The BIG Über Rock Interview – Sean Elliott (Professor And The Madman)
Written by DJ Astrocreep
Saturday, 20 October 2018 04:00
Just before last month’s debut UK show by Professor And the Madman – the Atlantic-hopping punk machine featuring past and current members of The Damned, Rat Scabies and Paul Gray – I managed to catch up with half of the band’s Californian contingent, former D.I. guitarist Sean Elliott, for a quick chat about how they met, making music and the struggles of international music-making.
You started the band off initially as a duo, with Alfie [Agnew], so how was it you met with the rest of the guys?
We had recorded a bunch of songs and a mutual friend of Rat’s introduced us to him. Rat was actually at a Christmas show we played and he was out there, so we went and said, “Hey, we’re gonna do ‘Smash It Up’, do you wanna come and play?” and he got up and played with us! It was a lot of fun!
A couple of days later, Rat came to the studio, recorded one of the songs off ‘Good Evening, Sir!’, ‘Devil’s Bargain’. From there, he liked the stuff. We played him some of the other songs we were thinking about and he was like, “Yeah, I like it! Send them over and we will do file sharing”. We got the first one done, did another one… that’s how that started off, sending stuff back and forth. Really fun, not for any major release, or anything like that, just on iTunes, a limited run of CDs and that.
We were working on the song ‘Nightmare’ and I just thought Paul would have sounded so good on that, so I sent him a message through Facebook. He sent me his email, I sent him one with the track and he replied with ‘Nightmare’ with a bass line on it. He was like, “Yeah, this is good, it’s right up my alley”. So that’s how we got the four together. It was just kinda dumb luck really, you know?
So far, you’ve released three albums in the space of 18 months, which is quite prolific. Do you have plans for another album already?
We do. The album is already written actually, so the next album that will come out is tonight, as we’re recording this live, then while that’s mixing, Alfie and I have already started mixing on the pre-production on the new record and we hope to have another one out by next summer. We will do the same thing, come back and play one show! *all laugh*
Have you got ideas for the name yet?
We have names for the tracks, the tentative title for the album is ‘Time Machine’…
Will that be another part of ‘Elixir’?
Maybe, maybe not. We might get rid of the whole ‘Elixir’ thing because the initial concept behind the ‘Elixir 1 & 2’ volumes was that both of those albums are meant to be played continuously, like an old Pink Floyd record would be. With Spotify and the digital world that we are in, it makes no sense, because the songs stop and start, so it has to be on vinyl or tape for it to make sense and that’s pretty small in the market, which is why ‘Disintegrate Me’ was not part of the Elixir (series).
Where did the name come from – was it related to the book or the film maybe?
Alfie and I are a lot alike, but we are polar opposite in a lot of senses. When we used to play in D.I. together, there was a time we were on tour and he ordered like a bowl of fruit and orange juice for breakfast, but I had steak and eggs and a Jack Daniels and coke. They always called us Jekyll and Hyde on the tour, so we wanted to go with that, but we didn’t want to be that forward with the name, The Jekyll and Hydes, or something stupid like that. Alfie’s wife had read the book Professor and the Madmen and she came up with it, she said you should just use that, so we did.
How do you think the band has progressed from where you started to current position?
Well, it’s about 1000 per cent better than what we started with. Both Alfie and I are huge fans of the Paul Gray and Rat Scabies Damned era… that’s personally my favourite Damned.
The late punk/new romantic part?
I’m talking the ‘Black’ album, ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘Strawberries’, ‘Live in Shepperton’ era. It’s the bass tone. Paul plays the way Rat plays, it’s just a really good combination that fits really well with our music. Having that component on the album just makes it that much better.
The actual sound to the band is not quite what would be expected, given the very punk heritage of you all. Was that a deliberate action, or completely organic?
We kinda made an agreement that if we write it, we’re gonna put it out. Trying to recreate something, when we did the earlier punk rock albums, that’s what we were capable of at that time. To try and go back, when technology is so different these days too, there’s just no way to go back and recreate that sound, it sounds false/phoney. I’m not an 18 year old punk rock, pissed off kid any more. We work off the demos, we don’t do pre-production, do 40 takes of it, then go to a different studio. Those are the first instincts on it. A lot of the tracks you hear on ‘Disintegrate Me’ are the demo tracks, so we don’t screw with it, we just make it and put it out.
Do you have any particular lyrical influence in what you write?
I do, I love The Beatles. One of the things I loved about The Beatles and The Damned is that they were always changing. I think that’s why they stand the test of time and why The Damned are still popular because they didn’t do the same shit over and over and over again. There are so many different faces to The Beatles, as well. I’m drawn to that, to something that’s changing and consistently good.
