Rob Zombie

From Academic Kids

With his dreadlocks, gruff vocal style and fascination with B-movies, Rob Zombie (born Rob Cummings on January 12, 1966), has become a distinctive and major force in American heavy metal. He is probably best known as a musician, being founder, lead singer and songwriter for White Zombie, as well as being a solo artist in his own right. However, in recent years he has extended his creativity into movies and videos. His debut feature, House of 1000 Corpses, has become a cult classic, building upon his career as a respected director of promo videos.

The Devil's Rejects, his latest film, is to be released in July 22nd, 2005.

As a side note, he is the older brother of Powerman 5000 vocalist Spider One.

Contents

Early Years

Rob Zombie was born Robert Cummings on January 12 1966 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. However, for most fans what is most important about Zombie is not his birth, but the movies, TV and comics in which he was immersed from a young age. Cummings and his younger brother, Michael, immersed themselves in a heady mixture of classic monsters, pro-wrestling, EC Comics, 1960s counter-culture, gore movies and the weirder, more esoteric corners of the American artistic map. Both became interested in design, but Michael dropped out of art school to pursue an interest in music. Rob, however, moved to New York to pursue a career in publishing.

Formation of White Zombie

Zombie, still known at this time as Cummings, supported himself through a mixture of jobs, including working as a cycle courier. Most famously he was a production assistant on Pee-wee's Playhouse, but he also worked as a designer on pornographic magazines. In this time, he became involved with Shauna Reynolds, another up-and-coming designer. Together they shared a love of classic horror and sci-fi, heavy music and the weirder corners of American underground culture. They finally decided to form a band that would draw upon all these influences and so White Zombie was formed. Named after the classic Bela Lugosi black-and-white shocker White Zombie, it combined the theatrics of goth-metal acts like Glenn Danzig with the loose, loud groove of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the greaser biker image of Cummings and Reynolds. There were two slight problems – namely that neither Cummings nor Reynolds was a musician. They split duties between them – Rob took vocals and the name Rob Zombie, while Reynolds became the bassist and was known as Sean Yseult. They were to be the only constants in the often-fluctuating band line-up.

White Zombie achieved a cult status in New York. With the line-up of Zombie (at this time sometimes credited as Rob Straker), guitarist Tom Guay, bassist Yseult and drummer Ivan de Prume, they released three EPs through indie label Silent Explosion – 1985’s Gods on Voodoo Moon, 1986’s Pig Heaven and 1987’s Psycho-Head Blowout. In 1987, they released their debut album Soul-Crusher through Silent Explosion, re-releasing it the following year through punk label Caroline: importantly, this saw the first regular use of the name Rob Zombie. 1989 saw the release of their follow-up album, Make Them Die Slowly, again through Caroline, but with John Ricci replacing Guay. Both of these albums have since been deleted. This was followed by God of Thunder ep, the first release with Jay Noel Yuenger, aka J, taking over guitar duties from Ricci. It was this line-up – Zombie, Yuenger, Yseult and Prume – that finally attracted major label attention and was signed to Geffen. However, there was little doubt that, as sole lyricist and designer of all the band's art work, Rob was the prime force behind the band.

Major Label Years

White Zombie only released two major studio albums, but their impact was enormous and their fan base loyal. In 1992 La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 became an underground smash, shifting more than 1 million units in America alone. Released through Geffen, its combination of low-slung bass, metal guitars, industrial production and Zombie’s half-growled, half-barked lyrics about monsters, liquor and souped-up street racers caught the public imagination. Along with Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, White Zombie mixed heaviness with a shamelessly danceable beat and a sleazy sensibility. Yseult became an inspirational figure to a generation of young female rock and metal fans by not playing on her sexuality, only her bass. Zombie, on the other hand, became a more unique figure than ever. With the financial backing of a major label, he could take his vision further than ever before, and play to a bigger audience. White Zombie live shows became famous for big visuals and amazing showmanship, helping to catapult them from cult status to stadiums. However, during this round of touring, Zombie and Yseult split up.

In 1995 White Zombie released their second studio album for Geffen, Astro-Creep: 2000 songs of love, destruction and other synthetic delusions of the Electric Head. The music was credited to White Zombie and again all lyrics and the sleeve art came from Rob Zombie. By this stage, only Rob and Sean survived from the original line-up, boosted by the returning J. on guitar and former member of Bay Area thrashers Testament John Tempesta on drums. Tempesta, whose brother Mike played guitar for Zombie’s brother Spider’s outfit Powerman 5000, replaced Phil Buerstatte, who had replaced Prume during the La Sexorcisto tour. Buerstatte never made a studio recording with the band.

