No matter if it is rocking the stage as one of music’s greatest frontmen or reinvigorating the horror genre as a director of of some the most intriguing films in recent years, Rob Zombie always seems to have a story to tell. His work in both music and film seems to be steeped in an indescribable mythology that continues to capture the imaginations of generation after generation. In the 20 plus years since his impressive debut, his hard work and dedication to his craft have left an undeniable mark on the pop culture landscape. With a track record of undeniable success, there is little doubt that he has incredible insight on the ever-changing entertainment industry. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Rob Zombie to discuss his longevity in the industry, his upcoming return to the studio, his highly anticipated feature film, “The Lords of Salem,” an upcoming web series for The Nerdist Channel and much more!
You work in the worlds of music and film certainly inspired many people through the years. Looking back on your career, did you think you would be still going strong all these years later?
Not in the early days, no. There was a point when I realized, a couple of years ago, that, “Yeah, I guess this could go on forever if you really wanted it to.” Which is pretty weird! But back in the early days, you just didn’t know. I mean, you didn’t know about anybody. No one knows if it’s gonna last, even if you are The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, you just really don’t. Now I realize that nothing really goes away, everything goes as long as possible, so it is great. But did I think I would still be going? No. Who knew?! Who knew you could make it last too long — around 20 years!
You endured so many changes in the music industry since you started out and outlasted many of your peers. To what do you attribute your longevity in this ever-evolving industry?
Basically, I guess it would be that I am not trying to be a trend jumper. That is the main thing. I mean, I pay attention to what is going on in the industry because you don’t want to live in a vacuum and you have to understand the business you try and function in because you have to understand the business side of things just to survive. With that being said, I also like to stay within my own bubble of “This is what I do.” I think a lot of times, the bands that have crashed and burned are the ones that have tried to change and pretend by saying, “Oh, now we are that style too!” It was like when all the hair metal bands decided, “No, no! We have flannel stuff too! We are grunge rock.” Everybody starts jumping these trends and doing these bullshit moves. That always backfires. I have always been ahead of the curve, behind the curve or I just don’t know where the curve is, I don’t know, but that seems to have worked in my favor.
Looking back on your body of work, you evolved greatly as an artist. Is there something you are doing differently now as opposed to when you started out?
I think the main thing that I don’t do is worry as much. When you are starting out, every little thing seems like it is going to be the end of the world because you don’t know. Maybe it is. Every little move seems like it could be the end of your career or the biggest disaster. As time goes on, you sort of calm down. You have to stay hungry, you don’t want to get complacent in what you are doing but you have a calmer sense of how things will get done, ya know? You know you will figure it out eventually and you know you will finish that song, movie or that thing, even though some days it seems absolutely impossible you will find the solution. Sometimes in the early days, when everything seemed like the end of the world and there was a giant meltdown about everything. Now, and maybe it is because of the guys that are in my band, you have to take a moment to enjoy the process of what you are doing. We really enjoy touring and playing together. We enjoy being out there! I see a lot of bands and a lot of them really don’t enjoy it. They sort of exist in a constant state of misery and chaos, which really is kind of sad because it really is the best job you could ever ask for. You really appreciate it because at any moment, it really could be over. You never know.
You mentioned the band and I know you are headed back to the studio in June to work on a new album. What can we expect this time? What do you have up your sleeve?
There are a couple of things going on for this record that have never happened before. For the first time ever, I think we have four band members that are all mentally on the same page with what we are trying to accomplish. That is usually impossible! [laughs] Usually, you get three together but one is not. Getting all four together is tough but we have that. The other thing is that we have an idea of what we want. Our goal this time was to make a dark, heavy, crazy record — as simplistic as that sounds. Sometimes you say that in the past but then other songs pop up and you veer off into other directions. This is the first time we have really tried to stay on target, like, “That is what we are saying and that is what we are going to do!” We have a goal!
How are you tackling the songwriting these days? How does it seem to be getting broken up as you are preparing to enter the studio?
At this point, everybody is off coming up with ideas. We aren’t going to get together in the studio until June, which is nice because we are touring through May and we will go right from the tour into the studio. That is something we don’t typically do either. That is nice because you are all geared up and ready to go. Right now, everyone is off writing riffs and coming up with their own ideas. Then we will get together, see what everyone has got and start putting it together.
It sounds like the band is really firing on all cylinders at this point. Is it safe to say you are all in a great place creatively?
Yeah, it’s great. Everything with the band is fantastic! It has never been better, it’s an ongoing process. It is something I have said before and I have meant it before because at the point that I had said it, things hadn’t been better. But now, for the first time in 25 years, this is the best place a band has ever been for me, so it is terrific. Sometimes, at this stage in a career, things could be winding down and there is an ability to phone it in but to have four people who are this fired up is really important and something I think will really show.
You are currently in post-production on “Lords of Salem.” I am sure that has been taking up a lot of your time. How does this film differ from your previous outings?
