Steven Severin is impeccably well-mannered and refined. He is also witty, an amazing bassplayer, composer, and author. When I first met him, and we ‘shook’ hands in greeting, I thought he was the embodiment of Lestat from the A.Rice novels. He wore lush velvets and a long black leather coat…The flesh of his hand was so smooth and pale and elegantly cold. Yet Steven Severin is full of life and completely contemporary. He inspires me with his writing (The Twelve Revelations), and moves me with his beautiful textural musical pieces such as Maldorer. Famous, of course for his long term involvement in Siouxsie and the Banshees, I wanted to find out more about the creative forces of the man behind the rock star.
I asked Steven about how he first came to know Swans and how he and I first met….
Severin: When Michael first came to London with Swans, a friend of mine, Murray Mitchell ( Banshee roadie & paramour of Ms. Lydia Lunch at the time) brought him to my apartment the night before they played the Batcave- 1982 I think. I was impressed that Michael stayed the ‘whisky’ pace, he was impressed I owned a couple of Branca discs. You are correct – Michael introduced me to you after your ‘infamous’ Town & Country show. (in London) Too Loud? Never!!!
Jarboe: What are other areas in the arts with which you hold an active interest? (Do you go to the theatre, for example?)
Severin: I tend to be a magpie – stealing the jewels when I can! These days I go to more art openings than gigs. I like to mix it up. One day some weird vaudevillian ‘happening’ in Hoxton the next the Royal Festival hall to see Steve Reich. I miss so much because of work & travel. I have good contacts at the ICA so I go to the odd press screening there.
J: What are some sources of energy/inspiration for you that are non-musical? (What flirts with your muse?)
S: I’m an ‘anti-personal’ writer. I hate to be ‘in touch with my inner feelings’ – quite the reverse. I thrive on the repressed English nature. It’s a bottomless pit. A lot of my inspiration comes from true stories (the ones tucked away in the newspapers) and other people’s experiences. I love to watch – that’s a hangover from a crippling shyness as a child/youth. Touring brought me out of myself – gave me the framework to express but my natural habitat is essentially a voyeuristic one. I’m sure I could be a good actor for those reasons. Not that I intend to inflict that one on the public just yet. Maybe when I’m old & wisened!!! Musically, I’ve come to see that a lot my icons of previous years were/are beautifully contrived (I’m thinking Bowie, Ferry, Eno, Tom Waits) – nothing wrong in that – but these days I find myself mentally referring to ‘natural’ geniuses like Brian Wilson, John Cale & Scott Walker.
J: I believe you are quite involved with your website. Could you elaborate on what you see as the ‘mission statement’ as it were, of your website and where you want to take it in the future?
S: I probably ‘surfed’ around for a good year just to get a feel of what I should do (I said I was a voyeur!) then went away and taught myself web design/html. I hope I’ve avoided the pitfalls of a standard ‘music’ site (one that is nothing more than a glorified shop/fan club) by making it smart & crafty. A beautiful disturbing labyrinth! I wanted to be ‘hands-on’, react instantly to feedback and generally get ‘personal’. I wanted to present myself outside of people’s preconceptions and scare off all the silly goth and pop baggage that misunderstood my work inside the Banshees at the same time. I’ve tried to involve ‘fans’ – with little sucess so I think you have the right idea. It’s down to the artists to create a vibrant & subversive ‘network’. The future is yesterday. I can’t keep up with the speed of the new technology. That’s what is so exciting about the Internet!
J: Are you currently writing another set of vignettes/stories/prose for a new book? Please tell us what inspires your writing? Both stylistically and thematically?
S: Unless I have a deadline I tend to gestate ideas for ages. In my mind I’m working on ‘The Twelve Reflections’ a collection of prose/poems that is a sequel to ‘The Twelve Revelations’ which is due to be published this fall, ‘The Pleasure Cage’ a novella that uses the human body as a metaphor for its ‘structure’ ‘Saint Fire’ a story or series of that revolves around:- St. Anthony & his temptations, the CIA & their early LSD experiments and Gustave Flaubert and The Sphinx! One of my ongoing musical projects will at some point involve ‘a character’ reading from a fictional diary. I’m itching to do some ‘hackwork’ & I have been offered the chance of a column in a new magazine, The Edge. What inspires me? The banality of mankind! Since I was very young I’ve always felt the need to retreat into my head & scratch around the rim of my imagination to shut out the trivia & carelessness of the world outside. Stylistically, early on – Burroughs, Genet & Ballard later – Alain Robbe-Grillet, Angela Carter & Georges Bataille.
J: What are three must-read classics in your view? What are the three well-thumbed volumes in the Severin library?
S: A clockwork orange, 120 days of Sodom, Crash
J: (note: excellent choices!)
J: What are three truths you have found in life that you consider essential (…and will reveal to us)?
S: 1. Stand away from yourself & check that you are not turning into your father.
2. Stand away from yourself & check that you are not falling into the traps prescribed by your class
3. Stand away from yourself & check that you are not becoming complacent with your own talents
J: What is a soundtrack you personally think is a masterpiece?
S: Nino Rota’s score for ‘Fellini’s Casanova’
J: What known soundtrack would you currently choose to accompany a film about you?
S: Anything by Bernard Hermann. Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ is a favourite.
J: What is the one painting that you would love to have in your own home and please tell us why?
S: Goya’s ‘Black paintings’ because the walls they are painted on would have to become part of my home 😉
J: (appropriately sensual)
J: What is the current atmosphere in London with regards to music and the arts? Why do you (or do you) think the city continuously sets trends worldwide?
S: The ‘Underground’ is as lively & naively boisterous as ever. But one does sense something needs to ‘happen’ to shake the foundations. I don’t think there is one particular reason why London keeps rejuvenating itself. There are many factors:- island mentality, multi-cultural society, the loss of the empire, love of the under(dog)achiever and now we have a history – we can plunder our own back pages.
Steven is in the midst of producing a new album, EROS PLUS MASSACRE, as well as writing and producing an electronic score for Canadian dance company, HOLY BODY TATTOO. His book, THE TWELVE REVELATIONS comes out on Oneiros Books later this year.
Contact Severin through:
LONDON NW6 1ZF