Astro-Creep continued in La Sexorcisto’s mould with songs about drag racing, robots and evil clowns. However, many initially regarded it as lacking the freshness of La Sexorcisto and rumours quickly circulated that there were problems within the band. However, others argued that this was the densest metal album in decades. Much of the recording session had been Zombie creating fake samples from fictitious B-movies – in part, an act of necessity, as rights approval for some samples on La Sexorcisto had lead to delays in its release. In part, however, this was Zombie taking the opportunity to fulfil his vision for the band. Zombie’s collage approach to production seemed to use the music of the band less as a base to work from and more as a component of the finished mix.

In interviews, the others would admit that they often did not understand exactly what he was trying to achieve – in conversation with Pulse!, Tempesta admitted that “a lot of that is up to Rob. You’ve just got to trust him”. A sign of Zombie’s commitment to the project was to be found when he submitted a proposed 16-page art layout for the cd insert booklet. When Geffen agreed only to pay for 4 pages, Zombie paid for the additional 12 himself, rather than make a compromise.

The following tour was to cement White Zombie’s reputation as one of the most inventive and outrageous bands in 90s America. Giant puppets, pyrotechnics and projected visuals made some describe them as the true successors to Kiss. There was some disappointment on the European leg of the tour that they were not bringing, due to expense, the full US stage show with them, but warm reviews of the stripped-down shows proved that they were still a successful rock act, minus all the stage theatrics.

A follow-up remix album, Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds, was released in 1996 but this was to be the final White Zombie release


Solo Artist

In 1998, Rob Zombie pushed beyond the confines of the band environment. First, he founded his own label, Zombie-A-Go-Go, signing surf and horror acts like The Bomboras and The Ghastly Ones, as well as compiling the mix album Halloween Hootenany. He was managing the new band of his brother Michael, now known as Spider, the punk-tinged Powerman 5000, but also looked to his own career.

For his first solo project, Zombie entered into a close working relationship with producer Scott Humphrey, co-writing the music with him. John Tempesta came straight from White Zombie, and was joined by Riggs on guitar and Blasko on bass. The resultant album, Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International, was seen by many as Zombie redux – a sleek, short and crazed album. Outside of the confines of a band, Zombie was in complete charge of the product. While the themes remain the same – monsters, hot pants and hot rods – the finished product was less metal and more industrial than anything White Zombie had produced. It was a massive success, with the videos for Dragula and Superbeast achieving heavy rotation.

The album also saw the beginning of Rob Zombie’s very public creative relationship with his long-time girlfriend and muse, Sherri Moon aka Sherri Skerkis. As a regular in his videos, she became the iconic female of his work. Tall, blonde and similarly influenced by EC Comics and Herschell Gordon Lewis movies, she was placed front and centre in his work from that point on.

If it marked the public announcement of one relationship, Hellbilly Deluxe marked the end of another. After huge opening week sales, dwarfing those of any White Zombie release, it was announced that the band had split up. Sean Yseult left to form female horror-rockers Famous Monsters and, later, Rock City Morgue. Zombie toured extensively with the album and released a re-mix disc, American Made Music to Strip By, in 1999.

In 2001, Zombie re-united the team of Tempesta, Riggs, Blasko and Humphrey to produce his second solo album, The Sinister Urge. Yet again it sealed Zombie’s unique reputation for playfulness and horror, with tracks like Dead Girl Superstar and Scum of the Earth indicating that he had not undertaken an unexpected shift in style.

Video Director

As befits his strong grasp of graphics and visuals, Rob Zombie took immediate control of White Zombie’s videos. Again, he re-enforced the cartoon spookiness and psychotropic horror imagery of the band, starting with the desert-set Thunder Kiss ’65. Featuring Day of the Dead-style devils, Frankenstein’s monster and Go-Go dancers, it became an instant cult classic. Zombie did not direct the follow-up promo for La Sexorcisto’s Black Sunshine, but since then has directed every video for his songs. All have referenced his interests and influence – from the 60’s sci-fi of More Human than Human to the Dr Caligari stylings of Living Dead Girl and the obvious A Clockwork Orange homage of Never Gonna Stop. In this time Sherri Moon has become the female face of Rob Zombie’s work, appearing in a total of 15 of his promos.

