Interview with Dave “Christian” Nuss from Sabbath Assembly
Jason: Hi Dave. Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Congratulations on your latest album, Ye Are Gods (MR’s review is here); it’s a very engaging and interesting album. Sabbath Assembly seem to draw on many unorthodox and diverse sources for its sound. Who are the main influences for the band?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: The first influence is of course the melodies and words of the Process hymns. As far as musical influences, Jamie and I each come from very different places. I love the music of cult legacies such as The Source Family and the various projects related to the Children of God, psych rock bands such as Love, and super campy religious shows like Godspell. Jamie tends more towards Christian Death, Current 93, Death in June, early Swans – music with a bit more depth and darkness. Our intention is to juxtapose this opposition in a harmonious way.
Jason: For your debut, you chose nine of the 60 hymns left by The Process Church of Final Judgement. How did you choose the ten for this album? Are you working through all of the hymns with the intention of recording all 60 of them?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: All the hymns are absolutely beautiful, so we tend to choose based on which lyrical content strikes us at the time. We’ll select a cache, and then play through the sheet music, record them, ponder them, then start selecting for band arrangements. The choices start to reveal themselves.
Jason: According to interviews you’ve done elsewhere, there are no recordings of the hymns being performed and they exist on paper only as melodies, chord symbols and lyrics. How do you approach the songs in terms of your own musical interpretation and arrangements?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: That’s right, there have been no recordings of the hymns as the Process regarded them as sacred rather than popular music. It’s a risk sharing them on an unrestricted public scale, but it seems the world is currently conspiring to make it so. Sabbath Assembly doesn’t have a necessary intention to record all 62 hymns because the goal of the band is not to historically document the phenomenon of the Church; rather playing the hymns is a personal statement by the band who has found a collective voice through them. We value these hymns like a buried treasure we’ve discovered and can slowly share with the world.
Jason: Is there a Sabbath Assembly “sound” that has evolved from the recording of the hymns? When you’ve recorded all of the hymns that you feel necessary, will Sabbath Assembly end? Or do you foresee a future beyond the Process Church for Sabbath Assembly?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: We’ve added much to the hymns to get them ready for presentation on a rock album, and that means injecting our own style into the delivery, as well as adding intros, outros, bridges, and solo parts. The sound has changed from the first album to the second, most obviously due to a nearly entire line-up change, but also due to the changing times and what they require. I can’t make a clear assessment of exactly what’s at stake at the moment, but the sound for the new album was not so much premeditated as it just revealed itself to belong in its current form. We recorded lots of extra material for the new album that didn’t make the final cut, even some soul and gospel-sounding material, but it was apparent that these were not a fit for the current times.
A couple of tunes on the new album were penned by the band, and we can imagine easing in more of our own material as time goes on. The tricky point about SA is that the project seems to repel ego; there’s no way to really “claim” anything as the spiritual picture is much larger than our individual contributions. So anything we bring in that’s not on the sheet music is heavily scrutinized before being laid to tape.
Jason: In other interviews you’ve stated that you’re not promoting The Process Church of Final Judgement, more that some of its teachings are analogous to your own. What is it about the teachings of The Process Church of Final Judgement that you find so appealing? How much do you believe in the message of the Church? Does working on the music make the message more real for you?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Well as of today there is no Process Church to promote, but it’s not so different I suppose to say that we are supporting its teachings, which we are. For me, the teachings are appealing because I was brought up as an evangelical Christian but loved Satanic metal and trying to play drums like Dave Lombardo, and the result was a kind of split personality that could only be healed later by Eastern religious thought. The Christians literally were trying to exorcise demons from me, and the metalheads were wondering why i wanted to wear Jesus liberation t-shirts in our band photos. The Process offers an alternative vision in which balance of dark and light can be obtained in a Western system, and the net effect is a reduction of conflict and war. What if religion had no enemy?
Yes, working on the music does make the message more real. One can read and read about spiritual subject matter, but only in developing a practice – which for us is music – can the teachings become embodied.
Jason: Is there a timelessness to the message of the Church, one that transcends both the era that the cult/sect flourished and the west in the 21st century?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: The message absolutely transcends the era in which it was created as we can see by the connection it is having currently with the public at large. Having said that, the Process theology was of course created at a specific time and place in response to a particular set of conditions that in some ways mirror our own, and in some ways are unique. We are still facing religious dogmatism and it’s infiltration into governments and the resulting wars this brings, and we are still facing our own set of personal and social fears and inhibitions to overcome. However, the 60s are no longer, so some aspects of the Church’s presentation must be brought into our time. For example, I do think much of the Processian image was a product of its time, and crafted specifically as a reaction to the flower power movement. So we don’t feel it’s necessary to wear dark robes and walk around with German shepherds selling propaganda magazines. And we don’t feel the need to create a hierarchical top-down religious group that requires its initiates to give all they have to the church and live communally. We simply know too much in the wake of the various 70s cult excursions, and as a band we respect human freedom and individuality too much to attempt these old and familiar patterns. To our knowledge, a rock band seems to be the wisest and most respectful way to disseminate the information.
