The Hellbilly Comes Clean: An Interview With Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie
Mondo Sex Head

Revelation: Rob Zombie is a neat guy. And not just in that platinum selling/Grammy nominated/re-invented horror movies/upkeeps amazing dreadlocks kind of way. Rob Zombie is literally a neat guy.

“I don’t like clutter,” he divulges during a recent phone call. In fact the house he shares with Sheri Moon, his wife and oft-featured actress in his slew of directorial curveballs, is “super sparse … I don’t like shit everywhere. I like being organized and super particular.”

Quite random coming from the man whose every stage getup is expertly propped to kingdom come with monolithic video walls, Goliath robots and raging fireballs — but then again given Zombie’s schedule the next few months, you’d have to be a Post-It monger to stay sane.

Just this August, after a rollicking appearance at Comic-Con, the original Hellbilly released his second solo remix album Mondo Sex Head while concurrently piecing together brand-new tracks for his TBA fifth studio record. In the film realm, mixing of his fifth feature film Lords of Salem is coming up on deadline as is planning the storyboards for his first “real story” drama, a profile of the newsmaking Philly Flyers-spinoff the Broad Street Bullies. And if that wasn’t enough to keep him sequestered to his ever-neat home office, Zombie is taking a quick trek across the country starting in September for the “Twins of Evil Tour,” co-starring Marilyn Manson and JDevil (a.k.a. KoRn frontman Jonathan Davis’ DJ alter ego).

“Maybe I just get bored easily,” the 47-year-old ponders of his busy “work schedule.” That’s just how he’s always been, though. Raised in Massachusetts, Robert Bartleh Cummings always found himself interested in “anything creative,” finding early fascinations with horror films and sci-fi. His parents Robert and Louise used to work the carnival circuit, which exposed Zombie and his younger brother Michael (better known as Spider One, the singer of rock outfit Powerman 5000) to a free spirited world of imagination that carried over into Zombie’s daily encounters. He remembers, “as a kid, you’d go over to some friend’s house and his bedroom would be this bland boring thing. I’d ask them, ‘How can you live here?’ I’d always want to decorate my bedroom. I needed visuals and to be stimulated by things. I’m still like that. It’s the way I see the world.”

That streak of creative ambition brought him to New York’s Parsons School of Design in the mid-80s where he formed his first band, the heavy metal fantasy outfit White Zombie. The group’s commercial hits “Thunderkiss ’65” and “More Human Than Human,” based more on surreal experiences than any forlorn narratives, brought triple platinum success until the quartet officially disbanded in 1998, paving way for a much more lucrative solo career for the singer. Zombie, who legally changed his name in 1996, remains an intense creative director of his own horror-fueled lifestyle brand, pumping his edgy ideas into television, film, comics, compositions, music videos, tours, and even theme parks beyond just those recorded albums.

Today his band (which is made of, interestingly enough, half-Manson alums, including guitarist John 5 and drummer Ginger Fish) is making this fall’s tour an erstwhile family picnic. But there’s no hard feelings, right? “It’s a level playing field, no one gets cheated,” Zombie asserts, talking about the co-headlining arrangement. “[Manson]’s going to open every night and I’m going to close every night,” which is akin to the headlining setup at this summer’s Rock on the Range festival in Columbus, Ohio, which Zombie says was a good test run.

Beyond that, the shock rocker won’t go into much more detail of the tour’s setup, including vagueness about any potential live collaborations (“those things are spur of the moment and unplanned”), saying only that he’s retooling the show and building new props in some distant warehouse. “I don’t want to say yet because I want to see the surprise of the audience when it comes out on stage and they’re all wondering ‘what the fuck is that?!'” The U.S. leg wraps up on Halloween night in Dallas, Texas, so you can bet the duo has tricks and treats up their leather sleeves.

