Rob Zombie On Revenge, Frank Zappa and Frankenstein

The Dallas Observer chatted with Rob Zombie yesterday, on the eve of Halloween, to talk about his favorite Universal horror movie monster, how he comes up with his album titles and what he thinks of bad reviews, plus a lot more besides.  Enjoy!

Rob Zombie On Revenge, Frank Zappa and Frankenstein By Christian McPhate

All Hallow’s Eve is almost upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with Rob Zombie, who will be performing with Marilyn Manson on the Twins of Evil Tour at Verizon Theatre tomorrow night. It’ll be a fright night filled with elaborate stage designs, terrifying costumes and metal. I had a chance to speak to the three-time Grammy nominee, filmmaker and Zombie Lord about songwriting, touring and zombies.

Why zombies? Why not vampires or werewolves? What is about zombies that attracts you to them?
I like everything equally. I always knew that whenever I started a band I wanted a classic name like Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. Those were such great names. I always had the idea for White Zombie in the back of my mind.

Who’s your all-time favorite Universal movie monster?

Well, I think that probably out of the Universal monsters, Frankenstein, just because those were the best films out of the series. The best made films, the most watchable. I’ve liked them since I was a little kid. They still hold up after 70 years.

How has your approach to music changed over the years?
I think as time goes on, you go with the flow more. Sometimes, in the early days, it’s very stressful to write songs, and you try to force it a lot of times. But now when I’m writing songs, I kind of just let it flow, so the songs just dictates themselves in a weird sort of way. So it’s much less of an uptight process. It’s just better results because you’re not stressing so much.

How do you first imagine a song?
It’s always different, always different. Sometimes I just have a lyrical idea, and because of the lyric, I have sort of a thematic musical theme in my head. Or, sometimes, you know, John, our guitar player, will have a riff that inspires the whole song. And sometimes I just hear a weird sound and that’s become the song. There’s no one way that it happens.

Is this process similar to the way that you come up with ideas for your films?
Not really because it’s sort of, uh… it depends. I guess… it’s all sort of similar, really. There’s a creative process, and it’s just yourself trying to think of things. (Laughs.) Whether it be lyrics, music or script ideas, it’s all kind of similar.

Where do you come up with the names of your albums? I mean, Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool, that’s a fucking mouthful.
The same way I come up with anything. I just think of stuff. I have a lot of weird stuff in my head, and eventually it comes out. That’s how it works. (Laughs.)

Do you have a title for your fifth album?
Yeah, but I’m not really ready… I’m still working on it, so it might change. The band doesn’t know yet.

Do you have a special ritual that you conduct before you begin writing?
I like writing early in the morning because that’s when your brain seems to be the freshest. As the day progresses, you eat lunch, walk the dog, do different things in your life, so it starts getting cluttered. Early in the mornings, when things aren’t really happening, I get everything done.

What about for bad reviews? Do you have a special ritual for critics?
No, because I don’t pay attention to them. It doesn’t really matter to me, and I don’t really care what their opinion is.

Do you think part of the reason why your songs are so lasting is because they tell stories?
People remember things for different reasons. But, you know, I feel like if there’s some lyric that can spark some sort of imagery in their mind, they’ll tend to remember those songs. If there’s a specific theme that they can conjure in their head, they seem to latch onto those stronger.

How has touring changed over the years?
Touring hasn’t really changed that much, strangely enough. I’ve been doing it now for 20 years or so. Same venues. Same truck stops. Same motel. Same crew. Same everything. Crowds change and rotate. That’s actually the one thing I like about it. I mean, if the music industry is destroyed and goes away because of downloading, vinyl disappears… CDs… everything. Touring is the one thing that is still the same. I think that’s the reason everybody’s still in the business, because the business that we loved has sort of disappeared, but touring remains the same.

In a recent interview, you said that you’ve been in two bands that experienced personality problems, yet all families have these problems. Over the years, have you found a way to balance these personality conflicts? 
Well, you just have to find the right people. I think right now, after the past couple years, is the most stable lineup I’ve ever had. That doesn’t mean to say that it couldn’t get weird in a year or in a month or in a day, you never know. There’s always something, you know? You can’t figure it out. People are people and they’re going to change. They’re going to get screwed up. It’s unfortunate. You kind of want to keep the same band. But as time goes on, it seems to be more and more of a challenge. So I don’t want it to be a… I mean, I know a lot of bands stay together, and it’s the same lineup for 20 years. But they don’t even talk to each other, can’t stand to be around each other and they just go on stage and fake it. That’s too stressful. I actually need the band to get along, or I just can’t stand it.

Some fans on YouTube have called you the “Metal Frank Zappa.” Any response?
That’s very nice if that’s what people are saying. I mean, I really like Frank Zappa. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him. But, you know, a friend, Alice Cooper, whom I’ve known for a long time, knew Frank Zappa quite well and told me one time that I reminded him of Frank Zappa a lot, which was kind of nice.

Are you still motivated by revenge? 
Probably. I feel in competition with everybody. That’s what I like about the band. We sort of have this up against the world vibe at all times. It’s a healthy competition. But, you know, you need to feel something, or people get complacent because every band feels that when they start. They’re trying to get somewhere. They’re hungry. As time goes on, being hungry becomes fat and lazy. So it’s really an Arnold Schwarzenegger tip: Stay hungry.

You said you like your shows to play like a movie. So what’s the theme of the Twins of Evil show? Are you demonic brothers fighting for prominence in the eyes of your satanic father? Or are you demonic brothers separated at birth by a twisted set of circumstances, only to reunite years later in a tour that’s destined to rock the Underworld?
Well, I think you’ve given it a lot more thought than I have. Our show is a self-contained unit. So what I was referring to as a movie, not so much that there was a storyline but that there are three acts that a movie has that we want to have: a big opening, middle and a big ending. So that’s kind of the way we structure the show. So there’s a real flow. Because some bands are a little slow, they don’t think of it that way. But you really have to or the audience will get bored. Each song has to be a cliffhanger to the next moment in the show to keep the audience going.

How would Rob Zombie survive a zombie apocalypse? 
I think that would be very difficult because I would be in charge of it all.