RETRO REWIND: ROB ZOMBIE ON EDUCATED HORSES AND THE DEVIL’S REJECTS
The Dark Lord Bunnykins is caught up writing for corporate masters this week who are paying him lots of money so he’s finding less time to post all-original content this week.
But he knows you love him and check back daily for content (yes?) so he’s foregoing watching Rescue Ink this week (it’s a repeat anyway) to re-edit and post this interview with Rob Zombie who just recently announced a co-headlining tour with the original shock rocker Alice Cooper.
This interview was conducted around the release of his 2006 album Educated Horses.
In my experience, 9:30 a.m. is early to do interviews, especially for musicians. Have you always been a hard worker?
Yeah. People are always surprised at how early I get up. I usually get up at 6 a.m. and starting doing stuff. I’m always trying to accomplish so many things, and it ain’t going to get done if you’re asleep.
Given all the different projects your work on, you must be a great time manager.
I try to be. It gets difficult. The biggest problem I have is your brain gets a little fried. So I’ve tried to concentrate on one thing at a time. I sort of a balance a whole bunch of projects, but when I was making the movie, I only worried about the movie. When I was making the record, I only worried about the record, as opposed to before where I would try to juggle too many things at once. I feel that everything suffers a little bit because you’re never 100% there.
The tour launches soon. Are you excited to be back out on the road?
We’re excited. We start rehearsing this weekend so that’s when it really feels like it kicks in. So, yeah, it’s going to be a blast.
How did you enjoy headlining the second stage at Ozzfest last summer?
Well, that was the third time I did Ozzfest and that was the best time ever. It was the most fun. The other times we’ve done main stage, and, truthfully, main stage is a bit of a drag because of the way it’s set up. But second stage is a blast.
The main stage is seated and very uptight with the security, whereas second stage is just a free-for-all. The most enthusiastic kids move upfront and the ones who want to stand in the back stand in the back. Whereas when you’re on the main stage, the people in the front are just the people that happened to buy tickets in the front, whereas a lot of times the kids in the back are the ones that are going crazy. So the energy’s kind of off.
I understand that meeting your guitarist John 5 helped decide you on making music again.
It kind of came about that way in the sense that I was sort of burnt out after the last tour and the album. Everything was good, but, as always, somehow band relations tend to break down and things become a drag. Then I went off to make Devil’s Rejects, then that was such a great experience that I wasn’t looking to bring myself back into touring and dealing with all that shit again.
But then I met John, and he’s a great guy and we played a couple of one-off shows together, these sort of benefit shows, and one thing just led to another. And Blasko, who’s always remained a friend, said, ‘Oh, I met this great drummer. We used to play with Alice Cooper. He’s only 25 but he’s a great guy’. That was Tommy Clufetos . When we got together, it was so cool and excited and it was just so fun that it was sort of infectious and it kind of happened.
John 5 is a very accomplished musician obviously. How did his playing shape this album?
Just in the sense that he’s the best guitar player I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with by far. It’s nothing against anyone I’ve worked with in the past, but John is just incredible. It’s like someone saying ‘oh, here’s Eddie Van Halen, here’s Zakk Wylde’, you just go, ‘Wow, I’ve never worked with a guy that’s this good before’.
So that basically no matter what you can think of there’s no problem that John can’t play it or can’t complement it or can’t deal with it because he’s great at everything. There’s a lot of stuff on the record where I was like ‘well, I’d like to do something that’s like a sitar here, let’s do acoustic here’. He can play anything anytime anywhere, whereas a lot of guitar players can’t. They’re good at their thing, but if you want them to branch out into something else, they might not be so good at it, and John’s pretty much superior in every way.
Did his proficiency push you to play even better?
It just pushes everything. It’s not even his playing. It’s funny because he’s the nicest, most amazing guitar player I’ve ever met. A lot of times you’ll meet people who aren’t even half as good but they give an attitude. Everything’s just so easy. Making the record was just such a snap.
It was fun?
Fun? Totally. I can’t do it anymore if it’s not fun. I don’t need the money, I don’t need the aggravation, I don’t need anything. I only want to do it if it’s fun, and it’s fun.
When did you start writing the new album?
I started writing some of it before I met John, before I did Devil’s Rejects. And most of those songs got thrown out — there’s actually only two of them on the record — and the rest of it we wrote as soon as we got off Ozzfest starting in October.
