Interview with Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper, solo)

Originally posted on Hard Rock Service (, 2009

Being into music full of guitar hooks and perfectly crafted melodies, it’s hard not to know Kane Roberts. This name’s immediately associated both with his ’80s collaboration with Alice Cooper and Kip Winger themselves, and varied solo career, by every melodic rock fan. His solo efforts, Kane Roberts and Saints And Sinners, are considered to be true hard rock gems. This outrageous guitarist and singer – known also because of his Rambo-a-like physique – was kind enough to reply a good few questions exclusively for Hard Rock Service.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Let’s look back a bit for a good beginning…What was the definitive moment of picking up the guitar and who inspired you to do so?

KANE ROBERTS: I must have been 10 years old when I started. Real young… taking guitar lessons. Once I began there was no question I would continue. Youthful enthusiasm and a stubborn streak for activities that are immersed in creative dreams (a personality trait that I still possess) carried the day. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton really got in my head in those days. I attribute some of my more abstract solos to Hendrix‘s adventurous sound explorations (i.e., “Step On You” of Alice Cooper. In the solo section I tried to create the sound of a gigantic rusted robot grinding gears etc).

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Your upper education also had something in common with music. Please tell us a bit about it.

KANE ROBERTS: I attended The New England Conservatory of Music. I remember the first day of class I realized how much further along my fellow students were in many technical disciplines such as music theory, reading music, composition etc. I was told I would never make it by one of my teachers. As usual I was too stubborn to quit and ended up passing all of my classes. Kind of proves that success often depends on a certain amount of attitude. While at the conservatory I met many great musicians and was introduced to the works of Kenny Burrell, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Shostakovich, Berg, Julian Bream, Andre Segovia, Thelonius Monk…the list goes on. I sound kind of pompous there don’t I? Oh well, the point is there’s so much music available… kind of mind boggling really. Wish I could hear it all. I learned to play some unexpected pieces on the guitar….Coltrane‘s “Giant Steps” for example. Through it all my passion for rock guitar stayed hot.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: When did you have your debut onstage and how do you recall it?

KANE ROBERTS: Just so jazzed to be up there with my guitar in my hands. 14-15 years old… yeah, it was kind of like a drug, a girlfriend and a rollercoaster all rolled into one. We played mostly cover songs. I knew I’d be doing that for a long while. I was playing sports quite a bit up to that point but guitar took over completely at that point.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: The first band I can associate with your early career – prior to Alice‘s band, I mean – is Criminal Justice. What kind of band was it, musically? Is that true that you’ve supported Alice Cooper with Criminal Justice yet before joining forces with him?

KANE ROBERTS: Criminal JusticeVictor Ruzzo, Greg Jackson, Russ Brinnier. Guys playing just because we wanted to. Learned a lot playing in those small clubs. I looked at them as mini versions of arenas. Occasionally we’d open a show for a big band and yes, we opened for Alice. It was pretty exciting for us…young guys getting that kind of experience. To make money I dealt cards at a blackjack game and there were some serious bad asses that walked through that place. Before we started every night they’d walk me around the room and show me where the guns were hidden in case there was trouble. Yeah, I learned a lot in those days.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Now the obvious part – Alice Cooper‘s era. How it was to collaborate with a shock rock legend? How did it begin?

KANE ROBERTS: I was sneaking into studios and recording with assistant engineers and the like to get my ideas on tape. One of my songs landed in the hands of Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd etc). I drove to New York and met Alice, Ezrin and Shep Gordon (Alice‘s infamous manager). We all hit it off, especially me and Alice. We were laughing so much. Alice’s sense of humor is off the hook… some of his classic interviews reflect that. He has so many experiences, so much talent… I was immediately aware of the special opportunity I was stepping into. The thing of it is… we just fit together. Once we had Constrictor ready for release he had me choose and direct the band and we rehearsed for the tour. I remember that first night… maybe 20,000 people in the audience… lights go down… a rumbling note rises from the keyboard… the thunderous crowd roaring… the band hit the stage flying on adrenaline and then Alice walks out, a true master, in control. I saw how good on stage he was that night. What a trip.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: In Alice‘s band, you’ve became legendary with your Rambo-a-like physique and rocket shooting guitars. What interests us more, however, is your creative work and refreshing breeze of sound you’ve brought into Alice‘s music at that time. What inspired you and Alice to create a new quality on Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell? What do you think about it now?

