Rose McGowan Spaces Out | In episode 42 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits sits down with actress, activist, and artist Rose McGowan.
Rose McGowan was a well-known Hollywood actress who starred on the beloved Charmed T.V. series and in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse among other major motion pictures. Then, despite all odds, she championed the #MeToo movement, leading the fight to convict the notorious Hollywood abuser Harvey Weinstein. Finally, after years of intimidation and harassment, Weinstein was successfully convicted of his crimes, an incredibly rare deliverance of justice for the people who had been abused. Even though Rose was blacklisted from Hollywood in the process, she’s not upset. She calls it a “cult” and now finally has had an opportunity to heal from this seemingly terrifying experience. Rose joins us on Light Culture to talk about her new album Planet 9. But whatever she’s doing, Rose is Rose by any other name. We talk about astral projection, Marilyn Manson, being brave, and life after Weinstein.Read Transcript
Time travel is a part of your new album’s vibe. You’ve always astral projected as part of your creative process, right?
Rose McGowan: Yes, I had no idea how to act, because I was discovered. I’d done one line in a movie before that and then I got discovered to be a lead in a movie three years after that. And I was like, “Well, how do you act?” I remembered how I used to always practice astral projection growing up because I found a book on that. I just loved that feeling of just being able to travel in the stars, and I wanted to replicate that with music.
It really works. And I really made the album during a very traumatic period of my life, but it’s a really hopeful album. I’m really intentional with my work, and I really know that this helps people in a really unique way right now. Right now specifically, I think this music really works because it’s what healed me. It kept me sane.
David: Do you still feel that now? Do you feel like you’ve left a lot of that trauma and the difficulties that you referred to earlier?
Rose McGowan: Well, yes, and one of those reasons is because the person that was terrorizing me for so long is in jail. So I don’t feel like I have this 350-pound man with their foot on my neck, which they’ve had for the last 22 years. So I’ve been healing, but this was instrumental and it works. I still use the music to transport me and soothe me. And also there’s some bangers on it too.
David: So planet nine, it’s a real planet, isn’t it?
Rose McGowan: It is. But I created it when I was 10 years old. I wrote about my planet and I named it nine. I just like the curve of the number. And as we do with our invisible playmates, we forget about them. And then when astronomers found planet nine, I was like, “What?” I used to wonder what sound frequencies were on this planet. I really like hypnotic rhythms, and I actually modeled a lot of my speech pattern on this hypnotherapist I saw a couple of times. Not to make people bark like a dog, but just in the 45 minutes we would talk, he had a really interesting rhythm and cadence to his voice. I kind of used some of his techniques here, so it doesn’t interrupt people’s brains.
A lot of music is mixed on a 440 Hertz frequency, most pop music. What it does is it agitates the mind. It’s almost like the sound feels like it’s kind of tapping you annoyingly on the head over and over. They do that on radio so when they go to advertisements, your brain is like, “Oh, something different,” and you’re cued to listen to the advertisement. So I’m mixed on a 432 Hertz, and that is said to massage the left and the right brain. I found that really quite healing. I just have a different response when I listen to Planet 9 than I do to most music.
Did you turn to music in the past for healing or just feeling the way you described?
While making this album I didn’t listen to a lot of popular music except for hip hop. I didn’t want to listen to anything in the electronic genre. And a lot of times electronic music is a bit too hard for me. It’s not soulful enough. So I tried to mix something soulful with this kind of dope rhythm.
I also used to race my car at night on a track outside of LA called Irwindale Speedway. And I would do it at night, and I would wonder ‘what music can I make to match this feeling?’ The album really also made for driving at night. It’s like fast driving at night. It’s a great experience.
Wow. So what kind of car were you driving, and how fast were you going?
I was going very fast. A Panamera. I’ve always liked German cars. I learned how to drive when I was 14. I made friends with this retired Formula One race car driver, and he taught me, had like a mile long driveway with different circular routes so he could drive on it for fun. And he taught me how to drive backwards in a Lamborghini when I was 14, and so I just like going fast, but also with intent and control. I beat a Tesla in a race.
Oh, wow. So you’re actually racing as well.
Rose McGowan :
I know, I have a lot of interests that people don’t know anything about. A lot of people think maybe their perception of me is kind of confused, especially in America. It’s very different overseas. But here, I know I confuse a lot of people because they’re probably not used to women acting like I act; being kind of as straightforward and tough as I have to be.
But I always wanted to subvert the dominant paradigm. I saw a bumper sticker when I was 10, when I first moved to America, and it said, “Subvert the dominant paradigm.” When I finally figured out what it meant, I was like, “Oh, I can do that.” So that became my life’s mission. Acting was my day job, and I think I acquitted myself well and I did some cool parts. But it didn’t use my brain, and that’s the part where I like to live the most.
