Originally Published: October 1989
Author: Screamin' Lord Duff
Vincent Furnier, better known to the world as Alice Cooper, has had one illustrious, history makin', trailblazin', rockin', rollin' career. "Had," however, isn't really the correct term, 'cause at the rip young age of 41, the Coop is releasing his 20th long-player. It's called Trash , and it's a big deal, both for the singer and Epic Records, for whom this is their first Alice record. They wanna do it right. They want everyone to know about, hear and, of course, BUT this album. Helping in this respect is Desmond Child, who not only produced Trash , but also cowrote nine of the ten songs with Alice. "He generally write all the music," explains our hero. "He did all the music on 'Dude (Looks Like a Lady),' and things like that, and all the Bon Jovi stuff. Me being pretty much a lyricist and arranger, we got along pretty well, because I can take his kind of writing/hook thing and put it into perspective with a little Alice Cooper sense of black humor."
Also present on the LP are the by now world-famous mixing talents of Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, a team big in the dance-music remix field until work on a certain Appetite for Destruction threw them into the middle of the hard-rock production arena.
And, as Alice asserts, all of these components are in evidence. His humor is present, particularly on "I'm Your Gun," "This Maniac's In Love With You" and the title track. Child's commercial leaning are equally present. "Poison," "House of Fire" and "Bed of Nails" all have very, shall we say, Jovi-esque choruses, in each case coming out of pretty definitive Cooper-style verses. That's what they call collaboration.
Alice has been a busy guy. In addition to the new LP, the first two long-out-of-print Cooper gems, Pretties for You and Easy Action, are being rereleased on CD by Enigma in conjunction with Straight, the original label that released them 20 years ago. He's toured extensively in the last few years, and many recent Cooper band alumni have gone on to success in their own right, notably Kip Winger and House of Lords drummer Ken Mary. Guitarist Kane Robers, though not in a band any longer, is still big buddies with Alice. He plays a bit on the new disc, and he and Alice are both working on an upcoming Wes Craven film called Shocker (No More Mister Nice Guy).
RIP (that's me, in this case) and Al rap it down at Village Recorder studio in West L.A., where, in the next room, MCA recording artist Guy Mann-Dude is laying down some brain-leveling geetar riffs for the Trash tune "Why Trust You." Coop actually heard Dude recording his own LP in another studio in the Village complex and was impressed enough to invite Guy over to sit in. Lotsa other rock luminaries appear, too, including Aerosmithers Steve Tyler, Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton; AC alumnus Kip Winger; Bon Jovi biggies Jon BJ and Richie Sambora; and even punk-rock vet Stiv Bator, whose previous band, Lords of New Church, Alice admits to being a big fan of. Trash is both commercial and highly rockin', and if there's any justice in this highly unjust world, A.C. will be back in much the same way Aerosmith came back or Deep Purple rebounded. Which, conveniently, leads us into the beginning of our chat....
Alice Cooper: I think something that I need that I haven't really had in a while is radio-bility. I think it really need to be on the radio this time. When I was at my peak, it was when I had a lot of singles. School's Out, Billion Dollar Babies and [Welcome to My] Nightmare] had a lot of singles going on. I haven't really had any singles in a while.
RIP: Yeah, but don't you think you certainly had some single choices on the last record [Raise Your Fist and Yell] and maybe the label [MCA] didn't quite make it happen?
A.C.: It's real easy to blame the record company, especially in that situation. I really don't like to point fingers at whose fault it was.
RIP: "Freedom" seemed like a natural single to me.
A.C.: I thought it was an absolute hit when we wrote it. A couple of songs on that album I there were - same with Constrictor. But I think I'm with a record company now that understands where Alice is going. They're looking at Aerosmith, and they're looking at all these groups that were in the same era as me, and they're getting singles without really changing their image at all. They're playing what they play. This album's got the best of both worlds on it. It's got some of the real hard-edged stuff, and we've also go four or five things that really belong on the radio. And we've got people, old friends, that I've never worked with before - like as long as we've known Aerosmith, we've never worked together on anything. Joe Perry is playing guitar on something ["House of Fire"], and Steve and I are going to be singing on something together ["Only My Heart Talkin'"].
RIP: You've worked with [producers] Bob Ezrin, Roy Thomas Baker, Jack Douglas, Michael Wagener - all these big shots. What do you think they actually provide for you, and how do you feel they contribute to the various recordings?
A.C.: It's funny. When I first started working with a lot of these guy, they were afraid of me. They were afraid to tell me, "Why don't you do that take again?" I don't know what they were afraid of, but a lot of the times I would need a producer who would really king of kick my ass because of the fact that I'll do something, and to me it'll sound right, and they'll just go, "Oh, well, he must know. This is his 15th album." I don't know! Ezrin used to kill me. I did eight albums with Ezrin. he never let me slide. Desmond, killer. And he [Desmond Child] is maniacal when it comes to getting things on the button, which is great. I really appreciate it being like that.
