MOUNTED BABOON HEADS. COCAINE BAGS. DOLLS. DIRTY KNICKERS. AND A CAT CALLED LILY.
WELCOME, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, TO MARILYN MANSON'S HOUSE...
TO GET to Marilyn Manson's house you take a left on Sunset Boulevard and head north on Highland Avenue. You wind your way up a hill behind the famous Hollywood Bowl and, when the road seems to go no further, you drive on for another few yards until you get to the last house on the right.
The sense of not quite knowing where you're going is heightened by the starless, 1AM sky above - for Manson is a nocturnal beast and prefers those who come to meet him to be the same. Rising when others are settling down to bed, a glass of absinthe serves as his morning cuppa.
Behind and below, far down the hill, the lights of Los Angeles glitter and glimmer. Above, somewhere, the famous Hollywood sign looms. In front is a wrought iron gateway; chez Manson lies beyond.
By the time you read this, he will have moved on from this rented house. His landlord will, presumably, be having a heart attack right about now, because what lies within is not for the faint-hearted.
The front door is opened by an assistant and it leads into a large hallway, with sunken living room beyond. On the stereo, Manson's new album, The High End Of Low, plays at tasteful volume.
"Do you mind if I leave it on?" comes a voice from the candlelit gloom.
"Otherwise I can hear the rest of the voices in my head."
It's a suitably eerie introduction and, given the shadowy interior of the house, an apparently appropriate one. But it also belies the Manson mood today because, dressed in leather trousers, t-shirt and peculiarly fringed hooded top, the man known by some as The God Of Fuck is in particularly fine, friendly and human form today.
At times self-effacing, at times mischievous, at times vulnerable, this evening he is somehow very far from the cartoonish billing with which he's been described: the antichrist inspiration to high-school killers or, to paraphrase the film The Life Of Brian, with whose protagonist he shares a Christian name, a very naughty boy.
He's draped on a low slung leather sofa, itself further draped in a fur rug. Hanging on the wall by the door is a prosthetic leg. Above that, on the opposite wall, sit the mounted heads of two baboons, serving as gatekeepers to the living room.
There's a kitchen to the right and, to the left, up a short flight of stairs, lies Manson's bedroom. The house is spacious but nothing like as big as you might expect. In fact, what's really striking about the place is the mess. There is stuff everywhere. Piles of books, CDs, stereo equipment, wires and film lights lie scattered all around, clutter which, in the half-light, is hard to identify.
"Is it worse than you expected?" he asks.
"Or just confusing? I'm aware of what people might think of the place."
In one corner are two antique wheelchairs, their various straps, levers and restraints more ominous when picked out by the flickering candles making a half-hearted effort to illuminate the place. Lily, Manson's cat, leaps coquettishly around, purring and issuing flirtatious attention to anyone but Manson himself.
"She's kind of pissed off," he shrugs.
"She's mad because I've ignored her for the last couple of days in the pursuit of other women."
She's the only cat he has left after his ex-wife Dita Von Teese reclaimed those that shared the pair's former house. Meanwhile his on-off-on girlfriend, the 21-year-old actress Evan Rachel Wood, took back another cat, Charlie, when the pair split in November.
"Girls like to catnap cats from me. That's what they do," says Manson, more light-heartedly than might be expected.
IT'S EVIDENCE of other girls that can be found in Mansonís bedroom. Next to a bed that may, on closer inspection, actually be just a mattress on the floor, is a bedside table. On top of that, draped over a small lamp, a pair of dirty white knickers lurk. You'd bet on there being more in here but it's impossible to tell because this is the epicentre of the Manson mess, the ground zero of the anarchy of books, electrical chords, records, pictures, clothes, plastic bags, lamps, fans and who-knows-what-else that cloak the carpet in a chaos.
"It's a pigsty, Manson," you tell him and he laughs.
"I know, I know," he replies.
"It looks like a serial killer lives here."
He's right. Hanging from the doorway is a large plastic sheet; the sort in which you might bury a corpse.
"It is very conspicuously something you wrap bodies in," he agrees.
"When I bring people back here who I don't know I have to say, 'Honestly, I'm not going to bury you in the back yard. I swear I'm not going to kill you'."
It's not the only thing that might worry a potential Manson conquest. Scrawled in a madman's hand across all of the white walls - and here lies the source of his landlord's future freak-out - are the singer's deepest, darkest thoughts in black letters, sometimes a foot high.
There are lyrics, ideas, abuse, drawings, scribbles and, in one case, a direction to his poor assistant to put his books on the wall. There's a human jawbone, a doll and a gap in which the word 'vacancy' is written after, in a rage, Manson knocked a prized frame containing a Death's Head Hawkmoth from the wall.
