Digging up the archaeology of White Zombie

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

When a band hits it big after building up its audience from the ground up, it may find its sound shifting 180 degrees as it works its way to fortune and fame.

If all you know of metal, industrial band White Zombie are their songs, “More Human than Human” or “Thunder Kiss ‘65” or the solo efforts of singer Rob Zombie, who just released his new album last week “The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser,” you’d be hard pressed to recognize the band in its early days.

Starting off as a noise rock band in the New York underground scene, the band—which included Zombie (who comes as a solo artist to Connecticut in September), guitarist J. Yuenger, Sean Yseult, and others—started off with a series of albums that barely sold in the hundreds.

Those tracks recorded by a nascent White Zombie had been forgotten by even the band members. But they now have been captured on a three CD package (or five vinyl LPS)— complete with a 144 page book with photos of the early dubbed, “It Came from N.Y.C.” The album is due for a June 3 release.

We caught up with Sean Yseult via email to talk about the collection and the early days of White Zombie.

Observer: First of all, what inspired the decision to go back and compile such an intense look at White Zombie?

Sean: Quite honestly, the enthusiasm of our new manager Brady Brock, who at the time was working with Danny Goldberg. There was another person at the office in NYC that had been at Caroline Records back when we first got signed, and being amongst these people and being back in NYC brought back what was really a very special time and a very unusual  burst of creativity from the Lower East Side.

O: Why do you think the time was right for this?

S: There is certainly a resurgence of vinyl these days, and to have all of our early recordings that only came out on vinyl – very limited – be available again almost exactly as how they first came out is exciting. It’s even better, because Numero Group are so enthusiastic about it all they have taken great pains to add details we would not have thought of, like scanning everyone of our t-shirts ever made and having a White Zombie T-shirtography. Fans and vinyl collectors are very excited – the edition of green vinyl sold out the first day in preorders!

O: How difficult was it to find these masters? How long did the process take to prepare the set?

S: It feels like it took forever, but I would say a solid year from start to finish. Numero Group actually drove down from Chicago to New Orleans to raid my and J’s stash of White Zombie memorabilia, and all of my original vinyl to reproduce the art. Finding masters was a bitch, apparently, but I stayed out of that department and left it to J.

O: Before you started the process of mastering the songs for the package, when was the last time you had heard any of these tracks?

S: Oh god. Most of this stuff I haven’t listened to since the day we recorded it. Rob and I lived together, started the band together, were a couple, etc. and he always hated everything we ever did, the second we had finished it. So we couldn’t ever listen to it and appreciate what we had done. It was like, “This sucks, on to the next thing.” I am finally listening to all of this completely fresh, almost for the first time and I am blown away by a lot of it. It’s easy for someone to dismiss it as noise, but we were doing some complex riffs and structures, Rob had great lyrics and there are some very interesting layers going on as we progress.

O: Take me back to the time period of when many of these records were recorded. What was the music scene like in New York City when you were pulling these songs together? And what were you hoping to accomplish… just have a good time, take over the world, create new art… what? How would you describe yourselves as musicians/ artists at the time?

S: We lived in the Lower East side and started the band in 1985. The bands we played with were our neighbors: Pussy Galore, Honeymoon Killers, Live Skull – noise bands. We were 100 percent committed to being that at first – even Rob, if you look at the cover of “Psycho-Head Blowout,” is wearing an Einstürzende Neubauten pin. We were trying to do something new: combine our favorite bands at that time, which were Birthday Party, and Butthole Surfers, with their driving drums and bass lines – with something heavier since we also loved (Black) Sabbath and other metal bands, and hardcore bands like Black Flag. But we also wanted to tie in the aesthetics of our true favorite bands: for me the Cramps; for Rob, The Misfits. Adding that way of life and the dark side, the obsession with horror and crime. It’s a lot in one cauldron, but I think we achieved the mix, quite honestly. As far as our goals, we were driven to work hard but we had no real goal. At one point, I remember Rob and I discussing how cool it would be to sell places the size of the Ritz, where the Ramones and other bands that size headlined. We never dreamed we would be headlining our own sold out arena tours one day.

O: Listening to the tracks with a fresh ear, what were some of the observations you made to yourself in 2016 about the music you guys pulled together in those early days? Were there any tracks that when you began the remastering process that you thought to yourself, wow this really kicks ass. Which ones?

S: How deliberate it was, how outlandish and brash it was, how entirely insane some of it sounds. Some of the material on “Soul-Crusher” was really surprising. I forgot how good some of the songs were. I forgot how many layers we had put on there, and Rob was starting to play with sampling – which at the time consisted of holding a microphone that was plugged into an old cassette recorder, up to the television to catch snippets – pretty hilarious thinking back on it with today’s technology.

O: There is definitely an evolution to the band listening to these tracks. I’m sure a lot of fans who you picked up with “More Human Than Human” would not recognize the White Zombie on the earlier efforts. What bands were inspiring you at the time? What inspired the band to shift from New York noise rock to the more metal sounds we heard on the albums on Geffen?

S: I mentioned many of the bands that were our main influences and were our peers above in the early days. The shift to metal was actually gradual – you can hear it on the original “Make Them Die Slowly,” which unfortunately did not make the box set. It is the missing link from “Soul-Crusher” to where we went. People probably don’t know this, but we painstakingly recorded that record three times – and each time it changed drastically. Some of the songs are not even the same. The reason for it was pretty organic – we were listening to more metal, bands like our friends COC were punks that created crossover metal, Rob and I were both huge Void fans when we met, and then there was Metallica making metal that sounded like punk  – we loved it all. We also began to get asked to open for bands like the Cro-Mags and Biohazard, which changed everything. We were still a total noise band at the time but their fans dug it. This evolution was happening slowly for years before the Geffen record (“La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One”) came out. You can definitely hear it on “Make Them Die Slowly, and then finally on the e.p. God of Thunder.

O: Talk to me about the hardcover book that comes with the package… where did you find the photos of that period… what was it like for you to look back at your younger selves? What will fans find interesting about the book?

S: You mean where did Numero find the photos? In my vault! They really did dig through everything for days – and believe me, I still have everything, even the orginal vinyls. I was studying photography at Parsons in those early days so I even took the first White Zombie shots ever, setting up a tripod and a timer. I still have the negatives. Looking back at these photos, I see why people would hand me money on the streets and subways even though I never asked – we look like street waifs. I think the fans will find every detail in this book interesting, along with all of the many band members interviews that tell the story.

Rob Zombie will be on tour this summer with Korn. The tour stops at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford on Sept. 1.

For more information about “It Came From N.Y.C.,’ go to www.numerogroup.com/products/white-zombie-it-came-from-nyc

The forgotten past of White Zombie is now captured in the album/ book combo, ‘It Came from N.Y.C.’

The forgotten past of White Zombie is now captured in the album/ book combo, ‘It Came from N.Y.C.’

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