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Marilyn Manson knows where you fucking live

marilyn manson

As he prepares to release his tenth album Heaven Upside Down, we speak to the antichrist superstar about death, Blue Velvet and why he’s here for chaos

“Freedom of speech does not come with a dental plan. If you’re going to say it, you say it to my face. A lot of people interpreted that song as being about the government observing and knowing everything – I think they should be more concerned about me.”

It’s the early afternoon in Berlin, although you wouldn’t know it (we’re sat in a gloomy, gothic underground bar not dissimilar to Kubrick’s depiction of the Overlook Hotel’s Gold Room) and Marilyn Manson is nursing a tall vodka, his numerous silver rings clinking against the glass as he discusses “We Know Where You Fucking Live”, speaking in hushed, gravelly tones from behind huge sunglasses. It’s a song that is archetypal Manson, a menacing all-American missile of revenge and paranoia that acts as the statement piece on his new album Heaven Upside Down, a record that was finished in the throes of personal trauma.

“I didn’t know that my father was going to die,” he says. “It didn’t really affect the way the record came out, but it did affect the whole ending of the story. Saturn travels around the earth every 29 years and passes in front of the moon – it began right when we were finishing the record and it ended on the morning of my father’s death. The last song I wrote was ‘Saturnalia’ and the one before that was ‘Heaven Upside Down’. There’s the mythology of Saturnus – the father eating his child – maybe it was my dad’s way of saying ‘OK you’re done son, get this record out,’ because he didn’t get to hear it. I felt it (the album) had to be done – not to save the world, not for rock and roll purposes, not because I want to make a great record. All of those things are included in the package, but I’m here to fuck shit up. That’s my job. I’m a tornado and you can sit back and watch it.”

Manson’s father comes up frequently in our coversation. At one point he mentions The Defiant Ones, a documentary that focuses on Interscope founder Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre but, in its third episode, details how Trent Reznor signed Manson to his label and the impact that the deal had on rock music and pop culture at large. “Jimmy Iovine says something about how, when people see something real, they know it’s fucking real,” says Manson. “I did get a little emotional watching it, in a way that I thought, ‘Wow, my dad would be really proud to see this,’”

Manson grew up in Ohio as Brian Warner, later moving to Florida with his parents. His dad was supposed to become a Jesuit priest before he was allegedly recruited by the CIA, who Manson says were “interested in me at an early age because of my predisposition for psychopathic behaviour, my IQ and ability to decipher language.” Clandestine government ops aside though, his childhood was unremarkable – he was a smart kid who attended Christian school, where he broke a student’s nose for criticising one of his poems. “I don’t remember what the poem was, but I stood up, punched him right in the face and just levelled him,” he says. Manson was later kicked out for putting a dildo in the teacher’s desk, a sex toy he’d stolen from a family member in a fit of curiosity, but he didn’t leave without learning something – Christian school was the first place he heard Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin, when they played it backwards to the class to prove that the devil was alive inside the vinyl.

“The first pornography I ever saw was two women sucking on pigs, goats and geese dicks” – Marilyn Manson

“I just used to be very curious, in a Blue Velvet sort of way,” he says, referencing Kyle MacLachlan’s anti-hero Jeffrey Beaumont, who suffers a drastic loss of innocence upon finding a severed ear in the seminal David Lynch movie. “(The dildo) belonged to my grandfather, a cross-dressing truck driver who sold animal pornography pictures. He got in an accident and when I took him to hospital, he was wearing lingerie underneath his clothes. So you see how this was starting to develop, how I turned out the way I am. The first pornography I ever saw was two women sucking on pigs, goats and geese dicks. My father or my cousins told me that he was not just a collector of black and white photography of women sucking animal dicks, it was actually his real job and truck driving was his cover. So he was transporting pornography, probably in his truck.” As an inquisitive child, Manson would spy on his grandfather who “spoke like a monster” on account of suffering from throat cancer, the disease that eventually killed him.

The animal porn yarn is one that Manson has spun before. It’s easy to sense this determination to convey a childhood spent growing up within the quiet yet menacing darkness of middle America. These experiences became an aesthetic – Manson’s music has always confronted the brutality of what happens behind closed doors.

Death is a theme that runs throughout our conversation, not just in the deaths of real people but of cultural touchstones, too – the death of Hollywood, the death of that special, secretive type of fame that perished when Instagram was born, the death of music videos and the death of pop stars as genuinely dangerous forces.

In 2001, Eminem – who was to rap what Manson was to rock – released his furious hit single “The Way I Am”, its lyrics “When a dude’s getting bullied and shoots up his school and they blame it on Marilyn” referencing the media furore that surrounded the goth king post-Columbine. In the wake of the massacre, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly described Manson as the most harmful influence on youth America had ever seen, frenzied headlines became protests and Manson was forced to defend himself publicly, a totemic devil figure simultaneously worshipped and decried. Manson appeared in the video for “The Way I Am”, the duo dovetailing neatly as America’s Most Dangerous.

