In a now infamous night at New York's Irving Plaza, Marilyn Manson (the band and the leader share the same name) were nearing the end of their set when a nightly ritual of violence occurred. Into the phase of the evening, when the band played their "destruction songs," Marilyn, the self-described "Antichrist Superstar," picked up a weight microphone stand and began smashing the drums. Tom-toms exploded into splinters, cymbals flew off their stands, but drummer Ginger Fish kept on playing what was left.
As Manson seemed lost in this flurry of blows, the base of the mic' stand connected with the side of Fish's head. Backing off as Fish hit the floor face down, Manson nonchalantly walked away. For five minutes the crowd remained silent, until Fish showed signs of life and was carried off stage by the road crew. An unusual occurrence on an otherwise typical tour? Not quite. Marilyn Manson is a singular breed of rock artist. Picking up where Alice Cooper left off, Manson's credo is based on his goal to conquer the world. Though a recent Rolling Stone piece avoided any analysis of the troubling nature of Manson as role model and media icon, his band represents a new plateau on the rock scene. Some kids throw mud at their band of choice while the band spits back. Manson not only abuses himself, he attacks his own band members. Some see this as the ultimate theater or the ultimate rock'n'roll rebellion: annihilation as entertainment.
Theater aside, Antichrist Superstar is a brilliant album of crushing, distorted rhythms and harrowing melodies illustrating a theme of rebirth and power, its songs draw on punk, industrial, glam, prog, and metal with uniquely twisted bent.
Drummer Ginger Fish's contribution to Manson's theater of hate is the result of years playing everything from show tunes to orchestra standards from big band to Top-40, from original music to well-grooved cover tunes. The son of a crooner and a dancer, Fish has now reached his life's goal. He's a rock star with the world at his feet. He's also a talented drummer adept at manipulating machines and playing drums while dodging nightly assaults on his person.
Your drumming is very creative. Flashy, and funky within the scope of Manson's music. Do you and the bassist take a traditional role in creating your parts?
Ginger Fish: "Most of this album was written with me. Twiggy Ramirez, and Mansons sitting in a room bouncing ideas off each other. Manson plays drums himself, and so does Twiggy. Being a drummer, I get all the bad drummer jokes, but nothing affects me. I like my role in the band, and I like everybody in the band. It's a "keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer" mentality. I don't flinch, even though the band is very mentally and physically abusive. Even the stage show in itself is very abusive. Tomorrow night I'm getting a new set of drums because my last set didn't make it through the last show. A mic stand with a fifteen-pound base can put one big hole in the bass drum."
Is all this worth it?
"There is a sick amusement to it all. The band is fun, and the music is challenging. Manson envisions everything; he sees everything. Some people call that a dictatorship, some call it one man's vision. He's great at what he does. He's not going off half-cocked. He knows exactly what is going on."
How did Marilyn Manson hear of you?
"I was always a first-call drummer in the southern Florida area, but I had given up on the scene and moved to Las Vegas on '95. Just as my unemployment ran out in Vegas, I got a call from Manson. Two weeks later I'm on the road with them. I wasn't on the first album, but after they called me, I learned it in a weekend, then made a videotape of myself playing the music and sent it to them. They flew me out that week to meet them, and boom bang, I went from homeless unemployment to being on a tour bus."
What's your personal background?
"I was born in Boston. My parents were entertainers, so we moved a lot. My mom danced in the Little Rascal's chorus. My dad is a crooner. They made a living, but there's not much retirement in the music business. Anything I do in music is me paying back their dedication to the arts. I went to high school in Las Vegas, then got out and became a carnival barker for two years.
But I played the drums before I could walk. I came out of my mom banging with spoons. I played The Partridge Family toy kits. In Boston, I took drums in the second and third grade. In seventh grade, I started playing in the pit bands, and I learned to read music. I did the marching thing too: drum corps for three years, and college corps at the University of Nevada All-State Big Band.
By my senior year of high school I had finished my regular curriculum early, so I had all music classes. I never left the band room. Being in Vegas for high school was a trip. We backed up Paul Anka and Barry Manilow for two weeks. I also went to the University of Palm Beach for music, but I got sick of teachers trying to tell me how to make it in music, when they obviously hadn't. I left school to tour with a Top-40 band in the mid '80s. When I got tired of that I went to South Florida. I did a house gig in Pompano, then another in Daytona Beach. Being successful in that scene had a lot to do with image. You have to look the part…be a team player…the whole thing.
