Interview by Alessandra CognettaJamie Myers is the lead singer of Sabbath Assembly, a US-based band that has been adapting and arranging into music texts and hymns of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, whose theology acknowledges four deities: Christ, Satan, Lucifer and Jehovah. Their music is a skillful combination of acoustic elements, declamation, eerie atmospheres and even a bit of doom, making Sabbath Assembly one of the most interesting feats on the scene. Their new album, “Quaternity”, is out on the 28th of March through Svart Records and in this interview Jamie gives us a wide insight on the band’s work, her thoughts on the Process Church and reminds us how many empowering female fronted bands we could be inspired from in the 80s-90s. Welcome back, Jamie! It’s been more than a year since our last interview with you and Dave and we’re really glad to have you here once again. Let’s start off with a quick recap: how have things been for Sabbath Assembly since the release of “Ye Are Gods”?
Thank you. It has been quite a productive time for us. We spent the fall of 2012 and early 2013 completing our third album, “Quaternity”. Afterwards, we toured Europe with Hexvessel and also played the mighty Roadburn Festival.“Quaternity” presents once again elements from the Process Church of the Final Judgment and is, as the title suggests, centered on the four deities worshipped in their theology. This time, though, Sabbath Assembly decided to write mostly original material instead of adapting directly to music their liturgical texts. What are the reasons behind this decision and how did you approach the creation process this time, compared to the previous album?
When talks began about what the next record would entail, we had to decide the direction we’d go in. It was important for us as musicians, to find our own place among the hymns and the story of the church. In the end we decided to primarily focus on own compositions. When we finished recording “Ye Are Gods”, Dave had been heavy into reading some Carl Jung and William Blake texts. Many of the texts he was drawn to kept coming back to “4”. Blake‘s “Proverbs of Hell”, and his concept of “Quaternity”, was a big inspiration. Both Dave and I had always wanted to do an interpretation of the Process hymn “The Four Horsemen”, so naturally we started with it and based the albums content upon it.One of the focal points of Sabbath Assembly‘s music is, without a doubt, the lyrics. Listening to the album, I always found that there was a meaning and a relevance in what was being sung. It was far from void interpretation. What kind of work do you, Jamie, perform on lyrics and vocals before entering the studio?
The vocals on “Ye Are Gods” were very “off the cuff”. The majority of the songs I sung were done on the spot, while looking at sheet music for the hymns. It was a spontaneous and “in the moment” recording experience. It was an exercise in letting go. On the contrast, with “Quaternity”, I got to ruminate on the ideas and themes of the songs before having to commit them to tape. I felt like I had more of a stake in it. We were fortunate enough to work with Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia/Gorguts) again, he’s responsible for all the beautiful guitar work you hear on “Quaternity”. So Kevin, Dave, and I traded demo recordings over the course of a couple of months and were able to build upon each other’s ideas.We said that “Quaternity” is mostly comprised of original material inspired by the teachings of the Process Church, but there is one exception: “Lucifer”, which is based off the directions given by Anthony D’Andrea, a former Processian who contacted you and sang it over the telephone (his voice can be heard at the beginning of the song, in fact). Can you tell us a bit more about what happened and how it was worked into the finished track we can hear on the album?
Anthony first got in touch with us via social media. He had remarked that we weren’t playing the hymns according to how they were originally written. In all fairness though, it’s never been our intention to present these songs in a traditional sing-a-long manner. But, I guess you can’t please everyone and he happened to be vocal about his opinions. So Dave called him up. He asked Anthony to show him how his chapter had performed the songs. Dave started to make plans to visit Anthony and record all the hymns that he could remember. Alas, the visit never transpired, but Anthony did play for him over the phone and that’s when Dave recorded the unpublished hymn “Lucifer”. I really love the crackled , retro quality of that phone recording and how it leads perfectly into Daron Beck‘s synth and the lush landscape of Kevin‘s Eno like guitar accents. That, coupled with the stripped down, somber vocal track of Daron make it a special song.Another kind of “Quaternity” is featured in the album, namely “The Four Horsemen” from the homonymous last track of the album, a song conceived in anticipation of 12/21/12. Could you tell us a bit more about this 20-minutes-long piece?
It would seem that every generations has their own fear of the apocalypse and certain buzz words are often used ad nauseam. 2012 certainly had no shortage of cryptic tales of our impending doom. End of the days stories were heavily circulated and the ending of the Mayan calendar had some people more than a little freaked out. Though Mayan elders didn’t exactly prophesy that all would come to an end. Rather, that this was a time of transition from one World Age to another. Many of the Process liturgies had no shortage of similar themes, so we chose to further explore that notion with “The Four Horsemen”. During that time, Sabbath Assembly as a band, was also transitioning. We were working vigorously forward, solidifying our new creative bonds. “Quaternity” and “The Horsemen” were a rebirth of sorts.
Sabbath Assembly recruited some very interesting guests for the new album. Could you introduce them for us and give us a bit of insight on these collaborations?
