Forty minutes with Marilyn Manson. That is the amount of time we spoke with the rock icon during a recent phone interview. As always, Manson provided a thoughtful and unique insight on topics such as his new album, ‘Born Villain,’ his role in ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ the recently released West Memphis Three and most intriguingly, himself.
Today I was listening to ‘Born Villain’ and I feel like it paints a very visual picture for the listener. To me, it felt very anxious and claustrophobic at times. I was sort of picturing you in a small room clawing against the walls — trying to escape.
I like that. No one has said that before, so that’s a very unique perspective on it. I love to play, and while I was making ['Born Villain'], playing to people that I know — whether it be people who may not have been old enough to have even heard my first album, to people who don’t even like my music, or people that I’m best friends with or are other artists — I like to hear everyone’s opinion. I’ve never gotten that one before, so that’s a cool one.
Restriction creates the desire to have the necessity or the determination or confidence to deal with your situation. It’s like a zombie movie, it’s like being in prison, it’s being stuck with one choice — survival. That’s what this record is. I was given a choice. When I started making this record, I decided that I didn’t like who I was. I didn’t want to be who I used to be. I wanted to be who I knew I could be — and that’s an evolving process. But the whole key to it is that if you stagnate, if you become something that no longer transforms — there’s nothing that’s inspirational about it. Whether it’s nature and you see a peacock, or whatever it is, you pick who you’re going to be in life and you need to be confident about it and stick with your gut instinct and don’t waiver.
I feel like I did get to a point on my previous two records — not that I’m discrediting the music that I did or hating it or anything of that nature — I just feel that I started to change the way that I wrote because I wanted to open up. I was in a place where I could not figure out how to deal with being me. Me the person — not me as Marilyn Manson. Sometimes you don’t know how the f— to be yourself, because you’re too confused by the circumstances you’re in. Everyone goes through that.
I realized that I started writing songs to make people feel how I felt, rather than just making them feel something. That’s not the way I should do things. Especially because I felt sh–ty making those records. [Laughs] So I was basically making music to make people feel sh–tier, which in a sense with my sarcasm would be funny, but that wasn’t my intention. If I was doing that on purpose … There are parts of this new record where I want people to feel sh–ty — where I use sounds that only dogs can hear that humans can’t hear that actually make you nauseous inside — just because I was looking to meddle with people’s reactions, but much more orchestrated from a directors point of view — as someone who wanted to tell a story, who wanted to tell people something that they would feel a reaction from.
It took me completely stripping my life away — moving into a place with black floors and white walls — putting all my things in storage and just taking my movies, my instruments, my cats and realizing, “I don’t need anything else. All I need to do is fill this [room] full of something.” I’m trying to take things back to the beginning. I was not calculating that way, I simply needed to realize that this is life. I needed to realize what I wanted out of life. I suddenly realized that I was the one who sat and drew my first flyer. I went to Kinko’s, I printed it out, I put it on cars myself personally and I didn’t have any songs at the time.
I’ve had the arrogance or confidence — there’s a fine line between the two, because arrogance sometimes is something that will end up being foolish and will ruin you. I had the confidence and determination to push forward something and I ended up having to make music to go with my decision. That’s pretty much what I ended up having to do on this album.
I knew that I had to admit to myself — it’s difficult to say you want to make a comeback, because that’s admitting that you weren’t what you were supposed to be, not what you used to be, but what you’re supposed to be. So it’s almost the same as in the beginning. A comeback is almost the same as starting out fresh where no one knows or believes in what you are and I had to say that out loud. I have no problem saying that this is my comeback and when I decide on something, I’m determined to do it. I haven’t had that type of energy and confidence simply because I needed to acknowledge that.
With this record, I’ll always remember more than any others. They weren’t happy memories all the time. Everything has to be ups and downs or you’re not an artist. If everything is happy, then who gives a s–t, or if it’s just a straight line, I won’t give a s–t either. If it’s down, which is sometimes where I was more often than up, it’s not inspiring. So I just wanted to make something that would make people feel something. I was playing it to people that were my friends. Some of them never heard my music before, never liked my music, whatever the situation was… but it’s a challenge and I love a challenge. I had forgotten how much I love a challenge
Returning to that physical place where you once had success creating things (Manson created his first canvas painting there), did that help spark that flame once again?
