Marilyn Manson: ‘Heaven Upside Down’ Needs to Be ‘Chaos and F–k S–t Up,’ Because That’s My Job [Exclusive Interview]
More than 20 years after Marilyn Manson became the Antichrist Superstar, his purpose remains the same -- to be an agent of chaos. Though he's no longer plastered all over MTV, Manson has experienced a career resurgence in the 2010s strictly through the quality of his last two albums, Born Villain and The Pale Emperor.
This year will see another inspired work from Manson, Heaven Upside Down, which was created through personal tragedy, uncertainty of when to call the project "finished," a symbiotic relationship with composer Tyler Bates and much more. In this interview, Marilyn Manson took us through the many pieces of inspiration he drew from to complete Heaven Upside Down, including astronomical patterns, ancient rituals and the concept of structuring this album like a film.
Check out our exclusive chat with Marilyn Manson below!
I've got to give you credit, you really called your shot when you said Born Villain would be your comeback in 2012.
Tyler Bates, at the time, said [Born Villain] is just an opening act for the next record [The Pale Emperor] which was three to four years later, and I think that this new record really finds me at a place where I feel like I did make a comeback, truly for myself, personally. You have to admit you weren't where you wanted to be to make a comeback
With The Pale Emporer and Heaven Upside Down, I think that with certainty, it's me saying exactly what I wanted to say exactly how I wanted to say it. Tyler — when we write, he sits about an arm's length from me with a guitar plugged in, headphones. I sit with a microphone. So the record sounds broad, because it is. After we make a beat, then we'll go and record it with a live drummer later, but when we're writing a song, we look at each other in the eye. We sound kind of like when you're standing next to someone urinating and you look at them in the eye. It sounds like it could be kind of awkward, but I don’t have the musical compatibility in the same way with Tyler than I do with anyone else where there's no vocal booth. I'm just right there and I have my lyrics.
For once I wrote all of my songs in one notebook. Traditionally, in the past, I’ve carried around a lot of notebooks because my thoughts were a lot more scattered and nebulous. He would see the words, and being someone who scores film, would make music together with me and then I would sing off of what he was making.
It became a record that didn't take as long as it seemed like it did. I think the record came out when I intended it to. I thought it was finished back in February, but it would not have had “Revelation #12,” “Heaven Upside Down” or “Saturnalia.” Those are the three of the most key songs that really tell the story. The lyrics were all written, but I had not found a home for them. Those three songs, they take place as if it were a film. The three acts — it's the opening, it's the middle and then it's the ending.
While I was listening to the album I started looking up different things about Revelation 12. I started reading that the Revelation 12 sign begins an apocalyptic tribulation period in religious astrology or allegory. That Revelation 12 tribulation period begins on Sept. 23 of this year. Is that one of the reasons for the delay of the record?
It wasn't necessarily a conscious decision. I think things have started to fall into place in a way that I haven't seen in my lifetime, at least since Antichrist Superstar when I said this is what's going to happen and then it happened. I haven't had as many deja vu [moments] since that period in my life. It had to do with Saturn's rotation around the Earth. I decided there's one song missing from the record and it's “Saturnalia.” I just said the name of it, directly, because I had other lyrics and I said to Tyler, "What's a song that you would play when you were in high school or whatever age, if you wanted to romance a girl?" And we both said simultaneously, The Cure, “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.” It was almost like the Step Brothers scene.
I said, "I want something that takes its time to tell a story. I want the guitar to help tell the story. Then I want to very carefully chose where I started the verse." Tyler interrupted me and said, "Just channel your Jim Morrison. You have it in you and I see it every time I see you perform onstage. Just be what's inside of you. What is your inner soul." I just did it the way that it came out and that's my favorite song on the record. It's strange, because we finished that song and I brought it home from the studio. I was listening to it in the room I'm sitting in now and the beginning of it, the binaural sounds, the keyboards that fluctuate in your ears and then the drum beat, it almost gave me a panic attack and it makes you really nervous, but then it relieves you somewhere in the chorus.
[Heaven Upside Down] was finished when that song was done. The next day I went and got a tattoo on my hand which is a derivation of the sigil for Lucifer, which wasn’t meant to be some sort of satanic thing because people always mix up the characters. Lucifer was not a character in the Bible. He was a character in a lot of other derivations, again, of the Bible, but it was the idea of the character. The guy that was God's most beautiful angel and said, "You know what? F—k you, I can do better." Cast out of heaven. For me, the first ultimate rebel. So, I felt like that and then of course not ironically and not accidentally related to Saturn, which I was born under, being a Capricorn.
