INTERVIEW WITH FORMER ALICE COOPER GUITARIST KANE ROBERTS
Date: January 14, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
AS I RECOLLECT THE ’80S IN TERMS OF MUSIC, I THINK OF HOW MUCH IMAGE WAS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE MUSIC ITSELF. EVEN BANDS THAT SAID THEY DIDN’T HAVE AN IMAGE, STILL HAD AN IMAGE. IT WAS THE PERFECT MARKETING TOOL. WHAT COMES TO MIND IN TERMS OF THAT? THINK OF THE THRASH BANDS OF THE ’80S. SURE, THEY DIDN’T WEAR THE FLAMBOYANT OUTFITS OR MAJOR AMOUNTS OF EYE MAKE-UP BUT THESE GUYS WERE ALL ABOUT TIGHT LEVIS JEANS PREFERABLY WITH HOLES IN THE KNEES, REEBOK HIGH-TOPS AND A BAND OR COMIC BOOK CHARACTER T-SHIRT OF SOME SORT. THAT WAS THEIR ‘IMAGE’ AND IT SET THEM APART FROM THE SO-CALLED ‘HAIR BANDS’.
WITH ALL THAT SAID, THERE WERE ALSO THOSE THAT PUSHED THE ENVELOPE IN TERMS OF IMAGE. WHO REMEMBERS ALICE COOPER’S RESURGENCE IN THE LATE ’80S? THIS WAS BEFORE ALICE WENT IN A SLIGHTLY MORE COMMERCIAL DIRECTION ON THE ALBUM ‘TRASH’. BEFORE THAT ALBUM, THERE WERE TWO ALBUMS CALLED ‘CONSTRICTOR’ AND ‘RAISE YOUR FIST AND YELL’. BOTH THESE ALBUMS FEATURED THE GUITAR STYLINGS OF WHAT CAME TO BE KNOWN AS ‘THE RAMBO OF ROCK — KANE ROBERTS”. TRUST ME, I REMEMBER IT VIVIDLY. IN TERMS OF IMAGE, IT WAS A GENIUS MOVE. THE FIRST TIME I SET MY EYES UPON ROBERTS, I HAD THE SAME REACTION AS I DID WHEN I FIRST SAW KISS, “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? THIS IS AWESOME!”
I RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH ROBERTS TO DISCUSS HIS NEWEST RELEASE ‘THE NEW NORMAL’. ROBERTS AND I ALSO DISCUSSED A FEW THINGS OF THE PAST THAT I THINK AS THE READER YOU WILL FIND INTERESTING. SO AS WE BEGIN, SIT BACK, PUT ON THOSE READING GLASSES (IF REQUIRED) AND ENJOY!
Kane Roberts: So what’s going on?
Sleaze Roxx: Oh not too much. I really appreciate you doing this interview.
Kane Roberts: You know I have to say and I’m not saying this for any other reason but this is friggin’ awesome. I really love doing this. I haven’t done interviews for a while obviously. So it’s kind of cool to be doing interviews again. I also really appreciate that there is a tremendous advantage. Could you imagine not doing interviews? The exposure is fantastic. So, I’m really happy to do it.
Sleaze Roxx: When you consider going back so long ago. Being able to do these by Skype and all those type of formats, it’s really fantastic.
Kane Roberts: Yeah, it kicks butt. It’s great.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s funny you mentioned that you haven’t done any interviews in a while. That’s actually where I was going to begin. I wanted to ask what you’ve been up to since pretty much the late ’90s. You released ‘Touched’ in 2006 and then ‘Unsung Hero’ in 2012, which was a collection of unreleased tracks, correct?
Kane Roberts: Yeah! Well, you can see I haven’t been deep into the music — the “rock system”! I’ve still been playing guitar a lot, singing and I do some writing from time to time, but I was mostly doing different motion graphic projects. It’s really influenced the way I’ve looked at recording as well because I think it’s becoming more of a visual median. As you know, our best radio station in many ways is still YouTube. That’s what the marker is. The other outlets like Pandora, Spotify or iTunes are extremely important but everybody says, “How many views did you get?” That’s the whole thing. Visuals and music have always been linked, in film and all that stuff. I think they’re joining up in a much more viable way these days. I think that experience really helped me. If you listen to the record, there’s a bunch of moments that almost have a cinematic feel in the songs. That’s because we looked at them kind of like scripts and dealing with issues that people go through in a slightly different way as opposed to the normal kind of sign wave that lyrics sometimes get involved. You know relationships aren’t always, “Oh you know I’m really sad. I broke up!” Sometimes, there’s little angles of them that we try to deal with in the song. So the visual aspect — the fact that I was working so deeply into it, I think it really helped. Right now, I’m trying to edit the “Beginning Of The End” video, which is coming out pretty soon. It features me, Alice [Cooper] and Alissa White-Gluz. I got everybody on the same set. It was kind of a miracle.
