Alice Cooper, Chad Smith, and Bob Ezrin talk poop in Vancouver
Even without the props, Alice Cooper was a highly entertaining co-host at the Fix/Nimbus Mentor Session on Friday (November 16). He was joined by producers Bob Ezrin and GGGarth Richardson, along with Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who was no less amusing when he entered stage left at the Vancity Theatre with a huge pratfall. Which might have been real, the crowd was divided on that.
The hour long panel—held by Ezrin and Richardson’s Nimbus School of Recording Arts—was smoothly moderated by Danger from CFOX, who had Cooper reminiscing right off the bat about getting signed to Frank Zappa’s Straight Records in the late ‘60s. Zappa’s rationale, Cooper told us, was “I don’t get you guys at all.”
Later, pointing to the man who produced “I’m Eighteen”, “School’s Out”, and “Under My Wheels” (and a fuck of a lot more), Cooper remarked, “You had to have a Bob Ezrin who could take those songs and turn ‘em into something that would actually get on AM/FM radio.” This brought us largely to the point of the event, which was to give an audience of musicians, students, and other interested parties the chance to extract a little wisdom from four friends and veterans shooting the shit onstage.
Naturally, there was talk about the state of the industry along with the colourful excursions into the past. “When I first met these guys they were living in a farmhouse in Pontiac, Michigan, with a green monkey that masturbated, and a three-legged dog,” Ezrin said while Cooper nodded gravely. “They lived in this farm together; the guys, their girlfriends, road crew; they’d wake up, they’d go out to the barn, and they’d play. They’d work and work and work on songs, and then they’d go downtown and play the Grande.”
“The Amboy Dukes, the MC5, the Stooges, Alice Cooper, and the Who—four dollars,” Cooper continued. “We were all just local bands trying to make it, but we got to play with the Who that night, that was the big deal. That was a normal weekend there. Those were great rock dungeons.”
The conversation also made its way through Smith’s recollection of auditioning for the Chilli Peppers —“Someone told them I ate drums for breakfast,” he said, shaking his head. “That was me,” Richardson chipped in—before finally settling on a pretty basic theme. “Just stick to your own fuckin’ thing,” the drummer told the room. “Just be good at whatever you do, don’t give a shit about trying to be fucking One Direction or whatever it is. Although they’re very handsome.”
“The only chance you have is to resolutely be yourself,” Ezrin would say a little later. “And to do that development that a record company used to do for you, you have to do it on your own now. You have to do it by yourself or you find people who love you and will write cheques.”
Ezrin was actually a fairly electrifying presence, even if he did mention at one point that he aspired to be Bing Crosby. “I don’t hear or see rage except from the inner city," he beefed. "How come you aren’t out there burning buildings? Do you realize what we’ve done to you? Do you have any sense for what your future looks like? You are fucked, and you’re fucked because of us. We were fucked by our parents and we went out and did something about it. We blew shit up.”
His advice to any musician in our fucked-future climate? “Don’t break in, break out,” he said. “What’s happening today won’t be there next year no matter what the record company thinks; they’re going to try to do that over and over again, but something new is gonna come along. Mumford and Sons are gonna drop on you from out of nowhere, and they’re going to blow the business up. Adele is going to drop on you. Who woulda thunk it? A heavy girl, not particularly good looking, who just writes the truth and sings from her heart… is the biggest star.”
Ezrin was especially lucid on the subject of social media, stating that a viral hit—or “your perfect poop,” in his words—counts for nothing if you can’t back it up. “The bottom line is get good. That’s what these guys did. They got good. They lived on their instruments, and in their vans, and they practiced and practiced, and they got really great at their craft and the rest of the stuff kinda filled in. Is it important to understand it? Yes, of course it is. It’s like learning to balance your bank book, you have to know it, it’s part of the modern world and all that stuff. But if you lose yourself in it, or if you go too fast, you’ll self-immolate.”
“There’s no shortcut, you guys,” Smith added. “I wish there was, but there isn’t, no matter what you do—if you’re a plumber, or you’re trying to get the perfect poop; you gotta poop, like, 90,000 times…”
Afterwards, Ezrin told the Straight that he and Richardson (along with their partner Kevin Williams) started their school to “imbue a new generation of aspiring young people with the same sense of urgency that we have and the same attention to detail and the same reverence for excellence. That’s what we push every day. Be excellent,” he said, adding that it was GGGarth’s experience with ill-equipped graduates that got the ball rolling on Nimbus in the first place.
“I fired 40 kids that came to work with me,” Richardson said, describing one new engineer who didn’t know the difference between male and female XLR connectors. She’d spent three years and $120 thousand at UCLA. “We want kids from across Canada to know that if they’re serious and they wanna get great,” Ezrin said, “then they should come.”