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Rob Zombie’s Rock Advice: Lose the ‘Tude, Trust Thyself

Rob Zombie

Despite White Zombie’s large cult following and well-documented endorsement from Beavis and Butt-Head, it’s unlikely that few pop-culture observers circa 1993 would have preserved images of barking, dreadlocked frontman Rob Zombie in a time capsule. But nearly 20 years later, the unlikely rock star and horror film auteur has not only survived, but thrived, continuing to release music (the UME remix album Mondo Sex Head is out August 7), movies, and, touring. (He’ll soon be on the road with Marilyn Manson.) While en route to Comic-Con to promote his upcoming movie, The Lords of Salem, Zombie, 47, chatted with us about appreciating what you have, going with your gut, and learning when to say no.

You have to work on everything with a gut-level response.
One thing you develop over the years, whether you’re writing a song or working on a movie, there’s a moment where you’re watching the monitor and you know, “That’s the one, let’s move on.” It’s like that with songs too. When you’re writing, you just go, “That’s it, let’s move on.” Because it’s really easy to not trust your instinct and keep working on it, and most of the time, you’ll ruin it.

If you start getting into the opinions of other people, you’re fucked.
When you have too many people and you’re trying to satisfy everybody’s input, you usually end up with something so incredibly generic that it has no point of view. There are different times where I’ve finished a record and I go, “This is the single,” and I play it for somebody and they go, “That’s the worst song on the record.” And I’ll go, “What? It’s a single,” and we’ll launch it, and it’s a hit. If I made the right decision, at least I know it’s my decision. If I made the wrong decision, at least it’s my decision. I always get annoyed when I see bands sometimes crying about “Oh, well, the label wanted us to do that and someone told us to do that,” like they’re the total victims of circumstances. I’m like, “Hey, fuckhead, you could have said no.”

The best stuff always comes easy.
Not that you don’t work at it, and sometimes you do have to force things out, but I’ll just jump to something else. If you just have one thing you’re focused on, it is really easy to burn out and get stuck. You can sit there banging your head on the wall all day long, and it doesn’t get any better. And then sometimes you just go to bed, wake up the next morning, and go, “Fuck, I got it figured out.” Suddenly, it will be clear.

Very few people have overnight success and can maintain it for the long haul.
By the time White Zombie got to the stage where we were playing arenas, we were ready for it because we had played so many shows and done so many tours and had played hundred-seat clubs, to 200-seaters, 300, 400. As a band, we built up to it. But I see that with a lot of new bands, they get success fast and you see ’em on a big stage, and they look lost, like, “Holy shit, what am I doing up here?” They haven’t had the chance to develop the skills to work that type of crowd or room, and what happens is they’re terrible, and then usually they fail because people will see them and go, “They’re terrible.” All the classic bands that have been around forever, they came up gradually.

Just because you get signed to a label does not mean suddenly you’re a fucking rock star.
I remember back when White Zombie got signed to Geffen, that’s when all the bands were getting signed to Geffen Records. There was this one mistake that a lot of bands made, and they still make it: You’re still some unknown band nobody gives two shits about. You just happened to be signed to a label. These bands suddenly copped an attitude, and suddenly they were egotistical and annoying, and they thought they were big shots, but they’re still nobody. I remember walking into Geffen Records on the first day, when our record wasn’t even out yet, and looking at everybody working in the office and thinking, “Nobody in this office cares if I become a millionaire rock star. This isn’t something that’s keeping them awake at night.” So you have to go in there, be nice to people, and hopefully they’ll become your friends and you’ll all work hard and it will happen. But I think bands that rolled in with a big attitude, like they were some big deal, I just found that very strange.

When you’re young you don’t appreciate anything, because you don’t think in terms of, “Wow, this could end.”
I can go onstage and play the same song that I’ve played — a song like “Thunder Kiss ’65” has been in the set since the day it was written 20 years ago — but it’s always fun to play. Not because of me, but because as soon as you begin playing it, the crowd goes crazy, and it’s like you’re playing it for the first time again. It’s that way with everything. Every time I start the next movie, it’s as exciting as the first time. Every time the band is in the dressing room or about to go onstage, you just keep that [excitement]. But I think people lose it, and I see it in other bands. They’re so busy complaining about everything, and they forget that they have the greatest job in the world, and they’re caught up in all this minutiae and bullshit. How can you be miserable with the greatest job in the world?