Kane Roberts – for some he may be best known as probably one of the most identifiable members of Alice Cooper’s band, the hulk like guitarist with an arsenal of machine gun guitars during Alice’s mid 80’s Raise Your Fist And Yell and Constrictor era. Co writing the majority of the songs with Alice on these albums, this era saw Alice turn into a more heavy metal oriented direction.
For others, their first introduction to Kane Roberts may have been as a solo performer and his 1991 USA hit single Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore off of his killer second album, Saints And Sinners. Co-writing with Desmond Child, the album is full of massive melodic rock songs that feature some of the biggest gang vocals this side of Mutt Lange.
Returning in the late 90’s with another release under the banner Phoenix Down, Kane has largely been silent since then as far as releasing music goes, but has been incredibly busy in the area of video game design and other forms of multimedia design. Testimony to the regard his Saints And Sinners album has in melodic rock circles, Kane will be making a rare return to the live stage in October this year at Firefest in Nottingham, UK.
In one of the most in depth interviews I have conducted yet, Kane reveals exactly what has been keeping him busy the last decade or so, where he is at with writing new music and offers some fascinating insight into the songwriting process for the Saints and Sinners album with Desmond Child. Be sure to check out www.kaneroberts.com for much, much more and www.thefirest.com for more details about this iconic festival!
Kane, thanks for chatting with May The Rock Be With You, so firstly where do we find you right now?
Well I now live in a place called Studio City, which is right out of Hollywood, which is about 5 minutes from Hollywood and 20 minutes out of Santa Monica beach. The weather here is the main thing for me.
What have you been up to in the last couple of years? Has it been video game design/graphic imaging and the like?
Well what happened was, I have this tendency to get obsessed with things and I was taught as a kid growing up that to be obsessed with something is a good thing, because that will drive you to do something. So with the music, that’s what happened. You know how it goes, anybody that’s trying to do anything, there’s a million people that will tell you why you shouldn’t do it and they will give you excuse after excuse. Like, “don’t you realise theres a million people who want to play guitar and make a record and do this and do that”. That’s kind of discouraging words, but you move forward with it. It’s kind of like the whole weight lifting thing I was doing and I got so completely obsessed with it and to this day I can’t explain why. But I really got into it and when I met Alice we laughed how cool it would be to be on stage and do all that stuff. Then after I did the Saints and Sinners record, the music industry was changing, in some ways possibly for the better, but not the business side as thats still a wreck. Well I guess it was back then, but it was allowed to operate under the radar of anything that’s sort of good business or fair business so to speak. You know, the way they expect the big cheques, no matter what’s going on. That’s why they didn’t pay attention to CDs and downloads and peer groups and now look where they are? They have no sense of what to do about it and how to sell music anymore and it’s tough for bands. So what I did was get obsessed with doing graphics and computers and although I kept playing guitar and writing and doing stuff in my studio, but the business aspect just became such a bore to me. You know when you see these same people and you know that whatever they were saying, there’s like a different thought balloon of what they were really thinking…
Like hidden agendas and that kind of stuff you mean?
Well yeah, for example if you put your band together and you have a demo and it’s amazing. So you give it to someone in the hope that they will see that, as there’s a lot of great stuff that gets turned down. But when he says to you, well I don’t really hear it, come back in three months, he’s either being straight up with you, or he was never going to get it, or he was told by his boss that we’re done signing for the year, or we have met our quota for that kind of band. So you are just never getting the straight dope on stuff and that gets a little tedious after a while.
