Interview:2015/01/15 A Dark Prince Steps Into the Light

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A Dark Prince Steps Into the Light
Interview with Marilyn Manson
Date January 15, 2015
Source The New York Times
Interviewer Melena Ryzik
Marilyn Manson, last month in West Hollywood, Calif., is releasing his new album, “The Pale Emperor,” on Tuesday. His last album soured critics and undersold, but he has more recently been taking acting seriously.Credit...Michael Lewis for The New York Times

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — “We’re drinking wodka,” Marilyn Manson said, pronouncing the word like he was a fur-hatted Russian cartoon character, and filling a tumbler. Two tumblers: Like any peacocking musician, he knew that a drinking buddy makes for a ready audience.

He loped from the peach-colored kitchen of a borrowed house here — it belongs to his pal Johnny Depp — through the dining room, past a bin of masks and costumes. There was a horse, a longhaired woman, silver faceplates. “This is my Max Ernst stuff; it’s private,” he said. “I get drunk and buy stuff on Amazon.”

Onward to the living room, where he paused to show off a 1927 theremin, then settled into a velvet sofa, clutching his drink with black-polished fingers. He wore buttoned-up black and the dregs of eye makeup, with choppy hair. The room was kept cold, the way he likes it, fitting for a performer known for his graveyard tastes and collection of Nazi-era weaponry.

There was a time, years ago, when being one-on-one with him might have induced a shiver, given his cultivated prince of darkness aura, occasional unhinged behavior and citations for assault and battery. Now, he had just stepped out from a video shoot in another room brightly singing “The Thong Song.” “The ‘Thong Song’ is a strong song,” he said, employing his favorite kind of goofy wordplay. Marilyn Manson, as it happens, really enjoys a pun.

Born Brian Warner, Marilyn Manson, as he’s been known for more than half his life, is facing a bit of an identity crisis. At 46, with a career as a best-selling goth rock star and agitator behind him, he has been battered by a changed music industry, a culture less tolerant of inflammatory songwriting and stagecraft, and the onset of much-delayed maturity. “I do admit to myself, I was not as great as I wanted to be the past couple of years — as a person, as a musician, as an artist,” he said.

Now he’s trying to give his life and career a Manson-style overhaul. After years of drug abuse and a short stint in rehab, he’s at last a law-abiding pothead, thanks to a doctor’s note for a broken toe. And though he’s long been making film and TV cameos, recently he’s taken his acting more seriously, playing a white supremacist in the final season of the FX hit “Sons of Anarchy” last year. That show’s buff star, Charlie Hunnam, inspired him to work out, and he’s even given up his beloved absinthe to help his figure.

His new album, “The Pale Emperor” (Loma Vista Recordings), due Tuesday, is the biggest leap. It was written with a new collaborator, the soundtrack composer Tyler Bates, known for adventure and sci-fi epics like “300” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Though lyrically it trolls familiar dark territory — he declares himself the “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” — musically it leans toward crunchy, spare blues rock riffs and away from industrial-sounding overproduction. The record is dedicated to his mother, Barbara, who died in May after a long battle with dementia, which affected him deeply. His role on “Sons” was in part a tribute to his dad, Hugh, a thriving fan of the show.

Tom Whalley, founder of Loma Vista and a former top executive at Interscope, Mr. Manson’s original label, said he was quickly persuaded to sign him now, based mostly on the music. “When I heard it, I was like, wow, that’s fresh,” Mr. Whalley said. “I really felt that he was having a creative moment later on in his career that most people don’t find.”

Personally, too, “the guy has gone through a cathartic year,” said his friend, the musician Shooter Jennings. “I definitely think there’s a phoenix-rising type scenario happening with him,” he added.

If that’s the case, it’s due in large part to Mr. Bates, 49. They met and hit it off when Manson, as his friends call him, appeared on the Showtime series “Californication,” which Mr. Bates was scoring. “I was asking him about his life and his career,” Mr. Bates recalled. “I said, ‘It’s time to reinvent, no?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

They began meeting in Mr. Bates’s home studio, even during daylight hours — a new experience for Marilyn Manson. “Because around 3 a.m. is when my brain starts going really crazy”, he said, using filthier language, “I used to think that that was the time that was best to record at. But I realized that I don’t have that anymore, if I get it out of me early. Daytime is more effective for me to function as a — ah, I wouldn’t say as a normal human being. I would just say as a more effective villain; a more effective, destroying, chaos element in the world. I think that’s what I’m here for.”