RIP: That doesn't get on your nerves, to do like the 20th take?
A.C.: Twenty? Oh no, maybe the 50th or 60th take on one word, to make sure that one word's perfect. WE were in there one night for at least an hour-and-a-half on one phrase. I thought i nailed it at least 30 times, and he would say, "The inflection isn't right on the word but." I was getting to the point where, grrr, but I listen back to it, and he's really right. He cares that much. To me, that's really important. I'll do it 100 times, I don't care. I'm just a singer.
RIP: After you get the record out, have you had any thought about what's going to happen in the new Alice Cooper show? Is that going to be different from past shows?
A.C.: I think there will be a little less blood. I think it'll be a little less splatter-oriented than before, because I think we hit the peak on the last tour. I mean, we made sure that the first 20 rows were covered, totally covered, in blood. I think we've made that point. We've got to do something on the next show that's equally shocking, but a little more street oriented. Maybe a little more like the Billion Dollar Babies/School's Out, which was a little more street oriented, I think, than the gigantic production.
RIP: Well, with Billion Dollar Babies you had a six-level, pyramid stage!
A.C.: But it was a different king of thing though. A lot of the props were hand props. It was more musical. On the last tour, I mean, it was one of the best band I ever had, but at the same time every song was a major production. I think it got to the point where we even lost some people; they got so lost in the theatrics, they didn't even listen to the music.Like I said, it's going to be equally as startling, but it's just going to be some blood. What would it be without some blood?!
RIP: When you guys moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles and got hooked up with Zappa for those two records [Pretties For You and Easy Action], it didn't happen for you. Then, if I recall correctly, you relocated to Detroit, got hooked up with Bob Ezrin, then everything blew open.
A.C.: Originally, when we first started with Zappa, our material was so out there. It was so directionless. That's what gave it is charm.
RIP: Is that also what attracted Zappa?
A.C.: Yeah. Pretties For You was so out there - when you listen to it now even, you know? They're putting it out on CD, which is really crazy. I mean, I don't even wanna listen to it on CD. That's a frightening album! It was like early Devo ten years before Devo. Easy Action got a little more mainstream, but Pretties For You is a scary record. Zappa heard that and said, "I couldn't even teach the Mothers this. There is no way to write this music." If you were going to write it, there's no way to actually put it into form. That's what really attracted Zappa to it, and the fact that everyone was into peach and love at this point, and Alice Cooper was like this real nightmare. This was pre-Clockwork Orange. But we were for real, so we were really a pretty frightening entity at the time. That's another thing that attracted Zappa. And to us, just being on a label was amazing - that anybody would put us on a label.
The reason we ended up moving to Detroit was, we played there, and everybody loved it. In L.A. everybody was a little frightened of it, and anyplace else they were terrified. They were a little too sophisticated here [L.A.]. Detroit said, "Alright!" 'cause we kept it on ten. We were as close to the original Spinal Tap as you could get, only we really did believe in it. We played East Town, and we saw Iggy, and we saw MC5 open, and to me, that was kindred spirits. We really got along immediately. I said, "Wow, there's nobody like this in L.A." And they said, "This is the new kid on the block." We did hundreds of shows with Iggy and hundreds of shows with MC5 in Detroit at that period. It was the only place that took us in, the Midwest, and that became our real home. But that was my original home anyway [prior to moving to Phoenix]. I never knew that it had that kind of audience though. That was the original metal audience.
RIP: Yeah, it really was. I've asked a lot of people what it is about Detroit that created all that.
A.C.: It's the blue collar, you know. Everybody's dad worked in a factory, everybody's dad drank beer and watched boxing. It was like the ultimate mid-America. The kids were really a reflection of their parents. They had tough-guy fathers, and they ended up being tough-guy kids. We'd play out there, and you'd never seen so many black-leather jackets. From 1969 to 1975 that was our area, and it was just leather, and that was fine with us. Not just Detroit though - all of Michigan, Ohio, Cleveland, the whole Mideast. But that heart of it was Detroit.
Our conversation drifts through some vintage Alice memories, and we end up discussing the philosophical/musical merits of one of Cooper's early anthemic high points, "I'm Eighteen."
RIP: For me, that song hits that topic better than any other song.
A.C.: Boy, it hits it right on the head every time I hear it. And it's not really over-produced. It's a real garage. Bob Ezrin was smart enough not to overproduce it. He said, "This should sound like angst." It really did, and we still perform it like that. There's no way of performing it unless it's done exactly like that. It's really trash, that's what I like about it.
RIP: It's a great tune.
A.C.: When I say "trash," I mean I like it, I like trash.
