“Either Marilyn Manson’s going to kill me or I’m going to kill him.” Ginger Fish isn’t referring to his lead singer figuratively. The 31 year-old drummer has played with Manson – the self-made ultra-violent satanic rock monstrosity – for the past year and a half, during which time Fish has been clocked in the head by the weighted base of a mike stand, not once, but at countless gigs, purposefully flung at him by his sociopathic boss. This brutal sport has left Fish scarred, bloodied, bruised, and suffering a potentially fatal cracked skull, over and over again.
It’s a hell of a gig; “hell” being the operative word, of course, seeing that Manson makes no bones about being not only a card-carrying member of the Church Of Satan, but a full-blown Reverend, ordained by the cult’s nefarious founder Anton LaVey. Though Fish is not a practicing Satanist, and hasn’t even met LaVey, he has - after endless hours trapped on a bus with Manson - ascertained much of the church’s doctrine, which he describes as “me-ism. It’s just a worship of yourself and a total disregard for everything else” - including Mr. Fish’s skull, apparently, which Manson began using for target practice after his friend, producer and musical mentor, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, similarly bashed his drummer, Chris Vrenna, over the head with a mike stand base at Woodstock ’95. “But Trent stopped,” Fish says. “After he hit Chris once it never happened again. So Manson thought, ’Well, I’m just going to have to hit Ginger more times so that I’m not compared to Trent.’”
An innocent bystander might wonder why Fish doesn’t just pack his gig bag and find another job? To this he responds by rote, as if he’s recited it a thousand times: “What else am I going to do? I was on unemployment, looking for a gig at the time when I joined the band. My unemployment ran out and I got the opportunity to join Manson. [And now that Manson’s attacking me onstage] everyone’s like, ’Just do another project.’ But there are a gazillion projects out there that aren’t selling out. Manson sells out every single night wherever we go. The band’s doing really well.”
That old show-biz saying was drilled into his skull long before Manson began cracking it open, because Fish was born into a theatrical family; his father is a crooner who hung out with Frank Sinatra and Paul Anka, and his mother is a tap dancer who was signed to Warner Bros. at the age of three. Fish was born and christened Frank Wilson in Framingham, Massachusetts, though the family eventually moved to Las Vegas - “sin city,” he sardonically laughs -- where his parents could both work and raise a family. There Fish honed his rock and roll drumming skills, yet found little opportunity to use them, and after high school opted to temporarily hustle as a carney at the legendary Circus Circus Casino. Determined to make it as a drummer and weary of the casino scene, he eventually moved to Florida and played every gig he could weasel into -- including an ironic stint as the pit drummer for Jesus Christ Superstar -- until he was finally recommended by word of mouth to Manson.
It was a bittersweet twist of fate. Manson wanted a drummer who could violently bash an acoustic kit as well as methodically program electronic percussion, and Fish fit the bill. “I’ve used machines for about 15 years, ever since way back when they started making Dr. T software and Commodore 64s, all the first drum machines and stuff,” he explains. “If I didn’t know the equipment I would never have been given the opportunity to play with them in the first place, because that’s exactly what the band was looking for, to take them to the next level. The old drummer didn’t know about machines, so when they were looking for a new drummer, Trent had a lot of say about who they chose. Trent basically said, ’Well, I’m the producer, and I want someone who can work with me and my machines.’”
Fish’s electronics background paid dividends when the Manson family began writing material for their current album Antichrist Superstar. The band was still on the road promoting its previous release, Smells Like Children. “Obviously, you spend a lot of time on the bus and in the hotel,” Fish says. “So a lot of the songs were written on drum machines sitting in the room with Manson and Twiggy [Ramirez], the bass player who played guitar on most the album, too. The three of us would sit in a room all day saying, ’Okay, let’s try something with this drumbeat, this bass riff.’”
There's an advantage to this songwriting style -- you can do most of the pre-production for your new album while you’re still on the road promoting your old one. But there was at least one occasion, while doing pre-production on the song “1996,” when Fish inadvertently bit off a bit more than he could chew, chops-wise. “By accident I programmed sixteenth-notes at a really fast rate, and when he heard it Manson liked it,” the normally left-handed but occasionally ambidextrous Fish remembers. “And then he sped it up so that it was like 176 beats per minute on the drum machine and all sixteenth-notes with the bass drum. Now, I practice on the road - I’ve got a Gibraltar set on the bus. So there I was every day before the show, running an hour or two on my double-bass practice set, thinking that after we go into the studio to record, when it comes time to go out on the road, I’m going to have to play this part night after night. But when we got into the studio, Trent did a funny thing that producers do. He said, ’Let’s try something different. Let’s take out this beat and that beat.’ And ’1996’ went from being full-on sixteenth-notes into a more syncopated feel.”p>
How does a dedicated drummer deal with such sudden changes while the studio clock is ticking away? Fish, ever the trooper, actually seems to relish the challenge. “You’ve got your producer watching over you and your band is sitting there saying, ’Okay, show us what you can do,’” he says. “Time’s money in the studio, so you have to be able to adapt really quickly. You go in with one idea of how to play something and then the producer changes what you’re doing, and you have to be able to change right then and there, whether you’re remiking or retuning something.”
