Halloween season is here. Appropriately, horror auteur Rob Zombie is back with a sequel album and a sequel tour with so-called shock-rock king Alice Cooper — who, for all intents and purposes, might as well be Zombie's dad. The men have toured together before, but this series of dates is bigger and features more elaborate production values.
Cooper was finally nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in September. Like Zombie, Cooper's career began in New York City clubs, where his glam gear gave way to bloody theatrics as the '60s gave way to the '70s. He and his band did the job so well that it worked against him: When you think Alice Cooper, you think of face paint, towering flames, live snakes, onstage beheadings and a Cyclops monster stomping the stage — and not the eleven sterling albums he has made with Pink Floyd producer Bob Ezrin.
Rob Zombie is back to the gig that put him on the map, after directing four Hollywood horror movies (including the Halloween reboot and House of 1,000 Corpses). After the flat WTF? moment that was 2006's Educated Horses, Zombie sent a clear message to fans by calling his new album Hellbilly Deluxe 2. With B-movie titles and ghoulie-groove riffs, songs such as "Sick Bubblegum" return to Zombie's classic stripper-metal sound. (His new label, Roadrunner, just released an expanded, resequenced version.)
Zombie says this tour will be his biggest, most eye-popping production yet. Alongside White Zombie favorites, strong new songs such as "Mars Needs Women" and "Werewolf Women of the SS" will come to life via old-school pyro and a wall of LCD screens. Zombie talked to B-Sides about his tourmate and Hellbilly 2.
B-Sides: What have you learned from Cooper?
Rob Zombie: Growing up as a kid and loving Alice Cooper and Kiss and these bands, the first music I was exposed to was music that had a show, larger than life. That just set the tone in my mind that that's what music should be: It should be big, it should be exciting, and when you go to a concert, it should be like another world. That's the message that stuck.
Do you think Cooper's underrated as a musician?
Alice Cooper's underrated in every possible respect. That's what drives me crazy. I don't know what it is. He's underrated for all the stuff that he did first. Very few people were doing anything like that before him. And if you take away the show and you've just got the music, he's got such incredible songs. He's a great singer.
Some of White Zombie's earliest shows were at CBGB [in New York]. What part of that scene did you feel connected to? Were you there for the arty punk rock, or did you like the hardcore, too?
I was sort of all over the place. I never fit in. I loved that music. I wasn't ever a punk-rock guy with a mohawk, but I did love a lot of those bands. I'd go to the CBGBs' matinees. I loved Black Flag, but I also loved Van Halen.
I wasn't a fan of the last album, with the different [sounding] material. So I wasn't excited for the new one. When I heard the title, I thought, "I don't know. I wonder if he'll pull it off." And you did.
It's so tricky. Writing songs, everybody hears it differently. Sometimes you write a song, and you think it's so groundbreaking and different. And somebody says, "Oh, man, that sounds just like your last record." Or if you do something, and you think it sounds like your last record, people say, "Why did you change so much?" It's a weird thing, and sometimes you can't win. For me, I try to make the records different as much as I can, without changing what I do.
Did you call it Hellbilly Deluxe to let fans know you were back to the classic Zombie sound?
I've always had the idea to do it. When we were working on the record, it was the tenth anniversary of the first one. Hellbilly Deluxe I was awesome. Awesome record. Awesome fans. Awesome tour. Everything about it was great. And the followup to it, Sinister Urge, was very much in that same vein. But the band started to fall apart with in-fighting. Nobody could get along. At that point, I was exhausted with touring with people who hated each other. And I took a break for awhile and did Devil's Rejects.
And when I came back, I stripped it back to nothing. That's why we did OzzFest that summer as a stripped-down show, with no pyrotechnics. I thought, "This band has to jell." By the time we got to Hellbilly Deluxe 2, I thought, "Let's get back to the big giant show, the whole spooky-monster thing." I always need it to feel real and be organic, not just, "Let's do this, even though we're bored with it."
What do LCD screens add to what you can do onstage?
I've been doing that for a long time, ever since the early days. We'd use projectors. The screens are much better now; you can do the wall. It's very cool. It just creates a world onstage that's always changing. As a backdrop, it makes every song seem different for an hour and a half.
"Sick Bubblegum" is the song that people seem to be picking up on. Talk about it.
I was watching one of those things on VH1, like the history of punk rock. And Johnny Ramone, who was a good friend of mine, was describing the Ramones' music: "It's like bubblegum — sick bubblegum." I thought, "What a great phrase." So that whole song was written around the idea, kind of a tribute to rock.