Kane Roberts (ex Alice Cooper, solo artist) speaks in-depth about Alice, KISS, Desmond Child and more
There are more layers to Kane Roberts than a lot of people would think at first glance. The same guy who was known for his musclebound “Rambo” image in the 80s and over the top hard rock/metal is also a college music major, graphic artist, video game designer and artist in general. While most famous for his work with Alice Cooper he has also released two solo albums and collaborated with hitmakers like Jon Bon Jovi and Paul Stanley. Kane recently made a return to the stage for the long running Firefest shows overseas and is once again fueling some of those creative fires. We talked with him about making those classic Alice albums, working on the REVENGE album with KISS and what it’s like to write a song with Desmond Child. Read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: It’s been a while since I’ve talked to you on the press junket for your Geffen album but of course Alice keeps popping up in the news and now you have some new stuff going on too! What’s up man?
Kane Roberts: Yeah…it’s been a while then, that album on Geffen was a great time for me, working with a lot of great musicians and of course Desmond Child is such a prolific writer. Alice, well Alice is, of course, better than ever. I can’t say enough about the guy or Welcome 2 My Nightmare. He’s such an amazing friend and person.
LRI: You said something in an interview that has always stayed with me, you were paraphrasing Bob Ezrin who was saying once you’ve started down an artistic path you can pause or take breaks but that passion to be expressive never really leaves you. It will pop back up in various ways and you will continue to find ways to create or be expressive. Have you find that to be the case in these years since you’ve been out of the spotlight a little?
KR: Yeah, totally. It’s just like yourself as a reporter or writer, even if you don’t do a thing for ten years there’s this part of your brain that doesn’t shut off, you just keep having ideas orbit that part of your brain. If you’re a musician that’s why you can’t walk by a guitar without picking it up and playing some scales, that sort of thing. Whatever you get that creative rush from becomes real difficult not to practice. It might vary based on your individual level of proficiency at whatever you enjoy doing but it’s there in all of us. We all have a creative soul. Maybe you’re someone who likes taking pictures or making movies, you can’t walk by something picturesque without thinking of shooting it. We all have some part of us that is constantly in taking that kind of info and archiving it. Whether we express it or choose to is a different story and sometimes that takes practice and exposure. I had a video game that we premiered at E3, I’ve been in that whole software development world these past years and I ran into Bob Ezrin who’s of course famous for all this rock production with KISS and Alice and Pink Floyd. Bob was there at the E3 convention, he was also there for the software end of things and we talked again and he just said “This gaming thing is just another area of creativity, another level to delve into”. Some guys are really strong at one area and just stick with that area their whole life whether its writing or music or whatever. I’ve always been very visually based, even when I’ve made music I have sort of always had my head in the visual end of art. I love video and art and always have since I was a kid, I have had a passion for that end of things. Right now, we have a film project we’re trying to get off the ground as well as these new music gigs. I just feel like you only live once and you might as well do as much as possible, follow your passions.
LRI: You have some pretty cool stuff lined up with the whole rock and roll end of things once again though. You have a gig coming up overseas at FIREFEST and you’re working with the band TALON….
