People of Los Angeles, consider yourself warned: Marilyn Manson now lives among you.
After over a decade of lavish seclusion in rarified sections of the Hollywood Hills and the San Fernando Valley, the visionary shock rocker has taken up residence in a low-rent apartment located over a liquor store near one of LA's busiest intersections. Instead of taking darkened limos everywhere, he's been spotted recently zipping around town in an economy car emblazoned with a giant pot leaf.
"I call it 'hiding in plain sight,'" chuckles Manson — as he affably takes Revolver on a personal tour of his new pad. Sparsely furnished and devoid of any sort of architectural ornamentation, the large, dimly lit space initially radiates all the charm of a college-dorm rec room. Other than books and DVDs, there are no personal effects in sight, least of all the many museum-quality taxidermy specimens we saw several years back during our last home visit with Manson.
But as our eyes adjust to the light, the utilitarian purpose of the place becomes apparent. The wide, white wall in the living room has been repurposed as a giant projection screen; now playing is Kill List, a recent British thriller. The far corner of the room is cluttered with dozens of Manson's stunning watercolor paintings, many of which are rendered entirely in black tattoo ink; a portrait-in-progress of his girlfriend, photographer-model Lindsay Usich, lies drying on a drop cloth. In the next room, a high-end home-studio rig sits waiting to blast tracks from Born Villain, Manson's eighth album and his first since 2009's The High End of Low.
Although the apartment may not look like much, it contains some serious creative juju for Manson, who first hung out here during the making of his breakthrough record, 1996's Antichrist Superstar. At the time, the place belonged to Titanic actor Billy Zane; he and Manson got up to a variety of pursuits here, including those of the artistic nature. Inspired by Zane's forays into painting, Manson created his first canvas in this very pad. Therefore, he says, it made perfect sense to for him write and record his new album here.
"I was first here at the point in my career where I felt that everything was in front of me, not jaded by anything, still exciting and new," he explains. "This place sort of had a magic to it, because it's where I did my first painting. I decided that I wanted to recreate myself, and you can't really do that without some sort of change in atmosphere. So, after I got back from the last tour, I left all of my treasures, my thousands of baboons and Nazi uniforms — he said sarcastically," Manson interjects with a laugh, "in storage. I left everything behind except my books and my movies, and made a place that's just black and white, literally. I didn't bring any art with me, so I'd be forced to make it."
Manson leads Revolver into his recording studio, where he treats us to a full-length preview of Born Villain. Whether or not it's due to the apartment's inherent magic, the album is undeniably the freshest- and most focused-sounding Manson record since 2000's Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). Although Manson's infernal growl is unmistakable throughout, tracks like "Slo-Mo-Tion," "Breaking the Same Old Ground," "Pistol Whipped," "Born Villain," and even the perverse epic "The Gardener" have a leaner and meaner feel to them than anything in his recent oeuvre. With its hypnotic thrust and short, sharp stabs of distorted guitar (played, in many cases, by Manson himself), Born Villain sounds like less of a throwback to his early records than an update of the post-punk music that originally inspired him.
"It doesn't really sound like any of my old records," he admits. "In fact, it sort of sounds like what I listened to before I made records — Killing Joke, Joy Division, Revolting Cocks, Bauhaus, Birthday Party…
"It's very rhythm-driven," he continues, "and it's actually very bluesy. It's the first record where I repeat verses. I just sing the words in a different key, the next time. I've never done that before, because I've always felt like I needed to write a lot of words in the past. There's certain songs, like 'The Gardener' and 'Children of Cain,' that really tell a story, so I put them in the center. When it's finally sequenced in the right way, I think this will probably be the grandest concept record of all. And it's not as fictional as it might have been… It's not third-person."
The listening party over, we repair to the living room, where — over absinthe for Manson, red wine for Revolver, and several handfuls of Gushers fruit snacks for both of us — we get down to dissecting the latest incarnation of his artistic evolution.
REVOLVER How did living in this apartment impact the creation of Born Villain?
