Severed Heads

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Severed Heads
Severed Heads performing at Primavera Sound, 2019
Severed Heads performing at Primavera Sound, 2019
Background information
Also known asMr. and Mrs. No Smoking Sign (1979)
OriginSydney, New South Wales, Australia
Genres
Years active1979 (1979)–2008 (2008), 2010 (2010)–2011 (2011), 2013, 2015 (2015)–present (present)
Labels
Associated actsCoklacoma
Websitesevcom.com
Members
Past members

Severed Heads are 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 both left the band by mid-1981. Throughout the next decade, several musicians joined Severed Heads' ranks, including Garry Bradbury, Simon Knuckey, Stephen Jones and Paul Deering.

In 1984 the band released "Dead Eyes Opened" as a single, which was remixed in 1994 and re-released, reaching No. 16 on the ARIA Singles Chart.[1] Two of their singles, "Greater Reward" (1988) and "All Saints Day" (1989), reached the top 30 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart.[2] 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 in support of Gary Numan's tour of Australia, again in 2011 at BimFEST in Antwerp, in 2013 with a gig at the Adelaide Festival of Arts and in September 2015 with a tour of the United States for the first time in more than 20 years. In November 2016, Severed Heads played at the State Library of Victoria as part of Melbourne Music Week and in November 2017 they headlined a one-off double act along with Snog at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria. Severed Heads announced that they would again disband following headlining shows in September 2019.

History[edit]

Early years and independent releases (1979–1982)[edit]

In 1979, Richard Fielding and Andrew Wright formed an experimental electronic duo, Mr. & Mrs. No Smoking Sign, in Sydney.[3] By the end of that year, Tom Ellard joined the group.[3] The group issued cassette albums, including Mr. and Mrs. No Smoking Sign Go Cruising fer Burgers![3] In December 2006, Ellard explained 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."[4]

The group's 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. Wright departed late in 1979, leaving the duo of Ellard and Fielding to put together the band's early studio offerings, including the A-side of a split album, Ear Bitten/No Vowels, No Bowels, with the B-side by Rhythmyx Chymx.[3][5] Fielding departed the band during the recording of 1981's Clean, leaving much of the work to be completed solely by Ellard.[3][5]

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 avant-garde industrial and pop. The group moved their live shows from "experimental venues and art spaces to rock clubs",[5] and they issued the Blubberknife and 80's Cheesecake albums in 1982 after expanding to include synthesiser player Garry Bradbury and guitarist Simon Knuckey.[3][6] Following the release of these albums, Severed Heads were also joined by video expert and musician Stephen Jones.

Major label years and mainstream success (1983–1998)[edit]

1983 saw British label Ink Records issue Since the Accident, which was released by Nettwerk records in North America and Volition Records in 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."[7] The band's recording deals led to a world tour, which became a multimedia event with the addition of video synthesisers performed by Jones. After the tour, Severed Heads returned to Australia in August 1984.[8] However, this period saw more personnel change for the band. Bradbury had departed during the recording of Since the Accident in 1983 (leaving most of the recording to Ellard) and Knuckey departed soon before the 1984 world tour, so the lineup that went on tour consisted of Ellard, Jones and the newly recruited Paul Deering.

In 1985, Severed Heads issued City Slab Horror, again on Ink Records for the European market.[3] For this album, Bradbury returned as guest musician and contributed to vocals and songwriting. Clashes with Ellard caused Deering to leave the band in order to continue working with Bradbury. 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."[9] Local label Volition compiled international tracks for the local-only album Stretcher in November 1985.[3] In August the following year, the band followed with Come Visit the Big Bigot.[3] During that year, Ellard and Jones took Severed Heads on a European and North American tour.[3] Bad Mood Guy was issued by Volition in October 1987.[3] 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."[10]

Severed Heads peaked at No. 19 in the United States on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart in 1988 with the 12-inch single "Greater Reward", which later appeared on the album Rotund for Success, issued in October 1989.[3][11] The album included several remixes by Sydney-based producer Robert Racic, who produced tracks for the band through the late 1980s and early 1990s and contributed to their sound.[3] Another single to make the Billboard chart was "All Saints Day" in 1989, which reached No. 25.[11]

In 1992, one year after the release of Cuisine (With Piscatorial), Jones left the band, leaving Ellard as the group's sole official member. Nettwork did not renew its contract with the band, leaving Severed Heads adrift in the marketplace. Ellard sought out another label for his next release, Gigapus, in 1994, 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 samples 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 they did not fully own the rights to their music. This changed in 1998 when Sony Music released claims to Volition material.

