Performing at BIMFest, Antwerp, December 2011
|Also known as||Mr. and Mrs. No Smoking Sign|
|Origin||Sydney, New South Wales, Australia|
|Genres||Industrial, synthpop, post-punk, electronica, dance|
|Years active||1979–2007 , 2010 –2013|
|Labels||Terse/Wrong, Terse Tapes/Dogfood Production System, Virgin, Ink/Red Flame, Volition / Nettwerk, CBS, Sony|
|Past members||Tom Ellard, Richard Fielding, Andrew Wright, Garry Bradbury, Paul Deering, Stephen Jones|
Severed Heads were an Australian electronic music group founded in 1979 as Mr. and Mrs. No Smoking Sign. The original members were Richard Fielding and Andrew Wright, who were soon joined by Tom Ellard. Fielding and Wright had left the band by late 1981, Ellard worked with a variety of musicians in Severed Heads including Garry Bradbury, Paul Deering, and Stephen Jones. In 1984 they released "Dead Eyes Opened" as a single, which was remixed in 1994 and re-released, the latter version reached No. 16 on the ARIA Singles Chart. Two of their singles, "Greater Reward" (1988) and "All Saints Day" (1989), reached the top 30 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart. Ellard disbanded the group in 2007 and continued with other projects. Subsequent Severed Heads reunions have occurred in 2010 for a 30th anniversary concert, in 2011 they supported Gary Numan's tour of Australia, also that year they appeared at BimFEST in Antwerp, and in 2013 they had a gig at the Adelaide Festival of Arts.
In 1979 Richard Fielding and Andrew Wright formed an experimental electronic duo, Mr. & Mrs. No Smoking Sign in Sydney. By the end of that year Tom Ellard joined the group. They issued cassette albums including Mr and Mrs No Smoking Sign Go Cruising fer Burgers!. In December 2006 Ellard explained to Todd E Jones about the name change "[w]e 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".
Their early music was characterised by the use of tape loops, noisy arrangements of synthesisers and other dissonant sound sources in the general category of industrial music. By 1980 Wright had left and the group's debut release was the A-side of a split album, Ear Bitten / No Vowels No Bowels, with the B-side by Rhythmyx Chymx. It appeared on the Terse Music/Wrong Records label. Garry Bradbury had joined as they followed with a run of cassette albums, Ear Bitten (with additional tracks) (1980), Side 2 (1980), Live 1980/81 (1981) and Side 3 (1981). Also in 1981 they issued a vinyl LP, Clean, while Fielding left soon after.
After several releases in that vein, Severed Heads began incorporating various popular music tropes, such as a consistent 4/4 rhythm, strong melodic lines, resolving chord arrangements and Ellard's thin but gently eerie vocals and elliptical, poetic lyrics. This move was underscored by the incorporation of mimetic devices, such as drum machines and bass synthesisers. The result was a striking hybrid of the avant-garde industrial and pop. The group moved their live shows from "experimental venues and art spaces to rock clubs", and they issued further albums, Blubberknife and 80's Cheesecake (both 1982).
In 1983 United Kingdom label Red Flame/Ink issued Since the Accident while they were signed to Nettwerk records for North America, and Volition Records for Australia. Allmusic's John Bush described the album as not "quite a crossover effort" with the lead single, "Dead Eyes Opened", being "surprisingly melodic synth-pop". Their recording deals led to a world tour, which was a multimedia event, due to the video synthesisers by Stephen Jones. After the tour they returned to Australia in August 1984.
In 1985 they issued two albums, City Slab Horror and Clifford Darling, Please Don't Live in the Past, on Ink for the European market. In October that year Jon Casimir of The Canberra Times described the group as "Australia's most innovative electronic band", which had an "obsession with the ugly and horrific" with music "reminiscent of Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle". Local label, Volition, compiled international tracks for the local only album, Stretcher (November 1985). In August the following year they followed with The Big Bigot. During that year Ellard and Jones took Severed Heads on a European and North American tour. Bad Mood Guy was issued by Volition in October 1987. The Canberra Times' Kathryn Whitfield felt the group had "gone way beyond experimental" to provide "a commercially viable product" while Ellard reflected "we have just worked carefully and solidly in an area that we think is good".
Severed Heads peaked at No. 19 in the United States on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart in 1988 with a 12-inch single, "The Greater Reward" – later on the album Rotund for Success (October 1989). It included several remixes by Sydney-based producer Robert Racic, who produced tracks for them through the late 1980s and early 1990s, and contributed to their sound. Another single on the same chart was "All Saints Day" in 1989, which reached No. 25.
