For more than 55 years now, the inimitable Alice Cooper has been changing the face of music thanks to his powerful tunes and intense live shows. Now, he’s gearing up to return to Australia next month.
It was 1964 that the world was treated to the formation of the rock outfit known as Alice Cooper. Fronted by its eponymous vocalist, the group would release their debut album – Pretties For You – in 1969, going on to be considered a classic despite its initial commercial failure.
Six more records followed in the next four years, and by 1975, the group had split, only for their eponymous leader to head out on the solo path.
In the ensuing 45 years, Alice Cooper has toured the world countless times, released numerous classic singles, and shared a total of 20 records with his fans.
A veritable legend of the genre, and famed for helping bring he notion of “shock rock” to the masses, there’s no denying that the world would be an entirely different place if not for his talent and influence.
With Alice Cooper set to hit Australian shores next month with MC50 (an all-star iteration of Detroit pioneer MC5) and local rockers Airbourne, we had a chat with the legend to learn more about his relationship with Australia, his legacy, and the status of shock rockers in the world today.
Check out ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper:
TD: So first up, you’re getting ready to visit Australia next month. As a frequent visitor to the country, what is it that keeps bringing you back after all these years?
Alice Cooper: It’s a very, very strong Alice Cooper territory for us. We’d gone there since 1972 or ’76, it was our first tour over there, and the audiences have always really, really liked what we’ve done. Now, this show is even more theatrical with more hits and a better band and everything.
We just finished about 70 shows in Europe and the United States, and we’re off to Australia, but I’m out with The Hollywood Vampires after that, so I just keep staying on the road all the time, [laughs]. Everybody loves Australia!
TD: You’ve been pretty busy recently as well, performing numerous shows and working with The Hollywood Vampires. Has it been a struggle to find time to juggle both projects?
AC: You know, I’ve been doing this for so long that I really do pace myself. I know when a Vampires tour is coming up or an album is coming up, and I’m kind of task oriented.
When it comes to writing lyrics, I’ll sit down with Johnny [Depp] and Joe [Perry] and those guys and just sit and write lyrics. But, I don’t sit around all day on free time writing lyrics and things like that. So, the thing about it is is that you just have to take one project at a time.
Last year we did four albums. We did two live albums and two studio albums, so I was kind of busy with that, but I’m so used to making albums that they’re kind of not that hard.
Check out Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’:
TD: 2019 marked 50 years since the release of Pretties For You. Have you taken the time to reflect on that album at all, or are you more focused on what the future holds?
AC: You know, what’s kind of interesting about Pretties For You is that it was reviewed as a tragic waste of plastic… it was reviewed as being the worst album ever. Now, it’s being reviewed as art, so now it’s got this thing where it was way ahead of its time.
We didn’t get it back then, now we get it. It’s sort of in the same category as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, which, that’s what I thought it was then. But, I think that later on we got a little bit more radio with Love It To Death, and Killer, and School’s Out, and those albums. But those early albums were pretty interesting albums.
TD: When did the critical perception start to change for you?
AC: Well, it’s when we got [producer] Bob Ezrin. Bob joined us and he took really good parts of songs and sewed them together, and we started really coming up with hit records then.
It’s the same way that George Martin did with The Beatles. The Beatles wrote great parts, and then they would sit together and arrange it and all of a sudden come up with great songs. If you listen to The White Album or Abbey Road even, there’s a lot of those songs that are parts from other songs that they just put together that felt good.
That’s kind of what we did with Bob — he really turned them into real three-minute rock classics.
Check out Alice Cooper’s ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’:
TD: Despite that, how do you look at where you were as a performer and musician back then compared to where you are now?
AC: I think that we were more adventurous back then. I think that when you become a better song writer and when you really start thinking, “how does this really sound?”
We all compare ourselves to The Beatles. Everybody wants to write like The Beatles because they were the best song writers of all time, so everybody from Ozzy [Osbourne] to me to Aerosmith, everybody, we’re influenced by The Beatles.
We all try to write something in that vein, and then we put our own touch to it. A lot of people ask me, “when are you going to retire?” I tell them, “I don’t think I’ve written my best songs yet. I don’t think I’ve done my best shows yet.”
And, if anybody that is a writer or a performer thinks that they have written their best songs, then they should probably quit. But, I guarantee you that Bob Dylan does not think he’s written his best song yet.
TD: You rose to fame as an iconic “shock rock” artist, but do you feel that music still has the power to shock audiences today?
