Friday the 13th superstitions. Scantron test sheets. Jimmy Snuka's leopard-printed headband. Some things never go out of style, and Alice Cooper is quite easily in that group. For over 40 years, "the king of shock-rock-n-roll" has been burning out hard rock classics and selling out shows with his legendary stage theatrics. The icon, who released his first solo album - Welcome to My Nightmare - in 1975, is still at it and thank the dark lord for that. He's currently in the studio recording a follow-up to his Welcome 2 My Nightmare concept album which featured Cooper singing along with an eclectic mix of artists including Ke$ha of all people, and will embark on an intensive two-month "Raise the Dead" tour which features stops in Russia, Canada, and the East and West Coast. New Yorkers, by the way, can catch him at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY on Oct. 13. But today is Friday, Sept. 13, and on this "unluckiest," arguably spookiest day of the year, we speak with a one-man horror show who's had a career countless artists would kill for.
In a phone interview late last month, Cooper expressed his excitement over the current tour, theorized why he's had legs in the business, and addressed MTV and the lack of a strong rock presence in the mainstream. He also clarified statements he made over the summer about "it band" Mumford & Sons. And before I start the Q&A, I'll say this - Cooper has had a career since just before I was born, but I didn't become aware of him until he appeared in Jake "The Snake" Roberts' corner at 1987's WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. Obviously, that instantly made me a fan and when his single "Poison," an instant classic in my book, was released two years later, I was sold. Considering all of that, wrestling seemed like a logical starting point for the interview.
WrestleMania III is infamous for the Hulk vs. Andre match or the Ricky Steamboat vs. "Macho Man" Randy Savage back-and-forth bout. Looking back, what was that experience like? You must've loved the theatrics of it all, right?
It was a weird thing. I wasn't into it at all, but I saw the spectacle of it all. Wrestling was moving more into rock, and rock was moving into them. You have to remember Cyndi Lauper was just getting into it, and people were accepting wrestlers as rock stars and I got why. They were bigger than life. They were The Avengers - larger than life. It was all really just so American. I mean here we are in Detroit, and there are 90,000 people watching this great spectacle with Hulk Hogan, the Junkyard Dog, and all these guys. It was so much fun to watch it, and you know what happened is 70,000 of the 90,000 were old ladies saying "kill him!" I just remember thinking how vicious these old ladies were.
That brings up your audiences, which I'm guessing is a mixed bag. How do you decide to pick a set list with this in mind?
For each show, it's maybe one of the hardest things to do. You want to please everybody - you don't want to leave anything out. So after the 14 or 15 radio hits, we have the turntable hits and really deep cuts for the fans who never thought they'd hear one of them live. When I went to see the Rolling Stones' Great Hits tour, I never thought they'd do "The Spider and the Fly." It's neat.
All of your tours are so elaborate. With all of your hits you can just get by performing the songs yet you go to great lengths to put on one helluva theatrical production...
With every song, the lyrics are the script. "Welcome to My Nightmare?" Well, we'll give them the nightmare. There's a visual aspect with every song and it creates what's going to happen on stage. I just let the lyrics create the theatre.
When you plot a tour, how do you come up with the theme?
You pick one. If it's the Brutal Planet tour - you make the stage look like a nuclear war up there... like it's a brutal planet. This tour is broken into three pieces. The first part is Alice-glam. It's pure glam with a lot of hits and sparks. Then, it goes right into Alice's nightmare. Everything's dark and it's kind of creepy. After they kill Alice, they bring him out in the cemetery and that's where all my dead drunk friends come up. It's a tribute to four of my friends who I used to drink with: Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Keith Moon, and Jimi Hendrix. So, I get to do four covers of people Alice actually worked with. I get to do "Foxy Lady," "Break On Through," and it's my take on the characters. I finish up with three or four greatest hits, and it all flows together.
You mention those four friends. Talk to me about how you managed to survive the so called "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." You're still standing...still touring... still relevant which is saying a lot.
We do hard rock. The music won't go away. The bands that are still here and valid are still hard rock bands. The Stones. Aerosmith. Guns N Roses. Slash's band. Foo Fighters. Green Day. The bands from the 60s who are still here are all hard rock bands. It's the sort of combination that every 16 year old wants to hear it, and the parents do, too. You just don't compromise. I put together the best touring band I possibly could have. The last thing, they're expecting is this energy that comes off stage. We don't let up for an hour-and-50 minutes. We don't give the audience a chance to catch their breath. Aerosmith does that. Plus, there's the mythical thing with so many stories of Alice Cooper that's out there. 15 year olds may have heard about it, and end up wanting to see it.
Rock isn't dead although bloggers and others say it is. Yet, on the MTV VMAs last month, there wasn't a rock band represented. How do you feel about this? I know you were quoted recently that Mumford & Sons are far from rock.
The Lumineers and Mumford are folk bands. I wasn't trying to insult them, you know? I wasn't slamming them. I was [commenting] on the state of music right now. It's splintered. There's Beyonce. Shakira. Mumford & Sons. Then, you've got hard rock and not everybody is hard rock.
Rock isn't dead. Just look for it. As long as we've got Slash, Buckcherry, Green Day, or Foo Fighters, it's not dead. We are more the outlaws now then the mainstream. The mainstream of rock isn't even rock. It's modern rock music.
Dave Grohl is basically the patron saint of rock now. Would you agree?
He should be. I can't believe how he's such a throwback to the 70s bands - all the Foo Fighters are. I've played with them and they nailed my songs. I mean they could've been my band. They could've easily been a '70s band. Foo Fighters is why rock is not dead.
What'd you think of Miley Cyrus on the VMAs by the way. It's been beaten to death, but you've collaborated with another outspoken pop star (Ke$ha) - what'd you think of it?
Miley Cyrus did exactly what Lady Gaga did with the mean dress. She tried to steal the VMAs, and that's what the VMAs are all about. You have to do just one outrageous thing. She dirty danced with [Robin] Thicke. If she cut off her arm and ate it, I would've been OK with it.
About A-Sides Music
Jon Chattman's "A-Sides Music" series was established in August 2011 and usually features artists (established or not) from all genres performing a track, and discussing what it means to them. This informal series focuses on the artist making art in a low-threatening, extremely informal (sometimes humorous) way. No bells, no whistles -- just the music performed in a random, low-key setting followed by an unrehearsed chat. In an industry where everything often gets overblown and over manufactured, I'm hoping this is refreshing.