SEVERED HEADS Interview, 1986

Originally from the Bigot Booklet.
Edited/HTMLized by Dave Watson/SHLF.

J [from Life Support]: Hi again.

Tom Ellard: Hi. This time for real, I suppose.

J: You bet your...I'd not want to start this interview on the wrong footing, but I think it'd help here if I say plainly (that) I'm a bit disappointed with your most recent material...the Canadian releases are very UNCHALLENGING, right.

T: Well, I can say a lot about that. Firstly, that we can...and should refuse to be dictated to by people stuck in the one style, like people who try to maintain this so-called "industrial" culture--chic--are so demanding so concerned with the includion of...IMPROPER sounds (that) they are playing the bigot and not realising just how much it restricts their spectrum as regards listening. I mean, I'm dismayed by the elitism involved in the "world as sad as it seems" stance. The arrogance of "I know how the world really is and you don't," just because you're locked into a different propaganda network to the one most people have. Right? It's still a propaganda mechanism that holds you in thrall.
Second, it's a matter of access. We play ball, we get airplay, TV spots, er, artwork and distribution.

J: I'd also point out that you are gaining access to the radio when you have little to say for yourselves. You say that you see humour in most things, but I'd put it to you that we all use humour as a means to avoid a real responsibility for what we say. You can always say to people who criticise your music that you were only kidding in...

T: Cartoonists are not kidding. Cartoonists will make a bigger impact than a big editorial. Long after the words have faded, the cartoon will speak volumes. You look at the effect of the cartoons in the South African crisis, they're tearing shreds off the government. Right? I say all the time that SH is like Bugs Bunny cartoons, and you get the interviewer looking at you like a fucking wally. But we are cartoonists, like, um, there's a cartoon by Warners with the last dodo, I think Daffy Duck chasing the last dodo. That's as surreal as you can get in film. Equals all the early Bunuel stuff. More people saw that, laughed, but got the images than ever saw the arty stuff. More people saw that pisstake of The Nude Descending the Staircase...I think the title was The Rude Descending the Subway, in the NYT. They saw that, laughed and maybe checked out the original.

J: Maybe.

T: Yeah, but even if they didn't, then they're not to be put down...

J: You are occupying space that may be better used, right? I say that the reason to hate the "superstars" is they fill up media and thought and take all the room that people need to think in. Now, with you, you are grabbing some of that space...being quite aggressive about it, but every year you lose some of the reason for even bothering.

T: We don't really get much space, but...okay, you say you want us to do, um, keep to a calculated path and hold a candle for the oppressed and so on. But that's not on. You cannot force the majority to follow your work. It's a bargain between the producer and consumer to...for the one to provide something of merit and the other to support the production for the virtue of that merit. Like the newspapers are running a deal, they say, "there is too much news for you to take in, we'll condense it for you," you say "okay," they give you a cutup of what's going on. If you don't want it, then you don't buy it. If you don't, but everyone else loves it, are you going to burn down the newspaper? Lecture them--"I don't think you should read this"? No, you start your own newspaper, your own flavour, music, whatever, and there's your indie market. Or you get a job on the paper and you write for them and when feasible, you stick in a stronger story. Okay, so we work in the music industry and we wanna work for the big papers and we keep an eye on our feelings and mix in the weird shit when feasible.

J: Okay, so tell me what you've stuck in recently.

T: Well...this is really stupid, because Bigot isn't very commercial anyway, but, like in the UK, the record comes with a really long version of "Gashing the Old Mae West" on a 12" [Ed. Note: It actually came with the "Propellor" EP. "Gashing" was a separate release.]. Um, the Canadian single of "Twenty Deadly Diseases" has a weird shit session on the B-side...all our 12"s have always had something different on the back somewhere...can we talk about something else now? I'm sick of this...

J: What sort of future can we expect from you? More commercial? Back to older stuff? A whole change of tack?

T: I'm talking high-tech at the moment. I'm hassling people at parties, "Tell me about Fast Fourier Transforms, megabytes memories, tell me about laser harps and prototypes." I'm going to know the very latest info about sound before we ever play another note. Like I hear the other night about an idea for synthesis post-sound sampling, post-digital recording; it's a technique which compiles an aspect of a sound into computer memory, but not a time-based profile at all. But I'm keeping mum about it because the bloke has built one and wants to patent it! But all I'm getting at is that the latest in the journals is years behind the forefront of creativity. There's a lag between idea and implementation, and a lag between that and any reasonable music being produced.

J: That last point is very important. When something new arrives, it means an agony of misuse before anything reasonably listenable comes out of it. Those early synthesiser records...[Walter Carlos'] Switched-On Bach. This rash of sound sampling, er, Paul Hardcastle springs to mind as the most basic aspects still being pursued years after the advent.

