International Music Interviews

Interview: Tim Hilleard of Pale Wizard Records on 50 Years Later and Starting With Alice Cooper’s ‘Killer’

As far as the music world is concerned, 2020 was a relatively dull year. Sure, there were a few great releases, but the elimination of tours, festivals, and live shows meant bands and fans were largely disconnected. 

But over in Bath, England, the guys at Pale Wizard Records have been hard at work on a project that’s simply cool. Titled “50 Years Later,” co-founders Tim Hilleard and Dan Flitcroft intend to release covers of classic Rock albums exactly 50 years from their initial release date.

And they’re starting with the Godfather of Shock Rock: Alice Cooper and Killer

You can catch a preview for the project here:

The lead single, “Under My Wheels,” is performed by Green Lung

You’ll also find:

  • “Be My Lover” by The Grand Mal
  • “Halo of Flies” by Sergeant Thunderhoof (a project of Pale Wizard Records co-founder Dan Flitcroft)
  • “Dead Babies” by Mos Generator
  • A cover by 1968
  • A cover by Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children of The Knight
  • A cover by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell
  • A cover by Ritual King

We sat down with Pale Wizard Records co-founder Tim Hilleard to learn more about the 50 Years Later project and to hear about the decision to cover Alice Cooper’s Killer

An Interview With Tim Hilleard of Pale Wizard Records

Monster Riff: Tell me about your role at Pale Wizard Records. 

Tim Hilleard: I co-run the label with Dan from Sergeant Thunderhoof. He set the label up a few years ago as something else to do. He runs a music studio here in Bath, and our engineer’s in a band called Phoxjaw, which was releasing a single. We thought we could get some traction with it, so why not start a record label as well? That’s how Pale Wizard formed originally, just to release a single by the band that’s on the verge of becoming quite big these days. 

Now, fast-forward a few years later, and the label has been kind of mothballed, and then the lockdown hit. And we were sort of searching for things to do. We’re self-employed, so we were desperate to find something to do. So we thought, “Why not resurrect the label? Why not put out some music? Why not create something and actually do something positive with this time?” 

On Starting With Alice Cooper’s Killer

Monster Riff: I was curious about the selection of Alice Cooper and Killer for the first album. If you look back at 1971, that’s a huge year for Rock. You’ve got IV by Led Zeppelin, you’ve got ZZ Top’s first album, you’ve got Master of Reality by Black Sabbath, you’ve got The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys by Traffic. How did you settle on Killer?

Tim Hilleard: It’s quite special to both me and Dan. Alice is, without a doubt, Dan’s favorite musical artist, full stop. And I’m a big fan as well. We both sort of come into different parts of Alice’s career due to our different ages—I’m a little bit older than Dan is. But it just seemed right to celebrate Killer, which most of his fans would say his greatest album from the band period. 

We wanted to do something to celebrate that, and nothing seemed to be happening to celebrate the 50th anniversary. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but all of the stars aligned and all of the bands fell into place quite quickly. The end result is something we’ve very happy with. 

You’re right that every year in the ’70s has a great record. And if it was anything else, we could have done Led Zeppelin, we could have done ZZ Top. But I think Alice is a little bit left field—it’s not an obvious choice. And since it’s for a series of albums, which is what we’re trying to do with 50 Years Later, we wanted to start with a band and an album that are unique and special. 

We’re kind of doing that with another series that we do called Beyond the Pale, where we get artists to cover someone who’s a little bit left field and a little bit unexpected. So the first release of that, we’ve got a couple of bands covering Kate Bush, which is not something you’d expect. So on one side, Sergeant Thunderhoof did “Cloudbusting,” and then on the B-side Tony Reed did “Sat In Your Lap.” It was like, “Wow, this really works! This could be a series as well.” So we’ve got another one of those planned, believe it or not, coming soon. 

Monster Riff: On the 50 Years Later project, anything else in the queue? 

Tim Hilleard: The idea behind 50 Years Later is to release it 50 years to the day. So Killer is coming out on the 27th of November, which is 50 years to the day. I think that’s the agreed upon date for the original release of Killer by Alice Cooper: 27th of November, 1971. 

So we want to do it 50 years to the day and we want to do it at least once a year. We’ve already got our 1972 album planned. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to say what it is yet, but we’ve just signed our first artist, which is quite a big name. We’re very lucky to have this next album coming down the line. It’ll be about six months later, so right in the middle of 1972. I don’t want to say too much because it might give it away as far as its release date in 1972.

