While many artists that have been around for decades seem to be slowing down or doing their final tours, Rob Zombie continues to thrive with his multifarious projects in music and film. Always pushing the boundaries and stretching the realms of our imagination, there is no limit to what Zombie can do and what he will do in the name of rock n’ roll and film.
As Zombie took a break during the filming of the music video for The Life And Times Of A Teenage Rock God, we were able to speak to him for a bit and find out more about his new album, The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser, his new film 31 and his upcoming tour.
With his last record Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor (2013) and his new album The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser scheduled for an April 29th release, it has always been a curious fascination as to how he comes up with such enthralling album titles. “The name just sort of appeared one day. I never really title the records until they’re done and I can sit there and live with it and sit with it and that’s exactly what happened with this record,” Zombie explains. “It’s not like I come up with a wacky title and try to force a record to fit it, I just kind of think, hey, this is what it sounds like to me.” As far as any progression between the two records, he says, “It’s hard to judge as an artist the real differences, it’s more of the fans who judge it. Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor was a very inspiring record for me. It’s the first time with this lineup and the first time that it’s felt solid since, well, EVER and not changing any members and it’s the longest we’ve gone without changing any members since White Zombie. It really helped us move to the next level. With The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser we took our time making it. We didn’t rush it or stay in the studio continuously. We would record for a week, then take some time off and tour then go back to it. Which kept it always fresh.” Zombie recalls that in the past, everyone would just go into the studio and make the record from start to finish. “By the time you get to the last few tracks, you feel like you have run out of ideas or energy. So in taking time away, when you come back, the songs would sound fresh and that’s why every song sounds so fresh,” he details. “Well, Everybody’s F***ing In A UFO doesn’t sound like Wurdalak because the songs were probably written six months apart. That was kind of a fun way to work because we never got sick of doing it.”
Inspirationally speaking, Zombie always manages to come up with provocative, perspicacious and imaginative lyrics to his songs, what is the method to his madness? “The lyrics just sort of pop into your head,” he explains. “The music always comes first. There is always a music element that happens. I’ll hear what’s happening and that will just inspire the lyrics, I don’t really know how it starts, it just does. I just hear the music, it’s almost like mini movies start forming in my head and then lyrics start forming in my head and on and on. But when it comes time to make the videos, it’s the same kind of thing.” As far as the music videos are concerned, Zombie mentions the video for Well, Everybody’s F***ing In A UFO and that it is basically what you would expect the video to be for that song once you hear it but the other three videos that have been recently completed, aren’t really predictable in that aspect. “Visually it gets harder as time goes on and after you’ve made say, the 40th video, you are looking for new ways to make it not seem like the same old shit. So every time a new idea comes along, it’s very appreciated,” he conveys. Zombie’s wife, Sheri always plays a part in his films and music videos alike. We asked if she ever contributes to the ideas in the videos or the characters she portrays and Zombie reveals “she is an actor in the video so I will say the idea and she takes it as a role. For example, the UFO video, I will give her the idea and she will take it and create it and take it to the next level. How she is going to move, how she’s going to talk, that’s her job.”
Zombie’s new film 31 was recently screened at the Sundance Festival in Utah and was met with much enthusiasm. The official release date for the film has been set for September 16, 2016. After several hiccups with distribution, it is finally set in stone and the excitement is mounting. Zombie has experienced such obstacles before with his first film House Of 1000 Corpses for instance and at the end of the day, was released through Lions Gate Films. It wasn’t until the sequel called The Devils Rejects came out that Zombie was taken seriously as a filmmaker, receiving two thumbs up from film critics, Ebert and Roeper who in turn received criticism for their praise of the film. Still, Zombie managed to cross over from rock n’ roll to film and he continues to put out movies that bring in rabid followings. In 2007, Zombie’s remake of Halloween followed by Halloween II in 2009 were given mixed reviews, but the fascinating thing about Zombie’s versions of both films was that he brought the psychological concept to the big screen and this was appreciated by many as his stance was incredibly informative in explaining how Michael Myers came to be. In 2012, Lords Of Salem was available in theatres and has since become another film on Zombie’s list of cult classics. 31 promises to be his best film yet according to filmmaker. “Sundance was great and everything was fantastic, I am really glad I did it,” Zombie states. “The only reason we had an issue with the release date is because the distributor we had when we screened the film at Sundance ended up going bankrupt so when I got back, I had to find a new company to distribute the film and that wasn’t really a big problem, it was just about going from one company to another and dealing with the lawyers and contracts. It was just a slow process.”
