Astro Creep 2000
was industrial metallers White Zombie
's fourth full length studio album (and their second on a major label). The album its full title is Astro-Creep: 2000 - Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head
- would go on to become their most commercially successful, with the album peaking at number six on the Billboard 200.
The album also became one of the most important and influential records of the 1990s. As part of Ultimate-Guitar
's continuing series of "classic albums
" feaures, Joe Matera
recently caught up with White Zombie
's six string meister J. Yuenger
to look back on this metal classic.
UG: Let's start by first discussing the background to the songwriting process for the album Astro Creep 2000.
It was really, very simple. We would go to the rehearsal studio every day, play for hours, and tape stuff on a boom box. Sean [Yseult, White Zombie bassist] and I would bring in things that we'd worked on at home, but a lot of times those riffs would get twisted around over the course of a day. We'd play, think, argue, and play some more, and Rob [Zombie] would sit on a couch reading the paper until we got something together that he thought he could sing over he was very good at that, I guess you could call it editing. We knew there were going to be electronic sounds and samples on the album, but there was never any talk of let's leave a space here for a loop. We tried to make the songs as good as possible and as played by a live rock band. It was really difficult because Rob never wrote or sang anything until he got into the recording studio, so the tunes never seemed like anything more than collections of riffs.
Because this album was highly anticipated due to the success of the band's previous release 1992's La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, was there a lot of pressure placed on the band when it came to making this album?
I guess so, but we were at a place, after a very, very long uphill struggle, where the position we were in seemed inevitable. We were sort of blessed that we were doing something that nobody at the record company really understood, and it was working, so they let us get on with it.
Do you remember what the budget was for the album?
No but it was a lot.
When it came to the recording process for this album, long did it take?
"We tried to make the songs as good as possible and as played by a live rock band."
It is hard to remember now. As far as myself, I was absolutely dead set on doing everything as well as humanly possible. I was totally unwilling to settle for anything guitar-wise that I was 100% unhappy with, and I knew that with the position we were in, I could work on the tracks until I thought they were done.
The album is noted that for having utilized a 72 track recording set up. Why you decide to use some many tracks?
I seem to remember three 24 track Studer tape machines chained together, if you can imagine. Remember, you couldn't make an album with a computer yet, so all the loops and sounds were on tape. Terry [Date, producer] nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to mix all that stuff, and he told me years later that he was certain that he'd ruined the album which was funny since he did such a good job on it.
Speaking of Terry Date, as a producer what did he bring to the recording process?
Terry's not so much an artistic producer, as far as helping arrange your songs or the vibe or whatever, but he's incredibly technical, which turned out to be a real positive for the album, which was being big on ideas that were very new then such as samples, layered sounds and extreme EQ-ing. And also being pretty small on, you know, beautiful melodies.
When it came to the guitar parts how did you approach them? Were they preplanned or did you work on them in the studio?
I pre-planned almost everything, including the solos the improvising part came with trying to use effects to create distinctive parts for the songs. Lots of situations happened where there'd be two or three people on the floor turning stomp box knobs on the fly.
Turning to the topic of gear, what did you use for the album?
I had a pretty big rig at that point. A far as I can remember, we had four different half-stacks going: a Randall Century 200 head through a Randall cab, another Randall going through a Mesa cab, a Mesa Triple Rectifier (on the solid-state setting) through a Mesa cab, and a Marshall Valvestate through a Mesa cab. The Valvestate was an idea I got from Tommy Victor from Prong, who was someone I really admired. Obviously, running Randalls with an old MXR Flanger/ Doubler was something I stole outright from Darrell from Pantera.
And what other effects were there?
There were Rocktron Noise Gates, a Rocktron Chameleon effects processor, and many interesting stomp boxes. Sometimes if I wasn't getting a sound that was interesting or dangerous or big enough, I would run my whole rack through one of Sean's Ampeg SVTs.
A large part in helping to make the album sound dark and heavy was your use of different tunings.
Yeah I had a bunch of really great guitars, and we used three different tunings; standard tuning dropped a half-step (D#), which was exclusively my blue Robin Machete, standard tuning dropped a step and a half (C#), which was the tuning used on most of the songs. In fact I had a couple of different custom-made Ibanez Iceman guitars that I used for that. And the final tuning used was a drop C# tuning, which is a standard D# tuning, but with the bottom string dropped to C#. For this I used a Japanese factory-made Iceman. The famous guitar sound on More Human Than Human is a factory Iceman for the rhythm, and a custom-made Robin Machete for the slide. In fact, we needed to set up a guitar for the slide part and the Machete had just arrived. It was a very handsome guitar, Black and with star fret markers. I did the slide part, put it back in the case, and never touched it again. It still has the strings from the session on it. All of my guitars had Duncan Custom TB pickups, although I did use one of the first factory-made green-with-stars J. Model Icemans, and that had an Ibanez pickup which was voiced to sound like a Duncan Custom, and it really did.
How did you go about capturing your guitar tones in the studio?
It was done very simply. Each cabinet had one Shure SM-57 on it, although we did work a lot with mike placement. Engineers have kind of a thing about doing as little as possible to a mic'ed guitar track, so I think it was pretty annoying to Terry - and his engineer Ulrich Wild, who's now a well-known producer in his own right - that I would sometime insist on EQ-ing the sound to tape so I could try to get different tones.
Obviously there were many overdubs?
Not really. Every song has stereo rhythm guitars and solos and textural stuff, but everything was really pretty straight forward.
Were there any left over tracks recorded at the same sessions that did not make the album?
"We were at a place, after a very, very long uphill struggle, where the position we were in seemed inevitable."
No. There's, I think, two tracks that didn't get beyond the rhythm guitar stage.
Looking back now, what sort of memories do you have of the recording sessions?
Well, as you can imagine, it was pretty amazing to be in a situation where everything lines up there's a big budget, you're at one of the best studios in the world, you've got a producer who's done some of your favorite records, and you're being encouraged to be as creative as possible. We all worked very hard, and it was very rewarding. On the other hand, as into the loops and sounds as I was then, I was very conscious of trying to maintain a balance between that stuff and the actual guitar-bass-drums-vocals rock band. I often felt that the loops were becoming too prominent and that the record was taking on a sort of corny, new wave, Depeche Mode disco feel which I hated and fought really hard to not have happen. In retrospect, Astro-Creep is a really good record, but it's certain aspects of it are pretty dated.
Is it true that the success of the album caused the band to finally implode or was that due to Rob branching out into a solo career?
No, not really. There were a number of reasons for the band's breaking up, chiefly among them the fact that we never stopped working and really burnt ourselves out. Personally, relationships in the band became more and more strained until we weren't really communicating at all. And I think Rob really wanted to move away from live instruments and towards more synthetic, dance-y music, and he knew that nobody else in the band was willing to go any farther in that direction than we had with Astro-Creep.
Finally what are you currently up to musically?
Producing and engineering, you can hear all the records I've done at jyuenger.com.
Interview by Joe Matera