Sleaze Roxx: Let’s actually dive into ‘The New Normal’. It’s your latest album on Frontiers, being released on January 25th, 2019. I love it by the way.
Kane Roberts: Oh, thank you.
Sleaze Roxx: I’ve had a few listens to it. I have the first album from ’87 [holds up the vinyl cover].
Kane Roberts: Ohhh… the album on MCA? Oh my God. I don’t even have one of those. That’s fantastic.
Sleaze Roxx: To be honest, before the vinyl craze came back, there was a time in the early 2000s where I went on ebay buying up a ton of used vinyl. It was dirt cheap then. I couldn’t get the self-titled album on CD. I really wanted the CD, which years down the road, I did manage to get on disc when it was reissued, so I bought the vinyl instead. It’s in mint condition.
Kane Roberts: Oh dude, that’s fantastic. That cover — I have to tell you. I was on the road. I’m on tour with Alice and the MCA photographer sent me a photo. I said, “Well, you know I look like this big giant guy with this gun guitar. What kind of motorcycle is that?” He actually had a Vespa. A little motor scooter. “Shouldn’t I be on some kind of massive hog or something? A Harley?” Then I said, “What color is it?” The photo was black and white and he said, “It’s yellow!” That just seemed so incredibly wrong. Then my name was in flames and it looked like it said “Hane Roberts”! The guy sends me another one, it’s another scooter and now it says “Kake Roberts”! I mean, that cover went on literally for months of me trying to get it to look half normal. So that’s pretty funny.
Sleaze Roxx: That is pretty cool. I showed the cover to my wife the other day. She knows all the “big bands” from the era, but she doesn’t know — it’s more of an obscure album sort of right?
Kane Roberts: Sure. Absolutely!
Sleaze Roxx: So I was showing it to her and she says, “This art work is really cool!” There is so much going on — you’ve got the helicopter and the bike. She just thought it was really awesome. Before she actually mentioned that — I had just focused on your picture. She brought all the background scenery to my attention, so I just thought it was really cool.
Kane Roberts: Yeah, it was a battle while I was on my first tour with Alice Cooper. I thought, “Wow, I’m playing Joe Louis Arena four nights. What’s this? Oh it’s a polaroid!” which shows you how long ago it was. It was a black and white of this cover. I was trying to figure out what it was. Fortunately now, it says “Kane” instead of “Hane” of “Kake”. So that was important.
Sleaze Roxx: Which brings us to the album cover of your latest release! In the title ‘The New Normal’, as you look at the artwork that title makes sense. That photo would have had a serious shock value back in 1987.
Kane Roberts: That is exactly it Tyson. Everybody has said to me, “What do you mean? Why is the girl there?” It’s because when you stare at that, you would have said, “What the…?” Back then, it would have been, “What the hell is going on with this cover?” It’s this and that — Satan or whatever. It just shows that as time goes on, we learn from people that are knocking down walls and breaking down pre-conceived notions of what beauty is supposed to be. What females are supposed to do! For example Nita [Strauss] is kicking ass and shredding with these ball clanking solos. She’s a heavy guitar player. It’s no longer just the ‘guys’ enterprise. She’s now at the pinnacle of that. Alissa [White Gluz] — you go to see her band Arch Enemy and these huge guys are stomping, playing this massive music, this beautiful girl comes walking out and just owns it. Those are the people that are creating what I think is ‘The New Normal’. They’re the ones that are knocking down walls and breaking glass ceilings. I think what happens is, we can still preserve some of the old notions of the way things were supposed to be. We still have memories. Whether it’s Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen owning that specific area, but we now have this new stuff and we can move forward. So we end up having more. The old notions of what was right and wrong don’t disappear.
