When Shock Rock legend Alice Cooper embarked upon his fabled comeback via Constrictor (1986) and Raise Your First And Yell (1987), the change in the tonality was nothing short of profound. The 'slasher film' motifs (i.e. “Chop, Chop, Chop”, “Prince Of Darkness”, “Teenage Frankenstein”) featured throughout would introduce Cooper to an entire new generation of listeners. Among the primary catalysts of these changes was axemaster Kane Roberts. Co-writing nearly every track on the previously-mentioned releases, Roberts would embark on a solo career in 1987 with the release of Kane Roberts and the Jon Bon Jovi/Desmond Child-fueled Saints And Sinners (1991). Now, with the highly-anticipated release of The New Normal (2019), his first all new release in seven (!) years, Roberts has again returned to remind us all of his undeniable lyrical and compositional prowess.
Todd: What made this the right time to release The New Normal? After having been 'away' from the scene for an extended period, one might argue that releasing a new record right now wouldn't be a financially viable venture.
Kane: I think it's because unlike most people, I think the state of the music industry is actually really good right now. I think there's a ton of great music out there. If you turn your camera overseas, you'll see that there is a tremendous amount of creativity and different styles being pumped out. From newer bands like Battle Beast and Volbeat to bands that aren't new like Lacuna Coil and The 69 Eyes, there's all sorts of great stuff out there. And it's music that people really care about when they're producing it. It's really deep in terms of the amount of effort and creativity that's in it. One of the main reasons why I left was because I was tired of the music industry itself and the way it operated. I had a distaste for parts of the process because a lot of it took you out of the system. Now, if you have enough of an impetus and enough of a motivation, you can really make a difference and really reach a lot of people with what it is you're trying to do. I was listening to a lot of music and I was still playing a lot of guitar, of course, as well as singing and writing. (Winger frontman and former Alice Cooper band mate) Kip Winger heard some of the stuff that I was doing and said 'I'm about to reach out to (Frontiers Records founder) Serafino (Perugino).' They gave me a shot and I started recording three years ago. And what happened was that I started becoming so proactive and so aggressively involved in it that I found I wanted to do something a little different. When I say different, I mean I wanted to put a lot more of myself and the creative people and resources I have at my fingertips. I ended up getting Alice Cooper and (Arch Enemy frontwoman) Alissa White-Gluz involved. By a miracle, I got both of them and myself to Vancouver and shot a video with the three of us in the same location. Right now, I'm really happy I did it and am really excited about my record.”
Todd: When you began writing and recording material for The New Normal, was there a particular sound you were trying to capture? Obviously, you weren't intent on entirely re-creating Kane Roberts or Saint And Sinners.
Kane: “I actually took that type of thinking out of the process. ...Whatever your creative enterprise is, you have a thought process that's in your head. For example, when I was playing live, if I was wondering what I looked like, if I was playing good, or whether the audience liked me, I was out of the flow. But if I was actually in the moment, then I'd end up playing much better night because I didn't have that mental conversation going on. What I decided to do is just realize that I've evolved as an artist. You can't help it if you're paying attention and you're allowing yourself to move forward. I decided to write things that I like and when we played it back, if something felt a little bit weak, false, or contrived, we would try to do it again. ...I called the record The New Normal because a lot of things have changed. A lot of things have gotten busted up and the old preconceived notions have gone away. I never said 'Gee, I'm not going to listen to my roots. I'm just going to move in a different direction' and you can hear that there's a blend of many different things. But I still remember Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and all these other amazing bands that helped form who I am. And they still have their ways with me. There's been so much new music now that I've allowed it to push me forward as well.”
Todd: It's great to see that you didn't opt to re-invent your style. I think that would have been a colossal mistake.
Kane: “No. I think when you try to do stuff like that, it's a mistake. In other words, if you just allow things to happen, and that's a tough wire to tread. I mean, you just won't allow things to happen. You want to make things real and you want to make things natural. And very often, you'll have these thoughts in your head like 'Will the record company like it? Will the fans like it?' The only shot you have is to do something that you think is off the chain that really indicates who you are at that particular moment in time. It's the only real shot you'll ever have.”
