Tom Ellard (Severed Heads) - conducted by Todd E. Jones
Tom Keeps Severed Head Under Gail Succubus
MVRemix: How would you describe the music of Severed Heads? How would you say the sound of Severed Heads has evolved?
Tom Ellard: There's the same mind set as back in 1978 when we first started making sounds. I'm always amused by those who would say, 'Oh yes they used to be Industrial, but now it's just pop rubbish.' They fail to see that we have a proud tradition of pop rubbish going back to the very start. One thing that is evolving is the technology. I refuse to use tape recorders any more because the nostalgia exceeds the results. I don't give a damn about analogue anything. We used it when it was appropriate. Now it's nostalgia, which I loathe.
MVRemix: What is the story of 'Lap Top Pop'? What happened?
Tom Ellard: Well, 'Op' did start as 'Lap Top Pop', until all my laptops got stolen. I was writing the album on United Airlines flights. You can usually get quite a lot done on a Sydney to San Francisco haul, although sporadically. But the machines were taken by the usual junkie through the window, and the album with it. So I thought, 'All permanence is illusionary', and settled down to do what the fates were directing me to do, which was do an album that was never finished. The first edition of 'Op' was such a disaster that I knew I was onto something good.
MVRemix: Where did you meet Stephen R. Jones? How did you eventually form the group?
Tom Ellard: Stephen R. Jones showed up at our first gig in 1980. Later in 83, he built a video synthesizer, which used control voltages. As the band, at that stage, used the same voltages, he asked that we play live and send him some signal to drive the machine. That was the 'Live At Metro' gig that has been on a few DVDs and now on YouTube. A few years later, he joined in. It was five piece band for a while there.
MVRemix: Why did you two go your separate ways?
Tom Ellard: Well, he wanted to get on with 'grown up' stuff. You get to a certain age and you think, 'being in a band is retarded. I want to do something a bit more sophisticated'. It was hard at first because I had to take over the video production, but he had taught me well enough that I knew that I sucked and eventually got better at it. Like most of the ex band people, we see each other a lot. Except the dead ones, I only see them every so often.
MVRemix: What inspired the song, 'Snuck'? Tell us about that track.
Tom Ellard: 'Snuck' is not a real word. It's 'sneaked'. The song is a list of words that don't fit together. Some are things my girlfriend says when she is asleep. The chorus about Target just entered my head one day. Some passing spirit just flies down and puts whole lyrics in there. My bad lyrics are those that I can't quite remember what the spirit said. As for the music, it was part of a jam I was enjoying with friends, re-mangled.
MVRemix: On the track, 'Psychic Squirt', you use lyrics from an older song. What was this all about?
Tom Ellard: It's a bit of 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose' by Burt Bacharach. Listen to the original by The Carpenters and then, look at the city now. See how it changed, like a mutant growth. The track sings about mutant growths. Everything around the world now seems to be a mutation that has grown too big like the props from 'Lost In Space'. The world is over ripe.
MVRemix: The packaging for 'Under Gail Succubus' is unique. Tell us about it.
Tom Ellard: Bloody metal boxes! It was my stupid idea to sell it in metal boxes. They weigh so much that the postage eats up the income from the bloody album. And then, they get bent in the mail. So, eventually I hope everybody will start buying the transparent plastic version. But, it's part of trying to make people dissatisfied with vaporous mp3 downloads. The most interesting thing is actually the serial number that is embedded in the album. Upload it to a torrent and I have your name and address instantly.
MVRemix: On the different parts of tracks for 'Bruise Vienna', you use acoustic guitars and drums. Although Severed Heads mainly creates electronic music, will you use more acoustic instruments in future recordings?
Tom Ellard: I really have no idea. I'm working on a vinyl box set at the moment of our ancient stuff. It's funny listening to the old guitar tracks. Endearing, cute. It is almost tempting to take up the hurdy gurdy.
