Dragontown", I tried to do that with Jim Morrison; we sent Jim Morrison to Hell. I just thought that if there is a rock 'n' roll Heaven, then I don't think these guys are there. I think that their lifestyles probably put them in a much darker place. I'm going to make a lot of enemies when it comes to Elvis fans, Jim Morrison fans and John Lennon fans, but the funny thing is that I knew all three of these people. I'm maybe the only person around who knew all of depressing?' I understand that it was a backlash to the eighties stadium bands and the arena rock; I got that, I totally understood what it was, but I couldn't understand a generation of teenagers wanting to be depressed. I mean, the punks when they were depressed, they lashed out and they spat at the establishment. This audience sat back and said' We're wimpy,' and were a bunch of whiners. But Alice just kinda said' Let's rock this place!' And if you look at the guys from my generation, I think they only know how to do it one way, and that's just to go out there and totally attack the audience."

Speaking of attacking the audience, Alice displays an exceptional level of fitness and energy on stage. I questioned whether he follows a particular regime of diet or exercise.

"I've always been slim, so I don't have to worry about weight," he said, "but I go out and I run; I run like crazy. I run two miles a night or three miles a night, and I live in Arizona so at eleven o'clock at night it's still a hundred and five degrees. So believe me, at the end of that run, I feel like I've done two hours on stage. What I need to do, more than anything else, is build up my lung capacity for a two hour show, and that means just going out and working out in the heat."

But does Alice have a favourite of the many stunts and gags that he's done on stage over the years?

"I think the classic ones of course are the guillotine and the straightjacket, and I think that some of that stuff is stuff that the audience demands me to do," he clarified. "People wouldn't think it was a proper show if I didn't get executed at the end. And of course, Alice always comes back. The idea of me going up there and not getting my head cut off is something that I can't imagine. I can't picture doing a show without that. It's always good and evil. Alice is always the bad guy and Alice always has to get paid. You have to pay him; you can't let the bad guy get away with It."

I wondered if any new stunts had been added for the "Dragontown" songs.

"We've got a lot of new staging and things, but I can't tell you exactly what the score will be as we don't start rehearsals for another two weeks," Alice conceded. "When we get it into rehearsal, we're gonna see where it goes. I've got a couple of good ideas that will change things a little bit, so people that have seen the show won't be expecting them."

My thoughts then turned to Alice's band. I asked how he had found superb guitarist Ryan Roxie, and whether he was still a part of your band for studio and touring work.

"Ryan auditioned for the show years ago", Alice said with great enthusiasm, "and the reason I picked him was because he could make his guitar sound exactly like the guitar on "18" and he could make his guitar sound exactly like the guitar on "Is It My Body" or any of those classic songs. There were twenty other guitar players and when he came along, all of a sudden the older songs sounded like they had that seventies sound again, and that was the thing that nobody else could do. So I immediately said 'That guy right there; we want him!' Then when he got on stage, he ended up being one of the great stage showmen. He can really work the stage and is a really important part of the show. Same with Eric Singer. We share Eric with Kiss; he's back and forth between both bands. And the reason that we have Eric Singer is that he doesn't just play drums for the band; he basically drives the band. It's like if we were a truck, he would drive the truck. And it's very hard to find drummers that can actually do that. Bonham was like that with Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin was such a great band, but without that drummer to drive them, it would have been a whole different sound."

Speaking of excellent musicians, Kane Roberts still remains a firm audience favourite. I asked Alice if he could see himself working with him again.

"You know, Kane designed the album cover for "Brutal Planet". I actually used him on a different level this time," he said. "He is doing a lot of graphic art, but he is still making albums - he's still in the music business, and he is one of my favourite people in the whole world. I can call up Kane and sit and laugh for three hours. I think somehow he got Jerry Lewis' brain. He's got Stallone's body and Jerry Lewis' brain! I probably get along with Kane more than anybody else."

With the fans calling for it, I queried whether Alice could envisage making a 21st century sequel to "Welcome To My Nightmare".

"I can imagine someone coming along and saying that they want to do a revamp of "Welcome To My Nightmare". I wouldn't mind doing it, but I would like to do it in a set theatre, like one of the big theatres in the West End. If we ran "Welcome To My Nightmare" there for like two or three months so we didn't have to move it around, we could do a lot more with it. The audience would be literally in the middle of the nightmare; there would be shockers in the seats and times when the audience wouldn't know if the person next to them was in the show or not. And that, to me, would be a great way to do "Welcome To My Nightmare"- as a stage production, on stage in one place. That may be a future project. I think it could really be fun."

Thinking about how Alice had pretty much single-handedly created the whole horror/shock-rock genre, I asked him for his thoughts on the new wave of shockrockers such as Rock Bitch and Impotent Sea Snakes.

"The deal about it is that it's a natural evolution," he mused. "What's old is new again. I think that every band that comes out has to think 'How do I become more dangerous than the last band? How do I disgust the audience more?' I think they will reach a point where it becomes less about entertaining and more about making the audience gross-out. I think that the music has got to come first. If I was in a new band now and I was going to write something disgusting, I would make sure that everybody could sing it; I wouldn't write something that just blasted pure anger. I still think that you have to have the music. You can't just be all icing; you've got to have some cake."

Changing the subject completely, I enquired about Alice's restaurant, Cooperstown.

"When you travel as much as we do, you always end up at McDonalds. I said 'Wouldn't it be great if there was a restaurant that was like eating at home?' When you come to Cooperstown, the menu is sort of like eating at home; we have every American item that your mom made. And it's a rock 'n' roll restaurant and a sports restaurant too. You can go in there at noon and there will be a bunch of lawyers and doctors having lunch, but there will be Frank Zappa playing full-blast. And since I control the music, nobody can come in and say 'Hey, put on Johnny Mathis.' They come to the restaurant for the great food, but they have to put up with my taste in music. It was the idea of a couple of friends of mine. They said that there was a place downtown, right next to the ballpark, and wouldn't it be great to have an Alice Cooper place - a hangout. And it ended up being right across from America West Arena, where all the big concerts are, so after a concert everybody will come over to Cooperstown and just plug in and play on the stage that we have outside. It's ended up being the jam place."

Finally, in keeping with Powerplay tradition, I offered Alice the opportunity to give us a message for his many fans in the UK.

"We're coming back! And when you see us again, I'll do everything I can to make it a Cooper-worthy show. I seriously doubt if anybody will be disappointed."