Saturn had just begun to lap around the Earth and crossed between the moon and these things aligned. It only happens every 29 years. This one happened to be a particularly special one in the same week that they exhumed [Salvador] Dali's body, which is absurd and crazy. I'm standing here looking at a photo that I was given of Dali that's a one-of-a-kind print, one of my most cherished things someone gave me as a gift. My old email was an anagram of his name.
My father was more ill than he had led me on to believe. So I flew home to Ohio and I was with my father when he died. I didn't get to play him the record, but I did get to say goodbye to him. I didn't know he was going to die, I just got to say hello to him and kissed him and told him I loved him. I didn't know he was going to go so quickly or how bad it was because I believe he had protected me and was trying to hide it from me, for whatever reasons he had.
It happened so quickly that it made me get a different value of time and how valuable every moment is. An hour after he died, Saturn had just completed its circle and that was really strange. I can't think of it as anything other than this record was meant to be now. I'm meant to be where I’m supposed to be, now is my time. His death came like Saturnus eating its own young to complete the circle of life. Ouroboros — the snake eating its own tail. I’m going to miss him. Of course I was sad about it, but I’m not going to express it that way. I think it was him passing on his being into me and saying this is the time. I think that he wanted me to take that message. I think it’s now just having a record I'm proud of, which I am, very much so. I think it's one of the greatest things I’ve ever created and that's just how I feel — so certain about it.
I think that this is a moment where this record needs to be, not to change the world, but to be chaos and f—k s—t up because that's my job. I'm not here to save the world or change people's lives in a way that I feel that it should be changed. I'm here to create a conduit of some sort of special space in their brain that they can create their own story out of. I just want to inspire people to be something else and I don’t really care specifically what that something else is. If it's bad or good or whatever you define bad or good as, I just feel like I'm a tornado. That's what I'm supposed to be. I grew up in tornado country, so I know.
“Saturnalia” actually ended up being one of my favorite songs on the record as well. I was looking into the history of Saturnalia, then I could hear your vocals saying, 'I was invited to eat the young' and it reminded me that Saturn is an agricultural deity. Then you say, 'I will still be here to hold you no matter how cold you are.' That reminded me that Saturnalia was in honor of the Winter Solstice. Are those allusions to the actual ancient festival?
The short answer to that is yes. The long answer is that the song was written and it was meant to be part of the story. The record takes a cycle and it's the beginning of the idea that “Revelation #12”… which when you mention that, technically it would be “Revelations 12.” I wanted to put what people call a hashtag there because it's a pound sign. It'll always be the pound sign on your phone, so I wanted to bring that back. It was also a nod to The Beatles' “Revolution #9.” It was definitely a reference to Revelations 12, with the great red dragon. It’s not something new because I remember when I was a kid in 1984, Ronald Reagan was supposed to be the beast.
This song became the center point on where the story really starts to tell itself because I think it is a romantic story. It's meant to be that you can insert yourself into the story. I played “Revelation #12,” “SAY10” and “WE KNOW WHERE YOU F—KING LIVE” live and people in Europe who don't speak English, necessarily, responded to them equally as much as they would something like “Dope Show” or “Beautiful People.” Rhythmically and sonically, Tyler, it's almost as if he's scoring the story that I’ve written or I’m writing to the score that he's written, but we're doing it at the same time and it's a strange combination. It seems to be very immediate.
I was getting tattooed two nights ago and actually when we're hanging up I'm getting tattooed again. My tattoo artist, Norm, he was tattooing an Orphic Egg on my chest, which is a snake wrapped around the egg that gave birth to all the gods, and he said — I was just playing him the record — and he said, "I feel like I already know these songs." They have some strange magnet that makes them almost hypnotic. That's what “Saturnalia” has, some binaural effects that really change the way you feel. I think for me, I can listen to my own record completely in a good or bad mood, usually done in a bad mood, but definitely tense. I want to know what’s happening in the next scene of this movie. I think that the listener gets to decide how it ends.