Jason: With your debut, there was a crossover with fans and media in the metal scene taking an interest in Sabbath Assembly. Musically, there’s a significant difference in approach. Why do you think your work has such appeal to this particular audience?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Metalheads are doing their own personal psychological work by confronting their dark sides, overcoming their fears, and embracing all the glory that the lunar energy brings. Thus singing a praise to Satan or Lucifer is not a threatening move, and neither a praise to Jesus juxtaposed. I wish that Christianity had the same tradition of integrating the darkness rather than always seeking to overcome it – as if that was even possible. The Processian approach I have been describing as “Integrative Christianity” because it keeps Christ as a figurehead of achievement for our own possibilities of spiritual growth; and “integrative” because it teaches that this achievement is only possible if we can hold the many aspects of our complicated selves in balance, rather than championing one and banishing others.
Jason: There seems to be a need to be aware of belief systems outside of the dominant religions. Do you think they hold a significance, a truth perhaps, that more established religions maybe hide or have yet to discover?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Anytime something becomes a system intended to meet the needs of many, individual and personal nuance is sacrificed. We can say it is unfortunate that Christianity became a government religion so early in its history, and the tenants of the religion became more about power preservation than about a mystical gnostic path. But we can also say that historically this was necessary for the preservation of the many valuable teachings that still survive. You and I are fortunate to live in a time, i.e. the last fifty years, when incredible discoveries have been made that are enlightening us to the rich array of ideologies that were at play in the original Christian sects. Thus we have greater opportunity for finding the truth you mention in your question, the truth that is possible for the unique individual apart from the herd.
Jason: Music is a very powerful medium for conveying messages, secular and spiritual. Is there a specific relationship between music and religious/spiritual ideas?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Music is attractive precisely because it is vibration; there is no solid form to music, and thus it resonates more presently with spiritual concerns.
Jason: The album artwork, as with Return to One, is very simple. Your debut’s album cover was white, for this album it’s black. Is there a reason for this? Does this album reflect a different or darker aspect of the teachings of the church?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Our artwork reflects the design of some of the original Processian manifestos, and the use of black and white is not meant to reflect the nature of one album versus the other, but simply to have them offset each other when considered in tandem. Both albums present a cycle of the phases of the spiritual journey, which of course embodies dark and light; on Ye Are Gods this aspect of journey is more explicit due to the use of ritual texts.
Jason: Where does the album title come from?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: In the Gospel of John, Jesus quotes the Psalmist to his followers “Ye are gods, all of you — children of the most high…. You have seen my works, and you shall do even greater works than these.” This essential teaching IS gnosticism in a nutshell; you have the spark of the divine within you, and by your own means you can realize the potential of that which is quintessentially human — and that is, divinity. The earliest Christian teachers such as Irenaeus and Athanasius taught this doctrine of theosis, or “divinization”: “God became man so that man might become god.” This is what the archetype of Jesus is all about. He’s actually not a suffering savior that died to redeem us of our sins with the generous help of a Church hierarchy. This salvation-oriented theology is why we now refer to religion as an opiate; it teaches that our inner nature is flawed and even as children we are in need of ‘fixing,’ and thus we passively acquiesce to the idea of ‘salvation by grace’ and then continue with the killing and destruction of our resources. The path of theosis by contrast is a path of action, potential, empowerment, compassion, awareness, and love. We have already been given everything we need at birth, so there is no sinful nature to account for; in fact, there is only a divine nature, and our path on earth is simply a path to realize this truth through acts of greater consciousness.
Jason: Are there any tracks on the album that stand out for you as favourites or the most significant?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: “We Come From the One” is an exciting achievement in that we found a way to set Processian liturgical text to melody, rather than speaking it which is how it’s presented in other tracks. Part of our learning with this record was to find a way to present the liturgy so that the record wouldn’t sound too much like, well, church.
Jason: Did you collaborate with anyone for this album? And what did they bring to the recordings and the songs?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Genesis P-Orridge was our High Priestess or “Sacrifist” in the liturgy; she brought absolute clarity and earnestness to the delivery of the text.
Jason: Who directed the video for ‘In The Time Of Abaddon II’? and how much direction did you give them?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Jason Keenan from Cinders and Ash Productions in Austin, TX. We designed the set-up for the last half of the vid, but gave him free reign from there.
Jason: Will we be seeing Sabbath Assembly on tour?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: Yes we are working with a new booking agent in Europe and hope to be back in early 2013.
Jason: Given the religious aspect of your sound, what would be the ideal setting for your shows?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: We have no problem playing in the usual music venue setting, but could perhaps bring in more theatrics in some type of sacred space. One fantasy of mine is to tour the Southern and Midwestern US, going from church to church, and even playing Christian music fests. I’d like to shoot a doc about this, not to focus on the band or the Process specifically, but as a sort of litmus test for the role of religion in these parts of the country. Please get in touch if you have ideas for how to pull this off. This idea of course is not only limited to the US; singing these songs for any type of religious environment would be a wonderful catalyst for inspiring dialogue on the various ideas about evil.
Jason: Thanks again taking time out for this interview. Do you have anything you’d like to say to our readers?
Dave “Christian” Nuss: “Resist not evil. Fight not the forces of destruction. Allow them, and by the Law of the Universe they must ultimately destroy themselves, for GOD shall turn their destruction back upon them.”
“Nothing can harm a man that comes from outside himself. Only what is within can destroy him. A man brings evil upon himself. It does not come at him from without. A man is his own destroyer, his own torturer. Suffering comes to him from his own hands. If he is not aware of this, then he suffers to give himself cause to blame another, and thence create MORE evil for himself and others to use against themselves.”
-Process Church, “And Now the Judgment,” 1968