Since the 1990s, Marilyn Manson has crafted for himself an image as an "Antichrist superstar." Each of his incendiary albums is a sonic blast filled with fear and loathing that would turn his hero, Hunter S. Thompson, absinthe- green with envy.
His recent effort The Pale Emperor brings him to the Electric Factory on Friday. It's Manson's bluesiest and most focused melodic effort, loaded with hard, icy lyrics about Robert Johnson-like devils beneath his feet, killing strangers, and weeklong binges.
And yet our conversation starts with a Manson laugh.
Manson, 45, was a music journalist in Florida before making sex-drugs-and-demon-filled industrial metal for a living. Where would he be if he stuck with writing as a vocation?
"Oh man, getting paid in free CDs," he says with a hearty chuckle. "I stopped doing music journalism because I wanted to talk more about myself than the people I interviewed, and that wasn't fair to the stories. The good thing was that I decided then, that as long as I was doing something that made me happy and not want to shoot a bunch of people or start fires and go prison that I'm going to be OK."
He fell in love with the work of Thompson ("a dear friend"), and went on journalistically, in a fashion. His most poignant work is reflective, essaying his weird life, the beautiful/ugly creatures around him, and the detritus of the culture.
"I'm definitely reporting what I see," Manson says. "That's why I used the blues on this record," he says, acknowledging the influence of Muddy Waters, the Rolling Stones and The Doors. "The blues is not about slide guitars, me being from Ohio, which is close to the hillbilly, Appalachian side of my family, or redneck Florida, where people go to die. Making the blues . . . is like being a snake-charmer telling a story, and leaving enough blanks so that the listener can fill in his own tales."
Working with producer Tyler Bates, Manson says, was like "a conversation that effortlessly went from a sentence to a paragraph to a story." And his personal parallels with the storied bargain bluesman Johnson made with Beelzebub - those are serious. His, too, was a Faustian deal, he says, "with me selling my soul to become a rock star, and this record being payment in full - with interest, considering the last few bills I didn't pay."
Albums such as 2009's The High End of Low and 2012's Born Villain didn't pay up. Lack of focus? "That's a fair way of saying it." he says. " . . . I didn't consider the finality and preciseness of the Polaroid, for example, where there's no redoing it. That's a metaphor for life: When you pick something, make sure you do it with utter confidence and certainty."
How did the hard, sleazy Pale Emperor come forth so ferociously? He credits his new friendships with a group of guys: Johnny Depp (to whose home Manson retreated), and Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter and star Charlie Hunnam. Manson even acted in Sons of Anarchy as a white supremacist.
Another change: He stopped looking for trouble ("it finds me, man"), switched from "fast drugs" to marijuana, worked as much in the daytime as at night, sang in keys that were challenging for his range, and gave up his cherished absinthe for a bit. "It screws with your focus and makes you gain weight," he says. "I had to be at my fighting best."