MARILYN MANSON It fed into it, and this record came together more organically because of it. I never played guitar as much as I have on this record. I made it a goal of mine to really master things that I do. I'm trying to be a better painter, and I made a ton of paintings this past year. I'm trying to become a better photographer. And mostly, making this record, I played guitar in the same tuning and same style that [longtime collaborator and bandmate] Twiggy first taught me. It's an open tuning, for slide guitar, but special. You can hear it on "Superstar," "Apple of Sodom," a lot of unique-sounding things that I didn't necessarily play on in the past, but which I felt was the essence of my music. If I had to sit back and think, I'm not in this band — what do I like about this band? I had to really separate myself and be objective…
Well, what did you come up with?
I realized that I started this band because I was a fan of music, and I thought I could make records that were more interesting than the ones by the people I was interviewing when I was a journalist. Marilyn Manson, as an idea, has never been simply about the music. On the past few records, the last one specifically, I tried to make it very musical in the sense that it was Twiggy and I reidentifying ourselves as a duo and as musicians. It focused on music in a different sense. The last two records I've made, I still stand behind; I still like them. They represent a period of my life, though, that I don't associate with things that are as enjoyable to listen to. [Laughs] I see them as, if someone's looking for some sort of connection to despair, and an attempt at resurrection, it's there. For me, though, they don't have the spark that signifies what Marilyn Manson was in the beginning, what I was as a person.
At what point did you realize that you were missing that spark, and it was something you needed to reclaim?
Well, the whole "Don't call it a comeback" thing… It took me a long time to realize that I need to come back to the core of what I was. And it wasn't so much that there was a failure that shocked me into that, or some grand single error on my part. It was just realizing that I don't have the spark that I used to have in me—why don't I have that? Why don't I have that fire? I had to admit to myself that I'm not what I was. Now, I don't want to be what I was, but I don't have the same ambition and drive, the determination, the fearlessness, the anger and relentlessness that I had when I started this. I have some of it, different elements of it, different percentages of it, and I'm not saying the stuff I did before I came to this realization was irrelevant. I had to do it to get to it. But I guess part of it was coming to terms with family things, like my mother being ill and diagnosed with dementia, being faced with that concept. Coming to terms with mortality — not of my own, because I've always been very fearless of that, and I'm never afraid to die for what I believe in. But while I'll always make jokes and deny it in a [American Psycho protagonist] Patrick Bateman sort of sense, I'm not completely devoid of human emotions. I do have feelings, and I have a lot more feelings than people probably imagine, and that's what makes me so guarded. So it was a lot of me coming to terms with that I had to prove to the people that already know and care about me that I'm worth caring about, and that I'm a motherfucker to be reckoned with. And I wanted to show the rest of the world exactly what I showed them. Whatever it was that got people's attention, what made them want to listen to my first album, I just wanted to have that gleam in my eye, that fire in me.
This is your second record with Twiggy since he returned to the band. How has your working relationship with him changed over the years?
Well, it depends. It's been a weird road. He's had a strange year, a transformational year for him. I won't talk about his personal life, but… I was much more heavy-handed, musically, in the songwriting and the production of this album. Twiggy is very visceral. He plays from his dick, in a sense that's metaphorical, and sometimes literal. He came in really strong with what he does best: amazing guitar riffs. But the mindset he was in was quite different than mine. I could see what he wanted, because we're like brothers, and I took that and tried to shape it with him. Making this record, I had such a clear idea that was forming… but the difference was, I didn't really share it with anyone involved.
I don't know… It's sort of an Art of War thing, where if you tell everyone everything you're thinking, sometimes it will influence what they're doing, and it will also confuse them. My brain has so many different tangents, obviously, that if I were to try to explain something while we were writing a song together, it would keep them from doing what they would do. I would be telling them what I would do, instead of letting them do what they do. That's why Twiggy and I collaborate so well — he knows what he thinks that I want, and I know what I want from him. If I tell him what I want, he'll do something different. But organically, innately, he'll do what I want if I just give him the inspiration. Out of anyone I've ever worked with, he's the only one I can always trust to do what he does best, if I give him the opportunity to do it. There's never any ego that comes into it. Now, he's a brat, and he's like a little brother to me, so he's a pain in the ass — as I am. So we have our friction, but that's like with any good relationship.