Todd: The New Normal features a variety of different guests (Kip Winger, guitarist Nita Strauss and drummers Aoyama Hideki and Ken Mary, among others) Was it difficult for you to coordinate such a large, diverse group?
Kane: “What I've learned is that you should ask everybody. If I wanted to, I would have no problem getting in touch with (Director) Oliver Stone and saying 'Could you direct my video?', because why not? There's nothing stopping you from asking. As my manager said 'Everything is a no until it's a yes'. That's what I based my approach off of. If somebody says no, I'm not going to cry about it. And there are people that I asked to be on the record that said no. ...On “Beginning Of The End”, when I was working on the lyrics, I said 'If this was in a movie, how incredible would it be if Alice was delivering these lines?' I was like 'Man, it would be so cool if it was Alice.' Everybody was saying 'There's no way. He's probably on tour or too busy', but I called him and he said 'Hey, could you sing on my new record?' and he goes 'Yeah. I'm in town. I'll be right over.' He came over an hour later and the timing was perfect We did a duet, as you can hear on the record. ...I'm a huge fan of everything that Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy represents. She's an incredible artist. Talk about the new normal. You see this beautiful little girl walking out in the middle of these huge guys playing this massive Metal and she just owns the stage. She owns the whole event. It's absolutely incredible. So I asked her, and she said 'I have to hear the song first' and then once she'd heard it, she got back to me literally the same day and said 'Yes'. And then she said 'If you shoot a video, I'll fly anywhere to be with you and Alice so I can be in it'. And it's not because I'm so special and the situation involved Alice. That's just the type of artist that she is. If she's convinced of something, she just goes in full bore. It's just the way she is. And she never complained, either. She flew from Europe to Montreal, stayed at the airport and then flew another six hours to Vancouver to be with Alice on the set of the video. After that, I thought 'I'm going to reach out to whoever I want and see what happens.' I ended up getting Aoyama Hideki from Babymetal to play drums on the song. That was a bit of a reach, ya know? (laughs) I was very fortunate with it. What this all indicates to me and what it should indicate is that I the music industry is in a good spot right now. It used to be the record company would do everything and you always got pushed out of the picture to a certain extent. Now, as long as you have enough motive or if you have enough of a desire, you can turn something totally ordinary into something unexpected and be proud of it at the end of the day. Hopefully, you'll get people to hear the record or see the video so they can love or hate it.”
Todd: At this point, do you have any confirmed touring plans to support The New Normal? I would imagine there would be significant interest if it were to become a 'chart hit' akin to Kane Roberts and Saints And Sinners.
Kane: “No, I don't. If something happens, I'll be into it, but I have to be honest with you. I've been working a lot with motion graphics. I've always felt that the soundtrack or score to movies is one of the perfect sort of blends of visual and audio. And I think it's because YouTube has become one of the most viable radio stations, so to speak. So I'll continue to concentrate on doing videos. If it seems like there's a substantial reason for me to start touring, I'll put a band together, which will be a tremendous amount of work, but I'm not worried about it. The point is, I'll get into it if it seems like it's going to actually make a difference. I think I can reach more people with videos. I think that's true especially now with the way things are with everybody having a laptop, phone or tablet. I think that there's definitely a much bigger connection to videos than there used to be. There aren't any instruments in the video. The video is all me, Alice, Alice's wife Sheryl and Alyssa and there's also a couple of actors. It's basically a series of images that tells a loosely structured narrative. It's all about the shock value of visuals with the music, so I decided to do something different. That's what I'm going to do with these videos. Each one is going to have a different angle. The next video will be based on the girl on the cover of the album.”
Todd: If a supporting tour does materialize, what type of set list would you be working with? You've had hits as a solo artist, but you also had success while with Alice. There are some major style differences between the two.