One surefire bet for cross-pollination is with JDevil, who is featured on Zombie’s latest Mondo Sex Head with a digitized remix of “Thunderkiss ’65”. The album is a definitive sign of the times as dance music continues to reign supreme and finds more inbreeding opportunities with its kissing cousin, rock music. Not only has Jonathan Davis gone the DJ route, but KoRn fused its whole last album with a Skrillex collaboration. And for Zombie, that crossover is just fine, as he likens the energy behind electro shows with rock’s heyday when concerts used to be more “bombastic.”

“Frankly, after the last remix album [1999’s American Made Music to Strip By], I thought the whole thing lost its appeal. Dance had its moment and was gone. But it seems in the past few years that the dance world has really exploded with all the remixes, dubstep, techno, rave, house, whatever anyone wants to call it,” he says, rationalizing that “so many people would tell me ‘I saw so and so DJ play and they would spin your music during their set, and the crowd was going crazy when your stuff would go on.’ It gave me the idea that this thing was back in fashion again so it might be good to do a remix record now.”

Jason Bentley, claimed electronic dance music expert and music director at L.A.’s famed KCRW radio station, was tapped to curate and co-produce the album. “I wasn’t that versed in who’s ‘cool’ now so I found somebody who knew a lot about the scene,” says Zombie of appointing Bentley, who supplied a list of possible candidates that turned in entries to be considered. “I didn’t use everything that came back, only the ones that would make a good record. But I have to be honest,” he says laughing, “some of the remixes I think sound better.” He points to Ki_Theory’s version of “Foxy Foxy,” saying “the groove on the remix I actually liked better than on the original track.”

But for someone who pounds the pavement with songs like “Dragula” and “Mars Needs Women”, does the rocker think dance beats soften his harder curb appeal?

“Nah, it just changes it,” he asserts. “It’s not for everybody. Some people hate the remixes, some people think it’s cool. If you don’t like that type of music and just like rock, you probably won’t like it. But if you are open to more things you just might dig it.”

Interesting then that Zombie’s philosophy on music covers differs drastically from his criticism of the film industry.

“No one wants to make original movies anymore,” he laments, pointing to his 2007 take on John Carpenter’s Halloween. “And even when a movie comes out that you think is an original movie, it’s usually a remake of some foreign film you’ve never heard of. I don’t know what the fear of original material is but studios just don’t want to do it, so it becomes a necessary evil to do remakes but I’m not that particularly that into it. I’d rather create brand new stuff that people have never seen before.”

He found the opportunity again, rebuilding on his 2003 directorial debut House of 1,000 Corpses and the 2005 followup The Devil’s Rejects, with the upcoming release Lords Of Salem. The plotline centers around a familiar town in Massachusetts that is visited by a coven of ancient witches. Returning to the cast are Sheri Moon and Sid Haig as well as Richard Lynch in his last movie role before passing away this summer.

Although Zombie paired with Haunted Films (the studio behind blockbuster Paranormal Activity) for this film, the selling point for him was an offer of complete creative control.

“Most of the time with studios you can get your way but you have to argue and fight for things and never get a complete wide open playing field to do what you want,” Zombie says in an I’ve-experienced-this-before way of speaking. “The studio was creatively uninvolved 100% and didn’t really do anything to enhance the film.”

What did enhance it was Zombie’s long-time partnership with artistic guru Wayne Toth, the main behind all of the rocker’s props and special effects. “After you work together for so long, you get into a groove. It’s so much easier than working from scratch.” Yet of all the amazing scenery he has put together for his shows and films over the years, Zombie is remiss to actually keep any of it — or buy any more exclusive props.

“I have so much stuff like that, that over the years I just stopped collecting. What happens I think is when you don’t have any money you see all this stuff and you think it would be great to get that one day,” he remembers of a time long, long ago when you could call him a starving artist. “And when you get money, the first thing you do is start buying that type of stuff until the thrill of owning things wears off. So now I don’t care about owning anything.”

Said like a true neat freak.