Zombie’s unique visual style has been borrowed by other bands: he has also directed videos for Ozzy Osborne (Dreamer), Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society (Still Born), Powerman 5000 (Tokyo Vigilante #1), Prong (Rude Awakening) and The Ghastly Ones (Hauling Hearse).

Movie Director

As a successful video director with a strong interest in movies, the shift to cinema seemed inevitable. However, it was not to be painless. In the mid-90s, Zombie was approached to direct the third in the successful comic-inspired The Crow franchise, but his script was rejected. He was hired to animate the psychedelic trip sequence from 1997’s Beavis and Butt-head Do America, a sequence which drew increased attention to his skills as a designer.

Zombie’s cinematic interests finally reached fruition with the production of his debut feature as a director, House of 1000 Corpses. The timing seemed perfect: in 2000 the film industry was considering a whole swathe of traditional horror movies and remakes that resulted in such pictures as Michael Bay’s version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Freddy vs. Jason. Zombie was hired by Universal after he created a maze for Universal Studio's Halloween Horrors Night in 1999 and began production in April 2000 of his self-penned script, for delivery for the Halloween season. Shooting ran from 14 May to 20 August 2000 and he even designed a second Halloween maze for Universal, expecting their working relationship to continue smoothly.

A mixture of Alice in Wonderland, slapstick comedy, psychedelia and extreme graphic violence, HOTC (as it is known amongst its fans) centres upon the traditional two teenage couples who go on a road trip in America’s heartland. There they stumble across the legend of Dr Satan, a mythical surgeon who practiced horrific experiments on psychiatric patients. While attempting to find the tree upon which Satan was hung by a lynch mob, they run into the Firefly family, a band of sociopaths and mutants who butcher them in intriguing and bizarre fashions.

What Universal expected is unknown: what they got was incredibly controversial. Rather than the slick MTV-style horror some may have expected, Zombie reached straight back into the grindhouse and gore influences that had always pervaded his art. Hiring schlock icons such as Karen Black, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig and his long-time muse Sherri Moon, Zombie produced a movie that owed far more to underground, exploitation and drive-in cinema than to modern tastes. The result split horror fans into two camps: those that adored its shlocky, shocking style and those that despised it as cheesy and amateurish. Universal rejected the movie outright and Rob became engaged in a lengthy process of finding a new home for the picture. It would take another three years for House of 1000 Corpses to finally be released, this time through Lion’s Gate pictures. In the mean time, Zombie finally married Sherri Moon in late 2002.

However, great controversy still surrounds the picture. Finally released in the US with an R rating, the picture ran at 88 minutes. However, a 105 minute cut has been seen at various film festivals, including Mar del Plata in Argentina and Leeds in the United Kingdom. Rob Zombie has denied all knowledge of this extended cut.

As of Summer 2005, Zombie’s biggest project is the completion of the sequel to HOTC, The Devil’s Rejects. While the first film only took $12,000,000 at the US box office, Zombie’s tiny budget and a good DVD market ensured a profit, opening the door for a sequel. Described by Zombie as being less of a straight horror movie and far closer to a 1970’s revenge western, in the vein of Sam Peckinpah, he has also hinted that this will be the last in the series.

Comic Writer

Increasingly, Rob has placed his musical career on hiatus and concentrated not simply on movies, but extending the HOTC franchise. His first big project was to launch a spin-off comic through Crossgen Comics, entitled Spookshow International. A horror anthology set in the HOTC continuity and written solely by Zombie, the stories initially concentrated on the further adventures of the Firefly family. As the title has progressed, Zombie has moved away from this core conceit. By issue 7, the main storyline centred around masked Mexican wrestler El Superbeasto and his regularly naked one-eyed super-spy sister Suzi X. There has also been a toy range, released through NECA toys.

In addition, Zombie has collaborated with rising horror comic star Steve Niles to form a new comic firm, CREEP Entertainment. So far they have released monster-smashing wrestling title The Nail and, with legendary comic artist Richard Corben, Zombie is now working on Bigfoot.

As a result of this, Zombie’s musical career has been put on a partial hiatus. Since making HOTC, he released one full studio album, The Sinister Urge, in 2001 and a compilation entitled Past, Present and Future in 2003, covering his solo work and time in White Zombie. The track Never Gonna Stop (Red Red Kroovy) achieved cross-over status after being used by the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) as the entrance music for pro-wrestler Edge. There have been a few new tracks and some live dates. However, with The Devil’s Rejects in the can and Rob Zombie confirmed for Ozzfest in the US this summer, there may be new material in the near future.


Discography

As White Zombie

As Rob Zombie

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