In an exclusive interview, Matt “The Lord” Zane informs ReGen on the state of Society 1, revealing a world of inner turmoil with a few glimmers of hope.
An Interview with Matt “The Lord” Zane of Society 1
By: Ilker Yücel
Revered for their hard-hitting mix of industrialized programming and nü-metal styling, reviled for their extreme belligerence and sex, drugs, and rock & roll attitude, Society 1 has been an intriguing entity in the musical underground. The combination of decadent behavior and anarchic music has placed them on par with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Dope, yet always teetering just on the cusp of full-scale acceptance and celebrity. The brainchild of Matt “The Lord” Zane, the band has trodden down a path of pure excess, indulging in virtually every form of debauchery the lifestyle has to offer, all the while entertaining – and sometimes antagonizing – audiences since the late ‘90s and undergoing numerous lineup changes that included renowned drummers Preston Nash and “Berzerk” Kirk Salvador, guitarist Sin Quirin and bassist Paul Raven. The band’s oeuvre consists of three full-length albums, a number of music videos and DVDs, and appearance on stages around the world, including a groundbreaking performance at the Download festival in the UK in 2005 during which Zane broke several world records performing the entire 45 minute set suspended from meat hooks.
And yet, for all of this, Society 1 has remained virtually under the radar, evading acceptance from the mainstream despite being signed to prominent metal label Earache for two albums, while earning scorn from the more electronic proponents of the industrial underground. All the while, Zane has persevered to make his vision of rock stardom come true on his own terms. In the last five years, the band underwent a hiatus while the various members embarked on other creative endeavors. In this period, Zane published a book, Transcendental Satanism, on his outspoken views on spirituality, spent a brief stint returning to his onetime occupation directing adult videos, and began performing improvisational shows with prominent cellist Tina Guo under the moniker of Lotus Rising. While that project dissolved in late 2010, the material recorded was integrated into the new Society 1 record, featuring a reformed lineup and some of the most atmospheric and melodic music the band had ever recorded. A Journey from Exile exhibited a dramatic departure from the depraved angst and hardcore aggression of the past, favoring a more introspective and emotional sound, which divided many of the band’s longtime fans.
With the band currently in another state of hibernation, Matt “The Lord” Zane speaks to ReGen in an exclusive interview touching on the state of Society 1. With topics ranging from the audience response to the new record to the status of his recovery following a debilitating injury and its effect on his spiritual views and musical output, Zane guides through a world of inner turmoil and points to the glimmers of hope the future may yet hold for him to bring Society 1 to new heights of artistic expression.
The new Society 1 album, A Journey from Exile is the first album of new material in six years, since the release of The Sound that Ends Creation. In the interim, you released the live record and The Years of Spiritual Dissent collection. Aside from the lineup, what are the major changes that have occurred in Society 1’s music since the last album?
Zane: Well, we did release new music since the last album, but that was a couple of tracks here and there. This is the first record of all new material, and it’s just completely different from anything that we’ve done in the past. Quite honestly, I don’t necessarily know if that was the right decision to make. The record was written at a really bizarre time and had a lot of interesting things about it, so it just came out the way that it did. What I’m finding is that it’s somewhat isolated a lot of our fans and it disappointed a lot of people.
One thing that is most noticeable about the album is your singing style, which is very different from your past output. You had moved to a more melodic, more singer-like style. Not that there isn’t aggression on A Journey from Exile, but it’s certainly not as much as your previous efforts.
Zane: There’s barely any aggression on this record; I think it was more reflection and sorrow. But yes, a lot of this style that I come from was what people expected on this record. It just wasn’t something that happened to come out a lot in the two years that we were doing this record. I think a lot of that had to do with what was personally going on in my life, and the people who were in my life at that time were also a big influence. It was extremely different, and again, it was something that I needed to do. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best move as far as what we should have done. I probably should have released it under a different band name or as a solo record or something.
The record is released mainly through a limited run of CDs as well as being available via your SoundCloud page. As you’ve just mentioned that you feel you perhaps should have released it under a different name, could that be a possibility down the road to re-release it under that name, and then return to the style people would be more expectant of in a Society 1 record?
