Stay Thirsty interviews Rob Zombie: An American Nightmare
With the opening night of the Rob Zombie/Megadeth co-headliner just hours away, what better time to settle and get ready for the show than reading this interview from Stay Thirsty Media with Rob Zombie.
White Zombie burst into my world in 1993, when the video for “Thunder Kiss 65” took over MTV and I became mesmerized by their Technicolor, horrifically camp imagery. I was a metal kid, and a horror fan, and where Alice Cooper and GWAR left me wanting, White Zombie left me enthralled. Rob Zombie transcended nearly every avenue of media, becoming perhaps even more renowned as a filmmaker. “House of 1000 Corpses”, his 2003 directorial debut, introduced the world to a nightmarish cast of cult characters including Captain Spaulding and the Firefly family. It’s a franchise adored by fans that fill online albums with pictures of their “Devil’s Rejects” tattoos. Musically Zombie is stronger than ever. His stage show is one never to be missed and rivals that of his heroes, KISS. His fans anxiously await the next chapter in his film repertoire. “The Lords of Salem” modernizes the witch trials in a way only Zombie can. After DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Zombie’s wife, Sheri Moon) plays a cursed record, the demons are released upon an unsuspecting town. If the imagery is any indication, it’s his most depraved and disturbing effort yet. Zombie heads out on the road with Megadeth this summer.
Stay Thirsty: What’s been your process recording this new record?
Rob Zombie: Well, I haven’t started the record yet so the process remains to be seen. But the previous process has just been gathering as much material as possible. A lot of times what happens is you go to make a record, I’ve literally gone into a recording studio with nothing. No songs, no lyrics, nothing. Totally starting a new record. But there’s times it’s just been acquiring songs, song ideas, lyrical ideas, and all kinds of stuff I’ve been gathering together for quite some time. It’s been awhile since I’ve made a record. So I’m hoping that going into the studio with a wealth of material will make a huge difference. And also this is the first time that I’ve really gone to the studio in a long, long time, for a solo record with a real clear direction of what I’m trying to accomplish. That record (1998’s “Hellbilly Deluxe”) has a real direction, of what it looked like, sounded like, and be like, and after that the records got a little looser (in the way they were) recorded, kind of ‘whatever happens happens’ kind of vibe to them. Sometimes you can’t really dictate the flow of a record. Songs are taking on a life of their own. You just kind of go with the flow. But this time my goal really was to make a very heavy, groove-oriented, dark, bizarre record and not vary off that plan.
Stay Thirsty: You always have so many projects going on. When did you even have time to acquire material for this new record?
Rob Zombie: Well some of the songs are old, things we didn’t finish last time we were recording. John had more free time than me since I was making the movie so he’d come up with things and present them to me. And for the first time ever I was writing things down as they occurred to me. There were a lot of times when I wouldn’t do that. I’d come up with an idea for something and foolishly think ‘oh yeah, I’ll remember that’. And of course I don’t! But now we write lyrical things down, for the last year or so and we go back and look at it. So just here and there. [But] the movie really has taken all my time. But here and there something would come into my head and we’d put it down.
Stay Thirsty: You’ve worked with John 5 for many years. Does his style continue to influence the sound of the record?
Rob Zombie: I suppose so. I mean me and John have been playing together now for seven years and this will be the third record we’ve made together so it’s hard for me to think ‘what sound would it be if it wasn’t John playing?’ I don’t even know. The good thing about John is John, I don’t know what he does with other people, I have no idea. I mean he’s in my band so he’s just freelancing for (other) people. But me and John have a real idea of what we want. I mean, we talk constantly all the time and what’s weird about John is he doesn’t push any particular agenda. So he influenced the sound of the record by the fact that he can do anything. But at the same time I don’t know that there will be a signature… you might hear the record and not even know it’s him just because his style of playing can be so varied.
Stay Thirsty: What can we expect from you on this upcoming tour with Megadeth? Are you changing anything up onstage to tie it in with the film?
Rob Zombie: I don’t think anything will be tying in with the film necessarily. I’m not sure yet. I mean, probably not. The film isn’t even finished. I’m not exactly sure. I mean, it will be a big stage production as always but we haven’t started putting it all together. So all that I can promise is that it’ll be big.
Stay Thirsty: Tell me about your Ant-Bloc commercials. I’m just picturing the movie “Them” and I know you have Clint Howard involved too.
Rob Zombie: Well it’s three different commercials. They’re all slightly different. They’re not really, they’re meant to, they’re very cinematic. Each one is sort of based on a different (idea) that the ants are driving you crazy. So each commercial has a different character that has a classic way of going crazy. One of them is crazy like John Doe in “Seven”. They’re all different scenarios and Clint Howard is in the scenario where it looks like the movie “Seven”. Yeah, they’re very cinematic for the product that they are.
