Since the inception of Sabbath Assembly I have had this fascination with the project and the authenticity behind the creators of this worshipful music. It is with great pleasure that Heathen Harvest has been given the opportunity to converse with mastermind Dave Nuss, as he opens up about everything regarding the band’s specific history to musings on the nature of spirituality and the dualistic nature of man. In order to know our light we must understand our darkness, and, of course, unify the two to exist as a whole being. The Process Church of the Final Judgement now has a voice in our modern age, and it is incredibly satisfying that it is the voice of such an open-minded, grounded, and, at the same time, jovial individual. If ever there was a doubt, it can now be put to rest … Brethren, open your hearts and listen to one of the most challenging ideologies for our cold, modern sensibilities to handle; though, told through the medium of some of the most beautiful, and equally challenging, music.
There are those who know and there are those who are still left in the dark regarding the highly unique nature of Sabbath Assembly. In your words alone, what is Sabbath Assembly?
Sabbath Assembly is the band that was put together to spread the theological ideas of the Process Church of the Final Judgement.
After thoroughly exploring the concepts and beliefs of the Process Church of the Final Judgement I was left wondering how much of this rings true with you and the other musician involved. Is Sabbath Assembly closer to a snapshot of the past or can it be considered an actual spiritual vehicle?
The first I heard of this music was through the author Timothy Wylie and his book Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgement. A friend of mine was the publisher of that book, and I got to meet Timothy when he came to New York for a book expo upon its release. Looking through it, some of the illustrations in the book were comprised of sheet music from the Church. I said to Timothy “there must be some recordings of this music, and if there are I would love to release them on my label”. So initially the idea was a snapshot – let’s capture what it was in all its glory. Timothy said that these songs were considered sacred hymns only used in the context of worship, so they never thought about applying what in the 60’s was considered to be a pop medium, recording them for popular release. They always considered it to be sacred music and not pop music. Well, the world has come a long way and maybe it’s time to share this music. So my initial idea was to do a snapshot – let’s recreate it and see what it feels like. Right away once we started working on the songs we realized, well, that doesn’t feel like something I would be comfortable playing, or that lyric seems a little too out of the 60’s, and it is not the 60’s anymore! So let’s change this or remove that line, not heavy changes to the text or the song, but to just personalize the hymns a little bit. As time marched on over the last 3 years that process has brought us to where we are now. I would never describe what we do now as a historical, documentarian project in a “authentic fashion”. Sabbath Assembly are absolutely interpreters of the music. The sheet music is very rudimentary, just chord changes, simple melody lines, and words. As a musician you can take that in a million different directions, you can give it whatever feel you want to give it. We are very much interpreters, and I believe in the hands of another band it would come out totally different.
To answer the question, because of this bringing-into-the-now process that we are going through with the hymns, our hope is that they do have a spiritual relevance and power for the listeners. They certainly do for the musicians, and that’s why I’m still doing this. I thought it was going to be a one off thing to help promote the book. But the theology, the context, and the words have all gotten under my skin in a way that I can’t really shake. The guitarist from the first record the other day said to me, “When you first presented this music to me, it didn’t sound like you were really a believer, but now you sound like a believer” [laughs]. I don’t what happened along the way; something kind of clicked over in my brain. I think and I hope that the message of the songs can be as infectious for people as it has been for me.
What about this special ideology grabbed you, and how much of it represents truth to you personally?
I think a lot came from my background in metal , with me being a metalhead from the early 80′s with the beginnings of thrash. If I had followed it up through to its conclusions I would have arrived at “let’s take this Satanism all the way and let’s burn those churches down”. Which I felt was a powerful artistic statement to make in the Scandinavian black metal scene. I guess from that point what do you do next? For me, coming from a very Christian background, which I did, and finding an escape through Satanic metal, which reached a culmination point through various forms of extreme black metal, led to me finding a lot of validity in the Process Church’s approach, which is an idea of blending, reconciling, and unifying the White Magick and the Black Magick. How can these actually coexist together? It’s a very Eastern idea, and Eastern philosophy is getting more and more prevalent all the time. People are ready for war to stop, I know I’m ready for it to stop. I felt at war with Christianity for many years. It’s not a good feeling to feel that sense of battle – to be a soldier all the time. A lot of that work has been done actually, and we can maybe bring it back around to bring the dialogue together with the dark side and the light side with a bit more finesse. That’s why the stylistic approach of Sabbath Assembly is not to interpret the songs in an extreme metal fashion or a contemporary Christian fashion – we’re doing our best to find some middle way.
The music of Sabbath Assembly is wrought with so many different elements, ranging from gospel to folk to psychedelic rock. Aside from the spiritual and cosmological concerns, can you give a synopsis of your own musical background?