Zane: This record is just a hybrid of…well, actually two bands. I was in another band called Lotus Rising, which I was doing simultaneously while recording for this record. That never materialized for a multitude of reasons, so we decided to bring a lot of that and include a lot of that material rather than have it not be released, so we actually just threw it on this record. As far as the different formats are concerned, when we decided to cancel the tour in support of the record…regardless of whether or not that band returns from hiatus, I don’t even want to tour the material anyway. Dirt, the bass player and I just decided to get it out there and let the music be out there. Nothing is going to be done with any of the songs on that record or the Lotus Rising material that we put on it. We have all this material that I don’t want to deal with anymore. The people that were involved in creating this material are all over the place; we’re never coming back together, we’re never going to tour the record, and I just don’t feel that it’s right to play it without them. I don’t want to put the effort or the energy in. Plus, a lot of the older fans were very disappointed–that’s the kindest way to put it–in the new record.
Is this to say that you’re laying Society 1 to rest, or is it just another hiatus or transition before you are ready to regroup and take the music on again?
Zane: I’ve thought about it a lot. A lot of it has to do with my physical capabilities, as I’ve been having a tremendous amount of issues with my neck in particular. I’ve sustained some pretty serious injuries from doing all of the suspension over the years, and a big part of the reason to not tour this record was the fact that I just physically couldn’t handle it. It would have been impossible. That’s actually part of the reason it took so long to get a lot of the material together and out there. The hiatus is basically me saying that I was going through a lot of stuff; I created this music with these people and it didn’t come out quite like a Society 1 record, so I don’t necessarily feel comfortable getting it out there. On top of that, half of that is this other material with Tina Guo, and she’s off doing her own thing for the next two to four years. At the same time, our drummer moved to the Midwest to do a lot of different things. Let’s just for now call it a hiatus. Nobody can get together to tour for various reasons and I’m not going to hold anybody back, like Dirt or Preston. They have their bands, and they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do. I have to focus on trying to get better and find out what I’m going to physically be able to do in terms of touring, and that means for the rest of my musical career. If it means I’m releasing new material and doing music videos and that’s it, or if it means I’m only doing regional tours or if I’m going to do them from a wheelchair, I don’t know at this point. I wouldn’t say that the band died. I’ve just got to really define what it means at this point, and it’s hard to tell when you’re sitting in the position that I am.
It’s fascinating how many lineup changes Society 1 has gone through, all of which have been well documented in the DVD portion of The Years of Spiritual Dissent. As far as the–for lack of a better word–current lineup that produced A Journey from Exile, how did that come together?
Zane: That’s the really interesting part about it, because if you look at our last record, The Sound that Ends Creation, it’s almost exactly the same lineup minus our old guitar player. The guitar player for this record was Billie Stevens. The fifth member who was involved, unbeknownst to us at the time since she and I were recording for Lotus Rising at the time, was Tina Guo. Billie Stevens was part of a band called Handsome Devil and Wank and they had their big record deal back in the day. He ended up producing the record and we asked him to play guitar while we were recording, so that’s how he ended up getting the guitar spot and being the producer over at his studio. Tina ended up being on the songs because she and I initially started Lotus Rising and we dated for a little bit during that time, so obviously everything we were doing was naturally intermingling at the time. It was mostly the core of Society 1, but there were definitely a couple of different elements that influenced what you hear.
The new record is certainly much more introspective and melodic, and as you’ve mentioned, the audience was somewhat disappointed by it. Either as a result of that or just as a result of the years between albums, what have you noticed about the way the audience has changed since the last record and how do you feel that’s reflected in the way they’ve reacted to the new record?
Zane: I think that when you have real fans, they grow up with you. Wayne Static just came out with a new record and it was his first new record in three years since he worked on the last Static-X record. You go to his shows and you see a lot of people there who were there for the last Static-X show. I saw System of a Down four or six months ago and it was the same thing; there were a lot of people who had grown up as they did in the last five years. They stopped touring right around the same time that we did. I think you’ve got those fans that really haven’t changed that much. As far as fans in general, especially in terms of the younger fans, they are definitely going to change. I think in metal music, absolutely! I see that 100 percent. There is definitely a style of metal that is coming out now that people identify with that I don’t necessarily completely understand or even know about in a lot of ways. But I have noticed it and I see the change. I can’t quite put my finger on it. In some respects, I can, but in general I can’t. There has definitely been a change in the way that newer metal fans, what they consider to be current or good metal. That’s just part of the system. I’ve seen a lot of people have comments about the Static-Xs and the KoRns and it’s definitely kind of an interesting thing.
