Ryan Roxie interview – London, April 2018

I spoke to Alice Cooper guitarist Ryan Roxie during his visit to London earlier this month to discuss his new solo album as well as working with Alice Cooper.

You’re about to release your first solo album (under your name rather than band). You’ve been playing on albums for over 30 years – what made you wait till now to release a solo album?

It’s quite funny you say that. When people are starting out they usually put their first album out as that and self title it, but for me I’ve been learning for quite a while, learning for years from a bunch of great musicians, seeing how they do things and taking it all in. I have put my own music out over the years under band names, but I felt it important this time around to release an album called “Ryan Roxie” so they can see not just the singer or the songs, but actually something they’re familiar with, which is Ryan Roxie the guitarist, and that’s something the producers really made me focus on. They said “Look, we’ll get you covered with the songs and get the best performance out of your vocals we can, but what most people know you as from your relationship with Alice Cooper and Slash, they know you as a guitar player, so lets focus on the guitar playing”. So it was very important for them to bring out the best in my guitar playing, the best tones, and I think they did that and I couldn’t be more proud of an album, with ten sort of three and a half minute songs but ten guitar solos nonetheless.

It’s good that they sound like good, proper songs even though they contain solos – some guitarists release an album that’s basically a collection of solos with some padding around them to try and make them into songs. It seems quite hard to get the right balance between a proper song and guitar solos and making sure they sound like they belong together.

All the guitar players that I always looked up to when growing up, and still look up to today, had a way of writing a story with their guitar solos that helped out the song, and I felt that was really important to do on this album, so I put a lot of trust in the producers to help me with the songs and get the vocals right, but guide me also to where the guitar solo wasn’t just the focal part of the song. The song is the song, the guitar solo only enhanced the song, and as you say that is a tricky thing to do, but with this team of producers they really knew what they were doing and I trusted them.

I think it’s worked really well on your album and it’ll appeal to a wide range of people, whereas some guitarist’s albums only really appeal to other guitarists as they focussed on the guitar parts not the songs.

There are certain albums that I call musician albums – I’d say any Jellyfish record is a musician album because any musicians that hear it go “Holy shit, listen to that music, it’s great”, but sometimes it flies over the head of some layman music lovers. I was part of an album like that I must confess, where I felt we made a very musical album, but there was so much music they might have focussed too much on the playing, and that was the second Slash’s Snakepit record we made called “Ain’t life grand”. I’m very proud of that album because there’s a lot of great music on it, but I can see the point you’re making, where the rock listener it might just have too many notes.

Sometimes it’s a case of “look what I can play” rather than playing what suits the song best.

I’ve always said, you play the right guitar for the song, but you also have to play the right guitar solo for the song.

The album is called “Imagine your reality” – where did the idea for the title come from?

That came from something I have been doing from a very early age. Growing up I had posters on my wall, and I wanted to become those posters – all my poster idols if you will. I’d imagine myself being up in front of a bunch of people playing a guitar and getting a great response. It wasn’t boos, it was always cheering because that’s what I imagined. It didn’t stop right there, but that’s what I wanted my reality to be, so I knew I had to do something towards that, so when I say “Imagine your reality” it doesn’t just mean daydreaming, or wishing or hoping, it means imagining and then putting you plan into action because it doesn’t matter if you want to be a rock and roller or an astronaut, or the best lawyer or financial adviser in the world, you still have to imagine yourself being that and then doing something towards that goal every single day, and that’s what I try and do today with the smaller goals I have and ultimately the big goals.

So who were the people you had posters of on your walls?

Probably the usual suspects, during those days I had KISS up on my wall, I had Cheap Trick – I’m a big fan of theirs, the Beatles – I was very early on the Beatles. I’ve always been influenced by the Beatles and bands that were influenced by the Beatles, so under that umbrella of bands influenced by the Beatles, you can go all the way from Aerosmith to Oasis in that sense.

You recorded the album at a studio in Sweden – what made you decide to record there?

We picked Purple Skull studios because Kristoffer Folin, one of the main producers on the album, that’s his lair, and that’s where he has control and knows all the equipment. I always say it’s not about having the best equipment or the newest equipment, it’s knowing what you have and getting the best out of it, and that’s what these guys did on this album for me. They knew the equipment, they knew the amps we were using, they dialled them up and got the most out of the tone.