Did you feel like you were sort of hiding your true self when you were acting or in that world more than you are now?
Oh God, yeah. Well, I couldn’t be my true self. There was no Instagram, there was no social media. And even that is only a slice of yourself, but there wasn’t even that. You were really at the mercy of how the studio wanted to sell you. And for me, they sold me as a sex symbol, which was kind of like, the way I looked externally, was very much at odds with how I feel internally.
And it’s set me up for this real collision course where if you’re sold as a sex symbol, most interviews are quite derogatory and dismissive. They don’t listen to what you have to say. I’ve been saying the same stuff for years. It’s just people couldn’t hear me because they only knew a character. That’s why I like my track Lonely House. Are you lonely on your planet? Are you lonely on the fringe? That was me. I had a long period where I had to use a significant portion of my earnings to pay people to keep people away from me.
You said that you made the music for healing during an awful time in your life. In your book, Brave, there’s way more in your life as well that you could call “awful time”. So was this something you’ve wanted to do always?
Yeah. I mean, it was, it’s been a very interesting journey. I remember I used to get asked by reporters, “Is Hollywood the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you?” Just the dumbest. It’s not the craziest, it’s just another in the long line of strange situations that I’ve always kind of found myself in and have not been scared of. My dad’s nickname for me was the brave one. Starting at a very early age I’ve kind of always been weird that way. Not meaning I haven’t been scared, just meaning that I do the scary thing anyway.
But I asked my dad, when I was little, “Dad can I sing?” And he’s like, “No.” And then so I didn’t. And I think looking back though, he was an artist so he was probably painting when I asked him. But your parents say stuff and it just sticks like that. I didn’t open my mouth for years except to like sing to myself around the house. And it wasn’t until I went out actually with Marilyn Manson some years ago and he heard me singing around the house. And he put a microphone in front of me, I was terrified of it. I stood like three feet away from it. It was just scary to me.
David: You talk about finding your voice is that something that you were playing with throughout your years?
Definitely. Because I only got to be me when I was off work. It’s not the worst work in the world. I had some bad experiences, but it still wasn’t my voice. I did try to do music ten years ago with this German producer, but he took every soulful element out of my voice. And I got so dispirited I just stopped. Then I met these two French electronic producers that make like retro super future, do you know what I mean? It’s both familiar and unusual. And they didn’t speak much English, and that was perfect. They couldn’t ask me about my lyrics. They could just vibe with it. I’m not trying to have a pop career. I just really wanted to put out a great piece of art and make it kind of bulletproof. I like to try, even if it’s a fail, to make masterpieces.
I directed a film. I did it just before all the news broke like three years ago. The exposés and all that stuff. I knew Hollywood probably would never let me make a movie again. So I tried to make a little masterpiece. You know my father was an incredible fine artist. My mom is an incredible writer and thinker, and I tried with my book and with this album, I didn’t know how to do it because I’d never done it before, but I decided to paint with words. So I would take the approach of how my father painted but just use words instead of paint.
You seem to me like an incredible hard worker and someone who always has a project. You did your book, and then you had your TV show, and now you have a record, and God knows what else you got coming up.
Rose: I have a skincare line actually that I’ve been working on for seven years with my aunt who’s a beauty industry pro. It’s an incredible skincare line, but you imagine two years ago at the height of all the madness in the media of the Me Too stuff, “By the way, I have a skincare line. Try it.” Yeah, not so much. So maybe in a few months I told her finally.
David: And now we have the Covid 19 where people are not releasing new music at this point because they don’t think it’s a good time.
Rose: I think it actually is a good time. Well, I mean maybe it depends on the album It was only ten days ago that I decided to release it now. Because I was thinking what can I do? Because you feel so impatient. You can’t help people like you want to help them. I want to go give everybody food if they’re in line with their cars, but I can’t. I want to help domestic violence victims, but I can’t. But what I can do is give 20% on Bandcamp. If you buy the album there it supports Indie artists. And I’m funneling 20%. I only made $1000 so far because it’s $9 for the record, but that $1000 is housing four women that just escaped from domestic violence and their three kids. So I got them an apartment for a month. Just with that $1000. And it’s better sound quality than Spotify.
How are you imagining life after COVID, assuming there is such a thing?
Yeah. Well, if we make it. I think if we’re privileged enough and lucky enough to not be in imminent danger of losing our house, or trying to get food for our kids, then we should have the luxury of being internal during this part. And really, it’s so when we get back out there, we can choose who we want to be this time. And I think a lot of people hopefully will come out of this the 2.0 version of themselves.
