Both Brian Warner, the man behind Antichrist Superstar - Marilyn Manson - has been hailed by fans as a dark saviour while also condemned by the USA's Christian Coalition for the "influence" he has over minors. Whether his image is boring, dress-up stage act, or the work of one of the '90s most influential musicians, is arguable. Either way, he's a funny guy. And about to release his new album, Mechanical Animals.
Brian Warner's earliest memory is of a road trip that he took with his parents from the USA to Canada. He spent the entire journey listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival. He didn't enjoy it. "I got car sick," he recalls.
"I get car sick really easily. So whenever I hear Creedence Clearwater Revival I get a little nauseous." Looking at him, you'd hardly believe it.
Warner grew up loving music, using it as an escape. This was after he'd tried writing about music, but found most of the people he interviewed failed to provide him with the answers he was looking for.
"So I thought I should be on the other side of the question," he says.
"So one day I decided to start a band."
His first band was started when he was 13 years old, though it was a record only project. It wasn't until much later that Warner formed Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids, with bassist Twiggy Ramirez. That relationship eventually produced the band Marilyn Manson with Madonna Wayne Gacy on keyboards, guitarist Zim Zum and drummer Ginger Fish. The first substantial recording was the 1994 album Portrait Of An American Family. It set the tone for Manson's future work. Like that of his namesake, Charles, Manson's aim is to hold a mirror up to society and depict it's flaws. He documents the weirdness and pain of his own experiences and that of the world at large. Unlike Kurt Cobain or Billy Corgan, Manson's interest is not just in the internal world, but also how the individual finds a place.
A second album, Smells Like Children, put the group on the map with a tough metal sound that had a tinge of industrial. The version of the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams announced the band as being able to redefine metal. However, it was their third record, Antichrist Superstar, released late in 1996, which pushed Manson to the upper regions of the charts.
The title alone was always going to get attention and it did. Christian organisations loudly called for the group to be banned, record chains refused to stock the album, radio stations blacklisted the music. However, both the music and the force with which Manson delivered his often startling lyrics were too astute to be dismissed as either the work of Satan or the latest Alice Cooper/KISS rip off.
Manson continues to be controversial. His new album, Mechanical Animals, has an arresting cover picture which has had the record once again banned from major retail chains in the USA. His concerts continue to be monitored with a heavy police presence, his fans are harassed by school and police authorities. Manson is clearly a force to be reckoned with. He takes his work seriously, but as you can see from this interview, he likes his job.
Today, whether you feel he is contrived or not, you can't help but admire Manson's loyalty to style as he courageously battles the elements of nature. Its 42 degrees in the shade on a typically scorching summer's day in LA. The heat, however, hasn't managed to get to him yet.
Holed up in a West Hollywood Hotel, Manson is determinedly wearing a woolly orange sweater and thick, black pinstriped trousers. His orange nail polish matches his jumper, his black hair is just below shoulder length, with one side of it dyed crimson. With little make up, covering half his face is a huge pair of gold-rimmed, tear drop sunglasses.
So, how are you enjoying the high life in California?
"Well, it took two or three years to get a deal. A lot of people think that's the hardest part, but I think once you get a record deal is when it really becomes hard, 'cause then the stakes are so much higher. And the more successful you become the harder it gets, because you're put into a position where you have to deliver. When you're on a smaller level, it's not such a burden."
You've attracted a lot of adverse media attention. How do you cope with that?
"A lot of people are too afraid of things that aren't safe, and that discourages them from playing us on the radio or conservative record stores carrying our records. Most people think that the controversy would sell more but I think in America it just makes things more difficult. That's what makes it a challenge for me, because I don't wanna be safe, I don't wanna blend, I want to present people with something more exciting than what's dominating the top 40."
What's the greatest misconception about you?
"I don't know, there are so many different ones. I find them all amusing. I suppose the rumours about me killing dogs and cats and things like that are silly because I have a dog so I obviously don't do that. They're all kinds of silly rumours so there isn't one in particular. You have to have a sense of humour about it all."
