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Rob Zombie: "Our Fans Were More Metal Than We Were"

Rob Zombie looks back on White Zombie, the old weird MTV and his new box set

November 18, 2008 9:00 AM ET
Rob Zombie has made a career out of reinventing evreybody else's past, but this month he's taking a look at his own with the release of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, a four CD, one DVD box set that collects all of White Zombie's recordings and videos. The day after he wrapped up his long-in-production The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (an animated horror comedy based on a Zombie-penned comic book series), he talked about his old band's roots, why audiences were always confused and what he hates about being a solo act.

How long have you actually been working on putting together Let Sleeping Corpses Lie?
I haven't really been working on it for very long. I've been talking about it for a long time. A couple of years ago we started compiling tracks and tracking down all the different White Zombie members to get them to sign off on it. Then I made a movie and went on tour, so it's been dragging on for a couple of years. When I finally focused on it, I whipped the whole thing together in a couple of weeks.

Was there anything you came across that you forgot existed?
All the songs on the box set were actually released, but a lot of the early stuff on vinyl I barely remembered. Every time I heard one of those songs I thought, "What is this song?" Back then I was never happy with the records. I'd make it, listen to it once and never listen to it again. I'm sure there are tons of demos lying around too, but I didn't want to get into that.

What was the idea behind the early days of the band, when you sounded more like a noise band?
The band was formed in New York in the '80s, and there were basically two scenes happening at the time. There was the hardcore scene, like the CBGB hardcore matinees, which was always Agnostic Front, Cro Mags, that kind of stuff. We didn't fit into that kind of world at all. And then the other scene of music that was happening at the time that we felt a little more kinship to was the New York Art Damage scene, like Jim Thurwell and Live Skull and Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. Musically, we were noisier because we needed to be — we couldn't play very well. But I liked Van Halen as much as I liked Sonic Youth, and I liked Scraping Fetus Off the Wheel as much as Black Sabbath. So it was always kind of a mishmash of everything.

So what happened that made you shift in a more metal direction with La Sexorcisto?
The sound was always evolving. When you first start a band, you can't keep anyone in the band because there's no money and it's pure misery all the time. Our first guitar player was in the band for two months, and one day he showed up and said he sold his guitar. And it's not like it is now, where my guitar player has like 500 guitars. So I got my roommate to be in the band. He was totally into blues music. He wouldn't know Sonic Youth from a hole in the wall. So the sound was always chaos.

So when did it solidify? Around Psycho-Head Blowout?
Yeah, but eventually we got tired of that scene. We all had long hair and wanted to headbang. We found this metal club in Brooklyn and said "Fuck it! Let's just say we're metal, even though we're not!" Because at the time, we weren't. So we played metal shows and were even more out of place, but we still had fun.

When did you start fitting in?
You know what? Right to the end, it never made any sense. When White Zombie signed to Geffen, we toured with every metal band: Megadeth, Testament, Anthrax, Danzig. And at every show, the fans would just stand there and give us the fucking finger the whole show. Like, "Who are these fucking weirdos, man?"
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie also contains all the White Zombie videos, which really made you guys into stars.
Back then MTV was still powerful. We were on tour for La Sexorcisto for two years, and we only sold 100,000 records. We released "Thunderkiss '65" as a single for the third time, because I really believed in it. MTV finally played the video and things just exploded. We were on tour with Anthrax when the record finally broke, and we got so big so fast that we had to leave the tour because it was getting too weird. The guys from Danzig came down to see us play shortly after that at a huge place, and they were like, "When the fuck did this happen?"

There's something really interesting about that era of music, because it seems like weird bands could make it big. I find it incredible that Astro-Creep 2000 spent something like four months in the Top Ten. What do you think it was about the mid-'90s?
I don't know what it was. I think something changed when Jane's Addiction broke through, but I guess that was earlier. It's strange to think about, though. We would play shitty clubs with Soundgarden and Primus and Faith No More, and we were all on MTV at the same time. It was especially weird for us because we were being played on Headbanger's Ball and 120 Minutes at the same time.

That lead to weird shows. I saw you guys on tour for Astro-Creep 2000, and I wore a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt and stood next to a bunch of guys in Slayer shirts.
That was our crowd: Alternative kids and dudes in Slayer shirts going apeshit. What a great mishmash of people. The bands we took on tour didn't always go down great, though. A lot of times our crowd was more metal than we were, so we'd take bands we liked — Babes in Toyland, the Melvins, Reverend Horton Heat — and the metal guys were like "What the fuck are those rockabilly guys doing up there?"

So with the box set done, are you working on a new movie or a new record?"
I just finished the sound mix on The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. After three and a half years, it's finally done.

What sort of release will that get?
We're trying to figure that out. It's the Astro Creep of animated films. I look at it and say "This could be fucking huge!" But everybody else could say, "Who the fuck is going to get this?" So in the meantime, I'm in the studio making a new record.

Do you know when it might be ready?
It's almost done. We're hoping to finish by the end of December, but it's probably too early to talk about a release date.

Are you trying anything new?
It's the first full-fledged band I've had since White Zombie. I've always had a revolving roster of studio and touring musicians, but the three guys in my band now have been on tour with me for years. So we're making it as a band. It's called Rob Zombie, but we're treating it like a band.

Is it weird getting back into the band mentality?
I never liked being solo. I just did that because White Zombie became an unworkable situation. But you want to be in a band. The comaraderie is what's fun about it. There's nothing fun about a guy by himself in a studio.

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