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Tom Ellard (Severed Heads) - conducted by Todd E. Jones  


Tom Keeps Severed Head Under Gail Succubus

December 2006

MVRemix: When writing and creating songs, what is the creative process like?

Tom Ellard: Spirits. At least it is something that visits and leads you by the hand and shows you what to do. It's sometimes odd that I'm teaching, as I think that creativity can't be taught. But I hope I can lead the right ones to the muse and they will have that bright, vibrant, visitation. Composing is being able to see a jigsaw in all the pieces magically assembling themselves.

MVRemix: How are the fans responding to this new album, 'Under Gail Succubus'?

Tom Ellard: They're wondering why it's taking so long to get their damn metal box in the mail.

MVRemix: Where did you find the samples for the classic Severed Heads song, 'Dead Eyes Opened'?

Tom Ellard: Aha! It's question #1. It's Edgar Lustgarten and his TV show 'Scales of Justice'. We have a whole area devoted to this question. Look at www.severed-heads.co.uk/faq.html.

MVRemix: Many people have remixed your songs. Which ones did you enjoy the most?

Tom Ellard: I heard that Orbital did 'We Have Come To Bless The House', but decided not to go with it. That would have been interesting. The Clifford's come up with some pretty funny versions.

MVRemix: Fans of Severed Heads are known as Cliffords. They made an album called, 'I Can't Believe It's Not Lard', comprised of Severed Heads covers. Which song do you like the most?

Tom Ellard: If I said I liked one over the others, it would hurt some feelings. But, I guess the weirder, the better. Some people can mock me while adding some extra something. Just mocking is not so interesting.

MVRemix: The Sevcom web page features exhibits where fellow Clifford's can have their own little page. Tell us about the exhibits on Sevcom.

Tom Ellard: Well that was more Stephen M Jones' idea. He tends to be more egalitarian than me. I just wanted to have a few exhibits by selected artists. Stephen thought it better to have open access, which is part of the SDF ethos. So, anyone can have 50Mb. That may seem small in these days when Google gives you 1 GB. But, we don't use you as an advertising billboard.

MVRemix: What are the Sevcom Music Servers?

Tom Ellard: The original idea was to supply 8 hours of uncomfortable muzak to fill a working day. I only managed 4 hours before it got snapped up by the film company. They were working on a similar mood and the match was good. Actually, it's less muzak than the idea of 'piped music' that's fascinating. I am slowly working towards a number 5.

MVRemix: How did you get involved with the soundtrack for the film, 'The Illustrated Family Doctor'?

Tom Ellard: Well, Kriv, the director, was working on a script and needed a music worker that understood the bleak humour of the film. I was lucky that I'd been in the same headspace for a while. So, I could supply and expand existing material. We got along well and I have done a few TVC soundtracks for him since. Doing the soundtrack was relatively easy. It would have been hard if it was a heart warming tale of two young kids or something vile like that. Winning the ARIA award for the music was just plain weird.

MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the name, Severed Heads?

Tom Ellard: It was a joke. We were called Mr. & Mrs. No Smoking Sign, because that was really ugly. Then, we wanted to fool people that we were Industrial and it worked. Severed Heads was a really dumb name, so that's what stuck. Forever. I hate it by the way.

MVRemix: When creating a track, do you have a set theme or idea first or the music first?"

Tom Ellard: Usually, it's a notion. On 'Op 2.5', there's a track called, 'We Choose Moon'. Although I used the Kennedy speech, in that, I actually went looking for it, knowing that the track was going to be about moons. Then, I wrote music about moons. Then, the video, about moons. It was a notion that stuck in my head and had then to be made real. Same with pilots. Moons and pilots are part of the uncanny, which energizes music.

MVRemix: What was the recording process like for 'Under Gail Succubus'? How was it different from other times?

Tom Ellard: My entire life I wanted the one box that did music. I used to sketch the plans for one, back when I had tape recorders, mixers, keyboards, et cetera, eating up the living space. It focuses everything to the one point. Now, I have one machine, the computer, which disappears when you start using it. It's perfect. Apart from that, creating music is mostly brain work, fitting puzzles together, following the flow. I hope to make it entirely mental one day.

MVRemix: The song, 'Kittens' (from 'Op') talks about a father nailing a kid to the carpet. What is 'Kittens' about?

Tom Ellard: He's nailing a rent boy to the carpet. Daddy is a homosexual pervert murderer. 'La la la'. I'm sorry, but these songs have meanings that don't really connect up sensibly. It's word music, not poetry.

MVRemix: Musically, what else have you been working on?

Tom Ellard: Well, the live album, 'Viva! Heads!' came out the UK and I am pretty happy with that, as it really does update our live recordings to the present day. That's what Severed Heads sounds like live, not like the recordings that were about before. It's a fun album too. And there's at least one box set of vinyl underway.

MVRemix: What are some of your favorite instruments?

Tom Ellard: I like instruments that disappear, ones that become direct pipes from brain to sound. That means I really don't like instruments at all, I guess. Perhaps, I should have played the guitar. Colin Newman once told me that was the least intrusive noise device. Synthesisers are less physical though, so you don't have technique.

MVRemix: Around what time in your career did you start financially surviving form music?

Tom Ellard: In the late 80's, pretty early on. Sometimes, I was even wealthy, which was a feature of those times. I have actually done really well out of music over the years, which puzzles me greatly. I think other people found me useful and steered me this way and that, like a tractor. And as they fed themselves, I got fed too. I never really sat down and thought about how to make money, like I do now. But musical careers are brighter than they are long.

MVRemix: Do you think that success and credibility are mutually exclusive?

Tom Ellard: When I won the best soundtrack ARIA award for the film music, I was deprived of that illusion. It's too easy to say, 'I'm too weird no one will even credit me.' Then, suddenly you win a mainstream award and you have to ask yourself if perhaps, just perhaps, the people who win awards might earn them somehow. Not always, but that win questioned my presumptions about mainstream versus alternative music.

MVRemix: What song are you most proud of?

Tom Ellard: It depends how drunk I am. Honestly, it varies with the mood. I like those that please and annoy the most. 'Gashing The Old Mae West' is useful for teaching. It might be the one that lasts longest in music history.

MVRemix: How has the Video Synthesizer affected your career?

Tom Ellard: I have two slipped discs from carrying it up stairs. It broke the ice at parties. It gave journalists something to write about, when they sounded bored writing an article. You could use that to liven them up. Now, it gives me something to impress children. Look kids, analogue.

MVRemix: One of my all time favorite Severed Heads tracks is 'Sevs In Space'. What inspired this song?

Tom Ellard: Let me try very hard to be helpful. After writing this track, I think it comes from Altman's film 'Brewster McCloud', which I saw sometime and then stored in the mind pit. The lyrics are about Icarus, but they are again, not supposed to be a narrative. The music has a parrot in it. If you try to find sense, you'll be disappointed.

MVRemix: Who are some artists you would like to collaborate with in the future?

Tom Ellard: I guess I am out of the loop these days. Thinking about what's going on right now, I feel a foreigner. I did a lot of this rehashed style some while ago and can't pretend to be still thrilled. Not that no one is doing my thing, but I am not doing theirs. These kinds of offers come at odd moments and I can't presume to predict what is next. I am sure I'll be puzzled.

>> continued...





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"When I won the best soundtrack ARIA award for the film music, I was deprived of that illusion. It's too easy to say, 'I'm too weird no one will even credit me.'"