KANE ROBERTS: Alice and I decided to just write some great music. You know you hear so many opinions of what should or shouldn’t be but the truth of it is… things will take place if you allow them. So we just started to write music. The influence(s) we each brought to the process was traded back and forth between us and songs began to take shape. I remember there were instances of Alice writing amazing some stuff in a half an hour. Like the lyrics of “Prince of Darkness”… just lay down on the couch and got creative and there it was. From my end, as was my nature, it was important to take the process seriously… I could feel a resurgence was at hand for him and that juiced us both, but more importantly I had my standard by which I operated. I like a lot of the music on those albums. I’m critical of myself so… sometimes its a bit difficult to hear. “Life and Death Of The Party”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Gail”, “Roses On White Lace”… yeah, we had fun (laughs)

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Which album, Constrictor or Raise Your Fist And Yell, do you like more? What songs are you especially proud of?

KANE ROBERTS: Different moments on each album excite me still, but overall I think Fist was a more evolved project. Alice and I wrote Raise Your Fist… on the Constrictor tour using a small recording set up. After that first tour ended we jumped right into the studio and recorded Raise Your Fist… You can hear how aggressive the material and the band was and how Alice handled it all.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Raise Your Fist And Yell is constructed in a quite interesting way. It begins with heavy metal anthems like “Freedom” or “Lock Me Up”, and finishes with a couple of songs being about an unnamed serial killer, with the story of his life and crimes being told mostly from his point of view. What was the idea behind this conceptual finish of an album?

KANE ROBERTS: Alice and I set out to create a musical “horror film” in a way. An engaging musical trilogy that would allow us to add some “story” and theater to the upcoming live performances. There was a real trade off of lyrics and music styles between he and I and we felt pretty good about the result. Although the actual arrangements were predominantly mine, the band responded aggressively with their own energy and input.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: You’ve been in a band with another important figure of the ’80s Hard Rock, then yet a newbie – Kip Winger. What was it like to be in the band with him?

KANE ROBERTS: Kip is just a great musician and one of the funniest guys to tour with. He handled much of the background singing chores live with that great voice of his. He’s kind of a knucklehead in some ways though. He really believed the whole “image is everything” mantra and his career ultimately suffered as a result. I know I get accused of having been overly image conscious but my appearance was opposite to what was popular. I went against the grain and turned my back on the accepted image that most musicians had. I just wanted to overdo everything and that manifested itself in every aspect of my life including my body.

There was a dance Kip used to do where he would hook his thumbs and in the waistband of his pants, squat down and move his hips up and down. Real funny… we called it the “dick dance”. One time we were staying at a Four Seasons hotel somewhere in America and as we were all heading for the bus a business convention had filled the lobby with people in suits and dresses. I said to Kip, I’ll give you $50, if you do the dick dance down the stairs and across the lobby and out the door. He didn’t hesitate for a moment and said yes! He danced all the way down the stairs and moved right up to the men and women in the lobby They all laughed and of course I was crying from a lack of oxygen. He’s a fearless guy in some ways. But truth be told, Kip and I are still friends and I completely respect what he does as a musician. That ain’t gonna change.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: A kinda summary of a period you’ve spent in Cooper‘s band is The Nightmare Returns concert that became filmed and officially released. After more than 20 years from its release date, it still blows minds away. Are there any interesting or funny stories related to it that you’d like to share?

KANE ROBERTS: Haven’t seen The Nightmare Returns concert for a while but If you watch that video you’ll see me run across the stage towards Alice at one point. I look up at the last second before trampling him. When I ran back up onto my riser I thought to myself, Great, I almost killed Alice on opening night of the tour!. And yes, everything you imagine about playing at an arena like that is true!

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Why and exactly when did you leave Alice Cooper‘s band?

