I meet Marilyn Manson in his hotel room in Kensington. After we shake hands, he darts around the room trying to decide whether to sit on the three-seater sofa or one of the two armchairs. Eventually, he settles on the floor with his legs folded under him. I sit cross-legged in an armchair. It feels a little like a children’s therapy session and, in this moment, it’s difficult to see how someone so obviously mischievous could ever be considered the sole harbinger of societal death.
But since the release of his debut album Portrait of an American Family in 1994, Manson has occupied a space where sexuality, violence and public menace intertwine. He has faced extraordinary levels of criticism, from claims of sexual misconduct to being blamed for 36 high school shootings including the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. When you’re being slapped with class-action lawsuits at a frequency that would put Napster to shame, anybody else would maybe think about reigning themselves in a bit, but not Manson. No, instead he became a minister of the Church of Satan, rebranded himself as the God of Fuck and, later on, the Antichrist, just to make sure nobody on the Christian right had any doubts about his religious alignment.
But when an artist’s career becomes so embroiled in perceived “shock value”, it can become difficult to evolve. Between 2007 and 2012 he released a trio of comparatively stagnant albums, one of which included a single called “Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon”. For the most part though, Manson’s work holds up a mirror up to pop culture in a way that reflects the worst of it back on itself whilst simultaneously providing a barrier behind which he can have a good old laugh at us all.
I, like everybody else, was interested to know where Brian Hugh Warner, the young music journalist from Canton, Ohio ended and Marilyn Manson, the cross-dresser who rubs his crotch on the heads of security guards for fun began. But the man I met was positioned somewhere between the two: Marilyn Manson, recent homeowner, watcher of prime-time American TV shows like Hannibal and Sons of Anarchy (which he features in) and betrothed parent to a cat who should always be addressed by her full name, Lily White, because “she hates the C word”. This slight but notable lifestyle change seems to have had a positive effect on The Pale Emperor, his tenth studio album and arguably his most definitive since 1996’s Antichrist Superstar.
Throughout the interview, he often veers off topic, taking the conversation to wherever he feels it should go, which is representative of his career in general.
On the way to meet him, we (myself and Kylie, VICE’s Fashion Editor-At-Large) thought it would be a good idea to get him a present to break the ice. And when I say present, I mean a huge pink stuffed unicorn we picked up from a card shop in Liverpool Street station. He removes it from the bag with two black leather-gloved hands, says, “What the fuck is this?” and then refuses to let it go for the next thirty minutes.
What’s the weirdest thing anybody’s ever given you? Please don’t say that.
That. No, ok. I believe the weirdest thing anybody’s ever given me was Hitler’s coat hanger.
Wait, what? Was that in Secret Santa? Who gave you that?
Apparently an abortionist. I’m not really sure. I’m taking my gloves off now, which could be a sign of danger.
I’ll take my chances. So your new song, “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” could be interpreted as playing up to that stereotype of you as a pretty large wasteman.
What’s wrong with that?
Nothing. But do you think you’ve been ever been misunderstood?
I think you can be understood differently by everyone, you can’t be misunderstood. Unless Understood is your last name. Hello, Miss Understood. It would suck to get married if your maiden name was Understood. I think Rachel Slur is a good name.
Did you just make that up?
So, the song...
The song is strange. The first review of the song said “equally catchy and depressing” and I like that. It also gave it five stars, which is good. I don’t like reviews unless they’re good. So when I was writing the song I had a completely different frame of mind. I was thinking, this is going to keep a lot of girls through college if they’re strip dancers.
I mean, in part, because of the beat and the rhythm of it. But the song could be interpreted at face value as being about drugs or a relationship gone wrong. Or biblical. That’s a part that I think a lot of people don’t look into - the very simple idea of what happened in the bible on the third day, Jesus rising from the dead etcetera and so forth. And I say etcetera and so forth because it pisses me off when people say etcetera more than once. So much that I got a tattoo of it on my fucking wrist. Therefore I may not be able to ever kill myself, because I’d ruin my tattoo. As I always say, sideways for attention, longways for results. You won’t see me kill myself. Ever.
Your career has often been measured in shock value. Do you think people have become more easily offended? When artists like yourself and Slipknot were rising to prominence people were like, “Oh my god they’re talking about satan and shit and cum.” But now it's more, “Oh no, Justin Bieber has driven a car slightly faster than is legally allowed.”
And he didn’t shit and cum?
I imagine he has, but not in that particular moment.
There was a story that I made Zac Efron snort a line of cocaine shaped like a swastika.
Is that true?
I cannot deny or corroborate that story, but it is funny. I mean the point being you can’t make a rock n’ roll album without having any scars, physical or emotional.
What do rock n’ roll scars look like?
You have to go through a process. I hated rock n’ roll when I started. It was on the cusp of grunge and a lot of bands that I used to call “commonist rock” because everyone wanted to be like the common man with the flannel shirts and Pearl Jam and their fight against Ticketmaster and all this horse shit. Nirvana was different. That was one of the bands I covered first as a journalist and I’m just going to go ahead and say I coined the term “grunge” in a review of Bleach. You’re welcome.
What didn’t you like about that era of rock?