MVRemix: I love the 'Op' album. I especially love the songs, 'Symptom Symphony', 'Out On The Mental Ranges', and 'Hippie Bonfire'. Will the first version of 'Op' be available again?
Tom Ellard: Well it always is. If you have 'Op 2' you have the cards. The cards unlock the old album for download. But really, it went hideously wrong. Something to do with mixing tracks on United Airlines flights made it brittle.
MVRemix: Tell us about the purpose of 'Op 1.2'. These are completely different tracks, all instrumental. Why was this done?
Tom Ellard: Well, 'Op 1' went crazy. The mix was all wrong, and about 100 copies didn't even play in people's CD players, due to the video track. So, I had to do it again. But in the meantime, I put out a stop gap. You got to download it for free, if you had 'Op 1'. It was a concession.
MVRemix: You stated that 'Op 1.2' was much more enjoyable to create. Why?
Tom Ellard: Because it wrote itself. I just went to bed and the next morning, it was sitting there all done. The spirits did it.
MVRemix: Which pop music album do you like more, 'Op' or 'Op2'?
Tom Ellard: 'Op1.2' for sure. Some albums are effortless. 'Co Klo Pop' was effortless. Actually, all the Co Kla Coma albums were lots of fun. 'Op 2.5' was less so, but I still enjoyed it very much. Others had me in tears. 'Haul Ass' is a record of a very difficult, poverty stricken time. This forthcoming box set is being complete misery, trying to listen to stuff from 1977 with an open mind.
MVRemix: Was it difficult to start Sevcom?
Tom Ellard: Well, in 1988, Sevcom was just an idea. It acknowledged that labels were the new bands. But it grew slowly, based on printed booklets and then Otto Ruiter started up a BBS which I took over in 1992. We got a web page up in 1994, 'Dead Eyes Opened' was one of the first Internet tracks ever available for download. Then, Stephen M. Jones just walked in and made it all work. He already knew how to run the web thing with SDF, and helped me get the plumbing connected and the heater turned on.
MVRemix: Severed Heads and Sevcom were one of the innovators of independent music on the Internet. Is Sevcom a success? What has been the key to the success?
Tom Ellard: What we did back in the old days of the net doesn't really matter anymore. Sure, we were first at most of it. But, that all gets forgotten in the rush for the next 15 minute wonder. All permanence is illusionary. Fame is a random process. Now, everybody has a Myspace. So, who cares if sevcom made the first MP2 album? Everybody has so many MP3s; they can't bother even playing them.
MVRemix: On the sleeve for 'Under Gail Succubus', you wrote, 'Please share your own music, not mine.' Still, you put a substantial amount of your music on the Sevcom website. How have you been hurt by the Internet?
Tom Ellard: I only think it's worth reminding that people make records. They are not spawned from the air by record labels. Somebody cared a lot about that track you're uploading. Steal it, but just remember, it's somebody, not some thing. I give a great deal, yet somehow, only that which is stolen is appreciated.
MVRemix: Do you do many overdubs while recording?
Tom Ellard: Back when I went from 4 track to 16 track tape recorders, the temptation was to go hog sh*t crazy. And I did on some of those Nettwerk LPs. Now, when you can have as many as you like, I try to use as few as possible. Like Brian Eno says, 'Don't overdub, use a treatment'.
MVRemix: What is your opinion of Pro-Tools?
Tom Ellard: Hated it until I started teaching it. That's when I had to hone all the techniques. Now, I respect it, but there are so many dumb things in there, like real time bounce downs that don't live in the 21st century. I love FL Studio. It's a big ball of confusion. You can't teach that. It just has to infect you. I use FL Studio a lot.
MVRemix: Out of the myriad of albums you have released, which one are you most proud of? Why?
Tom Ellard: I think there are a few good bits on all of them, and some utter crap. I really am sad that the Co Kla Coma albums didn't get more attention. I have to say I got bored with the old ones over the years. Some kid will be raving about something I did in 1980 something and I'll be wondering if the rest of my life was just a waste of their time.