“I wanna look like I’m dead but people still wanna f**k me,” drawls Marilyn Manson in a voice deeper and darker than a freshly dug grave. We’re in a dim Berlin basement and the self-appointed God of F**k is telling NME how he wants to be lit for our video shoot. He’s sipping neat vodka and looking impressively sharp in a sleek tartan suit and black-out aviator-style sunglasses, with heavy silver rings lining his pale tattooed hands. As charming as he is crude, he’s a vintage Hollywood star by way of a Grimms’ Fairy Tales villain, playfully kissing the back of your hand one minute but threatening to hunt you down the next.
It’s been 23 years since Manson and his band released their caustic industrial-metal debut ‘Portrait Of An American Family’, while the record that made him a star, pop pariah and the most famous Satanist in the world – ‘Antichrist Superstar’ – came out in 1996. Yet the man born Brian Warner is now a more powerful cultural force than ever before, just as likely to pop up on your television – over the past few years he’s had roles in Sons Of Anarchy, Salem and Californication – as your headphones.
The younger generation of zeitgeisty musicians all seem to be tripping over themselves to get a bit of Manson action, too. Justin Bieber has passed off old Marilyn Manson shirt designs as his own merchandise, Skepta proudly hung out with him at the British Fashion Awards and rapper Lil Uzi Vert was recently spotted wearing a £160,000 chain featuring a huge, blinged out rendering of Manson’s face. In 2017 Marilyn Manson is well and truly a modern icon – but what of his music? On the eve of his 10th album, ‘Heaven Upside Down’, Marilyn Manson is out to prove that this matters just as much as the myth and madness that surrounds him.
“Have you got to hear the album?”
I have – ‘Kill4Me’ is my favourite song on it.
“Is it the most sarcastic pop song ever?”
Is that what you want it to be?
“No, I didn’t intend it to be a pop song. Tyler Bates, who is my music partner, is also a sick, f**king dark, twisted f**ker. He scores films [Guardians Of The Galaxy, John Wick, Dawn Of The Dead] and we were trying to find the point in the record where there was going to be a story – that was the point when the story began. It’s very romantic – I wrote the lyrics almost as a poem. I just simply said, ‘Would you kill for me?’ It was almost trying to make fun of the fact that I hate songs where people are whining and saying ‘I’d die for you’. I don’t like it when people ask questions in songs because they sound like pussies.”
Do you often write romantic songs?
“I think the whole record’s romantic. In a strange way.”
Is ‘Heaven Upside Down’ your most romantic record to date?
“It’s the most realised. My biggest and most fierce, certainly. Everyone likes their new record so I’m not going to sit here and say ‘I love my new record’, but this record is important in the scheme of what needs to happen and not in the‘I need to save the world’ or ‘I give a s**t about anything other than making fun of the musicians who can’t make this record’ [way], or making my own records in the past feel bad for themselves for not being this record. I had to really outdo myself.”
You announced the album last year with a video featuring a Trump-like man in a suit being decapitated…
“The only thing it had to do with politics was what people wanted to make it. It could be a preacher, it could just be a businessman. It could be anything, but in no way does it say it is Trump. But of course when you release it on election day, it makes a statement.”
It definitely did. Is that why you didn’t vote in last year’s US election, to make a statement?
“I had no choice, no… no reason to vote.”
“Because I’d have had to get up early.”
Does the fact that Donald Trump is now your president concern you?
“It doesn’t worry me any more than any of the other presidents. The only president I ever voted for was Barack Obama. Just because I thought it was such a unique period in history that I wanted to do it just so that I could say I’d done it. I didn’t really think that my vote would make a difference.”
Kanye West has said that he will run for president. What are the chances of us seeing you doing the same?
“Only if Johnny Depp is president and I’m the vice-president.”
What would your policies be?
“Well, we’d set new holidays for sure. Johnny Depp Day, Marilyn Manson Day. I wouldn’t live in the White House… It’s too white and too stupid-looking.”
Where do you live right now?
“Los Angeles. My house is not unlike this room. I like to keep it very dim. It’s decorated with the obvious things you’d expect Marilyn Manson’s house to be decorated with, but it’s not like a girl vampire’s house from a f**king horror film. It contains a lot of very sacred and beautiful things from my friends and things that I have acquired from scary people – things that are illegal and terrifying.”
Tell me about the illegal things.
“Well, human skeletons are all illegal. Most are seven-year-old Chinese boys, usually. I mean, it’s not the whole kid – just his skull.”
What’s been your most recent purchase in terms of home décor?
“I have an antique abortion table just in my guest room in the event [that I need it]. You never know.”
The occult imagery you were playing around with 20 years ago seems to be mainstream now, like Lana Del Rey putting a hex on Trump. How do you feel about it? Do you feel vindicated?
“Is this before or after sex with Lana Del Rey?”
“I said, is this before or after I had or would have sex with Lana Del Rey?”
I didn’t ask if you had sex with Lana Del Rey.
“I didn’t say I did.”
Did you say you didn’t?
“I didn’t say I didn’t or I did… You know how she sings, she’s dead still and she bats her eyelashes. So I would imagine, hypothetically, [in] sexual parameters that she would do the same thing. I would also imagine that in a witchcraft-type environment she would also just bat her eyelashes and that might not really be effective. Although she is a very lovely girl.”