Left untethered, Marilyn Manson will go on like this, proclaiming himself chaos incarnate and T.M.I.-ing his way through his life story. (“I tangent a lot,” he said, understating broadly.)

“He circles the drain of an idea for quite a while,” Mr. Bates said. “But if you have the patience, you’ll see that he is making a point, that he is pretty funny and pretty smart at the same time. Sometimes he doesn’t make a point, but I found him to be interesting.”

He also made it clear that there would be no wasting of studio time. “He realized that him walking in the room and being Marilyn Manson didn’t matter to me,” said Mr. Bates, a married father of two daughters, whose email auto-signature is “kindest regards.” For Marilyn Manson, the collaboration felt less like work than a conversation, he said. “I’ve never really had that sort of musical brotherhood in the same way,” he said.

Mr. Bates also provided lyrical direction. “I said, ‘I’m not going to do this with you if it’s an angry manifesto,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘The only thing you have left is to inspire people with your words.’ ”

For his fans, inspiration comes in the embrace of darkness. As always, he found material in his sometimes-combative relationship — his girlfriend, Lindsay Usich, with whom he shares a newly acquired home in the Hollywood Hills, is a photographer and model — freely cribbing from their fights. “Don’t bring your black cloud to bed,” he texted her, in what became a lyric in “The Devil Beneath My Feet.”

The album’s closing song, “Odds of Even,” which begins with the sounds of coyotes attacking in the hills outside Mr. Bates’s studio (as recorded by Marilyn Manson) is perhaps the most introspective. “My dagger and swagger/Are useless in the face of the mirror,” he sings in a deep, emo register.

It wasn’t all emotional drudgery and death. “If I didn’t hold the creative process so sacred,” Mr. Bates said, “and I had just been a whore and put cameras in my studio, I would have had the greatest reality show of all time,” tracking his star’s eccentricities and visits by the likes of Keanu Reeves and Mr. Depp.

On the subject of Mr. Depp, whom he first met as a 19-year-old extra on the set of the series “21 Jump Street,” Marilyn Manson is as effusive as a schoolboy. “It’s a bromance,” he said, lifting his shirt to reveal a florid tattoo across his back, one of several matching pieces he and Mr. Depp have. (Another, on his wrist, says “No Reason,” an answer for why they got it.) They solidified their friendship jamming together — one of Mr. Depp’s other houses is filled with musical instruments — and high-jinksing with Hunter S. Thompson in his later years. (Mr. Depp did not respond to requests for comment.)

Otherwise, Marilyn Manson is a bit of a homebody, preferring to watch TV and movies or paint. His dearest companion is his 11-year-old danderless cat, Lily White. “She is definitely the one true center of my universe,” he said, scrolling through photos of her on his phone. “It’s the closest thing, I guess, to having a child.”

Promoting “The Pale Emperor” means a tour, scaled down from the arenas he once played, with his longtime on-off bassist, Twiggy Ramirez, and Mr. Bates on guitar. But after his last album, “Born Villain,” in 2012, the first not released by a major label, soured critics and undersold, his professional standing is murky.

A run of concerts in Russia last summer was canceled, over protests and bomb threats, even before he set foot on stage. (“Luckily, my manager was very conscious of getting paid in advance,” Marilyn Manson said.) With just two weeks to go, his Jan. 26 show at Terminal 5, a midsize New York club, still hadn’t sold out. And a recent controversy over a leaked, sexually explicit video clip involving the singer Lana Del Rey and the filmmaker Eli Roth left him uncharacteristically muted, repeating only that he was not in charge and meant no harm.

“Going out on this tour is a pretty huge precipice for him,” Mr. Bates said. “He’s got some heavy-hearted things going on,” with his family, “and some tumult, and some extreme happiness, and it’s all happening at one time.”

A few hours into our conversation, his glass empty, Marilyn Manson went upstairs, to a bedroom with rumpled black sheets, for a break. He emerged with some makeup removed, and bloodshot eyes, ready to offer some hard-earned wisdom, which he delivered in a deep, I’m-pontificating tone. “Try to drink and do drugs when you’re in a good mood, not in a bad mood,” he suggested. Also, “don’t make songs that confuse strippers and don’t make movies without nudity.”

And with actual gravitas, he added: “There’s a difference between a man who has everything to gain and a man who has nothing to lose. If you have nothing to lose, you’re dangerous in a bad way. If you have everything to gain, you’re dangerous in a good way.”

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 18, 2015, Section AR, Page 20 of the New York edition with the headline: A Dark Prince Steps Into the Light.