Tuesday, December 16, 2014

White Zombie

White Zombie, Toronto, May 1988

THIS WAS THEM BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS. I'll be frank and say now that I had no idea that White Zombie would become as big as they did, even when - perhaps especially when - I was a big fan. And as far as I can tell the band was probably as surprised as I would be.

I heard of the band through my buddy Tim, who described them as a "metal Pussy Galore" - a comparison it was tempting to make since they shared a label and the cover of White Zombie's Soul Crusher was shot by the same photographer (Michael Lavine) who did PG's Right Now!. The comparison might have been a little facile but to be frank I was happy to find out there was a metal Pussy Galore.

Both bands were from New York, and both seemed to revel in pulling apart and defiantly reassembling their respective genres of music - metal and garage rock. The cool kids were all about semiotics at the time, so I guess you might have called it "deconstruction." Well, I didn't but I'm sure someone did.

White Zombie, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, May 1988

The band were playing the Apocalypse, the sort of amiable shithole of a club that you spend nights in for a couple of years and never miss when it inevitably closes. The Nerve had run Tim's review of Soul Crusher just a month before - a masterpiece of sorts that began with "As much as I admired Lester Bangs..." and ended with "EAT MY DUST, FUCK-FACE." When your friend commits thoughts like this to paper it's a kind of dare.

With the Nerve behind me and the help of Elliott Lefko, who booked almost everything worth seeing in Toronto in those days, I got the band to sit for a couple of rolls with my C330 and umbrella-bounced flash. I didn't know where I'd get the shots printed and I still don't know today - these photos haven't gotten past contact sheets since I shot them over twenty-five years ago.

White Zombie, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, May 1988

The club was hardly packed, and much as I might have enjoyed White Zombie's fantastically abrasive version of '70s metal, I'd never have pegged them for a stadium filler, which is probably why I ended up filing these photos unsold. In any case, this is the lineup just before the one that became famous; guitarist John Ricci would leave the band a year later, to be replaced by Jay Yuenger, who currently runs one of my favorite blogs. (CORRECTION: I'm told that this is actually Tom "Five" Guay and not John Ricci, who was only with the band for a few months.)

They were terribly nice. Rob, the lead singer, confirmed the rumour that he worked on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and when I offered them the use of my couch and floor for the night, they politely demurred, saying they had a hotel. I left the show with a bit of a ringing in my ears and a really great t-shirt that I wish I still had today.

(UPDATE: Thanks for the link, J!)



  1. Hey, not to be a stickler, but the guitarist in your photos is actually Tom "Five" Guay, later of Angel Rot - later replaced by John Ricci (who wasn't around for more than a few months - but did record the released version of Make Them Die Slowly). Love the pics!

  2. According to Sean Ysuelt, White Zombie drummer Ivan DePrume was the band's resident metal guy; not 70s metal deconstruction noise rock sludge, but metal metal. He introduced the band to Ride the Lightning by Metallica, and Rob Zombie and Sean Yseult were instant fans, playing it over and over in the tour van. Essentially they were shocked that this was where metal had gone, since all they'd known about mainstream metal was glam metal or fantasy oriented power metal. Then, I guess, they played a set at the New York club L'Amour, and the crowd started a pit. Bingo-bango, time to become a metal band! So, Tom Five, still wanting to play weird, squiggly, noise inversions, wasn't hip to it, so they got John Ricci, a straight-ahead metal guitarist. NOTE: This is NOT the same John Ricci who played in Canada's proto-thrashers Exciter (though, it would be cool if it was!). Listen to Soul-Crusher and then Make Them Die Slowly, which was produced by Bill Laswell. Their first "metal" album still seemed a little herky-jerky for "true" metal fans. It's like thrash with tribal beats, really wonky song structures, and garage-y production. In other words, the only thing "metal" about it is the guitars; almost like if the Birthday Party made a metal record. Then John Ricci had to leave because of carpal tunnel, so they got Jay, who gave the group their modern, groove oriented sound, and the rest is history or some shit.

  3. Any photos of Ivan playing behind the drums?