Metal Edge, December 1998
He’s sold millions of records with his band White Zombie, earned five Grammy nominations and an MTV Video Music Award, collaborated musically with the likes of Alice Cooper and Howard Stern, brought Beavis and Butt-Head’s hallucinations to life in their …Do America feature, and this year launched his own label, Zombie a Go-Go Records. Now Rob Zombie is stepping into the solo spotlight with Hellbilly Deluxe, which he co-produced with Scott Humphrey and will support on the road this fall. The disc’s subtitle, 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International, aptly sums up the musical horror movie that Rob gleefully brings to ghoulish life, and he was eager to talk about when Metal Edge sat down to chat.
What was your approach to this record? What did you want to accomplish? What was your game plan?
Rob Zombie: I didn’t have one. Maybe that’s why it took so long.
You were working right up to the deadline, weren’t you?
Zombie: Yeah, I wasn’t really going crazy and nothing was really wrong, it was just one of those things where Geffen said,” We need a release date.” They picked August 25th. It seemed far away and then it crept up on me. Fuck! I was going crazy, gotta get it done. It wasn’t because there were problems or anything it was just ‘cause I’d never done that before. If was the first time I actually had a release I was trying to make. If I had pushed it any further you start slippin’ into Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I would have missed out on all the tours. But in a way, it kind of motivates you. When you get a deadline you gotta get it done and you figure out new crafty way to get things done. So it kind of picked up the pace and I don’t think it affected the record in a bad way. It might have actually made things better. Rather than coming into the studio and chit-chatting and getting a cup of coffee and getting to work, we came in extra early, getting’ right to work, no fucking around. Better things happen when you stay more focused. Pressure’s good. It motivates you.
When did you first decide to do a solo record?
Zombie: I didn’t… I never really decided I was gonna do this. Last August, Charlie Clouser from Nine Inch Nails was in town and we got together to write some songs. It wasn’t meant to be an album, it wasn’t meant to anything. But we started writing a whole bunch of shit.
Did you end up using it?
Zombie: Actually, I eventually got almost nothing out of it. Only a piece of one [song]. We worked for about a week and wrote about nine fragments before he got the call from Trent [Reznor] to go back to New Orleans and then I got a call to go to Prague to work on the [Crow III] movie. That’s what slowed down the record, too. That was real time consuming. Charlie’s roommate at the time was Scott Humphrey and they each had a studio in the house. So I started working with Scott, thinking I’d make an EP – just something to do ‘cause White Zombie was off and scattered around the country. It started out low key, but Geffen was like, “Eps are a waste of time because record stores don’t wanna carry ‘em, the list price is too high for what it is. Why don’t you try to make it an album?” By that point I had enough songs so it turned into an album and then the expectations of what the album was grew and grew.
At any point was it supposed to be linked with the Crow III movie?
Zombie: There was a rumor about that but really, it wasn’t. When I was writing with Charlie we thought that one [song] might be in the movie but that was all.
When did you start writing with Scott?
Zombie: That was probably around September. We co-wrote the whole record together. Everything that I worked on with Scott is on the record. It was kind of a weird thing ‘cause it wasn’t like how all White Zombie records were made, which was always the band in a rehearsal space out in North Hollywood writing up a ton of songs, then we’d take ‘em into the studio and record ‘em. Since the studio was in Scott’s house we were recording everything as we were writing. Everything was already always like album quality at all times so it kind of made writing a little easier. But on the other hand it opens up millions of doors because then you kind of run wild, which is good, but at certain times you gotta just kinda refocus. Bands don’t like to rewrite songs a hundred times. Someone already gets fed up and that creates barriers as to what gets done, but when it’s just two people, we would rewrite the song a thousand times. We’d change it constantly until nothing remained of the original song and then we’d start going back until we would end up with the exact same song we had two months previously. We felt like we had to exploit every possibility of the song to figure out that we had it right in the first place. I drove him absolutely crazy doing stuff like that. There was a point like six months into it where you can see the end of the record, I think he was thinking “I’m trapped with a lunatic who’s never gonna finish this record.” I could see his patience for me was really done and was like really sick of having me in his house. But then we started finishing a couple songs and he could see the end in sight, and it was cool.
A lot of band members who do solo albums make an intentional departure, but the sound of this album is very much like White Zombie.