AC: No, I don’t think anyone can shock an audience today. I think that audiences pretend to be shocked, but when CNN is more shocking than Marilyn Manson or Alice Cooper or Slipknot… it used to be you could shock an audience because we didn’t see that live, and it wasn’t as shocking as fiction.
When you see a guy really getting his head cut off on national TV, that kind of waters down the guillotine, but we still use the guillotine because it’s so iconic with Alice Cooper. The audience want to see that.
They want to see the straitjacket, they want to see the characters — the iconic characters, so that’s still in the show, but it doesn’t have the shock value that it used to have.
Check out Alice Cooper’s ‘I’m Eighteen’:
TD: Have you come across anyone in the music world today who still embodies those values?
AC: I think that there are sort of ‘disobedient children’, like Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and people like that. They’ve all talked to me and said, “well, we wanted to do what you’re doing, but in a different way,” and I said, “good, that’s what you should be doing. Don’t do it like me, do it like you.”
But, again, when you go to see a Zombie show or a Manson show, or a Slipknot show, or Ghost, or any of these shows, they’re really well done. They’ve learned to be professional and really know how to do it. I think people should understand that almost everything you see on a rock show is done as art and not as trying to make a point.
Like, I’m not trying to make a point in what I do. I’m just trying to entertain the audience. It’s funny, even when people like Bob Dylan — Bob Dylan writes a song like ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, and people base their life off some of the lyrics in that, and some of it is just gibberish.
Some of it just sounds good. And the same with John Lennon — when he wrote ‘Come Together’, he said, “there’s no message to that song…it just sounded good together.” And, people were basing their life on it.
I do believe that you are responsible for what you say. I believe that a writer has a responsibility for what he says. If you say “go kill cops,” I think you’re responsible because some people might go and do that, whereas, I think the more absurd it is… like, I wrote the song ‘I’m Eighteen’, which I think everyone can relate to with 18 being a confusing time in their life.
And when you say, “school’s out”, everyone realises that it’s out and they’re really glad that school’s out, and that relates to everybody. So, I make sure that my lyrics are not telling the audience to do anything. I just paint pictures of absurdities.
TD: Your Australian tour also sees you teaming up with MC50, what’s it like to be on the road with these guys?
AC: Oh yeah, they’re great. We used to play with them when they were the MC5. Wayne Kramer is a better guitar player now than he was then. Wayne, and he’s got Kim Thayil from Soundgarden, and I mean a really good band. There’s a lot of energy.
And, the same with Airbourne. Airbourne is one of those bands like AC/DC that brings it every night, so it’s going to be a really high energy show.
Check out Alice Cooper’s ‘Detroit City 2020’:
TD: For many folks in Australia, Detroit is known primarily as the home of Motown. But how do you describe the “Detroit sound” that artists like MC5 and yourself have popularised?
AC: Well, there was actually two sounds that came out of Detroit. There was Motown, that changed the world as far as R&B, but it was also hard rock capital. You’ve got MC5, Iggy & The Stooges, and Alice Cooper, and Ted Nugent, and Bob Seger…
If you go down the line and list every band that came out of Detroit was a hard rock band; The Romantics, Kid Rock… It was sort of like if you were from Detroit, you were expected to be a hard rock band, not a punk rock band.
TD: Continuing in that vein, you covered MC5 for your new Breadcrumbs EP as well. Is that EP set to give us an insight into what the new album will sound like?
AC: Yeah, that was the whole idea of Breadcrumbs. It was sort of leading the audience into what we were going to do on the next album. The next album is going to be sort of dedicated to the idea that Detroit hard rock is still there, and my hometown, and so I used all Detroit players.
I used all people who wrote the songs, and we recorded it all in Detroit. I just wanted to tip my hat to my home town and remind everybody that it is home to hard rock.
TD: How are things going with the new record, is there a timeline for that one?
AC: Well, it’ll be released in 2020, that’s for sure. It’s pretty much all done. I have to do vocals on a few tracks, but Bob Ezrin and I have finished I’d say about 75% of it. When I get back from Hawaii — I’ll be there for three weeks — I’ll do the vocals, and then we’re off to Australia.
Check out Alice Cooper’s ‘Feed My Frankenstein’:
Alice Cooper ‘Ol’ Black Eyes Is Back’ Australian Tour 2020
With special guests MC50 and Airbourne
Saturday, February 8th
RAC Arena, Perth, WA
Tuesday, February 11th
Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide, SA
Friday, February 14th
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday, February 15th
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, NSW
Tuesday, February 18th
Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane, QLD