Following a much publicised divorce from Dita Von Teese, MARILYN MANSON doubted life, doubted his talent, and doubted the very product he had become.
He was a commodity, an oddity and at odds with his creative self. Then he met Evan Rachel Wood, and fell throat first through the looking glass. An Alice In Wonderland foil to his Lewis Carroll, Evan soon dragged Marilyn bloody and screaming into the next level of creative love. She fired his cauldron, slashed his heart-shaped box and inspired his most personal and prolific album to date, EAT ME, DRINK ME. Check out the video for Heart Shaped Glasses, hot proof of their XXX rated lust. Their love is all consuming, suffocating and intense - they are the new, Edward & Mrs Simpson, Clarence & Alabama, Bonnie and Clyde, Mickey and Mallory, and won't let nobody stand in their way.
It probably seems surprising that Marilyn Manson has any weakness. It may seem even more surprising, that his one true weakness is his heart. A truly modern vampire maybe? This often perceived to be a powerfully dominant character, is shackled to the painful pleasure of his quest for the true romance. The past year has seen him trudge through the swampful of sadness consequent from the disillusionment with his marriage and eventual divorce in January 2007, from burlesque revivalist, Dita Von Teese. Manson: the writer, poet, painter, singer and director, left empty and suicidal following the break-up, realised as he'd slipped into the Hollyweird world of the celebrity and 'the red carpet grave' with his former wife, his identity had been shattered, and his crippled creative muse may have wheezed its last breath. Enter Evan Rachel Wood. The 20-year old actress most famous for her role in Thirteen, befriended him, cradled him and resuscitated his weakened spirit. Now passionately alongside Manson in his upcoming triple-X rated video, naked and soaked in blood, she's seemingly introduced him to a purer love. Forcing into him an ultimate life force which had him driven to produce his latest album EAT ME, DRINK ME. An album, which sees him stripped and nailed to a cross with his life laid bare. Offering himself up Christ-like, his thoughts there to be devoured with purity like holy sacraments. Where previously, he has mysteriously shrouded himself with the mask of Marilyn Manson and hidden his world in concepts, characters and thematic imagery, he has now unified Brian Warner with Manson to expose a vision which means there is now no distinction between the theatrical character he created, and his true self. Jekyll has become Hyde. Two have become one. It's the new reincarnation, which together with the album, has seems him become relentlessly productive: writing and working on his directorial debut with the film, Phantasmagoria, the tale of fantastical writer Lewis Carroll, and defining an enigmatic art movement known as 'Celebritarianism'. And where you might have expected his darkest album yet, the truth is, it's a gloriously celebratory, properly rock 'n' roll album, which emanates with the sparking glow of his rebirth.
There is no downtime being Marilyn Manson, he is never not in character, as now there is no longer really any character.
As we meet in London's Metropolitan Hotel, it's impossible not to be overwhelmed by the enigma, which is akin to Elvis, Ziggy Stardust, or Batman entering the building. Nerves abound, not necessarily because he's 'scary', but just down to wanting to keep up with his intelligently careering stream of through. His rockstar requests hasten forth the vampiric illusion he appears to shroud himself in. In the hotel room the photo shoot is due to take place in, the curtains are to be pinned together to ensure that no natural sunlight should break in to the room. And the temperature in the room is so chilly, it could make the corpses in a sarcophagus holler - "Bloody hell, it's cold in here today."
Maybe not so vampiric is that he drinks a lot of Sprite, and there is to be no coffee allowed in the room, not even in cups that might have had coffee in them. He can sense even those. Photographer Alice Hawkins has brought along Stinky the cat to potentially star in the shoot, and some essential garments from designer Gareth Pugh's collection. Unsurprisingly, he loves the clothes: "Tell him to send me some clothes, or I'll wrestle him."
But [he] isn't too fond of Stinky, suggesting he'd done a "poo-poo", Stinky has to spend the shoot out on the balcony, in Stinky's defence, he hadn't. Wrestling carries through as a recurrent theme for the shoot, when he grabs the petite Alice off her feet, and throws her on the hotel bed. With a flirtatious Manson pepped up with a few regular nips of absinthe, it's probably safe to say they got on a bit. Down in the Met Bar for the interview, we're tucked into a small booth, and from behind Tom Ford sunglasses, and then behind his iconic eerie contact lenses, he makes intense eye contact, stretches out, and begins to straighten out some records...
