|June 29, 2016 | Interview, White Zombie
Here’s an interview I did recently, where I talk about White Zombie and the It Came From N.Y.C. box set, but also about memories of New York and some other stuff.
Here’s an interview I did recently, where I talk about White Zombie and the It Came From N.Y.C. box set, but also about memories of New York and some other stuff.
Here’s an interview Sean did.
You can read about it here, and you can order it here. The set contains exact reproductions of every single LP and 12″ EP released by the band prior to signing with Geffen (sourced from the original tapes, yesindeed) including early unreleased, unheard material from the Gods On Voodoo Moon and Pig Heaven sessions. There’s also a big fat book, packed with all kinds of stuff Sean Yseult and I dug out of our archives, including a lot of eye-catching photos and memorabilia, and even a comprehensive guide to WZ t-shirts. It has literally been years since we started talking about doing this, and there have been a lot of snags along the way, so I’m very, very happy to able to finally talk about it.
I was fucking around on the internet the other day when this flyer popped up, and I was like, “oh, hey, hello, I was at that show”. This was when WZ had freshly arrived from NYC. In my memory of the gig, I’m the only person there, although that can’t be exactly true. I do remember what was going on at that time, the musical climate, and there would have been very little interest in these groups. Nobody from my band went, nor did anyone I’d met yet in Los Angeles.
Hole was the early version, the noisy, screamy stuff (you know, this), which I liked okay on record. I wasn’t a fan of their later, commercial sound at all, and I’ve certainly never been a fan of CL’s (I’ve had conversations with her exactly twice, and both times there was a voice inside my head, repeating “she’s crazy, get away from her”), but, I have to say that they sounded so good, it was, I don’t know, transportive? She was a very good performer, yelling her guts out to that empty club.
Vitus (who I was actually there to see) were in their wilderness years (this). Their association with Black Flag and SST would have been useless at this point, and there sure as shit wasn’t any such thing as a metal-hipster in those days. (Ha ha, I just had a little reverie about good-looking, well-heeled kids with ivy league degrees and Pentagram back-patches, doing their stoned thing in Williamsburg, or, shit, in 2015 it’d be Nashville) They had that weird singer they had for, whatever, one album. He was Swedish, I think? They sounded good, but it doesn’t matter how much rock energy you dish out if there’s no crowd to cycle it back to you. I’m thinking hard about this, and I believe I was actually alone, in front of the stage, audience of one, watching them.
Spoon. This was not the popular group from Austin, and darned if I can remember (Jesus, should I say that in a Mr.Magoo voice?) who they were, although I feel like I saw them more than once. Probably some of that alternative, noisy stuff. Absolutely un-google-able. Oh well.
Here in New Orleans, we think of Summer as something to be endured. It’s famously hot (really, it’s the tropics! I can see banana trees out of my window), and this was the second hottest Summer on record, so you can imagine what it was like. (You can’t? Turn your oven to 125° and stick your head inside) Everyone who can leave, leaves, and this time, I stuck it out.
There was that horror movie/celebrity convention at the beginning of August (while there were some fun things that happened there, I was working, and I wouldn’t call it a vacation), and a couple of little day trips (options are limited, living as I do in geographic isolation at the absolute bottom of the country, where the nearest medium-sized cities are 5-6-7 hours away), but for the most part, I stayed put. I had a lot to do, and I guess I was trying to
punish myself prove something to myself, which is that I really don’t want to live here any longer.
Especially with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, stories about this city – the gentrification, the incompetence, the corruption, and the crime are all over the news. Suffice to say that, for me, the draw, among a few other things, was that it was easy to live here, and you could pretty much do what you wanted and be left alone. The benefits (insanely cheap cost of living, no rules, being surrounded by art and music all the time) used to outweigh the drawbacks.
Now, they’re intent on turning the place into a demented version of Portland, albeit with lots of violent crime and broken social services. I like Portland, but if I wanted to live in Portland, I would, you know?
Anyway, to my point. There were some bright spots, this Summer. I wasn’t here very much, and I was on Instagram quite a bit. A lot has been made about the death of the blog, or how blogs are for old people, and .. no, I just haven’t been in the mood to write, and the web kind of takes the Summer off, doesn’t it? Instagram is a good medium for me. You don’t have to think much.
