Former WHITE ZOMBIE bassist Sean Yseult opens up about her days with the band and the release of a new compilation and coffee table book.
Amidst the manic, go-go early days that saw White Zombie tearing up the Lower East Side, reflection took a backseat to creation.
When [vocalist] Rob [Zombie] and I started the band we were a couple, former bassist Sean Yseult tells SHOCK. We lived together, worked on the music and cover artwork togetherdid everything together, twenty-four sevenand he hated whatever song we were pouring our lives and hearts into, like, the second we finished it. Which was great in a lot of ways because he always wanted to push the band forward and make everything better and better. But we also never really had the chance to sit back, listen to a record we made and go, Man, look at what we didthis is great! Yseult pauses to unleash the first of many husky, charm-infused laughs: Or even, Okay so maybe this is not so great, but its kinda cool and weird anyway, right?! That wasnt our thing. Robs attitude would immediately shift to, This sucks, time to write and record something else. And so it just kind of got burned in my brain that all that early stuff was shit, and I never really bothered to revisit much of it.
That is, until the meticulous sonic archivists over at Numero Group came a-knocking with a proposal to sew together and reanimate White Zombies vast back catalog of out-of-print embryonic EPs and LPs for posterity. The resulting Frankensteins monster of freaked out heavy metal-infused noise punkchristened, with appropriate B-movie overtones, IT CAME FROM N.Y.C.sprawls out across thirty-nine tracks, all remastered by the bands last, best-loved guitarist J. Yuenger and packaged alongside a gorgeously rendered, appropriately raucous 108-page coffee table tome that tells the warts and all tale of the bands rise from the primordial muck.
Turns out, for Yseult, distance had indeed made the heart grow fonder.
Its kind of mind-blowing, she says of her initially ambivalent trip down memory lane. This stuff actually doesn’t suck. It sounds like who we really were. You know, living on the Lower East Side with rats and no keys and no kitchen, just totally immersing ourselves in art and punk and metalit sounds like that. Which, to me, is great! Those razor-tipped warm fuzzies bled over into her perception of the entire enterprise: As I get older, thinking back on the hard times and the struggles becomes more amusing and nostalgic than painful, you know? And that makes it easier for me to focus on the fact that what we accomplished as a band is amazing. It’s just kind of crazy that we got where we gotwhich I think probably surprised us as much, if not more, than any of our fans or critics.
Indeed, IT CAME FROM N.Y.C. places the kiboshin the most vivifying, exhilarating way possibleon the idea that White Zombie was the sort of overnight success those who embraced Beavis and Butt-Head as tastemakers perhaps perceived them to be, tracking the bands evolution from its formation in 1985 and the self-released EP GODS ON VOODOO MOON through PSYCHO-HEAD BLOWOUT (1987), SOUL-CRUSHER (1987), and MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY (1989). For those unfamiliar with White Zombies pre-LA SEXORCISTO: DEVIL MUSIC VOLUME ONE (1992) roots, the rawness and abandon on display as this three disc, five LP set tracks the bands relentless pursuit of low culture as high art might very well prove jarring.
We started off being influenced by a lot of the noise bands, Yseult explains. We loved The Birthday Party, we loved a lot of punk music. When Rob and I met he loved The Misfits, I loved the Cramps, and we both loved Black Flag. We would see Butthole Surfers every time they came through town. We refused to limit ourselveswhen we first heard Metallica, that influenced us, and when we first heard N.W.A., that influenced us, too. You cant live in a vacuum, you know, and we wouldnt have wanted to if we could. We went through guitarists like crazy, but didnt let it stop us because we knew you had to start somewhere. This compilation is a good chance for fans of the band to hear how we changed little by little, record to record, on our way to that song.
Of course, there is no question what song Yseult is referring toThunder Kiss 65 improbably took over the MTV airwaves with an un-fuck-withable metallic groove n snarl in 1993 and remains a staple of alt-rock radio more than two decades after its release.
Its a great, catchy song, so I can see why people liked it, but I think its still really weird that it broke as big as it did, Yseult says. I remember one of the first signs we got that the song was taking off was when our roadies started coming back from strip clubs out on the road saying, Theyre playing Thunder Kiss all the time. We were like, Whoa! Seriously? At the time that seemed really mainstream to us! We had no idea it would only get bigger and bigger and eventually go platinum.
Of particular interest to SHOCK readers, naturally, is the subtle and perhaps occasionally subliminal way the success of LA SEXORCISTO: DEVIL MUSIC VOLUME ONE served as a delivery system for intriguing horror cinema nuggets and nods that surely put the genre on many listeners radar for the first time. Samples from such classics as FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, THE MUMMY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, THE OMEN, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, HELLRAISER, and PHANTASM festoon a record featuring song titles like Cosmic Monsters, Inc, I Am Legend, Warp Asylum, and Grindhouse (A Go-Go)a continuation of previous dark predilections signaled not only by the Bela Lugosi moniker homage but also the ghoulish Easter eggs scattered throughout IT CAME FROM N.Y.C.
Rob was obviously the horror movie buff in the band, Yseult says. I loved em, too, but back living in our little one room apartment that guy would put on the same movie over and over and over. Like TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACREhe could not watch that movie enough. You could tell he was studying them at a deeper levelI was not surprised when he started making his own horror movies. At all. And while my taste leans more towards campier thingsI loved the Hammer films, for exampleor just real Mario Bava-type bizarre stuff rather than gore for gores sake, Rob and I definitely shared a love for that horror aesthetic, which played a big part in White Zombie.
It was great being down in the East Village back in the eighties when we were writing these songs, she continues. We had the St. Marks Theater and the 8th Street Playhouse and screenings in bars. There were always film festivals going on. I got exposed to John Waters movieswhich I loved, as did Roband Herschell Gordon Lewis BLOOD FEAST and a lot of stuff I had no idea existed. I remember going down to Tribeca back when there was nothing down there to see both CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON and HOUSE OF WAX in 3D. I saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL in Emergo vision, where the skeleton rises out of the vat and slowly flies over the audience. Rob and I saw THE TINGLER in a theater with seats rigged to buzz. You could really experience a lot of things back then in New York City that you couldnt really experience anywhere else.
White Zombie broke up in 1998 Yseult moved to New Orleans and re-immersed herself in photography and design workher two areas of study at Parsons when she first met Rob and spiraled off into a life she had hitherto not imagined. (Stunning selections from her acclaimed exhibits can be seen at her official photography site.) She ran a rock n roll bar The Saint in the Garden District for awhile. She released a photographic memoir of her time in White Zombie, IM IN THE BAND: BACKSTAGE NOTES FROM THE CHICK IN WHITE ZOMBIE. And she continued to play horror-infused rock n roll in bands like Rock City Morgue, Famous Monsters, and Star & Dagger.
I’m really excited about all the different places life has taken me after White Zombie, she says.
After the sort of heyday White Zombie comp LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE and her won book, does Yseult feel like IT CAME FROM N.Y.C. is the final definitive statement on the band?
I really do, she says. Numero worked on it for so long and they kept visiting and interviewing Jay and I down here in New Orleans over and over again and going through our things for well over a year. It was really like, Okay, enough! What else do you want from me? That laugh again. Im being sarcastic, but golly, they really dug deep. They got everything. I don’t think there is anything left to be said, really.