Of the iconic images of the ‘80s in rock n roll, one that stood the test of time is Alice Cooper’s then-Rambo-looking guitar player shooting fires on the crowds from his M-80 shaped guitar. That guitar player was none other than Kane Roberts: an accomplished musician and singer, who went on to record four solo albums (including the “Phoenix Down” project released on the Frontiers label in the late ‘90s). Kane’s name and abilities came to prominence on Alice Cooper’s “Constrictor” album, which was followed by his self-titled debut solo album in 1987. More albums and tours with Alice followed, making Kane a well-known face in the business especially for his guitar skills, his body-builder image and iconic machine-gun guitar.
As a solo recording artist, he landed a few Top 40 hits and his varied musical background includes recording, writing and touring with artists such as Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, Desmond Child, KISS, Diane Warren, Alice in Chains, Berlin, Guns N’ Roses and Garland Jeffries. He also wrote or recorded music for films like “Light Sleeper,” “Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization,” “Friday the 13th IV Jason Lives” and “John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.” In 1991, his second solo album, “Saints and Sinners” for Geffen Records included the Top 40 Billboard hit “Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore,” originally written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora.
Kane is back with a new album and this time he made it special by involving amazing friends including Alice Cooper guesting on lead vocals in the main video/single “Beginning of the End” together with Alissa White-Gluz (of Arch Enemy). The song also features an appearance from Babymetal powerhouse drummer Aoyama Hideki. Kane also reunited his former Alice Cooper bandmates Kip Winger, Paul Taylor and Ken Mary on the album opener “Above and Beyond.” Other guest appearances include Nita Strauss (current Alice Cooper guitarist) appearing on lead guitar on “King of the World” and Lzzy Hale (of Halestorm) co-write on “The Lion’s Share.”
Three years in the making, “The New Normal” offers a unique artist ready to get back in the spotlight. Absolutely not to be missed, Kane melts the old and new in metal in an outstanding album. Enjoy it with open mind and get ready to be blown away! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the legendary Kane Roberts to discuss his life in music, fueling his creative fire and breathing life into his epic new album, ‘The New Normal.’
You created a tremendous career in the music industry. How did music come into your life and begin to take hold?
For me, as a kid, I started finding music like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, anybody named Jimmy actually! [laughs] No, no, I’m kidding but it was Led Zeppelin and bands like that. I became instantly obsessed with the guitar. It was one of those things! My parents got me this big, heavy Kay guitar. People who play guitar know these things, but it weighed like 50 lbs. and I was trying to deal with it! [laughs] As time went on, it took over my life. I ended up getting into a regular college, but I ended up quitting and going to the New England Conservatory of Music. Shortly after that, I ended up moving from Boston to Manhattan and that’s where Alice Cooper and his organization heard my music. They came in and saw me play without telling me. I ended up going to their office in Manhattan and meeting Bob Ezrin, Shep Gordon and Alice. I got this real sense that I was standing in front of people that changed the culture of the world. They shocked the world with their music, imagery and the messages that they put out. I got a sense that I was standing in the presence of history-makers. To be honest, I don’t get nervous in situations like that and I was fully jazzed about it. One of the reasons that Alice and I still continue as friends today, this is true, is because during that meeting, literally within 10 to 15 minutes, he and I became best friends. We’ve talked about that before. It’s almost like we knew each other before. It’s one of the reasons why my career kept rolling along because I ended up being managed by Shep and all that stuff. That is the quick, “Reader’s Digest” version of how I got into music.
What went into finding your creative voice as a player?
I think people are born attracted to different things. For example, I’ve always loved visuals and movies with soundtracks. I was always very aware of the music. When I heard some of these bands, I started visualizing myself playing or in the different situations the lyrics were singing about. It came to a point where it completely took over my life. One of the things that happened was that when I picked up my guitar, I started getting the gratification of, “For those 2 seconds I sounded a little bit like Jimmy Page” or whoever the guitar player was. That immediate gratification and sense of visualizing myself playing on a big stage became my food or nutrition. It was what I needed to get through the day! I was lucky. I speak to some people and I say, “What do you want to do with your life?” They say, “Jeez, I don’t really know.” I kinda knew at a very young age. I was 10 or 12 years old and I realized music felt so good to me. I became obsessed with listening to all types of music, which is something I still do today. I listen to the stuff from my past and my roots. I listen to jazz. I listen to a type of music from Japan called Enka, which is a type of traditional music. I also listen to a lot of the new metal that is out there; bands like Ghost, Volbeat and Lacuna Coil. I’m always absorbing stuff! As that happened, like I said, I went to a normal university, but I knew this wasn’t the right place for me. Ultimately, I ended up at a music school, which I think was the beginning of learning about all of the discipline it took and how you must focus your brain on stuff.
