Marilyn Manson's second full-length album Antichrist Superstar will definitely come as a surprise to those who think of the band as a novelty-type act based on their hit cover of Sweet Dreams. It may well also startle those familiar with the band from their '94 debut album, Portrait Of An American Family. Where Portrait had a big element of campy horror, the new album is quite a serious undertaking, both musically and dramatically.
"A musical ritual to bring about the apocalypse" is what the accompanying press release announces, and if there is such a thing, this may well be it. Unlike the relatively straight-up rock 'n roll of Portrait, it's a lot more complex and technologically-inspired music (Trent Reznor produced again, with Skinny Puppy cohort Dave Ogilvie). Lyrically, it's a partially-autobiographical story Mr. Manson's been working on for many years. Keeping with the Manson tradition, lots of people are sure to be disturbed and outraged by it. If you don't believe in challenging Christianity, don't buy this album.
I talked to Marilyn when he was in New York in September to play the CMJ convention, both at his hotel and on the phone the next day. A very co-operative interview subject, he was happy to hold forth on the new album, new guitarist Zim Zum and the departure of Daisy, his beliefs and world views.
Whatever you think of him or his music, he is someone who uses his imagination to the fullest. That's probably what scares people the most.
"The album is quite an undertaking: I guess I wasn't expecting it to be so big in scope. We spent five months finishing it out but the writing process probably took about a year. I started having these dreams about a year ago, what this record was going to be: tried to put them down in a song here and there but a lot of the ideas were things that haven't really happened yet, so in some ways I'm talking about things that are going to happen. It's an ongoing undertaking. It's not even finished for me."
It's a musical ritual to bring about the apocalypse...
"The idea of the end of the world was something that's always fascinated me since I was 13 because I was told that it was coming. I kept staying up every night being terrified about the end of the world and at some point when I finally realized that it wasn't happening I guess I almost became what I was afraid of. When there was no Antichrist I sort of decided to assume that role, and it's just been something that's been building and building and finally now has taken shape, and for me the idea of the apocalypse, I started thinking about it at great length and I almost saw it on two different levels: there's a physical apocalypse and there's a mental apocalypse. The same goes for Antichrist: there's a figurehead, and then there's a collective idea.
To me, Antichrist isn't so much a person asserting himself as the collective disbelief in Christianity, it's the kind of idea of individualism in America, people just wanting someone to say to them, 'You can be your own god', and then it's just that simple, they wake up and they are just as much an Antichrist as I say I am. So musically for me, each time someone plays the album, it's one step to an apocalypse, and if that's in their mind or if that's in the world, there's a fine line between what's reality. It's just what you really believe it is, so if someone sees the world die off in their mind, that may be just as real as me seeing the world die in the flesh."
Your release says that Antichrist Superstar as a character is portrayed by you 'and by every other person in America'.
"Well, there's a real transformation for me that's been happening over the years, and the end result is Antichrist Superstar and I thought a lot of people would like me to say it's a character, it's a lot easier for them to swallow, but it's something very real and it's something that they are a part of, and the people that can't deal with that are the ones that are going to be completely taken aback and think that what I'm saying is wrong and it shouldn't be said. But it's something that's in everyone's heart and it's something that everyone has to deal with every day, so saying it's a character is going to be easier for some people. Any role that I've ever played in my life is much realer than anything else, so..."
I remember you saying that over the years the character of Marilyn Manson became more than just a character.
"Right. As a writer, Antichrist Superstar was something that was created and then it's something that then created where it came from. If you create a personality that is all -powerful and all-knowing, then it has the power to control and create the person who made it at the same time."
The actual making of the record: When I spoke to you in February you'd written it but you hadn't recorded it. You thought that you'd probably be doing a lot of experimenting in the studio. Is that what happened?
"Yeah, we probably spent more time than we needed to, but there were a lot of things that I felt really needed to come out musically and lyrically, so we put ourselves in a lot of different circumstances that involved the things that I've talked about in the past, pain rituals and sleep deprivation and experimenting with drugs and every possible circumstance you can think of, but I wanted to open every door and make sure there wasn't anything untapped so that we could really bring about the best thing we had in us at the time.
Maybe it's not the best thing ever created or the best thing we could do, but at the time it was the best thing that was there for us. This is where we ran into a lot of problems because it's hard for me to try and bring across a vision to people who aren't necessarily going to understand it all the way, and our guitar player left and there was friction at the time in the studio among ourselves, and between us and the producers, but in the end I think it in itself was a transformation, and the end result was very strong and made us very happy."
