Scott Edwards Gallery is pleased to present “Sean Yseult – Soirée D’Evolution: Tableaux Vivants et Nature Mortes.” This Exhibition features the most recent work of Sean Yseult (former White Zombie bassist) based on a sordid secret society soiree in 1873 and the elaborate living pictures & still lifes staged as part of their lavish parties. Opening Reception will be held Saturday April 18, 7pm-12am.
As soon as I read the above in my email I had to reach out to my friend Sean Yseult to see what she had been bubbling in her ever boiling cauldron of creativity. We spoke not only about some amazing new news for White Zombie fans but also of her new band Star & Dagger‘s next move as well as absinthe, feral girls who drink blood, Tableaux Vivants and so much more!
For this epic read see BELOW.
In 1873, the Crescent City was a cauldron of decadence, politics, voodoo and absinthe. Elite mystic secret societies were backed by the city’s richest families, posing publicly as bon vivants while often cloaking much more sinister purposes.
SKULL & BONES?
The location: A Garden District Mansion in New Orleans, 1873. The Omniscient Oracles of the Occult throw their annual party, titled “Soiree D’Evolution.” A play on life devolving, the members are followers of Hesiod, a Deterioriationist. But as we follow our guests through a series of tableaux vivants and still lifes, it is obvious that they celebrate and revel in this decay and decadence, rather than mourn it. Large-scale staged photos tell the story of murder, mayhem and excess.
Yseult reveals a world that is one part fairy tale, one part history, one part occult, with a dash of Edward Gorey. Limited edition companion handmade books will also be available showcasing every piece from the exhibition, as well as the elaborate and decorative feel of the coveted invitations to these elite events.
How did it feel to do this, Sean? It’s really elegant but intense work.
‘Thanks so much, I’m really excited. This is my first large solo show. By large I mean each piece is almost 4 feet by 6ft.They’re just enormous. With these huge like four inch frames that look like they’ve come out’ve the Louvre. i’ve always wanted to do something on this scale. There’s seven pieces. That’s all that would fit in the gallery! I measured the walls ahead of time a year ago. I said ,”Ok, I have to tell this story in seven frames.” The story evolved as I was shooting. Each photo is either a still life or tableaux vivants. People posed in “living picture” scenarios. They were really popular in the Victorian-era. Originally they started because itwas a form of getting away with nudity at your parties (chuckling). You know “,she’s posing as, uh, Diana the huntress” (laughing)
(laughing) Yeah. “Pass the olives.” Woohoo.
Yeah. Here in New Orleans in the 1800’s Tableaux Vivants were very popular with the Mardis Gras crews. You’d go to an opera house and there’d be a million people posed and it would be Dante’s Inferno. People looking like devils and flames. They really were on the dark side of things. They did a lot of (laughing) macabre and mystic dabbling with Satanic themes. That was very intriguing to me.
You’re well rounded between the fashion, design and detail aspects of your career…regardless of the musical side. I like seeing the new photos and how traditions and your artistic expression would collide.
I feel like I fell down a rabbit hole when it came to research. One thing just led to another. I actually found out that some of the secret societies down here were tied in with Skull & Bones. I ended up going so deep in the information doing research that I actually started getting worried I might get trapped. I started to delete things off my computer
I thought you were gonna say you did so much research you accidentally got inducted into a secret society (laughing).
No, (laughing) I’d accidentally get murdered! Finding out too much about a society. They did have a thing called The Killing Of The King which is how presidents have been offed. These are really powerful and rich people. A lot were living down here in the 1800s, including some Rothschilds. First it was fun and games and then it got more sinister.
I’m just over here tiptoeing through the tulips. Don’t mind me”!
Haha, right! “I’m just a rock n roller”.