The idea of America that Manson always railed against or about is here – the antichrist superstar is President, his supporters rabid, mechanical animals – but it doesn’t feel like anybody has truly picked up the baton from N.W.A, Marilyn Manson, Marshall Mathers. While Manson baulks at the idea of being labelled the last true rock star (“Don’t put that shit on my head”), he advises anyone with an interest in being Truly Iconic to hide the mundanities of human existence.

“When you ask me why I’m still around and other people aren’t – I never emptied the bucket of mystery,” he says. “Nobody wants to see behind the curtain. I don’t want to see behind the curtain, even though it’s there. My curtains are nailed to the wall, literally and metaphorically. I think that is the death of it... when people start doing things that are normal. You don’t want to see the side that’s showing too much. You pull back my curtain and all you’re going to see is dust on the floor, broken things and weapons.”

This past year, death has cast a long shadow over the hyper-macho world of American rock, with the suicides of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington (neither of whom Manson was close to) opening up conversations about how to deal with mental health issues. In 2007, Manson himself suffered a debilitating entry into a “black hole of depression”.

“When I was depressed, people told me, ‘Hey, you’re great, don’t worry about it,’ and that makes it a thousand fucking times worse,” he says. “That’s the whole point of depression. You know you’re better than you’re doing right now and you can’t do anything about it, so when someone tells you that you‘re better, it just drives you deeper and deeper down the hole until you just make a decision – you’re gonna face your fears or dry your tears, you’re gonna fight it or not. I just felt some unknown responsibility to fight it. It’s never easy.”

Ghosts loom over rock music, their spectres haunting whoever comes next, their departure into the afterlife often loaded – perhaps with a sense that they left too soon, troubled, or that they wasted reserves of talent that we, on Earth, are still owed. Manson says he “sees lights out of the corners of his eyes in my house.” It’s in fact the same house lived in by Michael Massee, the actor who accidentally shot and killed Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow in 1993 and later appeared in Lost Highway, the same Lynch movie in which Manson made his acting debut as a porn star. Massee lived in the guest house downstairs below Manson, but in October 2016 he died after a battle with cancer.

“I have two cats, brothers, that are very intuitive, very smart cats,” says Manson. “They see a lot of things, and I watch. What I have is electricity problems. I will walk into a room and electricity will go bad, things will just stop working, so I don’t know if I’m haunted. That’s what the song ‘Heaven Upside Down’ is about – everyone says it’s about someone else, but this is about me. Maybe I’m the ghost and I just don’t know it.”

“What I have is electricity problems. I will walk into a room and electricity will go bad, things will just stop working, so I don’t know if I’m haunted” – Marilyn Manson

Manson is adamant that this will not be his last album and feels ready to start another – this one having taken longer than planned owing to his collaborator Tyler Bates’ schedule scoring films (Bates is a revered Hollywood composer, as well as the producer behind Manson’s last two albums and the lead guitarist in his band). Manson also has his own acting commitments, and is set to star in a film directed by Johnny Depp. Despite an itch to immediately launch into something new, he’s happy with his tenth record. “We wanted something raw,” he says, announcing that most of the vocals on the album were first takes and it was vital that it contained the power of carnal, teenage love (Manson briefly touches on his sex life, which at some point recently has involved trench knives and Tasers).

“We (me and Tyler Bates) both said ‘What song did you play to girls when you wanted to get laid when you were 19 years old?’ We both said ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ by The Cure. I said ‘That’s what I want, I want a song where you fuck the guitar, you do whatever you want to do with the guitar and it’s not rushing. It’s giving it a movement that the whole record has.’ I love the sequencing of it (the album) and the way it turned out because it feels like a movie to me every time I listen to it. And it’s not one of those things where I’m just going to listen to my own record because it’s new – this one I can listen to with some forced perspective, from outer space.”

Outer space is a place he’s familiar with, having floated in it nearly 20 years ago with “Disassociative”, a smacky, shoegazey sci-fi anthem reminiscent of late-era Bowie. “I can never get out of here, I don’t wanna explode in fear, a dead astronaut in space,” he sang back in 1998 on Mechanical Animals. “That was strangely written,” he says. “The words were written down; I found them in a notebook. I had accidentally taken Special K (ketamine) the night before. I couldn’t move my body and it happened to be right on Sunset Strip that I fell face first on the pavement in front of the Rainbow Bar. Luckily, someone whisked me away to my house and I thought it would be a great idea to go swimming without any feeling. That floating feeling inspired the sound of the song, that opening riff. I played that after our little bout with outer space.”

Two decades on and ten albums down, Manson remains the same icon in a different realm, one that he’s warned us about his whole career. 2017 is a heaven upside down, a nightmarish, capitalist landscape of broken promises that we’re constantly reassured is what we asked for. A world of uncertainty, with endless possibility sitting alongside ever-growing restriction, reality TV becoming reality... becoming president. “I’m not a ghost,” Manson screams on the album’s title track. And isn’t that what we’re all worried about right now – that we’re either invisible, or nearly dead?

“I’m just here for chaos,” Manson says. “I’m not here to save anybody. I’m here to tell people ‘Listen, enjoy it while you can, because it ain’t going to last forever.’”