Published Aug 02, 2013Love him or hate him, there's no denying that Rob Zombie has led one of the most interesting and versatile careers in rock. From White Zombie's early days in the New York noise underground, to solo stardom, to his transition to bona fide horror-film auteur, Zombie is in a class on his own. Exclaim! recently sat down with the singer-director prior to his gig headlining the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival to talk about his latest album film, The Lords of Salem and his new album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor.
How's the tour going so far?
It's going good. The only down side is the weather. It's been brutal everywhere.
Do you like playing these package tours like Mayhem?
Yeah, it's good. It's funny. Because we get to close the show… as long as we can do what we want to do we're always happy. The more the merrier.
Your released your latest album the same week as your most recent film, The Lords of Salem. Do you think that sort of doubling up on projects works from a marketing standpoint?
It was stressful getting it all done at the same time. That was a bit ridiculous. There was a point at which I thought, "This is the stupidest idea I'd ever had." But it worked out good in the end.
You didn't feel it split people's attention and one project got the bulk of the attention?
No. Probably each helped the other more than diverted [attention away]. I got to talk about the record to a lot of press who probably wouldn't have talked about it on its own and vice versa.
And the two projects were completed back to back as well?
Yeah, I had an editing room in Connecticut and once I was done cutting, I moved out the [editing] equipment and moved in the recording equipment and then just jumped right into it almost immediately.
How do you stay focused on one project? I think I'd end up bouncing back and forth between the two.
I used to not split them. I used to just do one and then the other. But I was finding it hard to get back into music after doing a film because it would take so long. I'd be in this other mindset for years. But whenever I came back to music, I was literally like, "I don't remember what we used to do." So by kind of splitting my mind between the two, it kept them both fresh, which was easier.
Do you feel that leaving music for those chunks of time hurt your career in any way?
Maybe. I don't know. It's hard to say. I did feel like after a while it made it harder, because you disappear and people find other things to listen to and other things to do. But maybe because you disappear they don't get sick of you. It's hard to say.
Well you are headlining this festival, so it couldn't have been that bad.
It doesn't seem like it hurt. In some ways, especially around the world the movies actually help the music because the movies reach more people.
Your name becomes more well known even if the music isn't.
Yeah, people come up to me all the time and they don't know the music at all, they just know the movies.
It seemed like The Lords of Salem really split critics in a way that your previous films haven't. Some felt it was a masterpiece, while others were completely baffled by it.
It's pretty much always been like that. Out of all my movies, this movie had the best reviews. That's the funny thing, as far as actual review reviews. The other movies never got great press as far as New York Times, Chicago Times, L.A. Times, Rolling Stone… all the mainstream press was really positive for what it's worth. It sounds like a cop-out, but that's really the best reaction you can get, someone loving it or hating it. If everybody sort of agrees, "Meh, it's okay," that would be very distressing.
Do you think that's a product of you making media — both movies and music — that's aimed at a very specific audience, rather than a broad based one?
I'm definitely not. There are different ways people make movies. Sometimes you have an idea and that's the movie you want to make. That's the ways I want to make movies. But the way most movies are made, a huge committee of people micromanages this giant thing to please and reach as many people as humanly possible in order to make as much money as humanly possible. That's not my goal. There's a big difference between what's going on here today with any of the bands and the most bland pop music. The only goal for that pop music is to make people buy it. And that's fine. There's a place for everything. There has to be a place for everything.
Well on the Internet, the niche rules. That's what dominates.
It does. What happens every year, there's a movie at ComiCon in San Diego that's the big buzz that everyone gets super hyped about, like Scott Pilgrim. But the average person has no idea what that is. I know if you go to ComiCon and it seems like everyone's on fire about it, but it does become really niche-y. The average person doesn't know any of that stuff. That's why I always find if really funny when they make these $100 million movies based off obscure graphic novels that literally no one has ever heard of.
You've said that to the movie studios, horror movies are one step above porn. And it seems to the music labels, metal is the same thing. And metal is an even larger subculture than horror.