"The first thing I wrote was 'Now I really [heart] you'," he explains, presumably in reference to Wood.
"That was on a day where I thought things were good. Then, suddenly, things went bad. So I tried to correct it to 'Now I really have to kill you'."
Beneath that is an A3 scrap of paper on which 14 empty cocaine bags are taped.
"That's my modern art piece, entitled Week One," he sniggers.
"That was the first week of making the record. Either we had really poor cocaine or we did a lot."
He points to the lyrics of new track Into The Fire, written from the very top of the wall downwards. "I don't know how I got up there," he says. "I don't really remember."
NOT REMEMBERING might be a good thing. Because, when Manson redecorated his room so curiously, he was not in the best of places. It was a process that started last November when he split with Wood.
She was the person who Von Teese blamed - among other things - for the end of their one-year marriage in 2006. He was with Wood from then until the end of last year when she left him. It's rumoured they are now back together, though Manson won't confirm it. He's not a big details man. However, the split prompted the singer not to come out of his house at all. For three months.
"I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and then my birthday entirely alone, except for [his cat] Lily," he says.
"Everyone was calling me because it was the holidays. But I didn't even speak to my parents. It became a real period that I felt I had to go through - like something in The Bible when they go out into the wilderness and fast. So I started writing to address what I was going through at the time. That was mostly my relationship. I don't think it helped!" he laughs.
"It's not like any of this is really a good thing..."
There were moments he would stop and look around, moments of clarity in which he'd wonder what the fuck he was doing. When, after his third month of seclusion he ventured back outside and invited back friends and girls - for, it seems, Manson was horny after his isolation, given how much he talks about luring women here - he discovered a mixed reaction.
"My bandmates were a little nervous," he says.
"People aren't very comfortable coming to my house - except girls that I don't know. That's amusing to me. If you brought a girl here and said, 'Hey do you want to sit down and watch a movie?' Then I think itís pretty brave if they do. At the very least [this room makes it] look like I have issues. Maybe I'm a damage magnet. I attract damaged girls because I'm a damaged person. Those are my people. I must have a charm that's not unlike Hannibal Lecter's.
It's interesting that it's actually quite difficult to discourage people from hanging out with me. The way I compliment a girl now is by saying, 'I want to throw knives at your vagina'. They go 'Oh, you're so cute, you're so charming'. I say, 'No, I'd like to set you on fire and snort your ashes'.
'Oh, Manson!' they reply.
"Maybe it's because I've allowed my eyebrows to grow back. I think it makes me more cuddly, likeable and loveable. It means I can get away with saying the things I say more!"
MANSON'S SECLUSION was difficult for him because he doesn't much like being on his own. He says he's not someone who needs people around him but he also admits he's "not able to deal with the idea of being alone."
In part he attributes this to his childhood and says that, from there, stem what he terms his "abandonment issues".
The problem, as he acknowledges, is that he finds it easier to open up to strangers than to those close to him. Hence, there's a paradox that, the closer someone gets, the more cut off he makes himself, thus forcing them further away.
"I'm aware there's an irony there," he says.
"I share my most intimate thoughts with strangers onstage and on records. But I find it very difficult to share with people I know. I'm a fucking handful."
He throws himself into relationships wholeheartedly, saying he's never been able to be "frivolous" about them. Heís aware, though, "it's such a big undertaking for me to be me so I understand it's hard for someone else to be around me."
And what he requires is a lot of validation. Von Teese suggested that part of the reason he spent increasing amounts of time with Wood towards the end of their marriage was that he felt the actress offered him more support. It's not something he's ever much denied.
"The biggest problem in my life is that everyone assumes I'm so used to being told 'You're great' that a lot of the time people go out of their way not to say it," he says.
"That can be damaging to your self-esteem. When the person you live with or are in love with is afraid to tell you what they think everyone tells you, then it's a big problem."
He's been striving to become more normal of late.
"I try not to demand. I try to show an enormous amount of care and love. I don't expect anything in return," he says.
"Friendship should be about sacrifice. When you offer yourself you should do it with no expectations in return. I haven't always been the best at doing that and I've tried to learn from my mistakes. What I try to do most is to fulfil my promises and obligations now. I want people to be able to believe me when I promise something because I've been so unable to have that from my end."
It's just part of the rebuilding process over the last year. It's what The High End Of Low is all about.
MARILYN MANSON'S seventh studio album is more diary than record. Each track is on the album in the order in which it was written and recorded - taking in the beginning of the end of his relationship with Wood, his subsequent period alone and his reappearance on the other side.