We’ve discussed metal bands like Static-X, although many do consider that band to be industrial metal, and Society 1 has always skated that edge by incorporating synthesizers and programming. As far as genres are concerned, as people are mixing genres more and more now, what are your thoughts on the way the barriers between genres as being broken down and how is that being reflected in your own music?
Zane: I’ve always identified Society 1 as industrial metal; that’s how I’ve always thought of it. I always thought that we were too metal to be just industrial, and not enough either way to be one or the other. That’s just the way that I’ve thought of it. If and when I come back out, I don’t really think about stuff like that. I can’t really be conscious of it because I’m not a place in my career to be conscious of it. You get to a certain point where you really can’t escape your past. Some people can to a certain extent, but they’re usually not metal acts. Like, Madonna can reinvent herself for all these years and get away with it. But if acts like Metallica or Megadeth or Anthrax try, and some of them have tried, that just can’t happen. To me, it’s not a matter of how I will define myself or fit into one thing or another. I just have to kind of do what I do and then see where it goes from there. I think, to a certain extent, I just have to do what I have to do for myself at this point. It doesn’t really matter anymore if it fits into a certain category. As long as it has that reminiscent feel that can appeal to the fans that were already into the band, then it doesn’t really matter what people call it.
You’re known for pushing the limits physically in your live shows, even with just the pure energy of the live band, and a few years ago, you released a book called Transcendental Satanism. For some time during your hiatus, it seemed that you had changed and your persona as far as the public image had taken on a calmer, less extreme perspective. What’s your take on that how it pertains to your spiritual outlook?
Zane: It really wasn’t anything other than my injury and that’s it. You can drive at 110 mph, and when you blow something in your car or your engine, you’re not going to be able to go that fast. That’s basically what happened to me; I can’t really put it any other way. I was going a million miles a minute and I was out there pushing every single limit there was, and sometimes when you run through the fire, you get burned. And I got burned bad. I got burned pretty severely. I’m still contending with that even as I sit here and talk to you, so it affects every aspect of your existence. It affects the way that you look at life, it affects the way you behave, and it affects how your artistic expression comes out. Look at it this way; every day I’m in pain now, and if you’re focused so much on pain so that pain is your focus for literally every five minutes out of the day, think about how that’s going to change your perspective and the way that you approach life. Plus, if you have to behave and act through pain, everything you do is forced because acting through pain is not natural. So everything that I’ve done, you have to first get through the fact of being capable of actually doing it, and my focus has certainly been diluted to a certain extent because I’m focus so much on the fact that I’m in so much pain. So it affects everything and it’s unfortunate, and it is part of the reason why I decided not to go on the road after this record came out. I felt that it would be impossible to force it; I wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted to. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but let me tell you that an injury can change your life drastically. People always think of it in terms of athletes, but when it’s severe enough, it changes everything; your spiritual outlook, your physical ability and the way that you approach things, the way you perceive things, and your decision-making.
Zane: It’s been an interesting path to fix myself and to heal myself. Some days it does seem like it is working. Sometimes, it seems like there is going to be an opportunity for me to regain a position where I was before where I don’t feel a thing. And some days are not so good and I feel like I’m back at square one. Today is a medium day where I can sit here and have a conversation and be able to focus. I don’t really know, but I just figure during this hiatus, which may be my whole life while I focus on rehab…it is what it is. It’s good and sometimes it’s bad, but I’m just going to wait until January to see what will happen. I’ll get up and say to myself, ‘Y’know what? You dedicated all this time; does it look like it’s going to get better or not? How am I going to approach life?’ I don’t necessarily want to not perform anymore and I’m not ready to just sit down in front of the TV all the time, but at some point I’m going to have to decide on the path that I’m ready to take. When Alice in Chains went out on tour in 1992, on the second half of the biggest tour they ever did, Layne Staley did it all from a wheelchair. I wouldn’t hope that it would get to that point for me, but if it means that I just have to calm down and stand there to sing, then maybe that’s what it means. I’m really not ready to make any decisions yet.
On that note, tell us about your other projects. What other artistic outlets are you involving yourself in and how do you feel that that’s helping your recovery?