What lessons did you learn early on that impacted your career trajectory?
As musicians, we always think about the music industry. “Is it good? Is it as good as it used to be? Is it better?” My personal opinion is that none of that stuff matters. In many ways, the music industry is better for you today than it has ever been. Back in the day, once you got a record deal, you walked into this huge machine and you were taken out of a lot of the process. In some ways that’s good because you say, “Oh, they’re going to take care of this. They’re gonna take care of that. They’re gonna do all the promotional stuff and whatever.” Today, you have to do stuff yourself. You have to work YouTube and the social networks. The one rule I learned back in the day was that if you become great, the world will beat a path to your door. You have to believe that! You have to believe that there is some sort of a system that is in the universe that has some sort of sense, not of justice, but that if you are doing great things people will notice. Music is a very human activity and it involves other people. There was one point, when I was practicing, that I went up to this really remote location in Maine. All I did was practice. I was working at this ballroom and I just practiced all day and night, as a kid. I was 19 years old and that was all I did. When I came back and I walked back into the jet stream of my friends and everything, it was difficult for me because I had done such a solitary thing for so long. I learned that it involves other people. You always have to have the sense that if you are doing something great, that there is going to be somebody in the audience that will notice. I remember one of Motley Crue’s managers, Doug Thaler, came to see my band play. We had met very early on in my career. We had sold out a 200-seat club, which is pretty small. I said, “Jeez, I hope that someday we can sell out bigger venues.” He said, “If you can sell out a 200-seat place, you can sell out an arena. It’s just the matter of getting your music out there and getting the right opportunities.” That’s the part that’s a little difficult. How do you get face time with the people who are going to push you into the right zone? That means you just have to be obsessed and get out there and do everything you that you can. There is the 10,000-hour rule, where you hit 10,000 hours, you can pretty much do anything you want in terms of practicing.
You have an incredible work ethic and it’s served you well. Was that instilled in you or something you developed over time?
It might have been stuff that maybe my parents instilled in me; the idea that you have to work to get things. One thing that I have shared with Alice and something we have talked about is how people always talk about how bad it is to be obsessed with things. Well, I think it’s a good thing! What kind of balance are you looking for in your life? For example, you’re a writer. This is what you do for your creative push out there in the world. The times that you are obsessed with it and it’s all you can do, that’s when you get the system going of getting better, learning and evolving. I think that is what happened with me. Like I said, music became my drug so to speak. It became my recreation, my fun, my hobby, my work and my future. I was just lucky to start perceiving it that way somewhere in my teens and later teens especially. As soon as I ended up with Alice Cooper, got out on stage and was doing all that sort of stuff, that is when I began to learn about the real world. I was lucky to keep that sort of vertical curve going but I never felt like it was too much work. I never felt like, “Jeez, I need to take a break.” In another sense, I was one of those guys who never wanted the tour to end. Everybody else wanted to go home but I could’ve been out there nonstop for 10 years and it would have been great!
How have you evolved over the course of your career?
I started listening to other people and a lot of times I was copying what they were doing. I would write a song and it might be similar to a Van Halen song or whatever. You rely on your roots, whether it’s bands from the past, blues or whatever. That stuff will have its way with you but as time goes on you begin to change. One of the things that’s really critical when you’re writing, practicing or soloing, is knowing that Mr. Mediocre is sitting right next to you saying, “Just do this easy thing that you always do.” You have to push that guy away and that helps you get closer to the envelope you are trying to push. For example, when I was recording this new album, I decided not to take the easy road and not to do the expected thing. It wasn’t an effort to walk away from my roots but a matter of being really honest with stuff.