In the 80′s I played in a band called Angkor Wat, named after the temples in Cambodia, and this was my formative musical experience. That band recorded two albums for Metal Blade Records, and it was my 80′s forward motion into what was then the crossover punk/metal scene. I quickly grew weary of the metal scene because I felt there was a lot of conformity going on, a lot of creative chains were put on me by the powers that be – the expectations of the label and the genre itself. I felt like there was almost a uniform that had to be worn. I needed to break out of that so I wound up moving to New York and immersing myself in all different kinds of music. I studied jazz for a long time and I got into the whole ethnic music craze. The spiritual or ritual component was the thing that was always linking my interests. The band that I had for a long time, for 15 years, was called NNCK or the No Neck Blues Band. That band was a strictly improvisatory band of large form, there were 7 members in the group, and we just focussed on the one particular musical exercise of being in the present moment with the music. We never discussed anything before what we were going to do, there were no music leaders giving cues, it was very much a collective process of what music could be in the now. That was the focus of my experience for many, many years.
What about some of the other key players involved in the project?
Jex will be able to tell her own story much better than I ever could, and a lot of people know about her background. Jaimie Meyers, our current singer, is coming more from the punk and hardcore scene, almost crust punk scene as I can gather, and she also has a strong interest in darker kinds of music like Death In June and Current 93. Of course she did her time with the band called Hammers of Misfortune, and that is where I became very interested in her work with their album called The Locust Years, which is one of my all-time favourite records. She also did the projects with Wolves in the Throneroom, and then now here she is with Sabbath.
So working with these two mesmerizing women on these two records, both with their own mystical auras as musicians, can you explain what difference existed in your experience with each singer? How was each creative process unique?
I find Jaimie to be a much more intimate creative partner, and I think that’s what “Ye Are Gods” is reflecting. Her singing style is very inviting; it almost welcomes you into a very, very private space. Whereas I think of Jex as a charismatic, much more outgoing, personality. We were getting more comparisons with Jex to things like Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane. She has a very loud voice! With Jaimie, performing and rehearsing with her feels like we’re in a tiny room having a small séance going on. That is how I would characterize their working style.
I think it’s obvious in the music; there is definitely a much stronger ritual, spiritual, gospel feel on the new record.
We felt safer to do a lot of acoustic stuff on the new album. Her voice seems to lend itself to that quieter presentation.
There is definitely that difference between the two records. The first one I would almost characterize i as a psychedelic rock album, but with this new one I’ve had trouble really identifying a label. For lack of a better term I’ve just been calling it “church music”, because it’s so heavily full of devotional sounding music. Aside from the personnel and who was where on what album, what elements were at work on the newest recording? What was there that wasn’t there on previous recordings?
After we did Restored To One, which is an album I’m very proud of and both Jex and I feel like we made an album of a very singular character, I just knew that once Jex left the group to pursue her solo work we would never be able to recreate that again. There is just no way to make a better psyche rock record than Restored To One. Because to me it hit a pinnacle achievement. That is what the chemistry of what that group was. In reassembling a line-up for the second one we had to develop a different approach based on what we were hearing.
The liturgical idea came in because the hymns on Restored To One give a certain feel of the message, but I felt with the second album it was okay to be a bit more explicit about what this theology actually is. What better way than actually inviting the listeners into the liturgy itself? The first experiment we did with Genesis P-Orridge and a small group of people here in New York actually took the liturgy of the Church, and we read and recorded it like a church service. So there was a priest role, there were responsive readings, there was choral chanting, and we made an interesting recording out of it. But at the end of the day is just sounded like church. While the theology in the text was somewhat interesting, I didn’t feel as a whole record that that was the right way to portray it. Separately, we ended up working on the hymns, and what the intent was with Ye Are Gods was to combine the liturgical aspect with the hymns. It didn’t work to say “have Genesis do a reading for 1 minute, and then a 3 minute hymn, followed by another 1 minute reading”; that became too formulaic of an approach. We actually worked quite carefully to weave the music and text together. Really, the ultimate goal of Sabbath Assembly is to just make a good fucking record. I was trying to not let any ideas of what it is supposed to be get in the way: This is supposed to be a church album, or this is supposed to initiate people into the Process Church. In the end I just wanted to make a really good album that stands up within the history of rock music.
There is that moment on the final track where Genesis proclaims: What is the Law of the Universe?, and then it kicks in heavily … I have not been hit so hard upon my first listen to any music like that in a long time!
That track is interesting because in a recent review that song was torn to pieces and they said the album was obviously crap, because you have these campy sing-a-long songs like “The Love of the Gods” and “Exit”. But what I think is important for people to realize is that the Church had all that stuff in it. They had darker songs like “And The Phoenix is Reborn”, on the first album, which is written to have a melancholic and stark presentation. But they wrote other songs like “The Love of the Gods” that are absolute gospel numbers, and there is no way that we are going to take a song that is written to be cheery and change that. We could not do it, but I decided that on this album let’s go for broke and let’s not present the Church as only a dark, black-cloaked, mysterious, Satan-worshipping group. There is that aspect of it, but that’s not what the Church actually was and that’s not who I am either. You get a bit more of that balance on this record.
