AOS Presents: Sean Yseult – Artist, Designer, Musician, Photographer and former bass player of the multi-platinum rock band White Zombie.

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Alternative, Artist, Bass, Blues, Culture, Interview, Metal, Photogaphy, Star and Dagger, White Zombie

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AosHello Sean Yseult and Welcome to ‘Architect of Sound’.  Firstly i would you to tell us a brief introduction about yourself?  

Sean Yseult: White Zombie Bassist, photographer and designer. I was raised in North Carolina by two bohemian English Professors who immersed my sister and I in the arts. I grew up studying piano, violin, ballet and theater. I was lucky enough to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts from age 12-18, then go to NYC on scholarship to Parsons School of Design. After eleven years of touring in White Zombie, I moved to New Orleans and got back to my photography and design.

Aos. At what age were you first drawn to playing music? What Instruments did you play? What other influences did you have growing up? Art, Comics, Crafts, Family, Film, Horror etc?

Sean Yseult: I started piano when I was five and practiced for hours daily. By the age of eight I was playing blues improv with old blues men in smokey nightclubs – the good old days! I had an amazing teacher who taught us classical, blues, improv and composition simultaneously – it was called the Pace method. At twelve I was playing again in nightclubs with an older high school rock band that needed a pianist. I also started violin at that age. I began drawing psychedelic designs by the age of four or five, influenced heavily by the Peter Max posters in our home and M.C Escher books. My scarves and wallpaper designs I hand draw today are not much different from my drawings back then. (www.yseultdesigns.com)

Aos‘White Zombie’ was co-founded by Rob Zombie and yourself in 1985 – 32 years ago.  The name of your band was named after the first feature length Zombie Film starring Béla Lugosi in 1932.  How did the band come about?     

Sean Yseult: Rob and I met in 1985 in the Parsons cafeteria, started dating the day we met, and were never apart for the next seven years. We both wanted to start a band and had no luck finding people to play with, so we started one together. I had friends I had played farfisa for in a band called Life and we borrowed their guitarist, and later their drummer.

Aos.  The first ‘White Zombie’ EP ‘Gods on Voodoo Moon‘ sounds like a punk rock record.  Did you consider yourselves a Punk band? Great record by the way. 

Sean Yseult: Yes, and thank you. We definitely started off as punk, anyway. I loved the Cramps and Rob loved the Misfits. We also loved Sabbath and the Coop and a lot of 70’s heavy bands, but it was the 80’s and we were going to every Bad Brains show, Black Flag show and Sunday matinee at CBGB’s at the time, so it did influence us a lot.

Aos.  What unique qualities and dynamics did each member of the band bring to the group? On-Stage and Off-stage?

Sean Yseult: On stage Rob and I demanded that everyone just go nuts – head bang, run around, put on a show.  Our first show was really stressful, as none of us had done this before.  But it was easier than looking at a handful of puzzled people in the audience, that’s for sure.

We kept this up in defiance of the bands we started playing with – a lot of the East Village bands were too cool for school and thought it was lame to put on a show or even acknowledge the audience – we thought that was bullshit. I always loved when Jim Thirwell would perform because he would put on a crazy theatrical show; it was so amazing.

Aos Why did you choose the Bass Guitar? What Bass Guitar/s did you play? 

Sean Yseult: When we started White Zombie, I wanted to play guitar but Rob convinced me it would take too long for me to learn and to trade my old Teisco for a bass. Even though we were punk at heart, Rob wanted to be pro and have a great guitarist – to his credit. So I went down to St. Marks Guitars and traded in the Teisco for the only bass I could afford – a Phantom. I’ve never seen another one since.

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Aos.  I read that you met many other female musicians when ‘White Zombie’ played art shows in the East Village area of New York but when your band crossed the line over into the world of heavy metal and rock all that ended. How did you cope with this new male dominated metal environment?

Sean Yseult: I think the fact that I never dressed like a girl, and that my role models were Angus and Cliff Burton helped me “pass” in the metal world. The guys – especially the fans – were really cool to me. Honestly, I think most of them thought I was a guy at first. I know it’s a surprise to not have any nightmare stories about sexism, but I really don’t. Most of the bands were very cool to me too: Pantera called me “Junior” and treated me like a kid sister. It was awesome.

