The Nightmare Returns: An Exclusive Interview With Alice Cooper

By Jeb Wright

When Alice Cooper decided to write a few songs with an old friend named Bob Ezrin, he had no idea that it would end up being a musical episode of This is Your Life.

The famous producer and the man named Alice soon conjured up the images of the original Welcome to My Nightmare album that they co-wrote in the 1970’s when Alice left his band for a solo career. Soon, the two men began wondering what Alice’s nightmares would be like as an older man. And since Alice's career has continued strong for decades his success may be contributed to some meditation techniques, but since we're talking about a rock legend - let's keep it dark. The creative juices began flowing, and before they new it, they had song ideas. It wasn’t long before the living members of the original band came to Cooper’s mind and they started writing songs with them.

By the end of the journey, Cooper and Ezrin, with help from Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith, Michael Bruce, Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, all Coop alumni, has the sequel to the original album. While most sequels fail miserably, the premise behind this one, and the time span between the two, make the album very interesting. With major label support behind it, and a few bucks for marketing, the world may actually hear new music from a classic rock artist.

Welcome 2 My Nightmare is an album that sees Cooper at the top of his game, once again. Once the evil Alice is channeled into the normal, golf-loving Alice, then the games begin. With tantalizing titles that include “I’ll Bite Your Face Off,” “Disco Blood Bath” and “Ghouls Gone Wild” one can see the nightmare is in full swing. The creative visualization used in the lyrics will make you think you’re in REM sleep, as the imagery comes out in full 3D color.

In the interview that follows, Cooper discusses the album in depth. He explains why he choose to record with a 22 year old diva and how Ezrin, and himself, came up with the crazy ideas that make the storyline of The Nightmare so compelling. We also talk about the day Ezrin first visited Alice Cooper back in the early 1970’s and why, that day, Dennis Dunaway was wearing a frog head and would only say ‘ribbit.’

Jeb: I have been listening to Welcome 2 My Nightmare and loving it.

Alice: Bob Ezrin always brings out the worst in me and I always bring out the worst in him. When we get together, our creative juices get really done.

Jeb: When did the idea come up to do a sequel?

Alice: Its funny, we weren’t even going to do this; it wasn’t the original idea. I was just going to write some songs with Bob. We started talking and it was the 35th anniversary of the album Welcome to My Nightmare. We started wondering what Alice’s nightmares would be 35 years later. One thing led to another and pretty soon we were writing songs. Seventeen songs later, we had an album. We weren’t there to write an album and, out of nowhere, we had one. Not only that, but it was one of the five best albums we’ve ever done. We were kind of surprised that so many good things came out of it.

Jeb: How is it different writing for the character Alice then it is for a normal album?

Alice: When you’re writing for a character, for somebody other than yourself, then it’s different. I might write the greatest song that I’ve ever written and, then, I will realize that Alice would never sing this. It could be a great song for Guns N Roses, or the Foo Fighters, but it is not a song that Alice would ever sing. Being a songwriter, you just write the song and it comes out the way that it is. If it’s usable, then a lot of times we can twist the lyrics around enough to make it sound like Alice, but a lot of times you can’t.

Bob and I would sit there and be very objective about Alice. We’d talk about him in the third person without getting personal about it. I would say, “Bob, that whole second section there is not Alice.” Bob would listen to it and say, “You know, you’re right. Lets change that.” If I were writing for Captain Hook then I would be able to do it because I kind of know how he thinks about things, but you couldn’t just write anything and have Captain Hook sing it.

Jeb: Tell me about the song you did with Ke$ha? When I saw her name on the album I went, “What the hell?”

Alice: I sometimes rebel against my own fans. When my fans come up to me and go, “You can’t have someone like her on your record.” Then I go, “I can’t? Why?” If someone tells me that I can’t have Vince Gill play lead on a song, then I say, “Why?” If he plays the greatest guitar solo that you ever heard then who cares?

I met Ke$ha at the Grammys and she never looked, to me, like a Diva, she looked like a rock singer. I told her, “Eventually, everyone leaves the Divas. There is no way you can have a long lasting career as no one ends up loving the Divas forever. However, everybody loves a rock band.” It’s true, no one ever says anything bad about Chrissie Hynde. I am trying to talk her into getting a real rock band behind her.

