A Conversation With Rob Zombie
Mike Ragogna: Rob, how involved were you in overseeing your latest remix project, Mondo Sex Head? And how did you go about finding the right remixers?
Rob Zombie: Well, I do have a heavy hand in the albums that I've done. Luckily, when we're making the remix albums-this is the third that I've done-I can have a much lighter hand. The way that I do things is to compile a master list of who does the best remixes of the moment. Then we farm out the songs and let the artists pick the songs that they could do the best job with-I obviously try to sway some of them in certain directions, then I give them some slight parameters about what I want, though, I don't want to stifle what they do. After that, I basically pick the ones that I like the best and that I think will come together in sequence as the best album. Remix records are actually the easiest projects that I get to do. That's why I love them. (laughs)
MR: This album seems to have blurred the line between rock and electronic/dance.
RZ: Yeah. I mean, I've always thought that music is music. People like to put categories on everything, but I never cared-I still don't. Growing up when I did, the music that came on the radio was sometimes so eclectic that I grew up listening to all kind of things. The radio could easily go from a children's song to a Barry Manilow song-you just kind of get used to hearing all different kinds of music all the time. And for all of the music that I've done over the years, there's always been a strong groove to it. I really like songs with grooves, even if it has some pretty heavy guitar and vocals laid on top of it. I always wanted the groove to be very prevalent. So, to turn any of these songs into remixes is a very natural thing to me. The record that I did before in 2001 was probably a little bit more industrial, because that was the sound that was happening at the time. This one has more of a dubstep and rave feel happening in it. But it's funny to me how you can sort of mutate these songs and take them in different directions. To me, it still works.
MR: You mentioned that this album has a more dubstep and rave vibe. Does that type of music inspire you when you listen to it? Are there any particular groups in that genre that you feel inspire you?
RZ: Well, there are no groups in particular that inspire me in that genre. But when I hear different tracks and listen to those genres, I am inspired by certain grooves. Many times, it's more about the way that they create it. That's more what it's about. When you hear the song in the club or at a rave, it's more about how the crowd interacts with the groove. You have to move the crowd, which is not unlike playing for a rock crowd in many ways. That's usually what I take away from that type of music when I listen to it. I think that a lot of times in rock music, there's a need to unnecessarily overcomplicate things. You have a simple groove pounding away, but it seems too simplistic so you build it up and add another bridge or something. Sometimes that can kill the groove. I'm working on a new album right now, and that's one of the many things that we're learning on this album. If the groove isn't broken during the song, why change anything? If it doesn't vary for three minutes, so what? I mean, there are some great Led Zeppelin songs where the groove doesn't change.
MR: Do you think you'll be using some of the ingredients and grooves from this remix album in your new project?
RZ: Possibly. Right now, the record is really going well and we haven't done that. But if early on some of the songs feel like they need to go to the next level, I may have some of these remixers come on and work on some of the new songs. I've done that in the past. Charlie Clauser from Nine Inch Nails worked a lot on my first solo record. He brought that extra level to a lot of the songs. My feeling is that I wanna do whatever it takes to make a great record.
MR: Right. It seems that all of your remixers -- especially Jonathan Davis of Korn -- fit perfectly with your music. Do you think you'll work with some of them on more than just remixes?
RZ: Well, Jonathan is actually coming with us as the opening act on the Zombie/Manson Tour as the DJ. That's pretty cool. I've also spoken to Jonathan about potentially coming out and doing some production work on the new album. What I like about Jonathan is the fact that he's also in a band, and he understands the structure of a rock song and how it needs to work with a rock crowd. Someone who's just a pure DJ may not get that. He was kind of an obvious choice for me.
MR: Nice. Were you at all shocked by any of the remixes and maybe by who did them?
