Once there was a subculture of people who shaved parts of their head and brightly dyed their dreadlocks. They casually wore bondage gear and did drugs most people couldn't find. They were true freaks of a different sort — 1990s industrial cybergoths, or whatever you want to call them. They rallied around a musician whose bold statements on society and shocking counterculture antics served as a battle cry for the disenfranchised. The artist that brought this all to the forefront was undeniably Marilyn Manson.
After being taken under the wing of Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson kind of conquered the world. He took the disturbing imagery and catchiness of industrial radio rock and honed it by adopting the persona of a genderless Satanist. He was a living demon to conservative households everywhere and a hero to every meek, pasty-skinned kid wearing black.
Then on April 20, 1999, two meek, pasty-skinned kids wearing black stormed their high school and started killing people. Marilyn Manson was blamed, and soon he became the most hated performer on the planet. Despite all of his posturing, Manson found that it is hard to be despised by everyone. He put out a few more records that kept him on the radio and eventually retreated into a dark depression.
When he returned, he put out still more records. But people didn't seem to care in the same way. The whole industrial scene had changed. Now on tour with Alice Cooper, Manson is back in the headlines after Michael Jackson's daughter, Paris, reportedly attempted suicide after being unable to attend one of his concerts. Never one to shy away from controversy, Manson responded to the incident by issuing a statement inviting her personally to any of his performances, and he followed it with a simulated wrist-slashing bit in his live show. Despite a dip in popularity, the lipstick-clad chronic offender continues to reinvent himself.
Drew Ailes: I read an interview where you said that you wanted to stop writing songs to make people feel a certain way and more to make people feel something. What's the difference?
Marilyn Manson: Well, I think I fell into a pattern on Eat Me, Drink Me where I was writing about how I felt. Maybe I couldn't tell anybody how I felt, so I had to do it through music, and a lot of people liked it because of that. I think the most important thing is to write something people are going to remember. Music is the soundtrack to your life. But I can step outside myself and listen to something I've done objectively, especially now that I'm working with people that I would've never dreamed of working with. It's not like me doing what people might expect — it's not like, metal rap or anything like that. It doesn't sound like anything I've done or anything I've ever heard. I'm making some very interesting stuff that people are going to be surprised by.
You've had a shift over the last few years where you've taken the focus off of American society as a whole and projected it inward. You're now taking more of a look at yourself and making more personal art. Is that going to be reflected in this new work?
It's still personal but different. I guess it would be more like...I wouldn't say what my first record was like, but the state of mind that I was in. Maybe it's this whole Alice Cooper thing that is definitely triggering childhood memories. I surround myself with a very different crowd of people than I have usually, lately. I almost got shot in a drive-by last night. So that was fun. I don't think it was intended for...I just heard a lot of gunfire in the area that I was recording. Let's just put it that way.
Wow. Where are you recording?
Everywhere. Johnny Depp's studio, then I'll be recording at Kevin McCall's studio. I just record anywhere. I record on my laptop. I record on my iPhone. I don't really give a shit if I've got an idea. I have the technology now for just spur-of-the-moment stuff. It's not improvisational, like freeform jazz or some nonsense like that.
Do you feel you've lost some of your confidence over the last few years? I know you had a dark period where you isolated yourself.
Yeah, I think I took a blow. A hit with what was going on in my life. I didn't really understand how to deal with it. I had a lot of stuff with my mother getting mentally ill and involving myself with girls that probably are in kind of an insane place. I'm sort of a magnet for the ones with a screw loose. I was working on a song tonight with Mr. Oizo, the DJ who directed the Wrong Cops movie and this guy Cage, one of my best friends.
Cage from New York?
Yeah. He's made a new record, and we're really good friends. We hang out and smoke a lot of the drugs that you refer to as marijuana. That's the new phase of my life. I'm going backwards. It's a gateway drug, and I went through the gates the wrong way. I started hard, came back soft.