So yeah, it did get kinda freaky. The first panel is titled opening ceremony and you see the tableaux with musical instruments and glasses set against a Catholic reliquary. Six human skulls and rib bones. That gives you a clue to the secret societies interests. In the book they are dedicated to macabre, mayhem, music. I created my own secret society called the Omniscient Oracles of the Occult. Their credo is music, mayhem and the macabre. Then you see more ceremonial pictures, the remnants of a feast, an absinthe party. Absinthe was in full swing in the 1870’s in my neighborhood. My house is from the 1860’s. I forget to mention, I took all these photos in my house! I staged every one of them with the right backdrops and lights but I shot everything in my home. So it’s actually time period appropriate.
That’s fucking awesome.
Yeah, it was crazy. Everything started coming together.
Can I ask you legitimately if there were some heavy fucking vibes you were throwing down?
Especially at our absinthe party when people were dressed for the period and drinking absinthe. We definitely felt the vibes then.
There’s the “absinthe drinkers” or the Killing Of The King. That was something cults and societies actually did and were suppossedly responsible for our president’s deaths or other leaders. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, with my stuff. Everything is “Part history, part Edward Gorey” as I like to say. A little dark and grim with a little sense of humor. It’s fictitious but I based everything on a lot. So I fell down the rabbit hole with the Skull & Bones stuff first and then story of absinthe going on in France and hence in New Orleans, since they were directly related. The old absinthe house had just opened. This whole party documented is based on the year 1873 and by that year we had three absinthe manufacturers in New Orleans. We were not importing anything from France. France became insanely popular during that time because there’d been a blight in the vineyards and people hadn’t been able to drink wine. The royalty started drinking absinthe and everyone else just followed what the royalty did (laughing). Living here in New Orleans, it is legal here again finally. It was a nice tie in for my stories.
Full circle, right? Weird.
Yeah. Exactly! The third area of research I got obsessed with all started with a banner I own that said 1873, the name of a town in Paris and some musical instruments. I finally did some research on it. There was an abbey that started a band in the 1850’s. My banner is a banner that a marching band would carry in 1873. But every time I started typing in the name of this town, I kept getting the marching band of the abbey but also this stuff kept coming up that said the wild girl of Champagne, Memmie Le Blanc. I was like , “I HAVE to know about that!”. So that whole tableux ends up being about her. I have someone at the party play her. Of course the theme of Soirée D’Evolution is about Devolving but also kind of reads like “devilution”. That was a theme in 1873, coincidentally. In Mardis Gras that year the themes were making fun of Darwinism. Half-man, half-beast costumes that were kind of hideous. They were saying it was so awful but for my secret society they’ve also grasped a concept of devolving but they are celebrating it, instead of being offended by it. They’re saying yes, let’s devolve. Let’s get back to being beasts. So at the party there’s a naked lady, all kids of things going on. For many reasons it was a really fun show and I felt like I got an education along the way.
How did you select the gallery?
They actually gave me my first show two years ago and are one of the only photography galleries in town. They pnly show photographers. Our first show was really successful so I thought we’d do one again.
I wanted to ask you, as we’d been tweeting about it. Make Them Die Slowly is getting a re-issue? I love that White Zombie album. You like the rougher mix better?
This is a good little nugget we haven’t really done press for yet. I think believe it or not next year, White Zombie’s 30th anniversary…we are gonna have really nice box sets of all the earlier recordings of White Zombie on vinyl. One of them will be Make Them Die Slowly. I’m not sure if Rob will allow it cuz he’s always been against releasing any unheard tracks before, but I think the fans would love it if they could hear the first time we recorded it. We recorded that record THREE times.
Oh, I love Wharton. My dear guitarist friend Perry Masco (Peewee) from I.C.U. plays guitar in the Wharton Tiers ensemble.
We’d done Soul Crusher with him. This company Numero Group in Chicago, it’s really obscure funk and jazz. They really wanted to do these box sets. We’re like the only rock band on their label. For every record they’re gonna make a 12″, even the first two 7″s will be on a 12″ of each 7″ on either side. They drove down from Chicago and saw me and J. Yeunger and went through the vaults. I gave them all my early negatives of White Zombie from when I’d set up a tripod and be our band photographer. And my roomate took pictures of our first show at CBGB’s and I gave them all that, with his approval. They’re gonna do a really cool job.
