Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Alice Cooper Talk About the Hollywood Vampires

You don’t get more “Wayne’s World” than sitting in front of Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Alice Cooper and asking them questions; it was a very “we’re not worthy” moment. But like Wayne, Garth, and this writer, the two legends remain big fans of rock music themselves, and that’s what led to their creation of their new band, the Hollywood Vampires, which sees them covering Led Zeppelin, the Who and Pink Floyd, among others. In the studio, they’re joined by a rotating cast of musicians including Paul McCartney, Zak Starkey, Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh, Slash and AC/DC‘s Brian Johnson. Their self-titled debut is out now. When they play their three scheduled live shows (September 16 and 17 at the Roxy in Los Angeles, September 24 at Rock in Rio), they’ll be joined by Duff McKagan on bass and Matt Sorum drums.

Besides Perry and Cooper, the band’s other permanent members is Johnny Depp, the former guitarist in ’80s L.A. band the Kids; he apparently went on to an acting career of some note. Mr. Depp was unable to make the interview, unfortunately.

But Cooper and Perry (who arrived a few minutes late) were both extremely charged up to talk about their new project, which seems like a nice break from their respective day jobs.

Alice, even though “Alice Cooper” used to be a band, it’s effectively been your solo project for a long time now. What was it like being in a band with two other bona-fide stars? 

Alice: Totally different for me. The band I’m using now are all guys that have been in big bands and know how it works, so there’s no Alice saying, “You do this, and you do that.” I give them the leeway: they can come to me and say, “Hey, why don’t we try this in the show tonight?” “Sure, let’s try it.” There’s no real hard, heavy hand involved in it. But everybody’s very happy with the way it’s set anyways. Everybody gets their moment in the spotlight and everything.

Going into a group like the Hollywood Vampires, Joe and I have been friends forever. I think everybody in the band are so professional that it’s all, “Let’s all get this thing to work.” So nobody’s gonna be the heavy hand, I don’t think, on this.

You guys have a few shows scheduled; it will be an interesting experience for you, I guess, to not have to play the songs that you have to play every night in your own shows.

Alice: Yeah. In fact, for me it’s a lot of songs, so I hope there’s a monitor there, because I’m so used to doing the songs that we do on stage, and so is Joe [with Aerosmith]. Now we’ve got 15 other songs there that are songs you’ve heard a thousand times on the radio, but how many times have you ever played them? We played them in the studio, so now we’ll go into rehearsal and just really lock ’em in. But still, I’m gonna be looking at that monitor a lot.

Where did the idea to do this project come from? 

Alice: It’s a funny thing how it started. I was doing a cameo in the film Dark Shadows with Johnny in London. And the band, my real band, decided that we should play the 100 Club, which is a famous club on Oxford Street where the Yardbirds played and the Rolling Stones played, and everybody’s played, that’s probably a little bigger than this room. It’s a hundred people, that’s it.

And I said, “But we’re gonna go in and just be a bar band. We’ll do some of our songs, and if somebody yells out ‘Brown Sugar,’ we’ll do that; if somebody yells out ‘Back in the USSR’ we can do that. And it was basically improvising.  [Joe Perry enters the room] Joseph!

So Joe: we were just saying that you’re going to have to learn to play a lot of songs that you don’t play at Aerosmith gigs. 

Joe: Yeah, and the thing is, they’re all great songs that I kinda always wanted to play. So this is really like a project that’s… I’ve been looking forward to it. Especially through this last tour. I don’t know about you, Alice, but it’s what pulled me through the last Aerosmith tour.

Alice: I keep thinking, “Hollywood Vampires, man, I gotta learn these songs!” When I get on stage with my band, or when you get on stage with Aerosmith, everything’s automatic. You know everything. But now all of a sudden I’m going, “Okay, the lyrics to ‘Cold Turkey,’ how does that go?”  It’s gonna be a pretty intense rehearsal. You wanna get those songs on stage so they feel natural; they don’t look like you’re trying to carve your way through it.

Joe, I know you played on Alice’s Trash album but how did you guys first get together? 