As a director, Zombie is keen on using many of the same talented actors in his films but he also likes to bring in a few new people to mix things up a bit as well. This formula has proven to be a spectacular one because one thing Zombie’s movies never lack is chemistry. When we asked him about his casting technique, he gave us some insight to the dynamics during filming. “Well, I have a large group of people and it’s not always the same five people, there’s new people that come in. Like for the new film, there’s a few new actors but there’s also some of the people I’ve used before like my wife Sheri and Malcolm McDowell and Jeff Daniel Phillips and Meg Foster, but someone like Richard Brake who had a one day, tiny role in Halloween II but has a bigger role in 31 and there are other actors I’ve never heard of before. There’s always new people coming in as old ones are going out. The dynamic is always the same between myself and different actors but it’s always different with each other.”
Zombie’s transition and balancing act between musician and filmmaker has been masterful, achieving success in both mediums. What is his secret? “It wasn’t my intention to crossover per se. I always wanted to make music as much as film and as a kid you start a band and you’re broke and how are you going to make films or do anything? So, once White Zombie got signed to Geffen Records and I started directing the music videos that kind of rekindled my desire to do film and it has just been a long, slow, crazy trip,” Zombie affirms. Although he’s unsure as to whether or not he will continue to do both in the long run, Zombie assures us there’s still plenty of gas in the tank. “I think you can do both, but you can make films longer than you can tour because touring and being in a band is so much harder on you, but I feel that there are many, many years left of both for me,” Zombie assures.
Creative freedom has always been questionable in the music industry since it began and most especially in the day and age of free music where anyone can post a video of themselves singing on Youtube and create a following. Does the fact there is free music so readily available make it more of an artist’s world nowadays or do labels predominantly control things? Zombie has always pushed the envelope and there is serious doubt he has ever let anyone control his creativity. “The labels never had any control over me and I was always able to do what I wanted to do” Zombie confirms. “I don’t know what anyone else’s experience has been, but no A&R guy ever told me what I had to do, I just did what I wanted to do and if they didn’t like it, oh well, that’s too bad, I don’t know,” Zombie says with a laugh. “That’s life! We were never going to be this pop band that was going to be controlled by a label. There’s more freedom I guess nowadays, but when White Zombie was signed to Geffen, they didn’t know what to make of us, so they never told us what to do and back when we signed with them, their big acts were bands like Whitesnake and they were like what’s this White Zombie f***ing mess and how do we deal with them? We don’t know what to tell these guys?”
One thing Zombie loves besides music and film is Hockey. He is a well known, avid fan of the sport and at one point, he had started the idea of a film called Broad Street Bullies which was going to be based off the true story of the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Team, but rumors circulated that Zombie was no longer going to pursue the film and we know many fans are curious as to the details of why this project fell flat. “It was taking too long and films are hard to get made and it may happen in the future but not right now.” Hopefully, something will come of this in the future, as it would be great to see Zombie expand his filmmaking into other genres.
Growing up, Zombie knew he loved music, movies, TV and anything associated with entertainment, but he never thought he would actually do that. For those hardcore Zombie fans, you know one of his first jobs in the industry was being a Production Assistant for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Zombie also did the animation for a sequence in the film Beavis And Butthead Do America which further highlights Zombie’s diversity. “It didn’t seem possible at the time, I never thought I would be here. And it may seem more possible now since anyone can make a wacky video and post it on social media, but when I was a kid I was sitting in my bedroom thinking to myself, what am I going to do?” Zombie recalls. “Who gives a shit who I am? It didn’t seem feasible. The things I loved didn’t really inspire me to do what I do, but as a kid you remember watching Alice Cooper and Elton John and you worship them and want to be like them, but they don’t really inspire you to do that because they’re so larger than life, you think it’s impossible to get to that level. It wasn’t until many years later when punk came out and things seemed a bit more attainable, but those people still seemed like rock stars like the Ramones and Sex Pistols,” Zombie goes on. “It wasn’t until I moved to New York City when I was 18 and started going to shows at CBGB’s and you would see these bands and think to yourself, f***, these bands are so awful, I can do that. It was more about being inspired by things that were awful because it brought it down to a more realistic level you could wrap your head around.” According to Zombie, friend and New York royalty Johnny Ramone once said the same thing.
In order to be above the invisible middle in the entertainment industry, there are so many ways for artists to expand their brand and cross promote themselves into a number of creative ventures. Zombie has mastered this because he has managed to build an empire of enterprises and achieve success across the board. So, what advice can he give others? Zombie tells us, “I just do what I like, not what other people want and if they like it, great. I don’t do what is expected of me and sometimes I think the younger bands are more concerned about what everyone else thinks, what the internet thinks, what other bands think and I don’t give a f***in’ shit what anybody thinks. I do my thing and that’s it. Because that way if people love it, I know it’s because of me. If people hate it, I know it’s because of me. If you’re doing moves based on what you think other people want, you’re just going to end up chasing your tail, it’s impossible. And you hear a lot of older bands complaining about it now, how in the 80’s the labels made them a hair band or something else and I just think to myself, give me a f***in’ break. You chose that path and now you want to cry because it didn’t make you rich and famous and you were really a punk rock band, but they made you become a hair band. I just think you should do what you want to do or don’t do it at all.”
