An Interview with Alice Cooper

The son of a minister, Vincent Furnier (Alice Cooper) and a few friends at high school assembled a rock n’ roll band in the sixties later to be called Alice Cooper. The Alice Cooper band generated hit songs such as “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” in the 70’s, and as a solo artist, Alice Cooper continued his success with such classics as “Only Women Bleed” and in 1989, “Poison.”

Featuring baby doll decapitations, a live snake, and great music, Alice Cooper shocked and entertained audiences onstage and each concert was an event not to be missed. Alice Cooper was also just an onstage personality not to be confused with Alice offstage. Today, Alice continues to entertain crowds, record albums, and play a good game of golf. On April 20, 1999, The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper was released, a boxset encompassing Alice Cooper as a successful five-man band and later as a solo artist.

Alice Cooper recently met up with two of his former bandmates from the original band, drummer Neal Smith and bassist Dennis Dunaway to promote the new boxset and I had an opportunity to speak with him about his character on stage, musicians he has worked with, and his take on the World Wide Web. Alice was very courteous and even insisted that I have a chair before we started talking. Better yet, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway stood by his side and added a few brief comments of their own.

Mike Hetman: What is the one thing that drives you to continue to perform onstage and record albums?

Alice Cooper: You know every once in a while an album comes out or a song on the radio comes out and you go “Ah, what a great record” you know and it makes you wanna go back in the studio because you get mad that somebody else wrote that song. You know I think the last time I did that was on that Offspring song, the last Offspring single (someone in the room sings, “Give it to me baby ah ha ah ha!”), what a great record that is you know. It just has so much energy in it. And every once in a while a song like that really inspires you and you just wanna get back in and start writing songs. If somebody says you got three days to write a song about an ostrich and a tree, then I’ve got a time frame, and I’ve got something to write about. Rather if somebody just says “you need to write an album,” I sit around and go “ehhh (in an unmotivated tone) I don’t know.” I like somebody to assign me an idea.

MH: You’ve legally changed your name to Alice Cooper a long time ago yet the Alice Cooper character only lives onstage. So how do you differentiate your stage persona from yourself and still retain sanity?

AC: It’s very simple. The character onstage, he only lives onstage. I mean I’m not him. I don’t try to be him. I don’t hang out with him. He’s a character the minute that the curtains open and the lights go on, he’s there. Now when the audience is gone he’s gone because he doesn’t need to exist any other time. I don’t have to carry a lot of baggage around to be Alice – I used to and you know that pretty much almost killed me trying to be Alice so I decided a long time ago to separate the two. Look what killed Jim Morrison and Keith Moon and all those guys is they were trying to live up to their image – and you just can’t, you can’t live up to your image – it’s too animated – it’s too huge.

MH: Do you feel like just an everyday person when you’re at home?

JL: Yeah, I’m God. I’m a husband, I’m a father, I coach baseball, I do everything everybody else does except that I think the funny thing is like people think all the time that I’m this other guy. Do you really think I’m gonna have a snake around my neck? I think there’s this illusion, this mystical illusion that Alice lives in the Munster’s house… The thing that makes it important is that there are two of them. It makes the one on stage much more intense when I get to play him – I look forward to playing the character. If I had to be him all the time I wouldn’t look forward to it. It’s fun to look forward to playing the character.

MH: Have you ever met Alice?

AC: No, you’ll never meet him.

MH: As a solo artist you’ve had the opportunity to work with Chris Cornell, Steve Vai, and Slash, and that’s just a few. Who do you think you’d like to work with again on future projects?

AC: Any one of them – they’re all really really great. Ritchie Sambora is a great guitar player. When you talk about and a lot of people say “who would you put in the band – if you could put anybody in the band on guitar who would you put in?” Well, think of all the great guitar players. But I think that for an all around player probably Ritchie Sambora because he can do everything. As an all out rock n’ roll guitar player maybe Joe Perry or Joe Satriani. Those guys I mean just all of them, they can do everything.

MH: Is there any possibility you might perform or record again with Neal Smith or Dennis Dunaway?

AC: Neal Smith? Dennis Dunaway?

MH: You know those guys?

Neal Smith: We did play!

AC: We did, (speaking to Neal) we did play together about when?

Dennis Dunaway: Five months ago.

NS: Five months ago.

AC: Five months ago. We went up and did two songs and ended doing about an hour and a half.

MH: Is there any possibility of future collaborations with Rob Zombie maybe in an album?

