AN INTERVIEW WITH ERIC SINGER
By David Iozzia
Eric Singer has drummed for three of the premier rock bands of the 20th century: Black Sabbath, KISS, and Alice Cooper. I was honored when Eric took the time to talk on the telephone and answer my interview questions in February 2006. That interview ran in the Summer 2006 issue of 22nd Century Rock magazine. When it was time to move the interview text to Daves On Tour.com, it was outdated. Things can change pretty fast in the crazy world of rock and roll. Eric and I chatted again in September to bring the interview up-to-date.
Dave: Hello Eric and thanks for letting me update our original interview. Lets start off right here and right now in September 2006 with a status report on Alice Cooper.
ERIC: 2006, so far, has been another busy year. Weve been touring on and off all year. We did a German tour in February with Deep Purple. Then we did a Canadian run and a U.S. run. After taking a month-long break, were gearing up for another U.S. run. Theres talk of going to Japan and maybe South America late in the year. Were playing basically the same setlist from last years tour, but weve changed a couple of the songs. Theres no new material, other than the songs from Dirty Diamonds.
Dave: Should U.S. fans expect a record of new studio material soon?
ERIC: As far as a new record, I dont know for sure at this time. Alice is a very energetic and active guy. That being said, you never know what he has in store. A new live CD/DVD, Live at Montreux 2005, was released in Europe on May 22 and here in the States shortly afterwards. That double release was recorded in July 2005 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. That facility is great, they have a built-in recording studio and they film everybody playing there.
Dave: How is the new guy, Keri Kelli, working out on lead guitar?
ERIC: Keris working out fine, he slid right in. Hes a great player and a real pro. When he came in, he had all of the music down and nailed. He made the transition painless and easy on everybody. Damon Johnson and Keri have a nice chemistry. They do a guitar instrumental on Black Widow that is really different. Its ironic that Keri and Ryan Roxie, our former lead guitarist, had a lot of the same gigs. Theyve been on the same path and now hes taking Ryans place again with this band.
Dave: What are your thoughts on the upcoming shows that Alice Cooper is going to open for the Rolling Stones?
Eric: Were booked for three shows. Were doing a much shorter set, but were playing in stadiums. Theres not much to say, its the Stones and it doesnt get any bigger than that. I cant think of anybody cooler to open a show for at this stage of the game, except possibly U2.
Dave: Alice Cooper was recently quoted that when Mick Jagger retires, Alice will know that he has six years left to rock. Is there a drummer out there who youre watching in a similar context?
ERIC: No way. Im not ready to retire. Drummers from the 1960s and early 70s like Aynsley Dunbar, Carmine Appice, Tommy Aldridge, and Bill Ward still play great. Its all up to the individual to take care of himself and maintain a certain level of playing ability. There are some other guys who didnt take care of themselves whose playing has diminished, and theyre suffering for it. They have people making excuses for them that its because theyre older, but I dont buy it. Buddy Rich was still kickin ass up until the time he died. When a drummer ages, he may not hit as hard as he used to when he was a young kid. My philosophy is to learn how to get the most economy out of your movement. Learn how to play smarter and to take care of yourself better. Learn how to still pull a good sound and feel out of your playing and out of your drum kit.
Dave: In 2005, when Alice Cooper released a new record called Dirty Diamonds, he toured supporting it in North America and Europe. The U.S. tour was opened by Cheap Trick, and the two bands closed the show onstage together, playing on a few classic rock covers. How cool was it jamming every night with Cheap Trick?
ERIC: We couldnt do that every night. From a scheduling point of view, it was hard for Cheap Trick to wait around two hours after they were done playing. We picked a few major cities and did it about a half dozen times. We also did it in their hometown of Rockford, Illinois, where they closed the show. Ryan Roxie and I went to Ricks house after the show. We hung out and he showed us his guitar collection. Ryan and I are big Cheap Trick fans so it was really cool. Touring with them was incredible; theyre great guys and a real class act.
Dave: Alice Cooper, when he tours supporting a new record, always seems to play four or five new songs mixed in among all of his classic hits. As a music fan, I love that mix and I feel it keeps it fresh. How challenging is it for a band to work new material into the set list when most of the audience only wants to hear the classics?