RZ: No, none of them really shocked me. I also wasn't familiar with everyone who was working on the remixes because that isn't really my world. Oftentimes, I was going on the advice of other people who told me the certain people they liked. I didn't really have any preconceived notions about what anybody would do. One of the ones that I really enjoyed was the "Living Dead Girl" remix, because it's seven minutes long. When I first listened to it, I was afraid that it might be boring, but one night as I was driving through LA and the lights were zooming by, I realized that it might be my favorite track. (laughs) Music is weird because it's affected by the headspace you're in and maybe even where you are when you hear a song sometimes. Sometimes your atmosphere is what makes the music make sense. For instance, a lot of people who like rock say that they don't like rap music. If you're just listening to it like you would be listening to any other song, you may think it's kind of lame. But sometimes you're in a club and you hear that same song, but the bass is driving and people are dancing and the song takes on an entirely different life. It can be the same with bands -- sometimes, people don't understand the appeal of a band until they see them live. Then all of a sudden, it makes sense, you know? Sometimes it's just the time and place.
MR: Rob, you've got a tour coming up with Marilyn Manson.
RZ: Yes, I start touring with Manson at the end of September. It's a co-headlining tour that will go all over the US and Europe ending around Christmas. It's a pretty long tour. It's great though. As I said, Jonathan Davis will be opening the show, then Manson will play and I am the last to play in every show.
MR: Great. Do you still enjoy going out on tour?
RZ: Oh, I love it. I wouldn't do it anymore if I didn't like it. Personally, I don't know how anyone couldn't like it. I mean, I can't think of anything in the world that would be more fun than what we get to do.
MR: What about making movies?
RZ: Well, I do love-making movies, but the problem with making movies sometimes is that it's very, very stressful. Shooting the movie can be a lot of fun, but sometimes, the actual shooting can be as short as thirty days. It's the other seven to twelve months that can make you crazy. I mean, I do love it, I wouldn't continue to make movies if I didn't love everything about it. But there's just nothing like walking out on stage in front of a crowd and playing music. The only thing I can equate it to is being a professional athlete -- walking out in front of a crowd and having thousands of people go crazy.
MR: Speaking of movies, are you working on any new projects?
RZ: Well, I am wrapping up my latest film called The Lords of Salem, which will be done at the end of August. We don't have a release date yet, but I'm gonna finish mixing that in August before I start rehearsing for the tour. I'm also in the very early stages of working on another film called The Broad Street Bullies, which is the true story of the Philadelphia Flyers during the seventies when they were the most feared team in sports. Right now, though, that's just in the early stages of research and writing. I don't even know when that one would start filming. That project is a little further down the road.
MR: Rob, do you have any advice that you'd like to offer to new artists?
RZ: My advice for new artists is never do this. (laughs) No, the main thing that I would tell anyone is that you have to do what you love. Don't take the advice of your manager, your label, or your booking agent...do what you love. I've heard quite a few people say that they followed the advice of their manager or their label and changed their image or their music in some way, and now they say they're f**ked. But you have no one to blame but yourself. I hate when I hear grown men complain that they were somehow the puppets of their label. You don't have to do anything. Do what you want to fucking do. It won't always work, but at least if you fail, then you failed doing what you wanted to do and vice versa. That's my advice. I see a lot of bands that get manipulated because they're trying so hard to have a hit song, make a lot of money, or become famous. Once you focus on any of those things, you're going to screw yourself. Be the artist that you want to be and the rest will fall into place.
MR: Bob, it's been really great talking to you, thanks for your time, and best of luck with Mondo Sex Head and the upcoming tour. Please come back and chat with us when you're new album comes out.
RZ: Thanks so much, Mike. It was a pleasure being here.
1. Thunder Kiss 65 (JDevil Number Of The Beast Remix)
2. Living Dead Girl (Photek Remix)
3. Let It All Bleed Out (Document One Remix)
4. Foxy Foxy (Ki:Theory Remix)
5. White Zombie More Human Than Human (Big Black Delta Remix)
6. Dragula (Three Crosses Remix)
7. Pussy Liquor (Ki:Theory Remix)
8. Lords of Salem (Das Kaptial Remix)
9. Never Gonna Stop (Drumcorps Acid Remix)
10. Superbeast (Kraddy Remix)
11. Devil's Hole Girls (Tobias Enhus Remix featuring The Jane Antonia Cornish String Quartet)
12. Burn (The Bloody Beetroots Motherfucker Remix)
13. Mars Needs Women (Griffin Boice Remix)
Transcribed by Evan Martin
A Conversation With Mike Stern
Mike Ragogna: Mike, your new album, All Over The Place, caps off a trio of albums that experiment with different styles and feature some impressive guest musicians. Can you go into what shaped this project?
