Interview: Sabbath Assembly
Tue, 22 Jun 2010 08:03:08
Opposites attract. Isn't that one of the oldest maxims out there?
It applies to relationships of all kinds—business, social, philosophical and romantic. There's also an entertainment factor to the very notion itself. Seriously, what would the romantic comedy genre be without the tried-and-true concept of two completely different people coming together?
However, this little truth is most clearly evinced in the music of Sabbath Assembly, and they may be the best sonic example of that space where even the most polar opposite entities make perfect sense together.
On Restored to One, available June 22nd, Sabbath Assembly recorded nine hymns of The Process Church of Final Judgment. Most active during the '60s and '70s, the Church itself essentially codifies that maxim, worshipping both God and Satan and encompassing every aspect of the human experience at the same time. The Church embraces both good and evil, and it's apparent in this hauntingly hypnotic collection of hymns that's often as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking. Sabbath Assembly's hybrid of psychedelic gospel is ethereal and comforting, yet it's also dark and strange. Vocalist Jex Thoth sounds nearly angelic, conjuring a tangible power with each note—just listen to the tripped-out "The Time of Abbadon" and you'll be hooked…
Sabbath Assembly singer Jex Thoth spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about how she discovered The Process Church of Final Judgment, the hymns that grabbed her and so much more in this exclusive interview.
How did you discover The Process Church of Final Judgment?
The Ed Sanders' book "The Family", makes reference to the Process—but aside from that, I knew very little of The Process Church of the Final Judgement. Upon reading Love Sex Fear Death, a book published by Feral House, written by one of the Church's original members, Timothy Wyllie, I learned a great deal more. The book is Timothy's firsthand account of what it was like to be a member of the Process. A member for roughly 14 years, almost to the end, I found his accounts very intriguing. Inside the book, one will also find reprints from some of the original Process magazines (for which Timothy's book was named), photographs of members from all different chapters and the sheet music to three original Process hymns. We asked Timothy if he knew of any recordings that might exist and he said, to the best of his knowledge, they had never been recorded. With that, we began to conceive of Restored To One. We played through the hymns (of which there are more than 60) to determine which of them felt like a good fit for us. We also contacted several Original Process members, the ones we could find, and asked them which ones were their favorites. We continued whittling down the list until we settled on these.
What appealed to you about the Church and these hymns?
There is so much about the Church that interests me—from the way it began, to their beautifully designed magazines, to their adoration of German shepherds, to the complex story of the woman behind it all. I can relate to several of the teachings of The Process—teaching the importance of personal responsibility as a way to better navigate through life and teaching the value of self-unification. The Hymns themselves are very evocative and filled with imagery, and the melodies are beautiful. Many of them are praise songs to Christ, Satan, Lucifer and Jehovah all at once. This was something I had never seen before. The Process utilized these four deities to categorize the opposing sides of the self.
Which of the songs on Restored to One really resonate with you? Are there any particular favorites?
The first hymn that I connected with was "And the Phoenix is Reborn". It's a song about the good that is born of destruction. I love all nine of the hymns we chose to record, and now with the album complete, find it very difficult to choose a favorite. In conjunction with the release of the Timothy's book, we performed seven hymns within the context of recreating a Process Mass. The sermons were taken from their original liturgies, with the hymns inside. We also performed the hymns in a variety of other settings. I was able to experience playing them in sacred spaces, bars, colleges and straight-up rock venues, sometimes within the context of the Mass, sometimes not. My passion for the hymns grew, as did the personal connection I felt. It felt so different to sing them from one setting to the next. The way I heard each hymn changed with each new setting—all the while we were busy constructing the album. The sheet music was skeletal with only a single melody line, chord symbols and lyrics. Few people outside the Church had ever heard these hymns before, and it was very important to us that our renditions maintain the authentic passion woven through them. We could have high jacked these hymns, setting them to music more closely related to our other projects, but we did not write them and we wanted to respect where they came from.
The album conjures a lot of visuals, and it definitely comes to life. Given that visual, near cinematic sensibility, if you were to compare Restored to One to a movie, what would you compare it to?
What a good question, I don't know what movie to compare it to—maybe something by David Lynch.
Is there a certain timelessness to the songs that inspired Restored to One?
Certainly there is. The ideas of the Process Church were unconventional and shocking in the late 60s/early 70's, but they are still pretty extreme even by today's standards. My hope is that we were able to usher them into a place where the sound just as relevant today.
"The Time of Abaddon" particularly stands out with how ethereal and gorgeous the deliver y is. Is there a particular story behind your recording of that song?
Thank you. We were very particular about the instrumentation on this track, and very mindful not to crush the "space" we felt it needed. The lyrics to this song are so powerful; I couldn't help but feel each and every word as it left me. The feeling was unsettling and comforting at once, the way I imagine it would feel to console myself with a lullaby in the middle of a natural disaster.
What records shaped you? Is there anything that you grew up on you still listen to?
What records shaped me? Where to begin... the list is long. Yes I still listen to much of the music I grew up on. In some cases, I still listen because the music is timeless, or in other cases, because I enjoy the sounds from the period when it was made, and sometimes, simply because it brings me back to an earlier time in my life. As far as influences go—we can't escape them. Xtian and I did not heavily discuss which of our influences to bring to these hymns, but I think as musicians, whether we intend it or not, our influences always leak out.
I would love to take these hymns on the road. We are still searching for just the right way to do them justice in a live setting. Then maybe... who knows, there are a lot more hymns...