So I became obsessed with doing graphics on the computer. I have always drawn, even as a little kid I drew all the time. I read comic books, I like Jack Kirby and Marvel Comics and Steve Ditko and all those guys. So what happened was Michael Wagener (actually I’ve never told anybody this) had this amazing setup in his house, which he could probably afford to buy because of his massive run of platinum records in a row! So he had this great setup and in those days, computer equipment was far more expensive than what it is now. I said to him “hey dude, do you mind if I come over and mess around and stuff”. So I used to go over there at midnight, almost every night and he would be upstairs snoring away, and I would be up there on that computer working away on a very early version of Photoshop until like 4am or 5am in the morning and then go home! So I did that for a while and then started to develop a video game, which I am a complete video game junkie. If there’s anything I would love, it would be to be a part of that industry somehow. I met a guy that I still work with on stuff, I did a short film with him and I worked with him at a company called ‘Belief’, which I was the executive producer there and he was the main director. When I was there Belief did commercials for the Superbowl and stuff like that, it was a cool company. So Mike and Michael Wagener and I looked into this video game thing I was developing and it was pretty amazing. It took one meeting and I sold the project, which was kind of incredible really. So we started designing our first video game and then I signed another game up with a company that did porno mostly haha! It was a company called Vivid Video, but they were doing CD Rom games at the time. So I was doing a game there and I would go in and every Porn star was there whenever I would go in for a meeting. I remember the first time I went into a meeting there and they took me out the back and showed me all the products. They were making like 35,000 videos go out every day and they kept loading me up with product haha! You know, I am signing with the company, so I didn’t want to be saying no! So that’s what I did, a game called Lords Of Tantrazz, which was like an interactive comic book. I hired these really great comic book artists and Alice (Cooper) did a voice on it and some of my music was on it as well.
So that was the beginning of me getting into doing graphics and it’s now evolved into doing a lot of broadcast design, as I said, I also did a short film. So from a creative aspect, yeah that’s why I am in California. Its the best place to do this stuff. I mean a lot of people come out here and can’t take it for whatever reason and go back home or whatever, but for me it’s kind of like I naturally fit here. So yes I like Los Angeles, I like Studio City, I like Santa Monica and I eat a lot of Sushi, haha no I’m kidding. But anyway, that’s it….
You have your first live international appearance in quite some time at Firefest in the UK later this year, knowing that Keiran Dargan is a persistent man, and having past associations with Bruce Mee with the Phoenix Down album, how much convincing on their part did it take for you to play at Firefest?
Well Bruce and I were first talking and as you said, I did the Phoenix Down album with Bruce. It was like immediately I trusted him. He is one of those guys, you can tell straight away. His intentions are pure and he is very honest, if he thinks something sucks he will tell you. I mean it was the very opposite of what I described before. You know the company that distributed that record in my mind, was part of the broken system. I remember they sent me the first copies of my CD and I remember I put into my CD player and nothing happened and I kept trying to play it and was wondering what was going wrong. I then put it into my computer and by mistake the company that distributed them and printed them up, had put a CD Rom/PC game onto the CD instead of my music! So it wasn’t Bruce’s fault that happened, so that’s when I lost my drive to kind of continue with that. Although I liked some of the stuff we did on that record. Reckless I felt was a cool song and there was a few others I wrote with Jim Peterik.
But anyway, later we talked about how it would be great to keep producing stuff and getting it out there and how I would love to play live and everything. Then a few years ago, he said why don’t you come to Firefest. I said “let me think about it”. Then I just let the date go by. Then he asked me again and I did the same thing. But this year, he didn’t ask me, so I called him up! It’s really funny, I found a bunch of my guitars to get fixed, tweaked, tuned up and I just found a great place in Van Nuys, California, Eric’s Guitars and he just smoked my guitars and did a really great job. So I was playing guitar all the time and I was completely obsessed. So I called up Bruce and I had to actually ask him two or three times, because you know, I had flaked before. Then he emailed me and said “if you’re going to do it, then let’s go for it’. So I am heading there and it may be my one show ever, but it’s going to be great. I am playing with a band called Talon and those guys are great. I love the band, I love the singer and the way he sounds and everything. I am going to try and get the whole band involved as much as possible so it’s not just like a backup band or whatever. It’s going to be a great show! I’m thinking about it everyday and we are making the music special for that moment.
So your backing band, Talon, have you worked with them before, or known them?
