The great Alice Cooper is back!
The artist, who rose to prominence in Detroit in the ‘70s, has a new album, Detroit Stories, set for release February 26. This is the first new release for Cooper—who will likely have many fans these days saying that they’re not worthy —since the 2017 record, Paranormal, which hit number 32 on the Billboard 200 chart. On the new 15-track album, Cooper and company channel the Motor City, which, of course, is known for hard-pumping, piston-pounding rock ‘n’ roll, as much as it is for hip-swaying Motown R&B.
Cooper growls about the golden era of the radio, changing the world through rock and much more. Listening to the record, it feels as if he’s been reinvigorated, as if he’s fallen in love with music and recording all over again. For the album, Cooper also reunited with longtime producer, Bob Ezrin, and brought in several Detroit all-stars for the sessions.
American Songwriter caught up with Cooper to ask him about his early days in the Motor City, what he loves about music today and when he first put on makeup to play the theatrical rock ‘n’ roll character, Alice Cooper.
Pre-Order Detroit Stories here.
American Songwriter: When did music first enter your world as a young person?
Alice Cooper: Well, I was born in Detroit. That’s why this album is dedicated to Detroit. I think this is my thirtieth album, I’m not sure. But I was born in Detroit and Detroit was always the rock ‘n’ roll city. I mean, it was always the hard rock city. Los Angeles was The Doors and Love and bands like that. San Francisco had the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and New York had the Rascals—all totally different sounds. And then Detroit was Alice Cooper, Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5—all really show bands but really hard rock bands. Guitar-driven hard rock. And I remember when I was seven-years-old, my uncle brought over a Chuck Berry record and said, ‘Listen to this!’ That right there was the first time I ever heard rock ‘n’ roll that wasn’t driven by piano or horns. It was guitar. And I went, ‘Oh!’ That really gave it another edge, you know?
AS: What drew you towards taking that to the more extreme, the darker and more provocative side of things—was it subversion, rebellion?
AC: I just kind of looked at it and said, ‘What’s missing in rock ‘n’ roll?’ And, to me, what was missing was a villain. We had all these heroes, rock ‘n’ roll heroes. All these Peter Pans and no villain, no Captain Hook. And I just went, ‘Well, I would gladly take that part.’ We were just naturally theatrical anyway. So, when you put that idea about horror, comedy and hard rock in once place, it created Alice Cooper. I said I just can’t be a lead singer. I’ve got to be a character. So, I created this character named Alice Cooper and even to this day, Alice is my favorite rock star. I mean, I talk about him in the third-person all the time.
AS: Do you remember the first time you put on makeup for Alice?
AC: Yeah, it was way back. Probably in 1969, just messing around with it. I said, ‘if this guy’s going to be a villain, he can’t just look like a rock singer. He’s got to have some sort of theatrical signature. A look that every time you see him, you know it’s Alice.’ That’s when I started doing the eyes. And it wasn’t done feminine at all. It was done in the band—I’d be wearing a pair of black leather pants and black boots, but then I’d be wearing my girlfriend’s slip that was all torn with blood all over it. And immediately the audience goes, ‘What happened?’ [Laughs]. They’re already in the middle of some sort of a story, they’re going, ‘Wait, what?’ And all the guys in the band are all guys and there’s no girl, but the name of the band is Alice Cooper? So, the lead singer is Alice Cooper, but he’s not gay and he’s not a transvestite—what’s going on here? Because everything else, you have to remember at that time is “peace and love” and everything’s wonderful and good. And we’re on stage doing parts of West Side Story where we’re actually bleeding on stage. It scared the hell out of everybody.
AS: Let’s talk about the new record. There’s a ton of tracks, you have your signature growl on it. What was the origin of the album and were there any favorite discoveries along the way?
AC: Well, the thing about it is, we’ve always done hard rock. That’s always going to be us. So, to take the home city where we came out of—when we actually broke out with [the 1971 hit song], ‘I’m Eighteen,’ it was out of Detroit. So, Detroit is our home even though we are from Phoenix. Detroit was our creative home. And I was actually from Detroit, so I fit right in. But the whole idea was to tip our hat to that city, because it’s always been the home of hard rock. So, I said, ‘Let’s not just do a thing about Detroit. Let’s do it in Detroit. Let’s do it with all Detroit players. Let’s keep everything purely Detroit on this.’ That’s why the band was all—one guy’s from MC5 [Wayne Kramer], one guy’s Mark Farner [from Grand Funk Railroad], and Johnny Bee was from Mitch Ryder [& the Detroit Wheels]. You put all these guys together and, man, they are a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Then I brought in Steve Hunter, too, and [Joe] Bonamassa— he’s such a good guitar player.
AS: The album is terrific. You must have been very proud of the result. Was there anything that came from the process that you found yourself surprised at?
AC: Well, I was surprised at one thing. If it had been any other album— when you’re a Detroit player and you’ve lived there all your life, it’s in your DNA, right? So, you’re a hard rocker. But there is also a certain amount of R&B in the way that these guys play. I didn’t really notice it until I started listening back. If it were [done] in California, it would have been a different sound. But Detroit, I think it’s in the DNA. So, I allowed that, which is something Bob [Ezrin] and I normally would never have done. I love the idea that we had girls from Motown singing the background, the Black girls. We also had the horn section [the Motor City Horns] come in. To me, that was really cool. We kept it in Detroit and we kept it pure.
AS: Do you still work with Shep? I saw the movie, Supermensch, about him a few years ago and I always associate you two together now.
AC: Shep and I have been together 52 years. Yeah, I can’t imagine ever working with anybody else but Shep. I mean, he’s like my best friend. He’s been my manager. We still don’t have a contract with each other, 50 years later. We don’t have anything except, we both just try to do the right thing by each other. Yeah, I would never use anybody but Shep.
AS: What do you love most about music?
AC: Well, the thing about it is, I’ve never outgrown it. Most people get to a point—I’m 72 now and I’m doing more shows now then when I was 25 at the peak of my career. I’m doing actually more shows now —well, not now. But before the pandemic hit, I was doing 190 shows a year, full out Alice Cooper extravaganzas. And I’ve never lost my love for that moment when you hit the stage. My band—I have the best touring band of anybody out there. And when you see the audience’s reaction to the Alice Cooper show, nobody ever leaves disappointed. That’s the thing that I love about it. Everybody goes, ‘Oh my God, that’s the greatest thing I ever saw!” To me, the quality of the show is always going to keep me coming back.
Photos by Jenny Risher