There’s a very nice church around the corner from where I live, which has a well-funded music program. I have recorded, from time to time, the church’s brilliant and eccentric musical director’s organ recitals, which might feature the pieces you’d expect, by Bach and Purcell, but might also include works by Hendrix, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple. The paint-and-gold-leaf design on the inside cover of the church’s harpsichord took 2 years to complete.
I worked on a film crew as a sound recorder, on a documentary about a New Orleans brass band (It’s part of this group of films, which were made to commemorate the Katrina anniversary, I’ll post the movie itself later, if it becomes available to watch). After a long and very hot shoot in a club in the 7th Ward, I was carrying gear back to the van, walking through tall grass on a neutral ground (in other places, you’d call this a ‘median’), when all of a sudden it felt like someone had poured acid on my foot. I have fire-ant scars now.
I call this one ‘The Bleeding Heart Of Kenny Hill’. Hill was an itinerant bricklayer who settled on a patch of land in Chauvin, LA (way down there in the wetlands, south of Houma, even) and, in the grand tradition of America’s loner eccentric builders (Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Edward Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle, Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, Jim Bishop’s Bishop Castle, and the list goes on and on), created a colorful sculpture garden, full of statues of.. himself, in various states of religious torment. Here, he’s dragging a cross behind Jesus. There, he’s being comforted by angels. It’s awesome.
My friends are incredulous that I’m still working on the White Zombie vinyl box set, the idea of which was conceived about two years ago. I’ve spent the last year on it, wrangling audio (I mastered the whole thing) , digging through all of my boxes of WZ stuff for cool artifacts (like, above, this Make Them Die Slowly shirt, which Rob and Sean gave me the first day I met them, and which I wore on my first tour with the band, Summer 1989), writing down everything I can remember (this was from notes I made for the box, and so was this).
We’re on the final step, they tell me, which is editing various interviews (not just with me and Sean and Rob, but Ivan, Tom 5, and various other people who are part of the story) and pulling it all together into something everyone can agree on. I’ve got the test-pressings (5 discs, plus a possible sixth, everything sounds really good), and I’ve seen the mock-up of the hardcover book which will be included (beautiful, packed with high-quality photos). We’ve put a lot of ourselves into this thing, and I hope you get to hear and see it soon.
Here’s the “3D gold with blood splatter” vinyl variant of the soundtrack LP of Starry Eyes, which is a very cool 2014 horror film. The record actually looks like this, but if you hold it up to the light, it turns into something more like blood blobs on a clear microscope slide. When I started this site, I was deep into recording and engineering, and that isn’t the case at all anymore. I haven’t made a record with a band in a couple of years, and I’ve somehow become an audio engineer who prepares recordings for pressing on vinyl.
The label I do this for most often is Waxwork, issuer of horror-movie soundtracks and scores. Not only do I work on music from movies from the recent spate of fresh, inventive, and quite scary films, like Starry Eyes and Babadook, but on many of the classics I grew up with: C.H.U.D., Friday The 13th, Rosemary’s Baby, Creepshow. Often, the music from these motion pictures was originally released in a highly edited form, or not at all, and I get to go back to the original tapes and pull something new together. It’s pretty cool.
Des Allemands, LA. Drive-through daiquiri shop, with a blue gorilla in front. What can I tell you about this? Whenever I spot one of these old-time (late 50s-early 60s, America was covered with concrete dinosaurs, alligators, gorillas – enticing motorists to pull over, take photos, and buy stuff) roadside cement creatures, I turn around and check it out. It’s always fun.