I don’t think that it was a formula that can be figured out in that sense, but I think that I believe so strongly in fate and synchronicity. If we were to compare something — for example I watched that film David Cronenberg made about Jung and Freud, ‘A Dangerous Method,’ and I don’t believe in psychiatry. I believe a lot about psychology or I’d like to learn about it — I’m someone who likes to learn about everything. I went to Christian school and I’m not religious in the conventional sense. I just went to Passover and not to Easter Sunday. [Laughs] It’s unusual because I’m not Jewish, but I went with my friend Eli Roth to his house. I’m someone who is open-minded to new experiences because they teach you new things.
I don’t believe in psychiatry because I think it’s a foolish, completely irrational way of thinking of things, and I don’t believe in Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to rehab, they tried to put me in the mental hospital. I’ve been through all the processes and I learned a very simple balance, and it was, “Try to make the ups better than the downs.” When you’re happy, drink. When you’re unhappy, don’t, because it will just make things worse. It may seem like a very simple, logical conclusion to come to after many years, but it’s important for me to just realize that this is supposed to be enjoyable — making art.
You make it to get out your feelings and your opinions and you’re supposed to have fun while you’re doing it. It’s not supposed to be so much effort after the process. So a lot of times I would make a song, for example, and while I was doing this recent video that I just did, ['No Reflection'] it became… I wasn’t directing it, I allowed someone else to direct it. They were taking too long moving the lights and I said the song — it took me less time to write it. So I’ll do it myself. It’s just merely adapting to the situation. It’s almost in an easy way, which is a great metaphor and it applies to the recent Easter that we just went through — a zombie.
I like zombie movies, I like ‘The Walking Dead,’ I like the metaphor of it, simply because when we go with the zombie concept — if you’re bitten by a zombie, you don’t transform into something else like a vampire or a werewolf or whatever. You become something that’s not you. You don’t turn into something that’s different or something that’s evolved, you turn into something that doesn’t exist. It’s undead, so you become that’s the zero factor and that’s unusual to me. So there are a lot of things on the record that are not inspired by zombie films, but because I like that metaphor and because the first zombie, we can say is Jesus, because he died and rose from the dead three days later — that’s a zombie. So I think these metaphors exist on the record and on ‘The Flowers of Evil.’
I’m not trying to be reborn and I’m not trying to be resurrected. I’m not trying to be reincarnated, I was trying to transform, and that’s not the same as zombies, but I was trying to transform into something that I had not yet become. That’s what anybody in life should always want to do. When you’re in a relationship, if you just break it down to regular terms, people are attracted to something and that’s what they want you to be, and that’s what you should just be and for me it’s very simple — if I meet a girl and I say, “This is what I like about you. Just continue. Everyday.” I like the same thing everyday. I don’t need change, because my mind is so full of a tornado of chaos, I don’t really need more excitement, or other girls, or anything else. Just be the thing that I love and continue. And then from the other point of view, for me, I’m sure it’s a f—ing nightmare to be involved with me, but it isn’t that complicated. If you like me, I am what I am, but if I start being something less than what you liked, then that’s a problem. But don’t think, “Well, eventually I expected you to change.” And that’s almost saying, “I expected you to become a werewolf or a zombie,” or something stupid like that.
I appreciate that fact that in my personal life, that the people closest to me had enough faith or belief in me and stuck by me. So that was the first part of what I needed to do by making this record. I wanted the people that believed in me to be proud that they made the right choice. You know, it’s when you watch shows that I like on TV — ‘Californication,’ or ‘Eastbound & Down.’ They have characters that I like for a reason, because they’re the dog that s–ts on the carpet, but you still pet them and you know that they can do better. I’m lucky that’s what the people who are closest to me believed in.
That was my first goal, making music to impress and prove to the people that stuck by me and believed in me — people that I actually know, would be motivated by. So then I had to put out those feelings to people that I don’t know. I have to go onstage and sing these feelings to people that I don’t know. And it became exciting and easy for me to realize that I just need to prove what I am with what I make. That’s the same thing I did in the beginning. I wasn’t trying to go backwards, but I came to the simple conclusion that I was ready to do what I do. It’s in nature. We don’t know for sure what animals feel, but a snake does what it does. It doesn’t have worries, it just does what it does — rabbits, cats, lions. It’s all about confidence and gut instinct.