KR: As far as guitar goes, I’ve never stopped playing, I’ve always played and my playing has changed or evolved over the years. I listen to so many different things and I think that all those things end up influencing me and just keeping me creative. I’ve written a lot of ideas and recorded some but one of the reasons I made a conscious effort to stop recording was just that the whole music business got so boring and unappealing to me. I realize that sounds kind of extreme but like for instance, and I’m being pretty blunt here…..sometimes you would walk into some of these kind of record company lunches and schmooze things and I could tell some of them didn’t wanna be there. What happens to an artist is you end up doing that and trying to play their game and it dawns on you that there’s a lot of great musicians or great singers or bands that just don’t make superstar status. The types of things that prevent success of an artist or an album are far reaching from personal interests to budget constraints, those aren’t things you always think about but there are just so many things that go into what ultimately becomes a “hit”. The vast majority of those things often have less to do with creativity and lots to do with good marketing. The first album I made I really didn’t care about that and just kind of swept through it all and let the process carry me along but as time went on I just started realizing I wasn’t that motivated to really get into the business end of the art. If I could have just found another way to reach people I would’ve done it because to me that connection with people is everything. It sounds cliché or like a put on but its not, that connection with the audience and individuals on stage is real and you can’t put a price on that. To me it is just a important and crucial as the connection between a bass player and a drummer, to get that feedback instantly from an audience is invaluable. I would write something at home and realize that the whole experience and meaning of the song changed completely if I played it for just one person and got that feedback from them. To realize the importance of that and then to have to play that often irrational roller coaster game of the music industry is something you REALLY have to be motivated to do. I really wasn’t willing to do everything it took to play that game and lost the desire to do that even though I kept right on playing and writing. This feeling of rehearsing and working on a live show is really the best feeling. At this stage I would really rather get that interaction and immediate interchange with the audience by actually playing live. I’m getting set to go play this FIREFEST show in England and get back to the stage and I am really, really excited. I have been rehearsing and playing constantly and am so happy to be getting up there and doing all of my songs again.
LRI: Most of the bands we talk to make the vast majority of their work live and in merchandising anyway. Some artists sell more vinyl than cd. Things have come full circle to the original way of doing things.
KR: There is a company in Japan which is way ahead of the curve and has gone the route of doing what they call “MEGASHOWS”. The cd is a beast that is eventually going away, the stores aren’t selling as many, some stores themselves have gone away and the Japanese are perfecting this art of the “Megashow” where the only way to get their packaging and art and music for their artist is through them digitally and it’s tied into the live experience. You know how it is, print media is shrinking, everything is on the internet with journalism and technology just has this all powerful way of creeping into everything and changing everything. Where was the last phone booth you saw? It’s crazy. I think the future of the business lies not only in physical merchandise at the gigs but in software and phone stores, app stores. If you want to get into a lucrative business learn how to write apps because websites and social media are just the tip of the iceberg.
LRI: Is this show in England your first gig in a long time?
KR: Well, I’ve been playing live for a long time for my cat but sometimes he is not so receptive and just walks right out of the room midset.
LRI: Stop. (laughs)
KR: No, this is my first live show in a while, it could be my last (laughs). I’m doing it for the experience and the chance to see how it goes even if it’s just one more time to be able to play live and say hello to people in person, share the moment you know? I’m doing some of my material with Alice that I wrote and also the song I wrote with Paul Stanley when KISS was working with Bob Ezrin on the Revenge album, “TAKE IT OFF”. I’ll be doing the stuff from my solo albums but of course I want to play the things that people really wanna hear from all of the material I’ve written. The guys in the band Talon are really good so rehearsals have been fun and I’m anxious and anticipating. It will be a good time and I am looking forward like I said to actually getting out there and hanging out, meeting people as well as playing.
LRI: We’re coming up on the 20 year anniversary of the KISS REVENGE album and while I love Alice I will admit that KISS is my favorite band. What do you remember about writing that track with Paul and that whole era of them working with Bob Ezrin again?