Born Villain is your first album to be released by the label Cooking Vinyl in conjunction with your own label, Hell, Etc. What was the problem with Interscope, your former label?
They don't care about music. They never did. I mean, Jimmy Iovine [Chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M] used to, when he produced records a long time ago. They care about Vitamin Water… And when you've got so much money, it's just about ego. I don't really care what their problem is. I was just happy to get out of there. And I have to be objective. I don't take it personally. I don't regret the records I made — I regret the way they treated them. I think I made great records, and they tried to dilute the very essence of what they signed me for. "Don't be so offensive" — what the fuck does that mean? "Don't be what we signed you for. Don't be what you are."
Does that mean Born Villain is the most unfiltered Manson record we've heard yet?
Well, they've never been filtered, although Interscope has had its… I don't want to dwell on Interscope, but… there was a certain pressure that one falls into, I would say after Antichrist Superstar… It was a pressure that everyone's on your back, flashing cameras and suggestions and publicists, saying, "Oh, you've gotta do this, or you're not going to be successful!" You almost start to question what you do and why you do it, and that will lead to you losing your identity. And that's something no one can fix, no psychiatrist, no legal team, no scientists, no anything. You just have to really strip it down and go back to the basics. The bigger picture is that I can't really consider myself simply a musician, with my painting and everything visual. It's always been a big struggle. From the beginning, the question was, "Aren't you worried that the image will overshadow the music?" I'm like, absolutely not — it's hand in hand. But then, when I became a painter, I didn't want to seem like the rock star with a hobby.
You mean, like Paul Stanley?
[Laughs] I didn't know he painted. But yeah, I was an artist before I ever sang, in some sense of it. But I think that, in a Salvador Dalí or Andy Warhol sense, it's everything — Marilyn Manson is me, it's what ever it decides to be. And I feel finally this is my moment where I'm not afraid to combine all of them together.
It's been 15 years since Antichrist Superstar. Looking back at that record, is there anything you would have done differently?
No… I mean, there's things… You know, it's like when I paint a painting — when I leave something unfinished and then I try to go back to it, it just never works out right. Of course, there's things that you wish that you had not done. But then, at the same time, if you had changed them, you wouldn't be who you are. I wouldn't have written the songs on Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood if I had done things differently on Antichrist. So, all I know is that I've learned how to become better at what I do, and learned to be more focused. I mean, I'm a fucking tornado, I'm chaos. But if you put me within a corral, like a wild bull [laughs], you can ride me. But if I don't have that structure, if I don't have someone and some people, especially my band, that I trust implicitly, then it's just chaos. It has no purpose. Anyone can be fucked up and be chaos, and that's when you're not an artist. But if you can harness chaos, and make it into something that communicates with people…
How do you see the state of the nation now, politically and culturally, compared to when Antichrist came out?
It's strange to know that a lot of shit that I was almost killed for seems utterly irrelevant to people now. After Columbine, everything I had was robbed from me. I lost everything financially. My tour was right at the height of its biggest point at that era. My phone was tapped by the FBI, like I did something wrong, like I actually was involved. I mean, I kind of regret the fact that… I was so afraid to get drafted when I was a kid. My dad taught me when I was about seven how to operate a bolt-action rifle that he brought back from Vietnam — the kind that Lee Harvey Oswald, if he had shot John F. Kennedy, supposedly used. So I trained to be a sniper at age seven. I have good aim. But I was afraid to go and get drafted into the army, because I didn't want to get a haircut.
Really? That was what scared you about serving in the armed forces?
