Alice Cooper on His New Album “Paranormal,” Reuniting His Old Band, and Conspiracy Theories

Far-fetched Fantasies and Familiar Friends

Aug 03, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Even after nearly a half century of shocking people through his theatrical performances, Alice Cooper still has plenty of unexpected surprises and thrills up his sleeves. That's especially true about his latest album Paranormal, which came out last Friday. It's the shock rocker's first album of original material in six years, and features a heavy dose of guitar rock.

The album was produced by long-time Cooper collaborator, Bob Ezrin, and features guest appearances by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, U2's Larry Mullen Jr., and Deep Purple's Roger Glover. The album also finds Cooper reuniting with his former original Alice Cooper bandmates (guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith; current band member Ryan Roxie fills in for the late Glen Buxton) for a two-song mini-reunion.

Those songs"Genuine American Girl" and "You and All Your Friends"are the band's first songs since they went their separate ways in 1975. The band recorded five platinum albums in a row in the '60s and '70s, which feature some of Cooper's biggest hits, such as "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Billion Dollar Babies," and "School's Out."  The special edition of the album also features a bonus disc of his current band playing live versions of many of his hits.

Cooper will be co-headlining a summer North American tour in August with Deep Purple. Prior to the album's release and tour, we caught up with Cooper by phone to talk about the new album and what it was like reuniting his old bandmates.

Joshua M. Miller (Under the Radar): How would you describe the word "paranormal" and why do you think it applies to you?

Alice Cooper: This isn't the classic paranormal ghosts and UFOs and stuff. Paranormal, actually, if you look at the dictionary means other than normal or next to normal. My career has been paranormal. So, the idea of this record was the fact that we were not going to write a concept [album]. After we got done writing the album, I listened back to it and accidently wrote a concept. That in every single song every character had some sort of paranormal problem. Or some abnormal situation. So, the last thing we put on the album was the title track. I thought the word paranormal kind of glued all these characters and stories together. I wasn't using it in a classic sense of ghost hunters.  

Did you enjoy having the freedom not to write a collection of songs that were all connected, and each song could be its own story?

Yeah. Basically, I was writing titles and they went all over the place. This album goes in a bunch of different directions even though it's all harder rock. Even though it's all guitar driven rock. It goes from something that sounds like a New Orleans funeral to Texas roadhouse boogie to classic sort of prog rock. And then everything in between. The one thing that I cared about was the quality of the songwriting. That to me was the important thing. Later I had realized I had knit them all together loosely.

Were these songs you've written over the past few years?

Well, no. We wrote all of these songs in a certain period of time. We wrote some of the stuff over at Johnny Depp's house. Because we were doing the demos over there in Los Angeles. And we did a lot of the writing in Nashville because our studio was there. So, we kind of went back and forth between the two places. And then the original bandNeal, Dennis, and Mikewe did all that writing here in Phoenix. It was three different places and we brought all the songs at the end to one place and just started to weed them out, which songs are going to make it and what songs are not going to make it. It was a matter of writing 20 songs and letting the 13 best songs emerge as songs that were going to make the album.

You worked again with Bob Ezrin, who has produced many of your past albums. Why do you think you work so well together?

Bob Ezrin kind of grew up with us. His first album was Love it to Death, which was our first big hit. So, we pretty much started together. He did our first six albums and five of those six were platinum albums. So, from then on, he went to work Kiss, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel. He worked with everybody. He and I have always been connected as a songwriting team. If I write songs even for somebody else, I send them to Bob and Bob sends back his notes on what we should work on like the bridge or A section or B section, the chorus, whatever. So, we're always in touch with each other. 

What was it like working with Larry Mullen from U2?

When you're going to write an album, you realize that rock and roll is based on a backbeat, on a 4/4 beat. So how do you give the album a little more texture? You find a drummer who can do that but does it differently from anybody else. Larry Mullen was the one guy when I listen to a U2 album, he plays differently from just about anybody else. And I said, "Let's connect him up with these songs and create a whole different bottom for this whole album." It was really cool to work with somebody who wanted to see what the lyrics were first, rather than what the bass was doing. Generally, a drummer will want to know what a bass is doing. But Larry says, "Let me see the lyrics." He's a much more artistic sort of drummer. And that's what I was looking for. Something that's going to give the album a different sound, a different kind of texture.

I assume Billy Gibbons gave some texture to the song he played on with his unique guitar playing.

With Billy Gibbons, he was just perfect for that one song. I was listening to the song "Fallen in Love," and it was a Texas roadhouse kind of song. Bob Ezrin and I looked at each other and said, "Only one guy should play on this." And we said Billy Gibbons at the same time. We sent him the song and he did one take of it and sent it back, and it was perfect. So, it was a song was just built for him.

You also worked with Roger Glover, who's on the Deep Purple tour this summer with you. What was that like?

When I think of Deep Purple, I usually think of them as being a rock band. But they're also a prog band. And there was only one song on the whole album that had a prog feel and that was the first track called "Paranormal." And Bob says, "What do you think of Roger playing on this?" And I said, "I think it's perfect. Let's get Roger to play on it." And he did. He absolutely nailed it. We're doing August with Deep Purple so it's fun to connect it up like that. 