Zombie: There’s no reason to me why it would sound different. It wasn’t like I had this other side I had to get out, ‘cause I don’t have another side. I guess I was looking for the creative process to be different, not for the end result. It wasn’t like I’ve always wanted to do an acoustic country album, ya know? It wasn’t like that at all, but it was fun to play with other people.
Well, not entirely – [White Zombie drummer] John Tempesta is on it.
Zombie: He’s the person I have the most contact with. He basically lived across the street from me, and I’d see him all the time. He’d call me and say, “I’m so fucking’ bored I’m going crazy, I have to play.”
You have Tommy Lee on drums, too. How did that come about?
Zombie: Tommy plays on two songs, “Meet the Creeper” and “…Resurrection Joe.” After he moved out of his house he moved into the studio. He was living there the entire time we made the record. He was hanging around the house. We’re recording and he’s like lying on the floor watching TV all day long with nothing to do – he couldn’t really leave the house because the media was on his ass. It just seemed the logical thing to do. He as happy to do it because he was bored basically, and he’s an awesome drummer so it turned out great.
What about the other musicians on the album?
Zombie: That house where we made the record was kind of like a revolving door. When Charlie was living there Danny from NIN was spending a lot of time at the house and he would pick up a guitar and start paying. He’s scattered all over, guitar and bass. It became really confusing as to who was on what. It’s really obvious what songs Tommy’s on because as soon as he plays it sounds like Tommy.
What about Blasko and Riggs?
Zombie: They’re on the album, too. Towards the end of making the record I met these guys and it was really cool so I was like, “Fuck it, I might as well get these guys on the record.” So whatever songs were left I had those guys play.
Did the songwriting come easily?
Zombie: It never really comes that easy, but it came easier than writing Astro Creep. I’m not exactly sure why, but this is the most fun I ever had making a record and this was the first time I finished the record and I was like, “I can’t wait to make another record.” When I finished Astro Creep, I walked out feeling like I never want to make another fucking record. That was the most miserable experience of my life.
Why was it so awful?
Zombie: It’s hard to remember. It was a long time ago, but I just remember doing vocals was a pain in the ass. Everything was annoying, And this one just seemed to go so smooth.
Was that because it was you and Scott rather than dealing with the whole band?
Zombie: Maybe because by bringing other people there wasn’t so much ego involved. Danny was just gonna play whatever. He didn’t care. It wasn’t like he was trying to prove a point. Not that J. was… I guess what it was, was that everybody wasn’t taking everything so personal. A lot of times with White Zombie, people get more bent out of shape. This seemed just easier somehow. ‘Cause I guess I was the only one that really had anything on the line.
All the pressure’s on you.
Zombie: Well yeah, there’s only one person to blame. You try to make a record people like. It’s hard to know what people like, but I try to remain as much of a fan as I can with it being my own music. If I was a kid would I like this? If I was in the audience would this seem cool or would this seem boring? A lot of times I listen to records and I see what bands do and I think they can’t possibly have thought that this wasn’t gonna bore somebody. You don’t start a record with a 20-minute acoustic intro.
You start yours with a little girl reciting a kind of demonic take on “The Night Before Christmas.”
Zombie: The new guitar player Riggs is always talking about his son named 12 Gauge, that gave me the idea.
What else gave you ideas? What inspired songs? I know that “Dragula” is about Grandpa Munster’s dragster.
Zombie: The song isn’t even really about that. I get an idea and it goes off on some other tangent. “Living Dead Girl” is from the title of a movie I watched during some point in the recording. It vaguely figured into it. “Resurrection Joe” was based around a character that Christopher Lee played in a movie called Corridors of Blood which I watched. It’s a real small part in the movie, but it just struck me as something.
So a lot of movie references…
Zombie: I don’t do much else. Other than that I don’t know where the ideas came from.
How about the album title?
Zombie: Dwight Yoakam had a record out maybe 10 years ago called Hillbilly Deluxe… It was an idea I had in the back of my head for many years and when people asked me what I call my music, I guess Hellbilly music.
Did you design the packaging? It’s really cool.
Zombie: I designed everything, and I got three different artists that I really like involved in it to work on it. I wanted kids to have a lot to look at.
I heard you’re doing a comic book.
Zombie: I’m still working on it. Some of the panels are from it, but the record kind of got in the way of that so it’s still in the works.
You were going to do the Family Values Tour with Korn but dropped out. What happened?