Zombie has always been a huge Groucho Marx fan. For anyone who has seen his films House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devils Rejects know that the main character names were inspired by characters from Groucho Marx films. Zombie has mentioned in several on camera interviews that he is going to be making a film based on Groucho Marx in the future and it will most likely be his next project once 31 and the tour for his new record wind down. Zombie’s love of Groucho Marx started when he was a kid. “I have always loved the Marx Brothers when I was a kid and there was a resurgence in the 70’s and it was on TV a lot and it became hip again. Groucho was always on talk shows and TV shows and I would always see him and so that will start soon. Oren Moverman who worked on the film Love And Mercy about Brian Wilson is writing the screenplay so once that is done and it’s perfect then we can move forward.”
Reviews and social media can be hit or miss and Zombie doesn’t really pay attention to what is being said about him, good or bad, he doesn’t let it influence him in any manner. “I am a harsher critic than anyone else could be if I thought a show was good or if I thought it was bad that we did.” As far as social media, Zombie runs his own stuff. “I look at stuff because it’s a great way to interact with your fans, but you can only take it so seriously. It’s so hard to keep track of who says what. Someone who’s 50 years old is going to have a different opinion than someone who’s 15 and sometimes they have the same opinion which is even weirder,” Zombie jokes. “But you just kind of have to take it all with a grain of salt because most of the time with comments, people don’t think anyone’s really seeing it so people think it’s fun to say shitty stuff.”
Fans of Zombie can all name their favorite film of his, so we thought it would be fun to find out which one is his favorite and while The Devil’s Rejects was on the top of the list, 31 has now become the film he is the most fond of. “It has all of the elements of all of the films I have done over the years in one movie,” Zombie declares. “I like them all for different reasons, in different ways, but there is so much turmoil getting them made. I don’t re-watch my movies so I don’t always remember everything about them unless I see a piece of one of them at some point and then I’ll recall that particular part.”
As Zombie prepares for his tour, the release of his album and his new film, what does he do to stay so focused and keep his stamina up? As artists get older, it is inevitable that they slow down as their energy decreases over the years, but that is not the case with Zombie, he is just as strong a performer as he was 20 years ago so there has to be some sort of secret to this, right? “I take it very seriously and I take care of myself in order to do a good job,” Zombie confesses. “I don’t ever want to go on stage and be bad or have someone say, holy shit he got fat or can you see how he’s not moving around anymore? I want it to be good and so I am serious about it at all times. I think some bands forget that so they have a big party backstage before the show and then they get on stage and nothing happens because they blew all of their energy backstage, so for us the show is the most important thing. The whole band is that way. We all stay focused and keep it together and that’s what matters. Not our personal fun.”
Everyone has a moment in their career that they cherish the most and Zombie remembers the most influential for him. “There have been so many but one that stands out is when I was at the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame in New York and I was standing in the lobby after I had inducted Alice Cooper into the Hall Of Fame and Elton John came running up to me and waving at me but I had no clue he was waving at me. I thought he was waving at somebody behind me and I turned around and no one was behind me and then he came up to me and gave me a hug and he was really friendly, really nice. Then Alice Cooper came over and I had known him for 20 years and it was just Alice, Elton and I standing there talking and for me it was the best because when I was a kid there were three things that were the most important in the world. It was Elton John, KISS and Alice Cooper,” Zombie says. “So to be there with them and thinking to myself this is f***ing nuts. Not because I am there as a goofy fan, but because I am at the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame doing this too and it was crazy. Then a little later after that, I was in Vegas with Alice, we shared a dressing room and KISS was there too so I said, wait a minute, hold on and I went and grabbed Gene Simmons and I had known him for a while and Alice and finally got a picture with Gene, Alice and I. See, those are the weird moments that as a little kid you could never believe would happen.”
Everyone remembers their first concert. And for some, it might be White Zombie or Rob Zombie, but his first concert ever was Tiny Tim. “My parents took my baby brother and I to see Tiny Tim at some VFW Hall or something and I remember almost nothing about it, but he was really popular at the time and it was a vague memory but the first concert I consciously bought a ticket to was another weird one. I went to see Steve Martin and he was touring for his Wild And Crazy Guy record.”
With such a vast catalog of music from his time both as a solo artist and with White Zombie, does he have any favorite songs? “The ones that the crowd loves the most,” he says. “If the crowd doesn’t like it, we won’t play it again. It is all about the crowd for us.”