Zombie, Rob (Contemporary Musicians)
One of the most recognizable figures in the world of hard rock, Rob Zombie follows in the ghoulish footsteps of musicians that have mashed theatrical rock into a macabre mix of audiovisual stimuli. Zombie has sold millions of records, won an MTV video music award, and even ventured into horror films and comic books. Since 1985 the multitalented monster-loving frontman has translated the loud, gross, and gory into visual spectacles with unique soundtracks.
Rob Zombie was born Robert Cummings on January 12, 1965, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Although he may have not initially envisioned himself a musician, he knew, even as a youngster, that he was determined to avoid the mundane. As the dread-headed singer explained to Stuff Magazine, "I always knew since I was a kid that all I ever wanted to do was make movies, draw comics, work in a wax museum, or wear a big animal suit at Disney... I just knew I wanted to do something like that. I never had any aspirations to do something that wasn't fun." Influenced by late 1960s kitsch horror programs like The Munsters and The Addams Family as well as theatrical shock rockers of the 1970s such as Alice Cooper and Kiss, Cummings always intended to find a way to parlay his unique interests into a career.
Immediately after graduating from high school, Cummings moved to New York's seedy lower east side. He took a series of jobs to pay the rent, including layout for a soft-core pornographic magazine, Celebrity Sleuth, and work as a production assistant for the then-popular children's television show Pee Wee's Playhouse. Cummings met Sean Yseult in 1985, and the two became romantically involved. The two formed White Zombie, with Cummings, now known as Rob Zombie, on vocals, and Yseult, who had no previous musical experience, on bass; completing the original line-up were musicians Tom Guay on guitar and Ivan de Prume on drums.
Named after a 1932 Bela Lugosi horror film, White Zombie meshed metal with monster affection and stomped through New York's rock scene, attracting much attention from both clubgoers and the local press. Zombie, who was inspired by both horror and theatrics, knew from the outset the importance of visuals to rock acts. As Zombie explained to City Link Magazine years later, "You can't have a great rock band with no visuals. Just like you can't have a great rock band with only visuals. If you look back through the history of rock music whether it's Elvis or The Beatles or Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix or Kiss. Musically they were great but visually they were great too. They had it covered on every level."
Marketing themselves, however, was another problem. When White Zombie formed in the early eighties, few groupsith the exception of well-known acts such as the Misfits and the Crampsere doing highly visual performances. Regardless, White Zombie put out two singles and several works on their own label, Silent Explosion, prior to being discovered by independent Caroline Records who put out their next few releases.
After releasing the independent LP Make Them Die Slowly, the group embarked on a European tour, which they followed with the 1989 EP God of Thunder. The release got the attention of executives at Geffen Records, and the group signed a recording contract in 1990. White Zombie's major label debut, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1, was released in 1992. The band's B-movie slasher magic fused with metal riffs made their first single "Thunder Kiss '65" a staple on MTV and propelled the album into the top 40. To support the album, White Zombie embarked on an ambitious tour, playing more than 350 shows. The album eventurally went platinum, and "Thunder Kiss '65" was nominated for a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.
The band's 1995 triple-platinum follow-up, Astro Creep: 2000, Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head debuted on the top ten album charts and stayed there for over two months before retreating to the Billboard Top 200, where it sat for over 89 weeks. A single from the album, "More Human than Human" was nominated for a Grammy, and won an MTV Video Music Award. Supersexy Swinging Sounds, which featured Astro-Creep remixes, arrived in 1996 and went platinum as well.
Zombie, who had creative control of the band's ventures, directing their videos and designing both artwork and stage shows, began to branch out on his own. While still on tour for Astro Creep, he worked with cartoonist Mike Judge on the 1996 movie Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, a film version of the popular television series of the same name that prominently featured the band. Zombie performed "The Great American Nightmare" on the Private Parts soundtrack with shock-rock deejay Howard Stern and sang "The Hands of Death" with horror-rock legend Alice Cooper on Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by "The X-Files." The latter was nominated for a Grammy and competed against (unsuccessfully) against yet another Zombie track, "I'm Your Boogieman" from the platinum soundtrack to The Crow: City of Angels.