Mike Stern: It's a looser idea than most records. I thought it would be cool to get Dave Holland, Hank St. Jackson, or Richard Bona who had been on the last couple of records. It was the same thing for Heads Up, I wanted to get different musicians, some I had played with and some that were newer to me, like in the case of the first record I did for Heads Up, Who Let the Cats Out, Meshell Ndegeocello. I'd played a little with Roy Hargrove and he's on that record. The next record was called Big Neighborhood and it's got Steve Vai who I'd never played with -- he's more of a rocker and Eric Johnson who's more of a blues guitarist. So, different people who I kind of really dig that I've always wanted to play with...I just used these records almost as an excuse to get them on the CD and I thought it would be really cool for the music to feature certain people on all of these records. This last one, All Over the Place, fits really well and people seem to agree with me, it's very cohesive in the way it's sequenced and how it lines up, mainly because I wrote all of the tunes, which is true with all three of my records. And I'm playing on the record, of course, because it's my record. It's cohesive, but it's got a bunch of different influences, which is who I am. I like being all over the place. Emotionally and brain-wise, in general, I'm always all over the place, which is probably more than most people want to know about me. But in terms of this record, it has a lot of different meanings. I go on the road all of the time, so I'm also all over the place in that regard. But this is all over the place in a good way -- different influences -- and the trick was to try to put all of these different people and all of these different influences into one cohesive project, which I think we did pretty well with. I got a lot of help from a great producer and amazing keyboard player and writer on his own, Jim Beard, and this last one really came out good, I think.
MR: On the cover, you're sitting down comfortably with your guitar in what looks like a room full of sheet music. How does it work...do you chart songs out for the band or do you get into the studio with them and just play?
MS: Oh no, we chart it out and send the music to everybody like a demo so everybody knows the music, and then you rehearse it, especially with this many people involved. It's not like you can take the band out and play for a week and then record or play for a couple of weeks on tour, although, there was one time in L.A. when we did a short session with Richard Bona and I was already playing in L.A. with Richard, Dave Weckl and Bob Franceschini, so all I had to do was bring out Jim Beard for the recording session. We were a quartet on the West coast and we did the recording session in three hours. We did a couple of tunes and then he did the vocals at home. He likes to do those at home, he puts on a lot of harmonies and then he sends it over and says, "Is this cool?" A little overdubbing is useful. I don't like to overproduce anything. Everybody is doing the stuff live, people fix a note or two after that, but everything is live so you get the interplay, which is an important thing for my music, and for jazz anyway.
MR: Are you composing on paper or in your head?
MS: I compose on paper. The charts on the CD cover are a bunch of transcriptions. I do a lot of transcriptions of other solos. If you zoom in on those, there are John Coltrane solos, Sonny Rollins solos, Michael Brecker solos...usually the saxophone players or a Miles solo or a Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner... either piano or horn players, not so many guitar players. I like to check out other instruments and have a phrase and get some of that phrasing on the guitar. You come up with some different stuff.
MR: Do you also chart out the solos?
MS: Oh no, everybody does his or her own solos. I would never chart out a solo. Everybody's doing their own thing in the solo space. The tunes are the melody, and people take the form of the tune and play over it. If it's blues, they play over the blues. In this one case of a tune called "OCD" -- which is something else I relate to -- it's based on a standard tune called "I Love You." Everybody on that session and on the CD knew that tune -- Dave Holland, Kenny Garrett and Al Foster. On that session, all we had to do was play the melody, which is a little tricky, so we sent everybody the melody. Al Foster learned the melody. Dave and Kenny learned it and were reading it. Al wasn't reading it, because he'd rather not read, he's the drummer, so he learned all of the hits. We didn't even rehearse with that group. With Kenny Garrett, Al Foster and Dave Holland, we rehearsed in the studio. I kept the tunes that I wanted them on, realistic, not too complicated. One is blues, it's called "Blues for Al," it's for Al Foster. This other one, "OCD," is based on a standard tune, but you'd never know until you hear the changes; if you knew the tunes, you'd know that that's what it's based on. Then there's a ballad. Jim Beard's on all three of these tunes, he's on everything on the record as the keyboard player, but we played that as a quartet without Kenny Garrett. We played from right from jump so it's very spontaneous sounding. I knew those guys could listen to it, they would do a little bit of homework and just be able to play it.
