When Marilyn Manson was thirteen he spied on his grandfather masturbating, but does that explain why he rams a barbeque skewer in and out of a woman’s cheek in the Shia LaBeouf directed video for his song "Overneath the Path of Misery"? Maybe. Manson does champion the grotesque. He wants to rouse curiosity by repulsing and agitating. His imagery incites response, be it disgust, want, anger, or confused arousal. One thing Marilyn Manson rarely is, is boring, and he represents pushing back against what’s accepted. But I don’t think we can credit that fully to his Grandad’s visual meat-beating.
At the core, Manson (born Brian Hugh Warner, January 5, 1969) is a musician, a painter, and a songwriter. He’s a highly intelligent man, who dabbles in femininity and a gothic slanted chaos. He has a penchant for prosthetic limbs, he can scream like his tits are being ripped off, and he has an extreme affinity for Salvador Dali, Willy Wonka, taxidermy, and absinthe. Paint him into a corner though, and he’ll destroy the corner, or film a video in it where he’s a holding a pistol in an old man’s mouth while reciting Macbeth.
Last year, the release of Manson’s eighth album Born Villain on Cooking Vinyl and his own label Hell, Etc., saw him return from a brief musical hiatus. With guitarist Twiggy Ramirez onboard, the songs are back to their industrial, post horror, punk and frothic form. The possessed, low-eased vocal moans in the verses are there, with scalded screams in the chorus. It’s Manson returning to more of his roots.
I heard someone complain the album doesn’t really do anything new, but I think that’s partly the point. Do we want him to start doing country? No. We want him there, fucked up and industrial, eating a songbird, and making us cringe. The 2013 Marilyn Manson is less vilified, which is good, but he’s still very much an anti-establishment monarch of the macabre who embodies chaos. He’s seasoned now, and his own brand of Absinthe is delicious. He’s also congenial as fuck.
For the interview, we Skyped. We had Skype dinner. He had eel, Unagi. I had grocery store bought sushi. His looked succulent and glistening. Mine was in plastic, and tasted like a Crayola-Crayon. He also had some sort of orange looking beverage. No canaries were eaten. He wasn’t wearing his contact-of-evil, although the room he was in was dark, so I couldn’t really see his eyes.
VICE: Do you see beauty in the grotesque?
Marilyn Manson: The more morbid something is for me, or grotesque, the more inherent curiosity it can generate in others I think. A primal, sexy allure of ritual, and animal level thinking. I’m pulled to darkness, the secret’s out.
Your shows enact a blood-pageantry. Or something. When I see your videos, some of the imagery, you don’t want to see, but you can’t turn away. Like skewering the woman’s cheek in that video. I’m like, “I can’t believe he’s ckeek-fucking her with a shish kabob skewer.” But I couldn’t stop watching. That whole video for "Overneath the Path of Misery." Unsettling, and captivating.
If you're curious, you’re turned on. I think it’s effective. I’m interested in engaging people that are curious about the morbid side, sure. The more grotesque something is, the more chance it has to be perfect. The more grotesque something is, the less it has to hide, the more open it is.”
Are you into doom?
Not doom so much. Not death. Lately I’ve been into getting people excited about what they want to do. You can look at things symbolically, sure. The ultimate doom is what, death, right? Death can be seen as the ultimate orgasm. The final climax. I’m into climaxes [laughs]. I’m also into building tension and drawing it out. The more tension, the bigger the climax.
Some of your imagery is ugly or scary. But captivating. It’s confusing. Good horror.
For me, I think that confusion and chaos are what art should be. I don’t want to ever have to explain my art. Art should explain the artist. If you create something that’s confusing, it’s something that at the very least makes you have a question. You’ll ask, what does that mean? Why is someone doing that? When art can be explained easily, I don’t think it inspires people to have thoughts of their own. I think the artist’s role is to ask questions, not answer them. I wouldn’t want to explain what I do, whether it be music or a painting. I’ll talk about why I do something, yeah. If you get to a point where you are defined as one thing only, if you’re confined into that one box, you become at risk of being extinct.
