In music there’s a plethora of ways to earn your stripes to be established as a credible artist. Few can be aptly classified as “shock rockers,” particularly in today’s sugary, saturated environment. Perhaps the most iconic of the sort, Marilyn Manson (AKA Brian Warner), is no stranger to public praise and scrutiny.
From his moniker—an exploratory homage of equal parts beauty and evil—to the countless rumors centered on sexuality, darkness, and egocentric fantasies (the latter of which one may find to be the most untrue after speaking with him), Marilyn Manson is not exactly the “character” we all thought we knew. So shall we put the rumors to rest?
So he’s sort of eccentric, and it seems to be a concerted conversation, most of the time. Manson is self-admittedly fascinated by strange and weird items, concepts, and imagery (personal possessions like poisonous gas Hitler used to exterminate Jews, or a clown painting done by rapist and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, come to mind). This begs the question: What about these things draw him so intensely that it becomes part of his discussions with the media?
“I dig the mystery of them,” he says, openly and honestly. “In the same way that the darkness of me or my artistry might be interesting to you—the mystery and combination of certainty of who you are, and people not quite understanding you [is interesting to me]. It’s like a peacock or something of nature. You don’t really know what that means. You know you think it’s beautiful, or you’re afraid of it. Whatever it is, there’s something that makes you pay attention to it.”
Manson’s latest exposé is his ninth studio album, The Pale Emperor. The record is one of his greatest collections in years—a smorgasbord of vocal exploration, chilling screams, and eerie auditory elements that we can expect from Manson’s varied repertoire. The melodies are, however, softer than what we’ve heard in the past. Manson cites a cult-like mentality that inspired these notes.
“I think there’s probably one part that’s sort of out in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “There was this sort of mentality that I’m going to be part of a group of people and mindset that I’m against anybody that fucks with me…I felt more masculine when I was making this record. For whatever reason, my records tend to go with my haircuts; I don’t know why. I got my haircut. It’s shorter now and kind of like 1920s so it’s going in a different side of the hooligan era.” Manson’s music and personal appearance have equally evolved to be a little bit cleaner cut, stripped down, and straightforward.
“I started wearing suits more,” he says. “I have been looking more ‘macho or masculine’—not shaving and having goatee. Sometimes I like the idea of being able to transform and people not expecting it. Even if it seems amazing that I’m not wearing lipstick.”
It’s a new phase for Manson, who says he woke up a lot earlier to go to the studio this time around, a stark contrast to previous records where he had to get dragged into the studio.
“This was something exciting to do,” he says of the record. Manson says he won’t fix tracks, but that he has to start from the beginning to maximize the production. He and collaborator guitarist Tyler Bates worked across from one another collaboratively developing the tracks that comprise The Pale Emperor.
“I’d tell him my ideas for the songs; he’d start playing; I’d start singing,” Manson explains. “For the first time I had one notebook only—I used to have about 20. My ideas were often too scattered. I think that was probably the absinthe kick. I stopped drinking absinthe, even though I have a love affair with it. I just switched to something that didn’t affect my temporal lobe so much. So I’m up with pot and vodka.”
The latest record draws on snake imagery and lyrical content, as Southern Baptist snake handling inspired Manson. “When you think of Santeria or something like that, what would be considered to be satanic by a Christian, ritualistic, cutting chicken heads off…then you see the zealot Southern Baptist creatures with the snake handling…there’s not a big difference. I thought outside of that. When I started making this record, I chose to tell the story in a different way—I told it in a way that every person who will listen to it is going to become part of it. In the stories that I’m telling, they’re going to put their own characters in it. It’s very much like a snake. It’s ironic that snakes are deaf…I’m both the snake charmer and the snake.”
The video for the record’s lead single, “Deep Six” sort of beckons the epic snake-on-a-staircase scene from Beetlejuice, but with a more sophisticated visual appeal, not at all paper-mâché. Textile design artist and video director, Bart Hess, based the “snake” imagery on textured fabric designs he previously created.
Marilyn Manson can pull off just about any persona (we’ve already seen him do it). He recently illuminated the yin-yang in hardened criminals during his portrayal of white supremacist Ron Tully on the final season of the hit FX show, Sons of Anarchy. His character, though a rough-around-the-edges prince of prison grounds, somehow gave viewers something to believe in a positive light—as he assisted main character Jax Teller (played by Charlie Hunnan) in his “other side” operations.
The role was challenging for Manson, he says, due to a character conflict. “[Tully] was almost motionless and it’s difficult for me to sit still. My hands are always moving when I talk—that’s the nature of who I am.” Manson became close friends with Hunnan, who offered words of wisdom before filming a scene. “Charlie said to me, ‘Just pretend like you’re crazy and you don’t know it, like in real life,’” he laughed. “I thought that was great.”
It’s that same versatility and captivating art form that Manson ought to be applauded for in reality. Decades after the start of his career, he finds ways to effectively establish a meaningful artistic persona that can be attached to an album, without calling it a “concept” per se.
“When I said ‘The Pale Emperor’, it may not have been so clear as a reference to my complexion, but it also could be everything else compared to it. If you’re going to call yourself a pale emperor, you’ve got to prepare yourself to be that, so that does imply a certain masculinity.”
Manson will bring The Pale Emperor to the masses as he embarks on a 16-date headlining escapade during The Hell Not Hallelujah tour in support of the album, which was released on Jan. 20. He’ll be joined by album collaborator and guitarist Tyler Bates, longtime bassist Twiggy Ramirez, Gil Sharone on drums and Paul Wiley on guitar.
“I’m excited about this tour because there’s just something irreplaceable about the experience of being in a room and hearing live music,” he says.
Say what you will about Marilyn Manson. He’ll probably challenge you anyway. “The idea of ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ may be, possibly, not an accurate statement in some ways,” he quips. “Sometimes my image being the cover of a book may make you want to read that book.”
Marilyn Manson is playing Jan. 23 at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA, Jan. 24 at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, Jan. 26 at Terminal 5 in New York City, and Jan. 27 at The Paramount on Long Island, NY. The Pale Emperor is available now through Hell, etc. For more information, go to marilynmanson.com.