Zombie: It all fell apart after four months of negotiating.
Zombie: Production and money. It seemed like it was gonna be a really good tour and I wanted to do it, [provided] I could do my full show. After my tour manager started getting into the logistics of it, it just seemed like it wasn’t gonna happen. I don’t think anyone was lying, it was just not possible. They put out press releases saying they expected White Zombie not Rob Zombie, which is a complete lie – they knew all along that it was me. The only reason I’m not doing the tour is over production. The tour was sold to me as if I could do a full production show which I thought was awesome. It became very clear that I couldn’t, so I said I’m gonna do my own tour. It was nothing against anyone on the tour, I was looking forward to the tour. So why they want to drag it through the mud and say it had something to do with hip-hop artists I have no idea. It’ fuckin’ bullshit. I’ve never spoken to anyone in Korn, anyone in any of the other bands, anyone from their management. I don’t know why they’re quoting me about anything, I haven’t spoken to any of these people. It’s very bogus. They said they booted me off the tour which is not true, I left of my own free will for the reasons I’m stating.
So you’ll tour on your own?
Zombie: Yeah, which is kinda what I wanted to do anyway, from the get-go. The Korn thing sounded like it would be really cool, but it just became out of control with the production. When you get five bands trying to play that fast… we did it with Pantera on the War of the Gargantuas thing and it was a nightmare trying to move all that production that fast. It worked, but it was really a pain in the ass.
When will you go out?
Zombie: Definitely by September. We’ll start in Las Vegas, close to home. I’d like to keep it small, 3000 seaters. Headlining smaller places is kinda fun. People always say that when their career is on the rocks. “Oh, I like smaller places better.” But I actually do like the smaller places better. Big amphitheaters are so impersonal and you feel like an idiot after a while because everything you do has to be so over the top so that the kid that’s like 3/4 of a mile away can see. You look like an ant. It’s good for Bon Jovi-type of rock. Sometimes I felt like really out of the element, like I had to almost blow things up to a point they became silly so the kids could see it. So I was excited about doing theaters but I kinda always wanted to do a package tour because it always seems fun. I always wanted to do Lollapalooza. I wanted to do Ozzfest this year. I got offered, but my record wasn’t done so I passed on that.
What kind of production are you planning?
Zombie: Something as big as they’ve seen before, just different. I’m still working on it now, but it’s definitely not scaled back in any way because I think people… I mean, tickets are fuckin’ expensive and this is no different. I want to give people a huge show.
You’re involved in the design?
Zombie: Yeah. I’ve been working with people and we’re getting that rolling. That’s basically the next step, but it’s gonna be some crazy fucked up thing.
You’ll mix new music with White Zombie material?
Zombie: Yeah. Probably half and half. I’ll play all the Zombie songs that are fun to play. I think people would be bummed out if they didn’t hear ‘em.
With John Tempesta in the band it’s half White Zombie anyway. What’s ahead for White Zombie in the future?
Zombie: It’s kind of like anything else, it’s hard to schedule stuff. SIx months ago maybe we all talked and said we would start writing a new album the beginning of the year. Now that depends. That was when I thought my record was gonna be sone six months earlier than it was.
And now you’re going on the road.
Zombie: Yeah. And I just spent so long in the studio. Even though it was a really good experience I’m really burnt out on being in the studio.
What about that White Zombie home video release?
Zombie: We actually started cutting it together. We just kind of ran into a lot of problems trying to chase down certain footage and the rights to certain things and with the movie and the record I just didn’t have enough time to get back to it. But it’s almost together. I would rather put it out a little further down the line because I don’t want to put too many things out at once. I don’t want to confuse people, and I only have so much money. Everything is so expensive. When I was a kid, joining the KISS Army was like $2 and I couldn’t afford it.
Did you see the Kiss reunion tour?
Zombie: I only saw one show, a day off when I was out with the Gargantuas tour in Kentucky. It was really weird
Had you seen them in the ‘70s?
Zombie: No, I didn’t. At the height of loving Kiss and their height of fame I was like in third grade and my parents didn’t want to take me and I didn’t want to go with them. And I never got to go. For me it was really weird because there’s this thing that’s been built up in my head for 20 years from when you’re a little kid and then it’s right in front of you again like a dream. It was really surreal. I was with Tempesta who was drunk out of his mind screaming for “Beth” or something all night long.