So how instrumental were Trent and Dave Ogilvie?
"I can't speak for Dave Ogilvie because his role wasn't really what I expected. Maybe it was a little bit less than I expected, but Trent's role was what I was hoping it would be, he was a person who kind of just brought it all together and organized it. He actually at times even contributed some guitar parts and things like that on a few songs. It was very much a team."
Did the album come out as you'd envisioned or did you leave the vision open-ended?
"I think it came out exactly how I saw it because I really had seen it in its finished form and it was just a matter of working to recreate that in my own head, so yeah, I'm very happy with it."
You didn't do the Ozzy tour because you were busy working on this. Was it the kind of thing you just didn't want to leave?
"It was something we were really wrapped up in and then we ran into problems with finding a new guitar player."
Right, his name is Zim Zum. Where did you find him, was it a hard process?
"Yeah, it was a hard process but it was one of those pre-destination things. We met him and we knew he was the right even before we heard him play the guitar. It was just such a hard process, going into this record. Most of the guitar was played by Twiggy and I played some, it was much more experimental because we wanted to do things differently than we'd one in the past.
Our former guitar player wasn't flexible in that way and I've never felt like he was part of the team because I don't feel like he believed in what we represented, and at times even felt that he disliked our fans because he thought they were into the band for the wrong reasons, he had a real false sense of ego.
Finally, I felt that we were representing ourselves not as strongly as we could because if there's this one element that isn't a part of it as much as the rest of it, then it's not true. I've always felt that way, but I tried to work through it, but this was the turning point."
So Daisy was out and this new guy...
"The new guy isn't really part of the album, but he plays on the live tracks that we recorded."
But he will be touring with you. Is it too early to say if he's definitely permanent?
"He's definitely permanent."
How did you name him?
"The name, if people were really to do their research, it's an archaic religious form that referred to one of the servants of God in the early days, The Old Testament God that was much more malevolent; it was someone who was doing the dirty work, and he seemed to be someone who was doing our dirty work, so it made a lot of sense."
The song Mr. Superstar is really interesting: "I know that I can turn you on, I wish I could just turn you off".
"It's someone talking to his fans, but it could be someone talking to himself too? That is a struggle between how I feel the fans consider me and how I consider me, so you might have some insight on that; that might be pretty true. It's hard for me to analyze what I wrote. A lot of times I won't look at it for many years and then I really realize what I meant. It's all very subconscious: I work on it real stream of consciousness level so that it usually stays kind of pure."
It has that 'I love you to death' aspect, as far as fans go. Do you ever feel threatened by your fans?
"I have, but at the same time there's some interesting parallels that maybe people will never know about the record. That song and Deformography which also kind of goes into that same realm, is some experiences that I've had from that same point of view, from that same fan point of view where I feel like I can relate to them because I've done the same thing to someone of a celebrity status."
You've been in the fan position.
"Yeah and have been scarred the same way people have by me."
So, Irresponsible Hate Anthem was recorded Valentine's Day, 1997. Any significance in that date?
"I figured that me being such a paradox, that would be the most appropriate day to play a song based on hatred, on the day that's supposed to celebrate love."
And recorded in the future, no less.
"Well yeah, in some ways. To me it's already been done, but I've learned to accept time on a different relativity, it's very interchangeable, and some people may not understand that for many years to come, but I've just experienced so much and learned so much in the past year that it's hard to explain to someone. I think it's better that they discover it on their own."
That time traveling thing: I know it's hard to explain, but is it something you learned to do?
"People have forsaken their imagination when they become adults but there's so much power behind your mind that you can really be or do or say anything if you let your mind do it, because belief is key to accomplishing anything."
You obviously have a great deal more imagination than most people. Is that something you've always had or did you develop it early on?
"I may have more of an imagination than other people, I just accept it and I go with it. I think when you're a lonely person your imagination is your best friend, so I think it comes from that, my childhood."
Back to the album: it's a lot to digest.
"Well, I want it to last for a long time. A lot of my favorite things have been movies that you can watch over and over again and find things, in records too... it is a lot; it's like my life story, so there's a lot there, and there is something beyond that.
A lot of people are going to ask, 'Where do you go from here?' and there is something. And that's going to be real relative to how people interpret the album, because it's like a live piece of art in that the outcome is determined by the listener."
Your next move is also determined by the listener?
"I think so."