You mentioned the video shoot for ‘No Reflection.’ How close is that video to the visual you had in your mind while writing the song and what made you pick that song for the first single?
Well, that was, strangely, not something that I had visually in my mind when I wrote it, which often I do. I asked Lukas Ettlin, the director, who also worked with Alan Lasky, who is the person who provided the camera that created the slow motion effect that no one has access to except me. It’s from a German company that believed in me as a visual artist and wanted me to use their camera. So I asked Lukas to listen to the song and tell me what he would do, because I like to collaborate. If I tell somebody what I would do, I should just do it myself, but I wanted to hear someone else’s take on it and I wouldn’t have thought of that, and I love how it came out. Completely not what I would have thought of.
I chose that song as the first single because I thought it was almost if the record were a movie, that’s the song I would use for the trailer, because I thought it represented the album. It had the spirit of the record and it had the attitude of the album. I’m not saying I think of it as the “big hit single” or any of that stuff, because I didn’t think on those terms. The world has changed into a place that is almost exactly, in a great way, how I started out; where I didn’t think on those terms. I didn’t think, “I have to pick a song that’s three minutes and fifteen-seconds,” and all this bulls–t. Simply, this is the song that I like, that I want people to hear and it just the very beginning. You obviously don’t want to give away an entire movie in a trailer for a movie, and that’s the way I thought of the song and that’s why I picked it.
The reason I ask is because the album feels just like that — an album. I wasn’t sure how you would choose just one song.
Normally, in the past, and I’m very, very, very, very, as many very’s as you want on that, happy to be off of Interscope. It gave me a new perspective, which is very similar to my original perspective on making music. I did not think about anything else except making them for the reason that I wanted people to feel something, and I didn’t have my head filled with all the bulls–t. In the past, I’m just gonna say that every band made on all my records previous to this one, I was proud of. When I turned it into a record label, what they did with it was not always what I wanted and what I made, and having that loss of control is very soul-breaking and very difficult to deal with. So I dealt with it, and that’s part of things, I’m not going to complain, I’m not going to pull a Pearl Jam and sue somebody.
The fortunate thing is that I got out of the record deal because I told Jimmy Iovine that he wasn’t smart enough to understand what I do. That was before ‘The High End of Low’ record, so of course I made an enemy, but I wasn’t insulting him, I was just simply saying that he wasn’t listening to his own instincts. You sign something for a reason. If you want to change what you’ve signed, it’s idiotic from a business point of view, it makes you look stupid, but I was trying to explain that it wasn’t personal, it was just an objective point of view, and I just asked that we’d be out of our relationship. That did not end that quickly, so when I got out of the relationship and onto a new label.
It made me feel, finally, like I did in the beginning. I could have just gone and done it with no label, but Cooking Vinyl… very, very strong attitude that they wanted me to do what I do. “Just continue to do what you do.” The whole pattern, I actually fell into a pattern that some people may find hard to believe, and I won’t complain about it, just look at it objectively, where I would do something and there would always be, “Okay, we’ll see if this is all right to release, we’ll see if this will work.” It was almost like being in Christian school again, where you did something that they want you to do, in order to control you of course. Once you’re in that role you can’t really do anything about it. They wanted to be in control, but that’s why the record industry just fell to s–t, because people were trying to think for the artists. People who aren’t artists of any sort, or even patrons of the art or muses, or anything that’s related to it, will always try to control it or hate it, and for me to be out of that relationship freed up my energy and finally I can do this and enjoy it — like I’m supposed to. [Laughs] That’s the point.
When you appeared in ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ it felt like some kind of a catalyst for the way that you were to be perceived by the public. Suddenly the thing to say about Marilyn Manson was that you were a smart and thoughtful person. Do you see any parallels between that sort of automated mindset and the mindset of those who so quickly pointed the finger at you after events such as Columbine?
