JEORDIE WHITE | BASE TENDENCIES
It's only 7 p.m., but all of the lights in the hotel suite are off. Only the flickering images from a television airing the 1984 film "Runaway" (which starred KISS bassist Gene Simmons) prevents the room from being cast in complete darkness. This, of course, suites Twiggy Ramirez, the Marilyn Manson guitarist, bassist and songwriter, just fine. "Marilyn and I recently bought a house in Beverly Hills, and I have my windows foiled up in my bedroom so it's like a cold crypt no matter what time it is," he says, sitting on the bed with a pillow over his lap. "I usually don't go to sleep until seven in the morning, anyway."
So, if Ramirez and his partner in late-night grime have a decadent domicile in the hills, why are they cooped up in the Embassy Hotel? Simple: The creatures of the night have been infested by, er, creatures of the night. "We're having the house sprayed right now because there are all these scorpions and spiders that we want to get rid of," says Ramirez without batting a thickly mascara'd eyelash. "We also have black widows in our backyard, but in the house there are little brown spiders that hide in the drawers and shit, and if they bite you, and if you're allergic to it, you'll die."
Ramirez grabs a loose thread from the hotel blanket and starts to pull on it. "The scorpions are even wilder," he says, wrapping the string around his index finger. "The first time I saw one walking across the living room floor, I freaked out. Its pincers were snapping and it looked so mean. They're really little, but they can kill you." He tugs on the fabric a little more until a small hole is visible in the blanket, then reconsiders. "Well, they won't kill you, but they're more poisonous than the large ones. The small ones sting you and release their poison in you all at once, whereas the big ones, they distribute it in you in small doses."
Marilyn Manson's multi-platinum 1996 Antichrist Superstar, was like a sting from one of those baby scorpions. Painful and vitriolic, the music tumbled, roared and spewed, avoiding subtlety in faovr of sheer sonic excess. Manson's new record, Mechanical Animals, is just as bombastic, but not nearly as hostile or viscious. Produced by Michael Beinhorn (Hole, Soundgarden, Soul Asylum), the disc is sleazy and indulgent, filled with titles like "The Dope Show", "I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)," "User Friendly", and "Last Day On Earth".
Mechanical Animals really reflects all the craziness that's happened since we've moved to Hollywood," says Ramirez. "People constantly stop by the house, and we all get involved in excessive drug use and "Dungeons and Dragons", and all kinds of shit. Last week, Corey Feldman and Lief Garrett dropped by and sang karaoke. They were doing all these ZZ Top songs, which was really funny. Also, since our record's been finished, I've been hanging out a lot and working on some stuff with Dave Navarro [ex-Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers]. We film ourselves dancing around to Iron Maiden, and stuff like that. I've got a great tape of him wearing a Fender Strat like Dave Murray and jumped around at seven in the morning playing 'The Trooper'."
Manson and Ramirez' move to Hollywood last October came after years of torment andinsecurity, and signaled a new phase in the development of the band. When Marilyn Manson recorded the bitter, abrasive and multi-platinum Antichrist Superstar in 1996, the group was worn out and paranoid. Transplanted from their homes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the members shuttled to New Orleans, where they were plagued by self-doubt and engaged in numerous battles for creative control with their label, executive producer Trent Reznor, and others. For Mechanical Animals, the band was inspired more by the decadence and glamour of Tinseltown than by the depravity and squalor of New Orleans, and the songs poured out as smoothly as a fresh margarita.
"We wrote this whole album in less time than it took to even record the last one," says Ramirez. "When we did Antichrist Superstar we were living in a crack house, and the conditions we were working under made us really unhappy. We did drugs just because we were so freaked out and depressed, and this time we did them just for fun. This is a very drug-influenced record, but the substances didn't create the sounds, sometimes they just made us feel uncomfortable. The thing about drugs is eventually you start feeling normal on them, so sometimes not to do them makes you feel more fucked up than to do them."
What kind of drugs are we talking about here, pot or heroin?
"What kind of drugs?" asks Ramirez, then answers by lifting his leg and expelling a loud, noxious fart. "Oops. I guess that's what happens when I talk about drugs."
