The generic nature of TV music competitions like American Idol and The Voice have become a real turn off for those of us who love music, especially rock n’ roll music. Anybody can do a karaoke take on a pop or even a rock hit on TV, but real rock magic is found in real rock venues, from clubs to arenas. Despite the pandemic’s threat to live music, it endured. Alice Cooper is helping it to survive in more ways than one.
During the height of COVID-19, the music legend joined Bishop Briggs, Gavin Rossdale, Lzzy Hale and Tosin Abasi as a judge on the new music competition show No Cover. The first season, filmed at the Troubadour, has been rolling out on YouTube and it’s been heating up with some really diverse artists performing all original music. As the show goes into the semi-finals This week, we Zoomed with Cooper to chat about the show, his advice to aspiring rockers, his pal and bandmate Johnny Depp and a whole lot more.
LA WEEKLY: Loving No Cover and how it exposes the world to new young bands. What has been your experience as a judge on the show and what have you been looking for?
ALICE COOPER: Well, you know, young bands especially, it’s all about the songs. How good are the songs? A long time ago, I watched American Idol, I said, this could be better if they write their own songs. Anybody can do a Burt Bacharach song or a Beatles song. That doesn’t really show talent, that just shows the guy’s a good singer. But for a band to write their own song, and then get on stage and then make me believe it. That’s where the real talent is. And most of the time these bands are just brand new.
I learned a whole new phrase– COVID bands. COVID bands or bands that got together during COVID that have never played in front of an audience because there’s no place to play. So a couple of these young teenage bands that were going nowhere were COVID bands. That’s the first time in history that’s ever happened, I think.
Ash Avildsen of Hit Parader and the Amazon show Paradise City created the show. Can you tell us how you became involved in his project and what you aimed to offer to the contestants?
Yeah, they gave me a call. I knew Lzzy [Hale] pretty well. It was just one of those things where I met everybody and everybody got along so well.
You know, for me, if I saw a lead singer up there singing and he kept looking away from the audience or he kept singing up here or over there. I’d tell him the audience wants you to be the focal point. That means don’t ever look away from them. You know, you have to stare them down. You have to be you and you are the star up there. You’re bigger than life. So, you know, don’t come up here and be shy. That’s not what a rock singer is. I tell my band this all the time. When you’re on stage, I want you to reek of ego. When you’re off stage, I don’t want any ego at all.
I mean, you’re a legend, obviously, so just getting that kind of insight from you—someone who is such a showman—I would imagine that these new artists found a lot of value in that.
Well, you know its 50, almost 60 years of being on stage. And I still really enjoy young rock bands, I really want them to be high energy. They remind me of when my band was in high school. We couldn’t be on stage long enough. We wanted to be up there for eight hours.
And then I’ve just got to say, now later on, you’ve got to be a star. If you’re going to be a star, you have to think you’re a star. You can’t just go out there and just be face value, you have to understand that you are a star or the audience will not regard you as one.
Yeah, absolutely. So far on the show you mentioned you’re looking for eye contact and connection with the audience. What were you looking for in terms of musicality and instrumentation?
To me being a songwriter, I’m always saying everything revolves around how good the song is. You know, I don’t care how exciting you are up there. I said, spend your time listening to The Beatles. I tell young bands all the time, I want you to listen to The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons. They wrote perfect songs, right? Their records were perfect. You can be an angry punk rock band, but write a song around it. Don’t just play a riff, or a drum part and yell at me. That’s not a song. You have to have a verse and a chorus. That’s why I want you to listen to early Beatles and the Beach Boys. You can be just as angry and have a good song. You don’t have to just throw it away. Too many bands just throw throw it away.
So you’re definitely looking for the hook? The melody?
Yeah. And if I believe it. And if I can tell they don’t even believe what they’re singing. You know what I mean? You’ve got to convince me and the audience that you are, you are that person. You know like Jim Morrison. We used to tour with The Doors. I mean, you wanted to hear everything that came out of his mouth because he had that presence, and what he said was really interesting. You never knew if he was going to fall off the stage or if he was going to crawl or what? That’s what you want, right there.
What about lyricism?
I’m basically a lyricist. So I listened to the lyrics. And yeah, there was a lot of times I criticized this. Why do you want to keep saying the same old stuff? You can say things in an entirely different way. Be more clever. Because I know, you love your baby, and she’s not being good to you. So create a new way of saying that, give me a picture of her or if it’s a girl, give me a picture of this guy, so that I really hate him. At the end of the song I really want to feel what you’re feeling.
So thematics of the songs and what else?