That was really it! [Laughs] I didn't realize at the time that, Wow, this is a free pass to go kill people, and not have any repercussions for it! That's pretty fucked up, when you think about it! [Laughs] Because it's a war, because someone says it's "patriotism" or "for your country," it's OK. That's pretty fucked up. And I missed out on it! I'm pretty bummed out that my mullet kept me from a free kill-fest! [Laughs] So I can have a sense of humor, and I have every right to have one, since I got blamed for Columbine and I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Those guys, at least they had their kicks before the whole shithouse went down in flames. And obviously, they didn't kill themselves — they were shot down. It was a big fucking ridiculous government cover-up with Lockheed and whatever… I just say "whatever," because if I say the whole name, they'll probably come and search my asshole for something.
Do you think the current mood of the country is less puritanical and uptight — and that we're less consumed with looking for scapegoats — today than it was when Antichrist came out?
No, I don't think they care anymore. It's what I've always said — although people always mistook it as me saying, "I Love Bush" — when there's Republicans in office, it makes art more important. Now it's sort of like San Francisco for the whole country. It's like, "Yeah, man — free love! United Colors of Benetton! Let's have fun! Let's think about the trees, man. Let's be green!" Anal sex is "green," by the way — you don't use condoms, and you don't make kids. So that saves the environment! Green thumb — brown thumb! [Laughs] I voted for the first time in this last [Presidential] election — maybe just to say that I voted for the black guy. Or maybe not. I just thought I'd do it, because I didn't like Sarah Palin's face. It was strange when I went to do it. I went in and mumbled my name, and they said, "Oh yeah, just go over there." I didn't show an ID or anything. So I don't really understand how the process works. I think I'm more into, like, a hierarchy or a monarchy or a dictatorship… or a dick-taster ship. [Laughs]
Several people who knew we'd be interviewing you asked, "Is he still scary?" Are you? Or is that just missing the point entirely?
Yeah, it's not about being scary. I've never found me to be scary. I mean, if I was a girl, and I'd finished having sex with me, I'd be pretty scared. Which is why I use girls as AIDS tests — if they start dying 18 months later, I think, "Oh shit, I've gotta worry!" [Laughs] People expect me to be a "shock rocker," but there's nothing you can do anymore to be shocking. All you can do is be confusing. Don't ever empty the bucket of mystery. Never let people define what you do. It's not about zigging when you should zag. It's not about doing something unprecedented and unpredictable. It's just about never being a word, or something that is not in the process of transformation.
How did Shia LaBeouf wind up directing the video "trailer" for Born Villain?
He did that for me on his own. He financed it. He was a fan, who was enthusiastic. Maybe in some ways he did not recognize the irony and — not intentional — mockery of him in the Macbeth quote I recite at the end: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I don't think he fully grasped that. But if he did, that's even better…
There's a lot of film stuff that I'm doing that's involved with the record. I don't really believe in making music videos in the traditional sense, anymore. I think that's pointless. But I have some ideas that may involve a lot of talented and unusual actors and directors. My favorite movie of last year was Rubber. The director, Quentin Dupiuex, he wants me to work with him in a film, and I want him to maybe do a video for the song "The Gardener." I can't guarantee that will happen, but I really like the idea of not caring about the convention of, "Songs have to be three minutes and 15 seconds, and there has to be a music video for MTV." That world doesn't exist anymore.
Where did the title Born Villain come from?
Born Villain was not my original idea for the title. I was thinking of calling it Co-Morbid, but that sounded too misperceived death metal, because of the word "morbid" in it. Of course, the word refers to a psychiatry idea — and I don't believe in psychiatry or psychology. I'm open-minded to things, but psychiatry is not really something that has ever proved to be successful. But co-morbidity is when you have more than one mental disorder, and they can't prove which one you have. It's really just an excuse to give people medicine, so that's why I didn't call it that. Born Villain started with me saying to someone, "Gentlemen prefer blondes… but I'm a villain." And villains have always been, for me, the most interesting and captivating and exciting — my favorite characters in any book or film.