You've been accused of bestiality, pedophilia, and ritual sacrifice. Have you anything to declare?
"Well, bestiality, um, my dog has humped my leg before, but not with my consent. So I think in a court of law I'd still be innocent. Pedophilia, I'm not sure if that's referring to having sex with people's feet, or with children, because there are two different definitions. I have not had sex with children."
"I have probably had sex with feet, so I may be guilty of that. And ritual sacrifice - it sounds interesting but I haven't gotten into that one."
What's the best rumour you've heard about yourself?
"I always like the one about me removing a rib so I could suck my own dick. That's always been a favourite."
Do you think that's
"No, I tried, and it was too expensive."
Where does all this stuff come from?
"From the imaginations of bored housewives, I think. They're sitting around, husbands are at work, their vibrators on the blink, they're watching Jerry Springer and they come up with these ideas. Probably to get their own sexual pleasure. They're imagining me with an animal, they're fondling their genitalia. I think that's how it all starts."
Why is the world fascinated with you?
"I suppose 'cause there isn't really much else to be fascinated with. At least in music it's a very boring format right now. I suppose a part of me wonders, you know, what it is that they like or don't like, but it's not really for me to decide. I just do what I do and let them decide what they're going to do with it."
You've said, "I'm the subject of many conversations in households across America." Does that appeal to you?
"I like the idea that people are bothering to talk to their kids, you know. If having me around was just a simple reason for parents to pay attention to what their kids are doing, I guess that's positive."
What do you say to the view that you're calculated in terms of being shocking? Does it come naturally to you or is something that you cultivate?
"Well, anybody's gonna be shocked if people just speak what's on their mind, 'cause most people just edit their thoughts before they say 'em 'cause they're afraid who they're gonna offend. I usually just cut right to the point. I'm always surprised at what people are shocked by. Usually the things that I'm doing or saying don't shock me, or I wouldn't be saying them. I'm more shocked by the fact that they're offended. So that's what shocks me."
Is there a line that you won't cross? Is there any subject that's taboo for you?
"I don't really seek things out and decide what I'm gonna say about it. If something inspires me I'll talk about it. I mean, I don't try and find everything that pisses people off and address that. That would really be too easy because there's a short list of things that are always gonna piss people off."
So what shocks you?
"Well, I'm beginning to not be shocked by people's stupidity. I used to be surprised by it, but now I'm just growing accustomed to it. There's not much that shocks me. I think being shocked is, in a way, kind of a weakness, because you're letting other people affect you too much."
So, who are you, Brian Warner or Marilyn Manson?
"I think one's just a name for the other. Marilyn Manson just kind of describes everything that I aspired to be. Everything that I had inside of me that was afraid to get out. I don't see it as a complete change. It's always been an evolution, it hasn't been like an overnight change or me putting on a suit that makes me someone else. I'm not Marilyn Manson one minute, then when I go home something else. It's just what I've evolved into."
Mechanical Animals seems more radio-friendly than your previous work.
"Well, it's more of a rock record. It wasn't specifically designed to be pop, but the songs were much more in the tradition of rock & roll, you know, Beatles, Stones, David Bowie kind of rock & roll. And we weren't afraid to be bombastic in that sense and to make things in that sense and to make them with elaborate arrangements and instrumentation, whereas in the past things were sonically just more aggressive. This had to represent a lot of different emotions, so it had to sound different. It was recorded differently. The record was written and most of it recorded at my house without really any outside help. We brought in the producer to make sure when we recorded in the studio that it had all the elements that I was looking for. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do and it wasn't really polluted with anyone else's ideas, so we just did it until it was done."
Who else is on the album?
"Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers) played lead guitar on a track, I had some black gospel singers contribute some vocals to a few tracks. We used a lot of different instruments that we hadn't used in the past."
