Rob Zombie on Pee-wee's Playhouse, and how he's not on tour to party and to fuck around
Rob Zombie originally came to prominence with his first band, White Zombie. With a penchant for campy horror imagery and music that was the perfect mutant blend of an industrial aesthetic with trashy metal and punk, White Zombie was one in a handful of bands that crossed the alternative-rock world and the metal world at a time when the former was going out of vogue. After the band broke up, Zombie embarked on a "solo" career under his own name. Over the past decade or so, he has also become something of an acclaimed filmmaker, starting with his classic debut House of a Thousand Corpses and its far less cartoonish sequel, The Devil's Rejects.
Zombie has since made a worthy remake of John Carpenter's horror milestone, Halloween, and he is on the verge of releasing his next venture into cinematic darkness with Lords of Salem. Whether he's trying to entertain and amuse you or utterly disturb you, Zombie knows how to get under your skin.
Currently Zombie is on tour with Marilyn Manson on the Twins of Evil Tour. In advance of their Colorado tour stop next Tuesday at 1STBANK Center, we caught up with Zombie and talked about his collaboration with Foetus, his stint on Pee-wee's Playhouse, his commercials, his favorite classic horror movie monster and the importance of professionalism behind the scenes.
Westword: How did you meet Jim Thirlwell, and why did you want to work with him on that demo you did for Geffen?
Rob Zombie: Jim Thirlwell...I don't know when I met him. I was a fan of his work. I really liked all the Foetus work and Wiseblood. It was just the Lower East Side New York. You know, everybody was around: Jim Thirlwell, Lydia Lunch, Sonic Youth, all those bands. White Zombie was just part of that scene back in the '80s.
I don't remember when I met him, but I do remember going over to his house. He lived in Brooklyn in a really cool loft. When we got the money to make our Geffen demo, I thought his records sounded brilliant, so that's why I wanted him to produce it. I didn't have a copy of it, but the only song that survived from the demos was "Thunderkiss '65." Everything else we never used.
A few years ago you did an interview with Jimmy Fallon and you talked about having worked on Pee-wee's Playhouse. Other than being kind of a drag, what was the nature of your job on the show?
Nothing interesting, really. It was a cool job to have. But I was probably nineteen years old. It was everything from delivering stuff to doing little crap work around the set. I don't even know if I was a P.A. Whatever is just below a P.A. I'm not even sure it counts as below a P.A., but that was my job. Lowest rung on the ladder -- that would be [the title I give myself for that job].
It was cool, and I liked it. Besides being a fan of Pee Wee Herman, Phil Hartman was on the show. William Marshall, Blacula, was the King of Cartoons. There were all kinds of people I really liked on the show. So it was pretty exciting.
What's your favorite classic movie monster?
I think my favorite is Frankenstein's monster, probably because it's so iconic. I think when I was a little kid, I would have said King Kong. But I think Frankenstein just because I loved everything about it. The design is the most classic design. It just seems like Hollywood to me. If you think Hollywood you think, you know, Groucho Marx, Marilyn Monroe and Frankenstein.
Also, I like the character. Even in my movies I always want to make the monsters...That was my whole pitch for my re-make of HalloweenI wanted to make Michael Myers like Frankenstein. I wanted to make him sympathetic. That wasn't ever how he was conceived originally. But that was my take on it. I always saw him as Frankenstein.
As kids we all see movies that scare us. But have you seen any movies that have scared, frightened or at least disturbed you as an adult?
Not really as an adult. There will be movies I find disturbing, but they're usually not horror movies. There's a movie I watched the other day, an independent English film called Tyrannosaur. It's about an alcoholic, hateful guy that kicks his dog to death by accident. It's just one of those movies that are just fucking disturbing. The last time I saw anything resembling a horror movie that was scary was when I was in third grade and I saw Jaws. That was fucking terrifying; I'll tell you that much.
Your shows are obviously a big, multimedia affair. How hands-on are you with that side of your performances?