MR: That song was "You Never Told Me"?
MS: Yeah, "You Never Told Me," which was fun. I did a couple of tunes on acoustic guitar, one with those guys, with Al Foster, Dave Holland and Jim Beard and me on acoustic nylon string guitar and another with Esperanza Spalding who sang another tune of mine called "As Far As We Know."
MR: And she also played the acoustic bass.
MR: On All Over The Place, it's true that you do stretch into different genres, but you unify them under the jazz umbrella. For example, "Blues For Al" is not exactly blues, but it's bluesy.
MS: It's bluesy. It's not a Chicago blues, but it's loose, the way they approach a blues, it is very fresh. Dave Holland took that bass line and instead of walking through the blues and playing the swing feeling, he kept it kind of funky. Al is painting pictures back there. He's playing the drums but it's not symmetrical. He's letting ideas free flow, but it really holds together because he has such a great time feel. Kenny is just awesome. It's kind of a monkish blues, like Thelonious Monk kind of inspired. It's true, there are different styles that come out in my playing. I have my style people tell me, I am the worst assessor of my ability; I'm too self-critical or I just don't know. People say I have a recognizable style on whatever guitar I'm playing, which I'm happy about, it's me. But I like to stretch and go in different places, so some of this music, like the stuff for Richard Bona, it's written for him. It sounds more like world music, like coming from there. The stuff with Al Foster, Kenny Garrett and Dave Holland is more straight ahead, but not straight ahead jazz. It's an acoustic bass and Al Foster is more of a straight ahead drummer, but I played with Miles with him, and he can rock his ass off. It's funky on this, but he's just right for the style of music I wanted. I knew he would just capture the vibe. So you can't really pigeonhole it; it's kind of an unusual way of playing those tunes. But it's a little more straight ahead sounding for lack of a better term. With Keith Carlock, there's more rocking happening. It's a little more funky. He plays with Steely Dan and John Mayer, you know, a whole bunch of people. He's a great player.
MR: What's the story behind "Cameroon"?
MS: That's where Richard Bona is from. I've never been (there), but I've heard how he grew up there. I almost called it "Stories from Cameroon," but I said let me just call it "Cameroon." It's very much the way I hear Richard Bona. It's singable -- I wanted him to sing on it -- and it's my version of an African groove.
MR: How did you join Blood, Sweat & Tears?
MS: The first internationally famous band I got a chance to play with was Blood, Sweat & Tears. I actually went for an audition with Pat Metheny. I was studying with Pat. He really liked my playing at Berkelee. He was 2 years younger than me, so he was 18 years old when he was teaching there. I was 20 and went to him and said, "Can I get some lessons?" I heard him play in his office, and he was killing it. So I went in there and hit all wrong notes, but he said I sound great and I need to play some more. I thought, "What do you mean, I hit all wrong notes, I suck," but I kept that to myself. We would just play tunes that he wrote or some standards and I'd meander through them. He heard about auditions for Blood, Sweat & Tears. I went to the audition thinking I wouldn't get the gig, but I got the gig, which terrified me, and it turned out to be a great experience. All of those guys were a lot more seasoned. I was 22 and wasn't even through Berklee College of Music where I was studying with Pat. Then I got the gig and I learned a lot from it and that was great. I got a chance to play with a whole bunch of other people. Billy Cobham was next. About a year later, I went back to Boston and just played a lot of Be-Bop gigs with an amazing tenor saxophone player, Jerry Bergonzi, and a great trumpet player named Tiger Okoshi. Then Miles heard me with Billy Cobham.
MR: Ah, Miles. Got some stories about those years?
MS: Yeah, but I can't go public with them. (laughs) It was wacky in those years. I was a little crazy in those years. I was a little crazier than him, believe it or not, but it made for a good relationship. He was amazing. All of these musicians I got to play with -- Miles, Jaco Pastorius, Joe Henderson -- the thing about them, they were very open-minded in terms of the music that they liked. There was never any "this is better than that, straight ahead jazz is better than electric jazz," never any of that from those guys. If you play your heart out, they can dig it. They had their priorities, of course, what they liked. Miles was all over the place in a good way. Anything he heard on the radio that got his heart, he'd go for. He heard Hendrix and he loved it. He used to talk about Hendrix in the same way and with equal excitement with how he played with Charlie Parker. He always played from the heart whatever music he played. He was very adventurous. It rubbed off on me; I let different influences come into my music. There's nothing wrong with staying on one path, but I like to include different kinds of styles in my music and Miles was a big influence.