Isn't that a metaphor for a lot of your career? You started off hard, being presented as this demon either by yourself or by the media. And now you have to stand up every day and be Marilyn Manson. Is that something that's hard to contend with sometimes, or do you just fall in line and play the villain?
I find myself very adaptable in social situations, and I think I just apply that to the rest of my life. I say some of the most absurdly rude things in such a charming way at dinner parties, if you can imagine me at one. I never eat though, because I'm always talking so much. But I think that people do somehow find me fascinating. I think they're more acquaintances of friends that will invite me to hang out. I think they like to bring the clown to entertain everybody, in a sense. And I know that, so I like to enjoy that role. One of my biggest inspirations as an artist person is Salvador Dali because he was all over the place. He said once, "Confusion is the greatest form of communication," and I think that's where I am. People don't even understand what's going to happen next. It's usually in a bedroom situation — is he going to stab me? Is he going to fuck me? I think that's a new song I just wrote. I'm going to take that down and make it into a song.
I'm going to run through a few quick questions with you because I know your time is short.
OK. Wait! You mean I'm dying?
I hope not.
You said my time was short.
Yes, I am the grim reaper. The Grim Reaper is a bald, nearsighted interviewer.
[Laughs] What was your question?
How do you know when you're in love?
I think "love" is such a limited word. I love drinking absinthe right now. I love doing drugs. I love my cat. I think dedication and romance are important. I fall in love with things and ideas of things, and sometimes those get mixed up with people.
You're saying romance is everywhere.
Yeah. I'm a tender heart, and I open it up sometimes. I think sometimes if it's a volatile relationship, it's probably love more than it's not. As long as you're not the one getting your ass kicked, emotionally. I think if you are with somebody, metaphorically — I should put that word there — and if you were to kill someone and needed to bury the body and that person would help you, that's love. If your girl is willing to carry the shovel out to the desert with you, then that's love. Or she's just in fear that she's going to go down in the dirt too.
What's the best gift you've ever received from anybody?
That's a tough one. I know on Californication I did say that I wanted AIDS for Christmas, but I think the best gift anyone ever gave me was Lily, my cat. I'm looking at her. My cat, Lily White, and I'm staring at her in the eyes right now, and she knows. I got her February 14 about ten or eleven years ago.
How do you feel about punk rock in the year 2013? And I don't mean what's on the radio, I mean the weird shit that's going on in basements where people are getting punched in the face and hit with fireworks.
I wanna go there. Where is that?
It's everywhere — it's in every city. St. Louis is probably one of the best places for punk rock. People throw bowling balls around the room.
Well, when I was recording last night there was gunfire outside. I just didn't want to get shot because I need to do this tour. But, I don't know, I think that's....well, I like to fly a camera helicopter around my house. And my girl went to the hospital for some self-inflicted injuries yesterday — so I've got a lot of excitement going on in my life. I mean, that's not punk rock, none of that. I like to live life dangerously, but I don't want that in my life at any point.
You endorse it, but you don't want to get a bowling ball thrown at you.
Oh, I'd be able to dodge it. I'm very spry when it comes to sports. I have good aim, too. I would hit some motherfucker real good, too, but I don't like putting fingers into holes where I don't know who else's fingers have been in. I'm surprised you didn't tie in a "Bowling For Columbine" joke that you could've put in there.
Everybody knows you're a big David Bowie fan, but have you ever heard of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy?
No. I should check that out.
The guy that David Bowie says he got the "Stardust" from Ziggy Stardust from. Weird dude from the '60s.
Oh, oh, alright. Yeah. I've never heard him, but I shall check that out though. He also said he was inspired a lot by the Walker Brothers, and I like that one record with the electrician on it. I've been listening to an odd assortment of things. I used to only listen to stuff that I listened to growing up, I guess, for sentimental reasons. You hear a song and you attach it to a part of your life. That's what's exciting about making music, when someone comes up to me and says they lost their virginity to one of my songs. And if it's a guy I'll always say, "Did it hurt when you got fucked in the ass?" That's my little joke I like to toss in there. So yeah. There it is.