by Alex S. Johnson
White Zombie cofounder Sean Yseult revels in her newfound roles as New Awhlins bar hostess and frontwoman for Rock City Morgue.
Blonde curls squiggling like Medusa, exquisite features stylized into the sexiest skullface in history, she poured rock-steady bass riffs into mutated cybermetal, her stage-right-and-front presence anchoring the thunder that poured from the stage. The band, of course, was White Zombie; the bassist, Sean Yseult.
Before a Haverhill, Mass. bike messenger named Rob Cummings dreaded his locks, coshed together a heavy-hitting blend of aggro, metal and hard industrial and turned Zombie, his future cofounder of a gore-gore legacy, ghoulfriend Shauna Reynolds, had emerged from South Carolina with a degree in art design.
Working together in New York on a men's mag titled Celebrity Sleuth, Rob and Shauna discovered their shared taste for monster movies and Black Sabbath. Reincarnated with the nom du Zombie Sean Yseult, Shauna strapped on a bass -- an instrument she'd never played before -- while Rob stepped up to the mike, never having sung before. The outfit they formed in 1985, named after Bela Lugosi's 1933 horror classic, cruised to legend on singed wings and prayers to elder gods. "When we started White Zombie, none of us really knew what we were doing," Yseult says, "but I have to admit picking up the bass was really easy for me. From the age of six I was trained intensively on piano, and later on the violin, so the bass was just a matter of building strength."
Rob Zombie liked Kiss and Van Halen, while Yseult's tastes traveled further into primal punk and art damage: "As far as style, my influences at the time (and still some of my favorite bands!) were the Birthday Party, the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid and Kira while she was playing with Black Flag -- all had these really driving bass lines that I loved. And of course, Black Sabbath."
The group worked hard to promote an egalitarian feeling, where every member had equal saying power, Yseult says. "White Zombie was like a family- maybe like the Manson family! Even though Rob and I started the band, we were all pretty equal and everyone contributed in their way. Ivan [drummer dePrume] provided us with a practice space and transportation, J wrote killer riffs, I wrote riffs, would help with graphics and packaging, booking and banking, and Rob of course would come up with all of the insane lyrics, artwork, and help orchestrate the riffs. It was a lot of work but we all enjoyed it. We were one of the few bands that the fans could identify with each member, which is something we worked at. We all hated bands where it was like "Well they all look cool and into the same stuff, but who's the guy with the crewcut and white T-shirt?"
Yet all good things must come to a pass, and by the time White Zombie, fully recharged by a move to the land of La, had swept the country on hugely successful tours, clipped to the top of Rolling Stone fan polls and released two huge albums ( La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume 1 and Astro-Creep 2000: Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head), the seeds of Rob's solo career had already begun to itch. The rest is history, of course: Zombie moved on with Hellbilly Deluxe and The Sinister Urge, and horror fans eagerly await his long-delayed mayhem opus, the NC-17 rated House of 1,000 Corpses.
Yet internal division had already taken its toll before White Zombie's breakup (the couple had called it quits during the Sexorcisto tour). Yseult's response to whether she maintains a relationship with Rob is a curt "No," and we soon discover why. "The solo stuff sounds exactly like where he was trying to take White Zombie , which J [guitarist Jay Noel Yuenger] and I were against. Let some keyboard wizard come in and write a bunch of techno stuff with disco beats and have a band try to operate over that with as little consequence as possible. More loops, less band. Of course it sounds similar to White Zombie because his voice is over everything, but I don't hear any riffs -- and riffs are the most important thing to me. Thank god for bands like the Queens of the Stone Age and Down, who are bringing that back."
Yseult's post-Zombie venture Famous Monsters (the named later changed to Fabulous Monsters because of copyright issues) began as an art prank of sorts. "The story with Famous Monsters is that I started doing it just for fun-let's all pick up instruments we've never played before, scream nonsensical things after a few cocktails and wear ridiculous costumes, completely incognito. I was also very influenced at an early age by Scooby Doo, the Munsters, Josie and the Pussycats,and the Groovie Ghoulies (all cartoons), so this band stemmed from all of that. Very, very silly. People thought we were from Japan. It got even more ridiculous when bands like the Backyard Babies and Man or Astroman started asking us on tour- this band was never supposed to tour! The next thing we know, we're being flown to England, Japan, the West Coast for a tour with the Cramps
-- hell, we just got asked back to Japan; who knows what might happen?"
While the future of Fabulous Monsters remains wide-open, Yseult's got another project in the works: Rock City Morgue. Describing Morgue's image and influences, Yseult says, "Okay, if I tell you this you'll see what huge fans we are, but these are the bands we all love and are combining to create the Morgue: Dead Boys, Sabbath, Stooges, Ramones, Cramps, Gun Club, Thunders, Birthday Party -- as far as our overall image, it's kind of funeral home meets T.Rex. Rock City Morgue is more like the early days of White Zombie-everyone races to the practice space every night after work, and we're constantly planning shows, recordings, etc. It's really exciting, which is weird since we've all been in bands before. But we all have connections way back and it really feels like a family."
Meanwhile, Yseult's entrepreneurial bent casts her in yet another role: Bar owner. Off the tourist track in a New Orleans setting made famous by Anne Rice, The Saint began life as "an old neighborhood bar in the Lower Garden District. We renamed it The Saint, mainly because it was a great price and there was nowhere good to go for a drink in the neighborhood. People come for the jukebox since we have everything in there from ABBA to eyehategod, and we've been told the decor resembles a 70's ski lodge; but I assure you, that was not on purpose! We're packed to the gills with locals at 3, 4 a.m. and the only tourists we've gotten so far are from Australia and Sweden, which is fine by me!" Additionally, The Saint has garnered some famous fans: "Francis Ford Coppola was in there recently and we hear he proclaimed it one of his favorite new bars!"
With all these irons in the fire, I had to ask Yseult what she considers her main job. "I guess I see myself primarily as a musician -- at least right now! I've got some design and photography projects on hold right now until the band takes a break, and I love New Orleans and being involved in the bar and other projects going on, but I could never limit myself to one thing."
The first release from Rock City Morgue will be a six-song EP with Daniel Rey; the band is currently in the studio. Yseult hopes to have the disc ready for Halloween. Set your browser to rockcitymorgue.com for updates and info.