The past year has definitely seen you experience your fair share of troubles, it certainly seems like you've put it all behind you now. How do you feel on reflection?
"One part of it was me - looking back - disliking myself. I was married, and was in a position where I started to feel like I was supposed to change a lot of things about myself, and then I realised I was meant to change things that make me who I am, and I think a lot of people experience that when they get married. For me, it was the strange and unique because I know that I've chosen a role of someone who's different from the rest of society, and intentionally so, but I never expected the person that I chose to commit to would give in to society pressures, and expect me to be something more conservative, or more appropriate, or whatever normal is."
Were you angry about the breakdown of the marriage?
"I can't be mad at that, I'm mad at myself for thinking that I made the right choice in marriage. I don't think I made the wrong choice in a relationship. I think I made the wrong choice in the way I tried to make my life happy. I think making this record was the only way I was able to convince myself that it was right, not just okay, but right to be me. And it's more than the obvious dramatic, clichéd, almost fictional notion that this record saved my life, or this record was the therapeutic or cathartic for me, it's very literal, but if this record didn't exist, then I wouldn't exist. It was the only way that I was able to save myself at the very last moment, like that point in the movie where someone's about to be electrocuted in the chair, and the warden calls in and pardons the crime, or someone's about to drive off a cliff and they decide, 'no, don't do it'."
What as the final realisation?
"Realising that being artistic and being me can't be separated. I was in a position where I was expected to separate what I do with who I am, and I've never believed that an artist is more important than their art unless they're one and the same. I started to get in a position where I felt guilty about working, because I wasn't able to be a person in a relationship or fulfil some sort of concept of what love equals to someone else. I couldn't literally follow my ex-wife in the explosion of her career in the same way that she did for me. So, a lot of depression came out, because I felt disappointed that I couldn't make someone feel happy about their success and also feel happy about being me. Ultimately I didn't realise until I sang one song Just A Car Crash Away, which turned into the record, essentially. It wasn't that simple to make, but I didn't realise looking back, that I need to feel empowered like most people do, in why people might relate to this record more than anything else I've ever done. I need to fell that I can make someone else empathise with who I am, or what I do, or I don't have an identity."
What did it take so long to realise things were so bad?
"I assumed that's how all relationships are as opposed to be, because you expect something in response. I never knew that, until after that part of my life just completely disintegrated into a place where I felt I had nothing to care about. I had no reason to live, it wasn't the same as wanting to die, it was just not having a reason to live, it wasn't the same as wanting to die, it was just not having a reason to live. I an look back now thinking, 'How can I have that way?'.
These songs were written in the same way that anyone who keeps a diary (which I don't), would write something. It never occurred to me to write something as simple as the first song on the record, If I Was Your Vampire. On Christmas I was inspired by the whole new relationship that was developing in my life, and saying, 'I believe in you, and I believe in the fact that you and I are the same. That I'll die, if you wanna die.'
And at that point you don't want to die anymore, you've found somebody else who is like you, so I think at that point, the record became a record, and my life became worth living."
So your creativity was born from finding happiness and resolution in your life, rather than the hurt felt for divorce?
"It's hard for me to have the distance from everything, because it's still all so recent. In many ways my last relationship may have been a muse to my life transforming, more than it was towards ever making a record. The new record isn't any more about my divorce than it is about my new romance with Evan, my girlfriend. It's really more about me and how I felt transformed, being reincarnated, or reborn as myself, because I'd lost my identity."
Tell me about the Lewis Carroll project. You seem to be living your life like his reincarnation.
"I identified with the script I was writing earlier in the year about Lewis Carroll, because this was a person who was split in two, suffering from a dual personality of very much Jekyll and Hyde. Now I can look back and realise I identified with it, because it was me. And I've never really tried to that pose, because it just seems so contrived that you're gonna say, 'I'm crazy, I'm insane, and Marilyn Manson is my schizophrenic personality, and I'm gonna write about it.'
I had to start to think, I've got this undying urge to still want to try and be this idea, that I conceived so many years ago, and the world doesn't understand it, and maybe there's no point doing it. The other part of me way saying that maybe I didn't say it in the right way, because the world started to understand things, people who didn't like my music liked my paintings, or they like what I said about Columbine. So I thought there must be something I did not accomplish artistically as a singer or songwriter, that I'm capable of."