Any new collaborations planned? I know people are always asking you for soundtrack songs.
Zombie: They were talking about doing a South Park record and every idea I’ve come up with hasn’t worked. My idea was I wanted to do a song with Olivia Newton-John. I wanted to do one of her songs. The South Park guys thought that was funny. The whole point was how ridiculous it would be, but then she didn’t want to do it. I think she thinks I’m… evil.
What happened with The Crow, the movie that never happened?
Zombie: We spent a lot of time, a lot of money – I mean a lot of their money, not my money, but I think it’s Hollywood. I think it’s just what happens with movies. How long have you been reading about the Planet of the Apes remake? It’s just typical. There was a script, there was locations, there were set designs. I mean it was full on. It really seemed like it was good to go.
What went wrong?
Zombie: I think the heads of the studio thought the script and the while idea was too hard-core and crazy for a Crow movie and that they wanted something that was more tame. Scream was real popular, like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Party of Five and Dawson’s Creek and all this horseshit. And I think they wanted to make a real teen movie. I don’t wanna watch those movies so why would I want to make one? They can do whatever they want, I just don’t want to be part of it. I wanted something darker and heavier and a little older.
Wasn’t there talk of separating it from the Crow series?
Zombie: Yeah. We were talking about collaborating with another writer but negotiations with him dragged on and by that point I was so deep in my record I was like fuck it, I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t care anymore. It was giving me migraines. I never worked so long and so hard on something to accomplish virtually nothing.
Does that sour you on Hollywood?
Zombie: I mean, pretty much. It didn’t sour me on making movies, but I think as far as working through the system, I just don’t think it’s possible.
You still would like to make a movie at some point?
Zombie: I still would like to. I still intend to; I just think that it’s real typical… When a filmmaker is doing independent stuff It’s really cool but as soon as they sell out of Hollywood it seems like somebody sucked all the life out of them. Nicolas Cage wins an academy award for Leaving Las Vegas, it’s great, but now stuff like Con Air. Bug budget explosion crap!
It’s hard to turn down $20 million.
Zombie: I guess, but that the whole situation with me. Do I wanna just whore myself out for money or do I wanna say, “No, I don’t wanna make this fuckin’ crap.” It’s hard to turn down money, but you just have to make a decision as to what you will and will not do. Everyone sells out for the money. It’s real hard to say no.
It’s that old war between creativity and commerce. In music too, you have to work with the record company.
Zombie: Yeah, it’s like either you play that game or there’s no other game to play. It’s kind of like MTV. Even with my record, everything about it is a pain in the ass because Wal-Mart doesn’t want to carry it. They don’t want to hang it up in malls. I’ve been having big meetings with everyone at Geffen and they said, “We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just you. [laughs] They don’t want to deal with you.” When I was a kid the first record I bought was an Alice Cooper record and I bought it at Kmart. I don’t think they probably carry that record today. They don’t even want to take the chance of hanging up a poster at a mall that’s gonna offend an old lady. “You can either change it or forget about it.” And I’m like “I’m not changing anything!” It obviously limits the amount of copies you can sell, but you gotta be true to something one in a while.
With your label Zombie a Go-Go, you’re on the corporate side. Why did you want to get involved, especially when you’re so busy with everything else?
Zombie: That’s what I ask myself now, but truthfully the whole point behind the label is I thought it would be fun. But anything that is fun is a lot of work. I really like the bands. I didn’t do it because I thought it would make money or anything. That’s pretty farfetched.
Did you ask Geffen for your own imprint?
Zombie: No, actually I was gonna do it completely separately from Geffen. But the logistics of it… I didn’t want to create a label that’s not worth these band’s while. SO I just went to Geffen and I talked to them about it. They were kind of skeptical, but it’s a really low money deal. We’ve made records for like $1,500. We spend all the money on promotion, which is not that much, but it’s more than other places and they get kind of used to the Geffen system. So they get the best of both worlds. It’s not a major so if they don’t sell a lot of records they don’t get dropped because if they sell 2,000 copies they’re recouped.
Why did you pick the Bomboras and the Ghastly Ones?
