Marilyn Manson was on the phone and feeling good, stretching what was supposed to be a 20-minute interview into 45 minutes of conversation, a talk rooted in truth and punctuated by laughs.
Early on, I remarked that critics had called “Born Villain,” his new album, a return to form and one of the best records of his career:
“How dare they?” he quipped. Then he paused. A couple seconds later, he said: “Let me give you a serious answer. It really took saying to myself, which isn’t easy for anyone, that I needed to make a comeback.”
Manson didn’t mean a return to his mid-'90s commercial peak and pop cultural prominence. He needed to come back as an artist.
“I lost interest,” he said. “That was the problem. The edge comes with the desire. I’m like a knife. You’re either a butcher knife or a butter knife.”
Dissatisfied with his life and record label -- “I felt I wasn’t able to live up to what I am supposed to be” -- Manson decided he was depressed and, he says, “the only way you can get out of it is to put your f****** boots on, stand up and start kicking your own ass.”
To do that, Manson “let everything go.” He packed up his stuffed monkeys and “all the rest of the stuff people have heard about,” put them into storage and moved into a large, warehouse-like space with his books, paintings, cats, movies and musical instruments.
“It was the first time I’d lived alone,” he said. “I went from high school to here. I was living with my parents in high school. Then with (guitarist) Twiggy (Ramirez), then on tour. I had three long-term relationships. I always had somebody living with me. I found it very liberating to do simple tasks, like walk down the street and buy a sandwich. It wasn’t that I was spoiled. I’d never had a chance to do it.”
Then he stopped being a recluse, went out and met people, a lot of actors, directors and other Hollywood creative types. He didn’t mention any names, but Johnny Depp sings with him on “You’re So Vain,” the Carly Simon classic, on “Born Villain.”
“There were no expectations," he said of the meetings. “They knew I wrote the song ‘Beautiful People.’ They’d heard about the 36 or more school shooting victims that I’d been blamed for even though I had nothing to do with it. … We became friends like regular people, which is unusual in Hollywood, where you usually lead with your resume.”
He brought them back to his place -- “I created sort of a factory, like Andy Warhol” -- and began recording there, with people, mostly girls, watching.
“It would be like reading a book report naked in front of the class,” Manson said. “It wasn’t embarrassing. It made me do more what I do live.”
That resulted in “Born Villain,” a metallic-guitar filled, angst and sex-filled album, a return to Manson’s mid-'90s gritty industrial rock sound and the first release on his own label.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a fun record,” he said. “I don’t know how people respond to it. But it seems like a strong record to me. This is what I’m good at. This is what I do best.”
In part, it’s what he does because he had the same inspiration making “Born Villain” as he did in 1989 when Brian Warner, who’d moved from Ohio to Florida to go to art school, put together a band called Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids.
“I was sitting in a s***** apartment in Boca Raton, Fla., and had to do this,” he said. “I suddenly found the same inspiration. … I wanted to make music for the reason anyone would write a song in the first place. You want to communicate with the person in front of you. You want to impress a girl.”
Manson’s art background has long filtered into his music, especially his visually arresting live performances. He’s now an active painter, primarily of watercolors.
“I would say that’s more where I started,” he said. “I made a drawing and printed it at Kinko’s and passed out flyers for my first show. I hadn’t written a song at that point. And the show was sold out. It would be too simple to say I’m just a musician. Dali is my hero. Not that I want to make his paintings. He’s my role model when it comes to art.”
At one point in the conversation, I brought up his notorious mid-'90s reputation and asked whether he had intended to shock and provoke. The answer was a qualified “no.”
“I think the only thing you can be in today’s world is chaos and confusing,” he said. “You can’t be shocking. The minute Kennedy was shot on color TV, you can’t be shocking. You can be chaos. And confusion is what brings the interest, the attention.”
Now 43, Manson says he’s recharged and ready to restart the chaos.
“It feels that way,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got my brother, Twiggy, back in the band after a long breakup. This is our second record. Now I feel like we finally started to feel live like we used to, when we were at the top. “
Manson, who rarely does phoners, was doing the interview to promote the “Twins of Evil” tour he is co-headlining with Rob Zombie. It will stop at Pershing Center on Monday. The tour hadn’t started when we talked, but Manson was certain it would be good.
“I guarantee what’s coming your way is going to be enjoyable,” he said. “If someone was to see it for the first time, they should know I’m enjoying it to the point where I can say it won’t be anything less, at the very worst, than the best thing happening today in rock and roll. That might not be saying much today. That’s why I wanted to be a rock star. I was disgusted as a journalist that there wasn’t anything happening.”
That comment led to reminiscences of his days interviewing the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and how grunge killed rock in the '90s.
“I call it commercial rock; everything sounded the same,” he said. ““Nirvana didn’t deserve to be lumped in with grunge. Kurt was like John Lennon. Not that they’re both dead. He was John Lennon. He was John Lennon in the way they played and wrote the songs.
"I learned to play guitar at lot better in the last year. I learned the blues. I learned the difference between The Beatles and The Stones. Kurt Cobain is the one person I regret I didn’t get to meet.”
Toward the end of the conversation, Manson started asking questions, some serious, some not so much. Like this one:
“Is there going to be snow there when we get there?” he asked. “I’m from Ohio, and I haven’t seen snow for a while. I would like you to make it snow.”
Scary isn't he?