Antichrist Superstar was the end of a phase for you. Can we talk about that?
"Antichrist Superstar was about stripping away emotions, about me trying to believe in myself, and it took going through a lot of different pain to get there. After that, I had to have somewhere to go from there, and it was like starting all over. The feeling I get from this record is the exact opposite of the last record, because this is about getting back all of your feelings and being in a world that really doesn't have any."
What pain are you referring to?
"Dealing with every element of my life, you know, all at once. Dealing with drugs, dealing with belief in myself and presenting ideas that the rest of the world really didn't agree with, particularly America. So I was put in a position where I had to fight to stand up for what I was saying. It's a real tiring struggle and it can take a lot out of you."
So people are more tolerant of Marilyn Manson outside of America then?
"Well, I think people outside of America look at America the same way I do, from an outsiders point of view. And they see the irony and the sarcasm in what I do more than Americans do, who take things at face value. They don't read into them any more than they have to."
Americans often don't get irony. What makes you different?
"Well, I think I just grew up kind of fast. When you see a lot of things early on, I guess you become cynical at an early age. And I think I just started to have that attitude growing up. It comes from disillusion. And it makes people bitter, but instead of being tormented by it, I expressed it in what I do."
Do you still harbour bitter feelings, or are you freed from those emotions because you're able to get them out through your music?
"There's always gonna be something to piss me off. Anybody who has any bit of individuality or their own opinion is never going to be satisfied in anything that they do. But I've found that creativity is probably the healthiest thing that you can do. I hope that by me expressing things, that would encourage other people to do the same, rather than seeking other ways to express it. At least do something that contributes to society."
And what are you trying to contribute to society?
"On a basic level, entertainment. On a deeper level, thought-provoking ideas. Anywhere, anything from religion to fashion, to philosophy, to sexuality. Everything that I can think of. I'm just an observer. I mean, I've always sat back and watched the world around me. And I used to write when I was younger, and this is... it's almost a form of journalism, 'cause I'm saying things and I'm telling them to people and it's an outlet, like a journalist does."
Have you always felt like an outsider?
"I've never been able to fit in to whatever the "in" might be, so I've grown accustomed to being an outsider, and not looked at it in a negative light. I've kind of made it something that I thrive on."
Would you describe yourself as a cynical person?
"I suppose so."
You said that the Beatles said they were bigger than God, and that you're bigger than Satan. Would that be an accurate quote?
"Yeah, 'cause that was me being... making fun of the Lennon quote. But it's just in context of how people are constantly asking me if I worship the Devil and all these nonsensical questions, and I thought it was quite clear that Marilyn Manson had evolved into more of a devil to America than actually Satan has."
Do you feel any kind of empathy towards the dark side or is that part of your stage persona?
"Well, good and evil are always a popularity contest. As far as the way I look at things, there are things that I see as being good, which other people consider to be evil. You know, there are some absolutes you know, I don't think that you should murder people and get away with it. I think there are a lot of other grey areas, you know, different things are open to different interpretations, and I don't agree with what a lot of people hold as a morality. But I don't seek it out and say I wanna be evil. I'm saying that I have a different perspective when it comes to morals."
Do you have any standout memories of Australia?
"That a bunch of people gave me speed. In Melbourne, I think."
In Sydney people are doing cocaine and in Melbourne they're doing speed but they're calling it coke.
"Oh, that's the trick. Well, yeah, that's true. I remember going to some club that was downstairs and I met some interesting people and the crowd seemed to be a good crowd. I had a good time. I remember there was a radio DJ - a troublemaker - he tried to make some sexual advances towards me, I think. He tried to get me drunk and take off his pants."
Do you have a big gay following?
"Um, I don't know. I think everybody's kinda open. I don't think I could tell by looking, but I have a lot of gay friends. Sometimes they follow me." [Laughs]
What do you steal from hotel rooms?
