“The chick in White Zombie” became an affectionate nickname for me thanks to Beavis and Butthead and legions of Metalheads. It not only singled me out as the only girl in the band, but also as the only girl in a huge boys’ club. A big, sweaty, long-haired, denim and leather, moshing boy’s club. This was the arena of heavy metal, where not only the fans, but the bands, the road crews, the stage crews, the club owners, the managers—were all guys. As a musician, I was head-banging into unchartered territory, hoping to sneak by before anyone noticed. Once I had, I was not only accepted into this club, but fans accepted me on a level reserved for their favorite band members, and bands gave me respect as a musician, songwriter, and performer. I felt extremely lucky and thankful to have bypassed the sexism that was still prevalent at the time and place—at least with the bands and our fans, the people that really mattered.

Of course, being “the chick in White Zombie” wasn’t always easy, but I enjoyed the challenge and the adventure. In the early days, sharing a hotel room with three or four guys required extreme tact, as did the single dressing room we were frequently faced with at clubs and stadiums. Over the years of rigorous touring, I was sick or injured a disproportionate amount of time compared to the guys. It was hard to pull my weight when my gear was the heaviest, although I tried anyway. Later when we were headlining arenas, local stagehands would see me walking from backstage towards the stage at show time and try to stop me, thinking I was a friend or fan of the band. “No one allowed on stage,” they’d bark. Frustrated, I would have to explain that I was in the band as I’d hear the intro tape with my stage cue rolling and watch the pyro firing up. Eventually my bass tech or stage manager would freak out and come looking for me, and only with his assurance would I be allowed to pass. When we played Castle Donnington in 1996, my appearance on stage was so unusual that a TV crew filmed me afterwards, asking what it felt like to be the only girl to have ever performed there in all of history besides Doro Pesch. There were nine other bands playing that day, including Metallica, Skid Row, and Slash’s Snakepit. All the members were men. Even the 80,000-strong audience was 99% male.

Back when White Zombie played with East Village punk and art bands, I would meet other female musicians. But once we crossed the line over into the world of rock and metal, that all ended. I’m sure there were some like-minded girls out in the audience somewhere, but I never met them. The only women I met now were girlfriends or groupies that wanted to get backstage and “meet” the band. Whether that meant clawing their way on stage, or somehow getting past security and the road crew (don’t ask), it was always awkward for me to encounter these women. Especially when the crew had them tagged with a “Tulsa” backstage pass (“a slut,” backwards). Even more bizarre when they got backstage and wanted to meet me, thinking I was a dude. (Yes, that happened.) Once a gay man even placed an ad directed at me in the LA Weekly personals, having mistaken me for a guy. Remember, this was the world of metal, where everyone had long hair. So even though I was wearing hotpants, my stick thin figure and engineer boots left me looking fairly androgynous. I wasn’t helping matters by going by Sean, which is what my parents called me, instead of Shauna. And while I wasn’t trying to purposefully look like a guy, I also never wanted the fact that I was a girl to be an issue: I just wanted to be accepted as a musician and songwriter, first and foremost. So, I was stumped when the interviewer at Donnington asked me that question—the same one that came up in every interview I ever did—how does it feel to be the only girl? I had nothing else to compare it to, having always been the only girl in the scene, and I would banish that line of questioning with some glib response as, ironically, discussing my gender only seemed to belittle what I was trying to achieve: equality.

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SEAN YSEULT played bass and wrote music for White Zombie from its inception in 1985 through its breakup over a decade later. Since then she’s played with Famous Monsters, Rock City Morgue, and The Cramps; exhibited her photography in galleries across the country; and formed the design company Yseult Designs. She divides her time between New Orleans and New York City.

7 responses to “Excerpt from I’m in the Band

  1. Joe Daly says:

    What a tantalizing excerpt. I saw Zombie in Chicago in 1995 with The Toadies and Supersuckers. It was a fantastic show. even from the balcony. I see that Zombie’s on the road with Slayer this spring. Will be interesting to see how the fans mix.

    Nice piece here- really looking forward to the full read. When I think women in metal, you, Angela Gossow, and Ruyter Suys. Will be interesting to hear your experiences making music in such a male-dominated genre.

    Thanks for the excerpt!

  2. jmblaine says:

    you are like
    the female Lemmy
    only sexier
    & without the facial
    Cocoa Puffs

    saw you in a strobe flash
    of sweat
    & pressed flesh
    head down
    bass throbbing
    back in the start
    & i knew you
    understood

    going to get
    your book
    now

  3. Reno Romero says:

    Sean:

    This was great. Good insider stuff. You probably have five books in you. Being at one time a metal dude in a metal band I was sometimes mistaken for a girl! And no, I didn’t slap on make-up painted spandex on me. Just jeans and Doc Martins. One time I heard this dude tell his buddy: “the guitar player is hot.”

    Grrr.

    I saw you open up for Anthrax in Irvine, Sean. You kicked ass. Period. You’re a solid musician no doubt. Thanks for the read. Good way to start the morning. You’ll find some metal writers hanging around these boards (especially the two above me – both great writers and metalheads to the bone). Take care.

    Reno Romero

    PS: Ha! I haven’t heard Doro’s name mentioned in years. I had one of her albums. Oh, lord.

  4. Awesome excerpt! I love the insights into backstage culture.

    I have fond memories of seeing Famous Monsters in Missoula, MT at Jay’s Upstairs (RIP)…

  5. sheree says:

    WOW!

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