After capping off a summer tour in July with supergroup Hollywood Vampires (featuring Johnny Depp and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry), Alice Cooper is back on the road with his band, which headlines Psycho Las Vegas August 28. This comes after the announcement of the godfather of shock rock’s faux presidential campaign (featuring an “I can do nothing as well as they can do nothing” platform) and his release of a re-mastered cut of 1972 hit “Elected.” We asked the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee about the future of rock, playing with Depp and the vaudeville horror-themed theatrics that made him famous.
What are your thoughts on the resurgence of psychedelic rock and doom metal?
Well, it’s kind of funny. It seems like [with] the American rock scene, if you’re a young rock band, you’re pretty wimpy. They just don’t have any energy. Now, the metal bands seem to have the energy, but you take a normal rock band in America and they’re almost folk. They’re not rock bands, and they don’t have any image. They don’t have any sort of attitude. To me, a rock band is Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper—these bands that actually have some swagger; that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is. I look at young bands and I go, “Gee, these guys are just so pablum. They don’t want to be rock stars. The difference is your metal bands, [who] go up there with a lot of energy and an attitude. At least that’s entertaining to an audience.
What will rock’s trajectory be? Is there room for innovation, or will musicians keep reinventing the wheel?
It goes in cycles. We went through a punk cycle. We went through a grunge cycle. We went though new wave, metal [and] hair metal. Now that it’s kind of mellow, the next thing you’re going to see is a resurgence of the hair metal band that happened in the ’80s [with] bands like Mötley Crüe. That era was way too much fun not to go back to.
Mötley Crüe’s show is absurdly excessive, in a good way. I’ve never seen so much pyro. The Alice Cooper show is over-the-top, too.
And that’s what’s fun for the audience. The Alice Copper show has always been one thing. It’s always been that hard rock sideshow—insane vaudeville. It is the best band I ever worked with, as far as just pure hard rock. On top of it, there are all these theatrics, the icing on the cake, and that will never go out of style because audiences leave going, “What was that? We liked it but we can’t explain it.” If it’s not fun for the band, then it’s not fun for the audience, and we walk on stage every night laughing [and] having a great time. If that ever goes away, you shouldn’t be up there.
Who do you see carrying the hard rock sideshow/insane vaudeville torch?
I think Rob Zombie does what I do, in a little different way, and I think Marilyn Manson does it in a darker way. Black Veil Brides are sort of like Mötley Crüe Part Two. Slipknot [uses] a lot of theatrics. So, there are bands that approach it. I don’t think anyone is as committed as we are to [that] certain style of show. We have a style I have been keeping alive for 50 years, and it’s a tried and true thing that works almost every time. Very rarely do you get an audience that isn’t having a lot of fun at the end of our show.
Who is your favorite artist from the new generation of hard rock?
There is a band I really like called the Strypes. The [musicians] are 18 or 19 years old [and] are from Ireland. You listen to their first album and it sounds like you are listening to the Yardbirds and Small Faces playing together, and these guys are young and they’re totally authentic to 1965, ’66 British rock. They nail it. And again, [they’ve] got swagger. They get up on stage bratty and snotty, and that’s what you want out of a rock band. The Struts are good, too.
What was it like playing with Johhny Depp?
Johnny and I get along really well. [He] has a real knowledge of the bands that I grew up with—The Who, the Yardbirds, T. Rex, [David] Bowie. Well, Bowie and I started at the same time, but, if I [reference] a song to Johnny, I might say, “Let’s make this sound like [the Yardbird’s] “Evil Hearted You,”—that registers with him. [We] get that kind of communication on stage, Johnny and I. Without talking to him, I can look at him and he can look at me and I’ll pretty much know where he’s going with it.
Is there a cover that you like to perform more than others, or a “dead drunk friend” that is easiest for you to channel on stage?
If you are doing “Come Together” by John Lennon, the audience goes crazy. It’s something they all grew up with. If you do “Pinball Wizard” or “My Generation” by The Who, every kid relates to that. The most fun for me is doing The Doors. We do “Five to One” and “Break On Through.” The Doors were all good friends of mine. Robby Krieger and I are still buddies, but Jim Morrison and I, we drank together, so [I] can channel him pretty well on stage.
You’ve toured for so many years now. When was the last time you’ve been surprised on the road?
There are times when … I’ll realize that maybe two percent of the audience is going to get [a] reference or the little move I just did. I’ll look down and [see] somebody laughing, and that always makes me feel good. Then I’ll focus on that person for five or six songs, because I realize they get the subtleties of the show. I only need one or two people in that whole audience, [who are] really having a great time, to focus on, and that pushes me.
Has that always been the case?
Yeah. I sometimes really like an audience that seems like they’re going to not [connect]. You’ll play the first song and you’ll [realize] the audience is not in touch with you. That is the audience that I perform most for, because I feel like now I’ve got to get them, so it gives me that extra boost. The Vampires did a thing in Minnesota for a [charity event]. It’s tables of guys in tuxedos and women in Valentino gowns. It’s a $2,500-a-plate kind of thing. I told the band, “Guys, there’s a lot of attitude out there. We’ve got to get them with more attitude than they have and I guarantee that they will be with us.” And it happened. You just smack them in the face with it. You never go out [thinking], “Gee, I hope they like it tonight.” You grab them by the throat and you shake them for 20 minutes.
Psycho Las Vegas
Aug. 26-28, noon, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, $99/single-day, $250/3-day, 702-693-5000, HardRockHotel.com.