When I met her, I had an idea for a song. I needed a character to play the devil. In the song, she finally has enough, and its time for Alice to pay her with his soul. We decided to call it ‘What Baby Wants Baby Gets” because in the song he tries to say, “Hey, that wasn’t part of the deal” and she says, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, what baby wants, baby gets!” For me, it was a perfect line for her to say. .

Jeb: I have heard she even calls you ‘dad,’ is that true?

Alice: Yeah, I’m kind of like her dad. She comes in the studio and she is wearing next to nothing and I’m like, “Put a sweater on.” I have two daughters and I’m always telling them that. I’m trying to tell a 22-year-old what to do. Bob Ezrin does the same thing. Bob and I really are like her two dads. She does respect us, which is good.

Jeb: What was it like to bring back Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce and Neal Smith back for three songs? This is the original Alice Cooper Group!

Alice: When we got into the Hall of Fame, we realized that we were going to have to do some songs. We had a very strange breakup back in 1974, in the fact that nobody was angry, nobody took a swing at anybody and there was no bad blood. Everybody knew that I wanted to be more theatrical, and that they wanted to go in a different direction, and that was it. We were always in touch with each other.

When the Hall of Fame thing came along, then I thought we should do some songs with Bob Ezrin producing. The band was just the same as it was in 1974. I didn’t want to change anything. When the idea for this album came up, I said to Bob, “Wouldn’t it be great to get Dennis, Mike and Neal on the album? Lets get them to write some songs so we can write with them.” We wrote a song with Neal, we wrote a song with Dennis, and we wrote a song with Mike, and all three of the songs ended up on the album. To me, it’s sort of wrapping up all of the loose ends.

Jeb: Steve Hunter, who was on the original Welcome to My Nightmare is also on the album.

Alice: So is Dick Wagner. Steve Hunter is now back in my touring band.

Jeb: When you write a song like “Last Man On Earth” then you and Ezrin must just be smiling and laughing all the way.

Alice: Bob and I learned a long time ago that when you start writing a song, and it starts developing it’s own personality; you just have to let it be what it is. You can’t try to force a round peg in a square hole. Just write the song, see what it ends up being and then see if it works. You can’t start trying to twist it into what you want it to be. Bob and I started writing this song, “Last Man On Earth” and it ended up being a Tom Waits song – I sing it somewhere between Tom Waits and Jimmy Durante. When I saw Tom at the Hall of Fame I said, “Tom, this is going to sound weird, but I’ve always been a big fan of yours. I have written a new song that, coincidently, is a tip of the hat to you. When you hear it, you will know which song I am talking about.” That song really ended up coming out well and it really fit the story line well. It reminds of that old Twilight Zone with Burgess Meredith where he ends up in the basement because of an atomic explosion. When he finally goes upstairs, he’s now got all of the books in the world but he then breaks his glasses and now he can’t read them. That was kind of this idea. Alice is the last man on earth. He can stink, he can swear and he can do anything he wants to do because there is no one there to tell him ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Jeb: The original Welcome to My Nightmare had an incredible stage show that is now very famous. What are we going to see with 2?

Alice: I am currently on tour now. The album is going to come out right in the middle of this tour. We’re going to add some of the songs in but I think it will be the tour after this when we’re going to go all out for the Nightmare Returns tour. It will probably be as theatrical as the first one.

Jeb: Last one: I am friends with Dennis Dunaway. He once told me that the first day that Bob Ezrin came over to meet the band, for some reason, he decided to be a frog that day and was wearing a frog head. As luck would have it, he answered the door and just said, “ribbit” to Ezrin. Did you know that? Do you ever feel lucky that Bob went ahead and came inside instead of running away?

Alice: It didn’t surprise me at all to walk downstairs and find Dennis in a frog outfit. When that sort of thing happened you would just walk by him and go, “Oh, hi Dennis.” It never occurred to any of the rest of us that such a thing would ever be odd to anyone else. If you knew Dennis then you were used to that sort of thing. It must have been a bit of a shock to Bob. Imagine just walking in and finding a frog. And then he would discover that everyone else in the band had very distinct personalities. Luckily, we all worked well as a unit. .