Dave Nuss from Sabbath Assembly on exorcism, record-burning and churchy fun-times...

The devil's in the beat...

Snatched from the arms of Morpheus I blindly stumble to answer the phone; it’s 3:00AM, a powerful time of the night/morning. My dog doesn’t agree; she’s snoring gently in the corner. Who’s on the phone? Why, it’s Dave Nuss, composer and musician of Sabbath Assembly fame, ready to talk about music, theology and all manner of things. He’s in Texas, where it’s 11:00AM so he’s totally with it while I’m all confused and trying to wake up.

I start by asking about what turned him on to the Process Church, whose hymns Dave has been putting to music and drawing inspiration from for Sabbath Assembly’s original compositions. It turns out that he was raised in Corpus Christi, a town in Texas “in a very evangelical, Christian upbringing but at the same time, I really loved extreme forms of metal; especially satanic music, and I wanted to do both. I felt ‘why does it feel that they shouldn’t go together’? Because it somehow made sense to me – and the Process Church had these songs – we got the hymn book from one of the members of the church and there were songs with titles like Christ and Satan Joined in Unity and I thought ‘oh, that’s interesting…’ because it kind of made sense to me so I started doing more research into the history of the Christian church and I found out that a lot of people had ideas that even though Satan was painted as a bad guy, there would ultimately be a reconciliation of Christ and Satan. So it’s not such a far ideology for someone who can approach religion in a non-dualistic kind of way.” He compares it to the concept of ying and yang. “I think in Eastern modalities it’s much more common that we all have dark and light within us and no one can ever become purely light and no one can ever become purely dark. It’s kind of a mix and we can celebrate both things, and it’s really fun to create an album where we don’t feel we have to put on a pretence to be just one way or just another.”

And how did you meet current vocalist Jamie Myers? “After Jex (Thoth) left the band, it was hard to think who could replace her, and I was always a fan of the band that Jamie used to sing in, which is called the Hammers of Misfortune, and the album that she made with them (The Locust Years, 2006) is just gorgeous.” He rang around, got in touch and the rest is history. “It’s just been a relationship that’s really stuck. We’ve really found a good way of being creative together.”

Speaking of creative collaborations, you had Genesis P-Orridge on Ye Are Gods (2012) and Jessika Kinney of Sun O))) on Quaternity (2013), what’s the rationale behind who gets involved? “Genesis was an obvious choice; we were already working with Genesis because she was a long-time supporter and source of information about the Process Church; in New York I’d met Genesis at a few meetings related to the Church, and so for the last album that we did, we wanted to recreate a liturgy and Gen was the obvious choice to be the officiant/high priest, and now with someone like Jessika Kinney or Daron Beck (Pinkish Black) and the other people that are working on the new record, these are more just people I’m interested in working with musically as opposed to us having any relationship through the Church. In fact, I could say that none of them really had a particular interest in the Church. We don’t really ever talk about it; it’s more just we talk about musical things and it’s a little easier that way.”

He laughs when I ask if he turns up at the studio with pamphlets like some other religious organisations. “We definitely don’t do that! If you ever hear about us doing that at our gigs, please stop me! We’re not converting people and we’re not out to convert people to our way of thinking, or asking them to join an organisation. For me, rock and roll is the realm for strong individuals, it’s not the realm for people who are ‘joiners’ – we always wanna encourage freedom of thought and that means that you believe what you wanna believe and I believe what I wanna believe, and if there’s some connection there, that’s great but it’s artistic, it’s personal and it doesn’t mean that you have to join an organisation.”

For Dave, the message of many churches gets lost in the process of raising dollars, and he observes “These are all things that don’t have anything to do with the message of what the church is.” Ye cannot serve God and Mammon and all that, eh?