David: In Citizen Rose, this TV show that you had, there’s a segment where you meet with a trauma therapist. He seems to be pushing you in a direction of letting things go, and you’re being a little resistant to all of that, so is that still a process that you’re going through?
I couldn’t do it at the time because I needed that rage to fight. I still had to fight monsters publicly every day. I was exhausted when those articles broke three years ago, I was exhausted. I’d been being harassed behind the scenes while writing my book in really intense ways with really diabolical people around me, but not sure who the diabolical people were. There was a spy inserted into my life because there was a million dollar bounty on my book, Brave. Whoever could procure it for Weinstein would get $1 million. He hired an Israeli intelligence firm and they inserted a spy into my life, and they succeeded in stealing 125 pages of my book before it was published, to give to him. And I found out on camera from Ronan Farrow and his fact-checker at the New Yorker, during Citizen Rose, I found out that that woman was actually a spy. And I thought she was a women’s rights ally and my friend and they have me recorded saying to her, “You’re the only person I can trust.” And she was really a former Mossad.
It was insane. But there’s rage that fuels change. And if people are wearing black dresses to an award show, I don’t think any social movement has ever been affected by silence. I take a lot of my cues from ACT UP. That was a really big force in my life when I grew up, when I was living in Seattle and I was 14. I’ve taken a lot of my cues with just really confrontational, direct action. But if you do press power, power presses back really hard. What I loved about ACT UP is that they were just relentless. I think a lot of people are really scared of just saying what they really think about certain things, and I’m like, “But why? What’s the worst case scenario? You might get fired.”
I mean, yeah, I have no career in Hollywood and I had to sell my house to pay for legal fees to fight Weinstein and all that stuff. I knew that was going to happen. But I also knew I needed to be free of that cult, which is what I call Hollywood. It mimics very much the power structure of what I grew up in.
You said earlier you didn’t think you’d be acting again. Is that how you feel, you’ll never be acting again?
Well, let me put it this way. Hollywood’s not calling, so it’s not really an issue. It’s like a block of silence from that place. I get a lot of questions from interviewers like, “Who in Hollywood supports you?” And I’m like, “Huh? No, I took down their cult leader, they’re not happy with me.”
What about Europe? Do you feel that there’s potential for you to work there or that it’s different than the way you described the Hollywood cult?
It is different over there. They have a lot more training. Not me, I went to one acting class in my life, so I certainly can’t hold myself up to their standards. But I would rather direct than act again. It’s just a lot more fun for me and it utilizes my mind. The last movie I did, I don’t even remember the title. I don’t even know if it came out, but I liked acting for about four days and then I was like, “Shit, I have another month.” I would rather just go back to being me. It’s fun to play dress up, like when you’re dressing up for a party, but then you want to take it off.
Yeah. I feel like you would be a good director. obviously you were paying attention to everything else that was going on around you. You weren’t just ‘okay, where’s my lines?’
I was more interested in the totality of filmmaking and the craft of it. On days I wasn’t working as an actor, I’d work with the art department, props, the grips. The electric people would never let me work with them. Obviously I spent a lot of time with directors and I would get asked a lot, “What did you learn from the directors you worked with?” From Wes Craven I learned how to be gentle on set and human to everybody, which I think I would be anyway. But the rest of them, except for Darren Stein, I did Jawbreaker and he was great. But the rest of them I pretty much learned what not to do because I saw their mistakes and I saw how they treated the crew. These people are gold. These people are true artists and you’re just using them and minimizing them and not getting the best from them. It’s stupid. It’s counterproductive.
Well it’s part of the cult isn’t it? The macho director.
Oh God yeah. With the female producer. But not the money producer, but the one who’s there on set rubbing the shoulders of the stressed out male director. Babies.
But with the music I actually used for the bulk of the album I used a movie mixer. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Trent was in Nine Inch Nails and all that stuff. But then he turned to doing scores for films and they did a beautiful score for Social Network, a film that I didn’t love, but the score made it. Also they did Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I think is great.
So I found the sound mixer that did the cinema sound. I didn’t mix my album with regular pop music, radio mixing. It makes a significant difference in pinpoint detailed sound design, which is why I tell people the first time you experience it, it’s my prescription. Here’s the dosage instructions:
Shut your eyes. Put on headphones. Get somewhere comfortable and preferably in the dark and just go on a journey for 38 minutes. After that you can use the album however you want, dance around, do what you feel. But I think the first time, and especially because there’s so many detailed sounds that you can hear on headphones, I think it’s just a really beautiful way to experience it. I just worked really hard on crafting it. Lonely House, that track, I mixed 21 times. I just heard that NASA has an orchestra. It would be my dream to maybe do Lonely House with them.