In a current music industry environment dominated by transitory teens and temporary manufactured bands, you’ve got to admire longevity. In it for the long haul, Albany band Severe Severe is nine years strong and still moving forward. Band members Nico Jordan (guitar, synth, loops, voice, percussion), Mike Capritta (bass, synth), and Bryan Hogan (live drums) are working on a new recording while incorporating fresh material into their live show throughout the Northeast. Influenced by the darker side of the 1980s goth-rock-from-post-punk scene, Severe Severe is supplying their ever evolving sound with an undiluted belligerence. How do they manage to recreate a signature-sounding era yet maintain original polish? I got together with Severe Severe for a question and answer session about the creative process and life in a long-term band. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
Local Music Examiner: Severe Severe merges organic, electric and synthetic sounds. How does that combination shape your music?
Nico Jordan: When we were writing without a drummer, Mike and I would write songs using samplers, drum machines and synths. We would eventually merge these electronic-sounding songs with live drums and guitars to create the music we’ve become accustomed to wanting to hear. I think the writing process of building up and breaking down different organic, electric and synthetic sounds has had a unique effect on how our sound as a band has evolved over the past 9 years.
How is the current recording, Break Up The Dance, different from 2008’s Beyond the Pink?
NJ: We are always trying to evolve our sound. The songs on Break Up The Dance have taken the music in a slightly different direction. We’ve never really had a formula for song writing, and although we’re very critical of our work, the music has always come pretty naturally without much thought as to where we’re headed next. The new record sounds more raw and aggressive compared to our debut record Beyond the Pink, I think this is due in part to a progression in song writing and the engineering of the recording. While there is a change in sound and production, hopefully people will recognize the quality of songwriting has remained.
Was there a change in the creative process that motivated you toward a new direction?
NJ: Our first album Beyond the Pink was engineered by our friend Pythagoras in his home studio. The overall production of that record is very polished and clean. The new album is being engineered by our friend Ted Wozniak, who has an entirely different approach to recording. The easiest way I can sum up their differences is to say that Pythagoras is more textbook and Wozniak is more primeval. The guitars on the new recording are much dirtier and have been layered to create a bigger sound, which I think works well with these songs. We’ve also become more comfortable with experimenting in the studio and making the songs sound as good as they can, whether that means we can recreate every single aspect live or not.
Mike Capritta: While both albums were done in makeshift style studios, the micing and setup vary only a little. The real differences came from Pythagoras’ & Ted’s own styles and the experience they brought to each recording, as well as the environment.
You changed drummers half way through writing Break Up the Dance. How did that affect the process?
NJ: The new record is made up of songs we had written with our original drummer Kurt Amelang, songs that were composed after his departure with just Mike and I, and songs written with our new drummer Bryan Hogan. We’ve somehow managed to gel all of these songs together so that they make sense as a whole, despite the time lapse with live drummers. Bryan has helped us salvage most of our songs that we thought were lost with our old drummer. He definitely brings a renewed energy to the sound and a positive outlook to what’s ahead.
The two of you have been working together for 9 years. What are the challenges to keeping a band together long term? What are the rewards?
NJ: Having a band is like any relationship, it can be difficult to always see eye to eye on things. We’ve broken up literally three times if that gives you an idea of how hard it can be. It’s even more difficult the longer you’re together. People’s taste and interests change, and sometimes you realize you’re not on the same page anymore. But to see an album come together and to get positive feedback from live shows are both things that are always very rewarding.
Over the years, have you developed a process for writing together?
MC: While Nico and I have never put any boundaries on how we write a song, the process is usually organic. We don’t plan songs, it’s never, “This is the song let’s work on it.” It’s more like, ”I like that riff you’re playing. Let’s see where it goes.” Sometimes he or I will write some parts and bring them to each other to see if there’s something good there, but in the end everything is up for debate. The songs evolve constantly. Sometimes they come together very quickly. Other times we experiment and re-work until we get what we want. We are usually never fully satisfied and we don’t want to be. We want to push ourselves to make the next one better than the last.
Talk about your gear. What do you use? Why those gear choices?
MC: We use an array of different brands, really what ever gets the job done. Most bands on our budget don’t have gear choices, though anyone who has seen us live might argue differently. What’s important gear-wise depends on the musician.Some might live and die by the best possible amplification. We believe in the guitars and drums. We know what we are going for sonically by now but it’s constantly evolving through learning and experimentation. We still have to work with what’s available. Sometimes it’s better to not have options; it keeps you creative at problem solving and coming up with ideas.
A sort of outside question: How do you think new media and cyberculture have affected the music industry?
MC: Well, everybody is giving away more and more of their work for free everyday, I think DIY is now more or less the way it is. The internet growth over the last few years has made it possible for people/bands/artists to reach out more and more to each other. In some ways it’s a good, but too much of a good thing usually ends up being a bad thing. The only way bands make money these days is by getting out there and touring relentlessly. It can be hard just starting out, but then again there’s no formula for success. I have seen bands get big before they drop their first record, and on the reverse I’ve seen some bands finally gain momentum on their 4th or 5th release. If you throw a label in the mix you have to tour non stop to try and recoup any advances put up and hope you get a strong following so you can possibly be successful doing this for a living.
That puts a lot of emphasis on touring. How do you feel about being on the road?
MC: I can say that we enjoy the thought of playing constantly, everywhere. Speaking for both Nico and myself: Growing up like we did—we moved around a lot—we definitely feel more at home in motion, especially traveling to new cities and meeting interesting people. I think we could live on the road, while some bands usually find out they can’t wait to get back home and away from each other.
There’s a rumor that Severe Severe might be adding a new member to fill out their live sound. Find out for yourself if the rumor is true when you check out their show at Valentines Music Hall and Beer Joint on Thursday, March, 24th. Mike is enthusiastic about playing the venue: “Valentine’s has ha
d the blood and sweat of thousands of awesome bands grace the floor of their venue. Plus Schaefer in a can—what’s not to like!”
Thursday they’ll be playing with Life Among Trees, resurfacing on the local scene with music that layers minimalist vocals over a dynamic wall of sound. Think Mercury Program or Sigur Ros. Patrons of Sweet are also in the lineup—a guitar-led trio incorporating punk’s catchy simplicity with a progressive influence. If you need a little more convincing before you make it to the show, keep in mind that Nico vouches for the fact that Vic, guitarist for Patrons of Sweet, shreds.
When: Thursday, March 24, 8pm
Where: Valentines (downstairs), 17 New Scotland, Albany
Check out a review of Severe Severe’s live show.