Aos. There were some famous woman bass players throughout the 1990s such as D’arcy Wretzky, Melissa auf der Maur and Jennifer Finch all involved in the grunge / rock scene but everyone remembers the tall blonde & green hair headbanging bass player of White Zombie.  Surely your music career must have inspired a wide range of female musicians, promoting equality for woman in metal afield and beyond.

Sean Yseult: I have gotten a lot of kind words from female musicians, which is always nice. I was friends with Melissa and Jennifer, not to mention Maureen and Lori from Babes in Toyland, Kembra from The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Jennifer from Royal Trux and Julie from Pussy Galore . . . so there were certainly a lot of other girls trailblazing at the same time, just not alongside Pantera or Metallica perhaps.

AosA re-occuring distinctive trademark of a ‘White Zombie’ track is to feature snippets of sounds and samples from various films? Who in the band was the main driving force behind this idea and any specific samples that stand out for you?   

Sean Yseult: That was all Rob. I really believe we were the first rock/metal band to do that, as I remember him holding the microphone of an old cassette recorder up to the TV back in 1987 to tape snippets from all of his favorite movies, when we were still making our own records. “Get up and Kill!” is a great one, I think from Night of the Living Dead, and Travis Bickle’s voice over from Taxi Driver, and of course “I never TRY anything, I just do it!” from Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!  Those are three that pop into my head immediately.

AosWhen growing up a few of my older friends liked ‘White Zombie’ and had patches sewed on their blue sleeveless jackets, Beside appearing on Beavis and Butt-head that’s probably when i first heard of the band.  I also remember taping ‘White Zombie’ performing the 1995 VMAs onto my self-made VHS rock tape.  Is it really true that ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ helped amplify you into the mainstream??    

Sean Yseult: Hell yes. We were already getting some airplay on MTV thanks to Rikki Rachtman on Headbanger’s Ball, but when Mike Judge put us on Beavis and Butthead and they gave us a huge thumbs up, we got so much more airplay on MTV, which was crucial back then. Our record sales doubled, the quadrupled etc overnight and we had to add another year of touring onto what had already been a year and a half long tour, just to perform for all of the new fans. It was insane. I love Mike Judge for so many reasons – for exposing us to the masses, for Silicon Valley, and of course, for predicting America’s current state of affairs with “Idiocracy.”

AosDuring the 10+ year career span of the band you had dated and split with lead singer ‘Rob Zombie’; Jay Yuenger established himself as the lead guitarist of the band and you’d changed drummers a few times – Suddenly the journey came to an end.  What was the most defining time of the band for you?  Album, Tour or Gig? favourite band/s you toured with? Why did it end? What was it like working with Charlie Closure

Sean Yseult: Definitely playing the huge festivals were great, but my favorite moments were when we were on tour with Pantera, which was often. It was always a blast, whether we were in the US or Japan, which I had always dreamed of traveling to. We ended the way all bands end – not getting along, or someone’s girlfriend not getting along with us, or whatever bullshit goes on in Spinal Tap fashion with bands. I never go into detail as I would rather the band members be spared. The truth is more absurd than fiction, for sure. Charlie was great to work with, and is a great guy.

Aos. A few years ago you released a book titled ‘I’m in the Band’.  The book combines eleven years of diaries, flyers and personal photos of rock icons like Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone and Lux Interior.  Since its release what feedback have you received by fans and folk involved? You can buy the book by clicking here.

Sean Yseult: All good, even great, thank goodness! It’s actually up for it’s fourth reprint which is very rewarding, for something that started out as a scrapbook just for myself.

AosAfter ‘White Zombie’ Split you played with a range of musicians (the Famous Monsters, the Cramps) and formed blues / rock metal act ‘Star and dagger‘ in 2010 – A slight change in musical style. Did playing the blues, clear tones, heavy fuzzy licks, New Orleans style, smaller shows give you a feel good factor after the huge success of ‘White Zombie’? A change can do you good as they say… 

Sean Yseult: It’s definitely fun to play clubs, and I love the music we are making. But I only can handle doing a few shows here and there at this point. The actual touring like we did in White Zombie days has no appeal to me anymore, it was physically grueling. I’m also so busy with other projects at this point that I don’t have the time.

