A rock-and-roll renaissance man, Rob Zombie has recorded and toured successfully both with his band White Zombie and as a solo artist, produced other bands on his Zombie-A-Go-Go label, contributed to numerous soundtracks, produced animation, designed comic books and even a Rob Zombie toy. His first film, House of 1000 Corpses, was recently released on DVD and work is underway on a sequel. Recently Guitar Center sat down with Zombie to discuss the creative process that drives this one-man media conglomerate.
GC: Can you describe the genesis of 'House of 1000 Corpses'?
ZOMBIE: Sure, the ideas for it came from everywhere. I've been a huge movie fan my whole life, particularly a horror movie fan. The time period that I love the most for horror movies is the 70's. I think that was a great time and that's when I really fell in love with everything. I wanted to recreate that vibe with this movie.
GC: How is work on the sequel coming along?
ZOMBIE: It's moving along. I'm finishing up the script right now and looking to start shooting maybe in the fall.
GC: Are there any particular goals for the sequel?
ZOMBIE: Well yeah, there always are. It's just like anything, like when you make a record, you always want to make the next one better. And you know anytime you do anything, you learn a lot - especially never having made a movie before. Now I know a million times more than I did when I started, you know, and just what to look for. Also just trying to hire better people around you. The goal is to make a better film, always.
GC: I read that Universal was hesitant to release the original film. What happened with that?
ZOMBIE: We originally made the film with Universal and they were happy with the film, everything was good. But then we had a screening with the chairman of Universal right after she had come back from Washington where she had been in front of congress testifying with all the studio heads about marketing violent movies to children. I just think that the timing, more than anything else, was horrible for our movie with Universal. It was the type of movie they didn't want to deal with at that moment in time.
GC: Just because a few people wigged out about it after coming back from Washington?
ZOMBIE: Well it wasn't just anyone - the head of the studio! That's pretty much all that matters! Everyone else can be happy, but if that person is calling the shots...
GC: Did you have to make concessions to reach an R rating for the film?
ZOMBIE: Oh, yeah, all the time! I mean the people with the ultimate power over your movie really are the MPAA, because they're the one's that give you the rating. The thing was I always had to deliver an R-rated picture, because any other rating really is fairly useless. An NC-17 is pretty much the kiss of death. And so yeah, you are always making concession for the ratings board. You never know what they are going to say because they see different sorts of films differently. A movie that has historical significance can be far more violent if they think it's meaningful. I think if you have bigger stars it sort of lessons the violence in their eyes than if you have more unknown actors. It's not specific things they say, it's just a feeling you get when you deal with them.
GC: Did you have any inclination to include any of the deleted material with this DVD release?
ZOMBIE: Eventually I probably will, but I felt that this theatrical version should exist because it was the movie people saw in theaters. Having director's cuts and unrated versions can be great, but sometimes as a fan, I like to have the version I saw in the theater too. It drove me crazy after George Lucas went and monkeyed around with Star Wars and I couldn't see the version that I loved as a kid anymore. It basically didn't exist anymore!
GC: What are some of the differences between directing a movie, making an album, or producing someone else's album?
ZOMBIE: Making an album is a big undertaking, but in comparison a movie is a gigantic undertaking! Every day you have a crew of, like, a hundred people, maybe more... long days, it's insane! An album progresses at a much more relaxed pace and there's usually just a couple people involved.
Making a movie is very regimented. Everything is very scheduled: "At this time these people are going to be here, here's when we have these locations." You've go to get it done within the time frame and move on to the next scene and the next thing. It's all planned out in advance. Whereas with a record, if you didn't figure out the lyrics to that song today, you can always do it tomorrow. It's not like "You must finish this now!" You've got actors that are scheduled for a certain day because they have other jobs they are scheduled to do. It's a real strict time frame that you work within.
GC: What's up with Zombie-A-Go-Go records?
ZOMBIE: Pretty much nothing! I put a lot of work into that originally. It was always like a labor of love. But it just became a pain in the ass! The two bands that I was working with sort of fell apart. I really just don't have the time to put a lot of effort into peoples records if the first time they hit the road and try to put a tour together they're going to break up!