Sleaze Roxx: Well, job well done. It’s a cool cover!
Kane Roberts: Yeah I like it. The photographer was amazing. The other thing that somebody said to me was, “Is that women as a victim? She’s got blood on her!” I said, “Nah, that’s not her blood!” That’s kind of the way I looked at.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] As I was reading the promo package sent out by Frontiers, I was intrigued by the track “Above And Beyond”. I am sure you know where I’m going with this. This track features the Cooper/’Constrictor’ era line-up of yourself, Paul Taylor, Kip Winger and Ken Mary. Tell me how that all came together!
Kane Roberts: That particular song is a song that I wrote with Brent Smith from Shinedown and this other guy Dave Bassett. The first version was with Brent Smith singing. It’s unbelievable. I was kind of blessed with having that version to work off of. I ended up changing the intro. I added a little bit more to it, in that — people get their hearts broken, then they walk away from different situations feeling as though they got the short end of the stick. There’s a lot of pain and everything. In truth, if you look at it and you look at life a little bit differently, you can realize that no matter what trajectory you’re on, you’re going to end up in a better and higher place as long as that’s your focus. The songs start a little bit with him looking at her in the mirror as he drives away! The girl seems lost. She’s not going to go anywhere and he says, “I promise you above and beyond! While you pray!” The point is, if she sticks around, deals with it properly and looks at it in a brighter light, she’ll end up beyond where she is right now. It will be her being in a better place. As far as pulling in people, my friends have become more prolific as time has gone on. Look at Kip — a Grammy for classical music. He’s got his solo stuff. He’s got his own band. Ken is playing with Flotsam and Jetsam now. That’s a tough exercise on drums. The new record is just absolutely amazing. Paul has always been an amazing musician. The point is when you have friends like that and you have a song that you think sort of fits into — they have that sort of thing holstered and ready to go. I just called those guys and that’s how it took place.
Sleaze Roxx: What I do find interesting about the album is how it flows stylistically. There are spots that have something to offer within each track. Some are traditional metal, some show flashes of newer metal, then you have a track like “Forever Out Of Place” that has more of a pop-metal sensibility to it in the chorus. Hence possibly the title? When writing the album, conceptually what were you trying to achieve?
Kane Roberts: In that space of time, I am one of those guys that listens to a ton of music. Sometimes, I don’t even know I’m listening to it. I always have YouTube on. The girl that sang on “Who We Are” hooked me onto a band like Battle Beast. Her performance on “I Want the World” is absolutely incredible. Volbeat, that song “Fallen” — his voice, his style! Just the way he approaches it with his melodies. Lacuna Coil, they’re not brand new, but a great band. 69 Eyes. I listen to so much stuff. I also listen to a tremendous amount of traditional metal. So what it is, it’s kind of like a blend of who I was before some of the metal that came after and some of the stuff that is going on now. I just allowed myself to be influenced. I didn’t walk into with sort of a proactive agenda. This is what I want the record to sound like. Of course we have our preferences. We want the drum to be strong. We want the vocals to sound good. I want the guitar leads to be powerful. In terms of what ended up happening, we looked at the lyrics as scripts and we looked at the music as a soundtrack. We just felt we wanted to give it a cinematic feel. So when something expected happens in the song, it’s kind of like going into the third act of a film. Like Arnold the Terminator is not just there to save the two people. He’s there to kill Clare Gaines’ dad. That sort of a thing. It’s the feel of each song is a movie unto itself. Then try to connect it with this style that I’ve developed over these years. I feel it has a certain atmosphere and continuity to it without making each song exactly the same type of theme. How do you feel about it?
Sleaze Roxx: I think you hit the nail right on the head. It flows very well. You are correct. Each song is different. I find myself listening to a track, but after it’s complete, I have to hear it again because there is so much there that you need to wrap your head around a few times before you get it. There is material that I found so cool. “Beginning Of The End” for instance, you have Alice, Alissa [White-Gluz] and yourself. It was truly a ‘wow’ factor. Like I said, it flows very well. Nothing sounds the same. There is a lot of diversity.