Kane: “Isn't that an interesting question? If you were me, what would you do? You'd be like and 'Well, what do I do? Do I play the Alice songs? Do I just play my solo material?'. Because the styles are all over the place, I've got to have a band that has a very specific sound and a very aggressive and powerful way of handling stuff. When you see Alice now, you hear the old songs, but they sound like a new band, which is great. I've got to go along on the same premise. I think I would have to do a few things off of each album and then do some of the Alice stuff and then the new stuff and then see how that shakes loose. ...When you're putting the band together, you want to feature the other people in the band. You want to feature some guitar stuff and you want to feature the vocals in certain ways. If you look at some of the really great shows, like for example, (Pop artist) Pink has an unbelievable show. The way that's generated and the way certain things are focused on is tremendous. It's dynamic to the point that its incredible. It goes beyond just performing the song, so to speak. That's actually a series of big questions, ya know? ...To figure out what the set list would be, I'd really have to work on that one.”
Todd: What are your commercial expectations for this record? Did you record The New Normal with a genuine and sincere hope of returning to the Top 40 or are entirely you focused on returning to the public consciousness?
Kane: “Once you put something out there, there's a certain machinery that has to be in place. Even back in the day, if I recorded a record on my own with no record company and put it out locally, something could have still exploded. The Chris Isaak record “Wicked Game” was done and dead, but somebody in Florida heard it and it blew up from there, so you never know how things can happen. But in this particular environment, no matter what the record company, you have to be able to work those other networks, be it Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. That's the machinery that has to take place, so my true expectation are to try and get it into these environments and reach as many people as possible and that's always the way it has to be. If I'd had a bunch of of commercial expectations walking in the studio, I'd still be be sitting there grinding my teeth saying 'Is this a hit? Are people going to listen to this? What's the demographic on this?'. But I didn't do any of that. I just decided to be true to myself and do something that I thought was really cool. I remember back in the day when I was writing with Desmond Child. Everybody knows his record. He said to me 'The only thing you can ever do is create something that you would buy. Something that you would actually pay money for when you finish listening to it''. I think that I hit that mark for myself, so we'll see. I put something out there for the haters and the lovers to listen to and comment on. They'll either do something or not. I'd absolutely love to have a video that did as well as “Chandelier” by Sia (laughs), but I don't know if we have hit the two billion view mark yet.”
Todd: How involved were you with the change in sound Alice displayed on Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell? The general consensus has always been that you served as a major influence on the new, harder edges.
Kane: “Here's what kind of refutes that. We did a song called “Prince Of Darkness” (from Raise Your Fist And Yell) that has some amazing lyrics. If you take a moment and read the lyrics, you'll hear that Alice delivers them incredibly well. I remember he was at my apartment when I was in New York. Alice had been sitting on the couch eating Fritos for the past fifteen minutes. Suddenly, he gets up and says 'Here are the lyrics to “Prince Of Darkness”.' If he's in the right zone, if he's in the right environment and if his biorhythms are working, he can do anything. I wasn't responsible for it. He and I just tested the sound. The only thing I said was 'I don't want you to come back sounding like you survived rehab. I want you to come back like a nuclear version. There's a lot of stuff out there like Ozzy (Osbourne), so you've got to come back heavy'. And if you look at some of those songs and some of the live footage from that first tour, the band could get as heavy as you can possibly imagine if Alice was on top of his game. I did have something to do with it, but the fact was that he and I became great friends and we trusted each other. ...We worked hard on getting everything right, so it was definitely both of us.”
Todd: Why did you ultimately choose to stop working with Alice? At what point did you realize you weren't going to be a part of his immediate future plans? That had to have been incredibly frustrating on multiple levels.