T: I just thought, you've got the lag when the audience has to get used to the sounds! Well, any electronic music outfit should try to close that gap! Every gap, so that the periods of shit noise coming out of shit gear is brought down to minimum. The gear is expensive, but the information is not...well, comparably. I'm not expert at anything, really, so I have to use my big mouth. I trapped the editor of Electronic Soundmaker in a train for hours once, pumping out information. But others I've worked with always had, or have, a good knowledge of the latest rubbish. Stephen Jones is up on all the video goings-on. Peter Carnac is right into modems, systems engineering...he programs at American Express, can explain all about electronic communication. Paul Deering can build very complex machines, like a big FM system once...and so on.

J: It sounds like you assemble people like a task force...but before I come back to that, I thought that you used very old equipment. In fact, I've read you saying that you were only interested in older forms of synthesis.

T: Um, not exclusively...each machine is appropriate in a given case. A Moog is good for bass noises, but I can always sample a Moog bass if I want. This reminds me of a huge new device around called a realizer, (which) can make any sound on Earth with the appropriate software, but the only software for it is a DX7 clone and a MiniMoog! Like, it's a $50,000 device that sounds like a $400 keyboard. Hah! But what would be nice would be a small thing, table-top, which could be all the bits of garbage I've got around now, MiniMoogs, Yamahas, etc., but be light and run on batteries! It's the sounds, not the physical keyboards, that is at issue.

J: Okay, personnel. You seem to hire and fire, you do interviews without the others there to speak for themselves. You don't have many band photos out and about. So, is this, in fact, just you using people like toilet paper...?

T: Am I a deadshit?

J: Tell me.

T: There's aspects of the personnel and that which is not your business at all, and not suitable to talk about at all. As far as the music goes, I think the stuff I've done by myself has been...on par with the group stuff...there are solo tracks on the albums, not just by me, but they're not picked out on the sleeves. It's always just just a listing of people and things.

J: Except on Clifford Darling, where the insert lists the people involved on each track.

T: That's obviously because the material on Clifford predates any set band grouping. I have to credit Richard et al, otherwise it may be thought that the current grouping is responsible.

J: I've got another unpopular point to raise here.

T: I expected as much.

J: When you employ sound sampling and source tapes, they are usually chosen on the basis that they have a certain quality of...alien nature to the rest of the sound, so, often, a far from wonderful track is improved greatly by a good source tape. In fact, I wonder whether the initial quality of the source material isn't a greater consideration than all the other sounds that you are adding on. Particularly on Clifford Darling, where the extra treatments are often quite banal.

T: Utter garbage.

J: Surely some of the quality of a track rests upon the quality of the source material. You should credit your sources more, otherwise, it is just theft.

T: Okay, let's get this straightened out once and for all. A source tape is one of a number of elements that go to make up a track. The elements don't combine just as a stack, rather as a system. A system is, if true to its purpose, more than the sum of its parts. A house is not a collection of bricks. A table is not usefully described as a number of atoms. I can't say, when asked what a song is like, that it is a drum and a keyboard and a voice and so on. There is organizational information involved...without which, the raw materials are given an infinite number of possible roles. So you take away the work involved in assembling our raw sounds and you get a pile of bricks.

J: Yes, but if you take away the raw materials, just one component, and your system is no longer viable. No brick, no house. No stolen voice and no more "We Have Come to Bless This House."

T: You get another possible direction for the system to take. The system exists from the very beginning. You can think of how to build a house without there being even the materials to see. You can build it halfway, then change the plan. You can build a house from anything, like that French postman did with all sorts of things...a dog is a dog even without a leg. A dog is a quadraped, but you can have a three-legged dog. So you can have all of "Bless the House" and another sound--just another system.

J: If you remive the sampled material from your music, doesn't it become a bit undistiguished?

T: If I removed your head, wouldn't you be dead?

J: I heard that you, in fact, used your publishers to prosecute some label selling bootlegs of your early material. Isn't that hypocritical?

T: No, not at all. I have given permission for many "breaches" and have enjoyed some unexpected "breaches" without a care. The best was a long, convoluted cutup on a radio show which was really rude, bits of "Dead Eyes Opened" backwards and so on...well, I loved it. Although I suppoes the intention was a serious one...there's been others, but this particular case was really just a mercenary rip-off...soulless. Just because I had once swapped tapes with another person and they thought they'd be able to take advantage of a situation. Not the swapee...some other lot.

J: But...

T: You can sample any sound you want. I don't care.

J: I also gather there is some dispute over the cover of "Dead Eyes Opened."

T: There's nothing that can be said about that, except that I hope very much that an agreement by both parties has resolved that problem.

J: Did you steal that?

T: It was a blameless misunderstanding. End of topic.

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