AC: Oh yeah, Rob is great! Rob is very creative. You know Rob in the studio is just so creative. He’s a producer, he’s a writer (pause) he’s not like us. I don’t think he sits down at the piano and writes tunes. Rob is the kinda guy that has the industrial kind of tone. I think he’s got it where it should be because like his new “Living Dead Girl,” that’s a great great song. I know what the melody is. I know what the words are. A lot of industrial stuff just I don’t where anything is in it and I’m not trying to be an old fogey about it but I don’t know where the song is. At least with Rob’s stuff, there is a song involved, there’s a verse, there’s a chorus, there’s a beat section, there’s an idea behind it. I think that’s one place where industrial gets a little lost. I gets so involved in the anger of it – it gets so involved with the rage that it forgets to do the song. It’s fun to get out there and just like wake up and just scream – well that’s like beating a pillow. I don’t know if that’s music. I don’t know that’s there’s much thought involved in it.

MH: When you look back in time what period in your career would you think you’d like to be best remembered for?

AC: You know I’ve never been on a period.

MH: (laughs) Oh.

NS: You can’t argue with that.

AC: I’ve always got to say because it’s always true, at the time it was horrible. But at the time in the old days when we were traveling around going from gig to gig was always fun. There was no responsibility, we had bills but we never paid them. We had 20 bucks in our pocket apiece and that’s all we needed. And that was it. That was always fun. There was no responsibility of being a star – there was no responsibility of being a personality or anything. That was always fun. And now it’s fun because I don’t feel the pressure that I had for being working for two years in a row without a stop and things like that. I feel like I can pick and choose now and then when I want to go out. I got family and stuff and when I want to go out I can go out.

MH: Go out and play golf?

AC: Still I think people get that confused too. The golf thing is a sport that I play and I’m addicted to a lot of things. Golf is one of them. But my first love is always rock n’ roll.

MH: What do you think you’d be doing right now if you never even touched the music industry, never had that opportunity?

AC: Dennis and I met doing murals. We used to do murals on peoples’ walls in the Summer time. I used to think we’d still be doing that.

(Everyone laughs)

DD: It wasn’t that lucrative.

AC: We were both like art students. I think we would’ve both been somewhere in the arts doing something. I always loved Madison Avenue. I loved commercials and I think I would’ve fit right in their doing commercials – that was always fun marketing.

NS: I was a great artist by the way – very very good artist. But he (Alice) was always a lot better than me.

MH: How do you feel about being compared to Marilyn Manson?

AC: I think [it’s more like] Marilyn Manson being compared to me isn’t it? (Laughter in the room) It’s inevitable. I feel sorry for younger guys now because the fact that there’s very good things they can do original and everything’s been done, I think – musically there’s only so many chords – there’s only so much angst to go around. I mean I’m not in the angst business anymore – I’m really not in the anger business anymore. I’m really not in the shock business anymore – that’s all been done – we did all that. Now it’s just like, how do you entertain the audience – how do you make them walk away going, “wow, what a great show! That was great!” How do you make an interesting record? How do you make something that doesn’t sound like something that’s been done already? You know the hardest thing in the world to do is to write a great rock n’ roll record. It’s easier to write a ballad. It’s easier to write something theatrical. To write a great rock n’ roll record is really hard because it’s going to be so derivative of somebody else that it’s just hard to nail it. But that’s what I’d like to do – we’ve always been a hard rock band – always will be. If you take all the theatre and everything else away from it, all the image, the Alice Cooper Band from the very beginning, was a derivative of the Yardbirds and Chuck Berry and a little West Side Story thrown in it. The same thing with Aerosmith – if you took Aerosmith and stripped them right down to their bottom and what they are, they’re the Yardbirds almost. That was sort of the band to be.

MH: There’s one last question. I’m sure all of our web viewers would like to know, you wrote the song “Is Anyone Home,” about how people become anti-social from it (the Web), now have you since changed your opinion, have you gone out on the Web, visited any Alice Cooper sites?

AC: I know that there’s a bunch out there but the web for me is the biggest gossip column in the world – second cousin to the anti-Christ, the Web. And I know that it’s inevitable that I have to be on it and that I’ll be involved in it. I’m just holding on. I’m never going to learn how to type just so I can’t work it. I know I’ve got some web pages that I’m going to be doing… I treat it like a magazine. As long as I don’t have to do the actual physical stuff I’m okay with it. I tell you what, I suffered more on the Internet from people giving out wrong information and people taking it as being true. I get home from playing golf and my daughter says, “ah you had a turkey sandwich for lunch, you stopped by the bank.” There’s something really wrong about that because there’s zero privacy. If they decided they’re going to throw something in – maybe I’m talking to the girl behind the thing and she’s blond and people see you with a blond, all of a sudden it’s an outlet. Now I’m telling you that stuff exists and I’m sitting there going gosh you know – this is the worst gossip column in the world. (end)