“I haven’t gotten any heat from the Gabor estate yet,” says one-man band Zsa Zsa Gabor, who doubts anyone will mistake him for the cop-slapping Hungarian actress whose name he co-opted. “What I do is perform with prerecorded found sounds and a synthesizer running through effect pedals that I manipulate to create harsh noise. I also use samples and, although I don't have lyrics, each track has its own story. It's sort of like scary movie soundtrack music.”
Lopez/Gabor has been playing noise music since the mid-nineties. “It was Merzbow who really opened my mind and ears to this style of music. His Relapse release Venerealogy was sort of my gateway drug. It literally was the most extreme music I have ever heard, as Relapse had advertised.”
“Noise is the ultimate release. I’ve said things musically in lyrical verse and structured chords but always felt trapped in certain points of my musical travels. Noise music freed that notion and allowed me to say things both sonically and visually that straight music could not. My music is also physical and noise music allows me to flex my muscles via feedback.”
He says getting gigs is so hard that “Sometimes I have to lie and say I’m indie rock.”
Gabor (real name Samuel Lopez) recalls going over poorly at O’Connell’s. “I sensed bad vibes in the joint the minute I walked in…I played about 15 minutes before the owner madly stumbled over to me, spittle flying from his mouth, hands over ears, screaming ‘Enough, it's over! Turn it off!’ I can't believe I made it that far. There was this inebriated-looking gentleman standing next to my equipment the whole time I was playing and I seriously thought he was going to take a swing at me. Right after the owner unplugged me, another intoxicated patron lamented that he couldn't believe he turned the Rolling Stones off the jukebox for me.”
Guitarist/drummer Lopez wrote and sometimes performs (with his vocalist/bassist wife Mandy Galarza) a self-described “sludge opera” called The Blind Dead. “Esteban [Flores] sings. It’s got six acts. We recorded it, but we don’t know what we’ll do with it.”
“I call it a Sludge Opera because the music is thick and lugubrious,” says Lopez of the elaborate sci-fi production. “The opera part comes in because there are different acts. It’s a journey through the inner circles of hell.
“The story involves a violent death clan that massacres a whole village, leaving their victims eyeless as a calling card,” explains Gabor. “In hell, there’s a battle between the eyeless dead and the black gods. The gods, bent on destruction, allow the blind dead to return to the world seeking revenge. The final act is the blind dead, thirsty for blood, taking revenge.”
The Blind Dead: A Sludge Opera was first staged July 11, 2009, at the Ché Café. The five-person operation featured Lopez playing the part of the death clan, his wife Mandy Galarza singing the lament and casting the revenge hex, Michael Zimmerman playing the blood organ, Art Ulloa on drums and percussion, and singer Esteban Flores closed the show as the Blind Dead Chorus.
“We actually got together through the noise scene,” says Flores, a guitarist-composer who as of late 2010 lives in Chula Vista and works at Sears.
Lopez, at the time a mortgage lender by day, breaks it down: “There’s stoner doom, stoner rock, doom, sludge, and then noise.” What makes it doom? “It can be a musical thing or it can be an aesthetic thing. Traditionally, doom bands would use down-tuned guitars, like, anything lower than D,” or a full step below standard E tuning.
“You get down to B and A [tuning],” says Flores, “and that’s doom right there. In sludge, we don’t care about tuning.” They both laugh.
“How does it feel to play doom guitar? Pretty bad-ass,” says Flores. “If you tune to open C and play [a power chord], it sounds so awesome and it’s so simple to do. It sounds so much better than, like, an augmented E chord.”
Does one even need to know how to play guitar in the traditional sense, then, to make passable doom/sludge/noise rock?
Lopez says yes, that an understanding of timing is crucial. “Chords are very important, too,” Flores says. “But they don’t have to be standard chords. They can be...just...whatever.”