Zane: Nothing too artistic except for the fact that I began directing music videos professionally over the last year. We mentioned the Pighammer record earlier and I did Wayne’s first two videos for that. I directed both of them and they have already had a huge number of reviews in the last several months, so those have definitely been a big success. I did a video for a band called DMT for their song ‘Beneath the Surface,’ which was 100 percent green screen and looked like it was done on hallucinogenic drugs. I’ve done videos for a bunch of people, so primarily music videos are my only artistic outlet right now. The only other time I have is spent on dealing with my physical issues. I really haven’t been doing any writing or anything like that, so it’s basically music videos for the artistic side right now and rehabilitating my body. Trust me, if you were going to go through the amount of things that I do on a daily basis, you would be amazed. I’m amazed! I’m tired of it. I’ve been going through this for some months, so I hope something feels better soon, because I feel like a fighter, like I’m training. I can’t wait for a time of more creating.
Coming back to the audience reaction on the new record, what are your hopes that the division in the audience–between those who are willing to grow with and follow the band and those who are disappointed–will be a benefit to Society 1 when you decide to return to it?
Zane: I really haven’t even thought about it. There are those few people that are new fans, but they’re not a lot–they’re primarily just younger girls, which I’m sure that most bands would love to have that push to the crowd. I really don’t see it doing anything, quite honestly. I think a lot of it just has to do with my image and my age. I’m not old by any means, but I don’t look like those 21-year-old emo kids coming up. Perhaps if I did and a new record came out, then things would be different. I’m not really too concerned or too interested with pushing this style. As I said, this material was written during a really, really difficult couple of years. I lost a really close friend of mine. I went through a really difficult relationship. A lot of struggle is attached to that music and those songs and it doesn’t necessarily feel very good. I’m not doubting or trying to negate the musicality of it or take any of the performance away from the people who were involved. Personally, I’m just happy to be through with it and done with it. I just want to let it go and move on to something different. Not to say that there is nothing but negative connotations for all of those songs for me, but there is just a lot of hurt. It is full of a lot of feelings that I don’t really want to relive. I just want to let all of that go and let it be. If people happen to find it and like it, that’s great. It’s funny, one of the biggest songs on the record is a song that was originally recorded as a Lotus Rising song called ‘Goodbye,’ which was originally written as a Society 1 song before that. The first day that song went up for download, it was downloaded 100 times an hour, and it’s the mellowest song on the record, so there is a possibility that people are going to like it. I hope that they do and they can put it away for what it means to them. But I’ll never play that material live and I have no interest to push it forward.
Considering all that you and Society 1 have been through… as you said, you’re not old, but you are experienced. What advice would you give to any new band coming up now? What would you tell them?
Zane: Well, the music industry’s changed so much, from what I can tell. I’m not an authority on this by any means; if I was, I’d have a big shiny record deal and have a big tour bus parked outside my place. But it seems to me that the thing to do for bands is that they need to be rock stars before they’re rock stars. What I mean by that is that you need to be doing everything that a big rock act is already doing in order for somebody bigger to even be interested enough to pick you up and get you to that next level. It seems like bands these days already have the fashion thing down. I’ve never seen bands look so cool at such a young and early stage in their careers as I have now. I don’t know what it is; it may be the internet, I don’t know what the deal is. But the fashion of the kids these days is exceeding the music. It’s so unreal, the image that people are able to come forth with at this point in time. But you need to be doing everything from the image to the music videos to touring to the shows to have records down and promote them with social marketing. You need to have everything done 100 percent in order to make it look like you’re already there. And once that’s done, it seems like at that point is when somebody with cash or financial backing will come forward and get behind you and do something with you. All these people talk about how you can do it all yourself these days. I’ve got news for every band out there: yeah, you can do it yourself and if you’ve got good financial backing, then by all means you can tell labels to go suck it. But if you don’t have a lot of money, you’re going to have to get as much money as you can to make it look like you’re already there and interest and entice somebody else with the financial backing to sign you to their company and help you out. Ultimately, I think that new bands need to do everything they possibly can that the best signed acts are already doing. If it’s done properly and done well enough, then people are going to be interested in you and you can reach the true level of being a rock star. I don’t even know how much music matters anymore, to tell you the truth. I’d like to think that it still does have something to do with it, but definitely have everything you have in line and then you’ll be ready to go.