I can definitely hear the romance in the record that you're talking about. In ”Threats of Romance,” the line, 'I like you damaged but I need something left,' makes me think of the way your fans may perceive you or the way the fans want you. They want you a little damaged. Everybody likes a Marilyn Manson that's sex crazed and cocaine fueled, but if it goes too far, that's not good for anybody.
If you’re saying I just snorted a line of cocaine, I’m not denying that. I mean, there is a lot of stuff you can perceive. Someone can say it’s narcissistic because I am talking about myself, but songwriting is narcissistic. I've had the experience of someone saying, "Is that song about me?" No, the song is about me and my perspective on things. It may be telling a story that you inspired, but don't ask questions like that to me because it make me upset when you say things like that. I've had conversations in the past within romantic relationships. Imagine if you're in a relationship with me, it could be, you know, hurtful if you interpret it the wrong way.
I just watched the final edit of the video for "WE KNOW WHERE YOU F—KING LIVE,“ which I’m astonished already that a record label put out as a the first single and paid for a video and it has nuns and guns in a home invasion scenario. The same week that we are filming it, two girls in Pennsylvania dressed as nuns and tried to rob a bank and failed. Coincidence? Promotion? I don't know, it wasn't my idea. The video, I watched last night with someone I've known for a very long time. The look on her face was very confusing. I couldn't tell if she was going to cry or not and she said, "I’m worried that you’re going to get killed or that every girl is gonna wanna f—k you." I said, “That’s exactly what I was trying to accomplish [laughs].”
I think a lot of people probably assume that the decapitation of the Trump-like figure might be a portion of the “SAY10” video, is that not the case?
Absolutely not, that was just a digital statement. I think that video, like I said at the time, could be anybody in a suit, whatever you want to make it. Other people tried to do similar things and have failed terribly at it, and that's their fault, it's their fault. That's really their inability to perceive timing and artistic statements because I did not have an agenda against anyone in particular, I just wanted to make people think. I just wanted to throw something out there and put their mind askew and maybe stir up their thoughts and not talk about my opinion. I was surprised that their first concern was that I was making it rain with Bible pages, as if I was at a strip bar.
There are different ways at looking at every song on the record. Some people hear a song they think is sexy or romantic. I am like, “Really?” Some people hear a song that's sexy and romantic to me and they’ll think that it's about going out and causing utter Purge-like mayhem. I find it rewarding that everyone has perceived it slightly differently but everyone seems to gravitate towards certain albums and certain songs in the way that I would like.
The record has been mistakenly referred to as a movie several times by Tyler. He's very concise and he drives me. My brain and his brain are both equally ferris wheels. They never stop spinning and that's why we work together really well and it's a completely different path. They asked us to make a clean version of the record and we had literally said, ”Go f—k yourself." I said, 'I'm not clean, myself. I haven't taken a bath in two weeks. Why would I make a clean version of the record?” If a kid has money and he wants to go buy a clean version of my album at Walmart — we all know they sell guns — you're money is not wanted here, son. You can take the CD and dip it in the bathtub. That's about it.
It was reported that you'd recorded a cover of “God's Gonna Cut You Down,” but the song isn’t on your new album. I'm dying to hear your interpretation of that song. Is it going to be a b-side?
That was made for a specific film and we're not able to put that on the record. It will be on a soundtrack to a movie. We like it a lot, I enjoyed doing it. I did it in one take and everyone thinks that Johnny Cash wrote it and I looked up the people that covered it and it was great because it’s Elvis, Tom Jones... It's originally just some soul singer back in I don't even know what era. The chords that Tyler played, it was slightly similar to the version that we're most familiar with, the one that Tom Jones and Johnny Cash did, most notably.
The bonus tracks to the record are tentatively spoken-word versions of the lyrics because when I say them out loud, it's a different context. I just say something like, “Would you kill for me? / I love you enough, so I'll ask you again / Would you kill for me? / Because you won't be kissing me unless you kill for me.” It's a great conversation. I don't like songs that ask questions. I'm much more invested than to be a pussy and ask a question. Some might say, “Would you kill for me?” is a question. It's more of a veiled threat, not a question. It's an ultimatum, I think. I don't like songs to generally ask questions because it seems not as certain as I feel that I am. I like to tell people this is how I feel, and I might want them to ask questions from it, but I'm not gonna ask the question. It's like this letter, like someone's gonna respond to it.
Thank you for giving me your time.
I’m ready to f—k s—t up. Let's do it together. See you soon.
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