You seem to be more visible than ever at the moment, in art, music, film, television and fashion. Is that what you always wanted or does that go against what you set out to do, to be a disruptive force?
“Well, I’ve always set out to be a disruptive force. ‘Tornado’ is what I prefer to be called. You just stand back, you look at it and behold its presence before you get caught up in it and it tears your roof off.”
You get Judy Garlanded.
“Yes, yes, that’s right. We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
What about Justin Bieber, who sold a shirt with your face on it – what happened there?
“I got half a million dollars richer.”
Do you hold it against him personally?
“No, no, no. I went to meet him at a bar. I saw a girl wearing a baby blue shirt and blonde hair. I was looking for Justin Bieber and then that was Justin Bieber. And then he said that he made me relevant and I said you’re never going to be relevant and then he ran over a paparazzi [sic] leaving church. So God bless him, I hope he does well.”
He’s 23 – what were you like when you were 23?
“That was the first year I did cocaine.”
Who did you do it with?
“I can’t say, I can’t say… [Nine Inch Nails frontman] Trent Reznor. Me and Trent are good friends now, again. I really loved his appearance on Twin Peaks. It was awesome. I’m glad to be friends with him again because I wouldn’t really be here if it weren’t for him and I give him credit for that. I mean, I would be here, but not in the same way. He was smart enough to see potential in me and pointed that out and helped me realise it.”
You turn 50 in just over a year – what’s the party going to be like?
“I hate birthdays. I’m not good at parties, I’m terrible at parties. I don’t even know the difference between a party and a problem.”
Your father passed away recently – what made you want to continue with your current tour? Is that what he would have wanted?
“Yeah, absolutely. He wanted that. I went to Ohio, I saw my dad and I got to say goodbye to him. I didn’t know he was going to die that quickly. But his sister was there and his sister tried to hold hands with him, and – my father would like this story to be told – he did not hold hands with her because he died with his hand on his dick, like a straight pimp.”
Is that how you plan to go as well?
“I don’t plan to go at all. But he went in a strong way. He taught me everything I know, and of course I miss him but I think that what he would want is for me to drive on and channel that energy and make it strong. That’s why I did not cancel my tour.”
You have no children yourself – would you like to one day?
“Well, I’m not quite sure.”
But you are a godfather, right?
“Godfather of Lily-Rose Depp, yep. I was there in the house on her first date. And I gave her her first pair of high heels when she was in diapers. She vomited on me.”
Do you let personal loss and pain into your records?
“I don’t think so. When I look back at my favourite records such as [David Bowie’s] ‘Ziggy Stardust’ or ‘Diamond Dogs’, I don’t really think about what Bowie was going through at the time, I just listen to it and I put myself into the emotion of it. I think it’s very important now more than ever to separate this idea of celebrity, which is the most insulting word that anyone could call me, because I’m not a celebrity, I’m a rock star. I’m a musician, an artist, whatever – I’m not actually technically a very good musician. But I’m not a celebrity; anyone could be a celebrity. So if anyone hears something, I want them to hear what they want to hear – I don’t want to tell them what to hear.”
Who was the first counter-cultural figure you became obsessed with?
“William S Burroughs – I was 15 and I read Interzone and Naked Lunch. Literature was my first thing to be drawn into… Dalí would be the ultimate person I identified with because he was everything, and he was what he wanted to be. I have his art and photographs of him that no one else has. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was in Rolling Stone – they said not since Hitler or Salvador Dalí has anyone taken something from the inside and destroyed it outward. That’s a strong hit-list of comparisons. Dalí wanted to take everything he saw and hated and he would just infiltrate it and pretend like he liked it and f**k it up. That’s what I do. The song ‘Kill4Me’ – that’s a good example. It sounds like a pop song and the record label asked me to make a clean version and I said, ‘F**k you’. I made a clean version and it’s like, ‘Would you f**k f**k f**k for me’. I just put more ‘f**k’s in.”
Quentin Tarantino is developing a Charles Manson film at the moment. Who do you think he should cast?
“Vincent Gallo, Jeremy Davies… I wouldn’t wanna be in it. It’s too obvious.”
I interviewed your friend, the actor Charlie Hunnam, the other day. He said he calls you ‘c**ty bollocks’…
“Yes he does, ha!”
He also said that your new record was “f**king intense”. How do you like that?
“It’s good and he meant it… Charlie is very sensitive, and Charlie gave me the best advice on Sons Of Anarchy. In all my scenes with him I would say, ‘How do you do this?’ and he said, ‘Just pretend like you’re crazy and you don’t know it, like in real life.’”
You work in the same world as Chester Bennington – I was wondering if you knew him?
“I met him; I wasn’t friends with him… When it comes to that, I’ve told everyone – and this came after Kurt Cobain, because in my opinion, I don’t really want to come to a conclusion about Kurt Cobain’s death – but I just told everyone around me, ‘If you see me and I’m dead and a lot of people around me are dead, then it was not a suicide’. Even in my will I put that I want explosives in my coffin so that everyone at my funeral gets blown up.”
‘Heaven Upside Down’ is out on October 6