Holy shit! I’m buggin’ out.
Yeah and extensive liner notes, which we’ve never done before. They’re interviewing a ton of people and it’d be great if they could interview Wharton.
Oh yeah, I talk to Pee Wee a lot so I’ll get you in touch with Wharton!
Please! See if he’s into it. This label does really cool stuff, tons of research and they dig up obscure things and research it. We’re the only metal band on it.That’d be amazing.
Anything to hear different versions of “Disaster Blaster”. I like that album. I do think the bass is muffled on it, though.
J’s studio is about a block away so I’ve been listening to mixes. He’s gonna re-master stuff. Yeah, when you hear the way Wharton recorded it it sounds like a logical step from Soul Crusher, just heavier. It sounds awesome. Caroline gave us a little more money to start it again as Rob didn’t like it. At Baby Monster Studios. Bill Laswell interrupted the second time and Bill Laswell called and wanted us to do it with him a third time. I thought it was atrocious. I didn’t like what he did for Motorhead or Iggy Pop either. Everything sounds like a tin can to me, I dunno.
Bill Laswell, his kind of Pil sound is cool to me in some ways and with Zombie it almost could anticipate some of the later industrial elements Rob brought in more. But I’m interested to hear Wharton’s mix as if you look at the bands he was mixing at that time from Sonic Youth to Unsane, Helmet and Quicksand, he had a lot more CBGB’s kinda noise rock scene essence, I bet. Really want to hear your interplay with the drums.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool, man. I like it a lot. Every other day I’ve been dropping in and re-listening to it. It really sounds good! (laughing) Every time we put something out Rob always hated it the second we got something pressed. “Oh, this is terrible.” We had to kind of pretend it didn’t exist. Some of this stuff I’m really hearing for the first time. This stuff from the old days we were never supposed to listen to again.Even the first 7″ I thought must be awful, I heard it and it sounds cool! It kinda reminds me of Fang. Remember that band Fang?
It’s punk. It’s 1985. We’re going to punk and hardcore shows and that’s what it sounds like. It’s got some sabbathy riffs in there and some fast parts. And it’s kinda punk. It’s cool. To me, it was a revelation. Rob made me feel like they were horrible and should never see the light of day. (laughing)
Do you think he (Rob Zombie) was critical because he really wanted it to be the best it could be?
Yeah, that’s his thing. He’s his own worst critic. He’s critical of everything but hardest on himself and what he’s involved with. I get it but it’s a drag cuz I listen to the past stuff and thought ,” Man, it was cool.” (laughing) All these years I thought it sucked!?!!?
“We were always awesome.” (laughing)
None of it was an accident. We knew what we were doing. I heard him say we didn’t know how to play our instruments. C’mon. I was playing violin when I was ten. We knew how to play our instruments and we knew what we were doing. If you look on the cover of Psycho Head Blowout Rob is wearing an Einstürzende Neubauten button. We wanted to be a noise band and were doing it. We didn’t focus on flawless playing right off the get go.
See, for me…the music that scares off the metal heads must be the most interesting shit! Noise is usually where most people draw the line. You get your Full Of Hell type bands once in awhile who collaborate with Merzbow but most bands hear noise and want to run back to Metallica.
(laughing) Even in the noisy early days I still listened to Black Sabbath daily. One of my only records I had. We were definitely influenced by metal, it just took a little while longer for it to manifest in the music. Cuz we were going to hardcore matinees every week and seeing Black Flag and Bad Brains, y’know? I think it’s cool to follow the old stuff through the years.
How do you feel doing work that will be shown as art as opposed to rock photos like in your essential 90’s metal era book I’m In The Band?