GC: You've contributed to a lot of soundtracks. Do you write material beforehand with the knowledge that it's going on a certain soundtrack?
ZOMBIE: Most of the time, no. Most of the time you get a phone call: "Oh, we need a song for this movie...Now!" So they take an existing song. A couple of times I've had the chance to write especially for the movie, but very rarely do you get the time. Recently, for Matrix Reloaded, I knew in advance so we could make the song fit the movie. Escape from LA was the same thing. I got to see the movie before I wrote the song, so I could try to tailor it to the movie, which is better for me because I find it much easier to write a song when I have some sort of inspiration. Just like: "This is for The Martix." Even just knowing that cause I'm like: "OK, this is some sort of futuristic super high-tech thing that's all I need to know." It just helps to have any kind of jumping off point. Anything really: "Oh, we need a song about a car." That's all you need to say, and then my brain will start working. But, when you're just sitting there with a blank piece of paper and trying to write, it's a little bit more difficult.
GC: You're involved in so many things: music, film, even comic books. Is the creative process at all similar in these different projects?
ZOMBIE: It's similar in the sense that you just have to sit down and do it. Sometimes you have a lot of ideas, sometimes you don't. But you sort of have to sit down and force yourself. That's what I do anyway. I don't sit there waiting for some grand inspiration. I have to force myself to do it and eventually creative things start happening. A screenplay can be a little harder because I have to sit down and come up with something from nothing. With a song, sometimes you have the music already and the music inspires you, but a script is just that, just words on a page.
GC: Have you musical goals or aesthetics changed since you began?
ZOMBIE: I'm sure they've changed but I'm not really sure how. I sort of do things the same way. I mean I'm totally hands-on with everything and I want everything to be as good as I can make it. Still, things change over time - the way you hear music and do things. I don't know if it's for the better or not, but it's hard to keep wanting to make the same exact music over and over. A lot of time your fans will be like, " Oh I wish it was like this!" (referring back to some album from ten years ago.) But you feel like, "Hey, I already did that! You may have just bought it, but that record's been sitting around for ten years. I need to do something new!" These days I'm really into the idea of writing shorter songs. I think that one of the things that you do when your younger and more inexperienced is write songs that just go on and on when they've sort of already made their point. A lot of great songs are 2 and a half minutes but the whole thing is there! To me that's a great challenge. Now, obviously, Bohemian Rhapsody can't be 2 minutes long, but when you're trying to write a simple rock song, there's no reason why it has to be 9 minutes!
When I listen to some of the White Zombie records I think "There's a great song, but why is that last chorus double?" or "Why does that song have to be 4 and a half minutes? It would be so much better if it was 3 and a half minutes!" I just hear things where it just seems like we went on too long. 3 verses instead of 4... you know, things you just learn as you go on.
GC: Are you working on any musical projects right now?
ZOMBIE: Well I just finished working on a sort of career retrospective type record for September and I recorded a couple new tracks for that. It will have White Zombie stuff, soundtrack stuff, solo stuff and new stuff.
GC: Did you do any re-mixing or re-mastering?
ZOMBIE: Well, re-mastering, but no re-mixing. There is always an urge to do that, but at the same time I sort of hate when people do that! Like watching the director's cut of a film - you've fallen in love with the original version and that's what you love about it. Even if the way the old version is recorded sounds bad, that's the sound you love!
GC: You don't feel like your ears sort of perk up when you hear a different version of the song?
ZOMBIE: I hate it! Give me the original Benny and the Jets, the way I loved it as a kid. I don't want to hear some new funked-up version! It drives me crazy! Especially when it comes to something like the Ramones or Black Sabbath where the record sounds kind of primitive. That's what I love about it! I don't want it to sound brand new and slick!
GC: When putting a band together, what kind of musicians do you look for? Are you looking for players, collaborators or personalities?