Came together quickly. Really quickly. The only holdover songs, I think, were ‘Foxy Foxy’ and ‘Let It All Bleed Out’. The rest of the record, I believe, was more or less after starting in October.
Was it the fastest album you’ve ever made?
Fastest? Probably the least painful anyway. We usually work pretty fast. Having John around made things move really fast. It’s great when you work with musicians who really are one-take guys. Like, no matter how complicated the part, no matter what it is, he can play it perfect immediately. It’s not like ‘well, let me go work on it for awhile and I’ll come back’ or ‘let me do this and we’ll do a hundred takes’. So that just really speeds up the process when you really play with exceptional musicians.
How long did it take to make Educated Horses?
It’s become pretty quick. But back in the day, like with the White Zombie records, even the bigger ones, they were all done that fast. You would book this much studio time and at the end of that time, you’re supposed to be done. It’s not like this new thing where people just drag it out for years and years and it seems to go on forever.
Spontaneity plays a big part in the sense that we don’t want to overwork it. Even though the records, of course, sound very polished, at the same time, we sort of write and record at the same time. Most of the vocals that I do, I never lay down scratch vocals. Usually I go in there and just do it. More often than not the whole record is the first pass of the song. Sometimes I’ll go, ‘That sounds kind of weird, I want to re-sing that chorus differently or something’. But what has been the mistake in the past sometimes is to redo things so much and you go, ‘Shit, the rough mixes sounded really kick-ass, and now we’ve so overmixed it that we’ve mixed all the energy right out of the song’.
Same thing happens when you’re editing a movie sometimes. You’ll edit and you’ll have it at a pretty good place and it sort of seems like you’re done. You go, ‘Well, maybe we can tighten up this a little bit’, because you start getting paranoid… Because you’ve watched the movie so many times that you’re afraid someone else is going to watch it and get bored. So you have a tendency to keep editing and editing and faster and faster, and we made that mistake on Rejects. And then we went back and went like ‘shit, man, we cut out all this great stuff’ and we put it all back in the movie. It made the movie longer, but it somehow seemed shorter. But that’s the weird balance. That’s where it gets really tricky where you can spend forever and somehow screw it all up.
So you have to rely on your instincts.
That’s everything, really. That’s sort of my philosophy with life. Your gut reaction is almost always right. If you meet somebody and your first reaction is like ‘I don’t know, this guy seems like he’s full of shit’, he usually is. ‘Why is this guy being so nice to me?’ More often that not, your gut reaction is always right.
Any significance to the title? In other words, what’s an educated horse?
It’s an old circus term for one of the acts that they used to have, Educated Horses. And when I was growing up as a kid, my whole family was involved in carnivals and circuses, and it was an attraction that my grandfather used to run. And at some point when my mom was cleaning out the house and was moving from the east coast to the west coast and found these old pictures, and one of them I put on the record — it’s underneath the disc — of my grandfather in his circus get-up. Somehow that brought it back to mind, and I was like ‘what a bizarre phrase’. I worked it into some of the lyrics and I was like ‘well, maybe it’ll be a title, maybe it won’t. Kind of odd, I don’t know’. Something about it I liked.
Do you feel weighed down by your horror image?
Well, I don’t feel “weighed down” by it, I just don’t want to feel trapped by it. Even if the next movie is a horror movie, I want it to be a horror movie because that’s what I want to do, not because that’s what’s expected that I should do. Obviously there are the things that I love, but I don’t want to be trapped by it.
I think a lot of times bands especially get trapped by their own thing, and I feel bad for them sometimes. Because it seems like people stop paying attention. Like, they’re still popular but people go, ‘Well, I didn’t really listen to your last five records because I assumed it was the same as the last five records’. You either want people to either love it or hate it, but you never want people to go, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty much what I expected. Same old shit’.
So for this one I just wanted to just in general with everything just deconstruct. Sinister Urge, I thought that the band and the stage show and everything had just gotten so big and so out of control that I really wanted to do the exact opposite and get rid of everything. Because I felt like we couldn’t do anymore. What, this time we’re going to have ten robots on stage, ten dancing girls and a thousand fireworks? It just became so ridiculously over the top. It was fun and it was great at the time, but where do you go with it? You can’t just keep making it bigger. It would become retarded. So I thought, ‘Do the exact opposite. Strip it down to nothing’.
