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Nothing shocking

Marilyn Manson steps out of the darkness and into the light



It's 2015 and Marilyn Manson is more or less a new man.

In years past, the shock-rock icon born 46 years ago as Brian Warner in Canton, Ohio, was legendary for his nocturnal lifestyle. He would sleep during the day and wake just as the sun gave way to darkness, then fill his nights with partying and various other forms of debauchery, at least when he wasn't working on music or some other artistic pursuit.

"I used to think that 3 a.m. was the time when my brain was most creative," says Manson. "And it usually WAS. Because for me there were no phones ringing, there was no one else around."

But Manson's schedule has flipped, thanks in large part to the one-two punch of his two main ventures of 2014: the making of a new album, The Pale Emperor, and a recurring role as a white supremacist convict in the popular cable series Sons of Anarchy.

It was while recording the song called "Birds of Hell Awaiting" — done in the light of afternoon, no less — that Manson realized his old habits had been holding him back.

"It was the first take, and I just sang it," he recalls. "I didn't even know where the music was going to go. I just went with it, and it was very organic. And then it opened up a whole different part of my mind, my life. It essentially transformed me.

"Just making this record, I flipped my life upside down really quickly, having to get up at 5 a.m. for Sons of Anarchy," adds Manson. "So my schedule became completely opposite of what it used to be, which was fun for me because other people were confused. They're like, 'Oh, he's not going to be able to do that.' And I like to prove people wrong."

The radical time-shift wasn't the only significant change surrounding The Pale Emperor. Manson was also working without his primary songwriting collaborator.

On most of the eight prior studio albums, Manson's main creative foil had been guitarist/bassist Twiggy Ramirez. This time around, he worked with composer Tyler Bates, who is best known for his work on soundtracks that include last year's blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Manson said he met Bates at a wrap party for the show Californication in 2013, where Bates brought up the idea of collaborating.

An initial session failed — something about being stuck in a small warehouse space with a girl singing in a shrill voice killing the vibe. But later on Bates suggested that Manson stop by his studio to give things another try. With Bates playing guitar and Manson singing, the two immediately connected and the album was completed in three months.

Manson's career path to becoming shock-rock's elder statesman first gained traction with the release of 1994's Portrait of an American Family album. Afterward, Manson and his band went out with Nine Inch Nails as part of their Downward Spiral tour, which brought Manson's outrageous stage persona to the attention of a national audience.

In fact, unconventional behavior, sensational tales and a willingness to test limits have been constants with Manson ever since he formed the first version of his band, as Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids, in 1989 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Donning vivid makeup and engaging in all manner of shocking onstage behavior at its early shows, the group soon gained a notorious reputation around its South Florida home base.

The controversy didn't hurt Marilyn Manson's career. The band's early albums — American Family, 1996's Antichrist Superstar, 1998's Mechanical Animals and 2000's Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) — each sold in the millions, while Manson fueled the outrage of religious and other like-minded groups with his own escapades.

In 1994, Manson met Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey and said he had become a minister of that church. He also spread a rumor that he had lower ribs removed so he could pleasure himself sexually. On one tour, he routinely cut himself across his chest during shows —much as Iggy Pop did decades earlier — turning the concerts into a bit of a bloody spectacle.

In more recent years, the fuss surrounding Manson seemed to have died down, as albums like 2007's Eat Me, Drink Me and 2009's The High End of Low failed to generate the controversy (or album sales) of past releases.

But controversy flared up again last fall when a video directed by Eli Roth surfaced. It included footage from two earlier Marilyn Manson videos, and featured a scene in which Roth simulated raping singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey.

Manson's camp quickly responded that he had nothing to do with the video. Manson himself has further elaborated that he, Roth and Del Rey attempted to do a video, but he bailed from the project. In one interview, Manson was quoted as saying he dropped out because Del Rey was "being such a problem," a statement he denies.

"I was misquoted by saying that she was difficult on set. It was not on set. We were talking about doing something and it didn't happen. But what was released was nothing to do with Marilyn Manson or a video concept of mine," says Manson. "And what was filmed, I neither condone or not condone. It didn't really have anything to do with Marilyn Manson.

"And it was improper for the person who edited it into my videos to make it seem like it did. I was only upset with that person and no one else. And I'm sure that Eli Roth and her were more upset than me, so let's leave it at that."

Aside from the Del Rey video, things have seemed calm in the lead-up to The Pale Emperor. In fact, much of the attention has centered on the album's quality. Its songs take Marilyn Manson's sound in a noticeably more bluesy rock direction, with big beats, heavy bass lines and fat, catchy guitar riffs all powering the music.

Meanwhile, the album artwork and the videos released for the songs "Cupid Carries a Gun" and "Deep Six" — aside from some artful partial nudity in the latter video — seem tame by Manson's standards. But he hinted he may soon return to his familiar tricks. "Well, I've just given the tip so far," he says.

Perhaps some of that twisted spectacle will unfold on tour this winter.

"As far as what's going to happen, I don't know until it happens," Manson says cryptically enough, although he does reveal that it will evoke two sides of the deep South — the voodoo of the Louisiana swamps with the evangelical fervor of some of the region's churches. "But I know visually it's not going to be like any of the Marilyn Manson shows we've done before. We're not going to regurgitate or cannibalize anything I've done prior to this."

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