You've mentioned that your Alice character has a villainous side but also a slapstick side. Can you talk about balancing those two sides?

When I write songs, I don't write them for me. Bob and I both understand that Alice Cooper is a character. He's a character the same way Batman is a character. Or the same way that Sherlock Holmes is a character. Alice Cooper is a character. And I get to play him on stage. But he's created as a character. So, when I write songs, I don't write them from my point of view. I write them from his point of view. I think he has a different outlook than I do. So, I don't really have to put a lot of personal things in there. I say, "What would Alice say here? What would Alice do here?" The song was written "I Want a Genuine American Girl." I wrote it that way. And then I asked myself, "What would Alice Say?" Alice would say, "I want to be a genuine American girl." Because it would confuse the audience and it would a different sense of humor to it. And I was like, "Okay, let's do that." Alice would say "I want to be a genuine American girl" but he would say it really tough. He wouldn't make it sound in the least bit feminine. He would make it sound as tough as possible. That might be the most heterosexual song on the whole album and you get that what's he's saying is totally the opposite of that.

What does it mean to sing about these things in 2017?

I think at this point Alice stands away from society and then observes it and makes comments about it. He doesn't really say, "this is good," or "this is bad," he just says what it is. And lets the audience decide and put their values on it. Just like that song, "Genuine American Girl." Now some people would say, "Oh, he's making fun of transgender." Or they might say, "No, he's making a comment about transgender." Or they'll say, "Now he's been very serious about transgender." But I just write the song and let the audience put their own value on what I'm saying on it. If you listen to it, it doesn't say good, bad or anything. That it just is.

What was the inspiration behind the song "Paranormal Personality?"

Well, how many guys do you know who are conspiracy guys. That everything is a conspiracy. And they're paranoid and think everyone's after them or everyone's against them. I know people all the time that are like, "Well, they didn't really land on the moon" or "there's a shadow government going on." And "UFOs are all part of Area 51." And this and this and this. "The president's really an alien and all this stuff." [Laughs] I find those people really interesting. So I said, "I'm going to write a song about those people who have a paranormal personality." I think everybody knows somebody just like that.

What was it like getting back together with your Alice Cooper bandmates?

The good part about that was...most bands breakup, and when they breakup, they're angry. There was something that made the band breakup that was really horrible or whatever. We broke up without any bad blood. We didn't have any bad blood at all. We just ran out of creative juice. He didn't divorce as much as we separated. So for a period of 35 years, Dennis still did all kinds of projects. He was in all sorts of bands. Neal Smith kept playing drums for other people too. Mike Bruce wrote songs. We all stayed in touch with each other. So, when it came to this project, I said, "Why don't we get together and write as a unit. And get into the studio and play as a unit and see if we can recreate what we had in 1972 and '73." And I think we actually got it. I think when we did "Genuine American Girl" and "You and All of Your Friends," they sounded very much like songs we would have written in 1972 and '73.

When I listened to them it sounded like you picked up where you left off.

Yeah. And that's kind of unique. Most bands move along and they learn a different style of playing or they pick up new things. Neal plays exactly like he did in the '70s. Which is great. He played a lot with Keith Moon from The Who. So they were both show drummers. Dennis Dunaway was one of the most unique bass players ever. A lot of young bass players now say they learned by listening to Dennis Dunaway. Mike Bruce was one of those great John Lennon rhythm guitar players. He played a little lead but mostly was rhythm but great hooks. So the fact that you put it all together and they you put Alice Cooper on top of it, it's pretty much what it was in '73.

Do you think you'll want to do more recording or shows in the future?

Well, we are going to do one thing that's unique. We're touring in England and going to do about six shows in England. My regular tour band does the whole show. We do the whole production and then at the end they cut my head off. And the curtain comes down and everyone thinks it's the end of the show. But the curtain comes back up and when the curtain comes up it's the original band. And we do five songs, our biggest hits from that era: "No More Mister Nice Guy," "I'm 18," "Million Dollar Babies," "Muscle of Love," and "School's Out." So, the audience in England is going to get two bands and almost two different shows.

Do you think if that goes well that you might do something similar in the U.S.?

Well we did in Nashville just to see how it would sound. And it worked really good. It would really be up to the guys in the original band if they wanted to do that. I don't think they'd want to go on a 130-city tour like me. I've been doing this since 1968. I've been doing 100 cities a year. And I've never quit doing that. Whereas these guys for 35 years haven't really done that workload, where you're out there for 100 cities. So I don't know if they would even want to do that. But it's sort of a start. I never really close the door on anything. And neither did they. So it's wide open. It could happen.

Thank you for taking time to talk to me. My dad, who sadly passed last year, got me into your music and when I reviewed your show a few years ago he came with me and really enjoyed it.

Well thank you. I'm sorry about your father. It's so funny that now we go out on tour and a grandfather, a father, and a son will all come out to the show now. And it's the first time in history where you'll see three generations all digging the same music. So, it's very interesting. Our audience goes from very young to very old. The first 15 rows are 15 to 25 years old and then it seems to progress back.

www.alicecooper.com

 

 

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