I’ve always been a fan of The Doors and if you look back at rock n' roll - at Elvis, Jim Morrison - nothing has ever changed, it’s always been the same. I’m proud to have been born in 1969 because it was the year that the first album was blamed for violence. The Beatles’ White Album. Charles Manson was on the cover of LIFE Magazine. Altamont ended the Summer of Love, because of the Hells Angels. I’m on Sons of Anarchy and am friends with people who may or may not be in Hells Angels, but definitely ride motorcycles. And that was an era where there was a complete change in everything. It’s where I was spawned from and I don’t feel like it’s changed much. You can dress it up differently, but it’s always going to be the same and I just don’t like people who try to pretend to be something they’re not. That could easily sound like bullshit, coming from me holding a unicorn and wearing lipstick, but if you wanna fight me, go for it. I got my ass beat the old-fashioned way, not cyber bullying. You wanna know how to deal with cyber bullying? Shut your computer off. I got beat up at the bus stop.
Going back to modern culture and censorship. Do you think we have lost our capacity for shock?
I notice that, in films, working on Sons of Anarchy they tell me strange things like you can only anally penetrate a man three thrusts in a row on television or you can only stab someone in the neck three times. But I was excited, I think I got six stabs in the neck. Not many in the ass. But these are strange rules. I’m not sure if it’s sanitised because it’s so much more violent that it used to be. I don’t remember growing up watching that. Now you turn on the TV and it’s like ah, that guy with a swastika is ass fucking that other guy and then he stabs him, the end. And he’s also Marilyn Manson, looking handsome, with a beard.
You have a new album coming out soon. The new track has a Southern Gothic vibe about it. Could you tell us more?
Thank you, you’re the first person to fucking notice that. The music was done by Tyler Bates. I sometimes play the tambourine - well, a Vicodin bottle - and I think keyboards maybe once or twice. But for the most part I just walked in and met Tyler and we had this strange bond where he would sit this far away from me and say, “Look, I have an idea.” And I’d put up the mic, put on headphones, and I would just sing. And most of that was the first time I was hearing the music.
That sounds daunting.
Everything I’m saying is going to sound like a homosexual pornography film, but it was a sort of strange way of making a record for me. I had to turn my entire world upside down.
In what way was it strange?
I started the record on the same day I looked at a house I was going to buy. I'd been living out of a suitcase for three years. And I was visiting this house and I was instantly in love with this grand room that looked a lot like Hannibal’s office, from the TV show. I was instantly in love with that room. The person who was living there was the guy who accidentally shot Brandon Lee in the movie The Crow. Then I went from seeing the house to Tyler Bate’s studio and recorded the song “Birds of Hell Awaiting”, and when I went to take a piss I saw The Crow 2 soundtrack in the bathroom and I thought, okay, this is all meant to be. It’s part of the whole thing. So I moved into the house and started the record and we finished it in almost literally, which is a contradiction, probably precisely nine months.
What’s the last taboo?
Culturally, I don’t know if there is a last taboo. I think they've really all been exploited to every degree. Even when you watch shows like Law and Order or CSI or things like that and they make fun of them on other shows because it’s like semen! Child molestation! Finding a dead body! Severed head! All these things. I don’t know what the last taboo would be at this point, but I’m not really looking to find it. I would hate to be the person who finds the last taboo.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
People maybe don’t know that I stopped drinking absinthe.
Don’t you have your own brand of absinthe?
Yeah, but I stopped drinking it myself out of vanity’s sake. It has too much sugar in it. I just felt like it really restricted me from being fit enough to kick someone’s ass. Also, you know, when you’re fitter it makes your cock look bigger. Absinthe is the same as having someone with small hands hold your dick… when you don’t drink it. You’re making me nervous. [To unicorn] I’m gonna hold this every night. It’s my pillow. I hope it doesn’t have an anus.
So you’re the self-proclaimed God of Fuck. Do you have any sex tips?
Don’t fuck with me.
Is that a sex tip?
Could be. If you’re referring to a threesome or, like, you know how in the old days with civil wars when people had to stand in a line with guns and they would say “Charge!” If sex were like that, I would say don’t fuck with me, because I might be a little more Braveheart style. I would just go rogue. And you don’t wanna get shot. In the face. While fucking with me.
You just made yourself laugh.
Haha. Yes, I did.
A switchblade makes any panties crotchless. That’s Victoria’s real secret.
You said in an interview recently that racism is a made-up word, so given everything that’s going on with Ferguson I’m interested to know what you think “racism” means today?
That was a weird thing they took out of context, but I enjoyed that I was suddenly the professor of the etymology of language for a minute there. What I think is that there are no words for me, as a white person, to be offended by. And I also don’t think that if you say some word that is considered to be a racial slur, that it always is. If you don’t say it with malice, it’s only racist in as much as it gives the word power. If you took a handful of scrabble tiles and threw it down and it said some word, is that to be considered racist? I don’t think so. That’s what I was referring to when I said “racism is a made-up word”. I think that, right now, I would probably say that people that are most offended by racial commentaries or racial events or things that are created to cause controversy on the television are not the people affected by them. It’s usually some white telecaster. Wait, is telecaster a word? No, that’s a guitar.
You mean 'broadcaster'?
Yes. I just think it’s ignorant to generalise about anything. You can call me a misogynist, sometimes, maybe, but you meet people on an individual basis and you say hello and that’s the difference between me on stage and off. Off stage, I’m talking to people I know. On stage, I’ve not met these people yet. And I’m singing to people I’ve not met yet. That applies to my whole inability to understand being judged or judging someone. I don’t carry around a gavel. If I did, I’d just use it to hit someone who judged me. I’d hit them back.
The Pale Emperor will be released in the UK on January 19, 2015 via Cooking Vinyl.
Follow Emma on Twitter: @emmaggarland