The drive-through liquor store has a long and convoluted history in the deep south. Here’s the current loophole that allows you to purchase a big slushy cup of high-fructose corn sweetener, chemical dye, everclear or 4 different kinds of cheap rum to be consumed in your car : the lid of the cup has a straw in it, and the top of the straw has a torn-off part of the straw’s wrapper on it. Thus, the drink is ‘sealed’, and you’re, of course, committing a grave crime if you remove the wrapper.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d managed to finagle a schedule that was nearly all art and writing classes. First period was ‘graphic arts’, which was a vocational class where I got to use a printing press, silk-screen t-shirts, and develop photos in a darkroom. My friend Dread Scott (back then, a kid from my neighborhood, now a famous artist), was a photography student at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was able to check out fancy, professional large format cameras – which he shot punk shows with. I didn’t have a camera of my own, so Scott graciously lent me his negatives so that I could learn to print. I was recently going through boxes of teenage stuff and I came across two prints I made of Samhain, from their gig at Smart Bar, Chicago, December 2nd, 1984 (one of 2 times I saw the band).
Es el final del verano. Gracias a dios.
DDR sugar packet. I put this in my pocket during White Zombie’s first European tour, when we were heading to Berlin, Christmas 1989. This is how I found myself at the Brandenburg Gate on my 23rd birthday, four days after that part of the Berlin Wall had been opened, watching East Germans stream through to party with their Western counterparts.
Hey, I’m just back from a weekend Monster Mania Con, where I was signing stuff with John Tempesta and Sean Yseult, my old White Zombie bandmates. It was a positive experience overall (my motivation in signing up for this was mainly to get to spend time with my old friends, which I did, and it was good), with a little ultra-weirdness thrown in, which I will maybe write about. My old band keeps popping up, and my activities this Summer have largely taken a turn from my regular professional gig (mastering and audio engineering) and usual pursuit (travel) towards work on various WZ-related projects. Since we’re talking about a 20-year old story which didn’t have a particularly happy ending, you’d think that this might be an angry time, or a melancholy one, but it’s been more like putting on an old pair of shoes than anything else.
As I said in yesterday’s post (see below, I Go To See A Band), I did some interviews for the liner notes for the forthcoming White Zombie vinyl box set, and I was asked afterwards to elaborate on a few points. Here are some memories from the making of the La Sexorcisto album. Like the other piece, this isn’t a proper story, but a series of things I wrote down as they occurred to me.
The liner notes for La Sexorcisto say that it was recorded during May 1991, which, okay. It is very, very difficult to remember much about that time period, besides the actual work of recording the album, but it seems to me like it was pretty warm — in the photograph of us in the control room with Iggy Pop, we’re wearing Summer clothes. (the photo is in Sean’s book)
I have a print of that picture, and it’s the only one I have from the making of the record. There are others, but I don’t remember anyone taking many photos, and carrying a camera wasn’t something a lot of people did at that time. Film cost money, developing cost money, and your point n’ shoot snapshots almost always looked like shit when you got them back from Walgreens. I don’t think any of us were in the habit of writing things down, either, which makes it difficult to think about. I do have a scrapbook somewhere, with Iggy Pop’s cab receipt in it. He walked in, said, “hi, I’m Jim”, and asked about getting reimbursed for his taxi ride uptown, and we all looked at each other, and I thought, “I’ll buy Iggy’s receipt from him, that’ll be a cool thing to have”.
I should go looking for that scrapbook. It got wet during Hurricane Katrina, and is probably still moldy.
(A note about Iggy Pop coming to the studio to do his voiceover on Black Sunshine : I’d had, previously, the chance to meet people from bands I was a fan of, but Iggy was the first genuine rock star I ever met, and I cannot emphasize enough what a positive experience it was. He knocked out his part on the track pretty quick [I remember that when he got in the booth, he said, “Okay, I want to hear mainly myself in the cans, no reverb, LOUD”], and then hung out for a couple of hours, telling us stories and bullshitting about the state of music. He was very, very friendly, and kindly answered all our questions about his life and work. )
Anyway, I don’t know. La Sexorcisto, recorded in May / June, maybe?
We recorded at a place called 321, which was at 321 W.44th street. It had been the Record Plant from 1968 to 1987, a very, very famous studio. When I was exploring some of the empty rooms, I found a box full of invoices from the late 70s, billing for session time for Cheap Trick, Bruce Springsteen, Kiss, and Blondie. I have no idea why I didn’t swipe one as a souvenir.
