Twenty-five years ago, Rob Zombie’s early group White Zombie, which he describes as being inspired by Van Halen, the Ramones, the Birthday Party, and Black Sabbath, had sold only about 75,000 copies of their third album, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1. But then, MTV’s early-’90s tastemakers, Beavis and Butt-Head, gave three White Zombie videos (“Welcome to Planet Motherf***er,” “Thunder Kiss ’65,” and “Black Sunshine”) the thumbs-up — or, more specifically, the devil-horns metal salute. And it changed everything, as Zombie once told Larry King.
By early October 1993, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 — which had already been out for a year and half — had sold 300,000 copies (it eventually sold 2 million). It hit No. 26 on the overall Billboard album chart, and “Thunder Kiss ’65″ even earned White Zombie a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. The Beavis and Butt-Head connection also marked the beginning of a long friendship between Zombie and the show’s creator, Mike Judge, and helped launch an illustrious film career for Zombie.
“Our record was already pretty old. We had been touring quite a bit for it, because I always figured it was always gonna be a touring band. That that’s how it was gonna be done; I didn’t expect hit records or anything from the radio,” Zombie tells Yahoo Entertainment while sitting at L.A.’s monster-filled prop studio Dapper Cadaver, where he is shooting segments for the “Rob Zombie’s 13 Nights of Halloween” movie marathon airing on HDNet Movies from Oct. 19 to 31. “MTV was playing the video; it’d been on Headbangers Ball, late at night, maybe once or twice. Beavis and Butt-Head, that was our first prime-time exposure. I mean, I didn’t even know what it was. … It was so new, I hadn’t even seen it yet. And that started it all.”
White Zombie later contributed a new original song, “I Am Hell,” to the compilation album The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience, a true ’90s alt-rock artifact that also featured Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Megadeth, Primus … and Cher. Judge then recruited Zombie to work on the 1996 feature film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, a surreal experience that Zombie remembers fondly.
“The best time I ever had was I was driving around Austin with Mike Judge, and he was trying to explain something to me, and he was doing it in [Beavis and Butt-Head’s] voices. He’d do one, then do the other, just back and forth. Really bizarre to watch the two different voices come out of him,” Zombie chuckles. “It’s like Billy Bob Thornton doing the Sling Blade voice. You just can’t believe that’s the same person, that this is happening.”
Zombie was tasked with animating the famous Beavis and Butt-Head Do America desert hallucination scene, but he didn’t get much direction from Judge. “I had the script, and it just said, ‘Beavis hallucinates the greatest music video of all time.’ That was all it said. And then he let me just come up with whatever crazy stuff I came up with. I was on tour, and I was drawing all these designs, and I kept faxing them to Mike Judge at that time. And that was the sequence. … It was just crazy stuff, like monsters playing guitars, TVs morphing into creatures; I don’t know, it was just supposed to be some trippy LSD thing. … Seemed to work out OK!”
White Zombie broke up in 1998, and Rob Zombie went on to a hugely successful solo career. He also established himself as a respected horror movie director with House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, The Lords of Salem, and his remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween. But the shock-rocker, who just completed a tour with Marilyn Manson, admits that he misses the glory days of ’90s MTV, when hard rock bands as diverse as White Zombie, Primus, Metallica, Jane’s Addiction, and Slayer had a chance of reaching a mainstream audience.
“The great thing about MTV was, they just threw it on there, and boom, the person sitting there waiting for the new Madonna video had to sit through the White Zombie video, or the Danzig video, or whatever video. So, you’d just get such a big audience so fast. Now everything’s so compartmentalized. … I don’t know how bands break through, because to me it seemed that somewhere around 1999-ish, the door slammed shut for getting through. And I got through, and Korn got through, and Limp Bizkit, or Slipknot, or whoever. Every once in a while, a new band will squeeze through, but not like it used to be. Maybe Ghost is the newest band that kinda got on people’s radar, but it’s because they have a very interesting look, so you immediately go, ‘Oh, I wonder what these guys are about?’ It seems like you get one band every 10 years that you get on anyone’s radar. Which is sad.”
Surely even Beavis and Butt-Head would say that “sucks.”
This article originally ran on Yahoo Music.