But it’s something that we want to do every year, at least one. There are so many great albums in the ‘70s. And we’re just lucky. No one else is really doing anything like 50 Years Later and releasing albums 50 years later today. Of course, it puts us at the mercy of things like pressing plants when it comes to vinyl, because the lead times for production of vinyl are immense everywhere. That’s our main problem. I mean, Alice Cooper’s Killer has to go off to the press at the end of April to be ready for November. 

On Alice Cooper’s Reaction and Career

Monster Riff: What’s cool about this project is that it’s “only” 50 years later, which means many of these artists are still alive and performing in some way. Have you had any dialogue with Alice Cooper on this project?

Tim Hilleard: No, but it would be wonderful to have some involvement from Alice. That would be the dream. We have a few ins, we think, with some of the band members, so we’ve sent some stuff out. We haven’t heard anything back yet. But Alice does a radio show, so it would be nice to get one of the tracks played on there. 

I’m just hoping that one day he hears it and can appreciate it for what it is. It may not be something that he’s completely into, but some of it is a little bit left field, and there are a couple of tracks which are quite different from the original. But there are a couple that are very faithful to the original. But I’d love to get him involved, to be honest. 

Monster Riff: What’s cool about Alice Cooper is that he never really stopped. You had a lot of bands in the ‘70s that sort of flamed out in the ‘80s or early ‘90s, and then they popped back up again in the new millennium as a sort of cash grab. 

Tim Hilleard: He had that strange phase in the early ‘80s when he went very sort of New Wave and a bit Punk. He made some quite strange music. But it all has its merits. I mean, every era of his musical career has really strong moments as well as a few missteps. But everyone does when you’ve been doing it for this long. 

50 Years Later Logo

Picking Bands for 50 Years Later and Killer

Monster Riff: Tell me more about the selection process for these bands. Some of them, like Sergeant Thunderhoof, are a natural fit, given their ties to the label. 

Tim Hilleard: A lot of these bands are bands that Sergeant Thunderhoof have played with over the last few years. It’s kind of the cream of the UK scene, in many respects—with one notable exception. Mos Generator aren’t from here. 

It’s a very close-knit community that we have in the UK. I think we’ve got maybe one or two rejections, but this lineup was pretty much all of our first choices. Getting Green Lung, who are on the brink of stardom in this country at the moment, is exciting as well. They’ve got some big festival slots lined up this summer—if we’re allowed to have festivals.

On the Reaction on Kickstarter

Monster Riff: The reaction so far has been extremely positive. On Kickstarter, you set a goal of £3,000, and you currently have nearly £6,000. 

Tim Hilleard: Yeah, we’ve almost doubled it. We’re just three or four sales away from doubling it, which is beyond our wildest dreams. 

Monster Riff: What do you do with the extra donations?

Tim Hilleard: We have other bands who have contributed bonus tracks for the CD release. They’ve signed up to do covers of Alice Cooper songs not from Killer, and we’re going to put them on the CD release’s extra tracks for people who’ve helped us with the Kickstarter campaign. It’s a way to give back something extra. 

They’re recording songs from that same era, so it’s all Alice Cooper band era, which are going to be special surprises for people when they get the CD version. Hopefully, it’ll encourage people to pick up the CD as well, because we’re not going to put them on the vinyl version. The vinyl is going to stay just the Killer album. We wouldn’t want to put some random songs on the end because then it wouldn’t be the same. 

We’ve replicated the artwork quite well for Killer. There’s even a calendar in the original Killer LP, which we’ve replicated for this project. So it’s going to look really cool. 

On the Act of Rediscovery

Monster Riff: Whenever you sit down and listen to something over and over again and really analyze it, you really start to appreciate every single moment. The act of covering an entire album, especially one that’s of historical significance, is magical in a few ways. What did you discover about the album? What did you come to appreciate that you’ve maybe never picked up on before? 

Tim Hilleard: There are quite a few intricate moments. It’s quite progressive in a few places within the album. There’s the run-in between track seven and track eight, before “Killer” starts. The whole courtroom scene at the end is something that, once you listen to it a few times, the whole ethos of the record sort of comes clear in your mind. 

For me, it was something I enjoyed discovering. They were just songs before, when I used to listen to the album when I was younger. Now I appreciate it as an album, as a whole piece of music for 40 minutes. I’m glad that we’ve done it. I’m really pleased with the outcome. 

50 Years Later Alice Cooper Cases

Monster Riff: I’m sure it’s a bit of a tough spot to be in because you want to give the band artistic freedom to interpret the songs their own way, but if you find something done a certain way in the original that you absolutely love, you might not want it to change at all. How do you balance vision and artistic freedom on a project like this?

Tim Hilleard: There are rules when you do something like this. You can’t change any of the lyrics because we obviously have to pay a license fee. And that fee goes to the original songwriters of the album. So the original Alice Cooper band will get a cut of the fee that we pay. So once you do that, you can’t change the lyrics at all. 

So we had to sort of stipulate to people that they have artistic license with some limitations. You can make it really fuzzy or heavy as hell or a really faithful interpretation, but we don’t want you to deviate wildly from the track length. And we certainly don’t want you to change any of the lyrics. Those were the main things. We didn’t really force anyone to change anything they didn’t want to do. 

Some bands played really faithful renditions and some really put their own spin and character on it. And then there are a few which are quite left field. There are some that you’ll hear it at first and say, “Is that that song?” But then it kicks in and you say, “Oh yeah! It is!”

Looking Ahead at the 50 Years Later Project

Monster Riff: When you think about future albums, do you plan on using the same lineup that you’re using now? Or do you think you’ll change it every year?

Tim Hilleard: We’re not sure yet. For the next one, I think we want to have some new bands on, but we want to be in touch with bands we’ve used and want to use them on future projects. 

Again, this is not going to be a one-and-done deal for us. We’re not the kind of label that’s just going to use a band and then ignore them. We want to use them again, unless we’ve got more projects lined up other than the 50 Years Later series, as I said, so maybe the next 50 Years Later album could have a whole new lineup. 

We want to keep it fresh as well, and you don’t want the same bands interpreting the same artist every time. 

We’ve had people trying to guess what we’re going to cover for ‘72, but no one’s come up with it yet. That’s kind of exciting as well. 

Monster Riff: I’m sure in hearing that chatter you’re getting a lot of good ideas as well. Have there been any guesses where you’re just like, “Oh man! I forgot about that album. That would be really cool to do!”

Tim Hilleard: I’ll tell you two things that we thought were really cool to do. For me, it was a band called Uriah Heep, a British Heavy Metal band. They released Demons and Wizards in 1972, which was their breakthrough. And for it Dan, it was Slayed? by Slade. They both would have been quite interesting to do, but we just couldn’t agree. 

I didn’t really like Slade, and I didn’t think Dan was really keen on doing Uriah Heep. And then after arguing about it for a couple of weeks, we decided that this is not what we wanted to do. We wanted to do music that excites both of us, which is why we did Alice. So we both need to agree on the music. There’s no point in one of us having a passion and the other one thinking, “Well, I suppose I could.” That wouldn’t really be fair. And when it comes to promoting it, one of us isn’t going to have their heart in it as much as they should. That would suck if I had to sit here this time next year and try to tell you passionately about the band Slade. And I’m sure if Dan was doing this next year, he would probably struggle with Uriah Heep just as much. Plus, it would be stepping out of our box a little because we’d need more Progressive bands to do something like Uriah Heep—it may be more Metal than we’ve gone so far. That’s not to say we won’t move in that direction when the ‘70s move that way. In ‘75, you have Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, which is something I would like to do. 

Monster Riff: There’s so much you could do with Pink Floyd, but I don’t think I’ve seen many tributes to Wish You Were Here

Tim Hilleard: I think it’s because of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” That’s quite a mammoth task because of the length. And it’s five tracks as well. It might be a goer. Ask us again in three of four years time. [Laughs]

Monster Riff: There’s a sort of brilliance in picking Alice and Killer for your first go because it’s Alice Cooper. From a marketing perspective, Alice Cooper is one of those bands and one of those figures where everyone has some sort of reaction to it. Even if they don’t listen to him, they have some sort of emotional reaction to his name because he’s larger than life, especially when it comes to his stage presence. 

If you had to go back and pick another artist or band for this first record, who might you have picked? Were there any other artists in discussion?

Tim Hilleard: Well, all of this came about from Killer. We said last year, “We could do an album for the 50th anniversary,” and then the idea to do 50 Years Later came about after that. “It’s 50 years later, so let’s theme it. It’s 50 years later, so let’s do the artwork. Hang on a minute, we could do this every year or maybe twice a year.” 

We could have done anything else from ‘71. In retrospect, Led Zeppelin IV would have been the obvious choice. But I think doing Killer to start was because the stars aligned. As I’ve said, Dan and I are both fans. It’s something we’ve both got a passion for.

If you’d like to learn more about Pale Wizard Records, check out their website or visit them on social media (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube). You can check out the Kickstarter page for Killer here.

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