Stay Thirsty: When do you expect those to start airing?
Rob Zombie: I’m not sure. They’re very seasonal so I guess whenever ant season starts. Whenever that is! (laughs) I’m not really sure!
Stay Thirsty: You’ve done Woolite and Ant-Bloc so far. Are there any subjects you wouldn’t agree to explore? Is there anything that wouldn’t benefit from the Rob Zombie treatment?
Rob Zombie: It all depends on what it is. I like doing things that are completely, I don’t do them hardly ever, but if a commercial came to me that was completely outside the norm and if you saw the commercial you didn’t realize I had anything to do with it, that would be fine by me. I mean, I’m not going out of my way to try to find commercials that have a macabre angle to them, those just happen to be (that way). For me the challenge is really doing something that’s different. What’s great about a commercial, it could be a very nice commercial and I’d be happy to do it, it’d just be different for me. It’s not enough time like a movie or something. You don’t have to be so emotionally attached to a TV commercial, where as a movie you’re devoting years of your life so it’s a harder experiment. You have to be really, I mean if I’m attached the material it’s fine. I’m open to all kinds of things at this point.
Stay Thirsty: You had complete creative control with “Lords of Salem”. What particular things were you able to do that you couldn’t with “House of 1000 Corpses” and “Halloween”?
Rob Zombie: It’s hard to say. There’s not one particular thing. You know, I mean, I’ve pretty much had complete control on films like “The Devil’s Rejects” and stuff. No one got in my way, no one told me what to do. It just wasn’t in my contract. “Halloween”, it was always a battle, and sometimes the battle was so exhausting that by the time you got your way you didn’t care anymore because you were so tired about arguing about everything. On those films some of the biggest problems I had were just casting, because it was always a battle. No matter who I liked, they hated. But they hated everybody. It wasn’t like, “we don’t like that person, we like this person.” It was like, “we hate everybody, keep looking,” This would be the ongoing thing and sometimes, especially with the girl who played Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who I thought was fantastic, they hated. They were like, “we hate her, it’s cheap looking.” So, contractually, I couldn’t say the buck stops here. So we (had) hundreds and hundreds of these girls come in but they hated everybody. At the end of the day, 24 hours away from shooting the first scene with Laurie Strode I said, “you guys realize that we’ve cast no one?” Eventually they gave in (to) who I wanted but it was more because they had backed the whole production into such a corner that they had no choice. And that sort of process becomes so exhausting that you spend so much time on giving up complete bullshit, and it takes away from the creativity you’re putting into the film. Whereas on this film, I didn’t have that problem, I would just go “I like this person” and they’d go “great!” I want this, great. It just makes it… I don’t know if you’ll watch the film and notice any difference but it just makes the process of making the film about a million times easier.
Stay Thirsty: The teasers for the film look really great. Are you using all the same team and actors as on your previous films?
Rob Zombie: Some of the people are back, some aren’t. Some people weren’t available and some people I didn’t want to bring back so some people are new, some people are old. The look of the film is very different. I mean, I have the same cinematographer but we tried something very different on this film than we did on the last film. I mean, “Halloween 2” was a very sort of gritty, hand-held look to the film which could have worked for this movie but it wasn’t the approach we took. We went for a much more stylized, composed look where the camera isn’t flying around all over the place. It’s much more stable. So the movie, but I mean it’s a different type of movie. That was a very visceral, in-your-face style of film, where this is more of a psychological, mind-fuck kind of movie. So, I wanted, it just had to be something different, you know.
Stay Thirsty: Your characters are the most important aspect of your work. Which character, if you had to pick one, would be your favorite? Who are you most in love with?
Rob Zombie: It kind of goes through stages. I don’t know if it’s the character that I’m most in love with by any means, I don’t really think of it that way (laughs). But I like the fact that a character like Captain Spaulding has popped out in a way that has now become this thing that people recognize. So that’s hard to do. People try to do it all the time, it doesn’t work. It’s like (when) they try to create catch phrases and it doesn’t work. It’s just sometimes something pops out and that’s what I like about that character. It wasn’t meant to be, “oh this will definitely be something that they’ll make action figures of and t-shirts and all these people will dress up as him on Halloween”! But it’s nice that that character has taken the life that’s larger beyond the movie than was expected. That’s pretty cool.
Stay Thirsty: He’s definitely the most visually arresting, especially in a way that would be acquired by the fans as becoming a type of hero, which is wonderful and disturbing at the same time!
Rob Zombie: Yeah it’s pretty funny that people have taken this bald clown with rotted teeth as some sort of, like, cool hero!