Seldom is it that someone can have a 45-minute conversation with another person and not even know what name to call them. But when you're speaking with Marilyn Manson, it's easy to become intimidated. He has a calm manor and a voice that warrants your attention, making you semi-fearful of interrupting. When I first interviewed Marilyn Manson during the days of Holy Wood, I never managed to ask him the one question that has haunted me all of these years since.
Marilyn Manson is more than just a celebrity; he deserves to be put into a separate category. After all, not only is he banned from Six Flags amusement parks and dating America's number-one fetish model, he also has a history of altering his body to fit his mood and was once (if not still is) the self-proclaimed God of Fuck, Antichrist Superstar, and "a monkey with a misspelled name."
Yeah, this is the guy I want to sit next to at the family wedding.
With the twisted carnival of The Golden Age of Grotesque in full swing and headlining this year's Ozzfest, it was time for Marilyn Manson to put aside his usual reclusion and face the throngs of prying reporters yearning to get that one tidbit of information that no one else was daring enough to ask. I actually only had one question that I was hoping to have answered. It had nothing to do with the direction of The Golden Age of Grotesque in comparison to his earlier albums, some type of deeper meaning in his lyrics, or the strong sexual nature of this record - all of which ended up being covered anyway. I was intent on simply knowing what to call the guy to his face.
How do you prefer to be addressed?
"Manson is cool."
When you first started out and adopted the moniker Marilyn Manson did you have any idea it would progress into what it is now?
"Well, I've always been very determined and optimistic and some may even say delusional. So, it's what I wanted, and I'm rarely satisfied with not completing my goals and aspirations. Still to this day, I'm not satisfied and I'm determined to be better at what I do and to be more successful in the sense of getting out there and accomplishing my desire to affect people's thinking - not just monetarily successful. Of course, I am satisfied in some ways that I've been able to do this consistently and be one of the few career artists that exist out there, but I feel as if I've just started, because Marilyn Manson is 10-years-old now, so that's how I'm going to behave."
What do you feel you would have to accomplish for your goals to be achieved?
"I just always have to do one better. I always have to impress myself or I'm not going to impress others."
How have you adapted your life over the last 10 years to accommodate what Marilyn Manson has become?
"Because things run hand-in-hand, there's no real distinction between fiction and reality. I think the only comparison I've had to make is discovering new ways to survive, whether that be physically or mentally or with my career. It's been a matter of dealing with a lot of the things that people I idolize or identify with - whether it be Oscar Wilde or even someone a little more despicable like the Marquis de Sade, or Salvador Dali or David Bowie or Madonna - whomever it might be, just people who have faced problems that are generally created by the world's dissatisfaction or hatred for what they represent and what they say. I think the battle with Holy Wood, I find it symbolically kind of ending with my statement in Bowling For Columbine and going back to Denver and playing there and not getting killed, which everyone pretty much expected. Even I was willing to take that risk. That felt like I conquered something that I had started with Antichrist Superstar, and I saw it through and I showed people that I was a survivor. When you conquer something, you build something new, and The Golden Age Of Grotesque is a new way of looking at things for me. It's not feeling jaded or at the end of my rope, feeling like the people who started Dada or feeling like anything who realizes that you can come to an end of history, whether it be with mankind or with art or with anything, and knowing that the genius of it all exists in the purity of childish thinking. When you don't know the rules, you can't read the rules; you don't have to live by them. When you make any record, you always want to disregard the rules that the rest of the music or art mikes for you. To adapt at this point, for me, I had to disregard all of my own rules that in some ways make up my style or my personality."
Such as what?
"Well, you write songs a certain way, you sing in a certain cadence, you approach things from a specific angle, and sometimes you just do it by nature, but I wanted to really let of that. In the end, this record may not come across like I tried to break-new ground or make something experimental, but it strangely expresses my personality in a way that I hadn't captured before. I feel like when you listen to it, it's like spending that time that the record is being played with me. You might not understand me more, but you get a better sense of me. You know me more. There's more dimension to all of the elements I address by not specifically pointing out the politics and religion and everything, but having them exist in it. It was a different way for me."