Alice: The funny thing about the two bands, Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, is that if you sat down and said, “What songs did you guys do before you were doing your own songs,” it would almost be identical. We did the Yardbirds; we did the Kinks; we did the Who. And if you said to both bands, you put both bands in a room and say, “Train Kept A’Rollin’,” okay, we know that. “Shapes of Things,” okay, we know that. ‘Cause how many times did you play that in a bar?

Joe: Forget it. That’s it. The roots are there. And I can remember seeing Alice play in Boston at the Boston Tea Party way back, and it’s like you could just tell that we both studied at the same school. And at that point I was just putting the band together, putting Aerosmith together.

Related: Interview: How Alice Cooper Became The Villain of Rock and Roll

Alice: All of us started as bar bands. Everybody did. The Beatles were a bar band. They were doing Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The Stones were covering every blues guy in America. So this is really us going back to being a bar band, and that’s kind of fun for us. And yet, it’s not that far away from what we can do. Every once in a while I know that you go jam with a bunch of guys in a bar, and that’s what I was just saying [before you got here]: when we were doing Dark Shadows, we played at the 100 Club in London, and we knew Johnny played guitar. And I said, “Why don’t you come down and join us?” He got up on stage, and he knew every song. At that point I kinda went, “Hmm, that’s interesting that he’s that good of a guitar player.”

Joe: Oh, yeah. Well, he really blew my mind when I started hanging around with him, because it was basically because of guitars. I needed a guitar for the studio. I had equipment in Boston, and in Florida, but we were recording in LA. And I asked him if I could borrow an acoustic guitar for a song, and that basically started off our friendship. Then we got the “Well, I’m a fan of yours, you’re a fan of mine,” thing out of the way.

I saw him play in Chocolat. He did this Django Reinhardt stuff on guitar, which I never studied. And of course, in the movies they can make anybody look like they can play, right? And so I asked him about that, and he picked up the guitar and started playing it, and then I realized how deep his guitar knowledge goes, he’s not just playing rock ’n’ roll or blues. And I’ve actually asked him for a few guitar lessons over the years. And people just don’t get that he’s that good of a guitar player. I mean, he’s come up and jammed with us a couple times.

He used to be in this really crazy band called P; the singer was Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers.

Alice: He goes in a lot of directions, I’m telling ya. When you start talking about his taste in music, it goes from Mumford and Sons to the craziest stuff in the world. And he kind of appreciates everything. I think he appreciates all kinds of music, ’cause when we started coming up with these songs, “Well, let’s do ‘Jeepster,’ by T. Rex.” “Oh, yeah,” he’d go, “My band used to do that.” Really? Or “Let’s do ‘Itchycoo Park.’ [by the Small Faces]” “Oh yeah, yeah, we used to do that.” So it wasn’t like I was introducing songs that he never heard of.

I know he originally moved to L.A. to make it in music, not as an actor. 

Alice: Well, the funny story is that he was rooming with Nic Cage. And Nic Cage got a call to do21 Jump Street. And he says, “Hey, Johnny, come with me,” you know, for moral support. Johnny comes along, he’s got his guitar. The director looks at Johnny and says, “We want you.” And he goes, “I’m a guitar player, I’m not an actor.” He said, “No, we want you.” And that’s how it started; that’s how the acting started. He figured, “That’ll pay for the band. That’ll get my band money to eat with.”

How did you two guys actually first meet? 

Alice: I’m a fan of any hard rock band. And at that time there were a lot of good hard rock bands, and of course, Aerosmith was right there. You hear their record on the radio and you’d go, “Oh, that’s really good.” And then you’d hear another record, and you go, “Oh, that’s really good.”

Joe: I had left Aerosmith. I’d seen Alice in Boston playing the Tea Party [club]. Back then the scene was like, every Friday and Saturday night you went to these clubs and you saw bands you never heard of, and then you went out the next day and bought the record if you liked the band. So I had always followed Alice’s career. But I think the first time we met was when I was actually out of Aerosmith and somehow we got together to write some songs.

Alice: In a haunted house.

Joe: Yeah. That was the greatest. Alice was classic, I have to say. It was this house up in upstate New York that belongs to his manager [Shep Gordon], and they said, “Well, why don’t you come, Alice is hanging out there and just playing some golf, and why don’t you get together and see what happens?” Apparently, the house was supposed to be haunted.