His vocal contributions, when not written on the wall of his bedroom, were sometimes off the cuff. One or two were laid down in just one take. The original version of I Want To Kill You Like They Do In The Movies, a song explicitly about and recorded on the day it was reported he had broken up with Wood, was originally 25 minutes long. The album, he says, chronicles his exact mood arc from the beginning of the recording process to the end.
"I can't relate to the person I was on the first track, Devour. I didn't know who I wanted to be. I was a little bit lost," he says.
"By the time I got to 15 [the penultimate song] I had gone through the experience of living alone, I hadn't killed myself, and I really got back an ability to not care about losing anything.
"I've made records in the past about transformation but this was so much more of a dramatic change for me that I wanted to tell other people."
The explanation of that change comes wrapped in Manson metaphors. He talks of feeling like Lucifer being banished from heaven, of falling from grace.
"When you give up the wings that had come to define you in order to fit in and become loved by someone, then you ultimately stop being who you are and you lose everything. Ultimately, that's what I was going through in my life," he says.
He means he had a rough time towards the end of the Wood affair. He was concerned that, being involved in a normal, loving relationship meant he struggled to identify with the role of the outsider with which he more normally associated. And so something had to be done.
"Yes," he admits.
You don't make it easy on yourself, do you?
"No!" he laughs.
"No, I don't at all. It's always complicated."
SOMETHING THAT did make The High End Of Low an album Manson enjoyed recording was the return of Twiggy Ramirez to the fold. The bassist/guitarist had long been the singer's foil and, when together, it seems both produce their best work.
"Marilyn Manson [the band], for me, has always been the fire between Twiggy and I," he admits.
"That's the soul of it. Our bond together is very brotherly. The only place both of us fit is together."
However an argument Manson assumed would be cleared up in a day back in 2002 sparked Ramirez' exit for seven long years. His replacement, Tim Skold, just wasn't, in the singer's opinion, as good a musical collaborator and best friend.
"Sorry to Tim Skold but whatever," he says.
"He took over Twiggy's job so it's only justified that Twiggy has carte blanche to take it back."
The reason for the reunion came when Manson was watching Led Zeppelin's reformation show in 2007.
"I saw [Robert] Plant and [Jimmy] Page look at each other during Stairway To Heaven and, in my mind, they seemed to be saying, 'Wow, we wrote this!'
I missed that," says Manson.
"I didn't have Twiggy to turn to and say, 'Wow, we wrote The Beautiful People!'
That prompted me to call him and say 'Get back in the band'.
It was almost as though we had got to that point in a relationship where someone has the doubt and you go out and fuck other people. You find out itís not exactly as good. Fortunately we were able to come back."
Manson says Ramirez, real name Jeordie White, had been through "terrible depression" while out of the band and playing for the likes of A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails. He says he "wished [he] could have been there for him as a friend."
Their reunion was an emotional one and now, after it, they've been catching up as though still in their teens.
"He's going through a very amusing time and I'm enjoying that vicariously through his high jinks," smiles Manson.
"We're probably more ridiculous and reckless than we were the last time we were together. I can't tell you how ridiculous because, though that's always a story you want to tell, it fucks you over in the future by not allowing you to get away with it again - either with the police or with the girls you're trying to convince youíre not debaucherous."
TONIGHT, IT seems Manson would be prepared to talk into the early hours. In fact, come to think of it, he has.
Sitting sprawled across his bed as the clock ticks around to 4AM, he's in expansive humour. The conversation drifts to more general topics, to Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Barack Obama (all three of whom he likes) and really, he's a man who is much more normal and interesting than he's given credit for.
What's emerged from the few hours spent in his company is that he's not, as reported, difficult, shocking or aloof. In fact, the shock is that he's quite funny. He jokes at his own expense, he chuckles about scrawling over his bedroom and, when he asks his assistant, "How are we getting on with the idea of taking the walls with me when I move out?", he chortles when he gets the withering reply, "Slowly".
He's also not quite as emotionless as most people might believe.
"When I meet people now, especially girls, I like to compare myself to a vintage car," he says, agreeing.
"It looks really cool to drive, it's really interesting, but it will break down a lot. I take a lot of maintenance."
And then, as the interview draws to an end, he escorts you warmly to his front door, saying, "I feel like I should you hug you after all of that," and so he does, grinning from ear to ear.
Just before he shuts the door, he pops his head out for a last quip, telling you to mind out for the toilet that, for some reason, he has left on the pathway in front of his house.
He smiles once more. Then he nips back in, alone again, with his absinthe, his candles and his innermost thoughts writ large across the walls of his bedroom.