Alice Cooper is in Pittsburgh today for the latest stop on his tour with English rock legends Deep Purple and white-haired bluesman Edgar Winter. In addition to sawing off stone-cold classics like "I'm Eighteen," "Billion Dollar Babies" and "School's Out," the original king of 1970s shock rock will play a cut or two from his 27th (!) and latest album Paranormal, which features guest shots from ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Deep Purple's Roger Glover and the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band. But the most unexpected guest of all has to be U2's Larry Mullen, who plays drums on nine of the record's 12 tracks. "Larry really changed the sound of the album," Coop tells Revolver. "When you get a drummer that comes in and says, 'Let me see the lyrics,' that's pretty different. And he doesn't play the way a normal 4/4 drummer would play — he changes things up — which inspires you to change the way that you write a little bit."
At 69, Coop seems to have more energy than most 19-year-olds, putting in hour-plus performances every night while playing a round of golf every morning before the show. "I shot one over [par] today," he enthuses. "I've been in that groove lately: The shows have been excellent and golf has been excellent. I know the show is always gonna be excellent, but golf can go up or down."
YOU'RE ON TOUR WITH DEEP PURPLE IN 2017. HOW MIGHT THIS TOUR HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT IN 1977?
ALICE COOPER Well, certainly Deep Purple look different. [Laughs] They're a little more senior citizen than they used to be. In the Seventies, these guys were skinny British rock stars. But I guarantee they probably play better now than they did then. The show is great because you're starting out with Edgar Winter, who is almost jazz fusion and a bit of an oddity in that he's just been in the business forever. But he sounds very fresh onstage. And then you've got our extravaganza — we get up there and pretty much exhaust the audience. Then Purple comes out and you get gourmet classic rock. So you're getting three entirely different kinds of bands.
I'VE BEEN TOLD THAT YOU LIKE TO WATCH KUNG FU MOVIES BEFORE THE SHOW …
Yeah, really bad ones. I try to find the worst ones I can, with names like The Shaolin Monks Versus the 12 Golden Vampires. [Laughs] For some reason, there are thousands of these movies. I don't know when or how they made all of them, but they're all fun to watch.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT KUNG FU FLICKS THAT GET YOU IN THE MOOD TO PLAY?
I have no idea how I got into this, but I have a really addictive personality, so I'm hooked. I'm also addicted to throwing knives. I'm like an expert knife thrower. We put a piece of plywood up and I put a target on it. I can put like 30 knives in a space the size of a grapefruit.
I SAW A PHOTO ONLINE IN WHICH YOUR TARGET WAS A PICTURE OF RIHANNA …
[Laughs] Well, there's a different person every night. I just find a picture of somebody in a magazine and I'll put them up. I had Jim Carrey one night; Rihanna one night; Alec Baldwin one night. I have nothing against any of them — it just depends on whose picture I find. [Laughs] It's just fun throwing knives at faces.
WHO WILL TONIGHT'S VICTIM BE?
We have some Time magazines, so whoever's on the cover of Time. [Laughs] It's not personal at all, though. It's business!
YOUR NEW ALBUM, PARANORMAL, IS YOUR 27TH. WHEN YOU STARTED OUT IN THE SIXTIES, DID YOU EVER THINK THERE WOULD BE 27 ALICE COOPER ALBUMS?
Well, I never thought the 27th album would be in the Top 10 in 20 countries. I mean, this album is just blowing the doors off. It's a really good rock album, but I think it was a combination of things that really caught people's attention. We've got Larry Mullen from U2 playing drums, and Billy Gibbons sat in on "Fallen in Love." We've got Roger Glover playing on "Paranormal." It was just enough to give it some flavor.
A LOT OF FOLKS ARE GOING TO BE SURPRISED THAT LARRY MULLEN PLAYED DRUMS ON THE ALBUM. WHAT'S THE ALICE COOPER/U2 CONNECTION?
I think they were just in that age group. When they were a pub band in Ireland, it was about the time that we were the biggest deal over there. I met those guys one night in Phoenix back in the Nineties and they ended the show with "School's Out," which was very cool. The Foo Fighters do "School's Out" all the time, too. But all good bands are cover bands. We started out as a cover band; so did the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds. So I think the U2 guys were always fans.
YOU'VE GOT THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE ORIGINAL ALICE COOPER BAND — NEAL SMITH, MICHAEL BRUCE AND DENNIS DUNAWAY — PLAYING ON TWO SONGS ON PARANORMAL. HOW LONG HAD IT BEEN SINCE YOU'D TALKED TO THOSE GUYS?