Alice: It was very paranormal. You’d put something down, and then go in the other room and come back… and it wasn’t there. You go “Huh.” Well, both of us had just gotten out of rehab, okay? So I figured, “Oh, that’s just my rehab thing.” I’d turn the water on and come back in and it’s off, and then I’d come back in and my suitcase is open. I go, “I can’t remember opening my suitcase.”

And I thought it was just me. One night, we’re sitting there at dinner, and everybody starts talking about how “I put my guitar strings down, and then they were over there.” And I said, “Oh, it’s not just me.” And then we hear something in the basement; it sounds like people moving furniture.

Joe: Right.

Alice: And it’s not like the movies where you say, “Hey, let’s go down and see what that is.” I said, “I’m leaving,” and he goes, “So am I.” We got out of there. Shep goes, “Oh, yeah, that’s where the guy wrote The Amityville Horror.” “Ah! And you’re telling us now.”

Joe: It was an amazing house. It was built probably in the twenties, big, high, high ceilings; it had a fireplace that you could stand in.

Alice: It had a great “creep factor” to it.

Joe: And after Alice and I hung out for a while, my girlfriend, who’s my wife now, came out, and we were hanging out. The two of us, my wife and I, were in the kitchen. And Alice came out from behind the doorway with some big f—in’ knife, and he did the scene from Psycho. God, I thought I was gonna have a heart attack. Billie and I still talk about it.

Alice: Break the ice.

Joe: [To Alice] She said to say “hi,” by the way.

I just love that the house was so creepy that it creeped out Alice Cooper himself. 

Alice: Well, it was pretty creepy. And then Shep says, “My mom had a dinner party there one night when the dining room table moved a foot to the right.” And I went, “Ah-ha!”

So I know you have three shows planned, but will you do more after that? 

Alice: Well, for us, the [solo] tour’s over finally after two years with Motley Crue. I know we’re finished for a while, for at least six months or so. I look at it this way: all these [Hollywood Vampires] shows are charity shows, and if everything really goes well, and everybody kinda looks at each other and goes, “You know, we should do this again,” I think it should be on that basis, just kind of let it see if something comes up where, “Oh, it would be great to put Vampires in there.”

I think it’s kind of an auxiliary band for everybody. We’ll probably go out and do our own tours and everything like that, and hey, you know, if there’s an opportunity for a gig, maybe we could all show up there. I think maybe that’s what it is. I’ve never been in a band like that, but I think it’d be fun to do that.

Joe: I think after all the time we’re gonna put in rehearsing… I know I’m gonna be living and breathing these songs, even before rehearsal. So we’re putting a lot of time into getting ready for three shows, and my hope is that… I’m pretty sure it’s gonna work. We’ve all either jammed together or sat in rooms and talked about music. I just cannot see how it can’t click.

Alice: And also the personalities of the guys that we have on stage are all very the same kind of personalities. I don’t think there’s one guy that’s going, “Hey, I’m the ‘A’ guy here.” I think you’ve got a bunch of “A” guys there that wanna cooperate with each other and make this show really good. So to me, that’s what’s gonna be the cement behind the whole thing.

Joe: Stuff from the Roxy [shows], or [Rock in] Rio, is gonna end up on YouTube, and I bet that Shep is gonna start getting phone calls. It’s gonna be a matter of schedules. Johnny’s schedule runs differently than ours. He has to promote [his films]. He has some movies coming out that are really good.

Alice: Yeah, this Whitey Bulger thing looks really good. I mean, it looks really good. They’re already talking Academy Award for him on this thing; that’s how good it’s supposed to be.

Joe: But once word gets out about us, people are gonna want to see us. I’ve had times, like when the [Joe Perry] Project was together, it was hard getting gigs at first. But then I did a few, and did a few TV shows, and then the phone calls started coming . That’s what I think is gonna happen. Also, we’re not gonna need to do two weeks of rehearsal for a gig.

Alice: Once we get this under our belt, I think then it’s gonna be something you can click into.

Joe: We gotta at least do a live album out of it.

Alice: Oh, absolutely.

Joe: But right now, we just gotta get through the first Roxy show. That’s it.

Read the full interview on Radio.com

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