--Andreas Veneris, firstname.lastname@example.org
A couple of hours before White Zombie's devastating live appearance, I had the chance to talk with their Chicago-born guitarist J. The interview took place in his hotel room, two miles away from the venue. Here's the main points of our conversation, exclusively for Metaverse and The Vibe!
AV: Let me start recording, because the subject we talk right now is a subject that I wanted to deal with, one way or another! So this is your second tour supporting the "Astro Creep: 2000, Songs of Love, Destruction and other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head", is that right?
J: Oh yes, this is the second tour. We will play in South America, then we will come back and do the south. Now we're finishing the north. This is non-stop, non-ending, it goes all the way until March that we will go to do Japan.
AV: What about Europe?
J: I don't know at this point, we did festivals there, we did Reading, we played at Donington with Metallica, Skid Row, Slayer...
AV: Oh yeah, the show Metallica played two new songs, I saw a bootleg recording of it!
J: Oh really?! Already?! Ha-ha, people are crazy, maybe by the time the album comes out those songs will be totally different.
AV: Where else did you play in Europe?
J: We did a big package festival tour there, Soundgarden, White Zombie, Mahogany Chaos, Sponge, Pennywise and Blind Melon, right before he died...
AV: Where the response for White Zombie is bigger, Europe or America?
J: In America, of course. It's much bigger, we're more popular here than anywhere else. I mean, we went to Australia and did some shows down there and kids were the same to those in America. Europe it depends, every country is different. The festivals were great, thousands of people, it was cool and everything, but we never headlined our own tour there. This is something we might do sometime later, but I can't tell when.
AV: Do you like big or small venues?
J: I like playing both. The idea of a big venue is to have as many people as possible and make it seem like in a club. It also depends on the music you're playing.
AV: How would you describe your music? Your older material would be better classified as 'extreme heavy metal', what about your new stuff?
J: The old stuff? It was kind of psychotic and grungy, the really old-stuff, the really confusing one. I don't know ... I don't really know how to pigeonhole what we're doing now. People say things as 'funky death-metal' and stuff like that (laughs), it's really a result of trying to do the band that you'd like to see. That's what I always agreed with the other members in the band: what about if you had this big rock-show like Kiss, Iron Maiden or Alice Cooper with explosions, which is big and stupid, and then you made it kind of intelligent, like Sonic Youth and what if it had the energy of Bad Brains or Black Flag? What about if it had hip-hop samples? It's trying to do what we really wanted to see...
AV: You never had a permanent synth/sample player in the band but the last four years you're using samples. Doesn't this sound strange?
J: Well, yeah, on the record we got Charlie from Nine Inch Nails, live our soundman does this stuff, but it's always cool when the band has four people only.
AV: I agree, in 1995 White Zombie seems indeed a very tight band.
J: We certainly came from the 'do it yourself' era of the 80s. I think we had a big influence from the attitude the bands carried in the 80s. You play music because it's a cool thing to do and you enjoy it and you don't think you might make big money from it and you might starve. Now it's so different, you can form a band and be on MTV in six months and sell a million copies. The 'do it yourself' attitude doesn't exist anymore. People are much more profit motivated. People tell us we're crazy for putting a lot of money back into the show, to make it a big show, but I think this is important because that's what people want to see. They like big shows.
AV: What do you believe would be your show like in 1997? Can you make any predictions?
J: We never preplan things. We're on tour right now, when we're done we'll go home and start working on the new album and the new stage show. That's how it happened with 'Astro Creep 2000' also. We can't write a song on tour. We did a couple of things on tour though, we did the 'Children of the Grave', the song for the Black Sabbath tribute record and we also did 'Fear of the Gods' for the Airheads soundtrack but it's really hard for us to write on the road. We kind of like to write as a band. Get in a room, turn up everything very loud and play. We can't do that on the road or in a hotel room.
AV: Can you give me some reasons for this extensive and intense schedule of the band?
