Aside from superheroes and über villains, few adult men can pull off wearing a painted mask regularly. One of these is Rob Zombie, the outspoken and often outrageous entertainer who sings, produces his own music, plays multiple instruments, directs videos and films, and writes the odd screenplay.
Cream catches up with the artist whose unique brand of ‘schlock rock’ has influenced the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot to talk about… well, pretty much everything. It also happened to be the day after his 49th birthday.
Interview by Antonino Tati
First of all, Rob, happy birthday for a day ago. Did you get up to no good?
I was pretty mellow about my birthday this year. I didn’t really have a wild one, but it was a good one. You know, I can be mellow sometimes.
Good to know. Going back to your childhood, you were raised by your parents while they were working in a carnival, yes?
Yep, up until 1976, the circus was my family’s business. When my grandparents were involved, it was an elaborate circus environment, but by the time I came along it had become a kind of sleazy carnival.
Do you feel some of those circus theatrics have influenced your stage shows?
I think so. I didn’t know it at the time that it would influence my adulthood but I always loved the aesthetic of the circus. I loved the look and feel of everything about the carnival life. There were these freak shows and tents that you would go in where you’d see girls in bikinis turning into gorillas, and all these crazy things going on. I loved all that stuff, and I think it influenced me a lot. Being in a band now, and touring, is the closest thing I can think of to being in a circus.
You could say you were the ringleader.
Yeah [laughs]. That’s what I love about it. You come up with these crazy ideas and you create this show. You roll into town, set it up, do it once, pack it up, and drive away. It’s the greatest thing in the world.
You were doing the theatrical thing right from the start of your career. Are you happy seeing more artists these days focusing on theatrics as much as they do on making actual music?
It depends, I mean when it’s good it’s good, but sometimes it seems rock bands are the ones who do it the least when they should be doing it the most. It’s strange to see more elaborate stage shows coming from pop acts, and unfortunately a lot of the time I don’t find those kind of shows entertaining. But I suppose a show’s a show, so it’s always good whoever’s doing it.
From making music to performing live, creating music videos to writing and directing films, you’ve been quite prolific since 1985. What keeps you so motivated?
Basically I just love doing it. I’m very excited about doing it all the time and I never wanna stop. I’m excited to make that next record; make that next movie; go on that next tour. And I never get bored with it. In fact, it’s the opposite – as the years go by, I appreciate it more for what a great thing it is.
“Music and movies and video games do not cause problems, and for any politician to stand up and say that is absurd. With so many wars going on all over the real world, give me a fucking break. You know what causes problems? Psychotic fucking politicians. Not some stupid movie.”
With your version of the classic horror film ‘Halloween’, did you feel there were some parts of the original that you just didn’t want to touch; that you thought were sacred ground, so to speak?
Not really. Actually, if I could go back in time and do it again, I would probably change it even more; make it even more my own. If there had been only one ‘Halloween’ movie, I would probably have felt, “Ooh, this is a classic, you can’t touch it,” but since there were so many sequels, I felt that the legacy of ‘Halloween’ had already been shat on so much, it wouldn’t matter. With the first one, I was sort of riding that line of creating new themes but trying to stay true to some of the John Carpenter stuff. Whereas with Halloween II I just said, “Fuck it, I don’t need to do any of that.”
From a distance, conservatives might look at you – with all your makeup and wild antics – and wonder how somebody can look and behave like you do, and yet have it together to create so much.
Well, people are always judging everything by how it looks but that’s never the reality. The fact is that most people who look like freaks have to have it together to be able to do whatever they do in the first place. Do you know what I mean? If you were a crazy person, you wouldn’t be able to do anything; you’d just be wondering around the streets talking to yourself. But it’s pretty random. Talent has nothing to do with it sometimes. I know most of it is just hard work. I know some people who are super-talented but they never accomplish a goddamn thing.
You were only 20 when you started out in music. I’m sure you’d agree the music industry has changed tremendously since then.
Yeah, it’s completely different. It’s always changing, but in the last five years it’s changed more rapidly than ever.
Would you say you adapt well to change, particularly technological change?
Well I try to. You can’t fight progress; anyone who tries to do that is just foolish. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you have to accept that it exists. Progress is not always better, but I just try to take what it is and make it something that’s to my liking as much as possible.
I suppose one way that you adapt to progress is actually drawing references from old media and lacing it into new projects; like the cool samples that you use in a lot of your songs.
Yeah, and I still like doing that. I’m still influenced by the same things I’ve always been influenced by. I find that whatever I discovered and loved a while ago I love just as much now, if not even more-so. I’m pretty particular in my tastes; when I like something, I always like it. I’m not very trendy in that way.
Has anyone ever chased you for copyright infringement when you’ve sampled their film or TV show?
Not really. Some things we do actually pay to use; it’s not like we just take anything and use it.
Did you grow up with any sort of religious upbringing?
I never really did. I think when my mother was young she was very, very religious but by the time we were born and grew into kids… well, we never went to church or did anything like that. My feelings on the subject of religion is: “this is just ridiculous”. I just never believed in that stuff growing up as a kid and it’s pretty much stayed the same way my whole life. To me it was ridiculous to think of the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause and all of that nonsense. To me that was crazy.
Obviously, a lot of those icons relate to capitalist venture; corporations putting them out there so that we all go out and buy a whole lot of shit.
Exactly. Well at least they [the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause] haven’t caused any real problems in the world.
What about conservative types who might suggest that artists like yourself are the cause of problems – that you instigate violence with your art?
I think the people that say that are just saying it to distract from the things that are really the problem. I mean, music and movies and video games do not cause problems, and for any politician to stand up and say that is absurd. With so many wars going on all over the real world, give me a fucking break. You know what causes problems? Psychotic fucking politicians. That’s what causes problems; not some stupid movie. The politicians just want to distract us from the real issues that are going on. There’s always a scapegoat, whether it’s video games, or flag-burning, or gay marriage – some sort of hot-button issue to grab everyone’s attention while they continue doing the bullshit that they’re doing. It’s been going on forever, but people always fall for it.