Well I had noticed them previously on YouTube and stuff, because I had always investigated Firefest. I don’t know, you probably hear this a lot, but one of the reasons I was curious about Firefest is because it’s in England. My first time I was there playing, I had never experienced anything like what it’s like playing there. It’s a different animal, you could tell the fans where more knowledgeable, they weren’t brought up on MTV and a lot of it is based on word of mouth or the written word. It kind of makes the devotion of the love of music more of a grass roots effort. So Firefest just has that feel about it. So each time I had typed in Firefest to YouTube Talon seemed to pop up, so when Bruce Mee suggested them to me, I responded immediately in the positive.
You have put a vote out to your fans for what songs to include in your setlist, whilst not giving away the likely setlist, has that thrown out any interesting surprises?
Well that song Rebel Heart for some reason is right up there. I kind of knew that the ballad Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore would be up there. Twisted is up there and a lot of songs obviously from the Saints and Sinners record. I am going to do an Alice Cooper song, Freedom which got a lot of good response as well.
Speaking of Alice, have you been in contact with him recently?
Actually, I spoke to him Monday, we are writing together again. We have been doing it off and on and he had the whole Hall Of Fame thing and the prep for that was pretty involved. They brought in Bob Ezrin and they all worked together like the old team, you know like back in the day. I said to Alice that it really sounded amazing and he said it was because they had the original team back together doing the original music together.
So when you say that you and Alice are writing together, is this for the purpose of a Kane Roberts or Alice Cooper release?
Well right now it’s for me. He called me up and we were talking and he said by the way, when are you going to go into the studio for your CD? Because I want to have some material available for Firefest. Ken Mary is playing on it and Kip Winger is playing and singing on it, so we want to put together a really cool CD. I had mentioned it in passing to Alice before and when I said i was going to start in a month or so, he said well let’s write a couple of songs. So the way we started, I will send him a track and some lyrics and then a few days later he comes in with a theory on what he feels like the song should be about. It’s kind of amazing, he is pretty spot on with how he interprets what I send him.
So in terms of your songwriting, where would you say that is at right now? Are you writing in a similar style to Saints N Sinners, or Phoenix Down for example?
The music that I like ranges from Heavy Metal to total pop. What I try to do is blend the different parts of who I am as an artist and a person and put it all together. I love melody, that’s the main focus at the moment, to have songs where the lyrics and melodies hook up. So it’s melodic rock, but you know everybody throws this around very casually, but there’s also going to be a lot of edge to it in how it sounds. Some of it is kind of really heavy more than anything else, but there is always a lot of melody over the top. So that’s how I would describe it. Having Ken (Mary) and Kip (Winger) and the other drummer playing on it Paul Simmons, having guys like that around playing on it, the songs we have recorded so far are incredibly tight and I have always loved singing with Kip.
There has been talk of a new album ‘Touched’ being released at various points over the last few years, was this just Internet speculation, or did/does it really exist?
Well I recorded a bunch of stuff for it and just so you know, this did happen a number of times where I would record some stuff and think I had something I wanted to release, then I wasn’t that crazy about it. I remember the funniest thing was I was reading an article on Guns ‘N’ Roses about where the new album was and I remember reading a quote from Axl where he said “ keep writing stuff and I love it, then I record it and when I am done, I don’t like it”. What I got from working with a bunch of different people like Desmond or whoever, is that when you finish a song, the question you have to ask yourself is would I go and buy that? Of course I like anything I do haha, but when I stood back objectively to some of that material, I would be like, you know what, it’s just not up to my standards. But I felt kind of bad because there was a press release that Touched was coming and it was on my website and everything, but I don’t want to put anything out there that I am not fully vested in, in terms of how good it is.
I have to say I am looking forward to the prospect of the new songs you are currently working on.
See the thing is Scott, this time the timing is good, because if I let it drag on for a year, I might get back to that spot again. But because I will be there at Firefest in October, I have a few months to do it, so it will get done!
Ok, so onto the Saints & Sinners album. Regarding the song writing for the album, what was the process with you co-writing with Desmond Child. How much actual interaction did you have in a studio type environment, or was it more distance?
