By John Jeffrey
While my initial knee-jerk reaction was to put up a review of the CD when I was sent the advance prior to it’s release, I have to say that the Hollywood Vampires’ second album, ‘Rise,’ struck me in such an immense way, that before I could write a word about it, I had so many questions that needed to be answered. I really wanted to do some research and recon on the “Who, Why, When & Where” – in order to properly evaluate, what I have come to find out is a very unique record.
When the Hollywood Vampires were first assembled, it seemed there was an inaudible sigh heard across the world, as the last thing we needed was another contrived “Supergroup,” featuring 2 legendary musicians (Alice Cooper & Joe Perry), pasted together with a “movie star” (Johnny Depp), all of which are enjoying the twilight phases of their careers. All of them having stellar careers on their own, with the obviously thoughts from the ‘powers that be,’ was that the combination and collaboration of the three, would pump out those extra bucks from the superstar threesome. Duh.
While Alice Cooper’s ideology on the ‘project,’ was that the Hollywood Vampires would be the “biggest, overpaid, bar-band,” something happened that probably wasn’t expected, the Hollywood Vampires became a REAL band. Once the ego-flab was cut off from the original lineup, real deal musicians like Glen Sobel (drums), Buck Johnson (keyboards) and Chris Wyse (bass) were brought in to seal the circle of the brotherhood that was forming within the ranks of the Vampires.
Regardless of what you may read in the press releases, the pivotal duo behind the creation of “Rise” is not who may immediately think. The heart and soul behind the CD is producer Tommy Henriksen and none other than Johnny Depp. The writing process began when Depp allowed Henriksen behind a curtain that not many people are privy to, Depp’s personal thoughts and feelings. Depp loaned Henriksen several of his journals he wrote in through his life, filled with stories and poems only your wildest abstract imagination could envision. Depp gave Henriksen the task, a challenge of sorts, to create songs utilizing the writings within Depp’s diaries.
Out of this process, not only did it produce the majority of the great songs you hear on ‘Rise,’ but Henriksen stated that through the consumption of Depp’s literary works, he came away with a whole new appreciate of “JD” and found that his own vocabulary and grammar had improved as well.
While I won’t tell you what a “Boogieman Surprise” REALLY is, I will venture to say that the song, “Welcome to Bushwackers” was written about a real bar Depp visited during the film “Crybaby” (the spoken intro of the was done by “Crybaby” director John Waters), and “Git From Around Me” was inspired by a meeting Depp had with legendary guitarist Chuck Berry.
What is most surprising about ‘Rise,’ is that the album was essentially recorded only using a laptop and a SM-57 microphone. All the songs were cut live in hotel rooms, with minimal auto tuning or time correction. It was later decided to recut Sobel’s drum tracks in an actual recording studio with the highly regarded engineer/mixer/producer Mike Plotnikoff, who also wound up mixing the record, which was later mastered by the legendary Howie Weinberg.
Unlike their 2015 debut record, ‘Rise’ consists mainly of these original tunes. However, in the spirit of the Vampires’ initial “mission,” the album does include three cover songs – originally written and recorded by some fellow rockers who died far too young: an intimate and intense version of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, beautifully performed by Johnny Depp; the late Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died” (also sung by Depp) and Johnny Thunder’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory,” sung by Joe Perry, dedicated to the memory of his dear friend.
Speaking of vocals, Alice himself stated that he took a very different approach on this record, when laying down his parts and the overall creative aspect of the record in general. Cooper stated, “‘Rise’ is not only a totally different animal than the first Vampires album, it is unique to anything I’ve ever been a part of. I approached it very differently than I usually do when working on an album. What is different is that I didn’t try to change any songs to be more “Alice-like.” Because each of us has different influences, the sound of this album is very cool. I think that with this album, we are establishing what the Vampires’ sound really is, whereas with the first album we were more tipping our hats to our fallen rock n roll brothers.”
‘Rise’ is a rock and roll experience, not about singles, but a complete body of work to be sonically consumed as a whole. There’s ups and downs, and twist and turns and even a formal “Congratulations” at the end. In a world of pre-programmed, sampled to death, pro-tooled nightmares that people dare to release as music, “it’s do or die and time to ‘Rise.”
For more on the Hollywood Vampires, please visit www.hollywoodvampires.com