I found Quaternity to be quite beautiful and exceptionally devotional, an idea which Dave agrees with, though he points out, particularly so on the latest release that “A lot of the songs now are original songs but we’re still working on keeping that devotional quality - even though they’re not actually hymns of the Church, we’re still writing and adhering to that devotional style.” So the tracks on Quaternity aren’t based on hymns of the Process Church? “Our first album (Restored to One, 2010) was all Process hymns, the second one (Ye Are Gods) was mostly process hymns – there were two original songs on that one – and now this one (Quaternity, 2013) is about fifty-fifty hymns and original. So what we’re doing is slowly moving away from the Process stuff but keeping the Church as an inspiration. I think they were helpful for us to get our start with but now we have a lot of our own songs that we’d like to express so I think the next album, which we’ve already started working on, is going to be all original songs.”

For Dave, there’s a sense of relief that most people involved in Sabbath Assembly are not believers, and he laughs as he elaborates “It makes it better, really! People in churches are always fighting about what they believe and don’t believe, and there’s already enough stuff to fight about being in a band as there is, we don’t wanna have something else to fight about!” He goes on to explain that Jamie isn’t interested in dogma: “She just wants to sing and make amazing music. So it’s helpful that we don’t have to worry about the ideas.”

We return to Dave’s childhood; he was exorcised as a child. It was a heavy time and he observes “There was a lot of tension, if you were around in the eighties, around the record burning with Satanism in rock music being the big scare, and I was really involved in these churches. But at the same time I just wanted to play drums, double bass and the whole bit, and the church I was going to thought the only reason you’d wanna be doing all that is because you’re demon-possessed. They said it very clearly; they said ‘the Devil is in the beat’ and if you feel the beat then you have the Devil inside you. So I was a young child, feeling really scared; I didn’t wanna have the Devil inside me…”

Without wishing to appear flippant; did you feel better after the exorcism? “No! I felt horrible! It was awful. It was part of that whole record-burning thing; I went with my older brother and I had a big stack of records; Motley Crue, Venom and Helloween - all these amazing records – I was really into that scene and I just took this big stack and fuckin’ threw it on the fire. I wanted to be clean. I wanted to be done with this, if that’s what needed to happen but instead I got rid of all that stuff and I felt worse. I felt like I’d chopped off my arm.” Was it a case of ‘I’m still unclean and I’ve got no records now’ ? He laughs again. ”Exactly! Exactly! It was a very difficult period.” He recollects the isolation and loneliness. Luckily “Eventually I got to high school and started meeting more people: ‘Whoa! You like Slayer too?! That’s great - let’s start a band’ and eventually I got the courage to express my own vision and desires, and not be so scared. If there’s one thing that I think can come out of Sabbath Assembly, if anyone has that same kind of issue that I had, it’s a way to say ‘hey, don’t worry so much about it – you can have it all and you can do it all’ - playing music isn’t bad or whatever they might be feeling repressed about. The church is a very repressive scene and I really don’t like that about it.”

You said in a recent interview that you saw Sabbath Assembly ‘as a rock band and not a church at this stage of its existence’ so are there any future plans to establish a church? “I don’t think so. We’re already starting to work on the following record and we’re pretty much getting back to our rock roots even more. I think now Kevin (Hufnagel) and I and Jamie, we’re just enjoying being in a band and writing original songs and the whole thing of the church is a kind of guiding light or inspiration for the project but I think all of us are just rock and rollers at heart and we’re just gonna keep working on that aspect of the band more and more – church is pretty boring, you know! It’s hard to make it interesting or exciting - the more you try to do to it, the more wrong it feels so we’re just gonna let church be church and we’ll hit the clubs.” Sounds like a good idea!

And what are your tour plans? “We’ll be back on the road in May, going around Scandinavia and Northern Europe so at the very least there’ll be some YouTube stuff but Australia’s a dream – I’d love to come back there (readers may be surprised to learn that Dave taught at Melbourne’s Rock and Roll High School in ’94) so hopefully one day we can make that happen.”

And as a final recollection he adds “I used to like Coopers – that’s what I used to drink when I was there; is that still there? I remember the stout was really good…”
Bless you, Dave, bless you, brother…