Well I always look at it this way. When I was working on script writing, I met a guy by the name of Larry Gross who wrote 48 Hours and a bunch of other hit films and there are certain people like that who are born to be doing what they are doing. Obviously Desmond falls into that category, in terms of being a song writer, that’s what he’s born to do. So when we decided to write together, when that arrangement was made, Geffen had contacted him and met with him, then I met with him and then it turned into let’s write an album together. My job at that point was that at some points I had to defer to his judgment, because most of his ideas are going to be good. So you just have to hope that those ideas are going to be good for you! So you have to stay strong with what you believe, you have to give your opinion, you have to be excited and enthusiastic and natural. So it’s one of those things that you have to be so inside the moment when you are working with people like that. The other thing is with his schedule, we would have like 45 minutes and we would meet in Santa Monica as he was renting a bungalow there to work on a number of projects. So if we had 45 minutes, at the end of that 45 minutes we would have a complete song. It wouldn’t be like we wrote a verse and I will see you tomorrow, or we worked on the chorus…it was never like that. It’s one of the things about how prolific he is, because the point is that you have a certain goal and if these are your limitations or your time limit, then you have to get there. Obviously, it was the first draft of a song, but it would be a complete song. That was the standard that I ended up living by. One of the things I learnt from that experience was every concert you put on, every record you put out, you have to treat it like it’s the last time. So that was sort of our relationship, I would go there and we would collaborate on each song. Although, Does Anybody Really Fall In Love was already written before with Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Dianne Warren and Desmond. A song such as Twisted, I came in with a song and pretty much all of the music was done. But then we got into conceptualising things and using different voicings and he was very concerned with the arrangements on some songs. If you want to check out something amazing, it’s on It’s Only Over For You and I think after the solo, there’s a break and that’s Desmond. That one section is him there arranging stuff, I really loved that part of the song. There’s a number of moments like that on the record that go just beyond writing, it’s also the arranging and how the band performs and stuff. He was there for rehearsals with Myron Grombacher, John McCurry and Ken Mary and all those guys to make sure that we got the sound we had fought so hard to develop.
Whilst you most famously might be known as a guitar player, for many as a result of the Saints and Sinner album, you are also known as a singer. How big a transition was it for you going from guitarist to lead vocalist?
Well when I was in New York and I was playing in strip clubs, and I’ve mentioned this before that I also dealt cards at a blackjack game in Manhattan which is kinda illegal, but I was doing that to make money and stuff. Anyway, with my band I was lead singer and we did originals, we did a couple of cover songs, but it was all mostly originals. I was the lead singer and guitar player for that. There was Don from Screengems Publishing I think it was, and he got my tape to Bob Ezrin. When I hooked up with Ezrin, I went down and met everybody, Shep and Alice and everyone was in the same room and we all hit it off. I remember when I met with Shep we were talking about what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to have my own record out eventually. So there was a tremendous rush of new information and experiences immediately. I went from playing strip clubs in Manhattan and living in a little apartment, to being in Maui with Alice Cooper in this insane house, thinking this is pretty sweet. Then we ended up getting ready for the tour and we were doing so many things, it was such a busy time. At the end of the second tour, we found out that Geffen were interested in doing a solo record with me. So you know, Alice and I decided to go our separate ways. It didn’t feel alien, it didn’t feel unusual, it felt completely right and it was what I always wanted to do. But it was an entirely different mindset. Although I did write with Alice and the songs that we played which we wrote, there was always that extra emotional attachment to those songs. So Alice and I both had that sense of ownership and how we developed that heavy sound to be competitive in the market at that time. So once I sat down and started writing for myself, I had to get a hold of myself and reintroduce myself to what my true intent was as a musician of my own, because I obviously didn’t want to write an Alice Cooper album for myself. So yes it was different, but it had always been in my DNA for years.
Whilst there is much Alice Cooper related discussion on your website that people can check out…one question I have is around your arsenal of machine gun guitars. Did you design these yourself? Do you still own any of them?