And that became a question of Confidence?
"I couldn't find confidence in my past relationship, yet found it in my new friendship and starting romance. Anyone who makes music says the most important thing is when someone comes up to you and says 'this song changed my life.'
For me, it's 100% true; that's a bigger motivating force than I was willing to recognise. Unconsciously I used to associate music with being an armour or some way to tell everyone how I deserved to feel the way I do. But it was never seducing or inviting people to understand me as much as to understand my ideas, and this record is about understanding me."
Is the vampire theme present on EAT ME, DRINK ME maybe a bit obvious?
"That's why I've embraced things like the vampire mythology, and the religious content of Christ, and consuming someone symbolically and literally, because they became themes of my life, not just themes I chose for my records.
I realised, as much as I want to deny or not delve into the obvious cliché of the vampire, I've been called it for song long - I function best at night, it's a romantic character associated with evil, and its weakness is art. And I just learnt that as much as I could make myself invincible to the world, I could be destroyed simply by romance. I had to make my weakness my strength. I was on the brink of starting to hate who I am, and hate the idea that people like me. I didn't want people to like me, because I didn't like myself."
Have all your relationships been dysfunctional?
"There has been a recurring theme in all my relationships, and particularly my marriage, hearing someone saying to me, 'How can you listen to that person when they're just a stupid fan. They don't know you.'
I never realised the absurdity that you could disqualify someone because they like what you do, when what you do is who you are. Now looking back, I was starting to split what I do with who I am, which is the opposite of what I started out with, and I saved it at the last moment. Now I feel, no embarrassed, but I feel like I could never go back to feeling that way, and feel very confident in moving forward."
Much of what I've read about EAT ME, DRINK ME has insinuated it's the break-up album, but I felt that it has a lot more to do with unifying the duality which you've had in you life, as the character Marilyn Manson, and yourself as Brian Warner, how did you begin to reconcile that schism?
"I agree - it's an easy misconception that it's a record about the car crash, as opposed to the record that's documenting the rising from the fire from it. I'm sure people will think that this album would be painful for me to listen to, but actually, I like listening to it. For me, there's nothing that I didn't accomplish on this record, or wish that I could've changed. It's a record now that me feel in the same way as the only records that I listened to when I felt void of any kind of creativity, which were For Your Pleasure by Roxy Music, Diamond Dogs by David Bowie and Purple Rain by Prince. These are records that have a romantic despair which is very reckless, and very matter of fact, and it's how I started to interpret my concept of love, and how it was supposed to be rather than what it was. I was repeatedly watching movies like The Hunger, Bonnie & Clyde and True Romance, and thinking, 'Why can't things be this way?'
I found it with Evan. I realised that she's like a twin, almost like a sister, and someone who likes the things that I like. It took seeing myself in someone else to realise that I don't hate being me, because being me is appealing, and I did the simplest thing that eluded me for my entire career, and my entire life, I tried to write songs to a person to try to get a response. It's the same as when I perform live, I try to get a response from the crowd, but I never did that when writing songs. I always thought I was supposed to make a greater statement or try and defend myself, so it was an entirely different approach."
How did Evan come in to your life?
"I initially met her, and started talking to her about acting in one of the two roles in my film about Lewis Carroll. One being to play a nineteenth century, more carnal, version of Alice. I think she's one of the greatest actresses, and I think that for me, as a director, it was amazing to find a great actress to work with. This was to be played opposite the model, Lily Cole, who I also believe, has the potential to be a very good actress. It was this strange thing that maybe I was living beyond art imitating itself, I was doing the same thing I was writing about, I was writing about Lewis Carroll in my head, but I was also writing about myself. It was almost me fulfilling my script and really ironically the whole transformation that I had gone through."
What was the premise for the story?
"My story was about Charles Dodson (Carroll's birth name), and Lewis Carroll being two conflicting personalities of somebody who was expected to change, and grow into something he wanted to be, and never should have been expected to be. this record happening allowed me to make a better film, because I had the distance to understand what I wanted to say. I was pretty much in the moment of not knowing what I was. Evan and myself became friends, and it was very on and off; she was making films and working, and I was alone a lot. then I didn't have any friends at all, or have anyone to talk to. the circumstance wasn't as simple as I found someone to replace someone else. this record is definitely about romance, more than it is about destroyed romance."