Do you want us to understand you? I've always been under the impression that Marilyn Manson has been equal parts self-exploration as much as ego.
"I've found the difference between self-indulgence and self-exploration, and I'm just sharing that transformation with people. A lot of art and artists don't show the process. Even on this record, I tried to reveal the discovery in the music. A lot of the vocal performances are first takes, because I'm discovering the approach on the language and I'm discovering a new attitude. That, in turn, gives it the same feeling that I had when I first started writing songs, because I'm not thinking too much about the agenda. At the same time, I'm not creating merely for myself. I'm creating because I know that I can give people what they want. That's different than catering to what people desire from you. It's finding your place in the world and finding how to sharpen sticks that you're poking things with."
How has this affected common day activities? Do you still do your own grocery shopping or register your own car at the DMV or things like that?
"No. Actually, apart from a few occasions, I've never done my own grocery shopping, because I as a mama's boy. Then I left home and went on tour and lived on a bus. Then after that, sometimes I didn't eat or I'd go to McDonalds or whatever the case might be. Now, I live in a house for the first time in my entire life. I lived in apartments and things like that, because we weren't very rich growing up. I don't consider myself living a wealthy lifestyle, but living within the means of what I've worked for. I'm not a person that goes out a lot and becomes part of a nightlife scene, although I will on occasion. My only way of communicating with people is through what create. That's the unfortunate thing that I've found, but it's not a curse and it's something I complain about. It's a release and a gift. It's not a catharsis or anything like that, although it has been at times. This is my way of ling. Marilyn Manson is as much a creation as Mickey Mouse was for Walk Disney. That, in itself makes my lifestyle an art form, because I'm a living creation. I can't explain it. Is it an act anymore that anything else is an act? Is it fiction? Is it reality? These are other people's definitions. I just do what I do. I have no desire to be one thing. I don't have any desire to be understood in one way."
In one of your new songs you say "I'm not an artist, I'm a fucking work of art." Does that ring a bell?
"That's a song called "(s)AINT". A lot of people are like, 'Is that song about your ex-girlfriend or is it about this person...'
I think everyone misses the point that the song's about me. It's about everyone expecting me to fit into their definition of perfect and pointing out that success doesn't change the fact that people always demand something from you. In fact, sometimes it could be worse, because there's a lot of pain and pressure that everyone sees with anyone's career to maintain something that is great and to not let it expire. That song throws out a bitter sarcastic element that is directed to people who don't understand what it is that I do, and a lot of people don't want to dismiss me. A lot of people have a hard time saying, 'Hey, that's actually good', which I find a lot. I don't take it as an insult, because if I wasn't myself, I'd quite possibly dislike someone like me also, but only because I think that what I do is good and I get away with it."
Is there any relationship between the meaning of (s)AINT and the title of the song, Obsequy (The Death Of Art)?
"That's a good point. The point being, I wanted the record to be about relationships. I drew that from a lot of inspirations that weren't things that I researched, like some people, I'd assume. It's what part of my interest was over the past two or three years in films and in books. I saw a lot of inspiration and parallels between some of the artists in Berlin in the 1920s when expressionism was created and people saying, 'I don't have to paint or talk about things that are there. I can pull things from my imagination;'
How they were treated and persecuted and how they lived their lives in the face of fear like there was no tomorrow. That's where the most dangerous and exciting art comes from. Taking all of that and realizing that a city like Berlin at the time was a lot like a relationship. It starts out with a certain tension and it builds to a certain point. Whenever anything gets so intense and passionate or decadent or whatever the case might be, there's always somebody in the relationship - in this case, authority - that's like the father and son metaphor that want to destroy it because they're afraid they can't control it. That then became to me an analogy for all the relationships I've been in, in my life. The record itself has that same mark. It starts out with this almost alluring, not false pretence, but the way you start a relationship. Sometimes you aren't so much yourself as much as what you want to project other people would want you to be when you're trying to get close to someone. The record starts to take a dark curve, an arc towards the end. The last track, and even the first track, have a cinematic feel to it, because I spent so much of my time watching movies wand making this record that I would wake up having dreams, and I'd want to take an image and make it into a song, whether it was a burning piano or a stampeding elephant or a chorus line of Busby Berkeley girls. So the end of the record could also be the end of my creative process, but then I looked at it as a film or an album or whatever the case might be or how I approach life - it's over, but you can start it again. It's that transformation - the snake eating its tail - that's the cycle, and that's how I found the ability to survive and continue."
This album has many more sexual references than anything you've done in the past. With The Golden Age of Grotesque having to do with relationships, do you see a parallel here with songs like Slutgarden, The Bright Young Things, and Para-Noir?
"I think it was the ability to be in a relationship with my girlfriend Dita and also with my band mates and with collaborations with Gottfried Helnwein. I've surrounded myself now. There was a matter of really deciding this is what I need again to survive and to go further than I've gone before in my ability to take my imagination and make it real and manifest it for other people to experience. You're going to hate it or love it. I had to surround myself only with people that saw my vision or my lifestyle as their own. It wasn't them following me or being a part of me, but us all feeling the same thing. It wasn't a sit-down meeting where we sat with a flow chart and said, 'This is what we're going to do'.
It's just the way that life works, having that gave me the ability to look back and see what it took for me to get there. Because I've had so many sexual hang-ups growing up, I think I've finally gotten to a place where I feel comfortable and not satisfied where it makes me lazy - because that's when there's no excitement in your life anymore - but to a point where I can live right in that centre of the danger of chaos and order, which is the basis of Marilyn Manson. Maybe it's taken me all of this time to get to where I've always wanted to be. I think I've made all these records to fight to get to a point to make this record, which is the beginning of a new era for me. I'm finding control by letting go."
Holy Wood was the first part and completion of a trilogy including Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar. Where does The Golden Age of Grotesque come into the story or is it a new chapter?
"It's the amusement park you build once you're decimated a city that you've infiltrated and conquered. It's taking the things that you've left destroyed in your wake, whether it's opinions, relationships, or lifestyle, and actually offering something to the world. I've always felt like even though people see what I do as destructive and nihilistic, that I was creating. I am bringing something into the world more than the people who want to silence me, who are merely trying to take things out of the world. I think that this one generally... I think it was a time where I needed to let people understand my personality more, to capture the elements of people that will walk up to me on the street and compliment me on Bowling For Columbine or people that attended my art show that don't listen to this type of music. Taking all of that inspiration and saying I don't want to change what Marilyn Manson stands for musically. I don't want to completely alleviate or disrespect all of my previous work by forsaking it. I want to build off of it, and I want to challenge myself to see if I can put people in a place where they feel my personality more and then sense of sarcasm and the sense of commentary that I often do, but not in the music as much as maybe I should have?"
Do you feel your segment in Bowling For Columbine increased your acceptance level within a different age group or market share or something like that?
"I think it made a crowd of people who had not listened to me hear what those who have listened to me have always heard all along. That maybe gave me the urge to then provide them with something that really could get to them. I also didn't want to make a record that approached my opinions and philosophies in the same way as the past, because I've often pointed out the flaws and I've often pointed out my problems with how I fit into the world. This is more about creating a new world, truly what expressionism is about to me. You're taking your imagination and you're taking an escape, like what Vaudeville, Cabaret, and Burlesque represented. You're taking the spirit of that. Of course, when I started it, the fear was being felt. It came at a time where we were in a political uncertainty. The world needs things like this to make America worth fighting for. Whether you agree with Michael Moore's Oscar speech or whether you agree with anything I do, it's time to make sure that it's heard, because that's really what we fight wars for. That's what democracy is supposed to represent. To me, that is more important than writing a protest song or making statements fiving your opinion on whether we should or should not be involved in some type of war, because rock 'n' roll can't change the world in that way, but you can change things in smaller ways by just respecting people's spirit. In some strange way, this record is more uplifting, only in that it's kind of a desperate celebration of life in that there may not be a tomorrow. It's a different type of nihilism for me. It's not about me maturing; it's about me actually finding a true release from this fear of dying."
When you said you might have previously not put enough of your agenda or intention into your lyrics as opposed to your interviews or appearances, do you think now that you are conscious of that exposure it will change the direction of your next material?
"Not in the way that I think that you mean. I just felt like the challenge that faced me was to make people feel like they knew me without sitting down and explaining myself. By, in some way, tearing open my head and letting them get inside of it with a stream of consciousness, to create the opposite of a silent film in music, to sing in a cadence that drew people in if it wasn't a language that they understood, to hit people in a primitive way that ultimately to me has more levels than if you were to spell things out quite clearly. I don't think that I regret or feel that there is any shortcoming in the stuff I've done in the past. I just feel like I want to capture people's attention in a different way. It may not be something I can explain other than by letting people listen to the album. I think that sometimes this record makes you smile and not in a way that you’re slapping your knee laughing, but in a way that it's like, 'I didn't think he would do that.'
It's hard for me to make people feel like that when I've do so many things."
Is there a point of acceptance where Marilyn Manson will delineate himself, meaning can you achieve such broad appeal that your shock value is no longer shocking at all, it's merely mass culture?
"That world is so shocking right now that it makes shock value need to change its relevance and definition. I've always meant to be provocative, which kind of goes beyond that and it maybe subtler. I could have always been more shocking if I wanted to be, but nowadays if something does happen to shock you, or get your attention for that matter, then it must be pretty good for the most part unless it's just juvenile. We're oversaturated in particular with the abundance of violence that is on TV. I think it's absurd to consider entertainment to be any threat to the moral fabric of the world. People find me dangerous, because I don't give answers to the questions they want, because I feel that art is a question.”
But you've been doing okay so far in this conversation...
“I don't feel that I'm explaining what I do. I feel like I explain myself with my creations. I defend myself with what I create, but I'll never defend or explain my work. First of all, it robs everyone who appreciates it, or even dislikes it, of their reasons for even having that feeling, because everybody's going to have a different reason. So, I think defining something in one way really robs it of its power. I think it's important to let people know what you're about, and it helps them identify with whether or not they should like something or not."
The song This is the New Shit seems to be every clear lashing out towards generic mainstream music. Not wanting to contradict exactly what you just said, could you go into what this song is about?
"That song was a question and answer to me on where I was going with this record. It was the first song that was written, and I opened it up by asking, 'Everything's been said before. Where do I go from here?'
I answered that question with the song itself. It was initially addressing pop culture, but in a broader sense; it's addressing human behaviour and human behaviour in relation to pop culture and its control over it and its inability to not be controlled by it. that's one of those things that I feel defines this record, as approaching my philosophies in a different sense because it has an innocuous quality, a nursery rhyme Dada, a childish sort of mantra that says stronger things to me than some of the other songs I've written in the past that may have come across more heavy handed and as opinionated."
This album has a bit of childlike feel to it, even with the adult subject material on songs like Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz, Ziggety-Zag and spelling things out like "I got an F and a C, and I got a K too, and the only thing that's missing is a bitch like U." Was this intentionally thought out?
“It's just a pattern that I started to fall into. I would wake up and I would say, "We need to write a song that sounds like a burning piano." It wasn't a matter of setting a piano on fire or sometimes even using a piano, but it was taking images and trying to make that understood by my collaborators and trying to make it happen in reality. It's a different way of working. We also approached things differently, like Para-Noir for example which I think was one of the more strange experiments in music. I held an audition of several dozen girls, and I wanted to make a song that reflected the manufactured word "Para-noir", which was meant to represent the excessive darkness and the paranoia of trust. I had girls come in and say whatever they wanted to. I want them to let their deepest, darkest feelings on why they fuck people, whether that is metaphorically or literally. The only requirement was to begin the sentence in that way and they could say whatever they want. The song then became a photomontage on music. Every word in some cases is cut from a different person - maybe it was because of the breath or the way they accented certain consonants. It's all of these people expressing these strange reasons and sometimes, in the fashion of directing a film, I had to motivate them. Sometimes the lights were out, sometimes the lights were on, sometimes they were naked, sometimes clothed, and some of them knew who I was, some of them had no idea. None of them were people I was friends with or even instructed that this was part of a song, just that it was part of an experiment. The most interesting responses are the ones compiled on the record.”
Were any of these know entities or are they all just random found voices?
“They're just people that I saw and thought that they had a strange look in their eye. I just wanted to get them in a room with a microphone and see what they would say. Everyone enjoyed it, and there wasn't any sort of deception or exploitive experiments. Some people thought that the song was misogynistic, but I thought it was quite the opposite, because it was some weird experiment and two different points of views on relationships. When we recorded the music, I wanted to have a guitar solo in it, because a guitar solo has such a phallic content for me. It's not a common thing to put on one of my records, but my guitar player is such a skilled and talented musician that doesn't drink or do drugs. I really wanted to find his element of despair because that's where things were coming from in this song. He has been known to have a bit of a sex addiction and have sex with sometimes four or five women a day on tour.”
Yeah, who doesn't?
“Well, with four or five different strangers.”
Like I said, who doesn't?
“I don't. That's where I saw the spot to get the solo from. So I blindfolded him and I only gave him the sound of porno movies in his ears. I handed him guitars that weren't familiar to him, much like that woman that he does this with, and untuned, and he played that completely from his gut - not from his mind or anywhere else. To me, that as one of the more adventurous things, and I enjoyed it.”
Did that have anything to do with the line in Slutgarden - "I memorize the words to the porno movies?"
“Yeah, that was kind of around the same period. We were finding stranger ways to produce things than more conventional people would. Instead of saying "You could do that better, do that again," a lot of the vocals are the first take. The song The Golden Age of Grotesque for example was written in pretty much 12 hours and performed and recorded. This was the one with the burning piano in mind. I just wanted to lay out my sack of notebooks - there were about 20 of them - and I had been writing down phrases that come from wherever I can find them. I spread them out and I started singing. It has such an odd phrasing and cadence, like after the chorus, I hit this high note on the word "Gloominati," I was creating words that didn’t exist, but it seemed like the way I could paint this picture. Sometimes you have to mix colours.”
Who did you end up working with on this album?
“I produced it with Tim Skold, who is m new bass player, and we had Ben Grosse mix the album. We were very secretive and very reclusive particularly with the record company. I would not play them things. I don't think they heard the finished album until about two months prior to the release. I would play them what ended up being the audio for the DVD that comes with it called Doppleherz. It's a stream of consciousness, absinthe fuelled rant that may have ended up being a suicide note the way I was going this particular night, because I had received a bunch of bad news this day. I had everyone leave the room and I just wanted to say what I wanted to say. We created images to go with it. I played it for the record company, and it's 35 minutes long or something like that. Ten minutes into it, I'd say, "Yeah, that's the single," but there was no music. It was just me talking. Then they would kind of laugh, "Oh, that's funny, Manson, but really..." and I'd just say, "That's really it." At a couple points during the making of the record, between my manager and the record company, they wanted to put the whole thing to an end and probably send me in for rehab or mental evaluation, literally.”
What are the chances that's the first time anyone's ever suggested that?
“You know, I'm not sure. At least to my face, it hasn't been suggested. I understand people not wanting to put someone like me in a responsible position without some sort of conventional engineer/producer guy. The record was literally engineered by me and Tim Skold. It has that homemade quality to it, but I think ultimately, it doesn't sound like that. I'm quite proud of the way it sounds. It has that element that you get when you're making a demo. It's personally detailed. It has all these raw performances, but it's like a Bosch painting. Each piece of static is carefully placed.”
I believe it was Mechanical Animals whose release was expedited because of an internet leak. Have you approached things different since then?
“As far as that stuff goes, nowadays, it's the record companies that are really paranoid. At this point, I think everyone has figured out that artists don't generally benefit that much from record sales. That's also something that doesn't concern me, because I don't feel that what we represent as band now and what The Golden Age of Grotesque is meant to represent isn't contained just in the album, because I'm showing people things in performance and on my website and in other circumstances that are a part of it. I want it to be bigger than that. It's not because the record doesn't stand on its own, it's because the record is as much as I can fit into that scenario. That's something that I think makes record companies unhappy because they don't benefit from certain things like that.”
You still have your own record label, don't you?
“I did have a label that I was able to sign bands with through Priority Records, but Priority went out of business.”
So is Posthuman Records gone now too?
“Yeah, but that was something that was never really Marilyn Manson oriented, because I'm signed to Interscope.”
It's still nice to have a hobby though...
“Yeah, I found it unsatisfying, because I don't like to try and manipulate somebody else's work into something that is marketable. For me, by nature, I create things that I think people will like, but it's part of my motivation and it's not money driven. Success or reaching people is what drives it. It made me feel like the people I don't like in a lot of ways. It was an interesting experience to try, but I don't feel like it's something I want to do.”
Outside of music, do you have any interests, like horseback riding or Mah Jong or something like that?
“I don't know what Mah Jong is...”
It's an old Chinese game that pretty much Jewish women play. It's something type of old-home game or something.
“I watch a lot of movies. I don't know if that's a hobby, I like to paint, but now that it's become one of my vocations, I guess it's not a hobby anymore. I do have a pellet gun, and I do sometimes drink absinthe all night and try to hunt down stalkers.”
How do you deal with aggressive fans-both those that are in love with you and those that aren't?
“I don't know how to answer that one. I try and just understand that I feel the same way and the same enthusiasm about different things, and I feel the same enthusiasm about what I do. I learned to accept and appreciate the fact that any art that you create isn't complete until somebody else receives it. I'm not a self-indulgent artist. I'm a very controlling, self-consumed person, but I make things for other people. It's how I make myself feel worthwhile. It's the same reason why I used to dress up for Halloween all year round as a kid, because I felt the desire to find my place in the world as an entertainer, as an artist. I don't consider the music buying audience to be a separate entity, because I stull buy my records. If I make something that makes me happy then I'm hoping that it's going to make other people happy. If I make something that I know has the potential to piss me off then I know it's going to piss of some people that I don't like.”
Are you still into tattoos? They were a lot more prevalent on your first album...
“I haven't gotten a tattoo in quite sometime, but I've decided that I think I'm going to get something new to signify my change in pace. Whenever I make a record, I change my haircut and I change the way I act and I change my clothes and it kind of goes hand-in-hand. I wouldn't say it's character acting, but it's really a matter of the way I think. I can't think of something just musically without having an image or having a style to it. I guess that's being a product of ground up with MTV.”
Do you think you're ever going to end up on an Osbournes-type TV special?
“No, only because I think - it would be very entertaining, trust me - voyeuristic television breeds laziness and it threatens to destroy the whole point in some ways, although I watch it myself.”
It would be neat to see Para-Noir on reality TV if it was as interesting as your described it.
“There will be and there has been documentation of my sort of actions, movements, and happenings here and there. Those will be distributed one way or another. To keep them pure and to them in their truest form of entertainment, I'll go around the conventional ways of distributing and showing them to people. I'll be like a circus and take these things around and force-feed them to people around the world.”
How is your photography coming along?
“I do things now and then. Only one photograph that I've taken appears in the album. The rest of them are from my collaboration with Gottfried Helnwein.”
Is it still fun for you or has being Marilyn Manson become a bit of a chore?
“When it becomes a chore, I won't do it anymore. It's always been hard work, but because I don't consider it to be work, it is fun. I've always had a strange problem using that word, but I do enjoy being me or I would definitely have to be someone else.”