There is another thing that, I think, is a very strange phenomenon. Whatever it is you do creatively, if you say to yourself, “I’m going to stop … ” and you stop. Now, I didn’t do this, but let’s say I did. Let’s say I stopped, walked away from it and in 10 years I picked it up again. In that 10-year period, I still evolved as a musician because who you creatively absorbs the things you see during the day, the people that you meet, emotions that you feel and girls who you fall in love with or get your heart broken by. All of that stuff is absorbed along with the music that you hear. It changes you as an artist. If you start getting your chops back together, your technique and skill, you’re going to be a different musician. I think once you start pushing the creative boulder, at whatever age that is, it’s going to keep rolling to a certain degree. Maybe your skills won’t, if you walk away, but you will keep moving in some direction because it encompasses every aspect of your life. The thing is with me that I have evolved as an artist and writer.
I’m still writing a little bit, I was playing a lot of guitar and singing a bit, but I wasn’t doing anything in the public jet stream. When I sat down and started this record, I had changed! I had been listening to so many different things and the things that I gravitated towards were different and we were noticing that! This album actually took me three years. It’s because, after six months, I would listen back to what I was doing and say, “Jeez, ya know, I’m singing a lot better now. My instinct is to do this, but this other thing has emerged. Let’s re-record that vocal!” I was lucky to be in the studio where I had a chance to do that. I also had a record company that said it’s okay to take three years, which was pretty incredible! [laughs]
Tell us more about your vision for this album, “The New Normal,” as you entered into the creative process.
I didn’t want to do anything proactive. In other words, I didn’t want to say, “I want this record to appeal to this crowd. I want to make sure that I don’t sound like this anymore … .” or “I want to sound this way or that way.” I had to sit down and do things that I like. I was really fortunate to be working with my co-producer, Alex Track. He’s also a musician, so we would create something and then just go on instinct. Our first run at the songs were all just what we like, and it was that kind of a thing. Then, we would start to structure the songs and give more of a substantive feel and make the structure a little bit more interesting. We started thinking that each song could be like a script to a movie. We thought of the whole piece in a very cinematic sense, which is calling back on that visual sense that I have. We’re actually putting together a video for one of the songs, “Beginning of The End,” which features Alice Cooper and Alissa White-Gluz. I was actually able to get Alissa and Alice in the same location to shoot the video, which was a miracle unto itself! [laughs] My point is that we decided not to do a performance video. We wanted to make it a series of visuals that had a sort of obtuse narrative to it, where people can write their own script to it visually. It’s kinda the way we felt with the whole record. The messaging on the record is a little different than the normal thing of, “I met a girl and she broke my heart.” It’s not in that realm. It’s got more of a, for lack of a better word, modern approach to the way the world is. That’s why I called the album, “The New Normal.” On the cover, you see this girl with tattoos all over her and she’s wearing this insane mask and everything. If you saw that image 30 years ago, it would’ve completely shocked you! Today, you’re looking at it and going, “Ya know, I’ve seen that before.” So, there is the new normal, ya know?! [laughs]
I’m glad you mentioned the cinematic aspect of the album because having listened to it at length, that stood out to me.
I wanted the songs to almost sound conversational in the lyrics. “Beginning of the End,” once you get Alice Cooper into it, it turns into some really bizarre, crazy, horror movie, shock sorta thing because Alice is so dominant. However, a lot of the other songs are dealing with how we feel about life and those thoughts that are in our heads and spoken in a more current way, as opposed to what was being done before in rock. I’m not the only one doing it, I’m just saying that’s the approach that I took, so I’m glad you noticed!
As you mentioned, you have tremendously talented people involved on this album. What did they bring out in you creatively?
Take a guy like Kip Winger for example. He’s someone I knew from Alice’s band and, of course, we remained friends. He’s still prolific! He’s got his solo thing and still touring and recording with Winger. He also got the Grammy nomination for classical music. He’s someone who is really on fire still, when it comes to playing. The same thing is true with Ken Mary, who is playing with Flotsam & Jetsam now. That’s not an easy ride on the drums, ya know! [laughs] He’s killing it! I wanted people whose standard was so high that I had to step up and meet the standard. I knew I would get great stuff from them. If the foundation of what I am doing is on that high of a level, it’s only going to help me! I called up Nita Strauss. She was the first person I called because I wanted to go back and forth on a guitar solo. The song is called “King of The World.” When she plays that first riff, that’s some serious ball-clanging shredding going on there! I was amazed and I thought to myself, “I’ve got to get my fuckin’ act together!” It woke me up, ya know! She’s playing so good that I have to play good as well too because she’s such an amazing artist. So, I pulled in people who were doing something different. Alissa and Nita are both knocking down walls and shattering glass ceilings all over the place! With Alissa, Arch Enemy walks out on stage and it’s these big guys playing this massive metal and suddenly Alissa walks out there and owns the audience and owns the stage! It’s just an unexpected thing but it pushes us into thinking about the world a little differently. They’re both really dedicated, serious, professional artists. I really lucked out across the board!