ERIC: Dont I know that! Just like when Im touring with KISS, the fanatics want obscure songs and the average person wants all the hits. Its a fine line you try to walk. I give Alice or any artist a lot of credit for doing new records and putting new product out when at the same time you have an established career and a big song catalog. Theres only so much time, and the show is the length what it is. You can only do so many songs. Alice has to do Im Eighteen, Schools Out, and Billion Dollar Babies. If you dont play those songs, its sacrilegious. The remaining percentage of the set list lets you put in an obscure song or something you havent played in a long time, and then you cant overlook the new record youre touring to promote.
Dave: Is there one golden oldie that Alice Cooper never plays that youd like him to dust off and work into the set list?
ERIC: Ive toured a long time with Alice Cooper, and weve probably played a hundred different songs. I warm up and stretch before I go on so Im onstage to hear the intro tape. Luney Tune from the Schools Out album is on that tape, and I always think that it would be cool to play that song live. We also learned My Stars from that record but never got to play it. A lot of the old songs sonically just dont have the power and impact. If you play them now theyd come across heavier, even though it was the rawness they made them cool back then. In some ways, the records then dont sonically sound how they could be played now. Maybe thats good, maybe thats bad. Its a matter of opinion that youd have to look at song by song, group by group.
Dave: Im going to ask you a few things about KISS later, but for now, Ill ask the same question. What song would you have liked KISS to add to their set list?
ERIC: I always wanted to do Strange Ways with KISS. That song is great on record, but when we tried playing it live it didnt translate. I always thought that was Aces best solo on a KISS record. You can hear his Jimi Hendrix influence on that tune.
Dave: Its not as important to U.S. history as the John F. Kennedy conspiracy, but for the sake of rock and roll history, Ive got to ask you this. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2006 inductees. Its some kind of conspiracy when bands like KISS and Alice Cooper are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and bands like Parliament-Funkedelic and The Pretenders are. Your comments?
ERIC: Music is a generational thing. We all have that music from our teen years that really influenced and impacted us in a time period when you cared about it the most. Music becomes the soundtrack to our lives during those young and impressionable years. So each generation has its favorites, those bands and records that you can still play today that bring us back to a special place in time. The bottom line though with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that its a political thing. Voting is all about opinions. Sometimes the writers and critics think they know more than everybody else, and they voice that opinion with their vote. If a band sells a bunch of records and a lot of people attend its shows, it shouldnt matter if a voter doesnt think that band is critically relative. The bottom line should be if the music fans like it. KISS is a huge band and theyre influential. They are part of Americana whether people like them or not. Heres an example of politics: Jann Wenner, the owner of Rolling Stone doesnt like KISS, and theyve never EVER made the cover of his magazine. Alice Cooper has been very influential and belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He even influenced David Bowie, who switched his direction once Alice Cooper came out.
Dave: The onstage theatrics at an Alice Cooper show are legendary. Yet, for the sake of this interview, Im proposing a change. Using a real guillotine, with you as the executioner, you have to behead someone other than Alice. Which guitarist are you putting on the chopping block? Roxie, Ryans new replacement Keri Kelli, Chuck Garric, or Damon Johnson?
ERIC: Ryan Roxie, and hed probably say the same thing about me!
Dave: As much as I enjoy the theatrics, a previous tour by Alice Cooper was almost bare bones, with limited onstage antics. I saw that tour in a New Jersey club, down and dirty, and I enjoyed the change of pace. With Alices stage show and KISS pyrotechnics in mind, do you as a musician find all that stuff distracting and disruptive to your concentration?
ERIC: No, after a while Im on auto-pilot. I probably play 95% the same every night, give or take a few drum fills or how I feel. With show-oriented bands, the performance is set and established, which helps with the pacing. You know whats going to happen, and you try to enhance or play into those things.
Dave: Heres my final Alice Cooper question. Ive attended many a tour, and his band lineups always include top-notch players. My problem is, that with his choice of band mates, the show doesnt give them enough time or space to flex their musical muscles. I know its HIS show and its all about Alice, but do you sometimes feel restricted and held back, or do you just have to accept it as part of the job description?
ERIC: With Alice Cooper, Ive never felt held back. He always gives people the space to be themselves. If I want to ham it up or twirl sticks, Im never told to back off. Alice encourages stuff like that. Performance, presentation, image, and appeal are very important to Alice. He also knows about our professionalism and thats very important to Alice. He treats his tours like a business; you can have fun but its not a big party.
