Rob Zombie Talks “The Lords of Salem”, Woolite Commercial, and Next “Dark, Crazy” Record

Rob Zombie really can do it all.

He’s one of the most versatile artists in history seguing from making music to making movies seamlessly and always creating unique, unforgettable, and undeniable art no matter the medium. Right now, Zombie’s busier than ever.

He’s gearing up for what’s bound to be a legendary tour with Slayer aptly titled “Hell On Earth”, he just wrapped up a commercial for Woolite, he’s contemplating new music, and he’s about to get started on his next feature, The Lords of Salem. Even though he’s beyond busy, he preserves that palpable passion for every nuance and detail that made White Zombie records like Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head classics. Zombie approaches each work with a pure enthusiasm that’s infectious when he speaks and even more infectious when the finished product is ready…

In between all of this, Rob Zombie sat down for an exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about the commercial, touring with Slayer, The Lords of Salem, and what he keeps learning along the way.

Did you get to apply a lot of your personal storytelling techniques to the Woolite commercial? You have to tell a story in about 30 seconds so it’s not that different from what you normally do.

Somewhat! It was an interesting situation to handle. It was just one of those projects that came to me. I wasn’t searching out shooting a commercial. A lot of directors do commercials, but most of the time they don’t talk about it so you don’t realize it. I just thought it was cool so I’d been mentioning it. I was on tour in Australia when it came up. I got a call that this ad agency had pitched this crazy idea to Woolite, and they wanted me to direct it. They essentially wanted a commercial that the first half resembled a horror movie trailer. They needed something along those lines, and they thought I could handle it. It was fun. We shot it over two days in Vancouver. My director of photography who worked on Halloween II came in and worked with me. I like doing things like that for the experience. It was like when I did CSI, I wanted the experience of doing a television show. You just want to have it under your belt. Also, the more direct gigs I can get between films, I always learn something from everything.

You can take everything you learn and infuse it into the next feature as well.

Yeah, there’s always something because every situation calls for a different set of techniques, and it’s just a good experience. Experience is the one thing that you always want to be gathering. I don’t know how this is useful, but it will be at some point someday.

Your career is a testament to that. Each art form you immerse yourself in will inform the next.

Exactly! It’s always good to shake it up and step outside of what you would normally do because it forces you to think about things a different way. If you’re always doing the same thing, you fall into a big rut. Whenever these opportunities come up, I’m intrigued. With this commercial in particular, I was more interested in shooting the moments that weren’t supposed to be dark and scary because that’s a different type of challenge for me. It’s something that I wanted people to see. Sometimes, people pigeonhole you. They think, “We didn’t call him for that because he doesn’t do that.” It’s nice when you have more diverse things on your resume so to speak.

Where there any commercials you remember being inspired by as a kid?

I’m sure there was stuff, but it’s all sort of a blur. Some commercials are absolutely horrible, but some are absolutely brilliant. Like you said, you have to tell a story in about 30 seconds. That’s how long this spot was. Some are really funny and cool. There was that famous commercial during this past Super Bowl with the little kid as Darth Vader. It was a great commercial. You’re selling a product, but it’s cool when it can be done in a skillful, artful way that’s actually entertaining as opposed to being just crass like so many commercials are. When they come on, you just groan.

A commercial is even shorter than a song so the narrative is genuinely compact.

If you break it down, we probably told the whole story in a matter of 15 shots or something like that.

Where are you at on The Lords of Salem?

We’re in early pre-production. It’s a very effects-heavy movie so the effects department had to start much earlier than they have on my other films. They’ve been working for a month or so now, building and working on things. Once I finish the tour with Slayer, then we’ll go into full-blown pre-production with everything. The difference with film as opposed to the other films I’ve done, the producers on this are the guys who did Paranormal Activity. They have a different company and they run it a different way. I’ve been working on this movie for a while in different ways. Usually, you’re not working at all and the studio goes, “Okay, green light! We need it done by this time” and you’re in complete madness. Whereas this time, I’ve already location-scouted many times so I have a lot of locations. It’s a more drawn out process which is good because you get to dig deeper into the project. From the moment Halloween II started to when it was in theaters, it was a period of about seven months. That’s complete madness. You’re just racing like maniac every single day to get it done. It’s nice to have a little more time to reflect on what you’re trying to accomplish. We’ll start shooting at the end of the summer.

Are you going back to Massachusetts to shoot?

For some of it probably.

Salem has so much history that has never been really explored in a movie.

And it’s a very unique-looking town when it comes to the architecture of the buildings and the streets. I had kind of forgotten. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, and I went back there recently to do some scouting. I forgot how interesting the houses and the buildings were. It’s very cinematic. It’s a great back backdrop for something like this.

Is the film deeply connected to your song “The Lords of Salem”?

Not really, the film idea actually came first. I had the idea for the movie a long time ago. I started writing the script and, at one point, I was possibly going to do it as a comic. I just get ideas, and I’m never really sure how they’re going to manifest themselves eventually. I shelved that for a while, but I still liked the title. Then, it became a song. The song is actually sort of about the Salem Witch Trials. In the last year or so, it popped back up. I found the script, and I thought, “This is pretty cool” so I went ahead with trying to get it made.

You and Slayer do very different things, but you speak to the same audience.

I think it’s a good match because it’s not unlike the tour with Alice Cooper where both acts are very different, but there’s a certain sensibility that crosses over in both audiences. Rather than two full sets of being pounded over the head with the same type of thing, musically we’re so different and we complement each other well. It feels like it’s going to be a really great tour.

Have you begun working on any new music yet?

I was actually talking about it with John 5 the other day for a long time. We’re very excited to get back to it. I feel like it’s been a journey back. It’s like the long way around. Educated Horses was sort of this weird reformation of the band. Hellbilly Deluxe 2 was edging back to the old days. Now, with the new band, we really want to take it back to the beginning in a weird way—just a dark, crazy Zombie record. It’s almost exactly like what I think people would want us to do.

—Rick Florino