Marilyn Manson's new album "Born Villain" comes out on May 1
"In any story, the villain is the catalyst," Manson says
"Born Villain" is the eighth studio album by the inveterate provocateur
It’s 22 minutes into Marilyn Manson’s smart, sarcastic, sprawling response to CNN’s opening interview question about his new album, “Born Villain” (out May 1), and he is just about wrapping up the explanation of its origin.
Let’s just say that Manson – one of the most vilified entertainers in history, who has been accused of everything from causing the Columbine school massacre to being the devil incarnate – has a lot to say on the subject.
“Growing up going to Christian school and the concept that you’re born a sinner and you don’t really have a choice to change who you are has been hammered into my head and created the entire reason why I made art and made a band and made records called ‘Antichrist Superstar,’” he explained.
“In any story, the villain is the catalyst. The hero’s not a person who will bend the rules or show the cracks in his armor. He’s one-dimensional intentionally, but the villain is the person who owns up to what he is and stands by it. He’ll do the things that are sometimes morally questionable, but he does it because it’s his nature to do it and it doesn’t fluctuate. It’s the fable of the frog and the scorpion, all those stories that just say, whatever you’re going to be, stick to it in confidence. Don’t waver or life will f*** you over.”
After sluggish sales, tepid reviews and simultaneous accusations of being too shocking and not shocking enough, Manson said he “fell into a confusing state where I didn’t want to be who I was. I needed to be the person I’m going to be, the person I should be. I had to accept that this is what I am. And it took me the humility to say I have to make a comeback.”
“On the last two records [“Eat Me, Drink Me” and “The High End of Low”], I think I started to write songs to make people feel like I was feeling rather than to make them feel something. And I was feeling like s***, so that was a really stupid thing to do,” he said.
And though he doesn’t address it outright, that dark period coincides with Manson’s protracted breakup with ex-fiancée Evan Rachel Wood.
“Of course, I’m a person,” he said. “Anyone’s personal relationships will affect what they do, but when I listen to Bowie, I’m not thinking about what he was going through in his personal life; I just listen to it and am affected by it in whatever way. That’s what music should do.”
“Born Villain” is the eighth studio album by the inveterate provocateur, but Manson said he’s dropped any expectation of people knowing his oeuvre until this point. “I went into recording this with the idea and common sense that people know who I am for many different reasons: Columbine, music, publicity, celebrity bulls***. I had to realize that that does not equal who I am and simply had to make something that said this is what I am.”
While writing for the album, he found recurring themes of guns and flowers emerging in his lyrics. “I don’t know where all this came from essentially. Maybe it’s because my dad was in Vietnam,” he said, “and there’s an iconic image of the flower being put into the rifle.”
And, much like with his own stage name, Manson has a flair for combining seemingly incompatible references to yield something greater than the sum of their parts.
He was inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s debauched poetry collection to create the track, “The Flowers of Evil” and he named another song “Pistol Whipped,” because “a pistil is obviously the female part of the flower and I think that this record and everything on it is an implied threat.”
Manson also drew upon other subversive works like Federico Fellini’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” (itself an allusion to an Edgar Allan Poe story) and “Macbeth,” (both William Shakespeare’s and Roman Polanski’s) because “there’s always witches around,” Manson cautions. “Many, many witches. And I don’t mean women simply. But, mostly.”
The song “Overneath the Path of Misery” opens with a quivering recitation of the play’s famous soliloquy:
“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
“The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
“That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
“And then is heard no more: it is a tale
“Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
“That quote can be taken as, woe is me, my life is s***, I give up,” Manson said. “When Macbeth said it, it was a resignation. But I read it differently. I started thinking it was empowering. For me, it was a resurrection.”
Indeed, “Born Villain” is Manson’s return to form: A hard-rocking album, brimming with rich imagery, visceral blowback and the glamour-meets-gutter eroticism that his best work evokes.
“If you like it, that’s great,” he said. “That’s what I want. But it’s not about my ego in that sense. Living in Hollywood, it’s easy to have someone flatter you. That doesn’t help me. In fact, it makes me furious that people reduce my intelligence to think that simply complimenting me, for example, on what I said in “Bowling for Columbine” makes me more intelligent than they thought I was. I have to restrain myself and realize that they’re not trying to insult me, but it insults me that I need to do something that’s more powerful than a simple quote in a movie that I didn’t create.”
“I appreciate the window it opened up,” he continued, “but I don’t think it’s a great movie because it didn’t answer a lot of questions in a period of my life and an event that affected my life so much. I have 36 school shootings under my belt – I didn’t do the shooting part – but I had to realize that I can’t be lazy or ignorant enough to think that just because I went through all this, people should be expected to like what I make.”
In fact, Manson said he didn’t record this album with the approval of his fans or critics in mind at all. Rather, he said his biggest goal was to prove to his close friends and family that they were right for believing in him.
“People like you for reasons. There’s no reason to change what you are, but if you’re not being you, then you need to acknowledge that. And it didn’t take psychology or sobriety or anything that rhymes with a Y at the end for me to realize it.”
So, what did cause the shift?
“I just applied what I do when I go to a dinner party,” he said. “I’m completely the person you think would be the most offensive, but I end up being the person that a lot of people listen to. I like to make people think differently than they did before I walked in the room.”
While getting here may not have been easy for him, Manson said he will remember recording “Born Villain” more than any of his other albums both because he enjoyed the process and is proud of the result.
“I’m supposed to do this interview with you and say, ‘Oh I love my new f***ing record. It’s great, it’s better than all the other ones.’ It’s not. I know it is, but I’m not saying that it’s better than the other ones,” Manson said. “I’m saying that I’m better than I was and that’s the whole thing.”
“If I were to go on Match.com and I was doing some sort of, oh, would you like to know me? situation, this record would represent me,” he mused. “Now, would I get eights from it? I don’t know. But this is me and I’m not doubting that for a second. I think the most attractive thing in life is seeing someone that’s confident just peacocking.”
And what better way to celebrate that than to include a cheeky rendition of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” as a bonus track on the album? The song features Manson’s pal – and fellow musician – Johnny Depp on drums and guitar.
“We started jamming – I don’t even like to use that word because I think it sounds too musical and I consider myself to be more of a problem-maker than a musician. We ended up thinking, what could we do that would be really amusing to both of us because of what people think about us? ‘You’re So Vain’ really says it all.”