Urge Overkill: Rob Zombie Speaks Exclusively To KNAC.COM
Wednesday, December 12, 2001 @ 6:03 PM
Rob Zombie Dissects His New Sp
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Rob Zombie proves the age-old saying: “Ya can’t keep a corpse down.” Throughout his decade-and-a-half-long career, the dreadlocked New York ghoul has carved out an impressive livelihood as American’s favorite shock rocker. While KISS hang up their platform boots and Alice Cooper goes Christian, we really only have Mr. Zombie and Mr. Manson (I’m not counting Slipknot and Mudvayne yet ‘cause they have to prove they ain’t one hit wonders before they can even be spoken in the same breath as the mighty KISS) battling for title, and Manson wavers too far in and out of cool to really hold the prize. No, it is Zombie who directs his own bizarre videos. It is Zombie who has graduated into horror filmmaking (the yet-to-be-released House of 1,000 Corpses). It is Zombie who has jammed with Iggy and the Coop. It is Zombie who is currently on tour with lord, god, king Ozzy friggin’ Osbourne! Yes, it is he who takes the prize.
And like all good shock rockers, Sir Zombie has managed to piss off more than a fair share of moral majority leaders and conservative republicans throughout his career. Be it through his banned, unreleased horror film and subsequent battles with Universal, be it though the T&A in his videos and artwork (often courtesy of his model girlfriend), or the gore and theatrics of his live show.
And the guy has certainly created his own sound. The instant one of his songs comes on the radio you know it’s him. From his patented gruff vocal sound to his guitar-driven dance beats, Zombie has managed to take his horror movie techno-metal sound and cross it over to the masses and it’s paying off in spades, bloody spades. From the metallic drone of White Zombie’s early Caroline EPs and their groundbreaking 1992 debut smash La Sexorcisto-Devil Music Vol. 1 through 1995’s Astro Creep-2000, Zombie was creating a unique vision laced with monster movies, space creatures, buxom babes and big fat heavy metal riffs. Unfortunately, when the band broke up, disgruntled members called him a powertripper and said that he was a rock n’ roll dictator. Zombie only proved them righter than right when he took the reigns of his solo career and skyrocketed to success, expanding on the dance hinted at before and fuel injecting them into his nu-techno-metal sound. The resulting barrage was captured on 1998’s Hillbilly Deluxe and cash registers have been a-ringin’ up dollars ever since.
His latest offering, The Sinister Urge, is a more guitar-driven effort than his recent barrage of remixes and soundtrack cuts. While there are some dialogue samples and some scratches, the album is about as metal as Zombie gets and certainly continues in the guitar rock style of his previous outfit, White Zombie. It ain’t rocket science but the man knows how to please his audience and has clearly defined his sound.
KNAC.COM had a chance to hang with Rob on the eve of the Merry Mayhem tour with Ozzy, which wraps up at the end of this month. He was dressed head-to-toe in cool rock gear that looks like he coulda rolled right outta bed, or spent five hours having it done by a stylist. By the looks of his dirty denim jacket, ripped t-shirt and crusty jeans, I’d say he rolled into the interview. For such a monstrous personality, he is extraordinarily relaxed, calm and cool. He speaks in a near whisper and looks ya right in the eye when he answers any question. Smart, funny and pretty punk rock for a metal guy you can see in a second why he persevered and flourished while his other White Zombie brethren have fallen by the wayside into the “where are they now” file.
And away we go…
KNAC.COM: When you went in to do this record, did you kind of go in with a theme in mind or did you sort of start organically writing songs? How is this album different than 1998’s Hellbilly Deluxe.
ZOMBIE: I didn’t really have a theme, I used to think that way but now I try not to have a preconceived idea because then you sort of box yourself into a corner and then everything doesn’t fit. You actually end up throwing away better songs because you think it has to be a certain way. The last record was very studio made because I really didn’t have a band, so it was very involved with a lot of computers, Pro-Tools and cutting and piecing together. I want this to be real big and live. The only real difference was the way we recorded it. More guitars, more everything. We added a horn section and a 30-piece orchestra, but it was all done live. We rented a huge room and put the whole orchestra in there. So just stuff like that.
KNAC.COM: When you’re writing songs, do you sit down with a guitar or do you write based on a beat? What’s the process?