Do you have a particular recording process given the distance between the two sets of band members?
Generally what happens is that we will put the songs on a click track, plus Alfie and I both play the drums and both play bass, so one of us will do the demo rough track, to structure the song and get it close to what it’s gonna be. We then put a scratch vocal on it because both Paul and Rat cue from the vocals, really, then send it over to Rat first. Rat will put his drums on and send it back to us. We add that on to the tracks that we have and then send them off to Paul who does the same with his bass lines, before sending them back to us again, then that goes into the mix.
Have there been any issues with the process being more convoluted than if you were in the same locale?
You’d think so, but no. Those guys are so used to playing together that I think it would be the same if we were in the same room or on other sides of the world.
A technical question for a second – what backline do you use?
In the States, a Vox AC30, along with a (Fender) Jazzmaster with SG pickups in it.
This is your first gig with the full line up, I think?
This is pretty much the one and only show. We have a USA line up, which has Alfie’s brother Frank on bass and a third guitarist (Mark Tolbert), which gives us a little more access to the keyboards and less filler, but we wanted to see what would happen with just us four. It sounds pretty good so far!
Do you think it will sound more natural to what you’ve written now?
It already has. Even in the first rehearsal, we were like, wow! This is very easy. We just went in, started playing the stuff and were basically getting used to playing with one another. For Rat and Paul, it was instant, but they had to get used to playing with our styles, that’s really what the rehearsal was for. But it was fantastic, Alfie and I were both blown away by what it sounded like. We’re both really happy about this and happy we are recording it live!
Has there been any difficulty in moving across from what you’ve done before to what you’re doing now?
Not at all. If you’re referring to the old punk rock days, it’s a little more complicated. The DI stuff was fun to play to get the energy out, that was a blast. We would be on tour with a bunch of people, kids flying off the stage, shit flying everywhere. When I was 18, that was awesome. But I’m almost 50, we’ve grown musically over the years, so I think it would be foolish to try and go back. It’s what we do now, we still play with a lot of power but we don’t need to play at 100 miles an hour and see stage dives, that doesn’t really do anything for me any more. We’re more musical these days, that’s why we have piano tracks, we have organs, we have clean tone guitars, we have harmonies. That’s what’s interesting to us now and if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to listen to it, that’s our theory, you know?
Is there any particular track you love playing live so far?
You know, they’re all fun. ‘Dearest Foe’, which is off the very first record, with Paul doing it is probably my favourite right now because he does something completely different than – I can’t remember if Alfie played bass or I did on the original track – but one of us did. What Paul’s doing, he’s just such a classy bass player that he’s just making our track sound like shit! *laughs* So ‘Dearest Foe’ is my favourite at the moment because it’s got such a good groove to it that I think we might have missed on the original recording by not having Paul there.
Do you think it’s because he is more naturally a bass player than Alfie or yourself?
Yeah – and he’s just an all-around great. He understands music so much better than most people. What he brings to the music isn’t what your standard bass player would do, certainly not what I would do. The way he approaches it is the complete opposite of anyone else I’ve ever seen and that’s what makes him him. I think he makes anything sound better. Same with Rat, I think anything they play on will be better, just by their style and feel.
Is there anything you’ve noticed going down particularly well with the audience, where some songs become almost automatically part of the encore, end of the main set or such?
You know, the States is such a different place. D.I. never even played in London, we always got booted out before we could get in. shows cancelled or too expensive to make it cost effective for us to come here. So, this is Alfie and my first time in London to play. Plus, I always wanted to play the 100 Club. As far as the tunes in the States and what the UK crowd might like… we’re not sure because we’ve never played it before, so I guess ask me that after the show *laughs heavily*
Are you looking at playing any related material in with the set, such as The Damned, D.I. or the likes?
There is one old D.I. song – it’s actually an old Detours song that D.I. did. Alfie and I both played for The Detours, the first punk band out of Orange County way back in ’77. Alfie’s brother Rick was in that band and a lot of the other guys can’t be found, so the three of us handle the guitars for it when we play over there. We play once every three years or so. So, we’re doing that tonight, ‘Hang 10 in East Berlin’. Bands over in Germany and England have done covers of it. We’re doing that and we’re doing an Eddie and the Hot Rods song (Paul plays bass for those also).
One last question, is there any particular pop song you’d love to cover if you had to?
Yes, it’s ‘Nuclear Boy’ by 20/20 – and it’s in the set tonight! *laughs*
• ‘Live At The 100 Club’ by Professor And The Madman is available for pre-order HERE.
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