“Lords of Salem” is a very different movie from the other films that I have made. I mean, the last two films I made, “Halloween” and “Halloween II,” were obviously based on preexisting material. This film is a completely original idea but it is also a more psychological sort of terror film as opposed to the “Halloween” films which are considered slasher movies. This is not that. This is a much grander, more composed film. Those other films are sorta handheld and real gritty and nasty. Everything about “Lords of Salem” is more stylistically different. It is a more composed and controlled film. I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want people to see it and go, “Yeah, that’s what I thought it would be.”
How did the concept of the “Lords of Salem” initially come about?
I am not really sure to be honest. It was an idea I had about five years ago or so. As ideas come up or I think of new things, I will write them down and file them away. Like I said, this was about five years ago. I had started writing the script and I had written about a third of it and stopped. I filed it away and really didn’t know what to do with it. Then it popped up again. I have other things like that too. It does seem like every idea I come up with will eventually get made, some time, somehow, somewhere — just not necessarily in the timeline in which I have thought of them. So this was an older idea that I picked up and revisited.
I know you have been hard at work on it. What was the biggest challenge that presented itself on that project?
The biggest challenge was to stylistically fight what I had done before, truthfully. It is really easy to get in the rut of doing things the same way every time. That was one of the biggest challenges. My cinematographer and I sat down and said, “OK, this is the style we are going to use.” Once we are committed to it, we were committed. We can’t shoot half of the movie one way and then change your mind. It was sort of tricky to do it that way but I think it works out. It works for the type of movie that it is. This style might not have worked for the other movies that I have made but it does work for this.
That is pretty exciting to hear and we are looking forward to seeing the film. Another exciting project in the works is a web series for Chris Hardwicke’s Nerdist Channel. What can we expect there?
I’m not really sure yet. That is something I am going to do after we complete the album. I have been friends with Chris Hardwicke, who does all the stuff for The Nerdist, I believe we met in 1995. We have been friends since then. He called me up and said that he had this new channel and he was getting all of his friends like Weird Al Yankovic, Neil Patrick Harris and a bunch of other people to do shows for it. He asked me if there was a show I wanted to do. I sorta had a half-assed idea and I am still refining it. By the time we get to shooting it, which will probably be in July, I will have it all figured out. It’s a comedy thing.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about yourself out there at this point in your career?
Yeah, I am sure there are tons. I mean, I know there are tons of misconceptions because I don’t really tell people much about myself. Most people, aside from my close friends, don’t really know anything about me, so pretty much everything is a misconception, but that’s OK!
That being said, do you think there might be a point in time where you pull back the curtain a little bit for an autobiography?
Probably not. And that could change because your feelings on subjects change as time goes on. Maybe 10 years from now I might have a different thought on it. Basically, right now I would say no because I am kind of a private person and I like to keep everything to myself. I don’t think most people need to know. I don’t think it informs the work that you do, in fact I think sometimes it takes away from it. I have seen people over the years and when you find out too much about their private lives or personal lives or their thoughts on other subjects, it kinda takes away from your enjoyment of their work, so I try to keep that stuff separate.
It goes without saying you are a grizzled veteran of the entertainment industry. What is the best piece of advice you can offer to someone looking to blaze their own trail?
The biggest piece of advice I can give people is that you have to do it because you have no choice. If you are doing it because you want to be rich or you want to be famous or you want people to like you — you should quit, NOW! None of those things may ever happen and if they do, it’s going to take a long time. You have to do it because you feel like you have no reason to live unless you do it — that you don’t know why you exist unless you make music or art or whatever it is you do. Those are the people who achieve all of the other things, usually. That’s why you have to do it first. There are so many people and this has become such a trend, because of shows like “The Voice” or “American Idol,” people think they are going to win a contest and be a superstar overnight. And, ya know, maybe for one person out of a billion, it works that way but for the most part, that sort of reason for doing things won’t work. You just have to do it because you love it and you love it no matter what. Back in the early days of White Zombie, we had a long stretch, seven years of being in a band of complete failure and misery before any good started happening. But we kept doing it! Ya know, there are many days I would wake up and couldn’t figure out why I wanted to do it anymore because no one seemed to like the band, no one was at the shows and the band didn’t get along. It was endless. But somehow, you just kept doing it because you have to. If you feel that way, then maybe it is for you.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for Rob Zombie? — No plans on packing it in any time soon I hope!
No. I think this can be part two of the last question but I think if you really feel that way about what you do, you pack it in when you die. You see that a lot, ya know? You just do it because you have to and when you get too old to do it, you will figure out a way to get it done. No one who feels that way ever quits. I mean, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis are still on tour! No one like that ever quits when they are still alive, they only quit because they die.
Truer words have never been spoken! Thanks for your time today, Rob. Best of luck with all of your projects!
No problem, man. Thank you!
For all the latest news, tour dates and more, visit Rob Zombie’s official website at www.robzombie.com!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.