For many who are aware of him, the name Marilyn Manson is synonymous with a brand of insidious, anger-fuelled glam metal. Manson’s musical output also acted as a means to incite the deconstruction of such pillars of modern American society as Christianity, conformity and an obsession with violence. His tours in the late '90s and early '00s were explosive affairs, continually picketed and resisted by conservative political and religious groups, culminating in the blame he was served for his supposed role in the Columbine tragedy of 1999. Manson’s dedication to blatantly shocking and essentially pissing off his detractors essentially contributed to his success in terms of record sales.
Yet the age in which Manson possessed the ability to shock based on live performances, stage costumes and lyrical content has long passed. The internet soon rose to widespread popularity after the Columbine shootings and eventually, Manson’s outlandish approach was replaced by millions of citizens willing to say or do anything for 15 minutes of fame.
The society that once vilified Manson has become desensitised. And a decade after his peak in popularity, bringing up his name in conversation might have you hearing cries of, “Who?”
Now with Born Villain, his implicitly-titled eighth full-length on the way (and first not on major label imprint Interscope) Manson finds himself at a crossroads: is his shock-filled approach still relevant in this day in age? And if not, what’s to become of Marilyn Manson?
“A lot of times, a large portion of people, especially in America, aren’t interested in finding something deeper. Sure, sometimes I like the jingle on the commercial. But at the end of the day, when you go to sleep, you’re locked in a moment when you remember certain images, songs, smells and sounds that stay with you forever,” says the remarkably chatty Manson reached on the phone for an in-depth conversation from his Los Angeles home, which doubles as a studio where he laid much of the groundwork for Born Villain.
“And that’s what allows me to have an attitude where I can objectify the fact that people treat what I made as a product, but not get mad and take it personally. I can treat it not as a product, but as something that comes from me. I can still be happy about making it. And I also know how to adapt to what I believe is a great new environment. A lot of people have never heard my music; I would never walk into a room or a situation and have the arrogance or actually, ignorance to assume that they know what I’ve done before. I want to play them (Born Villain) just as they would my first record, and have them like it for the same reason.”
As the oft-reclusive Manson continues, he begins to shed the thick exterior he presented in the past. He soon speaks openly regarding not only his fears about his place in the world, but how he would soon overcome them.
“I was struggling very hard to figure out where I would fit in this changing world. For someone that’s against everything and then suddenly, they’re a part of everything. And in that Warhol, Salvador Dali sense, I was just trying to make it out alive.”
What Manson chose to do was get back to basics, in a way only he could.
“For me, I can’t say it was simple but it was important to go back and give myself no other options,” continues the 43-year old, born Brian Hugh Warner.
“Limitations are a very strong thing for artists to have. I moved into a place and started painting, and only gave myself one colour: black, with white paper. We started making this record, and made it with the limitations of immediacy and urgency. It wasn’t so much improvisation as it was figuring out that when you only have a pencil and a guitar or a drumstick it’s almost reinventing the wheel. And I like limitations. They work for me. It worked for me back when I didn’t even have any songs, and I could only draw.”
The self-imposed limitations may have provided Manson with the inspiration necessary to begin work on Born Villain, but they soon led to a greater opportunity: Manson became able to truly articulate himself as the artist he’s always wanted to be.
Believe it or not, Manson has now become an even more dangerous provocateur.
“[Born Villain] represents my personality and it represents what the band intended to be when we started. It’s given me a desire to fuck things up in the way that I wanted to in the past. I’ve stopped making myself the enemy. I’ve stopped making the world the enemy. I just started making blank spots, and said, ‘Would you like to be the enemy?’ Insert your name here.”
Manson’s records have always been rather easy to compartmentalise; but to actually question the man behind the madness, he slowly reveals himself as deceitfully self-aware. In 2012, Manson sees himself less as crusader of a cause and more of an artist who has finally gotten back in touch with what pushed him to start creating music under the Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids moniker over 20 years ago.
“[Bassist and founding member Twiggy Ramirez]) and I made an agreement from the first record we made,” he says, thoughtfully reflecting on the early days of the band. “From the day that first album came to life, we made a pact: we never wanted any more than what we had. We wanted to play rock'n'roll as long as we could until we didn’t want to do it anymore. Going way up and having all sorts of riches then destroying yourself and having nothing; everyone has to go through that at some point.”
“I wanted to make it something that, over the past few albums, it didn’t start to become less passionate, but less fun for me. And art was always the thing that brought some fulfillment to me. And it had started to slip away.”
With Born Villain, Manson has regained control of what he lost. He took his time, refused to rush the process and allowed his newfound creativity to take him wherever it could.
Simply considering the title of the album itself, it’s clear Born Villain is ripe with suggestions. Ten years ago Manson was vilified because of the music he made. Then in a 2009 interview, he alluded that he was "fucked up" simply because he was from America. Born Villain could very well be Manson’s crowning achievement, in that he’s finally making the kind of statement many long hoped he would. Manson welcomes the hate, as it exposes a larger and more pertinent truth; Manson was hated because there is an overwhelming hate which exists all around us. Hate is something of a currency.
“It could be a question or nature or nurture,” he says, when this statement is posed to him. “Can someone be born a villain, or when you recreate yourself or when I became Marilyn Manson, that was a reinvention or my former self, Brian Warner. I can remember the exact day I was sitting in a restaurant and I said to the person I was with, “I really want to be the vilified pariah.” I felt like it was what I needed. I’d been beat up by skinheads because they thought I was Jewish. Being beat up by straight edge kids because they thought I did drugs. Being beat up for no reason; and I’m not jaded. Everyone gets beat up. I just notice the utter senselessness and stupidity.”
The making of Born Villain, jointly released on Manson’s own Hell, etc. Records and Cooking Vinyl Records, was also an opportunity for him to look back on his on another part of his life which was plagued by senselessness: his time spent as a puppet for a major label.
Amidst the changes to his career, it’s still refreshing to know that he never lost the ability to paint a vivid picture of the situation with trademark Manson wit.
“Here’s a profane reference, or metaphor: If you are having oral sex with a woman and you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, this is wonderful!” and you just want to keep doing it. But then you think to yourself, “Wait, people have also told me that mustard is great,” so you put mustard on it just to change it, and keep going. These labels, they love something but then they want to try something different because everyone’s telling them something else to do. They get afraid of just loving something just because. It’s not the artist, they think, it’s the formula. But people identify with stuff that really hits them.”
It’s Manson’s hope that Born Villain will indeed hit fans, without the mustard. While he’s open to acknowledging his past, he’s more content to move forward. Shocking those around him is not a concern for him, and he doubts it ever was.Turns out Manson, in his continued fight to be honest, may be more relevant now than ever.
“Whatever I’ve done, it’s certainly led us to this conversation. I’ve always said that I can’t possibly be shocking. And believe it or not, I said that when I started out. What you can be is confusing, and interesting. It’s a form of communication. And all that added to the determination of making this record. I think this will be considered the best Marilyn Manson record. It’s the most true to how I wanted it to be.”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE