"I was with a girl one time, and she actually asked me, 'Do you have a condom?'" recounts Marilyn Manson, as he sits down with ShockHound at a Hollywood hotel to talk about his new album, The High End Of Low.
"And I said, 'Do I look like I have a condom?' That should be the least of your worries. I'm way worse than what you could catch from me."
Okay, then - new year, new record, same Marilyn Manson. Then again, maybe not. In the two years since the release of his last studio album, EAT ME, DRINK ME, Manson endured an ugly and well-publicized split with actress Evan Rachel Wood, and parted ways with former KMFDM bassist Tim Skold, who had been his main musical collaborator and foil since 2002. Both breakups left their mark on The High End Of Low, which finds Manson reuniting with longtime partner-in-crime (musical and otherwise) Jeordie White, aka Twiggy Ramirez, who worked with a variety of other acts - including A Perfect Circle, Nine Inch Nails, and his own band Goon Moon - since leaving the Manson fold in 2002.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Manson-Twiggy reunion has created an album whose songs often seem more intent on recapturing the glam rock glories of 1998's Mechanical Animals than breaking any new musical ground. The High End Of Low has received mixed reviews from critics, some of whom have charged that Manson and his music no longer have the power to shock and provoke as they did a decade ago. And while the record debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200, its first-week sales were the lowest of any Manson album since 1999's The Last Tour On Earth. All the same, it seems a bit premature to consign Manson to the "has-been" bin at this point. The album's first two singles, We're From America and Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin'-Geddon, are as bracing as a beaker of acid to the face, and he certainly isn't the first rock provocateur to be accused of having "lost it" - just ask David Bowie, one of Manson's main influences, who has been counted out several times only to return with a new artistic lease on life. Manson's headlining stint on the upcoming Rockstar Energy Mayhem Tour still looks like one of the must-see concert events of the summer, and - as this exclusive and extensive interview with him proves - the man has clearly lost none of his wicked wit or his flair for throwing the occasional conceptual firebomb.
So, who the hell are you, anyway?
"That's probably a very expansive question. I mean, obviously if I were going through customs, there's my Christian name, but that doesn't really apply. I think it depends on where I'm at right now. I write and create art and make statements for people that I know, and I spend most of my life onstage or in front of a camera saying them to strangers, so it's a little confusing. I've decided, rather, to separate myself from the world and live in a fantasy world - I already do. If anyone at this point is questioning whether I'm crazy or not, or if it's an act or an act of God or a felony or whatever it is - it is. It is what it is. This is the gig, being me. I'm either directing it or acting it or watching it, but it's just Marilyn Manson and that's just the easy word for it. If you want the long version of it, then you're gonna have to have anal sex with me."
Thanks, I'll pass. What can people expect from your latest album, The High End Of Low?
"I think people that are already fans of things that I've done can expect what I've now come to realize through a long and terrible path: That I can do things on my own and Twiggy has done things on his own - but no one can do what we do together. Everything happens for a reason, and I believe that more now than ever. He and I came back into each other's lives at exactly the proper moment. He was experiencing, probably a year later than me, an emotional trauma related to a girl. I like to consider it science, not religion - but if God made Adam, and took his rib and made a woman, and the woman then fucked the snake, then that will just keep on repeating. You need to learn how to become the snake, that's words of advice from me...
So I saw Twiggy, and I wish that I had had him when I was in the same place that he was in, but more than making music or being in a band together, I wanted to be there as his best friend. And it just so happens that whatever he did when we were apart, he became greater and more capable of expressing, through an instrument, his emotions. I think that I became more aware of loss.
EAT ME, DRINK ME is a record that's hard for me to listen to now, not because it makes me sad, it just reminds me of an era where I was a broken person trying to repair myself. I was attaching myself to a Shakespearian concept of, "If the world can't accept me and I'm in love, then let's die together", and now I look back at that as cowardice. The High End Of Low begins with the song Devour, and that song was very hard to get to. Making the record was very easy once it was flowing. We didn't even unpack our clothes when we started writing the music. When I say we, I mean for the most part, Twiggy and [keyboardist] Chris Vrenna, who played the role as an adult in some sense because he had to operate a keyboard and he had to wrangle in the chaos that was happening. We wanted it raw. Everything was initial instinct, first takes, no second-guessing. If it happened, why question it? Why rethink it? The attitude of, What are they gonna do, return it? What are you gonna do, punish me? Is there something worse than where I'm at now that could happen? Is there a prison that's worse than the one I'm in?
Devour became the first song. The album is in the order in which I sang it. For the most part, I started singing in November after my previous relationship disintegrated and it was, kind of, the birth of Twiggy and I getting back together. It was almost as if no time had expired. We still were finishing each other's sentences. It's not like a brother. It's not like a life partner. It's not like a Jonas Brothers friendship... whatever that shit is. It's something indescribable, and it's something that's only manifested in music and this is the record we always wanted to make...
At the beginning of the record I was a person who confused love with dependence and, I guess, desire with weakness. By the end of the record, I was no longer the same person. It may be autobiographical, but it's only because I realized I can't create a more fucked-up story than my own - and the characters that are in my life, I don't need to imagine or create metaphors for them.
But at the same time, I set out to tell a story that everyone can relate to. I don't want to tell a story about my personal relationships, I want to tell a story about being a person that wants to try and be human, and I think that's how everyone feels. I'm not trying to be the ultimate outsider... I just wanted to see, 'What do I have to say anymore?' and I didn't know. So by track 15, if you say to me now, 'I'll love you until we die,' and you change your mind... run, or I'll kill you, and that's as non-metaphorical as I say it is."