As mentioned before, we were very excited to work with Kevin Hufnagel again. He had played a song on “Ye Are Gods” for us, so it was a pleasure to have him back, taking the reins. His guitar playing is impeccable. Daron Beck is a hometown musician friend of mine, we’ve known each other for years. His mellow crooning helped balance the record. I felt like it was crucial to have a male counterpart on the album and Daron‘s voice married well with mine. Jessika Kinney is someone that both Dave and I have admired for some time. She is a tremendous talent and it was an honor to have her contribute. She and I have both recorded separately for Wolves in the Throne Room, so there was a bit of history there. Ed from Negative Plane is from Jersey and Dave had approached him after a Brooklyn show. Kevin and his bandmate Colin Marston had lived out of a big music building out in Queens. Dave had also been recording projects there for years. Mat and Marja found us through our label Svart and came to NYC to record, which led to our subsequent tour with Hexvessel.Speaking of guests, you also released a hauntingly dark music video for “Jehovah on Death” which features Daron Beck (Pinkish Black) on vocals. Why did you choose this song for your video and what’s the concept behind it?
We chose to premier “Jehovah on Death” because it was best suited to showcase the mood of the entire album without giving too much away. When I would listen back to the song, it conjured many creepy visuals in my mind. I just had to figure a way to convey them in a video. I also didn’t trust anyone else to present these ideas in visual form, so I started working on video footage myself. I wanted to represent the duality of nature i.e.: light/dark, masculine/feminine, birth/death etc, and the dualism in theology which refers to “God” and creation. Daron and I were to be the vessel or conduit for both the uplifting and menacing message of the song. Once I had created a mood and a strong aesthetic for the footage, I presented some of it to him. He and I then worked together, gathering found footage, and filming his parts. Afterwards, I retreated and begin the task of editing. It was a D.I.Y. endeavor from beginning to end and I had a lot of fun making it.I was pleasantly surprised when I found out you like Contropotere (80’s hardcore punk band from Naples), a band largely unknown even to most Italians, but that’s another story. What are some of your other favourite artists (in general, of course)?
Contropotere was very influential to me. In ’93, I came upon their 7″, “Solo Selvaggi”. I was hooked. I remember getting goosebumps when I heard “Quello Che Hai” for the first time. The vocals are so brutal and sensual. I was super young when I first heard it and it was empowering to hear women sing aggressively and still maintain their femininity. A lot of great punk/crust/metal bands from the Eighties and early Nineties had tough as nails females fronting them. From the likes of the late great Wendy O., to bands, like Mythic, 13, Damad, Antischism, and too many others to name, all had women exploring harsher territories with their singing styles and it left quite an impression on me. That being said, I like all kinds of music. I’m a huge Waylon Jennings fan. I’m also quite fond of Leonard Cohen. I enjoy anything from old Christian Death to more obscure bands like The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud. Growing up, my brother was a huge metal head, so I got to tag along to a lot of awesome shows with him. I also managed to raid my dad’s record collection when I left home and scored some great LPs. I commandeered all his Tangerine Dream and King Crimson albums. I’m a sucker for zuehl and prog rock in general. God help me, I also have a soft spot for ELO.After working on two Sabbath Assembly albums and getting to know more and more about the Process Church, Jamie, what are your personal thoughts? Is there something that particularly caught your interest or that you disagree with?
The story of the church itself is quite fascinating to me. The matriarchal nature of their household, the accusations of sinister conspiracies, the beautiful zines they published, the compulsion analysis, and no-holds-barred theology, all engage my curiosity and imagination. Things that transpired in the Sixties behind the walls of the Balfour Place in Mayfair, make for a powerful and provocative tale, but I don’t strictly follow the church’s teachings. I see my role in Sabbath Assembly to be that of a story teller. I’m very in touch with the songs when I’m recording them or performing them live and they are very powerful. I even get a little creeped out by the energy of it sometimes. On a realistic note, I am a free thinker and I’m not interesting in giving away all of my belongings and joining a cult any time soon.What kind of feedback did Sabbath Assembly receive so far? Your work is, both musically and lyrically, food for thought and I’m sure even the most passive listener will be moved by what they hear, one way or another. Have any of your fans, or even other former Processians, ever shared their experience with you?
Over all it seems to be well received. On occasion we’ve had various people write or speak to us at shows and tell us how our music has positively impacted them. Then some people are just downright confused by it. Yet still, there are plenty who can read between the lines and can get to what’s at the heart of Sabbath Assembly. Recently we had someone who was affiliated with the Chicago chapter in the Seventies, approach us after a show and say he’d been present at some of the Process midnight gatherings. He then told us that the music he’d heard on those nights had not been as moving or musically exciting as what we were doing with the hymns today. He told us that he “soared from his body” while listening to our set. To me, that’s about the best compliment someone could give us.The album launches on the 28th of March. What are your plans and expectations from the 29th onwards, Jamie?
Well, we are showing no signs of slowing down. We are currently working on our fourth album. We’ve also been gearing up for a string of European shows with our cohorts in Uzala. The tour kicks off at the Heavy Days in Doomtown festival, May 4, 2014.That’s it! We reached the end of your interview. Thank you for joining us once again and we wish the best to Sabbath Assembly for the new release! You can leave a message to fans and readers right here.
Thank you for your thoughtful questions, Alessandra. We hope to see some of you music fans at shows while we’re on the road!