I didn’t learn until much later that Jimi Hendrix recorded Electric Ladyland there. So, I moved to NYC when I was 20 years old, and I played on the stage the Ramones and countless others played on, and then I recorded where Jimi Hendrix and countless others recorded. So I need a new childhood dream, I guess.
I don’t know what, exactly, was going on there, business-wise, but it felt like they had started renovating and run out of money — there was drywall stacked up everywhere, holes in the walls, wires dangling. The live room was a massive, two floors tall, unfinished space. It’s very unusual, in New York City, to see a space like that, high up in a building. The scene was very different from what you might imagine a legendary recording studio to be like. The lounge didn’t have much in it besides a stained couch and a battered boombox.
I’m guessing that we were getting a bargain rate, recording there.
Hardly anyone worked at 321. I remember that there was a reception area in the front, which occasionally had one person in it, and there was a guy or two (techs, maybe – I don’t think there was a house engineer) who came through once in a while. I asked a guy if there might be a guitar stand laying around, and he laughed in my face.
I do remember that the room we mixed in was pyramid-shaped, and we were told that John Lennon had built it as his personal studio. I don’t know if that’s true, but he did record Imagine and Double Fantasy there, and he was recording there on the day he was killed.
The thing that was really unusual about making the record was how little supervision there was. Geffen Records was an L.A. company, and, as far as I know, the only representative of the company was Michael Alago, the A&R guy who signed us. Alago had signed Metallica to Elektra, and it seemed like, on the basis of that, he pretty much had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. I don’t remember meeting or dealing with anyone else from the label until after that Summer, when we moved to Los Angeles – the reaction of a lot of the Californian Geffen staff being “who the fuck is this band, and what the fuck are we supposed to do with them?” That whole thing, waiting in purgatory for La Sexorcisto to come out, is another story.
Alago came by the studio a couple of times, but largely let us get on with it. It was just us, and Andy Wallace, and his assistant David Carpenter.
Savatage were in the other studio, mixing their Streets rock-opera album. I don’t think the guys from the band were around much – I certainly don’t remember having any conversations with them. The producer needed a drum roll on one of the tracks, their drummer wasn’t there, and, this being well before the time when you could easily mimic such a thing digitally, they paid Ivan $50 to do it. As I recall, he was delighted about this.
I remember also peeking at their guitar gear, fancy rolling flight cases containing shock-mounted amps and signal processors, rack gear with numerous blinking LEDs. I didn’t know much about this stuff yet, but I was definitely dreaming about it. My very fondest wish at that time was for a big, flashy rack full of gear, and a fancy heavy metal guitar (the one I recorded the album with was made in Japan and cost $350) and a guitar tech to take care of it all. (If you want to read more about that guitar, and other gear used on the album, that’s here)
As it was, we each received a few hundred dollars to cover studio costs. I bought strings, picks, and new wah wah, and a Boss OC-2 octave pedal (I had seen Circus Of Power using this pedal, to great effect), and I paid a few weeks rent on my boarding-house room in Brooklyn with the rest of the money. I couldn’t work during the making of the album, so I was utterly, completely broke the entire time. Eating one meal a day, if that. I drank a lot of coffee, which helped with the hunger. There was a bakery product called a Well-Bread Loaf Blondie, which New Yorkers may remember, that I lived on. Exclusively, some days.
Nobody told me I could rent nice gear or anything like that. The tubes in my Marshall head (which were the same ones that came with the head when I bought it new, and had been in it for every show I’d played with the band) flamed out during the making of the album – I literally did not know that tubes wear out, I don’t think any of us did. When I got the amp back, it sounded quite different.
Here’s a question I get asked all the time : was there a specific moment when you said to yourself, “I’ve made it!” — I do have an answer for that, but it’s not what people expect. New York City is a hard place. It’s not nice to be poor, but it’s especially difficult in a city that’s filled with rich people and locked doors. In NYC, excerpt for the parks and the sidewalks and wherever it is that you sleep, There’s no space where you can actually BE, unless you have a key, or power, or you’re spending money.
I couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants – except for, of course, slices of pizza, and sometimes, the very cheap Ukrainian diners on the Lower East Side (another thing people who lived in New York at that time might remember is the Leshko’s breakfast special).