On House of 1000 Corpses:
That was a little different because by being the first thing you’re not really up and running on how your whole way of working anyway. But I definitely wanted to make a completely different movie, and I knew for that reason some people would be bummed that it was a different movie and some people would be thrilled that it was a different movie.
Really, at the end of the day, you can only do what you can do. You can’t create things on demand to please people. One thing I’ve learned over the years with the fans is that they all say the exact opposite thing from each other constantly. One person’s favourite song is the song the other person hates the most; someone’s favourite record is someone’s least favourite record; someone’s favourite movie is someone’s worst. That’s why I think the Internet sometimes makes people crazy because they go through messageboards and they read everything and all you can conclude is everyone has a different opinion. So it makes you nuts.
On doing what you want to do as an artist:
That’s all you can do. You really can’t do anything else. And when you start trying to do something else… Because I feel that when people are true to themselves when they’re making whatever they’re making, it’s usually good. You may not appreciate it at the moment. Maybe ten years later you go, ‘Wow, I didn’t get it at the time, but that film or that record is really good’.
But what usually is crap is when you can tell that something is being force-fed to you and pre-packaged and made for you. Like the studio goes, ‘Well, we know people like these kind of films or these kind of people so we’ll put it all together…’ The films that people still talk about are always those ones — not to sound like a jerk but I don’t think anyone’s going to be talking about the remake of When A Stranger Calls 30 years from now.
Whereas other films that kind of stirred people up and they’re arguing about, they still argue about. For me, I know there’s been records I got at the time: ‘Ah, I hate this record, it’s shit’. I go back now and go, ‘Jesus, this record is amazing’. But I just didn’t get it at the time; it just didn’t hit me right. I was thinking it was something else.
Your last film, The Devil’s Rejects, really challenged the current crop of safe, boring horror exemplified by the likes of the When A Stranger Calls remake. Is it more difficult to make challenging music or film?
To me, the biggest challenge is… I don’t really try to “challenge” things — I’m not trying to “push boundaries” or challenge the way people see things necessarily. To me, the most challenging thing is to make something that’s entertaining and that works. That’s the biggest challenge.
Because at the bottom line, with movies and music and everything, it’s entertainment. Some of it’s highbrow, some of it’s lowbrow, some of it’s stupid, some of it’s intelligent, but it’s entertainment. And it has to work on that level first because I don’t think anyone watches a movie that’s not entertaining and goes, ‘Wow, what a great movie. I really learned a strong lesson. But I was completely bored’… It has to work on every level. And that’s really the trick. And if it works on other levels, too, that’s great. Like with a comedy, it’s great if there’s a message, but if I’m not laughin’, I’m not going to get to the fuckin’ message.
On the song ‘The Devil’s Rejects’:
On Halloween, we played a show with Judas Priest and we played the song ‘House of 1000 Corpses’, and whenever we play we usually have video screens which there are scenes playing from House of 1000 Corpses while we’re playing the song, and I was like, ‘This is so cool’. I just love that moment. I was like, I was still working on the record, I was like, ‘Man, I should do a Devil’s Rejects song’, I feel bad that I never did it, and that’s when I did it.
Has your approach to making music been perceptibly influenced by your film work or are the two separate activities in your own mind?
They’re very different, but the same in the sense that the creative process for everything is sort of the same. You’re sort of just sitting there with your own head and going like, ‘Okay, somehow a movie has to come out of my brain’. And somehow there’s no songs and songs suddenly have to exist. It’s sort of the same process of just working.
Over the years, one thing that comes with having done things a lot is you get more and more calm with working. You don’t panic so much. One thing I’ve realized is that you’ll figure it out when you figure it out. You can’t force it, really. It’s just usually terrible when you try to force things.
How does your record company feel about you going years between albums?
They never say anything. I’m sure that they would rather have me make records because making movies doesn’t do them any good and doesn’t make them any money. In fact, I always forget how much time goes by. I’m always a little shocked. The other day someone was like, ‘Oh, it’s been five years since you made a record’. I was like, ‘Jesus’. I thought it was three at the most.
But I guess I feel busy because I’m always doing something so it’s not like I disappear because I’m always out there and meeting people and doing things and doing interviews and talking and everything. I guess it’s just different subjects.