The Rolling Stone review of The High End Of Low took it to task, saying that there are elements of this record that would have been considered shocking 10 or 15 years ago, but aren't now. But is being shocking even your intention at this point?
"I never thought it was shocking, but if they're bothering to talk about it... What I've learned as a writer and why I quit being a writer - no disrespect to writers, I just chose to write fiction or write about myself - it's much easier to take the piss out of something and sound entertaining in an article than to praise it, 'cause [if you praise it] you sound like you're suckin' dick, so I understand that. As far as I know, no one's written a song called Pretty As A Swastika. The record company wanted me to take it off the record... [But] to me it's one of the more romantic, interesting things I've said. Is it a compliment? What is it? Is it political? I don't know. It's not even a symbol.
So, when they said that, I tolerated them; then, they inspired me to really get to the heart of the matter. I make something - and when I'm done making it, fortunately the way the world does work now, I can just give that to the world. What comes in a plastic box and is in a store... I don't give a shit what that is. They can change that. They can do whatever they want. If they're allergic to money and they don't want it, whatever. So, no Swastika. I said, 'Okay... Pretty As A Dollar Sign, because that's their fascism now. There's nothing more fascist now than money. Everyone knows that.
They essentially wanted to create a new curse word. I wasn't using a symbol. They tried to say, 'Well for sure Germany won't tolerate it.'
I said, 'Well no disrespect...' - and I love to say 'no disrespect', 'cause you could say, 'No disrespect, but you're a cock sucker', it's like it's a free [pass] - 'No disrespect, but you can go fuck yourself. No disrespect, but in Germany, 'swastika' is an American word. It's a totally different word there. So go fuck yourself and all that.'
But I was inspired to make the dollar sign because my choices are made artistically; their choices are made financially. They actually allowed me to make a greater statement, because initially the statement was made personally: I woke up one morning next to a girl that had black hair, red lipstick, and pale skin and I said, 'You're as pretty as a swastika', and that was charming enough for her to perform - I wouldn't say unspeakable acts, we know what they are... we don't even have to say them.
So, if that works, why can't it work for the rest of the world? Who's the Nazi that's trying to censor me? [Laughs]
Look, I made someone think. I made someone think enough to actually write a sentence [in Rolling Stone] and it was probably poorly constructed, I'm sure. Whatever the case, I'm not trying to be shocking. I'm trying to be Marilyn Manson and until somebody else does what I do, I'll stand down... I don't really care.
These new bands... if you wanna do what I've done - look, I'm doing what other people have done. I'm inspired by Bowie, Prince, Madonna, Alice Cooper... but I have no problems saying that. I just try and take that and make it my own. Salvador Dali said something along the lines of 'Anyone who doesn't steal and make it their own, isn't an artist.'
Nothing new exists under the sun, there's only new ways to destroy what already exists. As an artist, you create things, and sometimes in creation you destroy things, and it's just being conscious of that.
I almost gave up music because I was so annoyed and frustrated by the fact that I couldn't handle being objectified as being a piece of product that exists in a store; not in the way like 'woe is me', just in the way that I'm sick of breaking my heart that I have to censor myself for this CD that goes into a store that sells firearms, but has a problem with me saying 'fuck.' Which I rarely say, but on this record I went, 'Fuck it all' - I tried to use fuck more."
Like on Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin'-Geddon, for example?
"I really was trying my hardest to make a song that they would be mad [about], because they heard the music [without the words on it] and they were like, 'Oh, Manson! This is gonna be a hit!'
I'm like, 'Well, I'm glad that you have no consideration for what I put on top of it, so I'm gonna go ahead and give you a big bag of cocks for this one.'
And then they decided to put it out, so I had some respect for them trying that."
Tell us about We're From America.
"Everyone thinks that's the most political song on the record. I wrote that the week that I voted, which was an incredibly enlightening experience. I don't have a driver's license, as I shouldn't - at no point should I be behind the wheel of a vehicle, unless it's parked and someone's head is in my lap. I just went up and asked, 'Can I vote?'
They were like, 'What's your credentials?'
I mumbled and they were like, 'Alright, over there'.
I filmed it and I voted. I didn't really understand, I just knew that I wanted to vote for the President and I wanted to vote against the... look, I wouldn't advocate marriage 'cause I've had a bad experience. Doesn't mean I won't get married again, but I figured if gay marriage was a big issue, let them have it so they can suffer the way I did, and they'll figure it out on their own. They won't ever vote for it again. So I wanted to vote for those and for no extra pig shit in the farms or whatever, you know whatever the props were. Props are props. I thought props were... like, Carrot Top has props.
I just went in and I voted. I was drunk, that's the way you should vote. Later that day I went back to the studio. I was supposed to work from 10 to 4 AM, but I usually showed up at about 3:45 AM and most of the vocals were done first takes. That doesn't mean no thought was put into them, it just means that they were very immediate and very instinctual. I could've gone off on a list of, 'We're from America, we're this, we're this,' but I thought the most important things were the first few things I said, 'Where Jesus was born, where they let you cum on their faces, where we eat our young and where we speak American.'
It wasn't because I wanted to make a statement on America, it's because at that point in the record, I had gotten through all these songs and I had played 'em for all my friends and they were like, 'Wow, you're really fucked up Manson. What's wrong?'
I'm like, 'I'm from America.' [Laughs] That's more of the, I guess, impetus for the song than it being political. We're From America appears late in the record because you have to hear what's before it to really appreciate how it fits into the scheme of my mind. It's strange; I wouldn't have picked it as the first single. My choice of the first single would have been Four Rusted Horses 'cause I think that represents the record the most, and that's what I'm gonna open the tour with. I give that away right now, for you."