There's a reason Rob Zombie has been so successful as a horror-movie director: He knows how to build suspense and how to keep a secret until it's time to spring it on fans. When interviewed for this story a few weeks ago and asked why his forthcoming album Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool was being delayed from a mid-November release to early 2010, he said nothing about switching labels.
"We pushed it back a couple of weeks because we had run into scheduling conflicts," he says. "I tried to plan the ending of the press on Halloween II and leading into the tour and the record perfectly, but it just became too crunched. We looked at it one day and said, 'We need a couple of extra weeks to get this done.' We had no time to make a video, no time for anything and it just became a fiasco. So as much as I hate moving things, because I'm excited to get it out there, I was like 'Ah, screw it.' Because the single's out there, we're going on tour, it's kind of the same. So we just bumped the record a couple of weeks."
It's going to be a couple of months, actually, and there will be a major change. After nearly 20 years (White Zombie's debut, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, was released in 1992), he's left Geffen Records for Roadrunner's new Loud & Proud imprint, also home to Sammy Hagar, Ratt, Tommy Lee's rap-metal nightmare Methods of Mayhem and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The shift may surprise fans, not only because Zombie remains more creatively relevant than most of his new labelmates (with Hagar the sole possible exception), but also because he recently made a statement many misread as his retirement from music.
"I'll keep making records," he explains. "I mean, l love it. The problem is, I posted something online, and no matter how clearly you word something, everyone misinterprets it. What I said was, this could most likely be the last CD. You know, like a packaged CD. Because a lot of people were saying, 'Ah, by this time next year we won't even be manufacturing these damn things!' Which maybe was ringing the death bell too early. But that's what I meant. I was just saying that I wanted to make the packaging and presentation of this album as elaborate as possible, for fear that by the time I go to make my next record, people would be like, 'Oh, we don't even press those things anymore.'"
Two HB2 songs, "What?" and "Sick Bubble-Gum," have already been released, and they indeed sound more like Zombie's 1998 solo debut than his last studio album, 2006's Educated Horses. "I had the idea of making Hellbilly Deluxe 2 because I always thought that would be cool, but I wasn't gonna force that title on any record that we made." Once the album was in the can, he lived with it for a few months before deciding that it deserved the title of sequel.
In addition to being his first record on a new label, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is a landmark in another way. It's the first album Zombie recorded with his longtime road band: guitarist John 5, bassist Piggy D. and drummer Tommy Clufetos. He's extremely happy about that: "It finally feels like the situation you always hope for that never seems to materialize — a band of guys that are all friends and they're all musically on the same page, working together."
Having that sort of tight-knit group will make it easier to get back on the road for the first time since a co-headlining tour with Ozzy Osbourne in 2007. With the exception of a bare-bones turn headlining the second stage of Ozzfest in 2005, Zombie's concerts have always been visual spectacles as much as musical events, and this year's outing promises to live up to that legacy. The one thing that will be missing is the huge jets of flame that have been frowned upon since the tragic 2003 Great White concert inferno.
"I gotta tell you, man, it's almost impossible to get a pyro license these days," he says. "I wanted to do pyro, and we kept going through the list of places, and it was like, no, no, no, no. And these were places I'd done pyro every time I've gone there. It's so rare that someone will grant you a license to do it. And they'll come up with the most ridiculous excuses like, 'You can't use propane in the venue.' I'm like, what are you talking about? Every forklift, every vendor that's cooking the hot dogs is using propane. We're the only people that have licensed people doing it. Our people are more qualified than the people in the venue. And they're like, 'Well, we don't care.'"
Zombie's solution is to replace flame with video projections, lasers and LCD screens. "It's a pretty mind-blowing show, it just doesn't revolve around fire in your face," he says. "But no one's gonna miss it because this other stuff more than makes up for it."
While the two new songs will almost certainly make it into the live set, fans shouldn't expect a big dose of unfamiliar material. "I do not go out on tour and say, 'Here's five new songs off the new record that nobody gives a shit about yet,'" laughs Zombie. "We'll play the single and maybe one other song, but you want to play all the songs from all the other records that people love. 'Cause nothing's worse than an entire night of new stuff. I hate that, and I think most people do."
Once he gets off the road, Zombie will get back to his other career as a movie director. What may surprise fans is that — like horror heroes John Carpenter and Wes Craven before him — he's hoping to expand beyond the genre that made his name. "I don't know what the next movie is," he says, "But if it's the movie I want it to be, it's not gonna be a horror movie. I find that the horror genre can be actually too limiting, because it comes with its own set of baggage and rules and clichés that I don't want to deal with. And you can break away from that more in other genres."