When the band broke up in '74, there was never any bad blood. Nobody was angry with anybody—we were just out of ideas, so we kinda drifted. We always stayed in touch with each other. When Neal called up and said, "Mike is in town," I said, "Let's write some songs." And then Dennis Dunaway came in with a couple of songs, so we all went into the studio and did the tracks live — so it sounds like Alice Cooper 1974.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH THEM AFTER SO MANY YEARS APART?
It was absolutely natural. We just fell into it like nothing had ever happened. But it was the same thing when we played at the [2011 Rock & Roll] Hall of Fame show. When they inducted us into the Hall of Fame, we played like five songs and it was like we'd just played together the night before. They've never lost their edge.
YOU RECENTLY DONATED $10,000 TO THE WACKEN FOUNDATION TO "FIND THE NEW ALICE COOPER" OR "THE NEW LEMMY." DO YOU THINK THEY'RE OUT THERE, OR ARE THE DAYS OF LARGER-THAN-LIFE ROCK PERSONAS PRETTY MUCH OVER?
You know, it worries me when I see young bands and they're introverted. The one thing that was very special about the bands in the Seventies and the hair bands in the Eighties with Guns N' Roses and Ratt and Bon Jovi — all those bands were extroverts. We got onstage and the whole idea was that we were outlaws. We were not going to be like everybody else. We created our own characters and wrote our own songs. In other words, we were individuals. Whereas I see bands now, and I there's this lack of individualism. Everybody just wants to fit in. Don't get up there and tell me about the environment. I don't care! [Laughs] If you're gonna write a song, tell me about your girlfriend. That's what all good songs are about.
SPEAKING OF GIRLS, ONE OF THE NEW SONGS YOU WROTE WITH THE DUDES FROM THE ORIGINAL ALICE COOPER GROUP IS CALLED "GENUINE AMERICAN GIRL." IT'S ABOUT A TOUGH GUY WHO IS TRANSGENDER, AND THE SONG SEEMS VERY PRO-TRANSGENDER. IS THIS YOUR WAY OF LETTING FANS KNOW WHICH SIDE YOU'RE ON, POLITICALLY SPEAKING?
No. [Laughs] In all honesty, sometimes I just write songs and then psychoanalyze them later. At the time I'm writing them, I don't care where they fall. When we wrote that song with Neal and Mike, it started out being, "I wanna find a genuine American girl." In other words, I'm looking for the girl next door. But then I thought, Would we have said that in 1974? When we were shock rock, we would've said, "I wanna be a genuine American girl." To me, it was going back into shock rock a little bit because it would've irritated every parent in the world back in the Seventies. They would've banned it at every radio station. Whereas now you say it and it's topical. I didn't write it to be topical, but it ended up being that way. So it just proves to me that there's nothing shocking anymore.
SPEAKING OF SHOCKING, YOU WERE FAMOUSLY ON THE MUPPET SHOW IN 1978. WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE?
That was one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life. And I fought it at the beginning because I had spent all this time developing this character into being this dark monster, and then they want me to do The Muppet Show? I loved The Muppet Show — I watched it religiously — but I didn't wanna go all the way to England to do it and water down the Alice Cooper image. So I asked who they'd filmed shows with recently. When they said Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, I couldn't say, "I'm in" fast enough. [Laughs] I mean, if two horror legends are doing the show, I can certainly do the show. And when they told me the storyline was gonna be about Kermit selling his soul to become a rock star, I knew it was gonna be very funny.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT'S THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING ALICE COOPER?
For me, it's the fact that I don't have to be Alice Cooper all the time. In the beginning, I never knew where I ended and Alice started. With all the alcohol and the period of time that it was, I felt I always had to live up to this Alice Cooper character. Then I started realizing that all my best friends were dead at 27. Jim Morrison was trying to be Jim Morrison all the time. Jimi Hendrix was trying to be Jimi Hendrix. Keith Moon was trying to be Keith Moon. I think part of what contributed to them dying was that they had to fuel that one way or another. Jim would take pills the way you would eat Skittles. And it killed him — of course it killed him.
So I had to figure out a way to be Alice Cooper onstage and make the audience realize that the guy you meet on the street is not Alice. I had to find a way to co-exist with this character. And I did. I can't wait to get onstage tonight, but if I had to leave this hotel room and put my makeup on and wear a snake around my neck all the time, I'd hate the character. So I've put myself in a position where I look forward to playing him. When I'm onstage, I'm this arrogant villain. When I'm offstage, I'm just the opposite.