Well, it goes to show you how … I’ve said it before — people don’t know what I was going through that day that I did that interview, because that interview was about two-and-a-half hours long and it was before I walked into a stadium after so many death threats that I had 30 or so undercover cops guarding me. I knew walking into that stadium — everyone I knew told me not to do it, and I had to do it. If you can’t live without what you do, then you have to be willing to die for it. I don’t want to f—ing die, but I had to do it.
That’s what was on my mind when I did that interview. I don’t necessarily like the movie, and it’s funny because I did a cameo on ‘Lost Highway’ for example — it’s my favorite David Lynch movie. I’m not that egotistical, but I do agree with you that ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ that one thing that I said, did create a window — a catalyst that opened up a whole new way of people looking at me. After that I had ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque’ and I had my ability and my confidence to say — and I think it was one of my most creative periods until now — [that] instead of being destroyed by all of it, it made me stronger. People like something in the face of adversity, something that is man against nature or whatever it might be.
I didn’t do anything wrong. My biggest question has always been, “People think my music makes people kill other people? Why aren’t they worried about what the f— I’m going to do?” [Laughs] I’ve had 36 school shooting blamings under my belt … and my dick under my belt, also. [Laughs] I didn’t do it. If I knew the people personally, I’d feel sad, but I’m not going to take it personally. What I’m going to take is the fact that life is all about change, and the villain is always the catalyst, the villain is always the person who creates something different in the story. I don’t mean “villain” in the sense that people might define it as the “bad guy,” I’m not saying the “bad guy.”
When I say the villain, I mean in the traditional sense like in Macbeth, like in anything else. The hero doesn’t do anything in any story and I didn’t have to go to school to learn this, it was me being a fan of literature and film. The hero doesn’t do anything different. The hero always stays the same, there’s no character arc, he’s always the hero. The villain is the person who has the chance to change something. They might break the rules, but that’s the thing, sometimes if you don’t f—ing break the rules, you’re not going to save anything, you’re not going to change anything.
If someone threatens what I love or what I care about, which they’ve done in the past. I’ve had everything taken from me, and now I feel like I’m the same position as in the beginning, where I’m not going to be ignorant and stubborn, which I am often, and someone threatening my family or things I care about — my girl, my cats, my life. Sometimes the male instinct is to do something stupid, but I would kill somebody if I had to, but then at the same time wouldn’t protect them (his loved ones) because I’d be in prison or dead, so that’s not smart. I need to be an outlaw, I need to be a villain, I need to be the person that you don’t want to f— with so people don’t f— with what I do. That’s what I started out being and when I for some reason had a hesitation because I was essentially crushed by a lot of different things. I started to lose my identity and anybody can relate to that. If you lose who you are, what do you have?
After being blamed for tragedies such as Columbine, do you see any artists these days that are receiving similar treatment for when something awful happens?
Well, for the first time in my life, last night, I met Damien Echols [of the West Memphis Three]. I did a painting to help pay for his legal funds. Johnny Depp, him and I became what we called, and it sounds a bit… in retrospect… if you lived in West Hollywood, sounds a bit not-masculine, but the ‘West Hollywood Three.’ Johnny has always tried to help him [Damien] out and he’s staying with Johnny and we have a strong bond, the three of us. We all got matching tattoos. I’d never met him [Damien] in person until last night and for me it was humbling. Any strife or adversity I’ve gone through can’t compare with what he’s gone through. And I’ve been waiting, essentially 18 years to meet this guy and I met him last night [April 8].
Johnny has also gone through his various things in life and I was on ’21 Jump Street’ when I was 19 — that’s funny, no one really knows that I was an extra. So I’ve known Johnny forever and we’d never done music together, and we did the “You’re So Vain” cover. Don’t tell this s–t, but me and Johnny have been rehearsing because he’s going to play with me live [at the 2012 Revolver Golden Gods Awards]. I just don’t want anyone to know that because it’ll ruin the surprise and I will hunt you down and cut your d–k off. [Laughs].
The past two days of my life have been pretty exciting — Johnny Depp rehearsing with my band because we want to do stuff together live. I’ve known him forever and he started his band, ‘The Kids,’ in Ft. Lauderdale. I had a band, ‘Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids,’ in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s just strange that I’ve known him all these years and we’ve never done music together. It’s exciting that we did the ‘You’re So Vain’ cover. We both did it together and it’s amusing that it applies to us in the sense that everybody that surrounded us in the past.