Some drummers don't have a clue, or don't know about electronics. I've always dealt with machines, from the Korg Super Percussion machine to the commodore 64 to the Macs and the Apples. I used to do all the sequencing for my bands. That was a crazy time. Being a drummer, you have to play everything. For example, my parents were theater buffs. They bought a theater in Orlando, and I started playing for the shows. We did Company, Chicago, No No Nanette, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Merry Widow, A Chorus Line. My parents and I did it all."
I hear a little Neil Peart and Stephen Perkins influence in your drumming. Who else has inspired you?
"Besides playing with The Partridge Family albums, I would set up and play for kindergarten kids, doing Smoke On The Water. But up to this day I'm still searching for that great drum influence.
I dig Terry Bozzio; I like his tapes, where I can really listen to him. But being a great drummer means being part of the sing. All the Zappa stuff with Bozio and Colaiuta kicks ass. And Sabbath, and Pantera. Vinnie Paul has a good feel with his double bass. I play double bass; on the last tour I was doing the Dennis Chambers thing: playing the hi-hat and still play the bass drum.
On the record I played a lot of the songs single-footed. I love Chambers on John Scofield's Pick Hits. And I like track three on Dave Weckl's Master Plan. The timing and the feel of that makes me crazy. Weckl is great."
Did Manson call while you were doing the theater gigs?
"No, I did house gigs, went back to Top-40, and did several original bands. I did some albums at a studio in new Jersey where the Plasmatics, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Rainbow had recorded. None of those records went anywhere, even though I was always in good bands.
I paid my dues, living in warehouses to rehearse. Then the money ran out and I lived in my car for a year as a hired gun.
Before I left I was in a restaurant and ran into one of Manson's road managers. He called me two months later in Vegas to audition. Three years of playing originals and twenty years of playing covers led to that. It was the dedication to play originals that made it."
You mentioned earlier that you're incorporating a sampler on stage.
"We have the samples from hell on stage. I play with an Akai MPC 3000, and the keyboardist is using a Jurzweil. Everything is in time and clocked to a certain point. We have to play with a click track. I know what beat we're on in a song at all times. Sometimes it's free-form, but the majority of the gig is playing with the computers and the click tracks. I checked all my gear myself before we go on stage. So many things can go wrong with MIDI and samples; every little button can screw up a thousand things. If I didn't know how to use machines and play with click tracks, they would never have hired me. Everything is computerized now, even the effects on the vocals."
Do you practice on the road?
"I carry a Gibralter practice set on the bus, and I set it up a few hours before each show. I have to push myself because the music is pushing me. It's great to be able to play the show, but what happens when new songs come along and you can't play them? It's all well and good to be able to program parts, but when you're in front of an audience, you do have to play the drums.
And there are so many distractions. I used to think that playing perfectly was the most important thing. When I joined Manson I was playing too perfectly. They said I played like a drum machine. They wanted me to sloppy it up. Luckily, it's easier for a good player to play sloppy than for a sloppy player to play good. I'm still playing with machines without having the hi-hat so tight."
It sounds like you're an air traffic controller.
"Exactly. I've got two Tascam DA88 DATs running the opening and the end of the show; I have to know if they are functioning properly throughout the show. "Is it on? Is it off?" While that's being cued, I've got the MPC3000 running different songs, and that has to work."
What happens when they don't work?
"I've been lucky so far. The band is a band, even with all the machines that we use. But it can be weird to be in the middle of some crazy beat while I'm wearing headphones, and to hear some odd noise erupt from my system. Is it the samplers… the keyboards… Manson throwing something over my shoulder? I've got to think of twenty things in the same split second. It's all spur-of-the-moment."
Is your live playing more extreme than the album?
"Yes. When I first did rehearsals, they said, "Add a cymbal here, play full-on here with no dynamics, do full-on tom bashing." It was a little adjustment period. The new album was written with me around, it's written for songs. It's not about showoff parts. I think the drumming on the album is really good; I don't think it's extreme in any way. But it is extreme to putt it off live. I'm trying to play double bass drums at 186 bpm-while objects are flying over my shoulder. At the same time, I've got an Akai MPC 3000 sampler next to me that can be wrecked at any second."
That must give your drumming an incredible edge.