MR: Mike, what is your advice for new artists?
MS: I would say play your heart out. It doesn't matter what you play -- rock, country, classical, all of the above. Music is a universal language of the heart. You can say things that touch people's emotions better than any other language. That's what's amazing. You have to learn the vocabulary first. You can't play your heart out when you're learning a new language. Like any language, you can't speak when you're just trying to order breakfast. At first, you're going to learn words; it's a good comparison. After a while, you have a fluency and you can play gigs. Make sure your heart is engaged in whatever the song calls for. That energy, music vitality, is the most important thing, eventually.
MR: And there's your Fender Telecaster that was owned by Roy Buchanan. Whatever happened to that?
MS: That got ripped off, stolen from me years ago. Somebody pulled a gun on me in Boston. I don't like to say, but it's an interesting line, they had a persuasive argument. They took the guitar and I couldn't do anything about it. It was an amazing guitar. But somebody made a copy that was very good, not as good, but very good, and Yamaha has made a copy and I've been using it lately. They wanted to make a Mike Stern model and they've been selling a signature guitar in the store. They copied this copy of the Roy Buchanan guitar. It was a tele style guitar that somebody made me after the Roy Buchanan was ripped off. They copied that one and did a great job. They didn't exactly copy it, they put their stamp on it, but they're very good guitar builders. They use great wood, they really worked on it, used the right specs, and got a really good sound out of it.
MR: Downbeat Magazine called you one of the 75 best guitarists of all time.
MS: They did that, which is quite a compliment, of course. I'm so grateful to be able to do something that I love so much. I've been doing this my whole life, playing guitar and going to work. I love all aspects of it. Of course, I'm mainly performing. I'm on the road all the time performing. The travel gets to be a challenge, of course, but the music is really fun, so I feel really blessed to be able to do that. That never gets old for me, just to be able to do a gig. If it's 10,000 people or 5 people, I'm going to play the best I know how, I'm going to give it 100%. It's fun for me. I love it. Sometimes, I teach a little bit. It's really fun for me. Whatever anybody says is icing on the cake. Compliments like that or Grammy nominations -- that's happened for six projects I've done -- that's beautiful, but I'm happy anyway just being able to do this. It's really a blessing.
MR: Mike, it's been great. I really appreciate your time.
MS: Thank you for the interview, man. I appreciate the questions.
3. Out Of The Blue
4. As Far As We Know
5. Blues For Al
7. You Never Told Me
8. Half Way Home
11. All Over The Place
Transcribed by Brian O'Neal
CERTAIN PEOPLE I KNOW...THE BAND, THAT IS...
Originally formed in 2009, Certain People I Know -- the latest project from indie/emo icon Bob Nanna (Braid, Hey Mercedes) -- has played only a handful of shows together and began recording tunes in 2011. Just now seeing light of day, their LP, to be released August 7 via Michigan's indie label Count Your Lucky Stars Records, will most likely appeal to fans of Nanna's other bands and serve to hold them over while the newly reunited Braid works on new material. In the meantime, check out this stream of their new album.
WELCOMING AUSTRALIA'S LONGREEF
Aussie rock band Longreef has a new EP and live DVD, Dirty Motel, that was released on June 12. The 5-track EP follows their self-titled debut that hit the racks in 2011, after which the band immediately toured and was soon playing to sold-out venues across the States. Longreef is currently on the road and will continue playing live through the summer and into the fall. Their US connection includes their coming to the States in 2010 to write and record their self-titled debut EP, finding a home in Florida, and touring relentlessly in support of their debut. Longreef has headlined many shows and also has shared the stage with Bush, 30 Seconds to Mars, Stone Temple Pilots, Seether, Taproot, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and more. Check out the following exclusive HuffPost exlusive, "Want Me Back."
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008