He and I and Damien, all in different ways, are known figures, and all in different ways are going through a total change in life; all in different ways looking at life through the eyes of someone that is un-jaded; all in different ways of everyone thinking that they own something about us or that they know something about us, but they don’t; and us being considered vanquished by feeling liberated by the fact that we’re able to come to those terms.
So that’s been my backbone for most of everything; that I’ve been able to have guy friends that aren’t just my band members, but guy friends that have been through so much s–t. Different s–t. We’ve all been through different shit, and it’s strange because we all think each of us have been through worse s–t. That’s what’s unusual about it. I feel like we all say, “I haven’t been through what you’ve been through.” We all say that to each other and it’s a very interesting, humbling experience and it’s something that you really take to the grave that’s strong.
When I heard that the West Memphis Three were finally getting out of prison, I almost started crying …
I did. I did, man. I mean, that movie [Paradise Lost] makes me cry — it does. When I met him for the first time last night, it was like a brother. I felt like I’d known him forever. I’ve talked to him on the phone for the past year on-and-off, but had never met him in person. It just felt like I had known him my whole life. He’s strong. He’s been through so much. It’s funny because we were having a very simple conversation that he was still amazed that he could send an email off an iPhone. Johnny and I were saying, “Well, hey, we’re in the same boat. We just figured that out too.” [Laughs] The childlike excitement of looking at the world is very much alive in me and in my friends. That’s the only way I was able to make a record that seemed 100 percent authentic to my personality.
I had a lot of people sitting in the room often when I sang. The vocals were all one take usually. You know, of course there’s more than one vocal sometimes. It’s different from performing live because you’ve already recorded the album and people are there to see you in concert. It’s a totally different situation when you have headphones on, there’s other people sitting there, looking at you and all they hear is your voice. It’s worse than… it could be worse than reading a book report in front of the whole class. Instead of that, I took it as an exciting challenge. You rise to the occasion more.
So I had to be better at being entertaining, being interesting or being thought-provoking or whatever the f— I was doing, you know? I was trying to make songs that would make people feel something. Sometimes it was… most often in true rock ‘n’ roll not-cliche, but sometimes cliche, sense that I was trying to get girls excited with what I was doing. [Laughs] It’s very difficult to realize what it is about you that people find attractive. I didn’t realize that some things that I had grown sick of, in the same way that when you live in a house and you’re sick of looking at the furniture the way it is, or whatever it might be — I didn’t realize the things that people found attractive about what I do as a singer.
So I would asks people’s opinions and it would gravitate towards something and a song like ‘The Gardener’ — originally I did that spoken word… I was only doing it because I wanted to record the words, because I had them in my head, so I recorded it, and I went back and I was going to sing it. No one had heard the spoken version of it, and everyone loved the spoken version of it, so I just didn’t redo it. I didn’t know that that was something that was appealing to people, and I realize now that if I had the common sense to think that I started out by, before I had a band, I did… and I’m not even embarrassed to say… that I was reading poetry on open mic poetry nights.
Whatever it is, that I’m not going to question, if people like what I do when I speak, then I’ll do it. So that’s why I did it a lot on the record, and I had fun doing it, and I know that having multiple personalities, I’m sure… [Laughs] I’m not clear on how many, but probably more than I need — I tend to go into different… not characters, but I speak in unusual ways on the album and it’s fun for me to do that, but it’s not supposed to be comedy, it’s supposed to be what it is. You can feel however you want about the record as long as you enjoy it.
I think it’s an awesome way to start ‘The Gardener,’ and it really does my heart good to know that Damien is okay. I read his book ‘Almost Home,’ I wrote him letters when he was in prison… thank you for sharing that.
Yeah, I mean, he’s great. We’re going to do a video together for ‘Hey Cruel World.’ That’s actually supposed to happen tonight [April 8]. I think that that song; he really identified with. I look forward to that, and I think it’s great that you have that strong feeling towards those films, because for me to be a part of helping him get out of that situation makes me feel like I did something really great in my life. I in a different way, was in a f—ing prison of my own device. I had friends that believed in me and got me through it. Of course it’s not the same, but in different ways that’s how we identify with each other.