ZOMBIE: It’s kind of like whatever happens, happens. On some songs I first think of the vocal melody. I just get an idea of the way the chorus will be and then we’ll just write the music around the vocals. Or sometimes we’ll just lay down the beat or some kind of groove. Then it’ll turn into something. Or somebody plays a real heavy guitar riff, then you build something around that.
”I was tired of making records where you walk in and there are the same three instruments. All the records start sounding the same because you can’t get any other sounds. It just became boring. It was time to mix it up.”
KNAC.COM: For the duet with Ozzy Osbourne, “Iron Head,” did you write the song specifically for him?
ZOMBIE: No, actually it was the exact opposite. I sang the parts myself and hadn’t thought about it. I thought that some how the song didn’t seem special enough. Somehow I thought that the song wasn’t as good as it should be and I had been talking to Ozzy a lot and working on stuff for the tour and someone was like, “Why don’t you just get Ozzy to fucking do it?” It was like, duh. Sometimes you don’t think of the obvious ideas.
KNAC.COM: In your career, you recorded songs with Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Ozzy…
ZOMBIE: Yeah, I was thinking it was pretty cool to be able to do these songs with people you grew really liking. I guess that’s really amazing.
KNAC.COM: Do you write the song with them in mind or is it like with the Ozzy thing where you have this track that after-the-fact seems like it could use some extra juice?
ZOMBIE: Well, it’s kind of different every time. With the Iggy thing, someone said, “I know Iggy, and he likes you guys. I’ll call him up and see if he wants to do it,” and he wanted to do it. But we had just started recording and we didn’t have any songs done. It was like no music. So that’s why I just wrote this [speech] and I had him read it and I go, “As long as we get it on tape I’ll figure what to do with it.” So I just had him come in and read that thing. He’s got a great voice. And like with Alice, that was a little more figured out because I had written the song and written the lyrics and I knew we were going to do it. That’s what we did with Ozzy too because there has never been any time to sit down and collaborate. It’s usually like I’ve already got the songs and the lyrics, and they just come in and sing.
KNAC.COM: It’s not like you guys are sitting there with acoustic guitars jammin’…
ZOMBIE: No, it would be nice, there’s just never any time because everyone’s usually busy. It’s usually like, OK, Ozzy has one hour on Tuesday and that’s it for the next six months. And that’s what always happens.
KNAC.COM: Is there any other childhood heroes or icons that you’d like to collaborate with?
ZOMBIE: The only other band in that ground for me was like KISS. There was always KISS, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, ‘cause those were the ones that were important to me. Not even like Led Zeppelin or everything else ‘cause for some reason when you’re really into KISS and Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin’s like dudes wearing clogs and a flowered shirt. When I was a little kid it just didn’t seem cool to see goofy hippies. There was nothing scary about them and Robert Plant seemed kind of silly, flopping around on stage and he always had his shirt tied in a knot like some gay cabana boy or something. I mean, when you’re in first grade you kind of see things differently You see some guys and are like “these guys are with monsters” and with others it’s like “these guys are with goofs.” I always liked Gene Simmons, he’s a crack up. I don’t know him very well but I’ve gotten to talk to him a bunch of times over the years he’s a really nice guy, hilarious, really funny guy.
” Led Zeppelin was like dudes wearing clogs and a flowered shirt. When I was little it just didn’t seem cool to see goofy hippies. There was nothing scary about them. Robert Plant seemed kind of silly, flopping around on stage and he always had his shirt tied in a knot like some gay cabana boy.”
When Zombies Walked The Land
KNAC.COM: So the first White Zombie EP Let Them Die Slowly…
ZOMBIE: It’s actually Make Them Die Slowly, but someone printed it wrong and some of them said Let Them Die Slowly.
KNAC.COM: That album is very New York sounding and a much more raw heavy metal vibe than what you have become…
ZOMBIE: Yeah, those records are really raw. We’d record the whole record in three days and then mix it in one day. Then it would be done so rough that if there were mistakes, we would just leave them in because we couldn’t afford to fix them. There seems to be something where people always seem to think the first two records were classics and then everything else you do is fucking shit. I always think it is possible to make better records.
KNAC.COM: At what point did you get interested in the drum machines and Pro-Tools? ‘Cause that seems to be the real turning point in your sound.
ZOMBIE: Yeah, it was sort of around the time of like on La Sexorsistothat I kind of wanted to do it. We just weren’t there yet; just didn’t make sense. When we made Astrocreep 2000 we kind of got into it. A lot of it was based just on a lot of rap music, like especially Public Enemy ‘cause that had that one song “She Watched Channel Zero.” They had a lot of Slayer riffs. I was like, “God this is so fucking heavy but it doesn’t sound like a rock band playing,” but it sounds just as heavy. I was like, “How do we get there and how do we get that super heavy, weird, noise groove they had going?”
