Finally got around to getting hold of a book by a member of one of my favourite bands ever. “I’m in the Band: Backstage Notes From the Chick In White Zombie” by Sean Yseult.
To give a potted history, Yseult was the bass playing founder along with singer Rob Cummings (aka Rob Straker, aka Rob Zombie) of White Zombie. Initially a sort of hardcore noise punk band, White Zombie slogged it round New York and the rest of the States building a following. Eventually their sound settled down into a industrial mix of heavy as hell metal and samples from movies and TV. Your average White Zombie song has riffs so powerful it makes you feel that your head is being ripped off and slammed repeatedly into the nearest wall.
In a good way.
When I first heard their second and final album, Astro-Creep:2000: Songs of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions From The Electric Head, it completely blew me away. It is a metal classic, especially More Human Than Human. It still sounds fresh and powerful now – if you want to try some speakers, then throw on Super-Charger Heaven and see how good they really are.
The band went from nothing to mid-level stardom, with the aid of hard work, determination and a timely boost from Beavis and Butthead, who showed Zombie and Yseult on their show and said “it is the chick from White Zombie. She’s cool.” Not in a sexist way, because Yseult is a remarkable bass player and with drummer Johnny Tempesta and guitarist J Yuenger, crafted the music. She held her own in a macho scene without either being patronised or coming out with a chip on her shoulder about her gender – which cuold not have been easy in a genre that was both on and off stage 99% male dominated.
However, as the band got bigger and bigger, Rob Zombie succumbed to self-confessed LSD – Lead Singer Disease – and after a pretty dysfunctional tour in support of Astro Creep, dissolved the band. Not that he actually told the other band members that. He then embarked on a successful solo career doing, well, much the same thing. Except a bit more cartoony and without the sheer muscle that Yseult, Yeunger and Tempesta provided. Didn’t help that he isn’t a great singer, especially live where he misses more words than he sings.
Anyway, Yseult charts all this in what is effectively a scrapbook – ticket stubs, flyers, notes and photos. There is some explanatory text but the main point of the book is to present this entire thing in a timeline from the first gig at CBGBs, appearing way down the bill behind the likes of The Bags and Ed Geins Car and then all the way to the final gigs with Pantera. As a document of life in a band, it is a unique approach and one that shows not only the fun side of things, but the sheer hard work that the band put into the music and making it big.
Scattered occasionally are notes from agents, or the rest of White Zombie past and… more past. Rob Zombie himself is notable by his absence, appearing only in photos or the odd reproduced paper cutting. Yseult, to her credit, doesn’t spend much time on him. They were not only bandmates for thirteen years, but an item for seven of them. She could have been pretty bitter about a guy who, as soon as the band started making it big, decided he was off and God knows he gave her enough ammunition. She sums the contact as “Zero. He hasn’t spoken to any of us in the band since the day we broke up . . . As soon as you’re not in his world, you’re out of his world. He just kind of moves on. No hard feelings at all, but that’s just how he is.”
Instead she comes across as chirpy, confident and proud of her achievements. And they were achievements – when WZ appeared at Donington in 1995, Yseult became only the second woman to walk on that stage in the entire history of the gig. The book title is self-deprecating, not only does the subtitle come from Beavis and Buttheads assessment of her, but the main title is a reflection of the many occasions when she was prevented from getting to the stage by people who didn’t believe she was actually in the group. It must have been tough, yet the issue is done and dusted with a few chirpy quips. Reading the book brought to mind a proud parent showing the kids what they used to do, a scrapbook of memories assembled and watched over with great care.
As a documentary about a very influential group, “I’m In The Band” doesn’t really do a great job of explaining the politics or relationships within White Zombie. That book, especially with regard to the lead singer, would be extremely interesting, although I suspect it will never be written.
What this book does do is perhaps give White Zombie a more fitting send-off. Since the breakup in 1998, there has been this and the Let Sleeping Corpses Lie boxset. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting the latter, but I’ve never really shook off the idea that it is a cash-in – for all his refusal to talk about the past, Rob Zombie has never been unwilling to trade on it for a while. The album Icon (his third Greatest Hits collection) features six White Zombie tracks, including The One, which has only ever appeared on the Escape From LA soundtrack. This comparatively rare track is clearly there for the White Zombie completists who have to buy the other stuff just to get to it.
I couldn’t help but warm to Yseult over the course of the book, the sheer love for what she did and how it all came about and I respect the hard work and circumstances that she fought through to get her dream. In summary then, this is not an essential book for White Zombie fans, nor is it for those who aren’t familiar with their music, but if you have a bit of money to spare and an interest in a great 90s band, this is an informative, entertaining book that I completely recommend.