"I play as hard as I can. I'm not worried about scratching my drums, obviously. I've got plenty of everything. Playing the music and this presentation is full-blown anarchy. When things start flying I get to a boiling point."
Let's talk about your playing on Antichrist Superstar. On Cryptorchid you create this crunchy, distorted drum intro. Much of the drumming sounds simulated, or put through effects.
"The Cryptorchid drums are run through the Digitools. They took one bar and looped it, and ran through individual amps, which they mic'd. Drums that sound like drums are really a drum machine; drums that sound like a machine are really me. It's ridiculous. I played in a garage and the engineer mic'd a Porsche in there. They opened the car doors and used it like an echo chamber."
Deformography sounds like a beatbox.
"I wasn't even a part of that. I did all my tracks and went back to Vegas. Then they finished the album with some new songs. Trent Reznor and Chris Vrenna from Nine Inch Nails were there. Chris is on Kinderfield and The Reflecting God. Deformography is programmed.
On Wormboy, I played drums and programmed, then they used both versions. They wanted a Devo-esque thing. The initial hi-hat was real short, which gave it a stiff, mechanical sound. It drove me insane at first, but then I realized when they were coming from. Trent Reznor doesn't make mistakes; he knows exactly what he wants."
But it all sounds like you. You play funky patterns, drop beats, or displace rhythms. I think many drummers would've approached it with a straight feel.
"The drums breaks in Wormboy are things I used to work on years ago. Antichrist Superstar began much busier, drum-wise, but it became simpler and simpler. I was thinking of Monster Magnet on that, because that was what we were listening to on the road bus. Angel With The Scabbed Wings was initially a busier song too. It began with a shuffling bass drum, then it got very straight and militant.
We had the songs done before we got to the studio, but we hadn't practiced them. As we ran song after song, we saw what would work. Some songs are played with a click, some aren't. Sometimes I play the verse to a song, but not the chorus, or vice-versa. Sometimes I'm playing with a computer; they went for something totally different. So I'll be playing, then I'll drop and the machine will pickup. I have to be note-perfect."
You're very sharp on everything.
"The typical person can't decipher what's happening, it's all just drums to them. I play everything live and (keyboardist) Pogo plays toms too. On a couple tunes I have the drum machine fattening up my toms. I have drum triggers on my snare and bass drum, but I'm not using them for anything special. And I have the sampler going. I'm running all that, and playing the drums, and also trying to read Manson's mind. He will change a part in a song, and I have to know what Manson's going to say, what he's thinking. If I miss a cue I'm liable to get a mic stand thrown at my skull. The drums make a nice pretty mess when you wreck 'em. It could be a perfect night and I play my ass off, and I still get hit." (laughs)
I hope you're well paid.
"I'm an equal member of the band. I made a deal when I came in. Though I made my contribution to the songs, I can't copyright a drum beat. I've learned a lot about the music business."
What's your current drumkit setup?
"It's a maple-finish, eight piece Premier Signia kit with 16x22 bass drums, a 7 ½"- deep maple snare drum, 10", 12", and 13" rack toms, and 16" and 15" floor toms, one on either side. Premier is the only kit I've ever played, even when I was a little kid. I play Zildjian Z series cymbals, with one Meinl Raker over my hi-hat."
What are your musical goals? Where would you like to be in ten years?
"I'd love to make a difference. There are only so many unique drummers. I love touring. I love when drummers come out on top, 'cause obviously drummers are the underdogs in every phase of the business. You don't get copyrights unless you're writing the music. I heard Dave Abbruzzese got fired from Pearl Jam simply because he has a good attitude. Eddie Vedder didn't like that Dave was out doing clinics and teaching students. He was just being positive about music and drumming."
What does a night off involve for Marilyn Manson and the band?
"Well, about a dozen people from the last four towns have been following the band and causing havoc and creating any act that might amuse us."
What's been the most amusing?
"Full-on puking, pit diving, nudity, and everybody slam-dancing on the tour bus to where the bus was rocking back and forth going down the highway. About as rude as it gets with money flying in the air."
So is this a comedy act or is Marilyn Manson as wild as it seems?
"We live it 24/7. Anything for amusement. On stage you're there to amuse people. Once you're off stage, people are there to amuse you. It creates a tainted view of the world. We've seen it all. If things don't get crazy we become bored. Last night, Manson set a table on fire in a club we were at."