Interview: Sabbath Assembly

by Kate Hutchinson

With its black-cloaked adherents, Satanic imagery and apocalyptic teachings, the Process Church of the Last Judgment was in many ways a counterpoint to the optimism and inclusiveness of the hippie movement. Their controversial theology put Christ and Jehovah on equal footing with Satan and Lucifer, finding admirable qualities in Gods both dark and light. Practitioners followed a strict code of conduct bordering on the monastic, the goal of which was individual spiritual evolution. Drawing its congregation from the youth counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s, the Process employed psychedelic graphic design and folk rock-infused anthems in order to appeal to new recruits.

The liturgical music of the Process has been resurrected by Sabbath Assembly, a musical project established in 2009 and named after the Church’s most holy rite. Formed by drummer Dave Nuss, Sabbath Assembly performs music originally written by Process Church members to celebrate its innermost mysteries. Sabbath Assembly’s second album, “Ye Are Gods,” finds vocalist Jamie Myers joining the fold after the departure of Jex Thoth. Dave Nuss spoke to Occult Rock Magazine about what it’s like to bring the devotional music of this controversial religious group to a contemporary audience.

OR: How did you initially become interested in the Process Church?

DN: After many years of hearing only whisperings about the Church, I was absolutely inspired by the lyrics and sheet music printed in the LOVE SEX FEAR DEATH book by former Proccesean Timothy Wyllie – in particular a tune called, “Christ and Satan Joined in Unity.”

OR: In what ways do you feel that your upbringing as an evangelical Christian contributed to your interest in alternative spirituality?

DN: Evangelical Christianity is a totally fringe movement with bizarrely radical ideas about the human condition, and it mystifies me to consider how strongly the ideology resonates with so many people. I consider evangelical Christianity a kind of alternative spirituality compared with the 1900 years of Christianity that preceded it. So being steeped as a child in this community gave me a sense of the social function that a common fringe ideology can serve in terms of developing security and commonalities in a world filled with suffering. Speaking broadly, my issue with the evangelical movement is that it does not serve a healthy and productive function in our world; on the contrary it creates a lot of fearful and psychologically unbalanced individuals who propagate horrible, repressive ideas. The Process Church, in my view, provides a more functional alternative.

OR: Were you in touch with former Process members leading up to the recording of “Restored to One?” If so, how do you feel their recounted experiences influenced the final record?

DN: ‘Restored to One,’ and more so ‘Ye Are Gods,’ fielded critique from original members for being too dirge-like. Songs on RTO like “Glory Hallelujah”, as well as “Exit” and “Love of the Gods” on YAG are an attempt to reflect some of the joy that would have been present in the original Church gatherings. Sabbath Assembly is a rock band and not a Church at this stage of its existence, so we are careful that the feeling of the music we record be born from what transpires between us, rather than what we imagined transpired in the times of the original Process.

OR: One of the elements that’s so striking about Sabbath Assembly is the respect shown for the Processean source material. There’s an emotion behind the music that’s very moving. Is it challenging to find artists who approach the music with this kind of enthusiasm and empathy?

DN: Yes, especially [when the band was based] in New York, which is an absolutely secular city. The band has had a bit of a rolling line-up due in part to the fact that staying so specifically focused on the Process Church requires a bit of a particular obsession. The latest incarnation of the group is based in Fort Worth, Texas, a place where dialogue about Christ and Satan is part of daily morning coffee, and therefore the concept that drives Sabbath Assembly can take deep root.

OR: “Restored to One” featured vocals by Jex Thoth and Jamie Myers takes over vocals on “Ye Are Gods.” Can you tell us about each singer’s approach to the music? How do Jex and Jamie feel about the Process?

DN: Jex related very much to the rejuvenating power of the Church’s music, and in particular the phoenix metaphor of rising from the ashes, as I believe this myth had some resonance in her personal life at the time RTO was being rehearsed and recorded. Jamie I think is a bit more connected with the darker aspects of the music, the Satan and Lucifer god-patterns. I don’t think either of them has an interest in the Church as a functioning, living entity in modern times; for them I believe the Church is best suited to remain in the realm of art.

OR: Counterculture icon Genesis P-Orridge, a key figure in the recent resurgence of interest in the Process Church, officiates on “Ye Are Gods.” Can you tell us how Genesis came to be involved with Sabbath Assembly?

DN: We met Gen through Adam Parfrey at the Feral House compound outside of Seattle immediately following the recording of RTO. Gen loved Jex and Sophie, our two singers at the time, and of course has been a long-time supporter of the Process cause. We continued our relationship in New York City when I went to Gen’s home to record the “Lucifer” readings from the Process’ Gods on War book (available for free download at feralhouse.com), so to have Gen officiate seemed in the natural course of events.

OR: Processean theology evolved a great deal during the 1960s and 1970s, beginning as an offshoot of Scientology and going on to develop a view of the universe as ruled by spiritual beings that represent key elements of the human condition, both light and dark. Is there a particular period of the Process Church that resonates with you, or is it the overall existence of the Church that is most inspirational?

DN: I am most interested in the period after they returned from Xtul and began developing their theology around the ‘god-patterns.’ The trip to Xtul evolved out of experiments in group psychotherapy; the chemistry in the group was such that they felt they were communicating with ‘beings’ – some kind of angelic guides – that led them to Xtul, a barren part of the Yucatan Peninsula, to continue their group experiments away from the patterns of modern life. After this immersive experience it became apparent that the mythological structures defining their sense of self-understanding needed to widened, and therefore the archetypes of Jehovah, Lucifer, Satan, and Christ were summoned. I love this idea that a Church would be created to worship all four of these deities, rather than one or two.

OR: One of the controversial aspects of the Process was its embrace of Satan and Lucifer as god-figures, resulting in the Church being dubbed “Satanic” by the press. Do you find that listeners or potential collaborators react negatively to this legacy?

DN: Most of the negative reactions I have felt from collaborators have less to do with the “Satanic” aspect, and more to do with the cult-y side of the story -- the mind-control, and the dysfunctional social paradigm of self-sacrifice to two power-hungry leaders. This story is told well in Timothy Wyliie’s LOVE SEX FEAR DEATH book. At this point in history, a rock band propagating a “Satanic” message is fairly common and certainly no longer shocking as it was in the early 80’s. This is another reason I like the Process’ idea of worshipping Christ at the same time as Satan; it is absolutely novel, and perhaps more true to our lives in that we can find the Christ and Satan archetypes both operating within us at different times.

OR: Sabbath Assembly has shared the stage with heavy rock acts like Ghost and YOB. What is it like to perform for audiences of heavy metal fans? Do you have any especially vivid memories of live performances?

DN: So far we have felt generally a good response from metal fans, I think partially because of the Satanic lyrics and partially because of the connection to 60s era sounds akin to the foundations of metal. Our next album will include at least one track that is more blatantly metal because the current line-up has some real metal veterans in it, and we can’t help but play the music that we love.

OR: Can you share what’s next for Sabbath Assembly?

DN: We are finishing an album called “Quaternity” that we will have for sale on our European tour in April with Hexvessel. The album features the Process hymn called, “The Four Horsemen,” and will also include original compositions dedicated to each of the four Processean deities. This album includes Jamie Myers on vocals and Daron Beck from Pinkish Black, with Kevin Hufnagel from Dysrhythmia on guitar.

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