Interview from guitar school-December 1995

Interview from guitar school-December 1995


by Sam Retzer

As heirs apparent to the shock-rock throne, Marilyn Manson are making parents nervous from coast to coast. Daisy Berkowitz talks about working with Trent Reznor and gives us the skinny on his role as guitarist for the dark side's house band.

Alice Cooper's Glen Buxton, Spider from Mars Mick Ronson, Black Flag's Greg Ginn and the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones. Chances are, these names aren't at the top of most people's lists of influential guitar players. But they all have one thing in common: they were key players in bands that were among the most shocking and irreverent of their time. Unfortunately, they also share the fate of having been overshadowed by charismatic frontmen.

In the past year, guitarist Daisy Berkowitz has taken the stage night after night with Marilyn Manson, a band (and a like-named singer) whose outrageous live performances have produced everything from onstage fellatio to unrehearsed pyrotechnics on syndicated television. And while the group may
have yet to attain the notoriety shared by Alice Cooper or the Sex Pistols, their debut album, PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY (Nothing/Interscope), has cemented their reputation as one of the moral majority's worst nightmares.

Far from sulking around like a neglected sideman, Berkowitz (a la Son of Sam) seems content with
his position as team player and sole guitarist for one of the most ungodly mixes of mascara and the macabre ever to infiltrate adolescent Walkmans. While his sleazy, industro-crunch style is the cornerstone of Marilyn's sound, the bulk of the attention directed at the band so far has been focused on their vocalist's role as the newest pied piper of disenfranchised youth, and on the band's Nine Inch Nails connection - in addition to co-producing their album, Trent Reznor inked the band to his new

Interscope subsidiary, Nothing. But behind the smoke and mirrors of hype, Marilyn Manson is still just a rock and roll band. In fact, Berkowitz seems more intent on helping the band carve out its own niche than on extending the shock-rock legacy of his forefathers. In his first solo interview, Daisy gives us the lowdown on life in the Manson family as he and his cohorts preach the gospel on their current headlining tour with Clutch.

GUITAR SCHOOL: Marilyn Manson has toured in support of the industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails and the no-frills metal of Danzig. Where do you feel most comfortable?

DAISY BERKOWITZ: When we were out with Danzig, we played to a lot of crowds that had a disproportionate amount of kids there to see us. But the exposure we got by doing the stint with Nine Inch Nails brought us a lot of attention. It was a good chance for us to play for people who would never have heard us otherwise.

GS: How do you fit into Marilyn Manson's outrageous live performances?

BERKOWITZ: I'm happy with the way everyone presents themselves onstage. I don't feel left out because of all the activity around me and I don't force myself to do something drastically new, musically speaking, to compete. We're playing the same songs, the same way, that we have for years.

GS: What demographic is the band's sound aimed at?

BERKOWITZ: We don't have a "target" audience. Each member of the band has varied influences,and the same diversity is reflected in our fanbase. There are kids out there that are into Iron Maiden and others who are strictly into industrial music, but they come for the same reason; they all like us and they different things out of the band's music. It's great, because different groups of kids can laugh at each other and still enjoy the show.

GS: Your playing on PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY, though it has some odd twists draws heavily from the palm-muted riffing style pioneered by more straightforward metal bands.

BERKOWITZ: Well, I didn't really grow up playing or listening to metal, like many of the kids I went to school with. I only got into it in my late teens, so when Marilyn Manson formed, it was at a time when I was still excited about approaching music from that angle. I just saw metal as another tool for me to use.

GS: Do you think the death metal environment of Tampa Bay influenced the band in any way?

BERKOWITZ: Tampa's significance to us was that it was the first place that we had really played out of town, and it was heavily rooted in the death metal scene. Most of it sounded so similar that you could listen to one band and have a good idea of every other band remotely like it. The Tampa scene definitely has something to offer, but with so many similar-sounding bands in one place, anything that comes out of there is going to be assumed to be of that style.

GS: Marilyn Manson has often been falsely categorized in that genre.

