By Jon Wiederhorn
Summer musical festivals are often sweltering, sweaty events full of sunburned and dehydrated fans. This year's Rockstar Energy Mayhem fest has been no exception. Since the event launched in San Bernardino, Calif. on June 29, audiences and performers have endured temperatures in the high 90s. In many cities, the humidity was still stifling at 10 p.m. when co-headliner Rob Zombie took the stage. As uncomfortable as it's been for Zombie, this is not the hottest series of shows he's ever played.
"The hottest I've ever been onstage was Ozzfest 2006," he said from his dressing room in Holmdel, New Jersey. "We were somewhere in Texas. There was a heat wave. And that was the year I came up with the brilliant idea to headline the second stage. I went up to Ozzy and Sharon [Osbourne] and said, "I don't want to play the main stage this year." Ozzy said, 'Oh, you're gonna hate it. Don't do it.' I convinced him, but I didn't take into account how hot it would be. I was wearing sneakers and the stage was so hot, the bottom of my shoes melted. I was jumping around and I started blacking out. It was like a Warner Bros. cartoon, where the birds were tweeting around my head."
Despite the oppressive heat, Zombie and his band mates have been enjoying the Mayhem tour, which features main-stage acts Five Finger Death Punch, Mastodon and Amon Amarth as well as an eclectic array of second stage groups, including Machine Head, Emmure, Children of Bodom, Job For a Cowboy and Battlecross. Because of the musical diversity of the event, Zombie is playing a combination of his heaviest songs and his biggest hits in a concise, theatrical package.
"I love playing to as many people as possible, but we can't play as long as we usually do," he said. "The production is big, but we can't vary from the set list as much as we might on other shows. And it's kind of funny, because it's a metal festival and we're playing last, but we're probably the least metal band of the day. That's a little weird, but the crowds have been great."
Zombie is promoting his latest album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, and during the Holmdel show he played a handful of new songs, including "Theme For the Rat Vendor," "Dead City Radio," "The New Gods of Supertown," and "Teenage Nosferatu P****." Unlike the more musically precise tracks from his 2006 album Educated Horses and 2010's Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool, the songs on Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor are raw, simple and immediate, making them reminiscent of those on Zombie's first two albums, 1998's Hellbilly Deluxe and 2001's The Sinister Urge.
"In the early years of having a band, you really want your records to sound good and you can't figure out how to do that," Zombie explained. "And then after a few records, it gets too easy to sound good and they sound almost too good. When I listened back to the last couple of records, I realized it had become so easy to make the records sound slick; they started seeming lifeless. I was bored with them. So with this record I said, 'Let’s make this more immediate. Let's leave in the mistakes, let's leave in the feedback, use nastier sounds. Let's not try to make everything perfect.'"
Producer Bob Marlette recorded Zombie's vocals quickly and spontaneously, often drawing from the immediacy of a first take even if it wasn't exactly ideal. "I wanted to feel the way you used to feel when you only had so much studio time and you had to get it done," Zombie said. "Everyone has told me, 'Oh, it feels much more alive, it doesn't feel like you went in and overworked everything.' I always liked records that sounded kind of crappy. All my favorite bands didn't make perfect recordings. I'd rather hear Misfits than Def Leppard."
Even though Zombie is still in the middle of touring for Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, and is getting ready to continue working on his next film "Broad Street Bullies," he's already planning record his next album with his current lineup, guitarist John 5, bassist Piggy D and drummer Ginger Fish. "We have a lot of stuff we didn't finish from the last record," Zombie said. "There are songs I wanted to finish, but once we got to a certain point I went, 'Okay, that’s enough.' I tend to shut down psychologically after I know have an album's worth of material. I can't go, 'Let’s record 30 songs and pick the best 10.' Once I know there's a full album, I'm like, 'Eh, okay. I'm done.'"
At the moment, Zombie has no concrete plans to re-enter the studio to record, but he wants to release the follow-up to Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor before full albums become obsolete — which, he says, may be sooner rather than later. "I still believe in the album format myself and will keep making records, but I don't know if the rest of the world believes in it. I’m thinking the day of the EP is upon us. Because as a musician, you go in there, you write 10 or 12 songs and you think, 'Well, six of these are going to be lost forever.' Maybe you can get people to get one or two songs into their heads, but after that, it seems like things just get forgotten and that's a lot of work to be thrown away record after record."