Is it harder to make a movie or a record?
A movie is harder than anything. Because a record, not to take away from either, but a record is more controlled. It’s you and a band and a producer and a studio. It’s a much more controlled environment. Whereas a movie… That’s the reason I wanted to make the documentary that goes with the DVD. I don’t know if you saw that. I get kind of tired of people, everyone’s a critic and everyone’s complaining and everyone knows everything, but no one has any idea how movies are made, and they just say things like ‘so and so should have done this’. Yeah, that’s great… in fantasy land that that’s how movies are made!
So I thought, ‘Why don’t we make a long documentary showing… and I didn’t show a lot of stuff because I didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but the daily grind… ‘Yeah, Rob Zombie’s such a fucking asshole, he should have used so-and-so more’. Well, maybe I would have used so-and so more… if so-and so could remember one line at a time! Maybe I would have! If so-and-so and so-and-so didn’t hate each other so much they didn’t want to be in the same room’. There’s just so many things that go on that are unpredictable that people just don’t get. And as a director I feel it’s my job to hide that from the world. I don’t tell people’s dirty laundry, but it’s difficult.
Whereas a record, it’s difficult to create the songs but pretty much your band’s going to show up and one guy didn’t forget how to play guitar overnight and has to learn again or something. Whereas on set you just never know what’s going to happen. If the weather changes, you’re fucked. If someone doesn’t know their lines, you’re fucked. Every second something can go wrong. And even when it goes right, it’s bizarre to make movies in such a hodge-podge way of shooting everything out of sequence, in pieces. You have a gut feeling like ‘we got it, let’s move on, we got it, let’s move on’, but you really don’t know until you start editing if you got it.
Basically the more personalities you deal with, the more chance there is for some things to go wrong. Making records is a couple of people, making movies is hundreds of people, and it’s just harder.
Of course John 5’s ex boss, Marilyn Manson, has recently announced his intention to become a director. In your acquaintance, are there a lot of musicians who secretly long to become filmmakers?
I think they don’t know what it means, that’s why they say it. Because being a director means everybody else comes before you. Some people think, ‘It’s going to be a big feather in my cap and another new title to hang on myself’. You’re in charge, sure, you’re the boss. But you have to somehow… you take a backseat to everything. At least the way I do it. It’s all about the actors and making everyone else happy so you can get them to do the best work that they can do. It’s not about you, it’s about the movie, and it’s not like you’re going to show up in your special director’s outfit… Maybe people do but maybe that’s why there are a lot of bad movies.
I want the actors… They’re the most important people in the world. Because acting is really hard, and you have to get them so comfortable they will do anything. And when you get scenes like in the motel room with Priscilla Barnes exposed and Kate Norby, who’s completely naked, and Bill Moseley who’s uncomfortable, and Sheri and Geoffrey Lewis… Nobody wants to do scenes like that, nobody enjoys them. That’s not how people normally act or think. And you have to do it for hours and hours. People put a lot of trust in you, that when you do that stuff that you’re not going to make them look stupid. And actors get burned a lot of times.
Is coaxing a good performance from an actor much different from coaxing a good performance from a musician?
It’s totally different. Because with a musician it’s more like, you can get the performance. It’s just more about ‘can they play the right part?’ But an actor… acting, it’s amazing. Acting is a funny thing because the better someone is the less that you notice it because they’re so good. When you don’t see them acting is when they’re amazing.
How proud are you of this album?
I love it. I mean, I really love it a lot. I guess people say that about every record they make every time it’s new, but there’s just something about this record that seems special. There’s a lot of songs and things that are kind of different, I was really thrilled with it.
You’ve worked in many media recently: music, film, comic books.
How important is music to you now compared to, say, 10 years ago?
It’s as important as it ever was. Whatever I’m doing at the time is the most important thing and I want it to be as good as possible. I never take it lightly or take it for granted. I think sometimes maybe people think, ‘Oh, he’s not taking this seriously because he’s doing this’, but that’s not the case. That’s why it’s so long between records and things. If I didn’t care, I could have whipped off a couple of shitty records and just thrown them out there, but I didn’t want to do that. I want to spend the time and make it good. And now that we’re going into rehearsals I try to put together the best possible guys I could find and we’re going to fuckin’ play as hard as we can and try to make it as great as possible.