Veteran rocker Rob Zombie‘s name is apt in more ways than just the persona and macabre aesthetic he has created for himself over the past several decades of creative output. When talking to him, it becomes quickly apparent that this guy has no time for anything except being creative–that he might awaken in the afterlife just to fix the lighting on a film he was working on. We caught up with the musician right after releasing The Zombie Horror Picture Show DVD and photo book to talk shop about zombie culture, performing in the digital age, and how he befriended Fred Armisen. To win an autographed DVD and book, click here and enter our contest, but first, onward with the interview!
Nerdist: How did you foray into other ventures outside of music?
Rob Zombie: It happened organically in the sense that I always liked doing all sorts of different things. As a kid growing up, I was always drawing and painting—always doing art. But I also loved movies and music, so as I started doing everything, I liked every aspect. It’s not really that I am a control freak; it’s just that is what I love. Even in the early days of the band, in addition to the music—the look of the band, the design of the band, drawing artwork for the flyers–every part of it was just exciting to me. As the years have gone on, that just keeps amplifying, because there is so much to do. The biggest problem I have is just having enough time to get everything done.
N: How long did it take to get The Zombie Horror Picture Show and photo book together?
RZ: The film was more about planning. We shot the last two nights of our tour in Texas, and then it was editing down all that footage—and I directed all that footage. But that is a lot of prep work like where you want each camera to be and what you want each person to capture; and then you see what you get the first night and you identify what isn’t right and what adjustments you need to make. But that wasn’t so bad.
And then for the photo book, we had [photographer Rob Fenn] with us for the last six months just shooting everything all the time, and that was a matter of taking 100,000 pictures and dwindling them down to 300. It’s not hard work, but it becomes numbing at times to go through it—but its always nice when you are done and you have it. All the work that went into it—you kinda forget and then all you remember is the final product.
N: What was the central theme or goal for The Zombie Horror Picture Show?
RZ: The central theme was about the larger-than-life elements of the music that I loved when I was growing up. Rock music seems to be disappearing, and the goal with the band and the tour and the shows was to capture that. It is about the kid in me–thirty years ago–when I was like this is it, this is what I want to do. I wanted to capture the feeling I had when I was a kid listening to Alice Cooper.
N: Have you ever considered yourself a forerunner to pop culture’s current zombie obsession?
RZ: People will always ask me, “Why don’t you do a zombie movie or something zombie related?” But I always get a feeling, like once something is such a mass media culture thing, that it kind of hit its peak. Not to say that anything that comes out isn’t good, but anything that comes out now is really pulling up the rear.
N: Did you ever get a sense that zombie culture would become as big as it has?
RZ: I would have never thought there was a phrase “zombie culture.” Well there were a handful of films, but not anything since Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead. But even with Land of the Dead, it felt very much that it was happening in a vacuum. Like with 28 Days Later, it didn’t seem like there was a mass culture movement, but now it seems like there is.
N: What is the energy like at a Rob Zombie concert?
RZ: The energy is really phenomenal and that is what we strive for. Sometimes I feel like people don’t even know how to react in some situations because of online culture. Since [many things] are online, you might not react to something that is happening live—the moment when that starts breaking down and someone is like ‘oh fuck that is happening right in my face,’ you can feel the tide shift. It is very funny sometimes to watch. You’re so used to seeing things on a screen that they don’t realize this guy could jump out and punch me in the face if he had to—this is happening in front of me. So yeah we try for the most intense live experiences we can create.
N: I understand what you mean about the importance about something physical over something visual
RZ: I always wonder how much digital simulated life you can have. There is a commercial that says something like, “No one ever makes a list of the top ten websites they want to visit before they die,” and I thought that’s it! It is really noticeable at shows when everyone is looking at phones, filming the show and not looking at the stage. They’re not experiencing the moment, because they think they want to experience it later. How much stuff do you film and then never fucking see again. From when I was kid, al that exists is my dad’s Super 8 film. And that is what I remember of my childhood up to a certain point, like oh that was that summer; those were those friends I used to have. But now everyone is filming every fucking second of their kid’s life and I don’t really know if I would want that much information about myself. Watching certain moments makes me think those times were so great, but actually watching hi-def video of every second of my life, I would just go, my god this is unbearable. It is way too much. People always ask me if I watch the shows, and I am like no. I don’t need to watch that shit again—If I remember it well, then it was good; if I remember it poorly, then it was bad. It is very strange, because it is a new thing. In many ways I feel like this is an old guy conversation.
N: Tell me about how you befriended Fred Armisen.
RZ: I met him at Jimmy Kimell’s house when he was having a party for Howard Stern when he was in LA. He came up to me because we had mutual friends. Then the second time I got to talk to him was at Howard Stern’s birthday party and we had a lot in common from back in the day in New York. He asked me for stories about the Ramones, cause he is a big Ramones fan. He’s very cool—you never know what to think of people before you meet them. Usually comedians are hip and cool.