At first it was going to be a coffee table book but those were snapshots I took on the road. The crappiest little instamatic camera, back then. It’s not that they’re the best pictures but the information on them was so good I had to share. That’s not what I’d consider my photography work. But yeah, Rob and I met at Parsons so I’ve always been creating through photography more for galleries since college. Actually, before Parsons as I got a scholarship based on my photography. It’s two different animals , staging shots for galleries that you spend a little more time on (laughing).
Absolutely.What’s new with Star & Dagger? (authot’s note: I feel like Metal Sucks totally didn’t get the campy side of Star & Dagger’s humor when they panned the actually awesomely fun Star & Dagger video for “In My Blood” recently, complete with sexist troll comments. Watch it again HERE.)
We have a lot of new songs. Between all three of our scehdules it’s been tricky but we’re trying to find time to record them. Between all of our travelling and this show of mine we’re hoping August /Sept we’re going to have time to record and, I don’t want to jinx us… but we’ve been talking to a producer we really respect and whose work we admire and he’s expressed interest. It’d be a dream come true if we worked with him. We’ve kind of been a little in limbo and that’s where we’re at right now, but we have some great new songs.
As we move into Spring did it feel nice to have the closure of the show coincide with the year shifting?
Yeah, it’s great. Talking to a New Yorker it sounds a little silly but it’s been cold here. We actually had the fire going three or four times this Winter. Now it’s warmer and in the 70’s. Everyone’s getting out and about. It’s gonna be fun having a show. This gallery is out in the French Quarter area. It’s gonna be nice and people are out walking around already.
Every time it got cold here this winter I kept playing the “Sexy Summertime” video (by Sean’s husband Chris Lee’s old band Supagroup) and annoying my partner.
(laughing) That’s hillarious. That’s their Van Halen video.
So back to the feral girl, let me tell you. It’s so crazy. The little girl was 8 years old. 1712 was the year. She was Indian and travelling on a boat to France. The boat was overtaken by pirates and murdered. She escaped with a little slave girl who held onto her foot. They swam to shore. These two little girls lived and escaped into the woods. For ten years they lived in the woods, clubbed animals and drank their blood. They caught fish and ate them raw.
They became completely feral. They got into a fight when they were 16 and split ways. (laughing) When she was 18 she was captured by some people in the middle of the night. People had seen her but she’d always escaped.
18 and an urban legend. Not bad.
Carrying a club. She gets captured and there’s a duke in Champagne country. He has a castle next to the abbey where the band is and like my fair lady tried to domesticate her and take her in. There are a lot of cases of feral children who never are able to speak again. She could make these weird squeak noises. Or their eyes always dart around to see if anyone is getting ready to kill them. She also had claws. They filed them down and have her real food. They almost killed her until she was able to drink the blood of an animal again and got back to health.
So she got really black metal!
Yeah! (laughing) So it was a gold mine. Every topic I landed on was macabre and fit.
She was a real wild child.
In the best way, exactly! I call her Darwin’s Darling in the book. She really reverted back. This duke got her to speak again and she lived to be like 70 years old. She actually did come back somehow. It’s so weird to be researching my banner and I wanted to put it in the show, so I damn well needed to know what it said and then saw it said Champagne country and then kept seeing the “wild girl of champagne.”
Well you’ve been a wild girl of champagne before, so if the shoe fits.
Yeah, we’ve definitely drunk a lot of champagne here in NEw Orleans in the house, so (laughing) …
Sean Yseult is best known as the bass player from the multi-platinum, twice grammy-nominated band White Zombie. Sean spent her formative years at the North Carolina School of the Arts studying ballet and earned a BFA in photography and design at Parsons School of Design NYC. Upon White Zombie’s breakup, she moved to New Orleans and began showing her photography. In 2010 her autobiographical photo-book “I’m In The Band” was published (Soft Skull Press), and in 2012 her first solo show debuted at the Scott Edwards Gallery. Her previous work can be viewed by visiting www.seanyseult.com.