KANE ROBERTS: I was about to record my second solo album for Geffen and we decided to part ways. It was just a natural transition and we barely even discussed it. Alice and I always understood that the vintage Alice Cooper stuff was rare and special but he and I shared an arrogance and sense of purpose in our effort to create the Fist and Constrictor albums and tours. Ultimately, I think we were a fairly loud and musically engaging moment in music history… certainly in Alice‘s career at that time. Ultimately we wanted people to have fun and enjoy the shows while showing them something cool and new.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Beyond working with Cooper, you recorded two great solo albums, the first still being Alice‘s guitarist. Which period – collaboration with Alice or solo path – do you consider now as more satisfying? Which do you think allowed you to develop more as an artist?

KANE ROBERTS: Both experiences were massively influential. The memories and images still roll around my head some nights. Recording with great musicians, writing… singing…it’s all about the personal interactions and how open your eyes are when the real shit is going down. I remember playing at Donnington Festival and seeing that huge audience from the stage. It was nighttime and there were burning barrels of oil placed around the field…the flames…the crowd…the cheering…what a visual. Like a little kid’s dream ya know. European audiences are some of the best. REALLY wish I got to play in Poland back then… maybe someday.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Let’s focus on your solo career now. Your first, self-titled album was released in 1987. At this moment, I should ask about an infamous Rambo cover…

KANE ROBERTS: Yes, well… a kid approached me (Rick Johnson… still makes guitars) and asked if I wanted to use his gun guitar. It shot flames and looked like a crazy ass weapon. The strange thing is, it played and sounded incredibly good. Well in truth that was the beginning of the Rambo thing. I was on the road and saw the cover images while riding the tour bus. I said “What the fuck is this?” and started laughing. Alice and I couldn’t believe it. I called the record company and said the cover looked ridiculous. Being a first time artist my opinion didn’t pull much weight and the second version of the cover came back and it looked almost exactly same.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: On your second album Saints And Sinners, there was a song “Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore” that became actually quite a hit. It’s a Bon Jovi-penned demo from early ’88, recorded also by Cher. What were the circumstances beyond the fact you’ve released your own version of it?

KANE ROBERTS: Desmond Child and I were looking for something that was surefire for the radio. He had written “Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore” with Dianne Warren, Richie (Sambora) and Jon (Bon Jovi) a few years back. I liked it so it was real easy to agree to do it. I heard Bon Jovi‘s version recently and it sounded real good to me.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: How it was to collaborate with an incredible songwriter, Desmond Child?

KANE ROBERTS: Desmond was born to write music. He’s prolific in almost every aspect of the process so you’ve got to be ready to work… you know… you gotta be awake if you know what I mean (laughs)

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Your both solo albums are considered to be true melodic rock gems. What do you think about them now?

KANE ROBERTS: Both of the projects you refer to were alot of fun and valuable experiences in terms of my musical development. I think each project has pieces that I still find enjoyable. I was pleased with my solo on “Fighter”, some of my vocals on each album, the guitar riffing at the end of “Rebel Heart”. To me improvisation, along with spontaneity, technique and emotion, has to contain a true sense of composition. That is, the solo has to hold interest, build properly and transition the listener from one section of the song to the next.
I think for any musician the real goal is to understand your true voice (singing and playing) and be able to convey that through your choice of notes and how you play or articulate them. When I succeeded in combining those elements I felt somewhat satisfied. I remember doing an interview for some guitar magazine and he kept insisting that I wrote my solos out before I played them. In an odd way that was a compliment because it indicated that my solos felt composed.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Alongside recording your solo albums, you’ve contributed to a few other albums, like Alice‘s Trash as well as records by Steve Vai or Desmond Child. You also contributed to a horror movie Shocker soundtrack in 1989, forming the super-group Dudes Of Wrath with Alice, Paul Stanley, Tommy Lee etc. What’s more, you also co-wrote a KISS song “Take It Off” with Paul Stanley. Please tell us a bit more about those projects.

KANE ROBERTS: Well of course writing with Paul Stanley and Bob Ezrin was great. Paul and Bob have my respect on so many levels. Bob Ezrin is a gem of a human being and responsible for much of my career. He heard my music and introduced me to Alice, Rod Stewart and Berlin to name a few and considering his stunning work as a producer (Pink Floyd‘s The Wall to name one) I was rightfully humble when working with him. Paul is extremely energetic when writing and meeting Gene was also a total gas! And yes…having a song credit on a KISS album is nothing but cool!