Dave: Ive seen you quoted, and it obviously speaks for most KISS fans, that youd love to see new studio material recorded. How important and how necessary is it for KISS to add new material from the 21st century to their legacy?
ERIC: I think thats an artists choice. Using Alice as an example, its great that he keeps recording new records despite not having any big hit songs. He wants to keep making music because thats what he does. He has so much energy. With KISS in mind, it would be a good thing to do a new record. It certainly wouldnt hurt. If Gene and Paul can do solo records, they can do a new KISS record. I dont make those decisions, and I wish I had more say and input in those things. If it were up to me, Id say lets do a new record. But you know what? Somebodys got to pay for the record and somebodys got to write the songs. Those guys are the songwriters. They could put everything down and walk away any time they want. They dont need the money, and they dont HAVE to do anything. It becomes all about what they WANT to do.
Dave: KISS played six one-off shows this summer. When you guys were together, was there talk of any new material?
ERIC: No, there was no talk of new material. Whether KISS will write new material remains to be seen.
Dave: Is there anything in the pipeline?
Eric: Paul Stanley is in solo mode with his new record being released on October 24 and a subsequent tour. His wife, Erin, just delivered a baby boy, Colin Michael. Pauls a new father for the second time. Tommy Thayer is compiling and editing material for the forthcoming KISS DVD box set. Thats going to be a real cool thing and it encompasses the bands entire career, including some live shows in their entirety. Itll finally give KISS fans some high-quality, officially released stuff. Genes got so many other multi-media interests, including the new TV show hes producing, Simmons Family Jewels. Its all business with Gene, 24-7. Every day is the same as another with regards to potential. He stays focused and workman-like. For him, thats what has made him successful. I wish I had that drive and focus.
Dave: Have you seen Genes TV show, and if so, what do you think?
ERIC: I only saw the first episode. I dont watch much TV and Ive been out on tour. I might watch CNN in the hotel room, but when Genes show is on, Im either on stage or on the bus traveling. I thought the first show was kind of funny. We all have different facets to our lives and personalities. This show should shoot down the myth that Gene is an evil, mean guy. It shows that hes a loving, doting father with his kids.
Dave: Does KISS have touring plans for 2007?
ERIC: I hear the same rumors and rumblings, and I usually hear it from fans and through people like yourself in the business before I hear it from Gene or Paul. I would imagine that at some point, somethings going to happen. Exactly when, I dont know. We all take things one day at a time, so after Paul and Gene do their individual things, theyll have a look around to see if going out again to tour is a good idea. It may just be the random, one-off shows that they did the last two years. My impression, based upon the talk I hear when Im around them and the sense of their vibe, is that they dont have any interest in a full-scale tour. But that could change at any given time. I dont think well hear anything until Spring 2007 at the earliest.
Dave: What about Genes quotes recently about a 2007 KISS tour with Queen?
ERIC: Dont go by that. Paul already posted a message and theres no plans for such a tour. Were all friends with the guys from Queen. The talk came about because we both did a VH-1 show and the KISS dressing room was next to Queens. I was hanging out by the pool with Brian May and everybody was talking that it would be pretty cool to tour together. That was spun into something thats not really there at this time.
Dave: Youve drummed for Brian May and youve seen Queen featuring Paul Rodgers in concert. What was your impression?
ERIC: Queen is one of my top all-time bands so they cant do wrong in my book. Brian May is not only a friend, but I love his guitar playing, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Paul Rodgers is a great singer yet nobody is ever going to replace Freddie Mercury. When you look back upon it, he may have been the best front man ever. He transcended a lot of boundaries that most singers never get away with. He was openly gay, he was very flamboyant on stage, and he was very charismatic. Queen filled stadiums all around the world with all types of fans, even the most macho guys. Nobody cared about Freddies persona, and I cant think of any other singer who had such mass appeal despite his sexuality.
Dave: Youve sat behind the drum kit for KISS in different lineups with three very good, yet quite different guitarists: Ace Frehley, Bruce Kulick, and Tommy Thayer. What did Bruce and Tommy do differently that lets them put their individual stamp on the KISS material?
