Marilyn Manson: “I’m somewhere between a peacock and a panther”

Marilyn Manson is headed down under to play Soundwave as part of a large contingent of ‘90s rock heroes. In the midst of his US tour – which he says have been some of the best shows of his entire career – he spoke to DAVID SWAN about the possibility of joining Billy Corgan on stage at the festival, the responsibilities of rock stardom and empirical proof that he may be the devil.

Marilyn Manson may have lost his mantle as public enemy number one in the minds of concerned parents and politicians but he’s still intent on challenging public perception, if with less raw shock value than the ‘90s. Years after the glory days of Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals he has returned with The Pale Emperor, a new record that blasts away memories of mediocre releases with a dirty bluesy sound that strips away the excesses of his industrial and electronic past and rechannels his horror rock shtick into a sparser, sassier swagger. While past releases have been written largely by long-time collaborator Twiggy Ramirez, Manson has enlisted film composer Tyler Bates, whom he met on the set of Californication, to help guide his revival. If Matthew McConaughey can make the unlikely journey from from rom-com poster boy to the fully fledged Oscar contender of the “McConaissance”, then could a “Mansonance” actually be possible?

Why the shift to bluesy hard rock?

Tyler just plugged in a guitar and put a microphone in front of me and we just started and that’s what came out. We recorded it very quickly. But the thing that I learned more about the blues being not simply the sound of the slide guitar, or something of that nature sonically, or the nature of a chord progression or a phrase that is very hypnotic, I just learned that it’s being about the person singing and the person listening. You create a character and a story together somehow and it’s going to be different for everyone. So when I was on tour with my dad it’s about having fun, when I’m on tour with a girl it’s about her, when on tour with myself, I get utterly confused sometimes [laughs]. That’s what they invented marijuana for, I guess. I think I would say my Jim Morrison inspiration really shines through, or shows through, whichever way you want to look at it, that’s what I grew up trying to sing to The Doors records. I don’t know if a lot of people know that.

“I had to be one part snake, one part snake charmer and one part snake oil salesman”

It was strange, I was moving into a new house for the first time after not having a house for quite some time. I disavowed the entire idea of living in a flat or in hotels and things like that. I was opening boxes, and one box I opened had a book that Johnny Depp gave me in 2000, about a Roman Emperor [Constantius Chlorus], who they referred to as the Pale Emperor because he went against everything and all order. He would vote for disorder. He was the first one to disavow the existence of God in the Roman Empire, which was a big deal. It’s a surrealist book. But I opened that up and found a notebook from high school and it had a pencil sketch I had done on Jim Morrison. It was strange because it was quite good, and I’m not much of a sketcher so much as a painter, and a week later I was writing some stuff up in Los Angeles, and it was the title track of the album. I was imagining The Pale Emperor having several interpretations – complexion or goth music or beyond the pale or does it mean everything pales in comparison to it. It has a lot of dimensions to it. What you asked at the beginning, I liked the swagger. I had to be one part snake, one part snake charmer and one part snake oil salesman. And it’s all my upbringing, all wrapped up into one.

And why the shift as well to Tyler Bates to write all the music, as opposed to Twiggy? Why no Twiggy on this album?

It wasn’t a choice as much as it was the way things happened. He was making an album of his own at the time and it happened so quickly. Tyler and I got together the first day we sat down and we started writing, and the conversation turned into a paragraph and then a book, an album, whatever. It just happened quite quickly. But it still feels like it has Twiggy on it and Twiggy playing it live, he fits right into it. But the songs for me also musically fit like a glove I’ve never worn before, but that I’ve always been supposed to wear. And Tyler I think being great at doing what he does, as a composer and a scorer, and someone that scores film, and me being someone who is dare I say theatrical [laughs], I’ve always been asserted as singing in a certain range. These are keys of songs that I’m normally not singing, and he told me he crafted music around my voice, because he does that with dialogue when he’s scoring a film.

And we discovered with the mixing engineer that I have five notes that come out my throat, and apparently you can look it up because I don’t know all the details but I know that you cannot autotune my voice. He showed me a phrasal analyser and I filmed it in slow motion on my phone, because it formed a pentagram. It wasn’t like seeing a standard Virgin Mary on the wall or something. It formed a star then a pentagram. This guy used to be an astrophysicist, his name’s Robert, and he’s won four or five Latin Grammy awards. He said this is not normal, he said he’s seen three notes come out of someone’s mouth, but not five. He said this is empirical proof that you may in fact be the devil.