KNAC.COM: So that’s when you started mixing the guitars with like the drumbeats and the rap beats and stuff?
ZOMBIE: Yeah, because this became boring. I was tired of making records where you walk in and there are the same three instruments. All the records start sounding the same because you can’t get any other sounds going. It just became boring. It was kind of time to mix it up.
KNAC.COM: Do you talk to anyone from White Zombie anymore?
ZOMBIE: I haven’t talked to any of those guys in like five years maybe. We didn’t get along though. Everyone was like, “Okay, bye!”
KNAC.COM: So there’s no talk of like a White Zombie reunion?
ZOMBIE: Naw, ‘cause there’s no point. There’s no reason to reunite. The band never made enough records that would warrant coming back and doing it. It’s not like we were Black Sabbath where everyone wants to see it ‘cause there were so many songs from the albums that were hits.
KNAC.COM: And clearly you were the visionary in that band in that your solo records pretty much have that sound and look and vibe of what you were doing in Zombie. You are who you are with or without the other members. It’s not like once you lost the other players that all of the sudden you took this big artistic turn. It seems to me like it was all your sound in the first place.
ZOMBIE: Well, that was part of the problem with White Zombie because it was always, “we’re a band. “ But even with a “band” there’s always one person in charge with all the decisions and sometimes people have a hard time with that. Someone has to drive the bus. It just became increasingly more difficult over the years because after a while certain people didn’t want to do it anymore. I thought we had to do it, this is what we do. I was like, this is a waste, I’ll just do it myself, this is no fun. I felt like we’re going to start making shitty records and doing shitty shows. It wasn’t easy, but the new guys in the new band are totally hyped on the idea. I feel like it’s what White Zombie should have been, except it was starting to go in the wrong direction.
KNAC.COM: There was a whole bunch of press a couple of months ago about how Universal got scared of your film House of 1,000 Corpses and dropped it. I’m a horror movie fan and when I read about the stuff that scared ‘em it sounded great to me! How could they sign on to do a blood and guts horror flick with you and then get freaked out when it’s too hardcore?
ZOMBIE: Yeah, it was really a bizarre scenario. I had shot the film and we did a test screening and they came to the conclusion that we need to not re-shoot the ending, but they gave me more money to make the ending more elaborate, which was great. Then they saw it, they liked it, they screened it, and they gave me more money. I would ask my agent and he’d say, “They talked it over, they gave you more money, they are into it.” We did a screening for some of the executives and they were like, “Rob this fucking kicks fucking ass” and all this great stuff. Then we did a screening the next day for some other people and then they just freaked out. Then, like over night, it was in the tubes, yanked from the schedule. It had like poster designs, the trailer, right down to the launch site.
KNAC.COM: So can you walk with the picture? Can you take it to another studio?
ZOMBIE: What I can do is, they gave me the right to go sell it to someone else but I don’t own it. And I can’t afford to buy it, so basically I’m middle man and that’s been really difficult because unlike the record business where like Insane Clown Posse gets dropped and then they get scooped up the next day because people go, “Oh, we can make money off the controversy.” But with the film industry it seems like everybody gets weirded out by the same thing. Like if Universal doesn’t want to deal with it, we don’t want to deal with it. The movie business is a little more conservative than the record business in that they don’t want to deal with the controversy. So it’s been kind of rough.
KNAC.COM: Can’t you take it to some indie film company like Troma or Full Moon?
ZOMBIE: Well, then I got trapped in the middle. I made it with Universal, so the price tag was way higher than anything that those companies can handle. I think we’ll have another deal settle soon but it won’t come out ‘till after Christmas.
KNAC.COM: Does that bum you out to see that much work go into it, then sort of shelf it for a little while?
ZOMBIE: A little bit but I figure things seem to work out the right way ‘cause right at that moment Joe Lieberman was making a big stink about Hollywood everyday. It was on the cover of Variety and that had to do with a lot of it. Whereas now, unfortunately, with all the stuff going on in the world, people are going, “I don’t think horror movies are the threat that we thought they were. I don’t think horror movies are what we need to worry about.” I think people were snapped out of their bullshit talk about video games and things destroying kids with violent tendencies that has nothing to do with anything in the world.