Music is one of those areas where the most up to date equipment really isn’t that important – just look how many guitarists play vintage guitars for example, and in the studio moving back to an analogue setup.

Isn’t it funny that the more technology helps us, the more it kind of confuses us? It’s not that it hurts us, it’s that it confuses us because now instead of having that one option, you have a thousand options and you get stuck in this rabbit hole of options, that’s why I’m so happy with this album in the sense that the producers knew what they wanted to get from my guitar playing. My guitar playing isn’t that processed, it’s not that complicated, the riffs in the songs…it’s not rocket science, we’re not making prog rock, we’re making straight ahead rock’n’roll. It covers a lot of different genres and sub-genres, there’s elements of punk in it, there’s elements of Indie in it, but at the same time it all falls under that umbrella of rock’n’roll, and that’s why I’m happy these guys, they knew what they wanted from me, they didn’t go down that rabbit hole of options.

Sometimes Keeping it simple is the best option or you can end up over-producing it and it loses it’s edge and just becomes a bit bland.

Isn’t it funny that we have more technological features on our iphones off of Garage band than the Beatles had when they recorded the White album. Just the fact that you have that difference in technology, but go listen to the white album, go listen to Abbey road, and you’ll see it’s not always about technology.

Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander is a special guest on the album. As a fan of Cheap Trick, how was it working with him?

That was a mind fuck. Talk about that Imagine your reality – as a kid I’d imagine being in Cheap Trick somehow, I didn’t know how, but somehow years later putting out a Ryan Roxie solo album and doing a cover of a Cheap Trick song – and it’s not really even a Cheap Trick song, it’s a cover by a band called The Move, who eventually became ELO, so it’s a cover of a cover, but here I am, I put that on my album, and I had this idea, let’s swing for the fences, let’s see if my all-time favourite lead vocalist would like to guest on it, then he says Yes. Very pleased.

Any nerves when recording with him?

Any nerves? What do you think? Good nerves in the sense that I knew I was doing it for the right reasons. It was a bit on an homage in a way. The idea actually spawned from a gig we were doing with the original band, and Robin was there at this event – it was the original Alice Cooper band and I was playing the role of Glen Buxton, and so I heard Robin. I was sitting right there an Robin came up and said to the guys “You inspired me to become the singer I am today, when I heard Eighteen for the first time it made me want to be a rock’n’roll singer”, and in the back of my head I’m thinking I feel the same way about Robin when I heard him sing “Surrender” or “California man”, why not ask him to be on the album, so one thing led to another, it’s really cool.

What’s your starting point for writing a song – a guitar riff? an idea?

I can tell you this. I can tell you the time they usually come. Nine times out of ten they arrive in that early morning period right around 3.30am and 5.30am where you’re not really dreaming but you’re not really awake, and those are somehow when realities become fantasies and fantasies become reality. Somehow whether it’s a good song title, an idea or riff comes into your head, you don’t know where it comes from, but hopefully you’re concious enough to wake up and put it through your voice memo recorder because I can tell you I’ve got a lot of semi concious Ryan Roxie voice memos that have the titles of the song or they have the riff of the song I just wrote, or they have the idea of the song I want to write about. You never know which one will come, but it’s always right around that time.

That’s where you hope you’re awake enough to remember to press the record button.

Trust me I’ve pressed record and erase at the same time and thought Damn, that was a good idea, but maybe it floated off into someone elses dream.

Or maybe if it was a really good idea it would have stuck around for you to remember it.

That can be true too. I think that if you don’t capitalise on a good idea when it comes to you, if you don’t have some way of recording it or writing it down, or just say “I’ll remember it later”, then it’s life’s cruel joke on you if someone else figures it out later. Have a pen and paper or voice recorder, whatever, but have something as those early morning hours are something special.

I’m not sure how you found the time to do this album as Alice Cooper tours a lot so keeps you busy.