Resentment began to build among White Zombie members, and the tension and burnout from being together for over 10 years eventually split the group. Zombie and drummer John Tempesta left to form their own act, with Zombie now in total control. Although the sound changed slightly, he kept his loud, horror-rock theatrical edge, much to the delight of his fans. "When White Zombie broke up it was at the height of the band's success, not on its way down," explained Zombie to the Jersey Alive. "That in itself is kind of a crazy thing to do, because you work your whole life to get somewhere and then it falls apart right at that moment. So going solo was tough to do but it worked out great. I have no complaints."
In 1998 Zombie released his first solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International, which immediately went into the Billboard top five and eventually sold over three million copies. With his theatrical rants and extravagant stage show, Rob Zombie was just as successful solo as he'd been with his band. To promote Hellbilly, Zombie joined the multiact metal tour Ozzfest in 1999.
In April of 2000 Zombie began to write and direct House of 1000 Corpses, featuring cult movie stars Karen Black, Sid Haig, and Michael J. Pollard. The studio, however, claimed the violent, sadistic film would require an NC-17 rating, which they refused to accept. Zombie was skeptical. "I was really upfront with them," he told the Guardian. "They had the script ... They saw the dailies.... [I]t's not like they didn't know what I was doing." Universal stood their ground and refused to release the film.
Undeterred, Zombie went back to the studio in 2001 to record his new album Sinister Urge (named for a 1961 Ed Wood crime flick). Boasting an impressive list of guest performers including Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, and Slayer guitarist Kerry King among others the album debuted at number 11 on the Billboard chart, confirming Zombie's consistent popularity. He took his show on the road, embarking on the Merry Mayhem tour with the legendary Ozzy Osbourne.
In 2003 Lions Gate Entertainment agreed to release Night of 1000 Corpses, fulfilling Zombie's dream and scoring major points with his fans, although it was panned by the critics. (Zombie began to work on the sequel in 2004.) In 2003 Zombie also released a greatest hits collection and launched his own comic book line, Rob Zombie's Spook Show International.
Although some have accused him of building on his exaggerated image, Zombie argues that he's simply being true to himself. "I try never to portray myself as something that isn't me. Onstage it's kind of a hyped up version of myself because I'm trying to reach the guy on the lawn but I am trying to keep it real because it's hard to live some lie." Zombie continues to remain a formidable spook in the haunted house of heavy metal.
With White Zombie
Soul Crusher, Caroline, 1987.
Make Them Die Slowly, Caroline, 1988.
God of Thunder (EP), Caroline, 1989.
La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1, Geffen, 1992.
Astro Creep 2000: Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head, Geffen, 1995.
Super Sexy Swingin' Sounds (remix), Geffen, 1996.
Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International, Geffen, 1998.
American Made Music to Strip By, Interscope, 1999.
Sinister Urge, Universal, 2001.
Past, Present, and Future (compilation), Geffen, 2003.
Blender, January/February 2002.
Chicago Sun Times, December 8, 2001.
Circus Magazine, March 26, 2002.
Citi-Link, November 21, 2001.
College Times, April 9-15, 2003.
Daily Variety, March 20, 2002; May 8, 2003; December 9, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, March 14, 2003; April 4, 2003.
Guardian (London), September 19, 2003.
Guitar World, January 2002.
Hit Parader, January 2002.
Hollywood Reporter, May 8, 2003; October 10, 2003.
Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2002.
Meltdown, October/December 2001.
Metal Edge, February 2002.
Request, October/December 2001.
Rolling Stone, December 12, 2001; November 27, 2003.
Record, December 21, 2001.
Transworld Stance, May 2002.
"Movies Put the R back in Horror," Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/ (July 14, 2003).
"Rob Zombie to Write Comic about Bigfoot, Sinister Metal Band," MTV, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1481061/20031211/zombie_ro... (December 12, 2003).
"Rob Zombie's New Creep Show," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/news/newsarticle.asp?nid=19077 (December 12, 2003).
"Rob Zombie's 'Spookshow' 1 & 2 Sells Out, Series Goes Monthly," Comic Book Resources, http://www.comicbookresources.com/news/printthis.cgi?id=3069 (December 19, 2003).
"Six Debuts Rocket to Top of the Charts," New York Daily News, (October 2, 2003).
"Un-Dead Head," New York Post, (April 19, 2003).