Kane Roberts: I didn’t want to do that type of record. I wanted people to feel like they’re entering a different scene or a different feel for each song. I wanted to give each song its ‘due’. I didn’t want to be afraid to really push it into the end zone of whatever sort of things it implied lyrically or musically. The same was with my vocal style. The song, “Who We Are” — it had a different feel. “Leave Me In Dark” — it’s kind of one of the darker ones. I had to adopt a different character for each song.
Sleaze Roxx: In the ’80s, when you released an album, everything had to be cohesive. That’s what the music public was buying. Every song had to have that same type of feel.
Kane Roberts: Or formula — here comes the guitar solo! Instead of doing it that way, I had that girl sing on “Who We Are”. I put the guitar solo on “Beginning Of The End” at the end of the song. I wanted to feel like not every song has to have that in it. It has to be more like if something has its place, there has to be a reason for it. In terms of the rhythm section, it has to reflect that reason. If I’m playing a guitar solo, sometimes you’re saying, “Geez, what’s playing underneath?” On “Leave This World Behind”, I had a total percussion band tearing it up behind me while I was doing that solo rather than do the normal structure.
Sleaze Roxx: Your guitar playing is absolutely phenomenal by the way.
Kane Roberts: Oh geez… Thank you!
Sleaze Roxx: I heard some Steve Vai comparisons. I am not sure if you hear that when you listen to it, but I was blown away. It’s a totally different animal than that first Kane Roberts album. Your solos were fantastic on that album, but I guess that’s just you evolving as a guitar player right?
Kane Roberts: You sound like you’re a writer, but there might be something else that you do creatively. If you just stop doing that for ten years — let’s say you stop completely. That part of you still evolves. It would still change because the creative part of you just reflects at its best. It reflects who you are at that time. I have been playing a lot. I didn’t stop playing, but I also started listening to so many different types of music, so it’s reflected in some of the solos. I think “Wonderful” might be one of my favorite solos.
Sleaze Roxx: So getting back to “Beginning Of The End”, that song could have easily fit on Alice Cooper’s ‘Brutal Planet’ album. It has that type of sound. I have to admit that is one of my favorite Alice albums since the mid ’90s. How did it come about that Alice made a guest appearance? Was this something you automatically thought of when you wrote the song?
Kane Roberts: I recorded the song. I put down a demo vocal. I was thinking, “Why am I hearing Alice’s voice? Only Alice could deliver these lines” It needed something with a standout culture to really push that stuff through. Granted, I could do it, but just think if it was a movie. What character would you want to see delivering those lines? It was just Alice. I remember sitting there with three or four people in the studio. I said, “I want to ask Alice to do this!” One of them said, “Geez, can you get him?” I said, “Well that depends if he’s busy! Let’s take a shot!” I called him up and he picked up the phone. He says, “Hey!” I then said, “I’m recording and I have a song. Is there any way you could sing on the record?” “Oh I’m in town. I’ll be right over!” So he actually came over the same night. He just killed the song. We had a really great time. We had some time there to get it right. He really sang amazingly well. I didn’t want to have him sing one line. I wanted him to do a duet with me. Then the next thing, I thought was we’re going to do something unexpected. Something that really worked with what the song was about. I said, “I’d love to get Alissa White-Gluz to drop into the middle of the song and blow the thing apart! That would just be incredible!” So I was able to reach out to her. She wanted to hear the song. As soon as she heard it, she said, “I’m in! Send me the track!” She just performed incredibly well with it. Then she told me, “If you shoot a video for this, I’ll fly anywhere to be with you and Alice to do this.” I think normally she’ll do “green-screen”. It seemed like an impossibility but I was actually able to pull off a day where Alice Cooper, myself and Alissa were on the same set shooting a video. You can imagine the logistics. Just so you know, Alissa flew from Europe to Montreal, stayed at the airport, then another six hours to Vancouver to be in the video.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you based in Vancouver?
Kane Roberts: No, I found a guy that had done special effects for the ‘Bourne Identity’ movies and some other stuff. ‘Batman’ also. The guy is incredible. He said, “You know, I’ll put it together for you but we have to do it in Vancouver. Alice happened to be playing there and he had a day off. Then I got Alissa to fly out. I feel so blessed. Alissa does things like that. If she believes in something — she is such an honest, committed artist. It was just natural for her. She never even mentioned what kind of a hassle it was. Just a really incredible person.