BERKOWITZ: Journalists often hone in on the heavier aspects of our music, like "Cyclops" for example. If that's what they like, and that's how they can relate to the band, that's fine.

GS: Legend has it that before you and Manson teamed up, you were following a quite differentmusical path.

BERKOWITZ: I'd played in about four or five bands before we started up, only a couple of which did club dates. One of those involved a girl and myself - she wrote the lyrics and I backed her up with guitar and drum machine. We were like psychedelic folk combined with Sonic Youth's noise. It was weird, but we did it for fun, and nobody in the area had heard that sort of thing before.

GS: Did being part of the circle of musicians involved with the Nothing label and having Trent Reznor as a producer encourage you to push the guitar's sonic envelope?

BERKOWITZ: I'm always open to running through all kinds of crazy gear, and Trent has a lot of "toys" to play with. Experimenting with different sounds is great, but when it comes down to it, you're still playing a guitar. If you make it sound too much like a synth, it will just sound like a guitar part played on a synth. So there's a gray area between processing and overprocessing. It's fun, and it always has its applications, but once it crosses the line and starts sounding like something else, then it's kind of weird.

GS: What equipment did you and he use in the studio?

BERKOWITZ: Trent likes to record guitars direct, whereas I've always preferred playing through an amplifier. A Peavey Bandit 65 that I've had for nine years is still my favorite thing to record with. Micing it from two different angles in front of the speaker sounds huge, and it's so simple. For PORTRAIT, we also used a Marshall head and cabinet, but I actually got better distortion out of the Bandit. Presently, I'm using a Peavey 5150 120-watt head with two Marshall cabinets, and I'm very happy with that.

GS: Except for the occasional wah used as a tone filter, your sound is fairly straightforward.

BERKOWITZ: It all begins with the initial tone coming from the cabinet, but EQ at the board is very important. I have a bunch of different guitars that I can choose from, and then it's just a question of which of two amps I want to use. Live, I use a Jackson Dinky with a Bill Lawrence L-500-XL pickup, which is also one of my main studio guitars. Occasionally, I'll use a Teisco Del Rey that has four pickups that can be used in any comination, which sounds great for the really chunky parts. But my main guitar is a Yamaha RGX model that's been through about eight paint jobs. I've finally settled on a rich red with a devil's face whose mouth is around the bridge pickup. Nobody seems to play Yamaha electrics, but it's the best guitar I own.

GS: Do you consider yourself a gearhead?

BERKOWITZ: I'm open to getting more equipment, but I really won't have time to look into that until after the tour. I have about nine guitars in all, so obviously I'm into collecting. I even have a Harmony Rocket and a Stratocaster with a scalloped neck back in Florida.

GS: Will you be performing new material on the road?

BERKOWITZ: We'll only be playing four new songs live, but all the material for the next album is basically finished. It's just up in the air as to when we'll have time to record it.

GS: What has influenced the band's sound since the first album? What differences can we expect?

BERKOWITZ: It wouldn't be fair to pick, say, three bands, and say that they influence us, because that wouldn't do justice to the music. There will be some tracks on the next album which that will consist of mostly noise and feedback, whereas others may just have guitar parts and samples. We're approaching things quite differently this time, but it will still sound like Marilyn Manson. It won't be a case of, "Oh wow, now it's all punk material," or something. We're not making a stylistic shift to any one area, but we're still going to do something new.

GS: Marilyn Manson has either been heralded as the shock rock revivalists of the Nineties, or condemned as a harmful influence on youth. Would you rather people not be shaken by the band's attitude, or is that not a major concern for you?

BERKOWITZ: What you hear about the band is always going to be more disturbing than any particular song. It's like tabloid news programs that talk about how horrible something is, while at the same time they're glorifying it as their top story. If it's so terrible, why are they drawing attention to it? I think enthusiasm for our music will be the spark that ignites the fire under the people that hate it and think we're a bad influence on kids. But hey, either you get it or you don't.

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