Sometimes it’s hard to believe that White Zombie was ever a small band.
Well before Rob Zombie’s meteoric personal ascent as a storied horror director and solo artist, before an appearance on Beavis and Butthead catapulted White Zombie from MTV’s Headbangers Ball fodder to household names, before they shockingly fell into a major label deal with Geffen, White Zombie were a pack of down-in-the-dirt road dogs and the quintessential Lower East Side punk band.
The earliest White Zombie recordings had more in common with scum punks and noise rockers like Flipper, No Trend, and the Butthole Surfers. The music is caustic and almost unintelligible, more indebted to extreme artistic expression than cohesive songwriting. Listening to the band that created Soulcrusher, you would never believe that they’d eventually be responsible for “Thunder Kiss ‘65.”
In 2010, White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult released her remarkable memoir I’m in the Band: Backstage Notes from the Chick in White Zombie. It’s an endlessly entertaining and enlightening testimony about the band’s early days, their supernova jettison into fame, and unceremonious breakup. A fascinating element that she addresses is just how White Zombie’s sound morphed from acerbic rock and roll into some of the catchiest heavy metal ever written.
Sean was asked by the Village Voice about the stylistic shift in an interview surrounding the release of her book:
“Our drummer, Ivan de Prume, was still in high school, and was a Brooklyn metalhead. He came to meet us in the city and had no idea what Washington Square was or how to get around. He had a cut-off Ramones shirt and a boombox blasting Slayer, and he ended up being a great influence on the band. We were just listening to hardcore and punk, and he was listening to Slayer and Megadeth and Metallica. It slowly seeped into our consciousness.
What was happening at the same time — this is probably ’88, ’89 — was hardcore bands like the Cro-Mags and Biohazard in New York and Corrosion of Conformity in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I’m from, were crossing over into metal. Biohazard and the Cro-Mags had seen us at CBGB and invited us to open for them at this metal club in Brooklyn called L’Amours, and that was our big break. We did the same show we did at CBGB in front of these metalheads, and instead of a bunch of hipsters looking down at their shoes or making snide remarks, we had a huge mosh pit going. We’d found our people.
L’Amours was probably six times the size of CBGB, at least. Our third or fourth show there was opening for Pantera on their first “Cowboys from Hell” tour, and there was a huge crowd. It was the most people who’d ever seen us. Then we got asked to play some other clubs around the size of L’Amours on the East Coast opening for Slayer. That was a trial by fire. That’s the hardest band to open for, but by our second song, we had a mosh pit.”
The rest is history…