ERIC: Ace, of course, along with Gene, Paul, and Peter defined how the songs should be played and how the band and its performance should look. In the 80s, everybody was into a little more shred type guitar playing, with sweeps and a giant arena sound. Bruce, like all of us, was a victim of those times and the style he had to play. Bruce originally is a more blues-based and early 70s influenced guitarist. When he played with KISS in the 80s, he had to change his approach to soloing. I do other gigs with Bruce and I know what an under-rated player he is. Hes a total pro and its so easy, like being on auto-pilot, when you play with Bruce. Tommy doesnt do that much differently because we tried to re-create the old-school KISS vibe as we played all of the vintage classic hit stuff from the 70s. Tommy brings a lot of consistency, and hes a real professional. Hes a great guitar player, and he has really good tone.
Dave: What was your approach to the drumming parts in KISS? How do you put your own stamp on somebody elses material while drumming?
ERIC: You have to keep in mind that you are playing somebody elses music. You have to adapt and acclimate, almost being a chameleon, as you try to fit into a bands direction, style, and sound. You have to try to emulate and add a bit of personality the best you can. But the parameters are already set. In the 90s with KISS, I was playing double bass with busy and flashy drum fills because thats the way everybody was doing it. I dont play like that anymore with KISS. When I listen to some of that older stuff, I laugh and I kind of cringe, but thats how everybody was playing. My philosophy is to play for the band and for the song. I cant bring my ego to the drum kit and say Im Eric Singer and this is the way I think it should be. I wouldnt have played with all of the different people over my career if I thought like that. I think people hire me because I can do or give them what they need. If it means playing simple and basic, Ill do that. If it means I get to open up and stretch out a little more, then thats cool too.
Dave: When I was back in high school in the 70s, a lot of my friends listened to KISS. Not me, I was listening to and attending concerts by a band called Montrose. Commercially speaking, I made the wrong choice. But artistically speaking, Ill stick with the choice I made. Please talk about your musical relationship with one of my all-time favorite guitarists, Ronnie Montrose.
ERIC: Ronnies a great guy and an odd character, which I mean in a good way. Thats the beauty and entertaining part of the music business, its filled with eclectic and eccentric characters. For me, the kookier they are, the more I enjoy it. Ronnie is an awesome guitarist and he still sounds great. Weve played together off and on over the years but only once in 2005. I did a fill-in gig when his regular drummer, my buddy Jimmy DeGrasso, wasnt available. That gig was no problem because I know all of Ronnies material. I grew up on his records, and Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, and myself listen to the first Montrose record in our dressing room when were getting ready for shows. Thats one of the best hard rock records ever. Denny Carmassi was the classic rock drummer, almost the American version of John Bonham. He was a big influence on me. There are some gigs that you do because they are beneficial to your career or to your wallet. Others benefit your soul and musical energy and thats the reason Ill play with Ronnie any opportunity I get. I jump at the chance every time because I get to play with one of my musical heroes.
Dave: I knocked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier for not inducting Alice Cooper. Its only fair that I acknowledge them for finally inducting Black Sabbath. I hope Deep Purple and Judas Priest are soon to follow. Would you agree that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has pretty much ignored metal music?
ERIC: Yes, I agree. Music critics and the media always seem to like music that the general masses do not like. They like to honor music with lyrical content. A lot of hard rock and metal fans dont care about critical acclaim or lyrics, its all about attitude and vibe.
Dave: Your stints in Black Sabbath had either Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen, or Tony Martin on vocals. Did you ever work directly with their other vocalists, Ozzy Osbourne or Ronnie James Dio?
ERIC: Actually, I had quit before Tony Martin came in to do his vocals for The Eternal Idol. I never worked with Ozzy or Dio, although I auditioned for Ozzy back in 1985.
Dave: Ozzfest is a national treasure. Did you ever play with a band at Ozzfest or attend it as a music fan?
ERIC: I never played Ozzfest but I attended once or twice. I have no interest in attending festival-type shows. They suck. The bands are great but to me, they are not fun to attend. I dont know how people do it. Yet I did all of that as a kid, sleeping outside stadiums, sitting front row, or standing all day at the front of the stage.
Dave: Lets keep your music fan hat on for a moment. What does Eric Singer look for in a band when you see them live?
ERIC: I like to see bands that can take it to another level or a higher place when they play live. So many bands suck live while their records sound amazing. They cant reproduce the record because they cant sing and they play their instruments lousy. Anybody can be mediocre and sound like a million bucks on record with Pro-Tools and computer technology.