I couldn’t afford to see bands, although The Limelight was free on, I think, Tuesday nights, and we could get into some of the metal clubs for free. We could always get into the Cat Club, which is where the poodle-haired glam metal bands played. I saw, as a result, a huge number of those bands. I was, for the most part, excluded from doing anything else. I went to Tower Records to read magazines. I used to go to the library a lot, to kill time. There wasn’t really anything to do besides practice guitar all day, which I did, frequently.
Back to the question : New York is made of buildings, and when you’re used to being down on the street, shut out, it is a very powerful thing psychologically to be able to get up off the street and into one of those buildings. I remember, first, being in an office, signing the Geffen contract, thinking the whole time about having walked in through the lobby as a client, not through the back as a bike messenger or servant. Then, at the studio, one whole wall of the room where I cut guitar overdubs was glass (I can’t remember what floor the place was on, but it was up there), and there was a deck, and we could go up on the roof, which I did every chance I got, to look out over the city.
In retrospect, getting signed (which was something everyone we knew wanted) and being in a studio, up in the sky, with a famous music-industry-veteran producer (actually, I should say semi-famous — the very next job Andy Wallace did was to mix Nirvana’s Nevermind, which is what made him FAMOUS) who was treating me very well and taking my ideas seriously .. was, for me, a much bigger leap from the year and a half leading up to that time than anything, platinum records, playing arenas, whatever, that happened after.
Even today, it would probably not be a wise move to take the subway from Times Square to Brooklyn at 3 in the morning, but in pre-Giuliani New York it was downright suicidal. And unavoidable, for me. I worked very long days when I was recording guitar tracks, like noon to 2am (listen to the record; it has quite a bit of guitar on it), and I liked being in the studio so much that I would hang out all day when somebody else was tracking.
(I was at some point, during writing this stuff down, going to go into exhaustive detail about how the album was recorded on a Sony PCM 3348 48-track digital machine, and then I remembered that absolutely nobody gives a shit about that — suffice to say that there were a lot of tracks, and I was able to do as many guitar overdubs as I wanted. Sometimes, Sean was in the control room with me, egging me on : “now do another part, a minor third above the one you just did!” We had a lot of fun with that) (I should mention also that Andy had been in bands and was a very musical person – you might say, “well, duh”, but many record producers approach the work in a way that’s more technical than artistic, and I have worked with studio people who have never played music –so, what I was going to say is that Andy knew the lingo, had some good guitar ideas, and helped us arrange some of the songs)
Again, I remember it as being hot. These rides home seem like Summer in my memory, and there was that out-of-control, dangerous feeling that Summer in the city brought, then.
A couple of nights I thought “Great, guitarist killed while recording debut album” — one night there was a gang of kids working their way towards me, fucking with people, trying to snatch purses, etc. — I stuck out like a sore thumb in any situation, at that time, but on a Brooklyn-bound train I REALLY stuck out. They were moving slowly, but they had their eyes on me the whole time. They were almost on top of me when I got to my stop, and I used an old New York trick — the doors opened, and I sat still, pretending like I wasn’t getting off, until the doors-closing chime sounded, at which point I dashed off the train and up the stairs. I heard a lot of shouting and door-banging behind me.
Another time, I think it was like a week later, I came up out of the station, and an old guy made like he had a gun in his pocket and told me to give him all my money. I was in a very good, very excited mood because I had laid down a lot of tracks that day and I had a cassette of some rough mixes with me. I threw a quarter at him, which hit him in his forehead, cheerfully told him to go fuck himself, and ran home.
The White Zombie vinyl box set is coming together; we’ve gotten test pressings back, they sound good, and we’ve seen some mock-ups of the cover. I can’t give you a release date or say much more about it, but a LOT of work is going into this thing, and I think it’s going to be exceptionally cool. The guy who’s writing the liner notes (they’re going to be extensive) asked me to go into more detail about a couple of things I mentioned during the interview I did, one of which was the time, before I was in the band, when I went to see White Zombie, tape recorded the gig, had no way to get home, and walked around New York City all night. I had to think about it for a while, and then I wrote this. It isn’t presented as a story, but as a series of facts that I wrote down as I remembered them.