I have a question, how’s your eel?
It’s ok. How’s your sushi?
It tastes like a diaper factory.
(Manson ate with dexterous fingers. He was tidy about it. Through the darkness of the lowlight, candle lit Skpe shot, his eel looked luxurious, and wet with sauce. I asked him to tell me a story and he told me about playing a marble game in Turkey with marbles made out of petrified testicles from bodies no one claimed from the morgue.)
Did you know they were human testicles?
I thought the guys were joking. It’s fucked up that they were playing a game with dead men’s balls. But there’s always a way to look deeper into things. Here’s one for your grotesque-beauty lens. And gets back to the orgasm; testicles make sperm, sperm comes from an orgasm, winning the marble game was like an orgasm in way. One big shot at the end, to hit the other guy’s ball out of the circle and you won the game. Like sperm comes out when he we orgasm and makes its way through the woman’s cervix and fallopian tubes and finds the egg and beats out all the other sperm cells and impregnates the egg, winning the race, the game. Multi level interpretation there. But I didn’t buy the game or anything. I played for a few minutes. Those guys were messed up. They probably weren’t real balls, they were probably just telling me that to get a rise, who knows.
Did they feel like petrified testicles?
I don’t know, what do petrified testicles feel like?
They were clumpy. They could have just been balls of clay.
Your version of “Tainted Love” is solid.
Thank you. Soft Cell, great band.
I wanted to ask your quick thoughts on the business of music? I believe you’ve had some friction there with your previous label?
You have to look at it as, what you create, and then what happens to it afterward, as separate things. You make a song, and then you give it to a record label, and then it becomes a product. You have to accept that, and realize that you can’t take it personally. It’s like your soul becomes this product. Before, I guess I compromised myself as an artist as far as what I let other people do with my product. It feels really good to be working with Cooking Vinyl Records. They trust me more, and it gives me more confidence to create and make better art I think. Confidence is key. On this album I was trying to live up to any expectations. And I’m thankful for that.
You recorded in Berlin. You like Berlin.
It’s the birthplace of expressionism. It represents what I identify with when it comes to art and the creation of going against people who try to conform or change or control what art is supposed to be. It’s been the starting place of my career as a painter. Berlin was the first city that embraced my painting. I love performing there as a musician too. I made a record there and it made me feel inspired, like I was inspired when I first started making records.
I moved into a place and put all my things in storage except for my films, my books, and things that would inspire me. I had my paint brushes and paints. My instruments, recording equipment, my microphone, and my cameras. I wanted to create a place where I could have friends, and my band, and have people come to collaborate with. There were no clocks. In there, the outside world would go away. I got into it. I wanted to create and create and create. On records before, I was trying to make people feel what I was feeling in a way. And a lot of the time, that was angry or frustrated. With this album, if they identify with it, great, but I wanted it to excite people to feel what they’re feeling. Because I had gone into a dark period in my life, and I went into trying to express how I was feeling, it was a double edged sword. I wouldn’t people to feel what I was feeling that way.
You play more guitar on this record.
The song “Pistol Whipped” came to me in the middle of the night. No one was really around so I had to figure out a way to record it. I don’t really consider myself a guitar player. Also, I didn’t want to tell Twiggy [Ramirez] what to play too much with this album. I wanted him to be unconfined, to play his way, do his thing. And for me, to express some things how I heard them in my head, I just had to play it.
Your version of Carly Simon’s “You're so Vain” with Johnny Depp is another fine cover. How was recording with Johnny Depp?
He’s a good friend. Known him for years. We both had bands when we were in Florida. I was an extra on 21 Jumpstreet, yep. We’re good friends. He plays music. After all this time we’ve been friends we’ve never done music. Johnny played drums, and the solo that’s on the song. We did it in his studio. I played guitar. I’d never met his son, Jack, and he also played. It was really fun recording and producing it with him. I’m a huge Johnny Depp fan. I love him. I mean, he’s Johnny Depp. We wanted to do Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” for a few reasons, and because the album isn’t really about anyone else, it makes it amusing. It fits as the bonus track.