KR: What happened was Bob gave me a call and said “Hey Kane, we’re doing this record would you like to come in and write with Paul Stanley?” and of course, what kind of an answer do you think I would give to a question like that? I was thrilled to work with Paul, he’s just one of the best rock voices ever, listen to him on that track “TAKE IT OFF” he just vocally NAILS it without question. We also worked together on the title track for the “SHOCKER” soundtrack which was also fun and had already made me a fan of working with him. I approached it of course a little bit nervous but he was such a pro to work with. What strikes me about people like Paul or Alice when meeting them is watching the way that they WORK. I was just telling someone the other day that I really didn’t have a lot of relationships with people that I don’t work with or haven’t worked with. That’s just how I have developed my friends and I really pay attention to HOW it is people work and how they approach their work. Bob Ezrin of course was there and he is another person like that so I think I really noticed at that point the way Paul approached his work and how important it was to him. I appreciated how straightforward and great of a guy Paul was, he was all about being a pro and was all business although we did hang out. We went to movies and places and started hanging out a little bit but we were there together actually thinking and working on the song. He gives and expects full commitment and is really outspoken, he has the strength and the passion to be that way. There are some artists, REALLY BIG ARTISTS, that for whatever reason are really go with the flow and passive artists but Paul is not one of those guys and of course Bob Ezrin is hardcore. In other words, there are some people that he rubs the wrong way. When I first met him we were sort of knockin heads for whatever reason but then once you get mutual respect from people like that, that’s it. The thing I tell that to bands that are trying to get attention or trying to get forward with their career is that you are going to hear no all the time until you start hearing yes. That’s totally how it was with the guys I am talking about because guys on that level are always going to have a little bit of hesitiation walking into a situation with someone new. It’s not a gimme that you’re immediately going to be accepted or appreciated in any of these situations. There’s a certain area of proving ground that you have to tread in order to gain their trust or get in the system so to speak. Paul and Bob were totally pro but also totally polite about what they wanted to do and very straightforward which to me is easy to handle. When I say he is very business like I mean he is handling business ALL DAY LONG, I just noticed that the KISS mega company never sleeps, it’s a nonstop thing and while he’s creating this is all going on at the same time. I ended up playing that opening guitar riff the first time I came in and immediately everyone was jumping on that to sort of build off and work off of that. I contributed a lot on the guitar patterns and the melodic lines and stuff while Paul and Bob handled the lyrics and a lot of the vocal melody. I also know Gene had something to do with it because I went in and Gene was sort of arranging and deconstructing and reconstructing parts of it, it was a band effort. They were all really clearly focused on what the song meant and what it was they were trying to do. What I was telling you before about having what it takes, having the passion to see through the business end of art, that is such a big part of what KISS does. It can’t be underestimated.
LRI: As a writer or journalist you know that if you’re going to deal with KISS you had better be on Lombardi time, 15 minutes early because they are incredibly serious and professional.
KR: As anyone should be. The thing is with KISS is that they haven’t always been on top but when they weren’t they were still 100% percent driven and committed to what KISS is all about. They NEVER dropped the ball for one second which is of course why they got huge again!! You know what I mean. That really says a lot about their drive and their focus. Some big bands, the going gets tough or the music changes and they lose focus as to what they want to accomplish. Some bands even break up they lose such control but if your commitment is strong enough and your focus is dead on you never lose sight of the top.
LRI: You have an amazing post covering every little detail of your Alice career on your official website. I suppose to answer fans questions and prevent people like me from rehashing all the same questions over and over but I still feel compelled to ask a few.
KR: (laughs). You mean www.kaneroberts.com? (laughs). It’s okay go ahead and ask me…I love talking about that era with Alice.
LRI: I wanna clear up some conflicting or converging information about how you got your start with Alice Cooper. I had read that you came on his radar due to him walking in on one of your band’s sets in a club, I had read that your band opened for Alice before you joined and I also read that they found you through a demo. Is it one of those or all of the above? (laughs).
KR: I played in a band called Criminal Justice and our equipment truck was an old post office truck which our drummer kept alive, the engine kept wanting to go but he kept it alive. If you could see the truck, it was like a sad little old man begging “I’m really old, it’s time to stop and retire” (laughs) but he just kept this thing going. We used to load our gear into this giant box with wheels and play all these places that would take us. It seemed like we ended up playing a lot of strip clubs, because back in those days the strip clubs would designate a night and have a rock night and hire bands. In those days that was a popular concept and those things seemed to mesh well. That didn’t exactly pay the bills so I would also on the side deal cards at illegal Blackjack games. I would finish the rock show at one in the morning and drive over to whatever hotel they were in and deal blackjack until about 8 in the morning. It was exhausting and probably crazy but that’s how we were surviving, everybody had some thing on the side they were doing while working on the band. To answer your question, it was a little of all of that. We opened a show for Alice well before I even got to meet him, which kind of freaks me out. We got the opportunity to do a show in upstate New York and I guess I must have quickly crossed paths with him as we were there to do the show. He may have yelled at us from across the room (laughs) because he’s funny like that but it wasn’t like we were there to hang with Alice Cooper. We were just lucky enough to land a spot on this one show. Later on, a guy who worked at a publishing company sent my tape to Bob Ezrin which prompted he and Alice to sneak into one of our club shows to watch us. They invited me down to New York where I met Shep Gordon, Alice’s longtime manager and all of those people and suddenly I wasn’t at a strip club anymore or dealing blackjack. I was at a house on a beach in Maui which was a pretty interesting and surprising change of scenery (laughs). Alice and I wrote and wrote, we were there in Maui for almost three months and then it finally dawned on us that we might want to get back to L.A. before we start writing about coconuts.