"I usually end up leaving stuff. If I'm really drunk and I can't get up in the morning to urinate, I'll just piss off the side of the bed. So I'll leave a puddle of urine, if it's like a shittier hotel. If it's a nicer hotel I'll do my best - or I'll do it in the bed so it's not on the floor."
Presumably that's when you're by yourself....
"Yeah, most of the time."
What's your stance on drugs?
"If you give them to me I'll take 'em."
Is that across the board, or are there things that you don't take?
"No, I just think if you're an intelligent person and you have the willpower, things like drugs can be recreational, they don't have to be a lifestyle, they don't have to take over. I would never promote drug use, but I definitely encourage drug use."
But is there a fine line between drug use and drug abuse?
"Yeah, it's up to the individual, it's up to your personal willpower."
What has surprised you most about fame?
"Well, its kind of good that the more money that you make, the more free stuff you get. People seem to want to buy you dinners when you have money but they never bought them when I didn't have money." [Laughs]
Are you still going out with [actress] Rose McGowan?
How did you meet?
"We met at a movie premiere. It was a movie called Gummo, which was controversial when it came out here. I really liked it. It's about kids who sniff glue, and kill cats - it's white trash America where I grew up. It's a sick, funny movie."
And how does she feel about groupies and the whole rock lifestyle?
"Well, if you're going to dedicate your attention to one person, then things change. I don't continue certain aspects of my life now that she's involved."
Do you think you may work with her one day?
"I actually had a cameo in a movie that she has coming out called Jawbreaker. It's just a small role. I play a sleazy person in a bar with a mustache. It's not that explicit. It's more of a PG movie. But I pick her up and we have sex. It won't be out 'til next year."
Do you want to do more acting?
"Yeah, absolutely. I mean, its something that actually I wanted to do before I started doing music. But I haven't really had the time until now to start getting involved. I have a movie that I'm putting together that goes with Mechanical Animals that will probably be the first thing I'll dedicate myself to in a film."
You've had death threats, bomb threats. Is that a real worry for you, or do you take it with a grain of salt?
"I got bored with them after a while, but it always made touring seem worthwhile and exciting because if there was that much on the line it made me perform like it was going to be my last performance."
Who made those threats? Were they basically Christian extremist groups?
"That's very had to say. That's what one would guess, of course. But for me to generalise that it's them is as stupid as them to make the threats."
Do you believe in Armageddon?
"The movie? No. Absolutely not. [Laughs] The trailers told me enough to know that it's a piece of shit. Yeah, I think the end of the world is something that mankind has always been destined to invite upon itself. I don't think it has come from any spiritual force. I think man has a basic penchant to destroy himself and I'm sure it will eventually happen. It's not something that I'm afraid of, or think should be stopped, because it's what mankind deserves, really."
But do you think the end of the world is imminent?
"Um, well yeah, it has been for hundreds of years, you know, particularly when The Bible was written, they were referring to the time when it was written. They thought it was gonna end then, so unfortunately it'll probably go on for a while, but it's gotta end soon."
Does that alter the way that you behave? Is it always a conscious thing in your mind?
"No, in fact at one time, particularly around Antichrist Superstar, it's something I've encouraged and it's something I've even hoped to finally get over with - that was more my feeling when writing that record. I suppose there's some optimism that I have every once in a while that man will evolve into something more intelligent than monkeys."
Have you ever had any supernatural experiences?
"I tend to think that all of my experiences are, because natural isn't really the way I go about my everyday life. As far as the kind that would be made into a horror film, a few. I talked about a few in my book. I tend to think everything operates on a supernatural level if you're open minded enough to it."
So do you communicate with people not of this world?
"Just Dave Navarro." [Laughs]
Are you very in control of your own image, or does someone suggest what you should be wearing?
"No, no one's ever told me what to wear. Usually when they do, I don't listen. People have told me to take my clothes off and I've responded to that. That's about as far as it's gone." [Laughs]
In exactly what way have you responded to that?
"By taking them off!" [Laughs]