Well, I'm hands-on with everything. Even right now the only reason I'm doing this interview while I'm driving is that I'm driving out to where the new stage props are being built so I can okay them before they start getting really finished. But yeah, I'm involved with everything. Every little tiny thing has exactly got to be the way I want.
Not that I don't have really talented people working with me to make it all happen. I don't want to take away from [their contribution]. But it's 100 percent my vision of what it's supposed to be. There's nobody else I can turn to. They all look at me.
Clearly, performing live is vastly different from making a film, but how would you compare the logistics and process of putting together a live show versus a film?
The similarities with making a movie is that you're the boss and you have a huge crew of people -- and it's a job. It's a great job, but it's a job. I would say with anything, the fish stinks from the head down. So they're only going to work as hard and be as organized as you are. And I have to run everything super organized and make it work.
To me, nothing matters but the show. I'm not on tour to party and to fuck around because I don't want to hurt the show. The show has to be excellent all the time. Nobody wants to go see your show and you suck and hear about how much fun you had backstage. Nobody pays fifty bucks so you can have fun backstage.
They want the show to be amazing. That's all I care about. That's all anybody cares about. And if the people that work with me don't care about it, I replace them with someone that does. That's the way it should be, right?
Many people have seen the "trailer" for Werewolf Women of the S.S. in Grindhouse. Why did you want to make ads for Woolite and Amdro?
Woolite I did because I wanted the challenge. I like doing things I haven't done before and had never directed a television commercial. I knew that was a whole different world and a whole different set of skills and a whole different set of bullshit. So I just wanted to do it just so I could know what it was about.
You worked with Clint Howard on the Amdro commercial. Why did you want to work with him?
I've known Clint for a while. Clint was in Halloween, so I met Clint about five years ago. He's a great guy, and we've been friends ever since. He's been in a couple of things. He also did a voice in my cartoon The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. He did a part in Lords of Salem, but unfortunately that part got taken out. I felt kind of bad so that was part of the reason I put him in that TV commercial, to make it up to him.
Why did you describe Lords of Salem as "if Ken Russell directed The Shining"?
I think I said, [or should have said], "Ken Russell directed Rosemary's Baby." People always ask me, "What's your movie like?" It's so hard to describe a movie if someone hasn't seen it, especially if it's weird. I thought that was one of those answers that sounded funny but didn't really mean anything but usually it satisfies everybody.
I mean, mostly because Lords of Salem is a very bizarre film. It's a very deliberately paced film like Rosemary's Baby or The Shining. But at the same time, there's a very insane aspect to it like every Ken Russell movie seems to have where there's crazy stuff happening. So that was the best way I could describe the movie to someone who hadn't seen it yet.
How did you find out about the band the Birthday Party, and what is it about them that has inspired what you've done?
I've liked them since whenever. Maybe I saw the record at a record store. I've liked them since high school. I think maybe I saw the cover for that record Junkyard and thought it was cool-looking, and then heard the music and thought it was incredible. I've always liked Nick Cave, his lyrics and his persona.
I never got to see the Birthday Party, unfortunately, but I have seen Nick Cave many times -- especially for his first few records -- in really small clubs in New York City. He's just phenomenal. I'm still a fan now. I thought the Grinderman records were great, and I'm a fan of the stuff he's done in film.
Presumably you got to see the Butthole Surfers pretty early on. Would you say they had an impact on what you've tried to do with your own spectacle of a show?
I don't know. Maybe. I've never really thought of it that way. White Zombie was always friends with the Butthole Surfers, so I must have seen about forty Butthole Surfers shows everywhere from CBGBs to opening for Nirvana at The Forum. So I've seen them many, many times. I'm friends with all of them. They're great guys. I think they're a spectacular band. I still love them.
I've actually been listening to them a lot in the past year. I think they're greater now than I thought back then. I always loved their show. But I was already in the mindset of a big show before I heard of the Butthole Surfers. Ever since I was in first grade and saw KISS, I was like, "Okay, it's on. That's what I want to do." So I don't know if the Butthole Surfers were an influence, but I do think they're a phenomenal band, that's for sure.
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