What about real-life villains?
Not necessarily in real life, although at the same time it does go back to Charles Manson and Marilyn Monroe, people that live on the edge, people that are dangerous, people who are outlaws. I think "outlaw" is a great term that I really identify with. I'm at a point in my life where I do not want to go to prison, ever. I've been to jail — Jacksonville Correctional Facility [in 1994 after being arrested for indecent exposure] —simply for two days, but it was a hard two days. I took a beating. I mouthed off and learned my lesson, washed my face in Palmolive in a toilet, that type of thing. But I like the idea of "outlaw," more than just in the fantasy sense of "Eat Me, Drink Me," when I was talking about Bonnie and Clyde. Of course, I've done dangerous things. I've tried to kill people before, and I've been accused of killing people I wasn't even around for. So I'm already a pariah—I'm like Pariah Carey! [Laughs] But I feel that if someone fucks with someone that I love, or means the world to me — be it friends, family, partners, my cat, my career — I'm gonna defend that in any way I need to. Now, I'm not gonna do it stupid. And also, when it comes to payback, I'm not a conventional revenge person. I'm the type of person who will wait for someone's grandchildren to grow up, and then have them beaten by a gang with pipes, old-fashioned style.
OK then, who are some of your favorite fictional villains?
Well, you've got Ming the Merciless, you've got Lucifer… People confuse Lucifer with Satan, but I like Lucifer, because he was strong. He was an angel cast out of Heaven because he was like, "Why the fuck do you get to sit on the throne, motherfucker?" Lucifer's the all-time one. Hannibal Lecter's a good one. I think in most Edgar Allen Poe stories, the villain was always strong. I think Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, he was a great villain. That was a great movie, because Nick Nolte was technically more of a villain than he was. I like a movie where the moral code is ambiguous, where the protagonist/antagonist line is completely skewed. Dexter, strong villain. Boardwalk Empire, a show that I love, it's hard to say who's the real villain in that one. I like Chalky White — he's black. Just wanted to give a shout-out to the black villains! [Laughs] Snow White, the witch is strong. Bobby Peru, Willem Dafoe's character in Wild at Heart. Humbert Humbert in Lolita. Macbeth is a villain. Dracula's a villain. Frankenstein's a villain. But they're all victims of circumstance. It's nature versus nurture. They're fabricated. They're almost built to play that role.
In fact, most villains aren't born.
No, they're not. That's the irony there. Thank you for noticing that. You're not born a villain. And the refrain of that song's chorus is, "I'm a born villain/Don't pretend to be a victim." People assume that you're born into it, but when you grow up with people always telling you that you're doing bad things, that is nurture, not nature. So Born Villain is a contradiction in itself. But honestly, it's hard to think of all the great villains… I don't like women villains, though.
Because they will cut your dick off and hurt you, metaphorically and spiritually. [Laughs] OK, I'll tell you my favorite villain — Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Most amusing villain. It's a toss-up for people when they talk about the movie and the book, and I love both of them. Is it imagined? Is it a statement on how the boy next door can be everything that you don't imagine him to be? Is it a comedy? Is it a horror story? It's one of my favorite books, I would say. I find that character to be so humorous, because he cites pop songs as his reasons for doing his murders. And when you think about it, seemingly innocuous pop songs are the most violent. When you listen to something like Neil Diamond singing "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," that's rapey! That's like child pornography. There's so much darkness in all those pop songs.
Not that there's any shortage of darkness in Born Villain, either.
Yes, but this record is very much about resurrection and redemption, which are similar words, but are different. Redemption requires a sense of repentance, not by force or attrition, the realization that you need to be a better person. Which is the case with every character that I love — Kenny Powers in Eastbound and Down, Hank Moody in Californication, Dexter—they're all flawed, and all trying to be better. Everybody loves to see a comeback. Everyone loves to see the underdog triumph. Everyone wants to see the dog stop pissing on the floor. I'm that dog. But I keep pissing on the floor!