LRI: Was writing in different locations always the plan during the making of “Constrictor”? Did that work well for you and Alice?
KR: Yes. We ended up going all over the place. One of the really cool places we went was to go see Neil Smith and Dennis Dunaway, the original Alice Cooper band rhythm section. To me, that was really cool. We ended up playing with those guys and I was pretty excited about that. Then they started looking at producers and we met our producer Beau Hill which is also where I met Kip Winger. I immediately knew that I wanted to ask Kip to join the band when the time came for us to record. Since I was the musical director I was looking for guys that would fit what we wanted to do and also guys that we would get along with. I had wanted to get Anton Fig who is just amazing but for some reason it just didn’t happen which wasn’t good. We ended up using a drum machine for a lot of the songs. We went back to California and had to reconfigure some of the drums because they were a little bit over the top sonically. I think that Beau Hill still did a good job on the production and we were on a schedule. I think that “Life and Death of the Party” is one of those great Alice Cooper ballads. It sounds perfectly suited for Alice.
LRI: The song “He’s Back (Man Behind the Mask)” has sort of taken on a new life with VH1 and satellite radio playing the hell out of it. Do you remember what went into writing that tune?
KR: Ha, yeah it won‘t die. I remember we wrote it with Tom Kelly who was this guy who had all these hits with like Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles and he did “Like a Virgin” with Madonna (laughs). Don’t ask me why or how but we ended up writing that with that guy and I really enjoyed the writing session we really had a good time. I remember we first came in with a very heavy version of it …I‘m trying to remember (starts singing…”He crawled out of his hole just to rock and roll”) and it was just really heavy with this plodding riff and then we heard that it was going to featured prominently with the film and started tinkering with it left and right making it a little more accessible or poppy. The demo is on Alice’s box set and it used to be a heavier song and slowly became more radio friendly. I love both versions of it to be honest. It’s been covered by a few different acts who do it well also.
LRI: Do you really have a favorite between the two?, “RAISE YOUR FIST AND YELL” is even heavier than CONSTRICTOR.
KR: Yeah, they’re so different. Again, I think Michael Wagener did a great job with the time we had and if you listen you can hear a band that was just ready to play and kill it. We had just got off the road and we were just really aggressive and going for it. To me, that trilogy of songs on side two that we had written, “Chop, Chop, Chop”, “Gail” and “Roses on White Lace” really sum up or captures the mood we were in at that particular point in time. I mean, they wanted things to “heavy up”. When they hired me we both knew that was one of the things that would take place and I think we accomplished that.
LRI: It is heavy obviously but it’s also got that classic ALICE feel to it. “Gail” in particular, really stands out from that album. What was it like writing that song and watching it come together?
KR: He and I really, really worked on that one. We really punched out those lyrics. The whole trilogy is sort of an Alice Cooper poem, kind of like an Edgar Allen Poe meets rock and roll type of thing. Then we had Kip write out the harpsichord part to give it that classic, ancient Bela Lugosi horror type of atmosphere.
LRI: Since you not only wrote and played guitar but also served that role as musical director what type of personality mesh did the members of the group end up having. Did it go as planned?