J: (pauses) Ehh...take this year for example, we put out a record that becomes multi-platinum. When I was a little kid, the first records that I bought were The Ramones and The Cramps. We got the chance to play with both of them this year, bands that made me pick up the guitar. We play tonight the Rosemont Horizon, that's the place that I saw my first show ever when I was like eleven. I don't really feel like slowing down right now because everything that is happening is really good.
AV: Is music an escape for you?
J: It is, because when I'm not on tour and I'm working with the band on new songs, I go home and relax by playing my guitar for three or four hours on my own. I wish I had started playing guitar when I was five or six. I would be such a better guitar player now!
AV: You don't get tired of this exhaustive tour/recording schedule?
J: It's not hard for me living in good hotels and traveling in luxury buses or fly with airplanes. It wasn't hard for me even when I was starving and living in other people's floors in between gigs. On the other hand and I know that this seems a cheesy thing to say but it's true, our fans are really cool and the show almost always makes it worth it. When I'm playing a song that I've played 500 times, if the audience is into the show, it's fun. This time also we have time in between tours, this makes things even easier. See, first time we played in Europe, that was in 1989, we lived in squads or in our tour-bus. We were given three bucks from the label to live on, three single bucks to buy food every day! Today it's way better, it's not stressful, or if it is it's as stressful as a regular job is. No complaints.
AV: You're also involved in the business side of White Zombie.
J: We all are to a certain degree since the time we were an indy underground band. We used to make our own t-shirts, book around tours and everything and still now it's like Rob does all the t-shirt artwork and directs the videos. We always had lots to do!
AV: How would you compare the 'La Sexorcisto' days with the 'Astro Creep' ones?
J: Oh, it was a totally different thing. We recorded 'La Sexorcisto' when we were starving in New York. It was when we had daily jobs, we went in the studio and recorded a live set. This time we played with all these intense heavy bands, we were living in Los Angeles, it was a totally different setting.
AV: What kind of influence has the year 1995 had on you?
J: Hmmm...I found that on the new record I played a lot less metal and more open a little bit. Most of the music is more dry, more energetic but I think this comes just from playing ten years together. It's more groovy too. The biggest influence is maybe the technology. We had many more options with working in nice studios. We also had this totally new aspect working with Charlie where we can do lot more with the samples and use loops and percussion tracks. It all started with sampling in 'La Sexorcisto' but it went further this direction with the new release, you know, having a sample instead of a guitar solo.
AV: If I compare 'Astro Creep' with your previous studio efforts, it definitely has a richer and more aggressive edge to it. Without a single doubt it's a solid step ahead but I must point out the fact that the production is way better too!
J: It was a hard record to do. It was a 72 track recording, 48 analog and 24 digital, it was hard to make!
AV: Where the hell did you used all those tracks?!
J: (Smiles) You have like five vocal tracks and then you have eight guitar tracks, and then a dozen of drum tracks and then you must save tracks for the sampling that you bring in and out. We had two studios, one we were working the guitar parts in the other the samples so the tapes were going back and forth all the time. It took close to six weeks to complete the recording and production of the album. It was cool to have much time to spend, with the first Geffen record we cared about completing the album as fast as possible and get the hell out of the studio to tour. This time we had a much bigger recording budget and more freedom in time.
AV: Next topic is your lyrics, how much importance do you give to the lyrics (Rob Zombie does most of the work, ed)
J: I don't like lyrics that hit you on the head with what they say. Rob's lyrics are more like reading a William Borroughs book, they're designed to make you think and they're very abstract too. As a guitarist lyrics are very important because they control and direct the whole structure of the song.
AV: It also seems that there's a lot of fantasy involved in there.
J: Yeah, we're all fans of B-movies, comic books and science fiction, this is true and not just a rumour! 'Bladerunner', for example, is one of my favorite movies ever.
AV: What do you believe about the music scene of the 90s? What do you predict?
J: I believe that they will be a big change sooner or later. People start getting tired of all those alternative bands, they all look and sound the same. The media also have kind of become a part of this big machine.
