How Marilyn Manson's Twiggy Ramirez Helped Emptiness Embrace Their Inner Goth
Stream the Belgian extreme metal chameleon' new album 'Not For Music,' and read Ramirez's thoughts on thrash metal, 'Star Wars,' and Twisted Sister
"You're gonna think I'm a poser for not knowing my stuff." Twiggy Ramirez is flipping through his phone, looking for an album by underground doom/sludge experimentalists The Body that he's currently into but can't remember the name of. (Turns out it's I Shall Die Here.) We're at a restaurant just a few doors down from Ramirez's place in West Hollywood, and I've just asked him what he's been listening to lately. As the longtime on-again, off-again, on-again bassist for Marilyn Manson, Ramirez—who goes by his real name Jeordie White when offstage—is also known for his previous high-profile exploits with A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails. What he's not necessarily known for is his obsession with black metal, which began in earnest a few years ago and has since culminated with a production credit on Not For Music, the forthcoming album from Belgian black metal bizarros Emptiness.
As we tucked into a delicious feast of mac-and-cheese, Caesar salad, and Arnold Palmers, I spoke with White about his work on the album as well as his love of Star Wars, Twisted Sister and black metal in general. "For my name to be involved in that genre of music is validating," he says. "I'm flattered and humbled to even be in that world."
We're delighted to be streaming said album in its entirety here on Noisey; press play, and read on for our conversation with Ramirez.
Noisey: How did you get into black metal?
Twiggy Ramirez: Well, there's a story that leads up to that. My musical roots are in thrash metal. I was in thrash metal bands from when I was 15 until I was 23, when I joined Marilyn Manson. Being a guitar player in the 80s, I could never really play leads. My left hand wasn't that good. But when I discovered thrash, I thought, "I can do that." My right hand could do that type of music. I was into Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Overkill, Anthrax—all those bands really inspired me as a musician because I couldn't do the Eddie Van Halen stuff that everyone was doing.
From there, I went back and discovered Venom and Celtic Frost—the original black metal. When thrash metal expanded into death metal and then into the black metal movement—especially in Norway—I never understood it. It just seemed like everything was becoming more extreme. Later on, I became a fan of ambient music—Brian Eno and Stars Of The Lid and different soundtracks—stuff where I didn't have to hear vocals because modern metal was becoming very whiny. I don't want to hear a kid complain about his problems or a girl.
Or about how the pool is dirty.
Exactly. As I've become older, I've become a little more existential with what I want to listen to. But I'm a huge Pink Floyd fan. They're my favorite band ever. Dark Side Of The Moon is my favorite album of all time. I'm sure it's lots of people's favorite—obviously it's one of the most popular records ever. But that's one of the first records I remember hearing as a kid, and it's a pretty fucked up record to hear as a child. It still sticks with me and scares me.
Does anyone else in Marilyn Manson listen to black metal?
I'm kind of the odd man out. I torture everybody with it. [Laughs]
How did you hook up with Emptiness?
I stumbled upon their last album, Nothing But The Whole, and the cover art really scared and inspired me. I don't know how I found it, but I listened to it and I really loved it. It sounded like how Pink Floyd makes me feel. The textures and ambient tones were really inspiring. Through that, I started researching other ambient black metal bands and eventually the original Norwegian black metal scene, which I never understood when it was happening. I just thought it was all makeup and shock. I liked the stories from Lords Of Chaos and all that—it was really intriguing—but the music never grabbed me. Emptiness made me go back and discover Mayhem and Darkthrone and especially Burzum. Varg is awesome. He's an interesting character and his records, to me, are mind-blowing. The atmosphere and lack of production just sounds like extreme pain.
So I really got into black metal. Right around this time—like maybe two years ago—Marilyn Manson had a tour booked and we just happened to be playing Norway. So I went to the birthplace, the old record store in Oslo [Helvete] and went down in the basement and saw the spray paint on the walls. Before going to Norway, I had ordered a T-shirt from Emptiness' website because I wanted that cover art on a shirt. They sent me an extra large when I had ordered a medium, so I emailed them about it and said, "I'm gonna be playing at the same festival as you guys soon." And they said, "Who is this?" So I told them I played for Marilyn Manson and they were like, "Holy shit! Why do you want one of our shirts?" So I explained to them that I was a big fan and that their album really made me appreciate black metal music. So we met at the festival and they asked if I'd be interested producing their new album. And I said yes.
Just like that?
Yeah, pretty much. We didn't know how we were going to do it at first, but they would send me tapes and I'd comment on them. I was more of a fan/advisor rather than being in the studio tuning drums and getting guitar tones.
What kind of things were you commenting on? Atmosphere? Song structure?
A little bit of all of that. I'd say, "I like this, but I don't know about that." Or, "I'd like to hear more of this part. Make it longer." When they finished recording, they asked me who I thought should mix it, so I asked Sean Beavan, who mixed Antichrist Superstar, and is a friend of mine. They were very excited about that because that probably wouldn't have happened without me being the bridge to that. So they flew out to Los Angeles and stayed at an Airbnb. We did a little post-production at my house, adding some atmospheres with my partner Zach Webb, who I write with. We added some keys and some Vangelis Blade Runner-type of stuff to the music. And then they mixed it with Sean.
But you mostly produced from afar.