KR: Yeah, I think going in I knew that Alice you know, is a great guy but he just has SOOO much experience. The band had a good personality but like I said in an interview for MTV, you have to remember the level of intensity surrounding the band. For all intensive purposes our first show as a band was that live, televised show at Joe Louis Arena on Halloween night. That was really exciting and intense, back in those days MTV was a big deal and they actually played music and it was a trip having all of those cameras there for a SOLD OUT show at Joe Louis Arena. We sold out like three or four nights and for me personally and the band, this was of course an all new experience. We were all excited but also really tense when we hit the stage but Alice is just as cool as can be and confident. He is confident that he can reach every kid in the audience from the ones in front to the last kid in the rafters. That’s just Alice and that‘s also how he dealt with us as band members. I was this really hyper, crazy kid and Alice was just Alice. Nothing fazed him. Occasionally, Alice would look at me and go “Kane, calm down!” because we would be in a situation and I would be bouncing around like a bullet or a bull in a china shop. I was always an over the top, excitable character, I was like that at ten years old. We got on great though, he actually stayed at my house for months on end during those years that we worked together. During that entire time we never once got into an argument or altercation, it sounds strange but it just never happened. Alice off stage is not a confrontational guy. There are just clues and you can tell when he doesn’t want to be in a situation or doesn’t trust someone. At that point, you’re not going to get within an inch of him, he will just walk away. He and I developed a level of trust and experience that was really special. The biggest thing I can say to describe that band and their personalities is just that we all had that work ethic, we all had a drive and level of dedication to our craft, which is necessary to work with someone like Alice. It’s similar to working with Desmond Child. If you have a block of 40 or 45 minutes set aside to work with Desmond you know that at the end of that session you will have a SONG. It may not be a complete or finished song but you will have a chorus or a structure of something that in your head you know you can complete and bring to fruition as a working song. It’s something you could have in your head and bring to the studio to begin working on and it’s all because of Desmond Child’s work ethic. He doesn’t want to waste any time, he doesn’t HAVE any time to waste, period John. He is 100% professional. Same thing as Alice and that is why we as a band tended to get along well. We were really dedicated and serious when the situation dictated it and the friendship just immediately followed. We became friends as a band the very first day that we hung out. It’s hard to really explain the chemistry or why but we just really developed strong bonds and friendship as well as a good working atmosphere.
LRI: When you joined the band you not only “heavied” up the new material but also the classic 70s material for the new high-powered 80s show. Was that a difficult process as far as keeping the integrity of the material and not pissing off the old fan base?
KR: Yeah, trust me I ran into some of that sentiment heavily, people were sort of shocked that I would come up with that kind of a sound for material like “Welcome to My Nightmare”. If you hear some of the shows or watch you tube clips of the tour the changes ARE sort of shockingly metal. Some people got kind of upset, which I understand but you know but there are definitely different camps as far as what era of Alice people love. Then again, some people love all of the eras. When Alice and I were talking about doing the CONSTRICTOR tour, we spoke about all of that. I said, “You don’t wanna go out there in this headbanger era and do the 70s sounding Alice, your sound is capable of crossing decades so let’s do it.“ I mean if you place Alice Cooper in the most heavy or vile music of any decade he easily fits whatever is going on seamlessly. Even if you put his sound and material into a pop category it STILL fits and has on occasion over the years. There’s very few artists you can say that about. We thought we should place Alice in a position to compete with the music of that day so that everyone could see how timeless it is. I also said “We need to keep the essence of who you are because your music and your history has a legacy that has to be acknowledged”. He totally agreed and that was the plan from he and Shep from the beginning of our working together. They didn’t want it to be the Billion Dollar Babies nostalgia show.
LRI: Not that you can speak FOR him but you worked with ALICE at a crucial point when he put down the bottle and picked up the golf clubs. Did you actually see any added rejuvenation or point to prove in him at that point due to his sobriety?
KR: No. It’s enough for Alice Cooper to know what and who he is, it’s enough, that confidence is enough. That’s what you see when he hits the stage. It sounds idealistic for me to describe it in that way but I am telling you it’s the truth. He never feels like he has to prove anything to anyone. Alice has to look at those interviews from the 70s and see it and go “Wow, that guy right there is really over the top and really DEEP into that character” much more so than a lot of those guys who have to pretend to have stage personas and put on that character. Alice is aware so much more the real deal as a performer and he doesn‘t feel compelled to push extra hard for any reason. I never got the feeling that he had any extra pressure or wanted to prove anything more that he wanted to get back down to the essence of that character. I don’t think he looked at the rock world or his audience and wanted to prove anything. I think if anything he wanted to prove to HIMSELF, that may have been the one person he felt he had a point to prove to.