Firstly, here’s the crazy thing, I just never made the Rambo connection! I remember the first time I started reading comments about Rambo and I was like what? Then I would look at the picture and realise how could I not know that! But what was happening is that I was hanging out at our managers office and somebody once mentioned to me there is someone here who wanted to show me a guitar. So there was this kid, Rick Johnson his name was, who still actually makes guitars, well we headed into this conference room and he had this giant anvil case and I look at this guitar and my first impression was this is kinda cool looking. He really went full bore on trying to capture that look and I asked how did you come up with this design? He was an army brat and I think his Dad was a major in the army, so he travelled all over the place living at army bases and he was always seeing guns and he played guitar as well. It was already completely designed when it came to the first version. I had him take some stuff out and tweak some of the action and maybe put in a different pickup and some stuff like that. In the end he made three of them for me.
The two biggest ones, the ones that were on the two tours, well one is in a Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas or New Orleans, and the other is in Israel. Then he also made a smaller one, a prototype. That one was kinda amazing, we were going to do a third tour, but that never happened. So that one I think I gave it away to somebody or something? He designed the instrument, he designed the look and the flame thrower and all that stuff. I just basically tried to get him to set it up so I felt comfortable playing. He did an amazing job, it played really, really well. Oddly enough, I was using a Kramer explorer back in those days and some other guitars and they were great guitars, but I always looked forward to strapping that big gun guitar on because it just played so good.
What are you playing these days as far as guitars go?
Well I just got a Jackson Guitar back, that’s like one of those shred guitars. The way Jackson sets up certain guitars, the neck is a little wider and it’s flat so it’s made for shredding. Then I have this other guitar which is an Ibanez Maxxas which they gave me years ago. It’s kind of my favourite guitar right now. It just seems to pull the best parts of the sound from the inconic Strat and a Les Paul, which are completely different animals and just blends them. Especially on the neck pickup, it’s got this kind of Little Wing sound from Hendrix who was one of my favourites. Then if you go to the bridge pickup, it heads to Les Paul’ville! So that’s my main two guitars, if I bring two to England, it’s going to be those two.
Being part of the early days of Alice Cooper’s shock rock visual extravaganza, what are your thoughts on where this aspect of music is at today and the obvious influence Alice Cooper has had on these artists, such as Rob Zombie for example?
In my mind Alice’s influence happened the moment he stood in front of the camera. That to me was when the stone hit the water and the ripples started coming out. So to say he coloured more of what music was, or how bands looked, or what shows were like live or whatever, more then, than he did today, I think is incorrect. I think his blood is in so many types of music, especially anytime any band does anything theatrical. When he began, Alice immediately had a flair for doing something that went beyond just playing the music. Shep Gordon who was our manager at the time and who discovered Alice, once told me he went to see a show at a club in Hollywood. There might of been only 100 people there that night and the bill was Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper, which was the first time Zeppelin had been to the USA. Shep said when Alice went on, the whole place cleared out because he was so offensive. Shep being the kind of genius that he is, said anybody that can clear a room like that is going to be huge. So I think when people started having huge light shows and video screens and any sort of theatrics, whether it was WASP or Rob Zombie, or whoever it was, Alice had a hand in starting that ripple of creativity and looking at the experience of a live show a bit differently. You don’t have to just dance to the rhythm of the songs, you can laugh and be disgusted, or be scared, whatever it is, Alice adds that extra element to it. I went to see Alice play here in Los Angeles and Rob Zombie played and both bands were kind of amazing and I just loved Rob Zombie’s show with the pyrotechnics and it’s synched up to the massive grooves that he has a knack of putting together.
Kane, thanks for devoting your time to this extensive interview, did you have any final comments, or want to mention anything else?
With my upcoming Firefest appearance, on my website I am going to be putting all kinds of updates and information about what’s going on and maybe even some video updates of rehearsal and getting ready for the show, so make sure you keep checking in on kaneroberts.com
Tour Dates: Firefest 2011, Nottingham, UK
Kane Roberts – 1987
Saints N Sinners – 1991
Phoenix Down – Under A Wild Sky (1999)