Kane: “Alice had started writing with Desmond Child, as did I, for my solo record (Saints And Sinners, 1991). The record companies were doing a stylistic shift and I had changed quite a bit. I'd lost a tremendous amount of weight, so I was looking much different. It was almost like that particular era in my life had come and gone. ...I remember what happened when we both realized that he was going to be working with other people and I wasn't going to be in the band anymore. He was staying at my house in Woodland Hills, California and I had just woken up. He knocked on the door and then kicked it so it would open really slowly. He was standing there with two suitcases and he said 'I'm leaving you' (laughs) like it was the end of a romantic movie. I definitely missed the whole thing, but at the end of the day, after I had walked away from everything, I think the greatest blessing was the fact that Alice and I had become such great friends. It was the same way with (famed Manager) Shep Gordon. They're both really amazing people that really took care of me. It wasn't an emotional thing, it was just the way that the business and our careers were moving. There was a stylistic difference. When you hire someone like Desmond Child, everything changes. They had me in to write with them and play on the record, so it wasn't a big deal. It was a good move. I was really surprised that he didn't do more records with Desmond.”
Todd: What led you to start using/playing with the 'guitar gun'? Was that something you created and engineered for yourself to use? I still remember seeing photos of you in Rip with flames shooting from the end of the barrel.
Kane: “No. We were slowly approaching tour time, and so Alice and I were hanging out at a place called Alive Enterprises in Hollywood, which is where Shep Gordon's management company is based.. I was there and somebody said 'Hey, there's some kid here to see you' and I said ''What's it about?' and they said 'Well, he has a guitar'. So I went into the conference room and he's got this big anvil guitar case. He opens it up and it's that guitar. (laughs) I was looking at it going 'Wow. This thing is amazing design', but in my mind, I'm more of a purist, so I was thinking 'What am I going to do with this?' I picked it up and I have to tell you, to this day, it's one of the best guitars I ever played. Whenever it came time to do that solo live, I always looked forward to it. The guy that made it is named Rick Johnson and he still makes guitars. He really knows how to put a neck on a guitar and make it feel perfect. Then he says 'Oh, yeah. It shoots flame, too' and I went 'What?' and he goes 'Yeah. Let's go to the parking lot.' So I go out there, he loads it up and he makes it active and he goes 'All right, point it up' and I shot it and it shot five feet or so. I said 'Wow, that's really cool' and then he goes 'Now press this button' and I pressed it and this thing shot way in the air, exploded and a little guy floated down in a parachute. I'm not kidding you. (laughs) I said 'This thing has to do this and that' and I had him adjust it a little bit and set the flame to be at least ten to fifteen feet. He put it all together for me and we ended up using it. I was sitting on the bus on the first tour and there was an article that said 'Alice Cooper and his new underrated guitar player Kane 'Rambo' Roberts' I went 'Rambo Roberts? Where the fuck are they getting that?' That's how clueless I was. I was in the hotel room and looked in the mirror and went 'Wow', ya know? All I needed was a headband. I was totally Rambo, but I really didn't see it. That shows you how I stumbled onto that whole thing.”
Todd: Your clearly still in amazing shape. How much of your life is fully devoted to maintaining your physique?
Kane: “It's become part of every day. In other words, I don't like the gym, but I don't know how many people actually do, so when I go there, I actually wear sunglasses at the gym. It's kind of a jerk thing to do, but nobody talks to me and I just go in there and do my thing. I don't really rest a lot, but the point is that I hit the gym probably six days a week. It's now become part of what I do, ya know? Before, when I got pretty huge, I was kind of amazed by all that. Now, I go in, do it, feel better when I'm done and head out. It's woven into the fabric of my day right now and I like it. When you see the video, you see a little bit of that in there. The character that I'm playing is this brutal thug. I actually had a stuntman work with me on one thing where some guy takes a shot at me where he hits me. It's amazing how hard that stuff is. I had to have my feet in different positions or the same position every single move. It took an hour for me to do the stunt properly so being in shape did help.”
The New Normal (2019)
Unsung Radio (2012)
New Place Now (2000)
Under A Wild Sky (1999)
Saints And Sinners (1991)
Kane Roberts (1987)
Raise Your Fist And Yell (1987)
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