AV: Do you believe that media have a negative or positive effect on the music today?
J: Both ways and this is funny. See how big America is, you drove from Urbana Champaign up here and there was nothing, this country is really gigantic. The media have a good effect because a kid who lives in Southern Illinois can watch TV and feel as cool as a kid who lives in New York City. That's a good thing, it brings music everywhere. Take ourselves for example, we had to play in all those crazy places we never thought we'd go. We played in North Dakota and the show was advertised on TV! It was the first rock show there since Metallica who played for the '...And Justice for All' tour in1988. On the other hand, some of the media encourages blandness and take away the fun from the music. It takes some fun out of the live concerts, people don't know how to react there, they think they're watching TV. Some media could also deal more with actual music education, they could promote it more. Coming back to your initial question, I think that things are going to swing in the other direction really rapidly, really soon, because everybody I talk with is really sick and tired of the whole thing. Everybody!
AV: Could you please elaborate more on this?
J: You know, it's this wacky alternative band that comes around with this one song that's kind of funny so it's big for a second, and then a new one comes out and then another one and it goes on and on. People are tired of this. Anyhow, that's what I believe and time will prove who's right and who's wrong.
AV: You said that people are going to get tired of alternative music eventually. What do you think would be the next big step for music?
J: It's just a feeling I have, and I'm usually right. In the late 80s I had this feeling that underground/alternative music will finally break through and become big. I always had a feeling when I was a kid that what I was listening to, like the Ramones for example, it might have this buzz on the guitar but it's basically pop music. I wondered why it was not popular like Duran Duran because I knew people who would like this. Now it's Green Day so my dream kinda came true. I think that metal will come back somehow but I don't think that it will be the same.
AV: You really think so? Metal is still popular overseas, not as it used to be but still popular enough.
J: I think that the nature of metal is that every time a band takes it to a new extreme. Like there was Motorhead, and then Metallica, and then Venom, Slayer, Napalm Death, Deicide ... Cannibal Corpse, Impaled Nazarene, Mayhem, the noisiest, you couldn't get any heavier. That's the reason metal is splintering to all of those things, some bands go punk, some others go industrial. When it will come back it will not be like here's your thrash bands and here's your glam bands, it will be something new and concrete, but it will still be heavy.
AV: Today's alternative sort of came out of metal, don't you think so?
J: I think everything influences everything else. Musicians hardly listen to what they play. Hip-hop was a big influence on us because it kind of taught us lots of stuff. When Public Enemy came out it was heavy, really thick, sonic terrorism, it was noise that you could dance. It also had a message. They invented a whole new kind of music and that's something that influenced me a lot.
AV: Public Enemy...those guys had a huge impact on everything! I always hear about musicians being influenced by Public Enemy.
J: At that time hip-hop was much more exciting than what was going on in rock. It was black punk rock or something, really immediate, honest and adventurous.
AV: Why do you believe heavy music is always so popular?
J: Because heavy music is really energetic and a lot of it is really violent and I think it's a catharsis for some of the bad influences that people have naturally. Listening to a Slayer record is like the feeling of driving fast or sky diving, it's just a different feeling. Your adrenaline goes up!
(phone's ringing, J goes to pick it up while we chat about the commercial mediocrity of the last Megadeth album)
"Hello...now?...what's the line-up now? They can't land??!!!" He turns to me, "Soul Asylum is playing and they can't land!" Back to the person talking on the phone "...holy cow! Okkk...who's playing now? Let me get that straight...Silverchair 6:40, Porno for Pyros 7:40, Alanis Morissette 8:30, Oasis 9:30 White Zombie at 10:30 and ... that's it? So what time are we going?"
For me it was already time to thank him for his time,
walk out in six-inches of snow, get in the car and go.
Zombie Land II : http://rzr.online.fr/zombie.htm
Last modified: Thu Jun 15 00:43:47 CEST 2006