Where do you see this project headed in the near future?
Right now, I’m into a video mindset, as opposed to touring. The touring thing requires an amount of response to the record, it’s that sort of a thing. It requires a certain way to view how many people I can reach. Right now, I want to do a series of three to five videos. That’s my first thing to make this thing a visual and audio project for people. We purposely recorded this stuff, so it had moments of cinematic atmosphere, like I said. I’m really going to concentrate on that to start and if it seems to be a viable enterprise or something I ought to do, I will go through the hard work of putting together a killer band and do some live shows as well.
Bringing “The New Normal” to life has been a big part of your life for the past three years. What was the biggest challenge along the way?
The biggest challenge was the unknown. I always relish that! There is a song called “Leave Me In The Dark” on this album and it’s about the things that we don’t know. I didn’t know what to expect in a lot of ways, but I was very hungry for it because from what we don’t know, from the dark, that’s where faith emerges. In other words, if it’s completely dark and you take a step, you’re thinking, “There’s gotta be floor there or something!” At least that’s your hope! So, you take the step! I’m not talking about this in a religious sense, although that works for some people. I’m talking about real self-discovery as you move forward in this world. At the end of the day, when I finished the record, I was really pleased with the whole process! You think about it and five days a week, five nights a week for three years and I put together this video with Alice and Alissa — I really got into it! It’s one of those things where I was spitting blood to get this stuff out there! [laughs] I hope everyone appreciates it but putting this stuff out into the public jet stream, like I said, there are going to be haters and lovers and everything in between but I look at it as being all good!
You invested a lot of time on this over the past three years. What is your focus now that you have those days and nights open! [laughs]
Ya know, I don’t know if I’m going to do another project. What I think is that if I can fill my days and nights with developing these videos and watching the response, that might influence what the creative process might be moving forward. I’m already mapping out the second video while we’re producing this one. I think that’s how this project will fill my days and nights over the next year or so!
That’s awesome! We are just scratching the surface of your life in music. What is the biggest lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
I think it goes back a little bit to what I said before. If you find yourself thinking, “I don’t know what I want to do,” then you’ve got to check yourself. You have to think to yourself, “What is my real job in life?” I think the real job is to wake up happy every day. People would say to me, when I was a kid, “There are millions of guitar players out there. Why do you think you’re going to make any noise?” My answer was unclear. I would say, “I’m gonna do it. I’m not going to stop. No matter what I’m going to keep going.” I just knew I was going to do that. However, the real reason was that I wanted to be happy every day and that’s what made me happy! I was lucky enough to get that stuff on my fingers and in my hands, from listening and singing when I was very young. I said, “This is what I want to do.” As you know, Ernest Hemingway is this amazing author. Somebody said to him, “Why did you become a writer.” This was in the 1950s or something like that. He said, “So I could wake up at 4 p.m. every day.” In other words, “I wanted to do what I wanted to do!” That was it! I think that is something we have to take care of. I talk about obsession and balance. Part of that balance is having to walk out, make money, live and do all that stuff but if you have that one time during your day where you walk into your room and you’re doing the shit that makes you happy, then I think life is going to be good! Like I said, if it becomes something your obsessed with in that light, I think the world will beat a path to your door. I think that’s the sort of unknown, faith and dark that I operate in.
It’s cool to hear the excitement in your voice about this project and the creativity it will usher in. Just chatting with you briefly, it’s hard not to be inspired. Any chance you might do a book at some point to spread this energy further?
I think at some point I might write something. If I did, it would be a smaller book with illustrations. It would be more of an experience kind of book, as opposed to a straight read. There would be a lot of content, but the point would be, rather than expounding upon stuff for 300 pages, I would keep it really tight and make it about lessons in life. One of the things I’ve learned is to break up the pattern. That comes from lifting weights, where you don’t always do the same routine. If you go to work every day, take a different route one of those days. Do something different. All that stuff shakes us up and tips over the apple cart. I think it makes us something more as people!
That’s a great outlook! Thanks so much for your time today!
Thank you so much, Jason! I really appreciate the opportunity. I look forward to talking with you again soon. Have a great day!