Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Interview With Sean Yseult

One of the coolest things about this writing stuff is if you’re moved by someone’s art, be it music or writing or whatever, there’s a (sometimes, extremely) small chance you’ll be able to speak with the creator about it.  It almost adds a new personal dimension to the work you’ve already been moved by, it’s tough to explain.

After I finished ‘I’m In the Band’ by Former White Zombie and current Star & Dagger Bassist Sean Yseult it was like I had to speak with her.  I think the book is killer and you get a feeling she’s got a great story to tell and she does.  If you haven’t yet checked it out, go to her official site and check out book previews, music, photos, art and more.
After a successful weekend at the 2011 Namm Convention where she unveiled her Schecter Coffin Bass Sean was back to business and also promoting, which is where we start.      

None But My Own: I made mention in my review that since the sales of CD’s and what not are totally on the decline, I hope more people do these kinds of projects.  Be it movies or books, things the kids can’t readily steal. But I was blown away by ‘I’m In The Band.’

Sean Yseult: Cool, thank you so much.  

When you were working on ‘I’m In the Band,’ what type of response did you think you would get?  Did you think it would be just the White Zombie fans?  I think it’s deserving of a broader scope because there’s so much in here.   

Well I definitely knew the White Zombie fans would gravitate to it. Over the years I’ve definitely seen my share of internet chatter and received emails regarding everything from “why there wasn’t more information in the box set” to just about anything else related to the band. I just really wanted to get the story of the band out there because it’s never really been told. So I knew the fans would be into it and I also thought it would appeal to a wider female audience as well.  So outside of that I wasn’t too sure who it would speak to. 

I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting some of the “Rock N’ Roll” aspects of the book.  White Zombie, from afar didn't seem like an "out of control" kind of band.  In my review I wrote something like, “yeah the band ended with a thud, but you [Sean] had some FUN!” 

(Laughing) Well, I made damn sure I was having a good time!

I mean you really lived it and while things could seem bad at times I don’t think you could document things the way you did if you really didn’t love what you were doing.

Well we weren’t like Motley Crue with the strippers and drugs, but yeah, I made sure to have fun with it!  Having all the photos and tour diary’s to back up my memories helps (laughs)! 

When you started as a Rock Musician, were you a bass player first then a song writer or vice versa?   
Definitely a songwriter first.  My classical music training goes back to when I was five or six, so I was trained to read, write, compose and improvise music…it was some hardcore training.  By the time I was eight I was writing five page pieces on piano, some pretty intricate shit too (laughs)!  Bass came later, it wasn’t until high school and getting into hardcore bands like The Cramps, Black Flag and Dead Kennedys and so on.  That’s when I knew I wanted to be in a band.

As soon I got to New York I met some hardcore kids at a Bad Brains show and they we like “we’re gonna start a band and we need a Bass player!” so I got a bass for fifty dollars, a Global was the brand and it was horrible but it was all I could afford.  But I don’t think we ever practiced, we just sat around and talked about having this “band”!  So as soon as I started playing bass I was writing riffs, I practiced to build my strength but always was writing stuff.  

I can’t profess to being the biggest White Zombie fan, but from my point of view WZ always seemed to be Rob and then the band.  All important in the public eye, but definitely an emphasis on him, especially, seemingly more when the band “broke.”  I liked reading just how important each of you were to the absolute foundation of the band. 

That was definitely something Rob and I wanted from the start.  It wasn’t like the members of the band fighting for quality, he (Rob) was really into that. He was like “I only like bands where every member’s important.” So we really tried to stress that from the beginning on all our early records too.  All members were prominently featured equally, that was important to us.  

I liked how (former WZombie drummer) Ivan DePrume was given the spotlight.  I really never knew how vital he was both as a drummer and as a band mate.

Oh Ivan was incredibly important to White Zombie! I don’t think we would have gone the direction we went without Ivan.  Ivan played on six of the eight White Zombie records, only the first 7” and the last album, but he was there for most of the ride. 

Knowing how much he meant to WZ and thinking of his departure, which you don’t go into in the book, but he left just before things blew up, didn’t he?