It seems you put a lot into your lyrics as far as getting them to say what you want to say. Is it very time and energy consuming?
"Sometimes. Sometimes it just happens, and then other times I think about it for a long time, but I've found the best things I've ever done happened real quickly. I don't like to spend too much time on 'em, it's just too contrived. My favorite songs on the record were written at the last minute before we were finished."
What are they?
"My favorite songs are Kinderfeld and Dried Up and those songs were both written and recorded in one day where with a lot of the other songs, there was a lot of time involved."
The last time we spoke, you mentioned your television theory, that we're on the other side of the TV and reality is what we're watching. Man That You Fear sort of deals with that.
"That is the first song (I wrote) and that's why it's the last song (on the album), because it foresees its own end. It's kind of a resignation, people will see it as a suicide end or a failure, but for me it's almost an 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'. It's accepting things for the way they are and whether that's dying in your mind or dying in the world, or if it's being born again or whatever, that's going to be for people to decide how they want to really apply that, but for me that was the way for me to finish the whole thing."
That song has the line 'someone had to go this far', which is what some people think about you and your band, that someone had to do this.
"Yeah, that makes sense. That song is very old; that's why this album is very old to me. It kind of predates Portrait Of An American Family. This record is where it's always been going; you just have to put chapters before it because people aren't going to understand it. There's a b-side called Revelation #9 on the Get Your Gunn single and it contains elements of Man That You Fear because that's how old Man That You Fear is to me."
Are you making any videos for this album?
"We're shooting a video for The Beautiful People."
You guys have kind of set a standard for visually remarkable videos now.
"Now we've kind of moved to where I've always wanted to go. I haven't been satisfied with anything up to Sweet Dreams, that was what I really wanted. We'll just continue to go on from there."
The angel imagery on the album cover is interesting.
"The cover's two-sided, there are no titles on either side because there are two personalities that kind of take place on the album, this whole Kafka-like transformation. It's almost thinking that the angel is the most beautiful that you can be and that's the height of what you are and in the photography you can see as the skin begins to crack, what's underneath begins to emerge, what the end result is.
That's really what Antichrist Superstar is, it's really the final product you never expected, it's what you never wanted to be but you always were meant to be. Visually it looks like the record sounds."
How does it feel to be the object of either intense love or intense hatred, because there doesn't seem to be a middle ground.
"That's the way I like to have it. Anything I say or do, I try to make very extreme in whatever way, whether it's positive or negative. So if the reaction is the same, that makes me happy. Being mediocre is not what I want in any way, in anything."
Is Florida still your home base?
"Not really. New Orleans has been for a while... We were there because this record deals so much with the death of different things on many levels. To me, New Orleans is not only the murder capital of America, but there's two things there: bars and graveyards, people kind of go there to die, so I thought it was necessary to be there to bring this record out, but seeing how we went through that and got past that, now I think it's important to leave and go somewhere else because I'm kind of born into something else now; I'll see what that becomes."
Do you have relative anonymity in your own life when you're not touring? Do you wish not to be recognized?
"Not necessarily. I don't think about it a lot, so I find I'll go somewhere and I don't expect people to know who I am and they do and that surprises me. I don't take it for granted, think that everyone's going to know exactly who I am. No, I'd be lying if I said I wanted to be anonymous because I would never have started this if I wanted that."
We get a lot of letters from Marilyn Manson fans...
"Well, a couple of things to address because I know Metal Edge is a real fan-based magazine: A lot of people feel that they've been betrayed because of the changing band members over the years, but what they need to understand is it's always for the integrity of the band. No one would leave or be kicked out if it wasn't to better what things were being done...
What other things have people said that concern me? Well, a lot of people will write letters and they'll say 'You've become what you said you didn't want to be, you're a big rock star now because of Sweet Dreams, things like that. It's always been clear since the first record that rock stardom is what Marilyn Manson was based in. The song Lunchbox was about that. That's the way I plan on paying people back and our fans should feel they're receiving the same treatment. If we become popular it benefits them too. If they really believe what I'm saying, the more people that hear it the better, and a lot of people are always concerned about new fans that come along because of the commercial play..."
'They weren't there in the beginning...'
"Well, people always have to discover it in their own way and it's better if they find it, because if they don't find it they would go about their lives listening to other stuff that would never lift them up as much as this could, so the hardcore fans should be happy. If I was them then I would be out playing it for other people. It's almost like Christianity, it's like going out and telling other people by being a missionary."