How did Evan inspire your writing?
"I think the songs can be interpreted in a lot of different directions, in that subconsciously I don't know the reason why I've said everything I'm saying. Like, simply the single (Heart-Shaped Glasses) being something I said to Evan. At the time, I was reading the book Lolita, and obviously our age relationship could be mocked in that same sense (at 38, Manson has eighteen years on her), and she thought that was funny in the same way that I did, and started wearing the glasses like the Kubrick poster for the film. I said that day what I said in the song, and I automatically when back to recording, and it became a new pattern of working for me, which is so obvious, and so silly to have not thought that before."
Do you now wish you'd discovered that way of working previously, seeing as you've always masked yourself using many different lyrical devices.
"It was do or die. I produced it in a way that I wouldn't normally do, I allowed other people's opinions to sink into me. The songs are first takes, not with the intention of being raw or honest, or any sort of pose, as much I genuinely believed I couldn't do it any different or better. Things were done in the traditional rock 'n' roll sense. It's genuinely reckless, and strange that it's appealing to more people. I'm surprised that I've never had the confidence to talk about my own personal feelings or how I feel about other people, and judge that way of writing to not be important enough or perceive it to be self indulgent. I was always hesitant about saying things like that, so in the past I did them differently."
The album feels completely celebratory, in a way that you haven't done quite so purely before...
"To me, it's definitely not a depressing record, there are a few songs that make me sad, but in the way that you cry when you're happy. It's that melancholy feeling. I wasn't in the right relationship to enjoy what I really enjoyed, which was being onstage and being as over the top as any person could be ever, and they were great experiences, but I couldn't bring that back into my personal life. I then started a romance that allowed me, and wanted me to be everything that I am onstage in my personal life. It made both things very different, and I realised I was doing things backwards. I was making myself more normal to the world, when I wasn't normal to begin with. I didn't need to explain that anymore, it's obvious. I started to understand that I've put a lot of ideas out in the world, and I've gone to great lengths to explain my opinions, but I didn't put as much effort into simply turning things inside myself."
Do you ever regret being politically outspoken?
"The world is so much of a victim of itself, that there's no reason to attack the world anymore, that's why I didn't think I had anything left to say. I felt the world wasn't something I wanted to waste my time being in, or putting things into, and the world was beginning to disappear. I was geographically isolated where I lived, I was personally isolated because I was on my own, and artistically isolated because I didn't know who I wanted to be. The world is much more like I always thought it was, it's about the small circle of your brain, and to me it's not a time in the world where I feel I have to comment on religion or politics, it's a time to believe in yourself. I don't need to make any kind of impact, I don't really give a shit about changing the world; I give a shit about changing my world."
When you talk about your isolation and despair, it feels reminiscent of the yearnings towards the opium-eating poets in eighteenth century romanticism
"I don't know if I've drawn a parallel with that in the same way as when I did with Berlin and the Weimar Republic on The Golden Age Of Grotesque. All the things that I liked personally, I neglected to put so much of that into my art. It was part of my suffering with my creativity and my real identity. Another book that I was really drawn to when I was making this record, was Flowers Of Evil by Baudelaire. I did this painting of two heart shaped flowers that were skulls that I called the flowers of evil. I didn't associate it with what I wanted to do with music, but I realised that I didn't utilise that simplicity with what I wanted to say as a singer. It was very much simpler than any esoteric explanation that I've really wanted to go back to the way I felt when I thought the only way I can be happy in life, and what I want to be when I grow up: is to be a rockstar."
So your original vision had become lost?
"I think I had almost lost track of that, and fame has become very deluded, because of people's ability to be empowered to say what they want. It was the wrong approach that I started to fall into, which was hating society and thinking there was no point. As opposed to realising there's a real demand for creativity, rather than personality. It was time to re-establish the power and mystery of art. I don't want to explain what I do anymore or what I do it, I don't want to show the making of my life, and it seems like such an obvious understanding, and it's ridiculous that it eluded me for so long, but I just simply want to do, WHAT I DO..." [i-D]