Speaking of Genesis earlier, she is a vivid force on the newest album. How did her presence into the fold come about, and what do you think she brings to the Sabbath Assembly entity?
One of the co-sponsors of Restored To One was Feral House book publishing that published the book I mentioned about the Process Church, Love, Sex, Fear, Death. Not too long after that was published they also did a book by Genesis called Thee Psychick Bible. We were actually out in Seattle staying at Adam Parfrey’s house finishing up the record at the same time that Genesis was also there autographing copies of her book. Timothy was there as well, who is a long time friend of Genesis’, and of course Genesis has been interested in the Church and its message since the 90′s. We just really all bonded well together! Gen was just having a good old time connecting with everybody. There was a strong kinship between all parties involved. When the idea came up to do the ritual liturgical reading, Gen seemed like the perfect choice to be the high priest or priestess. Number one: because of charisma and history, but number 2: because Gen actual embodies this unification of opposites in himself/herself. It is such an incredible personal art project *. Who better to actually talk about the unification of Christ and Satan than Genesis?
Almost kind of like an Abraxas figure if you will?
Absolutely. When you start digging into occult stuff it is at the root of everything. That’s why it is so surprising still that mainstream religious thought finds these ideas so incredibly repugnant. Why still the repression of women? Why are we still trying to overthrow evil everywhere? It’s not possible! (laughs) You can’t do it! We’re going to be fighting forever for the same shit that people have been trying to do. When can people finally come to peace? We have both masculine and feminine inside us, we have both dark and light inside us, and that’s okay! That’s not a reason to get an exorcism done. Just be okay with that. Act on both sides and work on harmonizing each side. It’s a very powerful message, but absolutely tragic that it’s not more pervasive.
I was going to ask you why this ideology was relevant in this day and age but I think you just nailed it right there …
It’s war constantly happening! I don’t even want to start jumping into current events. It’s unbelievable how much this stuff is still plaguing us. It’s not just Christian religion – it’s any spiritual path, it could be vegetarianism or any kind of firm and rigid ideology in place that we feel the need to force on others. I find this even in myself. Once I get fixed on a certain ideology I kind of want to start making everyone else the enemy. Everyone else who doesn’t agree is an evil-doer, rather than being able to look at the situation with more compassion and understanding. Once that need to create an enemy subsides, then there can actually be this amazing dialogue. Perhaps, in some fantasy land (well shit now I’m starting to sound like a fucking hippie) (both laugh), there could be some hope for reconciliation and peace.
I want to get you take on our very modern, Western perception on spirit and spirituality. Right now there seems to be this strong polarity between staunch, rampant atheism and wild-eyed fundamentalism, they maybe seem to be trying to cancel each other out and the need for spirituality all together. Two very opposite ends of the spectrum, but of course two very similar things at root. Can you comment on where this imbalance is coming from?
There is this need to divide and polarize as I mentioned earlier. There is this operation in our mind to categorize things. We are always dividing, dividing, dividing, rather than seeing correspondences, synchronicities, and connectedness. There is this whole paradigm shift that slowly has to happen. I think in this movement that the Process Church was a part of, the later 60′s, it was the first opening where these feelings were starting to come. The form that some of these practices took, I would never say that we want to recreate the form that the Process Church took in 1970. I do think there was some social dysfunction in how they structured and manifested their community and society. But that theology of reconciliation and unification is important.
It’s hard to comment on the rest of North America and the rest of the world, because I live in this isolated bubble in New York City. But one of my hopes with Sabbath Assembly, instead of touring the North American coasts and Europe, I want to do a tour of Michigan, of Texas, of Alabama, or even Georgia. I want to find a booking agent who will book our band into Christian music festivals. That’s not a way to say I want to go there and say “FUCK YOU!” and hold up an upside down cross. I just want to get the dialogue going, and perhaps present a slightly different take on Christianity than what is being taught. Protestant theology is just one small chapter of the story. That’s not getting at what the whole of Christianity has been or is. That tour would be an amazing experiment! It’s interesting because it seems that metal heads don’t seem to have a problem with a little Jesus every now and then. But with Christians, if you mention Satan you get thrown out the door! It’s a total deal-breaker. I don’t know why that is! It’s just sad.
Well Dave, I thank you immensely for speaking with me and revealing so much to the readers of Heathen Harvest. The final words are yours and yours alone …
I do feel that I have revealed a lot in this interview. Maybe more than ever. Sabbath Assembly is back on tour in Europe in 2013 in April and we hope to see people out on the road!
*For several years Genesis P-Orridge and “his” wife Lady Jaye embarked on a project to become the same person. They called themself “The Pandrogyne” and underwent a series of cosmetic surgeries to increase their similar physical appearance. Genesis has self-identified as everything from “he”, “she”, and “us”, hence the confusion in pronouns. For more information seek out the film “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye”.
Interview conducted By S. Hache