Later years and subsequent releases (1999–2007)[edit]

With his music back in his hands, Ellard began developing an independent music system, entirely Internet-based, at sevcom.com. During the early 2000s, Ellard 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, that released a few albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 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 with the Lab.

Dissolution and reunions (2008–present)[edit]

In early 2008, Ellard announced that Severed Heads were now defunct and that no further creative output would be released under the name. However, the band was reformed by Ellard and new member and longtime fan Stewart Lawler for 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."[12] On 22 October 2011, Severed Heads played what was intended to be their final performance in Australia[13] at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre. At BimFEST 2011 in Antwerp,[14] they performed what was billed as their "absolutely final" performance as Severed Heads.[15] However, Ellard and Lawler performed what was again intended to be a final gig at the Queen's Theatre during the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 2013, a concert that was recorded by Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[16]

Since 2014, several older Severed Heads albums have been released on vinyl via Medical Records and Dark Entries, such as Since the Accident and City Slab Horror. 2016 saw the release of the Beautiful Arabic Surface 10" acetate dub plate, which contained the first newly recorded Severed Heads tracks since their announced hiatus in 2008. The single was released through Bughlt Records in a limited edition of 45 copies.

Renewed interest in the band resulted in a seven-date American tour in September 2015, their first performances in the United States in over 20 years.[17] Following these tour dates, the project has remained active with new recordings, further reissues and live performances continuing to this day. Severed Heads was again planning to split up after a string of headlining shows in the US in September 2019. On the band's Bandcamp page selling the Living Museum live compilation, they stated: "The 2019 shows were the last bye bye for Severed Heads in Australia, Europe and the USA, and we thank all the people who came out to see us off. We look forward to 2020 and new nilamox* STUFF."[18]

Personnel[edit]

Members[edit]

Timeline[edit]

Lineups[edit]

1979
(Mr. and Mrs. No Smoking Sign)
1979 1979-1981 1981-1982
  • Richard Fielding - synthesisers
  • Andrew Wright - synthesisers
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Richard Fielding - synthesisers
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
1982 1982 1982-1983 1983-1984
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Garry Bradbury - synthesisers, electronic percussion, vocals
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Garry Bradbury - synthesisers, electronic percussion, vocals
  • Simon Knuckey - guitars
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Garry Bradbury - synthesisers, electronic percussion, vocals
  • Simon Knuckey - guitars
  • Stephen Jones - synthesisers, video synthesisers
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Simon Knuckey - guitars
  • Stephen Jones - synthesisers, video synthesisers
1984-1985 1985-1992 1992-2008 2008-2010
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Stephen Jones - synthesisers, video synthesisers
  • Paul Deering - synthesisers
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Stephen Jones - synthesisers, video synthesisers
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion

Disbanded

2010-2011 2011-2013 2013 2013-2015
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Stewart Lawler - synthesisers

Disbanded

  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Stewart Lawler - synthesisers

Disbanded

2015–present
  • Tom Ellard - vocals, bass, keyboards, synthesisers, electronic percussion
  • Stewart Lawler - synthesisers

Discography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "ARIA Singles Chart: Dead Eyes Opened (song)". australian-charts.com. Australian-Charts.com.
  2. ^ "Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs: Severed Heads". Billboard.com. Billboard Magazine. Archived from the original on 12 May 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m 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.
  4. ^ Jones, Todd E (December 2006). "Severed Heads (Tom Ellard) Interview". Endorphin Bath, Todd E. Jones. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Deming, Mark. "Severed Heads | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Blubberknife – Severed Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  7. ^ Bush, John. "Since the Accident – Severed Heads". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b "Severed Heads | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  12. ^ Tom Ellard (Severed Heads) interview: 2011, 9 May 2011, Guestlisted blog
  13. ^ Joan Sutherland Centre, Promotional material
  14. ^ BimFEST 2011 program
  15. ^ Ellard blog regarding his final gig
  16. ^ Watch Tom Ellard and Severed Heads Live at Adelaide Festival
  17. ^ Severed Heads touring in September, including 1st NYC show in 25 years + Chicago's Cold Waves fest w/ Godflesh & more, 21 April 2015, Brooklyn Vegan
  18. ^ "Living Museum, by Severed Heads". Severed Heads. Retrieved 17 March 2020.

External links[edit]