RIP: Yeah, nothing wrong with a little garbage. That's part of a garage band, out next to the trash bins.
A.C.: I listen for that on the radio. I listen for bands that are sincere trash bands.
RIP: Do you think there's any good examples of that in the current flock of bands?
A.C: There are so many band that have such great sense of humor, like the Butthole Surfers' new album, Hairway to Steven. When I first read that title, I laughed out loud. I said, "These guys are alright." I've always liked Alien Sex Fiend too. They toured with us a little, and they were really a lot of fun. I've really been partial to the underground English bands and the underground L.A. bands. Faster Pussycat, when they first started, we took them on a tour with us. There's something about them I really like. Guns N' Roses toured with us for a while before they were big. There was something about these certain bands that maybe I identified with, 'cause they reminded me of us when we were at that point.
RIP: Any future collaborations with GNR? [A.C. and GNR recorded a version of "Under My Wheels" together for the soundtrack of The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years]
A.C.: You never really know. I think when we did that thing with them, I didn't want to overdo it. I would have loved to invite any one of them to come up and play on the album, but I could just hear people start saying, "Gee, Alice, is this going to be an ongoing thing?" So it was fun, and it's best when certain songs really call for certain people. When we did this one song, the Power Alice Ballad called "Only My Heart Talkin'" I said, "Steve Tyler could sing this to death. Why don't I put the actual vocal on it and just have Steve come in and do the high one, like Jagger/Richards kind of harmonies?" And Joe Perry and I have been trying to work together for years. We tried to write about six years ago when we were drying out. We stayed in this house in upper New York for about a week, and I think we got maybe two lines written. We were both coming out of a stupor. But now everybody's really straight ahead, so it'll be fun to work with Joe.
RIP: That seems to be the thing: Whether it's you, or Iggy, or Aerosmith, or a lot of these people who went through this intense period on inebriation, you are now completely intense in the opposite direction.
A.C.: It was a period of time, a real insecure period of time. They say disco drove me to drink, 'cause I really wasn't in bad shape before that period. Anyhow, I kept thinkin', Maybe it's time to really live it up, blow it out.
RIP: So even though you had the image of the wild beer drinker, it really wasn't that big of a deal?
A.C.: In the early days, no. I had total control over anything I was doing up until about 1976, '77. There was no problem, I never missed a show, never missed a recording gig, ever. I made it look worse than it was. Onstage, when I was just drunk enough, I could really make Alice look out there. I could out-Morrison Morrison - and Morrison did that too. Morrison wasn't always as high as he pretended to be. But a lot of times I was... that was just not my image. I was really having a great time. I think at that point, to me, getting onstage was getting smashed and going onstage! What a party! I've kinda abused my privileges at this point.
RIP: You used them up?
A.C.: Yeah. That fun thing about it is, though, I think I'm still as stupid as I was back then. When I go onstage and turn into Alice, it's not change at all. It's exactly the same person. Only now I have a lot more energy. I'm in ten times better shape. I'm 41 now, and I'm honestly in better shape than when I was 25. I can do about an hour-and-a-half show, whereas then I could do about an hour. I was wrecked. I'm actually more intense onstage now. I don't know if that comes from physically being in better shape, or just from the alcohol not being there. At the time I thought, Without the alcohol, I can't really do this. I can't really be Alice. I finally came to the realization the alcohol was actually slowing Alice down. I really thought that was part of the formula - drink a bottle of whiskey, put the makeup on and go onstage - 'cause that's the way it had been for 13, 14 years. Being straight and doing it was a big deal.
RIP: What made you actually decide that that was enough?
A.C.: I was a wreck. I was throwing up blood every day. I hadn't eaten for 20 days. I just drank whiskey. I was still doing shows every night. I'd get up every morning and throw up. I'd throw up blood. That'd be how I started my morning. Then I'd make two or three drinks and get ready to go. There I'd be. Fine. Flying.
RIP: Do you envision a time when Alice will retire and Vince will take over doing other stuff?
A.C.: I got a feeling this is a direct line into movies. I probably get two or three scripts a week. They're all gore/splatter pictures, which I love. I always get really bad guys, which is great. I wouldn't mind being the next Christopher Lee. To me, that would be a great way to be in show business. And we're doing some writing on these too. Kane [Roberts, ex-Cooper guitarist] and i are working on a script right now that's pretty diabolical. In some level I'll be working in film, and probably I'll never be out of music.
RIP: Do you foresee always making records?
A.C.: Oh, yeah, I can see Alice going on. I never thought I'd be doing it when I was 41. But now I see if for at least five more years. This is just the beginning, this thing with Epic. This is going to go on. Physically, I'm in great shape. There's no reason to stop, unless I get fat and stupid. Uh, I'm already stupid... well, unless I get fat.