Yeah. There are producers like Rick Rubin, who is kind of like an editor and a spiritual advisor. But I came at it like a fan because geographically I couldn't really engineer the album. I wasn't on the front lines recording the album with them, but I gave them my advice and told them what I wanted to hear. I can't speak for them, but I think my interest in their band kind of humbled them. It made them excited and surprised. And for them to even want to speak to me was humbling and flattering because my whole black metal obsession happened to so organically. But if I were to do something with them again, I'd want to be in the same room with them more. We did it mostly long-distance for circumstantial and financial reasons.
Were you surprised when they asked you to work with them?
Absolutely. It was very surprising and exciting. I've produced my own stuff at home because I have a little studio, and I've done a few remixes for Oasis, but I don't have a ton of experience producing other bands.
Oasis are a favorite of yours, aren't they?
Yep. The Oasis thing happened because their producer Dave Sardy is a friend of mine. I just told him, "I want to remix these songs. I don't care if they ask me or not. I'm gonna do it, and then I'm gonna press up vinyl in Mexico and just give them out to people." They thought that was so funny that they ended up using them as B-sides, which was huge from me.
Did you play on the Emptiness album at all?
I did some keys and guitars here and there, but I didn't do any writing. It was more textural stuff.
Had the band been to Los Angeles before?
I think this was their first time. We drove around and saw all the sights that people see when they first come to town, like the Hollywood sign and stuff like that. They tried to get me to go to Venice Beach, but I told them, "You guys should go, but if you live here, you don't go to Venice Beach." [Laughs] Or at least I don't.
Emptiness have been around since 1998, but they're an underground band. Do you think they were looking to you to help make them more commercially accessible?
I think they thought that my involvement in their project may bring some different listeners to them. I don't think they thought they'd break into the mainstream, but at least they could kind of separate themselves from other black metal bands, because there are tons. But I wouldn't even consider them strictly a black metal band. It's very ambient, a little gothy. One of the reasons I wanted to work with them was so I could learn. They might have wanted to work with me to have me teach them something, but I was actually the one who was schooled. I did it because I wanted to learn how they do it and understand the process more. I wanted to learn their secret.
So what's the secret?
[Laughs] I don't even really know what it is. I think it's just some of the timing and spacing of their sounds. It's not always on the one. They push and pull. The placing and the panning of the textures is cool. I'm a huge Tangerine Dream fan, too—their early 70s stuff—and what Emptiness do kind of reminds me of that.
How do you feel about the end result?
I love it. It's strange to have some involvement in that album because I don't really listen to records that I'm involved in. For instance, I'm a huge Star Wars fan and I'd love to be in a Star Wars movie, but then it would kind of take away the mystique if I was a stormtrooper or something. So it's odd to have my name on something I'm a huge fan of, especially because I came to black metal so late in the game.
Speaking of Star Wars , I know you're an enthusiast of the films. What did you think of The Force Awakens ?
I loved it. Again with the music: I loved the way it made me feel. I thought the characters were great. Rey made me feel like Luke Skywalker did when I was a kid. I thought Kylo Ren was such a unique and complex character. I identified with a lot of the characters—Finn was a good one. Plus there's TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo! [Laughs] Star Wars has been a constant to me. It impacted me so much when I was a kid and was very inspirational to me. I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I've been chasing that high ever since. And I cannot wait to see Rogue One this week.
You've got a podcast with former Marilyn Manson bass player Fred Sablan called Hour Of Goon. How did that get started?
It started when I was asked to be on a Star Wars podcast called The Force Cult. I was asked to be a guest and then asked to be a full-time member. Then my wife and some friends encouraged me to do one of my own, but I let it stew for about a year. Then one day I decided to do it, so I called my friend Fred Sablan and we recorded one. It was fun—it was like making cassette tapes when I was a kid and I would pretend I'm Ronnie James Dio and my friend was a journalist and I'd answer his questions. Or making mixing tapes as I got older. So I wanted to make the podcast more like a song or an album. I'd build a little piece of noise to introduce the podcast or put different sounds under certain stories we're telling to put us sonically in that place. It's almost like Dr. Demento or an old Cheech & Chong record or something. It's really satisfying. We usually don't get too personal, but it's almost like a therapy session every week where we can talk about stuff.
Last but not least, I know you're a big Twisted Sister fan. I read somewhere that you did a Twisted Sister set with Dee Snider back in the 90s.
Those first two Twisted Sister records— Under The Blade and You Can't Stop Rock N' Roll—are amazing. Actually, Dee married my wife and I a couple years ago. But back in '94 or '95, when Marilyn Manson was opening up for Nine Inch Nails on The Downward Spiral tour, Robin Finck was the guitar player for Nine Inch Nails. He and I were in the same age group, and it was our first big tour. We were playing these huge places, and we had this moment where it was like, "This is like 'The Price' video!" You know what I mean? [Laughs] "Look at us—we're at soundcheck!"
So we'd learn these Twisted Sister songs, and kind of as a joke we said, "Let's have management contact Dee Snider and say we want to do a club gig with him!" Just to see what he says, you know? He thought we were fucking with him at first, but he eventually said yes. So we learned like six or seven Twisted Sister songs and did a club gig in New York City with no rehearsals. We called it SMF, like the Twisted Sister fan club. It was a fuckin' riot. But we re-established our relationship years later and I asked him to marry my wife and I because she's a huge Twisted Sister fan. Things like that make life interesting.
Cover photo by Monty Jay/mjph0to
Emptiness photos courtesy of Season of Mist