Zombie: I was friends with the Ghastly Ones, as people not as a band. I just went to their first show and I thought it was great. Something about it almost reminded me of White Zombie in the early days, a band in a club with all kinds of props and stuff trying really hard to entertain two people. And I thought it was really cool and they seemed like, you know, they were the furthest thing from jaded. They were just so happy to do anything. And through the Ghastly Ones I got involved with the Bomboras, who are the same way. I kinda wanted it to be somewhat focused. I didn’t want it to be what I do because then it’s no departure. And this is another type of music that I really like, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me so it’s kinda like garage trashy surf rock lounge-y music. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it’s not heavy metal or techno.
Are you actively looking for more bands?
Zombie: No, I’ve been getting tons of tapes because the address of the label is on the records. There’s some cool stuff, but I don’t want to put out too many records because then I can’t focus on the ones I have. The next record is a compilation record. That’s Halloween Hootenanny and that record’s done. [the Bomboras and the Ghastly Ones are] on it along with Reverend Horton Heat, Rocket from the Crypt, Southern Culture on the Skids, and this band called Frenchy, The Low Straight Jackets, Phantom Surfers… like 17 bands. I did one, too. It’s actually a song The Ghastly Ones wrote. It’s called “Tombstone Twist.” It’s kinda like a goofy Halloween song. It’s almost all originals and a couple of covers. Amazing Royal Crowns do a Screaming Jay Hawkins song.
But no “Flying Purple People Eater”…
Zombie: No. That’s exactly the reason I wanted to make the record. I mean, how many more times can you hear the fuckin’ “Monster Mash”? I’ve heard it a million times since I was three years old. It’s a cool song but come on! You know, there’s a million cool Christmas records, there’s no cool Halloween records that you can play as an adult and not feel like a loser. So that was kind of the plan: Have a lot of crazy revved up bands like Reverend Horton Heat and Amazing Royal Crowns playing wild over the top Halloween music. It’s really cool.
Did you design the cover for that too?
Zombie: Yeah, we’re still working on that. I kind of oversee everything. I’m only working with bands that I like that are talented, so they almost don’t need the help. They just kind of need overall guidance because they’re new to it. I’m not managing them but I’m loosely doing things that if they had a manage the manager would be doing. I’ve been doing it for a long time so I understand how things work. And they’re all really cool. There’s been no problems with anybody. It’s great.
Are you using the internet to promote bands?
Zombie: We finally got a Zombie A G-Go website going and I’ve been intending on doing my own, I just haven’t got around to it. I went from being behind schedule on the record to being behind schedule on the video and now I’m behind schedule on the tour. We’re gonna shoot a video for “Dragula.”
With the car from The Munsters?
Zombie: There’s a couple of ‘em and they’re all in places we can’t get to. One of them is trapped in customs in Hong Kong. Someone brought it over for a car show and something happened and it’s like literally sitting in a crate on the docks. And the other one is hanging from the roof of a casino in Atlantic City. There’s a Munster Coach, a different kind of souped-up dragster that’s on the Universal backlot. I’ll probably use that one. I thought about having a Dragula built, but there’s not enough time. It would be hard to explain delaying [the video] a month to build a car. “$200,000 to build a dragster?!”
The songs lend themselves to video. Have you decided what will be the second single/video?
Zombie: Everybody seems to really like “Living Dead Girl.”
What about other promotions?
Zombie: We’re talking about doing a show in New York, like playing at Virgin Megastore or something, the day the record comes out. They’re opening a new Virgin Megastore and they wanted us for it. I want to try to put together a in-store tour. I don’t just wanna sit around.
It doesn’t look like you have time to.
Zombie: I know. I’m out of my mind. I just don’t sleep. I lay awake at night thinking about other things to do. I think I have a real fear of being bored. Like if I go away for a day trip, I will take so much crap with me for fear of being bored. Tons of books and movies and whatever it takes, you know? I never want to have one second of downtime. Everyone’s like, “Why don’t you just sit around and relax?” And there’s nothing I hate more than sitting on a beach and trying to relax. I can’t do that. I can’t relax. My mom was always like, “You better slow down before you kill yourself.”
Are your parents supportive of you?
Zombie: Yeah. I think they think the whole thing’s entertaining. They basically see it as I’m doing the same shit as I always did. When I was a little kid I’d build a haunted house in the basement, now I just put it on the stage and people pay to come see it. I think they’re just amazed that you can take an incredible amount of useless knowledge and turn it into something. (laughs).
You certainly have.
Zombie: Yeah, it’s worked out good.