AosIn recent times you’ve showcased solo photography exhibitions in New Orleans, New York City and San Francisco.  Has photography always been a passion of yours?

Sean Yseult: Yes – it was my ticket to NYC and Parsons; a scholarship for my photography. I’ve always loved photography, and after playing in bands forever it’s so nice to be able to go out and do something by yourself, without having to consult with anyone else. Total freedom. It’s always come naturally for me and I already have ideas for my next five shows, which will probably take a year each.

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Opening Ceremony by Sean Yseult.

AosHow do you compare a solo photography exhibition to say playing a Gig? Do you get the same excitement like butterflies in the stomach?  Do you have more control over your art? 

Sean Yseult: See above, as far as the freedom . . . and yes, total control with no compromises. I love it. I do not get butterflies because I do not put anything out that I create visually that I do not love and feel 100% that I have completed the vision that was in my head. I know it is hard to believe, but I’m really not a stage person, I would get very nervous having to go out there each night – I’m much more comfortable behind the camera. It’s funny, we’re all a bit that way – J’s been behind the mixing board ever since we broke up, and Rob definitely was like me, and now seems happier behind the camera also for his movies.

AosWhere do all your ideas and influences come from? I see elements of atmosphere, blues, life and death, horror, music, New Orleans, past and present, spirits, Rock’n’roll etc. 

Sean Yseult: God, everything you just said kind of nails it. Throw in believing in witchcraft and magic as a small child, and loving the beauty in decay of our graveyards, “Grey Gardens” and  John Laughlin’s “Ghosts Along the Mississippi”, and that about covers it!

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Mississippi Muse by Sean Yseult.

AosDo you have a particular muse?

Sean Yseult: Quite a few. Here in New Orleans I often photograph our singer in Star and Dagger , Von Hesseling, the amazing singer Meschiya Lake, and the gorgeous burlesque dancer Trixie Minx. If you look closely you might see each one in every series.

Aos. ‘Enchanted Forest’, Tell us a little bit more about that.  

Sean Yseult: That is photos of the amazing Live Oaks here in New Orleans, many well over 200 years old. One mansion on Saint Charles Avenue has a yard full of them, and they spend thousands of dollars covering them in lights each Christmas. It stuns me every year; I love the abstract patterns and shapes they make.

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Enchanted Forest by Sean Yseult.

Aos. “Sean”, That’s actually an Irish name.  Any link to Ireland?  You ever visited? If your ever across recommend a Jameson whisky or Guinness –  Stereotypical but it’s good alcohol.

Sean Yseult: I’m half Irish, and my parents were both English professors: my mother was a Chaucerian scholar. They saved up until I was fifteen to take my sister and I on our only big family trip, to Ireland and England for month. We stayed at people’s houses, like an early airbnb, on the cheap. I remember staying on a hops farm in Kent, and I remember really loving Ireland. Strangers would come up to us and know that we were Americans, but also Irish and hug us on the streets – it was unbelievable. I got to go back through on tour but far too briefly. And for the record,  I’m not a beer drinker but I do love Jameson!

Aos. What does the Future hold for Sean Yseult? Future photography Exhibitions? Music projects? Any chance for a possible White Zombie Re-Union? Zombie fans would go mental for that! 

Sean Yseult: More photo shows – I will have one ready for the tricentennial of New Orleans in 2018; I just finished 18 new lines of wallpaper made from my hand drawn graphics that should be available by next fall if not sooner, and I am composing an avant garde score for a modern dance piece that will debut in New Orleans in May and then travel to Chicago. Keeping busy this year!

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Madame Fifi by Sean Yseult.

Ocean 1 by Sean Yseult.

Ocean 1 by Sean Yseult.

~ Many Thanks to Sean Yseult ~

Feel free to click on website links below to view Sean Yseult Photography:

~ White Zombie ~

Architect of Sound
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