Last week, I posted an in-depth tribute to the classic White Zombie album Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction, and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head to celebrate its 20th anniversary. I managed to get the attention of guitarist J. Yuenger who these days works at Waxwork Records, which has released beautiful vinyl records for classic horror scores such as Re-Animator, Rosemary’s Baby, Day of the Dead, Creepshow, Chopping Mall, Trick ‘R Treat, Friday the 13th and Phase IV. Lately, Yuenger has been working on a release of the score from last year’s Starry Eyes.
I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions, so read on if you want to learn more about what he’s been up to, his feelings about White Zombie and Astro-Creep after all these years, and his favorite horror movies.
iHorror: Give us a brief rundown of your career between White Zombie and now. What have you enjoyed doing the most in that time?
JY: After the band broke up, I toyed with the idea of being in another group – for a very short period. I realized pretty quickly that I had, so to speak, won the lottery, and that I should probably quit playing while I was ahead.
I cut my hair off, bought a house, got married. Band members seem to either love or hate being in the studio, and I really, really loved it, which led to me diving into recording and engineering, buying a lot of gear, outfitting a succession of spaces as recording studios. I have (up until the last couple of years, where, totally unexpectedly, mastering has taken up all my time) worked with a variety of artists and made a bunch of different kinds of records.
A couple of years into the 2000s, I realized that the normal life I’d thought I wanted was not only boring, but actually kind of bewildering to me – so I sold the house, got divorced, and moved to New Orleans just in time for Hurricane Katrina.
iH: Tell us about what you do exactly at Waxwork. Give those of us who aren’t super familiar with the recording industry a basic rundown of how you contribute to a record.
JY: The analogy I usually use when I need to describe to someone what I do is this : you know how someone who works in the art department at a newspaper might photoshop an image to bring out the detail? Better yet, maybe : you know how a technician working in post on a film will color-correct the footage to make the various film stocks flow together and look like they’re in the same movie? That’s what I do, but with sound. That’s ‘mastering’.
The stuff Waxwork puts out is often material that’s never been released before, coming straight off of tapes which have been in storage 20-30-40 years. A lot of times, those tapes are deteriorating and the sound is in need of restoration. Sometimes it’s material that was never intended to be heard outside of the film, and there needs to be a lot of (tasteful) editing. A big part of the work is helping to figure out how to present the material to the public.
iH: I understand Waxwork is readying a release of the score from Starry Eyes. How’s that been going?
JY: Great. Jonathan Snipes, the composer, has signed off on the test pressing and the record’s in production. Also, this is the first Waxwork release where buyers of the LP will get a free download card.
Personally, I’m excited about this one because I like it. What I mean is, sometimes, a soundtrack album remains very tied to the film it’s from – this record, though, works very well as a standalone album. If you haven’t seen Starry Eyes yet, you can still really enjoy the music. I like the sounds a lot (he’s using analog synths instead of computer emulations), and there are some really great melodies.
iH: What other projects are you currently working on either with Waxwork or otherwise?
JY: The forthcoming White Zombie vinyl box set is one, but I can’t tell you too much about it because there’s a lot of work left to do, production and otherwise. Suffice to say that Sean Yseult and I have put a lot of time, energy, and our archives into this, and hopefully it’ll include a lot of stuff nobody’s ever heard.
So far this year, I’ve done work for a couple of labels (Domino Sound, Last Hurrah, St.Roch Recordings, Numero Group). With Waxwork, there’s a ton of cool releases coming up : C.H.U.D., which has never been released in any form, Friday The 13th Part 2, Popul Vuh’s great score for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, and The Warriors – not only the original album from the original tapes, but a fancy double record set including the complete score, which has never been released.
iH: What’s a horror movie soundtrack you’d really like to get your hands on?
JY: The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the original 1973 pressing. I can’t tell you how much I love that movie. The album’s really rare, and I know I could just go online and pay the going rate to have it, but I keep thinking I’m going to find it in the flesh somewhere unexpected. That’s what keeps record collecting fun, you know?
Also, I don’t imagine people think of it as a horror movie, but I do : Ben Wheatley’s 2013 film A Field In England— there’s a beautiful vinyl release of the score, which they made 400 of, and I’ll probably never get one.
iH: So Astro-Creep is 20 years old. Are you still happy with it? Anything you’d change or wish you’d done differently?
JY: Not really. I mean, some of the loops and sample sounds are kind of dated (for the time being, but these things have a way of rotating in and out of fashion), but, honestly, everyone involved was working at the edge of their ability to make it the coolest record possible, and that continues to show. I’m far enough removed from the process now that I can really appreciate not only my part of it, but the total work of art.
iH: What do you miss most about your days in White Zombie?
JY: I get this question all the time, and the answer is ‘touring’. Travel’s always been in my blood, so I took to touring very easily, which a lot of people don’t. I look at my friends in bands and I kind of miss the gypsy lifestyle, although I travel a lot – on my own terms, and I go to some challenging places, so that’s okay.
iH: What was your most memorable tour?
JY: The first two : USA, Summer, 1989, right after I joined the band, and then Europe, Winter 1989-1990. We were living on about $5.00 a day, sleeping on floors, and the stories are insane. When I start thinking about it, I think, “we could write a book”. Maybe we will. Life gets a lot more comfortable when you move up to a tour bus, but the stories stop.
iH: What are some of your favorite horror movies?
I have a great fondness for the films of my childhood – the horror classics of the 80s, the Italians, and the low-budget slasher flicks I watched over and over in dollar theaters when I was a teenager, but to be honest, I think the scariest fucking movie of all time is still The Exorcist. I really believe it, and I get something new out of it every time I see it. My parents wouldn’t let me watch the film, and I was always resentful of that, and then I managed to see a scratched-up print at a particularly skanky theater on the north-west side of Chicago when I was 15, and I was like, “oh..”.
My favorite movie of all time just might be Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, which is, again, maybe not strictly a horror movie, but if you needed to compare it to another film, that film would probably be Evil Dead.
You can follow J. on his blog at JYuenger.com