ZOMBIE: Pretty much it's 100% personalities. Unless you are just putting together guys for a short period of time to do something specific. Then it doesn't really matter, like, "Hi, play the part and then leave." But if you are really trying to put a band together, people you are going to tour with for month after month after month, it's all about personalities. There are a lot of good guitar players in the world, but are there a lot of guitar players that you could live with day in and day out on a bus? Someone really F---ing annoying is going to make you crazy! So it's really about personalities first.
As for collaborators, I sort of just have one person I collaborate with. The guitar player sort of just comes in and plays. I'm not looking for a guitarist to come in and have songs for me. But, I mean, that's the way I like to work. Back in the days with White Zombie it was more like four people in a room jamming. Which is fine, but as time goes on I just got bored with that. Day after day of jamming, it seems like hours and hours and hours spent accomplishing close to nothing! Then someone has to go through and find out what's good. It's just like anything else. As time goes on, the more you do something, usually you can figure out a better, more efficient method of making it happen. And you know, you want to be more efficient because things change. You're not the same. 20 years ago all you wanted to do was hang out at the rehearsal space and jam all day long because you had nothing better to do!
GC: What led you from working in a band context with White Zombie to doing solo records and soundtrack stuff?
ZOMBIE: Basically, it's the fact that I've always been like... I don't know how to put it, but I guess I've always been the driving force even when I was in a band. It was like, "This is the way it's going to be done!" It became weird after a while, calling it a band, because it starts causing problems. There's usually one person that controls a band even though it's supposed to be a band. "we're all working together," you know, "blah, blah, blah." And it just gets awkward after a while. You get tired of arguing with people for no reason other than the arguing. You're like, "I want to do this, so why do I want to keep making concessions every second of the day?" Some people just work better solo, and I am one of those people.
GC: But making a film would seem to be a pretty collaborative process...
ZOMBIE: Making a film is a totally collaborative process, but as the director you're the ring leader, you're the guy in charge - especially if you are also the writer. You have a lot of people working with you and I like collaborating with people. It's not like I'm a control freak and I have to do everything by myself. It's just that a band sort of creates this illusion of democracy and that everyone's opinion counts. But after a while you're like, "I don't really care what you think because all your ideas are stupid!" After 10 years of listening to dumb ideas, I can't take it anymore.
So now it's just me and one other guy, Scott Humphrey, the producer on the record. So I think two people is good. The funniest example of it is trying to mix a record with the whole band in the room. It's never going to happen because the drummer only hears the drums, the bass player only hears the bass and guitar player only hears the guitar. No one's looking at the big picture. You know, the drummer is like, "I can't hear the snare!" even though its blaring loud. I'm not telling everyone else how to work. I mean that's just how I like to work.
GC: Could you describe what the recording process is like for one of your records or for soundtrack songs?
ZOMBIE: I don't do anything in advance. When I go into to make a record, I pretty much walk in the door with nothing. Because I'm always busy. Like, I'll be making a movie and then I'll go make a record. There's no time in between projects to do demo songs or anything. It's like "OK now it's record time!" and focus 100% on that. The way studios are now, I love recording and writing at the same time because with digital everything immediately sounds so good! As opposed to "Hey I'm jamming! Here's a crappy cassette of something I made!" It's just a nightmare!
GC: And, I imagine, with a computer you can fly things around and totally arrange the song in real time...
ZOMBIE: Oh yeah. It makes it so much easier. We don't use tape or anything anymore. It's all recorded directly into the hard drive. It's such a great tool! But that's all it really is. The recording is still all like live musicians in a room. Actually, as time has gone on, I'm more and more tired of anything that sounds too computerish. We're using the computer, but to capture a live raw sound.
GC: But you seem to use a lot of found audio, strange samples and stuff...
ZOMBIE: Yeah, I like all that stuff. I think it adds to the song. But over time it's gotten less. The last album had less than the album before and the new songs have even less. It's more just live musicians playing. I mean that sampling stuff is great. But it's like anything else, you need to find ways of mixing it up so you don't get bored. I have no idea what the next record will be like, but when I recorded songs for the first movie, those where super stripped down. Really raw. I thought if they were too slick they wouldn't fit with the movie because the movie is so raw. I thought big slick rock songs would sound stupid. That's why the drums are real trashy and the guitars are twangy.