The gig, at CBGB, was supposed to be with the Necros headlining, but Laughing Hyenas got switched in at the last minute. Saturday, March 26, 1988.
Dig Dat Hole became Cop Shoot Cop later. I don’t remember much about them, maybe that they had unusual percussion, or no guitar, or a sampler — I can’t remember a thing about Happy Flowers.
I’m pretty sure I caught all the groups, as I would have gotten to the gig early (I was starving for something cool to do, and I would have wanted to study the bands, pick up clues, look at guitars), but at that time, the most fashion-forward of the ex-hardcore kids were getting into some advanced hairstyles (laughing Hyenas featured another white guy with dreads, a rarity at that time), everything was trending towards metal or hard rock, and if a band didn’t have long hair and volume and ROCK, I wasn’t very interested.
White Zombie had a lot of hair, and flames on their guitars, so they fell exactly and perfectly into my zone of interest.
I had a Sony TCS tape recorder, slightly bigger than a Walkman, which had a stereo mic that you could remove and furtively clip to your shirt collar, and I recorded all of WZ’s set and most of Laughing Hyenas’. I don’t know what happened to that cassette, or to the late-80s NYC field recordings I used to make, which would be slightly interesting now. I did recently find a tape with some snippets of us in the van, talking, from my first WZ tour, Summer 1989.
I didn’t know anyone (at the gig, and, really, I barely knew anyone in New York), and I didn’t talk to anyone, and I certainly didn’t have a car, and I lived in far-off New Jersey, from where I commuted to the city every day by bus, into the Port Authority.
The last bus back to NJ ran, I can’t remember, not that late, like 10-10:30pm. The first bus the next morning ran not very early (even later than normal,I think, because the next morning was a Sunday), maybe 10:30am — so, what this meant was that I would have to spend the night in the city.
The Port Authority Bus Terminal (and 42nd St. in general) at that time was a nasty, dangerous place (you didn’t want to spend any more time there than you had to), so I had to figure out what to do all night. I lingered at CBGB as long as I could, then I went to the Kiev (restaurant, 2nd Ave. and 7th St.), which was open 24 hours and was where you could fill up on soup and huge slices of challah bread for very little money.
The people who ran Kiev were pretty good about letting you linger over coffee and a newspaper, which I did for a couple of hours, and then I started to wander aimlessly, listening to the recordings I had just made. I remember listening, also, to Zodiac Mindwarp and Gaye Bykers On Acid.
I bought AA batteries at all-night bodegas, and coffee. I walked as far downtown as Wall St., my first time seeing that area at night. I vividly remember how empty and spooky it was. In general, the city was very quiet and there were very few people on the street. I went as far uptown as Central Park. Another thing I remember clearly is sitting on a bench there and listening to White Zombie and looking at the trees in the darkness.
I’ve gotten an increased number of interview requests lately, and I’ve decided to start doing a little press – here’s one, from iHorror.com.
” This is the 1994 Ibanez IC500 Iceman that I used for the rhythm parts on the track, and also in the music video ( it used to be covered in stickers, including large ones that read, “RIGHT ON!” and “DROP DEAD” ). It’s a rare Japanese factory model ( with a set-neck and binding ),and it’s pretty much stock, except for a pair of Seymour Duncan humbuckers, with coil taps — these are screwed directly into the guitar’s body, instead of being mounted in pickup rings. Want more info? Here. ”
” Here’s a guitar of mine you’ve never seen before, but you have definitely heard it. I needed to set up a guitar with higher action than normal to record the slide parts on the track; this one, a custom black Robin Machete with star fret inlays, had just arrived from Texas. We tuned it up, it sounded great in the song, and after a very long day ( I was quite hard on myself during the making of ‘Astro-creep 2000’, and I never signed off on a performance or sound I didn’t think was perfect ), I put it back in its case and didn’t look at it again for years. In fact, it still has the strings from that recording session on it. “
I started a Tumblr, something I resisted for years. It’s here.
Something we’ve been planning for a while, and it went live today. here you go :