Alice Cooper tours with Trash, talks songwriting, horror, and ’70s rock

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me and the Coop. I’ve still got that ’80s leather jacket if anybody wants to buy it. the arms come off so it turns into a funky vest. kevin statham photo

By Steve Newton

Twenty-five years ago today–on January 18, 1990–Alice Cooper played Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum, touring behind his 18th studio album, Trash. It featured guest appearances by members of Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, as well as guitar hero Steve Lukather, and spawned the single “Poison”, the Coop’s first top-10 hit in over a decade. 

I interviewed Cooper in advance of the show and asked him a bunch of questions about one of my fave subjects, horror movies.

We also talked about music a bit.

Here’s the story that ran in the Jan. 5-12 issue of the Georgia Straight newspaper under the headline: Rock’s King of Nastiness.

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When it comes to combining the finer elements of horror and hard rock, Alice Cooper rules. For more than 20 years the King of Nasty Rock has been sating his lust for the macabre and love of heavy music while wreaking havoc on unsuspecting listeners and making himself a millionaire many times over. Lately the Coop has been enjoying something of a comeback with his most successful album in many moons, Trash, and those with a taste for the former Vincent Furnier’s special brand of fright-rock can check him out when his current tour hits town January 18 at the Coliseum.

Although he started out singing about dead babies and slicing mannequins up on stage, it didn’t take long for Cooper to extend his love of all things scary by delving into the horror-movie scene. In John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness he played a possessed tramp who puts a Schwinn bicycle through one fellow’s chest, and in the appropriately titled Monster Dog he was a murderous rock star with Rambo-like tendencies.

More recently he had a bit part in Wes Craven’s Shocker, wherein the movie’s villain–who transports himself through electrical devices–falls into one of Cooper’s music videos. And he also had an offer to act in the latest Halloween saga, Part V: The Revenge of Michael Myers. “I was supposed to be the character that brings [Michael] back to life,” says Alice, “but I just didn’t have the time to do it.”

Cooper did take a break from his busy schedule on the Halloween before last, though, to dress himself up as the famous screen killer and stalk the streets of his Phoenix neighbourhood for a little trick-or-treating. “I found a Michael Myers mask, and I did my hair exactly right,” says Cooper. “I wore all black, and I took my kids out. I’d knock on the door, people would answer, and there was just no emotion. It’s just that look.”

Over the years, Cooper’s horror-related songs and onstage shenanigans have had a huge effect on people weaned on albums like Killer and School’s Out. For example, horror author Jay Clarke (of the Vancouver-based writing trio that goes by the name Michael Slade) was so enamored of Cooper’s work that he based a major character from Slade’s second novel, Ghoul, on him. Cooper returned the favour by writing a blurb for the cover of Ghoul‘s paperback edition.

“I turned a lot of people on to that book,” says Cooper. “I just loved it. The last three chapters are really scary. I mean, that book would make such a good movie.”

In past Georgia Straight interviews, Cooper has explained that his favourite lyrical themes are sex, death, and money–“because those are the things that affect people most.” On his previous two albums, Raise Your Fist and Yell and Constrictor, Cooper focused on death via gruesome lyrics and an even gorier stage show. But with Trash, sex is the main theme, as exemplified by tunes like “Bed of Nails” and “Spark in the Dark”. Cooper’s motto these days is “less red, more bed”.

“I didn’t want to paint myself into a corner with blood,” he says. “‘Cause I think if I would have done another album like that, people would have said, ‘Well, that’s all Alice can do anymore–just horror.” I wanted to show a different side; that Alice can also write about this. And, you know, in some cases, sex is more dangerous than horror.”

For Trash, Cooper worked with singer/producer Desmond Child, the proven hit-maker behind Joan Jett, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith. The resulting LP may be Cooper’s most commercial album to date.

“That’s very possible,” admits Alice. “I mean, the only other two really commercial albums I made were School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies, and this album was actually written to be more like those albums. With these songs, we sort of followed the trend back towards the ’70s, with Guns N’ Roses and the Cult and Aerosmith happening again. I mean, Alice and Aerosmith were like the two American hard-rock bands of the ’70s.

“Plus I didn’t want to write lyrics-to-riffs like we did on Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell,” he adds. “I really wanted to write songs, like we did on Billion Dollar Babies. And Desmond is such a great songwriter that it was very easy. We wrote 22 songs and had to narrow it down to 10.”

Cooper fans who have followed his lengthy career may remember the night on the Vancouver stop of his Welcome to My Nightmare tour when Alice took a nasty tumble off the Coliseum stage, suffering broken ribs and a concussion. But that bad memory has not been enough to stop him from returning to our fair city.

“Vancouver’s one of my favourite spots,” he says. “I just don’t bounce as well there as I do in other places.”

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