LRI: This new Alice Cooper album just blows the vast majority of the albums this year away. Were you at all surprised when you heard it that he is still producing music at such a high level?
KR: It just reminded me of what the guy is capable of. If you listen to some of the records right before “RAISE YOUR FIST AND YELL” you sort of felt like it was him but maybe not the Alice that you remembered. “RAISE YOUR FIST” it felt more like that hard hitting Alice, the way he commanded the vocal. I think he’s still hitting that hard. I just saw him at the Whisky and his voice is right back at that point again, his voice and his singing is just incredible. It’s also the fact that he’s back with Bob Ezrin and with he and Bob and Shep, the old team is ort of reassembled and kicking ass. I got to see them rehearsing, they were shooting some sort of holographic thing in England and he was performing with the original band minus Glenn of course but it was clear that his voice had gotten really, really strong again. It’s amazing and it’s clear he still has a long life of recording and performing left in him without a doubt.
LRI: ALICE was on MCA and you released a solo album that I’ve heard you poke fun at but is nonetheless a favorite of a lot of people. I like the second album a little better but I think there’s a lot of good material on your first solo album.
KR: I usually just have a chuckle at the cover but I agree with you I like the album a lot. It was my whole goal in life to ultimately make a Kane Roberts album and I did that. Those were songs that I had kind of been performing live with the band and some of it is really over the top but I do like it. It was my first time working with Michael Wagener and it was my first time living in Hollywood really. Living in New York and playing guitar was one thing but coming out here and seeing all the talent in L.A. was just insane. Really great guitar players doing lots of things that hadn’t even occurred to me out on the east coast. It was a huge, huge culture shock coming out to California and a big wake up call that I had a lot of work to do.
LRI: Was the solo album something that you had in mind when you were working on Constrictor? Obviously MCA was Alice’s label was your label as well.
KR: Oh yeah, I mean Shep Gordon managed my solo career as well as Alice’s which is one of the reasons I was pushed a little bit more into the spotlight onstage or in videos than some of the other guys before me. There was even talk of me opening for Alice on the third tour but of course we didn’t do a third tour.
LRI: When you got around to flying the coop and ended up at Geffen for your second solo album SAINTS AND SINNERS was there an overabundance of material? Stuff you had written either for yourself or Alice? I know you contributed some writing and playing on the TRASH album as well.
KR: Yeah, there’s actually a lot of material that Alice and I did that never saw release, probably an album’s worth of stuff that didn’t get used on TRASH. I don’t think it ever got recorded officially, just lots of demos. There was a movie thing we were working on for instance that was kind of like a hard rock/metal version of that Sgt. Pepper movie that came out with Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. It was going to be a dark, twisted and demented antithesis of that movie. We wrote all these songs for the movie and we were gonna have Def Leppard and all these big bands in it. It was being developed but for whatever reason it just never took place. We had something like twelve songs written just for that. When I was working with Alice at that point I wasn’t really working on My stuff it was more 100% ALICE. When we got to about a year away from doing the Geffen album, SAINTS AND SINNERS, I started to find moments to do some writing for myself and a lot of that was never released, I love it but who knows? Maybe it sucks (laughs).
LRI: Thanks for taking so much time to talk to us Kane….one last question. You have so much material that you’ve written and you’ve had all of these ideas for games and albums and movies. Has it ever been a challenge to collaborate and share that artistic vision with someone else when you have so many ideas of your own?
KR: No. I love that flow of collaboration. It’s such a relief when somebody has a great idea. It’s like when I’m in the studio I don’t wanna play the bass or be the engineer, I just want the people I am workin with to knock my socks off with their input and participation. It’s the same thing really when sitting down to write a song. If I can come up with a great riff and musical structure and someone else can bring a great lyric that is awesome. That’s a gift. As long as it’s something that resonates with my soul and I can feel it. That collaboration is awesome and you can get that working with the right people. It’s like magic when you have that “simpatico” moment with someone and it’s a truly genius feeling.