Yeah…it was real upsetting.  I don’t know if it was just a misunderstanding between him and Rob or whatever, but they kind of got into a fight on stage.  Ivan felt he wasn’t going to put up with whatever and said he quit and Rob said “Good” and it was just a bad scene.   The next thing you know Rob’s holding him to it and got him a bus ticket home…

No shit, he got Mustained?!…



Yeah, so we were in the middle of a tour, I think we were supporting Testament and all of a sudden this kid from Wisconsin shows up and he knows our tour manager.  His name is Phil…I can’t remember his last name.  But he shows up the very next day and our tour manager say’s “well this guy can fill in” and we’re needing someone, right?  So we start playing with this guy and he knows all the songs!?  

So I didn’t know if this was planned or what but at the time it was just uncanny.  He was in and we just carried on, there may have been a day off in there but I don’t think we missed a show.  But you know, it was never the same after Ivan.  We were like family, he was like my little brother and it was upsetting.  So it was like we have this new guy in the band that we’re not friends with and…but that’s why I didn’t really go into it.  Too unpleasant.  

Still though, his contributions are great moments in the book.  The stories of you guys rehearsing in his basement are fucking hilarious! 

(laughing) Oh god, I don’t even go into half of it, man!  Ivan grew up in Park Slope, New York.  Park Slope now is all nice and expensive now, totally yuppied out, right? But back then his family had this building and there were like hookers on his block and it wasn’t all that great.  His Mother was Russian and she’d yell at Rob and I all the time, like “what is wrong with your hair?” because we had dreadlocks and she just thought we were freaks.  

At one time there was a raccoon loose and it was living in the drop ceiling, but then we found out the raccoon was the pet of a Vietnam vet who lived upstairs and it was like every single person in that house was, a real character (laughing) and I guess we fit in there too, in a weird way. But all in all his mother put up with us making all that noise in the basement for years.

Ivan’s influence by way of Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lightning’ plays a role in the story of White Zombie.  Both Metallica and Cliff Burton were sort of name checked in the book around the time the “Metal-morphesis” of WZ was taking place.  Ivan mentions he took a lot of heat for liking Metallica and Slayer in 85/86.

Oh well, Ivan was always with the boots, the bullet belt, I mean he was a serious Brooklyn Metal head, he was sixteen when we first met him; still in high school!  But yeah, he got made fun of quite a bit.  All those drives we’d take to play The Rat in Boston or Toad’s Place in Connecticut, well Ivan would have all his cassettes and he’d be blasting Slayer and Metallica and the three of us would be like “oh god, what is this?”  But the more we heard it, the more it sunk in and the more we liked it and it definitely rubbed off on us! 

Was Cliff Burton an influence?  Both Bassists - your classical background, his classical background.. 

Definitely an influence, huge influence, his style, and headbanging, total original, just one of a kind.

Your description of the two scenes in which WZ in existed early on was pretty fucking funny.  From “art student drop-outs with vintage guitars, dressed in sixties garage style trying to play it cool vs. high school drop outs in leather and mullets, ready to fight, fuck or get fucked up.” 

Which was the difference between say CBGB’s and other NYC gigs and L’amour’s in Brooklyn.  The Metal kids took to you fast; they embraced you, how awesome was that?

Exactly! We were just so happy to have an audience that liked us.  Because at CBGB’s or anywhere in the East Village, you know only a smattering of people would even come and bother to see you.  If they did they were also in a band so they’d be feeling competitive so they’d come out but for like all the wrong reasons.  Not to support, but to check out the “competition” or they wouldn’t even pay attention, it was very strange.

So we get out to L’amour’s in Brooklyn and people were moshing and going ape-shit, it was like “Wow! This scene is alive, alive and kicking!” (laughs) and they embraced us.  I don’t know if I mention this in the book but we definitely owe a lot to Biohazard and the Cro-Mags for inviting us to open for them because that was kind of our entrance to that whole Metal scene. 

After that show we go to open up for Pantera at L’Amour’s on their ‘Cowboys from Hell’ tour, Slayer invited us to open a couple of shows.  That was incredible and we didn’t get booed off stage!  We actually had a pit by our second song, and this was back in 89 when we were still pretty noisy!  I think we were still chaotic enough for them to like it.            

