26 September 2009

Steven Severin Answers 7

Siouxsie and the Banshees cofounder, bassist, lyricist, and songwriter Steven Severin is a founding father of the avant-garde punk movement and has been scoring soundtracks for film and television for the last several years. His latest series of performance works, “Music for Silents,” sees him performing live electronic soundtracks to screenings of silent films, both old and new.

He will be coming to New York City on Saturday, October 10th, at Le Poisson Rouge, Greenwich Village. Severin will be performing to the 1928 French surrealist silent movie classic “The Seashell and the Clergyman” (below) as well as to other contemporary works made by up-and-coming filmmakers. This show is for ages 18 and over and is his American debut. Tickets are only $20.00! (info below) And though he is running a busy schedule, Severin has agreed to Answer 7.

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences? How have they changed throughout the years?

Musical: I think everything I listen to influences me in one form or another, good or bad, because at heart, I’m still essentially a “fan.” It started with the Beatles and The Stones, then the Mothers/Beefheart, then The Velvets and Can, then Bowie and Roxy. After that I became a musician myself, so my relationship to music changed forever. All the fervor that I originally channeled into appreciating other people’s work then went into my own. It’s almost impossible to just “enjoy” music, as I naturally pull apart the arrangement and production and analyze the lyrics as I listen. That said, something comes along every so often that just blows me apart and makes me realize why I still do this.

Non-Musical: To me music is the most magical of all the arts. It connects memories and buried emotions. It involves mathematics and chance, love and anger. At best it can be as immense and terrifying as a cathedral or as delicate as the tide receding from the sand. I’m intrigued by how people use and need music, how it interfaces with the other arts. That’s why I started making music for film, theatre, and dance. Each conjunction throws up new responses and I love that.

2. Many younger bands are citing your work as an influence; what do you make of this post-punk revival? How does it stack up against the late seventies and early eighties?

I don’t think about it to be honest. Things like that are so far off my radar. I can’t afford to look over my shoulder as I might miss something beautiful on the horizon.

3. I was inspired when you mentioned in an interview that the process of learning to play the bass and writing music involved dismissing clichés. What clichés have you had to dismiss in composing music for films?

Two things were very apparent once I started to get immersed in film music. One was the obvious signposting of drama and the other (which is criminal in my eyes) was the use of “ethnic” music. It drives me insane when people use so-called “exotic” music to denote something “foreign”—especially if they get the location wrong. I can’t think of examples right now (I’ve probably deliberately erased them), but say using something generically “Oriental” or “Latin” that might actually be from the wrong continent. It’s just lazy, cultural fascism.

4. You’ve described the process of writing scores for silent films as “liberating,” as there is no voice. But are there new challenges and/or constraints involved in composing music that already has an existing visual component?

Some people are able to just write music that sits on top of the image and in many cases that’s all the director wants. I can’t do that. I have to get right into the film, reacting sometimes frame-by-frame. Because my tools are electronic I love creating sounds that are so immersive, you can’t always tell whether it’s sound design, Foley, or score. In film music (much more so than in “pop” music) the silences and pauses are so important that they are part of your palette also. Consequently, you’re forced into unusual rhythms and patterns, bizarre instrument groupings, in short ideas and concepts that you just wouldn’t imagine without the image stimulus. There is no “one way” to score a film—in fact, it’s almost boundless.

5. Other than personal appeal, what was your process of selecting a film like “The Seashell and the Clergyman “ to work with?

It took quite a while to land on “Seashell” as my first foray into “live” accompaniment. I didn’t want to start with something that was really well known and didn’t particularly want to go straight into a full-length movie. “Seashell” ticked both those boxes—and because it’s only thirty-five minutes long—it forced me into conceiving the concept of a two-part show. Everything fell into place when I finally saw it.

6. With the Banshees, you were upfront with your bass. But now you sit on the side of a stage as a film is playing. As an artist and performer, how have you had to redefine and adjust your relationship with your audience? Do you find the same level of empathic connection?

It is different but also similar in that I’ve never been the center of attraction on stage and that’s how I like it. The screen is my new “front person,” if you like, and for the most part I prefer all eyes to be on her/it. For someone who’s spent all their adult life on stage, I’m very uncomfortable in the spotlight. I’m slowly getting used to it though (smiles).

7. Out of curiosity—is there any impulse or desire in you to compose and perform music in the vein of a rock band? If so, how you would you approach it now? Or is this part of your life you have closed the door on for good?

I’ve absolutely no desire whatsoever to compete in the “rock” arena, either by forming or joining a band as my main concern. If the right opportunity arose I would consider a “tour” with someone, possibly—as a one-off project. I would love to have the budget to perform “Music for Silents” with a live band and/or live string section. That kind of interaction would be fascinating.

Before you miss the opportunity to be part of Steven Severin’s live solo debut in New York City, go directly to the Le Poisson Rouge’s box office via this link, and purchase tickets. Again, the show is 18 and up, and tickets are $20.00.

You may also want to work your way over to your iTunes store and check out his work:

“Music For Silents” (2008) (link)

“Beauty and the Beast” (2005) (link)

“The Woman in the Dunes” (2000) (link)

“Maldoror” (1999) (link)

“Visions” (1998) (link)

Keep up with Steven Severin at his homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is a short excerpt from Severin’s performance of “Globe” to “The Seashell and the Clergyman” from his YouTube Channel: stevenseverin.


  1. Eh hello, paul here, I have taken on board your rules. Love & more love. Pxxx

  2. While so many of us are washed away by time and tide, Steven is not only still standing but he has his game on

  3. Can we expect a review of Severin's work any time soon?

  4. Completely agree with Ray Man. Steve is legendary and I just love his answer for question #2, its just amazing to see him put so much effort into his work. Cheers!