There's no denying that Mechanical Animals is largely a byproduct of warped minds and recreational pharmaceuticals, yet it's not your typical freak rock or stoner metal. The songs don't pulse a swirl like Flaming Lips or Monster Magnet, and they don't pound and grind like the acerbic industrial waste of Antichrist Superstar. Instead, Marilyn Manson seems to draw from flamboyant '70s glam including David Bowie, TRex, Queen, and The Sweet. "When we were writing songs for this record, I went back and listened to a lot of music I was into as a kid, like Motley Crue and Iron Maiden," says Ramirez. "And then I went back and listened to the rock that inspired that stuff, like Stooges and Queen and Bowie. I really wasn't into that stuff when I was a kid because my Mom liked it, but I really go into it later, and now I realize that my Mom was more rock and roll than I was."
"I think we really just wanted to make a real rock record, as opposed to a metal record or an industrial one," says Manson, who has just sauntered into the room. "We didn't want to be afraid to be over the top or pretentious because I think that's what rock and roll is supposed to be."
He runs his left hand through his dyed red hair, then continues. "Probably my biggest influence making this album was listening to John Lennon really closely and taking it personally for the first time, and really taking in the sadness of him being killed. The Beatles have always been one of my favorite bands, and musically they just became more inspiring. [He didn't] necessarily have the same politics, but I think Lennon definitely spoke his mind, and he got in a lot of trouble in a lot of circumstances, and that's something I can relate to."
Ramirez rises from the bed, and picks up a Fender B-Bender guitar leaning against the wall near several empty bottles of wine. "Have you ever seen one of these?" he asks, noodling on the frets, and pulling the handle near the neck to make the guitar slide in pitch. When he's informed that Metallica used the same instrument to record "Unforgiven II," he appears disappointed. 'Oh, I guess I'll have to smash it and buy something else," he replies.
He puts the instrument down for a moment, then picks it up again and strums a series of '80s rock riffs, including "What I Am" by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, "Breaking the Chains" by Dokken, and "Aces High" by Iron Maiden. "1 don't think I have my own real guitar style," he says. "1 learned to play by ripping shit off, and that's pretty much what I still do now. I never really practiced guitar and I never had lessons. I just figured out songs I liked by listening to them and trying to imitate what I heard.
"1 had one guitar class in high school, and I never paid attention, so I had to have someone ~ else sitting behind me playing while I pretended to play. I actually bought my first guitar when I was about 14, but I sold it so I could buy a bass and join Marilyn Manson. Now I own about 30 guitars and 20 basses just from moving to LA."
For Mechanical Animals, Ramirez played a variety of guitars including an old SG, a Randy Rheads Jackson Flying V, and a couple of Rickenbrackers. For amplification, he used whatever was around at any given moment. "1 don't remember what we used or what we didn't use. Lots of MarshalIs, I think. It was a different set up each time, and however the knobs were set, that's pretty much how I played it."
Ramirez claims he took a similar approach with the guitar effects, which whiz and spiral wildly through Mechanical Animals. "We had a big box full of pedals, and we would just sort of hook stuff up together at random," he says. "The names on all of the pedals had worn off, so we didn't even know what some of them were. A lot of what we did happened by chance. Sometimes it sounded like shit so we didn't use it, but sometimes it sounded like shit so we did use it." In truth, Ramirez didn't write all of the guitar parts for Mechanical Animals. At least five of the songs feature Zim Zum, who left the group after most of the disc was recorded. He has been replaced by John Lowery (Two, David Lee Roth Band), who declined interview requests for this article. Zim Zum says he wrote most of the dynamic and textural guitar licks on the record--the ones reminiscent of Mick Ronson, Marc Bolan, and Brian May--while Twiggy created the more abrasive, metallic riffs. "If you listen to what Twiggy has always done, you can tell that he's really a metal guitarist," says Zim Zum. "I'm much more into dramatic stuff that's more textural and less in-your-face."
Regardless of who wrote what, the two styles mesh brilliantly, creating startling juxtapositions of beauty and ugliness, grace and might. "We don't believe in other people's definitions of extremism and normalcy," says Manson. "Everybody looks at the bright, happy side, so somebody's got to see things from a different point of view. Anyway, it's not like I intentionally seek out darkness, it's just that things that appeal to me tend to exist in that realm."
"I just like music that moves you, whether it makes you sad or angry," adds Ramirez. "I want to make music that people can put on if they feel shitty, and it will make them feel even more shitty. I like to write stuff that makes people want to go out and do drugs and fuck shit up. If I can motivate someone to go out and destroy something, then that's great. I accomplished my goal."