Somebody like Bob Dylan– can you imagine Bob Dylan going on American Idol? He wouldn’t last two seconds. But on a show like this, we’d sit there and listen to every syllable and go, ah, this guy’s great. Because he’s not trying to be a cookie cutter, he’s really saying something and that’s fascinating.
Why do you feel that a show like this is so important? You said you’re looking for something beyond cookie cutter but most music competitions tend to be just that. How is it different?
The fact that they can write a song is important. But also asking, what are you about? What is your goal on this thing? Is it just to sell records? You might have a look, but what are you really about here? You know, and a lot of them have not gotten to that point yet. They’re just a good band. But they haven’t really developed the personality of the band yet. You know, Led Zeppelin had a personality and the band had a sound. The Rolling Stones same thing. When you heard that song, you knew it was the Rolling Stones, you knew it was Led Zeppelin.
It also makes an impression that the show is filmed at The Troubadour. Beyond the amazing history of the venue, we were hearing that it was struggling and might close. It feels fitting in a way to be at this legendary venue that was threatened at one point and seeing you guys there watching live music. You must feel great that live music is back.
It was a breath of fresh air. The last show my band did was before the pandemic in Australia, and it was 95,000 people. And we’re sitting there going, oh, man, this is gonna be great. The next thing you know, we’re off for 18 months. We never saw that coming. And so getting in there, and watching these bands, we all had to have masks on until we sat down. We all had to get checked every day. We had to deal with a lot of stuff that we didn’t want to deal with. But we understood it.
We had to cancel 180 shows around the world, but everybody else did, too. I mean, everybody was in the same boat there. You know, when they said this was going to happen, I went well, at least I get to go in and be a part of something creative here. And I get to sit there and really have fun with this.
When you look at the music charts, rock and roll is not the cool, hot thing right now. What can we do about that, Alice? What can these bands do to bring rock back into the pop charts and get more popularity again?
Well, you’ve got your certain bands– you know, Foo Fighters still going. Green Day, things like that. I kind of look at this a little bit differently. There was a time when we first started playing, that rock bands were outlaws. We were on the outside looking into the party and we weren’t invited to the party. It was more pop music and dance music and disco. I think we’re back to that point. I think it’s kind of healthy that rock bands now are not number one, number two or number three. We’re back to the point of being rebels again.
So not being the part of the mainstream makes for better music? Do you think that provides a freedom of sorts?
Gene Simmons said rock is dead but I think he was talking financially. I think there are kids in garages right now learning Guns n’ Roses, learning Aerosmith, learning Alice, learning Ozzy… Young 16 year old kids rocking, just rocking. That’s healthy. That’s really healthy. I don’t think rock is ever gonna die. When you talk about hard rock, like the Stones, The Who and all that, that’s the only music that’s lasted. Grunge was here for a while. And punk was here for a while. Emo was here and all this, but hard rock bands just kept going. So if you’re in a hard rock band, you can go as long as you want to go.
And you’re a big part of that. I’m so glad that you’re still out there touring. So is there anything else you’re working on that we can mention, other than just touring?
Well, I just got out of the studio with Bob Ezrin. The last album, surprisingly, went to number one, Detroit Stories. That was a surprise to us. Also, Hollywood Vampires– Johnny Depp, Joe Perry and myself– did a version of the Bowie song “Heroes,” with Johnny singing. It went number one in England. Number one in America. Number one in Australia, and it kind of feels like it’s the public supporting Johnny.
Right. I forgot about Hollywood Vampires. Such a great band. I reviewed you guys at the Roxy when that record came out. Would love to see more.
I mean, Johnny has been busy.
Yes he has. I don’t want to get into your personal friendship but what do you have to say about him?
I’ll tell you what, that band is so much fun to be in. We’ve been together seven years. There’s never been one argument. Everybody in the band is like the softest guys until we get onstage. Johnny never argues about anything. He’s the easiest guy in the world. I’m the easiest guy. Joe’s the easiest guy. So it’s just like a bunch of friends, a bunch of brothers getting together and playing and we just enjoy playing. It’s the same thing with my band. All my guys in my band, Nita Strauss and all this. Everybody’s best friends. So there’s ego trips going on.
And you’re all so talented. Hopefully there’s more on the horizon with your music and the TV show. I think that one of the streaming networks should pick up No Cover so even more people can see it beyond the YouTube audience.
We didn’t know when we did it where it was gonna go. I’m glad it’s on somewhere.
Well I really see a fan base for it. It’s kind of reminiscent of the Rockstar: INXS and Supernova shows Mark Burnett did in the early 2000s. I think rock n’ roll fans want our own American Idol and the original music just takes it to another level.
I thought that I would have seen everything. There were two or three bands in this thing that totally made me go, Ok what? That’s something different. There’s no stopping the bands at the very end of this thing. They’re that good.