Severed Heads

Severed Heads
For the 1961 novel by Iris Murdoch, see A Severed Head.
Severed Heads
Origin Sydney, Australia
Genres Industrial music, Synthpop, Techno, Electronica
Years active 1979–2007, 2010
Labels Volition Records
Distributed by Nettwerk Records in North America
Past members
Tom Ellard, Richard Fielding, Andrew Wright, Garry Bradbury, Paul Deering, Stephen Jones

Severed Heads is an Australian electronic music group based and founded in Sydney in 1979 as Mr. and Mrs. No Smoking Sign. The original members were Richard Fielding and Andrew Wright, and were soon joined by Tom Ellard. Fielding and Wright eventually left the group, leaving Ellard as a singular talent, the sole continuing member of the group. A variety of people played in Severed Heads, including Garry Bradbury, Paul Deering, and Stephen Jones, but over time the group devolved to Tom Ellard.

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 January 14, 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." [1]



The band's name change to Severed Heads, from the aforementioned Mr. & Mrs. No Smoking Sign, was meant, in part, as a joke. Tom Ellard: “...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.”

Early Severed Heads music was characterised by the use of tape loops, noisy arrangements of synthesizers and other dissonant sound sources, putting Severed Heads in the general category of industrial music. 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 synthesizers. The result was a striking hybrid of the avant-garde industrial and pop.

Severed Heads were signed to Nettwerk records in North America, and Volition Records in Australia, and charted in 1984 with the song "Dead Eyes Opened". This deal led to a world tour, which was as much a multimedia event, thanks to the video synthesizers of Stephen Jones. They also charted in the United States in the late 1980s with a 12-inch single of "Greater Reward" (from the album Rotund For Success) assisted by several remixes by Sydney-based producer Robert Racic. Racic, who produced album tracks and various singles on and off through the late 1980s and early 1990s and became integral to the Severed Heads sound of that period.

Nettwerk severed its relations with Ellard in the early 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 elsewhere. Around this time, the band had a major Australian hit with a remixed version of "Dead Eyes Opened". 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 sold Ellard the rights back for a nominal fee.

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 (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.

Selected discography

  • 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)


  1. ^ Tom Ellard (Severed Heads) interview: 2011, May 9, 2011, Guestlisted blog

External links

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