Dave: What do you look for in band mates?
ERIC: The biggest and most important thing for me is professionalism. I dont care how you play, if youre not a pro, I dont have time for you. Life goes by too fast, and everything in the music business is too complex to make it more complicated by being irresponsible and unprofessional. Unfortunately, in my opinion, most musicians are losers and Im more than qualified to say that. On the other hand, my band mates on Alice Coopers tours are a real pleasure to work with. Theyre easy to live with when were on the road. Yet, theyre characters in their own right and a lot of fun. Youll always have differences with band mates, but there was no fighting or major disagreements. Its tough being around each other for months and seeing the same people every day. The little disagreements are inevitable, but who cares?
Dave: European music fans had a few opportunities in 2005 to see ESP, a.k.a., the Eric Singer Project. Are any U.S. shows being planned for 2006?
ERIC: I dont think so. I kind of play it by ear with those shows.
Dave: Didnt you also play some European tour dates with the band UNION? I met drummer Brent Fitz in New York City when he was touring with Theory of a Deadman. We talked about UNION afterwards, and he said you might be drumming with them in his absence.
ERIC: I did play some UNION shows, one in L.A. to warm up and two in Tokyo. Bruce Kulick and I like to do shows like that now and then. They give us the freedom to put our own thing together without answering to someone else. Weve both always worked for other people so its nice to be in control of our own situation and destiny. Ironically, Brent filled in for me this summer, drumming for Alice Cooper when I had to leave to do the shows with KISS.
Dave: How about another project of yours, Glamnation. Any plans to bring that band out here to the East Coast?
ERIC: I dont think so. We havent done that in years.
Dave: SWEET was my favorite glam band of the 1970s, and I believe you once covered my favorite song of theirs, Set Me Free. How did your love of glam music influence you?
ERIC: The 70s glam bands had good songs, the image, and they all could play. It was good music from good musicians, which differed from most of the 80s bands who claimed to be glam-influenced. Those 70s bands taught me that you can have flash and image but at the end of the day you had to have good songs and you had to know how to play.
Dave: Im New Jersey based, so the ONLY definition of Badlands is the song by a local hacker named Bruce Springsteen. Please share a memory about your work with the band Badlands and its singer, the late Ray Gillen?
ERIC: My memories of Badlands arent good ones. I saw a lot of potential with really talented people turn into a sad situation.
Dave: You drummed on many a tribute CD, even adding lead vocals on a few songs. Do you have any desire to step away from the drum kit and be a front man?
ERIC: No, Im not a front man. Im realistic about what I can and cannot do. Im just a solid background singer who you can rely on. Drumming is the most physical job in the band, but fronting a band is harder. The focus and spotlight is on the front man 90 percent of the time. Its intimidating, and I dont know how guys do it.
Dave: The power trio is my favorite band configuration. Youve played on stage or in the studio with so many outstanding musicians. Please pick a lead guitarist and a bass guitarist, dead or alive, that youve never played with who would help you create an awesome power trio.
ERIC: Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney. Jimi created electric guitar as we know it today. There are many bass players to choose from, and I love Led Zeppelins John Paul Jones. But Paul, like Jimi, adds great vocals and songwriting to the band youve asked me to dream up.
Dave: Thanks again Eric for agreeing to do this interview. Best of luck in the future to you. Do you have anything else that youd like to promote?
ERIC: Bruce Kulick and I are mixing a live CD and a live DVD from the ESP shows that we did in Japan and Australia.
Dave: Any closing comments for music fans worldwide?
ERIC: Thanks to all the people and to my lucky stars for letting me realize a lot of my dreams. Im blessed and fortunate to be making a living doing something that I always wanted to do. The fan support I get is awesome, and I hope to see everybody on the road.
Full Name: Eric Singer
Birthday: May 12, 1958
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio
Hobbies: I collect watches, Im a big sports fan
Favorite rock band: Led Zeppelin
Favorite rock song: Purple Rain by Prince
First record ever purchased: Kick Out The Jams by MC5
Favorite venue to play: the old Hammersmith Odeon in London
Favorite city to visit: London
Favorite film: Shawshank Redemption
Favorite beverage: sparkling water
Favorite food: any type of Asian food