Safely sequestered in Nothing Studios -- Reznor’s state-of-the-art home facility -- Fish downloaded all of his pre-production drum machine parts into Reznor’s computers and the band sat back with their producer to fine-tune the structure of each song while taking detailed notes on scratch pads. They digitally added, subtracted, lengthened and shortened sections until they reached a consensus, at which point Fish finally began to tackle his drum parts. “We muted the drum machine tracks and I played along with the click track,” Fish says. “In the final mix, there were some songs where I played the verses and the drum machine played the choruses, or vice versa. On some songs I’m playing totally live or played two passes: one on the snare and bass drum, and then I played toms on another or played into ProTools. We cut and spliced everything.
“It was a big learning experience for me,” he continues. “We laid my drums down to 48-track Studor 2" machines, and I also played into the computer digitally, so we could always cut and paste, do anything we wanted, pretty much. It’s the type of opportunity that unsigned players just don’t get. They don’t have that type of equipment around to be able to play with and wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it if they did.”
To be sure, the drum sounds on Antichrist Superstar are uniformly mammoth in scale, though Fish admits that he had little input into his tones. Instead he relied on the studio aptitude of engineer/co-producer Dave Ogilvie, who inspected every nook and cranny of Reznor’s gothic New Orleans home to exploit unusual drum sounds. “He did a lot of different miking techniques in different rooms of the studio for each song,” Fish explains. “We did one song out in the garage. Dave actually miked Trent’s Porche. He opened the doors up and used them as a reflecting wall. We did it to sort of cure some boredom at the time, but it ended up working and it sounded really good. Obviously, Trent came in and had the final word on it, and Manson was there for every bit. Manson’s always around for everything.”
Now there’s a spooky thought!
Once the audio blasphemy was recorded and mixed, Fish had to convert his hybrid studio electro-acoustic drum parts into playable live beats - a daunting task, we figured, yet something that Fish claims came fairly easily, to our utter stupefaction. Yet in order to maintain a semblance of cohesion during Marilyn Manson’s apocalyptic live show, Fish cleverly follows a secret click track in his inner ear monitors during most songs. “When I’m playing with a click track live, it doesn’t regiment how I feel, because I’ve got it programmed so that it speeds up and slows down where I want it to,” he explains. “So if I’m coming to a breakdown point and I want it to drag, the click track will drop three beats. And then when I want it to pick up it will pick back up three beats. And then when the song gets really hyper and I want it to have a bit more aggression, I’ll pop it up three to five beats.”
Okay, but don’t most drummers hate playing to a click track onstage? “I use a click track for the reason of argument,” Fish contends. “A lot of drummers could save their jobs if they learn to play with a click track. If you play with five individuals who drink or do any kind of weird substances, naturally, some controlled substances make you hyper, some of them make you sluggish. And if you have one person in the band doing an upper and another person in the band doing a downer and drinking, you’re going to get that conflict. No matter how good you think you play, you’re going to get an argument: ’You sped up on that song.’ Ten years ago I cured that, so that no musician could argue with me, because when we play that song, I know it’s exactly 98 beats per minute every night, or whatever it is. I play perfectly so that it’s the same consistency night after night. Part of being a professional is being consistent.”
If you’re like so many other drummers who scratched their heads in disbelief after spotting Fish’s multiple floor tom/huge marching bass drum setup in Manson’s current video clip, “The Beautiful People” you might be delighted to learn that the oddball kit was little more than a last-minute freak-out. “It was a prop to a point,” Fish admits. “The producers told me that they were building this huge contraption out of metal for me to use as a drum set for the video. So we flew up to Toronto to do the video and the day I got there, there was no drum set built. All they had was that bass drum sitting there and a wooden marching snare. And I said, ’Well, this isn’t going to work, obviously, because the song is so oriented around the tom toms and stuff like that. To play that on the bass drum and snare drum makes no sense.’ So at the last minute, the cameras are rolling, everyone’s sitting there, and all I’ve got is this big bass drum and snare drum. So I ended up running down to the corner music store and grabbing some floor toms and throwing them up in front of me, so at least I had some floor toms to play as tom toms. Everyone commented that they liked the set I played there. They thought it was kind of a crazy set, but it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing I threw together to do this video.”
It’s hardly the tale of decadence and debauchery that you might expect from one of Manson’s crew. Barring the fact that he often gets bopped on the head and threatens to kill his band leader in print, Ginger Fish’s tale is of innovation, hard work and struggle - the very elements needed for a professional musician to make it to the top of the heap. But still, something gnaws at us - something that we maybe don’t even want to know about, yet have to ask: Now that Fish has had a tacit hand in offending as many God-fearing citizens as possible with graphic images and real acts of violence, sadism, Satanism and generally deviant behavior, what could possibly be next for him and the boys? “Maybe the total opposite,” the battered Fish postulates. “Manson says, ’Once we’ve done everything we can to shock the whole world, maybe we should become Christian so that we can be shocked again.’ Maybe we can come full circle and start playing gospel music.” Hallelujah to that!