I think he’s pretty, pretty, pretty good and although he’s a capable, challenging filmmaker, painter and writer, I really dig his musical output. I just finished listening to White Zombie’s epochal El Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One and the smooth-
I haven’t even gotten to revisiting his voluminous solo efforts yet. But one thing comes clear through all the groovy murk and madness that characterize his work: The dude’s vision is acute. I mean here’s a guy that started out at Parsons School of Design, worked on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and then proceeded to gleefully drown American popular culture in the frightenly beautiful weight of its own depravity, its own propensity for loving everything from heavy metal to hillbilly nightmares and custom car culture.
Those tattoos covering the flesh of a million or more millennials? That love of Rat Fink, Von Dutch, cheesy yet ulta-violent horror films and lowbrow paintings? Well, you can attribute their flourishing popularity, in part, to Rob Zombie.
In an effort to better understand this phenomenon, I listened to Zombie’s latest recording, The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser. Then I called him on the phone to chat. This is what he told me.
Rob Zombie: What goes on when I’m making a record has nothing to do with the titles. I don’t title anything until I’m done. As each record is evolving, I start with no game plan, I don’t know where it’s going. It’s like any piece of art I’m making; it takes itself over at a certain point. When the recording is done, I listen to it and I think to myself, “What does this sound like to me?” And then I start thinking of titles.
I mean here’s a guy that started out at Parsons School of Design, worked on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and then proceeded to gleefully drown American popular culture in the frightenly beautiful weight of its own depravity, its own propensity for loving everything from heavy metal to hillbilly nightmares and custom car culture.
As a multi-disciplinary artist that works just as effectively in film as in music or fine art, do those other mediums influence or interfere with your musical output?
They don’t interfere. The biggest interference is that there isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do. My whole life is a scheduling nightmare. I have two full time careers. Just being a musician, making records, touring the world—that could fill my whole life, really. Making films is another complete career. The two used to exist separately. I would make a record, then tour. Then I would make a movie for two years and do nothing with my music.
But what I do now is constantly bounce between the two. I’ll work on a record for a while, tour and come back to work on a film project; before I edit the movie, I’ll go back on tour or finish another record. I keep everything up in the air at once rather than shutting one down or finishing before I begin something else. It’s kinda a schizophrenic process, but it works, it keeps my vision fresh.
So, is the Rob Zombie, multi-platinum, rock-star performer thing just a persona, just an artifice compared to the auteur behind films like The Devil’s Rejects?
I never thought of it as a persona; I wouldn’t know how to do that, it would be too much work. I never think of it as a creation; this is just me. Obviously when you’re on stage, it’s a personality blown up to a bigger scale. In regular life one person would never have to entertain 20,000 people at one time. So whatever personality one has, it gets exaggerated so that the person that’s half a mile away in the lawn section can benefit. The things that I do on stage are the same things I do with film. Anyone that knows me would say I sorta have the same vibe going at all times, no matter what I’m doing. It’s the same personality accommodating different artistic situations.
You’re hinting around that your life and your work are one thing, a totally immersive experience for you and your fans, am I correct?
Totally immersive. If I’m not up on stage or making movies, then I’m busy designing the artwork for the records, the t-shirts, the movie posters and press photos. I am always all over every aspect of my work. I feel, that as an artist, it’s very important that what you put out to your fan base is really you. It’s easy to hire people to assist; but to me that feels very corporate, very fake. Now, I’m not slagging anyone who does that, but that’s not where I came from.
Where did you come from?
I started in the underground; CBGB’s, New York City. That was my world. There’s a certain punk rock, DIY aesthetic that never left me. That’s my mentality. It doesn’t matter how big or rock starry it may seem, it’s an aspect of my personality that does not change. I never want someone creating something for me.
You started out as someone who worked on an avant-garde Saturday morning teevee show. Then the White Zombie deal came along and you began making music that redefined a genre by incorporating broad cultural references from heavy metal, B-movies and pop culture depictions of sex and automobiles into a groove-driven musical spectacle. How do you distill those disparate elements into an ongoing artistic vision?
Going back to what I said earlier, it comes from who I was and where I came from. Everything you see and hear [regarding Rob Zombie] are just things that I like. A lot of times, even when people really know me, they think I like certain things I really couldn’t give a shit about. But the stuff I do like really influences me. Even starting the band was like that.
I was very much part of the New York City underground; we weren’t being influenced by metal bands. We were playing shows with Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. It was art-damaged, art-punk. But at the same time, I loved Van Halen, the Misfits, The Doors. Also Andy Warhol, Salvdor Dali and the Marx Brothers. I just loved all these artists and wondered how do you put it all in a blender and get something new.
I never wanted to be pigeonholed. I always liked the things Butthole Surfers and Frank Zappa did. They were about what you didn’t think they were going to be about. And that’s what I find exciting. It would be easy to say, “Here’s the market, let’s give people what they want, what’s comfortable.” But I’m unable to function that way.
Well, that makes me wonder what’s important to you now, musically and artistically?
What’s important to me is the quality of what I’m doing. I think now we’re at the top of our game and I’m happy about that. When I feel like the work isn’t good, I won’t do it anymore. I don’t do it for the money. I made shitloads of money. It’s about it being good and fun and doing cool stuff. I have the same motivations now that I did 30 years ago.
Are those motivations transgressive?
The outrage over my work is fake. I feel like it always was fake, even back in the day when people picketed our shows. When I was growing up there was a certain way you were supposed to act, a certain way you were supposed to dress; none of that held any interest for me. I don’t know why, I wasn’t trying to be cool. I just see the world differently than most. I don’t try to do things that are shocking. Again, this is just who I am. My work is true to what I am about. It is me.