Alice is a tireless touring machine and I respect him so much for that, and the reason why I feel the band does their best to get up to his level every single night, because we see this guy tirelessly performing for his fans and putting as much energy as he does into the songs and his performance. He’s constantly touring but there are always a couple of days here or there where there are days off and coincidentally enough, three of the tracks on the album that Tommy Henriksen produced, they were recorded in hotel rooms all across America, Canada, Europe…so we don’t know which hotel or room to give thanks to, but there are hotel rooms across the world that those songs were recorded in, and we did those on days off, so seemingly there isn’t a lot of time but you make time when a good idea comes your way. Prioritising things, just as in the same sense we prioritise Alice Cooper, it’s very special to be part of this legacy. We also prioritise when the tour schedule allows it, to do our own thing and put out our own music because we know that’s important for ourselves and our fans too.
I appreciate playing with Alice even more these days – every day that goes by I appreciate it more because I realise what a legacy Alice has and what a household name and institution Alice has become over the years with his body of work. I’m just happy to be part of something that deserves to go down in rock and roll history. The Alice Cooper band brand will go down as being a very credible important part of rock and roll history.

With him having such a huge catalogue of work, presumably you have to plan ahead of the tour what songs will be played so you can all make sure you know them.

Here’s the thing, Alice always likes to reach deep into the bag of tricks as I like to call it. You’re never going to satisfy everybody because he’s got such a body of work that if you play too many deep cuts then some of the people that might not know Alice as deep as the hardcore fans, they’re going to say “why didn’t he play Billion dollar babies”, or “How can you not play No more mister nice guy”, so there are certain songs that need to be in the set, but Alice really does try and balance the deep cuts and pull out a different era every tour. For instance this last tour he brought “Serious” into the set which is from the “Inside” era, as well as “Be my lover” which hasn’t been included for a few tours, as well as a couple of new ones from his latest album.

And of course he’s done cover versions to pay tribute to people as well.

Exactly. I think maybe part of the reason I did two covers on my solo album was because we had done that covers set with Alice Cooper – he did The Doors, he did The Who, songs that really felt close to his heart, whereas the two covers that I did, which were “California man” and “God put a smile upon your face”, they both mean somthing to me, they’re from completely different eras of my musical upbringing, one’s a more modern band (Coldplay) and the other is Cheap Trick. It’s like I felt those songs were important enough to pay homage to and put them on the album to give my take on them. I can tell you we did add a lot of guitars to those songs and give it..I won’t say facelift, but maybe a nice botox job.

That’s always the thing with a cover – do you try and replicate the original, or do you try and do something a bit different with it?

I think we did a little of both. On “God put a smile on my face”, we did a heavier version, which I always envisioned the original band doing. If you’ve heard the saying “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing”, well we definitely overdid the guitars – in a good way I think. When we were laying on the 7th or 8th overdub guitar track, we were like “Is this enough” and then said “No”, so we kept adding more. Then with “California man” I think we kept it a bit more in the traditional stance of the Cheap Trick version, but Cheap Trick’s version was a bit different to The Move’s original, so the song keeps evolving – it’s a bit heavier, we had our drummer, Seven, play it with a much heavier backbeat, so I feel that with that song, whoever does the next version of the song, and inevitably there will be one at some point, then that’ll be pushing the envelope even more.

Sometimes people know the song but only the cover version and assume that’s the original.

I know, and that is the funny thing sometimes. Some of my examples of that, we have some young Alice Cooper fans, they hear the live versions, and they didn’t see the earlier versions of the band, or even the 80s versions, so they associate us as the original version of the band, and that’s a bit of a mind fuck for me, we’re like “No, we’re the new guys, there were lots of versions of the band before us”.

His band has constantly evolved lineups over the years.

I’m really proud of this lineup, and not many people know but this lineup is the most consistent lineup Alice has had since the original band, so we’ve been a very consistent touring band, and I think the reason why it works so well is that everyone knows whose name is on the marquee and everyone respects that, and everybody is allowed to have their time in the spotlight, their chance to shine during the show. Alice is very giving like that, and that’s another thing I respect Alice for – he gives a lot of credit to the musicians in his band, and I think that makes the musicians much more humble and understand what their role in the band is.

That’s great. Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.