And they don't even hide it. As far as horror movies go the thing that frustrates me is not the subject matter. Why I get weary of it is the agents and the actors and the studios — it's hard to make a movie of a certain quality. Ever since a movie like Paranormal Activity hit for no money, that's how much horror movies cost now. All horror movies must cost $300,000. When I read a review of Lords of Salem and they mention The Shining or something. I go, "Yeah, they spent 500 days making that movie. We spent 20." Our whole movie was made faster than Stanley Kubrick would have shot one scene. So that's the problem. You're just never going to get those kinds of movies again, The Shining or The Exorcist. You don't get those A-level horror movies anymore because the studios hate them. They'll take the money and pay the bills. Whether it's Lionsgate or New Line, whenever a studio is built on the back of horror films, as soon as they can discard them, they do. Be it the Freddy franchise, or Saw, they're like, "We don't want to know."
Why is there that attitude when horror films do make a lot of money?
I don't know. It's really weird. Even Universal Studios is built on the back of Frankenstein and Dracula and stuff. And if you go to Universal Studios, they will have a Flintstones ride, something nobody gives a shit about. But if you try to find anything about Frankenstein or the Wolfman or Dracula there's nothing. It's like it doesn't exist. They'll build a Waterworld ride. No one gives a fuck about Waterworld. They'll spend $200 million on a Waterworld attraction. It's the same thing every year. They don't even bother now, but when they used to give out Grammys for metal, you could sell ten million records and they'll present you a Grammy off camera, but you could put out best polka album, which probably literally sold 1,000 copies and they'll present that on camera. I don't know what it is. No matter how big it gets it's still outsider business.
Do the economics of the music industry at least allow the quality stuff to rise to the top?
Making a record is easy. We could get some decent equipment and go make it in our hotel room tonight and you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But with movies, money equals time and sometimes to craft a really well made movie you don't get the time to do it.
In the book Louder than Hell you talk about how in the early days of White Zombie, bad reviews were what fuelled your fire to keep going. Is that what's allowed you to have such a long and versatile career?
I've come to realize over the years that reviews are mostly bullshit. And that's not a slag against whoever wrote it or whether it was a good review or a bad review. What I've found is that history changes everything all the time. Even amongst my own fans, I'll hear "Oh man, I love House of 1000 Corpses, but I hate the new movie," as if that's been established as something to like. Nobody liked that movie when it came out. Everyone fucking hated it. Just like when somebody goes, "Oh, I don't like your new stuff, cause I loved White Zombie." Yes, now you all love the records that everyone fucking hated back then. It's like history has a way of making everything become beloved over time.
Sometimes what something is isn't apparent at the moment. I've done it. Sometimes I'll watch a movie and thought, "What a piece of shit," and then watched it ten years later and go, "Jesus Christ this movie is fucking brilliant. I was just too stupid at the time to understand it." Same thing — I've heard a record and thought "I hate this record" then gone back to it years later, and gone, "This record is amazing. What the hell was I listening to?" The best way I can summarize that is, I saw an interview with Woody Allen. And he was talking about the first time he saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and he hated it. He thought it was the worst thing he'd ever seen. But everyone loved it. So he went back and he watched it again and he said, "For the first time in my life I realized the director was ahead of me and I had to catch up to where the director was at." I think there's something to be said about that, and I'm not saying that in reference to my work.
But most movies are test marketed to death so that you will never be confused not even for one second, and everything will play out just like you thought it would play out. You can tell how its going to end just by who's cast. And as soon as something is challenging or weird audiences tend to go, "Ahhhh!" That sucks. Because you just get a bunch of bland garbage. And sometimes [the challenging movies] are movies that I don't even like, but they are so different and so interesting that I'll watch them again because there was something going on there.
I think that the way something is initially presented can quickly alter someone's opinion about a film or a band. Like a trailer that markets a film to the wrong audience or even a song being played on a radio station outside the context of what the band are all about can forever alter audience perceptions.