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Speaking of Shocker, you also appeared in the movie. How do you recall trying your hand in acting?

KANE ROBERTS : Well I just saw the opportunity and performed 2 auditions for the part. When I got it I was kind of shocked (no pun) but I think they needed a big guy in the role. It was a good experience for me as acting and performing lyrics in a song demand similar understanding and instincts.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: After releasing Saints And Sinners, you went on a longer hiatus. What was a reason for that – a change of music scene with a grunge wave coming ahead, or just being tired of your career and the music industry?

KANE ROBERTS: When I’m asked that question I say I got bored. Not with performing in front of people or people listening to my work… that’s a rare privilege. I got bored with the structure I had to be in to play as a public figure. Way too much smiling (laughs) As far as grunge and music styles shifting I was relieved to lose some of the “hair band” mentality that had infested much of rock. Nirvana and a few other bands still sound current to me.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Now the biggest part of your creative work is graphics and computer games. How did it become your passion, and how did it become possible for you to do it proffesionally?

KANE ROBERTS: Well, I’ve been involved in some film projects recently and head a company (PFXMedia) that develops extranet and internet solutions etc… but design and graphics stems from the fact that I’ve always drawn faces etc since I was 9 years old. When I sat in front of a computer I was immediately taken by the creative possibilities and of course the thing we all seem to love these days…immediate gratification.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: You haven’t turned your back on music completely however. Tell us a bit about the other projects you’ve been engaging into, especially Phoenix Down album with a re-recorded version of your earlier track “Rebel Heart”…

KANE ROBERTS: Bruce Mee from Now and Then records and the rock mag Fireworks contacted me and made it real simple to do some recording. He does rock quite a bit. Amazing attitude on him. I had some songs in my head and we laid them down with some friends of mine. I like some of that album alot and it will be available on my website in about a week or two as of this interview (August 2009). I also recorded a new project that I’ve yet to finish but 3 tracks will be available as part of the Phoenix Down re-issue. Bruce really wanted me to re-record “Rebel Heart” and of course he is such a dude I had to comply!

HARD ROCK SERVICE: What about your new solo album, Touched? We’ve heard it’s not finished and available yet.

KANE ROBERTS: Unfinished… I keep re-writing everything but as I stated in the previous answer 3 of the tracks will be available soon.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Many musicians that became famous in the ’80s don’t recall the era with nostalgia. Many of them hate their ’80s star status, finding it shameful. What about you?

KANE ROBERTS: When a fan would come up to me I made sure I stopped and spoke with them. Those are the enduring moments in many ways. When you’re playing on stage you’re all in it together you know. But one on one… the so-called “star” and the nervous fan… well, there’s the chance to protect someone and give them something to remember. Make sure they leave feeling right about the whole thing. Shameful? Nah… Silly sometimes? Yeah, but I think back and I know… getting to do all of that… meet all of those people… playing all that music… I think I was the lucky one.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: How do you find the music scene, rock scene in particular, nowadays? Is there anything you find promising or interesting?

KANE ROBERTS: Well the record companies are still kind of working against the artists. I understand in some ways because sometimes even great music doesn’t sell and it is after all a business. The great thing is bands are figuring out how to work around the system. That can only be good. I currently listen to Tool, Sevendust and some other bands. Rage Against the Machine still makes me kind of crazy!

HARD ROCK SERVICE: What are your plans for the future, any music project on the way?

KANE ROBERTS: Films, finishing Touched, food, Sumo wrestling, PS3, Japan, Maui, work and of course… guitar.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?

KANE ROBERTS: Dream hard… visualize what you want in your heart… remember that all you have to do is start something and you can change your life and begin whatever journey you choose. We’ve all had our ups and downs and sometimes my life seemed impossible… but it takes only a brief moment to start on a better road…to make your life incredible. Of course I cherish the moments that I create something on my own… but people, fans, wherever they may be, are the reason for playing… they are the truth of it all. If I’ve touched anyone in Poland with my music it does nothing but make me feel like magic has taken place. Energy transmitted… energy received. To the people in Poland I say… when you listen to my music, it sounds just like love to me.