Nettwerk severed its relations with Ellard in the mid 1990s, leaving the band adrift in the marketplace. Ellard sought out another label for his next release, Gigapus, in 1995, which was released on Volition in Australia and Decibel Records in the US. Around this time, the band had a major Australian hit with a remixed version of "Dead Eyes Opened", which sampled Edgar Lustgarten reading from "Death on the Crumbles". Both Volition and Decibel soon folded, and once again, Severed Heads were unaligned with the traditional music industry, and didn't fully own the rights to their music. This changed in 1998, when Sony Music released claims to Volition material.
With his music back in his hands and fully independent, Ellard took this on as a challenge and began developing an independent music system, which is entirely Internet based, at sevcom.com (the link is below). During the early 2000s, Tom Ellard blazed an independent path for his art and developed several innovative products, such as the Sevcom Music Server, a subscription based ambient music distribution system.
Ellard has worked on a side project, Coklacoma, which released a few CDs in the late 1990s. By 2004, he was heavily involved with developing video but increasingly felt that the Severed Heads label was a thing of the past, and in 2008 opted to jettison the name. Ellard also worked extensively during the 1990s with other Sydney based electronic musicians and groups such as Paul Mac (of Itch-E and Scratch-E) and Boxcar, former alumni of the now-defunct Volition label, as well as The Lab.
In early 2008 Ellard announced that Severed Heads was now defunct and that no further creative output would be released under this name. Since then they have performed a 30th anniversary show on 14 January 2010 as part of the annual Sydney Festival, and in May 2011 the group supported Gary Numan in a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of Numan's album The Pleasure Principle. In a May, 2011 interview, Tom Ellard explained: "Some people thought it was a bit rude of me to just shut it down without a proper farewell tour and so we decided we would drag it out just one more time and say our toodly-doodly’s.". On 22 October 2011, Severed Heads played their penultimate performance in Australia under the Severed Heads name at The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre. At BimFEST 2011 in Antwerp, they played their final gig under the Severed Heads name. Despite the band having called it a day in 2011, they performed a final gig at the Queen's Theatre, (Adelaide) during Adelaide Festival of Arts in 2013, which was recorded by Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The final gigs were performed by Ellard with Stewart Lawler, ex Boxcar (band).
- Ear Bitten (1980)
- Clean (1981)
- Blubberknife (1983)
- Since the Accident (1983)
- "Dead Eyes Opened" (1984)
- City Slab Horror (1985)
- Clifford Darling, Please Don't Live In The Past (1985)
- Come Visit the Big Bigot (1986)
- Bad Mood Guy (1987)
- "Greater Reward" (1988)
- Bulkhead (1988)
- Rotund For Success (1989)
- Retread (1991)
- Cuisine (1991)
- Gigapus (1994)
- "Dead Eyes Opened 94" (1994) (remix)
- Severything V. 1 (1996) (CD-ROM)
- Haul Ass (1998)
- Op1.0 (2002)
- Op2.0 (2004)
- The Illustrated Family Doctor (2005) (Soundtrack)
- Op2.5 - Millennium Cheesecake (2005)
- Under Gail Succubus (2006)
- Viva! Heads! (2006)
- ComMerz (2007)
- McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Encyclopedia entry for 'Severed Heads'". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 5 June 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Jones, Todd E (December 2006). "Severed Heads (Tom Ellard) Interview". Endorphin Bath, Todd E. Jones. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Deming, Mark. "Severed Heads | Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- "Blubberknife – Severed Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Bush, John. "Since the Accident – Severed Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Kelson, Marcus (3 August 1984). "Under Current: Ex Concerts Young Docteurs / Machinations / Icehouse". Woroni (Canberra, ACT : 1950 - 2007) (National Library of Australia). p. 5. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- Casimir, Jon (3 October 1985). "The Good Times: The Best of the Underground with an Esoteric Following – Mixing White Noise with a Beat". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (National Library of Australia). p. 6 Supplement. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- Whitfield, Kathryn (5 November 1987). "Off with His Head!". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (National Library of Australia). p. 39. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- "Severed Heads | Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Tom Ellard (Severed Heads) interview: 2011, 9 May 2011, Guestlisted blog
- Joan Sutherland Centre, Promotional material
- BimFEST 2011 program
- Ellard blog regarding his final gig
- Watch Tom Ellard and Severed Heads Live at Adelaide Festival