I hate to say this but people are very easily manipulated and they don't know it. Corporations spend millions and millions of dollars figuring out how to manipulate everyone. Why does everybody eat McDonalds, because it's the best food they can get their hands on? It tastes like dog shit. They brainwashed the American public into eating that garbage. And I feel bad for people too. When I was a kid I liked punk rock. Nobody knew what the fuck punk rock was at my high school. There was one kid. People buy what they see. They go see these movies because they're on 5000 screens. You walk into a multiplex with 12 screens and G.I. Joe's playing on ten of them. So what are you going to go see? You're not going to search out some obscure art-house movie they've never heard of. That's what sucks. The corporations really have a death grip on everything.
Then how did someone like you find out about punk rock and how were you able to seek out all of those old horror movies?
You just dig 'em out. I guess I've just always been drawn to finding stuff. If I see a picture in a book, I'll go "Oh my God, I wonder what that is." Or someone will say something. It drives me crazy when I don't know what something is. It still does. If someone mentions some obscure silent movie actor, I'm like, "I've got to figure out who is this person, I've got to watch all his movies. How do I not know about this?" It will drive me crazy and that's just how I am about stuff. But I think a lot of people figure, if I haven't heard about it; it must not be any good.
It's sounds like a recipe for a lot of time spent reading Wikipedia.
And before that it was a recipe for a lot of time digging through obscure books and things. Going to great lengths to see movies.
You've got Broad Street Bullies on deck as your next movie. Where does making more music fit into that plan?
I don't know. Right now I've got lots of touring and I'm not sure when I can start Broad Street Bullies, but I want to start it soon. But I want to make another record soon so I don't know. I guess I've got to work harder.
Do you guys write on the road?
No, we don't. We really probably should but there's no time. Days go by so quick.
Is the writing process you presenting stuff to the band?
At this point, almost everything is written by me and John [5, guitarist]. But anyone's welcome to throw stuff in there, like Matt [Montgomery, aka Piggy D, bass player] wrote one of the songs on this record, so however it goes. A good idea is a good idea. I don't care if they're mine or not.
A lot of people talked about the new album being a return to the sound of Hellbilly Deluxe. Do you approach a record with a particular sound in mind or is it song by song?
It's pretty much song by song. I don't know if it sounds like this or that and I think that people hear what they see. If it looks like something they go, "Oh, it sounds like that" and if it doesn't it doesn't. I think this record had a general vibe we maintained by sequestering ourselves away and working on it, we kept a certain spirit alive. Writing songs is hard, because you have that thing where you want to do stuff because you think your fans will like it, but you don't want to keep doing the same old shit over and over because it gets boring.
Do you think it's important to keep the fans in mind?
I don't know how you can. I don't mean that as an insult. But you're there alone just trying to come up with stuff and sometimes you're just happy that you came up with anything. I was thinking about this the other day. I was listening to this Bob Dylan record Modern Times. It was a great record, but I'm sure there's lots of people that haven't listened to him since the '70s. But really sometimes you just latch onto an artist and go along for the ride. Fans have become more dictators about what they want, because of the internet. "Give me more of the same, more of the same, more of the same," until they suddenly go, "Fuck, all this shit sounds the same. This sucks." I didn't used to think like that. It was, "Where's this next thing going to go?" And sometimes you liked it more than other times. I definitely could go make a fake Rob Zombie record — let's use these beats and these guitars — but it would be so fake.
That twist is sort of what you did with The Devil's Rejects, where it's a sequel in the sense that it's the same characters, but it has nothing to do with the plot of House of 1000 Corpses.
I didn't want to make a sequel by any means, but I've known different filmmakers who have made a movie, got offered a sequel, and turned it down because they were waiting for something else to come along but that something else never came along, ever. So I thought, well if someone's going to give me money to make a movie, I'll take their money, but I'll just make a different movie. Which is exactly what I did. It is almost impossible to get a movie made. I stupidly thought that as time goes on it would get easier, but it gets harder and harder every year. Movies like The Devil's Rejects, which cost seven million to make, nobody would ever give me that money now. They'd be like, $700,000 now.