“I sold my soul to be a rock star”

Speaking of the Grammys, what do you think about what happened with Kanye?

I didn’t see it, I heard about the Kanye thing. It’s so embarrassing. Unless I get a Grammy I tend not to care about it. The Pale Emperor was not eligible; it’s eligible for next year’s. I wouldn’t be surprised, they’ve been asking me to be involved in something with the Grammy museum, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I were nominated. It’s not going to change the way I feel about it. It’s not going to change the way that people that I know and the people that want to see me play new songs live feel about it. I’ve done the best shows this week I think of my entire career and I’m ready to come to Australia because I enjoy playing there and I’m still paying back the devil’s due. I sold my soul to be a rock star and I owed some back taxes, so I’ve got to pay up. So that goes for being a rock star, singer, performer. I’m a force to be reckoned with these days.

What are your responsibilities as a rock star?

My responsibility is to sing as best as my voice is capable of and to be confident and certain about myself. Whatever you want to be you have to be certain of it and do it right and do it better than everyone else, or at least try. That’s the responsibility I think I have, not just to be famous and not just to get free drugs and have beautiful women throw themselves at you and luxurious hotel suites – these are said sarcastically by the way. I think I’m very fortunate to have made a renaissance so to speak, you know. Some of my favourite artists have found at this point album-wise in their careers have made some of my favourite records. And a lot of great artists at this point in their careers have made some of the shittiest fucking records of their careers. So it’s a really dangerous point. It’s a matter of balance and I had to change my environment and change my lifestyle. I certainly wasn’t going to become sober but I was certainly going to become a better drinker. And I started flight training; it makes your brain work differently. And use marijuana to calm myself down. I do my job and then I can have fun. And that way you can tell the difference between a party and a problem.

There’s a possibility [Billy Corgan and I] are going to be spending a lot more time together on the stage”

It’s a very ‘90s dominated lineup at Soundwave this year, do you have any old friends you’re looking forward to hanging out with? Slipknot, maybe Slash?

Yeah, me and Billy Corgan have been hanging out a lot. We haven’t seen each other for 15 years and so we’ve been spending a lot of time. And there’s a possibility we’re going to be spending a lot more time together on the stage, possibly, I hope. And I know the guys from Slipknot; I haven’t seen them in a little while. 15 years of not seeing Billy that would be an understatement for “grew apart”. But it synced right back into the old days, to 1997 when he was around when I was making Mechanical Animals, and he taught me how to play guitar. He gave me the first guitar someone gave me. All that came back. Our brains, I think both being childish minded and always being way ahead of ourselves and our own minds and both being fans of Phillip K Dick and questioning the relativity and the entire existence of what time means in and of itself. I feel trapped in that same era still mentally, so the past 15 years has been a blip to me. As much as I knew when I made Antichrist, that was a window I threw a rock through, let’s put it that way. And this is a window that opened and I went in and I’m burglarising the world.

You mentioned how you feel this is a Marilyn Manson renaissance, do you feel that’s coinciding with the world being more fucked up than it’s ever been?

It’s hard to say, I think it’s more deluded. Not delusional, but diluted. It’s an over saturation of everything. So everyone is more cynical than they’ve ever been and that’s why, just like in the beginning, which makes it sort of impossible to say it’s more fucked up than it was when I started, when I made a band called Marilyn Manson pointing out how fucked up the world was, and people thinking I was trying to be shocking. Right now I find it to be a strange and interesting time to be alive and to be a badass not a Buddhist. And to stand out in the crowd. Standing out in the crowd now, when the crowd is so much bigger, it’s much more of an accomplishment. Very Darwinian. I’m somewhere between a peacock and a panther…. I’m not sure which. That’d be your job to discover. No, I’m a snake. Let’s just call it what it is. I’m a snake.

Do you see yourself becoming an elder statesman of horror rock like Alice Cooper?

Noooo… I don’t think I’m ready for that category yet. That’s more collegiate. I’m more like the twelfth grader than the ninth grade girls still wanna fuck. Because he has experience, and he can buy beer. Metaphorically. I’m going to use that metaphor rather than trying to make me into a professor of some journal. I’m the twelfth grader.

Marilyn Manson’s The Pale Emperor is out now via Cooking Vinyl. He’s touring with the Soundwave festival lineup this month and playing headline sideshows in Sydney and Brisbane.