Continuing on the subject of New York, the way you describe the East Village back then, the horror/porn theaters and just the sleaze/danger element…it reminded me of the book ‘The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon' by John 'Bloodclot' Joseph.  The way he described New York growing up, the streets, the vibe, the whole culture of a neighborhood come to life was. 

But he also said the New York City he grew up in is dead to him.  From the changes and the way it’s all cleaned up, he just sounded disheartened.  Is it the same to you when you go to New York now?

You know, I’m not really bitter about it, but mostly because I didn’t grow up there like those kids, I know a lot of New Yorkers who are really hateful about how cleaned up it is.  I see it but you know?  It is a shame how everything got bought out and it’s almost like a big shopping mall. 

I remember when the first McDonalds came into the East Village, people were like ”whoa” and when they built a Gap on St. Marks Street…people threw rocks at it and kept breaking their windows.  Nothing like that was accepted, but now you walk around Soho or the Village and it’s all corporate.  Back when everything was Mom and Pop stores and independent and places you’d only find in New York. 

So that part is a bummer.  But I have to say, I don’t mind that it’s cleaner and safer!  I’m not going to lie, as a female if I’m walking alone I like that I don’t have to feel like I’m going to get knifed or mugged.  Back then I definitely found myself in some dicey situations, but it also seems these days some of the grit may be coming back…

Some of the what?

The grit.  Since the economic downturn a few years ago I’ve heard a few things about the area.  You hear and see some people and things, some places going under and things like that.  I’m not saying it will ever get as bad as it was in the early 80’s, but it’s definitely there.

Part of it’s original charm was it was nurturing to artists.  These days there’s just no way someone could live there and try to start a band or be a painter or photographer.  Back then you’d see all sorts of freaks in the street, not anymore.

Speaking of freaks, how funny is it the photos you took with Kyuss on the Danzig tour (1992) and Glen’s bodyguard was Jesse James…the West Coast Choppers guy?  He’s like a tabloid freak now.

Yeah! That was mind-blowing!  I mean, first I kept hearing about him from different media things and I’m thinking, “no way that’s the same guy.”  But then again, how many guys are named Jesse James (laughs)?  But he was a really nice guy.  Funny guy, we hung out a lot with him on that tour.  In the pictures he’s got a broken arm, he broke it in Detroit at Harpo’s on the last night of the tour! 

But yeah, I hadn’t seen Jesse since touring days and that was very strange. When I saw he had a TV show I was like , “Oh, cool for him.”  The he married Sandra Bulloch and I was like “Wow, great for him…”

Great for his bank account as well.  

(laughs) But strange to see someone you know, or knew totally swept up in the Hollywood world! 

Not to bring up a bummer, but there’s quite a few Pantera tour mementos in the book.  There are words and some great photos of two bands that seemed to really enjoy each others company.  After the events of December 8, 2004 the tributes and memories were massive.   Did you ever get a chance to release a statement, either something personal or on the part of White Zombie? 

I went to his funeral, and Rita had asked me to go up and tell a story or something…(long pause) but I didn’t have the heart to.  It was really, really upsetting…I don’t know, just so senseless and so terrible.  You know some people, when I think back about them like Kurt Cobain and others; I can’t even listen to the music. 

But when I hear Pantera it makes me happy, you know?  Darryl was such a good soul [and a] great person with such good energy it feels like he’s still here, not to sound corny.  It’s hard to put into words because it’s not like he took his own life or OD’d or something, but it was sudden and I only think of good things when I think of Darryl.

(Talk about Lead Singer’s Disease, one totally doesn’t wanna be there and the other totally doesn’t even know he’s there.)

How’s the book tour going?

Great!  It’s been keeping me really busy and they keep selling out of books, so that’s been telling me it’s going good! 

What type of reactions have you been receiving?  Me, personally I can see people gravitating to a few different things with it, of course the visual stuff is fantastic.  But I also really enjoyed the writing too. 

It’s funny; there are some people who thought it was going to be all writing and not all that visual, not a coffee table styled book.  Then there’s the other half who thought it was going to be all visual and were surprised at all the stories, so (laughing) it’s this hybrid kind of book, but yeah the response has been great.