Marilyn Manson is not exactly a conformist. From his music - a meat grinder full of electronica, metal and gothic grotesquerie - to his personal traits (because of his nocturnal habits, he was available to speak to TIME only after midnight E.T.), he's managed to confound his critics and fans alike. Is he the satanic Pied Piper of angst-ridden teen nihilists? Or a sly, self-promoting performance artist? Either way, he's long been a lightning rod for controversy, only fueled by his sold-out tours and multiplatinum-selling albums. Now, after taking a yearlong absence from an industry he'd grown to loathe, Manson is back with his seventh album, The High End Of Low. He talked to TIME about the economic crisis, the contents of his makeup bag and how living alone for the first time in his life has made him a better person. Or at least, a better Marilyn Manson.
Where have you been?
"Well, I thought I was going to give up music. I wanted to put all my creative energy into painting and filmmaking. I felt smothered and controlled by not only my contract and record label, but just the way that you have to deal with being objectified as a product."
How does this new album fit into the evolution of Marilyn Manson?
"Track two is called Pretty As A Swastika. It's something I said to a girl because of her complexion - with black hair, red lips and pale skin. I mean, it was a complex and poetic comment that soon led to intercourse, so I felt no reason for it to be seen as confusing, hateful and destructive. The record label [told me], take it off the album. Rather than do so, I decided to produce it on the inside of the sleeve with a different name, so it'll be sold in Wal-Mart or wherever stores sell guns but are afraid to deal with lyrics. So I put Pretty As A ($) because all of their motivations are based on money."
"I'm not saying I'm doing this for nothing. But I've lost everything - I've lost friends. I've lost love. I've lost money. And this record is really about loss. The last album had a lot of romantic, Shakespearean ideals attached to the music, like 'The world doesn't understand us. Let's die together.'
This record is more about, 'If you say you'll be with me until I die and then you change your mind, you should run very fast. Because I'll kill you.'"
What is a typical day in the life of Marilyn Manson? Many would place their bets on your emerging from a bat cave at dusk. What's the deal?
"You picked a great day to ask me, because if you asked me what a typical day was on any other day, I think you'd find it to be completely made up. But I'll tell you. I just moved out of my house, so I'm staying at the Sunset Marquis Hotel - very famous for a lot of things. Including now the things I've done here."
"Well, last night I made a video for Pretty As A Swastika, and it included my shaving the pubic hair of my special lady friend."
Does that fall in line with a perceived need to shock people? Honestly, is that a question that runs through your head? "How am I going to shock people?"
"Yeah, I understand that it seems like I'm trying too hard. Everything I do and say and how I live my life is me being Marilyn Manson. I live my life like there's no tomorrow. That's the best way to have hope for the future. When you have nothing to lose, because you lost it all."
You think you've lost it all? That's so dramatic.
"Well, I've been sued. And lost all my money. And then got it back. And I've lost love. I got married and then got divorced. That doesn't mean I can't have fun. I just want to be me. If I were in a room full of people, I'd rather be the person who is more interesting than the one who is wallpaper."
What is the message you stand for? Your place in the world?
"When you asked what I've been doing for the past year - besides making this record, I was living alone for the first time since I've moved out of my parents' home as a teenager. During the course of writing this record, I did that. That transformation made me understand the importance of change - that I want to be a better person, a better version of me. That's not talking about ethics or morality. I just want to be the best me there is and not be ashamed of what I am."
Did you vote in the presidential election?
"I did. And I'm very proud to say I did for the first time in my life."
And for whom, might I ask?
"I voted for the President. Of course."
What do you make of the current economic situation? If at all, how do you see your image reflected in the crisis?
"I address it directly on my album. And I've always done, in my live show, a fascist parody commentary on rock 'n' roll - all the symbolism between capitalism and Nazism being so similar. I'm not a role model. I'm a role villain. And role villains need to fuck shit up. And they have to take some bullets in the back and take some blame. That's the choice that I made a long time ago."
I don't want to provoke any more self-loathing, but what do you most dislike about yourself?
"I often obsess so much about things that I can't get done, that I ruin other things. I think at some point, some sort of scientist sent me out to space in a time machine and created some spectacular device to put inside my head and I just don't have the manual."
Will there ever be a Marilyn Manson Jr.?
"I think I'm still Marilyn Manson Jr. Someday when I manage to finally figure out how to take care of myself, then I'll consider taking care of someone else."
What's your favorite item in your makeup bag?
"Black eyeliner. It's standard. It's all you need. It just makes the world a better place."