Sleaze Roxx: Is that video out yet?
Kane Roberts: No, it’s coming out in about a week. We’re in editing right now.
Sleaze Roxx: As I was listening to that track, and before I go to that, I will make mention that I just bought Alice Cooper’s ‘Goes To Hell’ on vinyl. It’s actually on an orange vinyl. Bob Ezrin’s production on it is phenomenal. What I’m getting to is that stylistically, Alice has that persona that he can do so much varying material.
Kane Roberts: You know, I’ll tell you something. There has never been a scenario — for example, he just did that Jesus Christ Superstar thing. I forget exactly what it was, but it was on Broadway. Now he’s up for a nomination. An Emmy or something. If you push Alice into a situation where you say, “Perform!” He just nails it. He’s that sort of an artist. The spectrum is just so broad. It’s insane. I was lucky to be on stage with him to watch him do it. Our first show as the band, we were playing at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Halloween night that was filmed on MTV. The band is backstage, pretty freakin’ nervous. We go onstage and on the first strains of music and Alice goes, “Welcome To My Nightmare!” The place explodes. We get up there and start playing. As soon as Alice kicks down that cage and comes walking out, the rest of the band was relaxed. He’s just so amazing. He ruled the day. We followed his energy. I was lucky enough to experience that, many, many nights on the two tours.
Sleaze Roxx: Wow. That’s amazing. I wanted to ask, getting to the vinyl thing. This album’s only going to be on CD.
Kane Roberts: No, I’m going to make sure it comes out on vinyl. I’ve already talked to the record company. I think the cover would look freakin’ awesome. Just that size.
Sleaze Roxx: I just also picked up Alice’s latest live album in Paris. It was awesome because he does “The World Needs Guts”.
Kane Roberts: Oh geez! Wow! I didn’t know that. Nita [Strauss] kills the solo. She plays so good on it.
Sleaze Roxx: I did see Alice back in March of last year. She was amazing. Ryan Roxie is amazing.
Kane Roberts: They’re all amazing.
Sleaze Roxx: Just before I let you go, I have to ask the question about the “Rambo” type image. Who initially came up with the concept?
Kane Roberts: You know, I just mentioned this to somebody. This kid comes to the management company office one day and he has this guitar he wants me to see. So I was like laughing at it. It played amazing. Then he came back with it so that it shot flame. I said, “You know what. I think I’ll do this.” So I was in the bus and I’m reading Creem Magazine. Tyson, this is totally true. The article read, “The new underated, amazing guitar player with Alice Cooper, Kane ‘Rambo’ Roberts!” So I went, “Where are they getting that? What the fuck?” I remember going to the hotel room and kind of looking at myself, thinking, “How did I not know this?” All I needed was a headband and a gun belt [laughs]. I totally look like Stallone, Rambo. So, it was nobody’s idea to do Rambo. I think when I showed everybody the gun guitar, they said, “Yeah, that’s cool!” The thing played amazing. This guy Rick Johnson made it. He was like 18 at the time. He was an army brat. So it was an accidental thing. They liked the fact that I was so off the deep bend with the way that I looked. I didn’t look like your average guitar player. I don’t mean that I was better either, I just wasn’t the normal kind of look.
Sleaze Roxx: The funny thing was how perfect was the timing? It was a marketing dream really.
Kane Roberts: It was just a total accidental good idea. I just stumbled into and it’s pretty funny. “Rambo? What the hell are they talking about?”
Sleaze Roxx: Well Kane, thank you very much man.
Kane Roberts: No, this was really fun. I could talk to you for an hour.
Sleaze Roxx: Well, I really appreciate it. Good luck with the album.
Kane Roberts: I am really glad you like the album. It means a lot to me.
Sleaze Roxx: I really do like it. It’s so different stylistically within. Are you going to tour?
Kane Roberts: I am not sure. Right now, I am more involved with getting the videos done. If it looks like it’s going to be a viable enterprise, I’ll do it. I’ve got to put a band together. I’ve got to make it sound like the record. That’s a little bit of a mountain to climb. But yeah, definitely. I’d like to do it, but right now there are no plans.
Sleaze Roxx: Okay, cool. Thank you very much.
Kane Roberts: Alright Tyson, thanks so much.
Kane Roberts “Forever Out Of Place” song:
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