Before Marilyn Manson painted his unsettling Portrait of an American Family, the shock rocker fronted the Spooky Kids, a trio with whom he would form the core of his chart-topping band. Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids, as they were billed, recorded more than twenty songs of dark, atmospheric, industrial metal, some of which have circulated for more than a decade through tape trading. Guitarist Scott Putesky (who would take on the moniker Daisy Berkowitz with Marilyn Manson, the band) has assembled ten of those songs for the group's first official release, Lunch Boxes and Choklit Cows, due next week.
Manson and the Spooky Kids' roots lie in Florida in the late Eighties, when Manson (then an Ohio transplant named Brian Warner) and Putesky first met; the former was working at the local magazine 25th Parallel and the latter at a print shop. "He'd never been in a band, but he wanted to put one together," Putesky says. "So we wrote six or seven songs together that didn't sound like anything else I'd done. A few months later we were playing to packed rooms. Small rooms, but packed small rooms. I looked out and thought, 'This doesn't make sense. Why are you people here?'"
The earliest incarnation of the group was indeed rough, with the duo adding keyboardist Stephen Bier (soon to be Madonna Wayne Gacy) and bassist Brad Stewart (Gidget Gein in waiting) taking a cue from their industrial heroes and finding their backing in a drum machine. "I had a great time with the machine at the outset," Putesky says. "I set up a foreground kit and a background kit; we had tons of percussion in the mix." That said, he admits that attendance for their gigs grew when the drum machine was axed (the first, but hardly the last turnover under Manson's watch) in favor of Fred Streithorst (Sara Lee Lucas). "It seemed to improve our little group, so the four of us became the root of it all."
That original lineup set the sound. Putesky says tastes were across the board for each member, but that Stewart leaned towards glam rock, Bier old school punk, and he and Manson fused the industrial and metal. As Manson and the Spooky kids developed, their sound became not just a reaction to the pop of the late Eighties, but a primal, mechanical scream towards much of the guitar-based rock & roll that became chic in the early Nineties. "We were hoping our fans would go find those more obscure influences," Putesky says. "We'd talk about Ministry and Thrill Kill Cult to the metal fans and hoped that would plant the seed for them to find another band.
The group's tapes and performances built a buzz and when labels first showed interest, Putesky knew the band was due to break. As Brian Warner, Manson had actually been one of the first artists to interview a relatively unknown Trent Reznor for a piece in 25th Parallel. He slipped the Nine Inch Nails mainman a tape of early Manson and the Spooky Kids recordings, and a few years later, Reznor made the group the flagship act on his Nothing imprint.
Though Manson's band would develop a bigger, broader sound with 1996's landmark Antichrist Superstar, the earliest Manson recordings have their roots in the ten songs that make up Lunch Boxes and Choklit Cows, which sound markedly better than your average four-track demos that have sat on a shelf for more than a decade. "It was nostalgic going back and listening to them," Putesky says. "And with a more critical listen, I still think they sound good. The way they're styled is very telling about the band at that time. It's not industrial or metal or pop, but something odd and in the middle."
Save Bier/Gacy, none of the original Spooky Kids remain in Manson's ensemble, and most of their replacements have departed too. Putesky played on Antichrist before leaving. He and Manson had a falling out, one that ended up in the courts in 1998. The two reached a settlement that gave Putesky ownership to the early Spooky Kids tapes that he had made. He says in addition to the ten on Lunch Boxes (which is also augmented with some old Spooky Kids video footage), another album's worth are ready for release. He also says that Manson has not responded to any of his attempts to bury the hatchet.
Putesky isn't just looking back these days. He also fronts a collaborative ensemble Three Ton Gate, with hopes to release something this year. And as for his early recordings, he hopes the release of the Spooky Kids recordings serves two purposes: Allowing fans to find the songs through traditional retail outlets, and to curb the distribution of a crop of counterfeit bootlegs bearing the band's name. "Some of the bootlegged copies just have the wrong titles," he says. "But I've heard some of them floating around and it isn't even us. It's some deluded freak who's putting his own crappy stuff under our name. And that burns me."