By Ken Scrudato on April 11, 2012
Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees on Working With John Cale
Steven Severin shares remarkable parallels with John Cale. Both played bass in seminal bands that were wildly misunderstood by the press and media, and, not coincidentally, Severin’s nom de guerre was actually nicked from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s masochist classic Venus in Furs, from which the Velvets had also borrowed for their song of the same name. As the Banshees were suffering through personal and creative differences in the early ’90s, Cale was called upon to produce what would become their final studio album, The Rapture.
Siouxsie and the Banshees were going through some difficulties around the time of the recording of The Rapture. Was it a tense atmosphere in the studio?
Definitely. Although it was just a vibe; no explosive arguments. John was aware of it. We ploughed through it to be honest, which was not the way I wanted to work with John.
How was the decision made to bring in John Cale as a producer?
It was Siouxsie’s idea. We had already spent a year trying to complete the album ourselves. We were thrilled when John said yes.
Had Cale’s music, including that of The Velvet Underground, been an influence on you and other members of the band?
Totally. The Velvets were my absolute favorite band, my benchmark. Likewise, I followed John’s solo work avidly. I played Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy to death. In fact, when I first met Siouxsie, Fear was the only album we owned in common.
How was it working with him? Do you feel his production of The Rapture captured what you were going for?
I loved it but we needed more time. It would have been much, much better if we had started the album from scratch with John. I’ll forever wonder what we could have achieved like that. He did a great job, obviously, but it should have been better from our end. To me, it’s patchy and irritable, like we’re waiting to leave. Then again, there are moments when we soar.
Do you feel there are any common threads between your artistic motivations and Cale’s?
I’d like to think so! The variation, severity and trajectory of John’s career is something I admire immensely. It’s not like I sit and think, “Now what would John do?” But it’s close.
Cale playing bass with The Velvet Underground;
courtesy of Lisa Law
Artist and Warhol Muse Ultra Violet Recalls The Velvet Underground and John Cale
One of the few people in history to have played muse to two colossal art-world giants, rebellious provincial French girl Isabelle Dufresne set foot on New York soil in the early ’60s to find herself in a tug of war between an aging Salvador Dali and a blossoming Andy Warhol. The latter won out, naturally, and the newly minted Ultra Violet became one of The Factory’s most notorious and glamorous figures. After Warhol’s death, her autobiography Famous for 15 Minutes became the definitive text on Warhol’s Factory era—with an entire chapter devoted to The Velvet Underground. She remains one of the few still-working and successful artists borne of that scene.
What is your first recollection of meeting The Velvet Underground?
At The Factory, a rehearsal. They were rather frightening, aggressive and confrontational.
What was your impression of John Cale as a person?
As a person: mercurial, saturnine, in flux. Hence his attraction to Fluxus, drugs… I was rather frightened by him, his Welsh, wispy, waggish way. Though I admired his electric viola [playing] and his sense of sharing.
Did you have a sense that Warhol was trying to get something similar out of yourself and The Velvet Underground?
To tap into your youthful energy and ideas as a way of elevating his own art. Mind you, we were there willingly, happily, hedonistically. I am very grateful to Warhol and The Velvet Underground for being instrumental in shaping me, for good or worst.
Were you aware at the time of how groundbreaking and different The Velvet Underground were? And what is your impression of The Velvet Underground now, in retrospect?
Yes, very aware of the groundbreaking sound. They broke my eardrums! The Velvet Underground is now a historical band, much due to Cale, and in spite of the rather depressed character of Lou.
Cale with James Murphy;
courtesy of Cale Archives
ONE OF HIS FRIENDS
LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on Being Covered by John Cale
John Cale and James Murphy are New York music icons. The driving forces behind one of the first great Gotham bands and one of the last, they have also each produced records that were landmarks of their generation. Their worlds finally came together in 2007, when Cale covered LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” as the B-side to the band’s release of the song as a single.
You and John Cale both emerged at a time when there was a great excitement in New York music. He claims that The Velvet Underground eventually got overwhelmed by the scene. Did you experience anything similar with LCD Soundsystem?
I think just the opposite. With DFA [Murphy’s record label and production team], we were desperately trying to get a scene going. Without having lived through it, I don’t think there could be anything more idealized than that era of The Velvet Underground in New York City.
Had Cale’s music been a big influence on you?
Growing up listening to punk and left-field music, of course. But also him being such an interesting producer was an influence on me.
How did Cale’s cover of “All My Friends” come about?
I was arguing with the record company for “All My Friends” as the single. So they suggested doing some remixes, and I said, “Why don’t we just get covers?” I instantly suggested John Cale and Franz Ferdinand and, lo and behold, they both agreed. When [Cale and I] met in Los Angeles, I was pretty starstruck. He kept making suggestions and I just said “yes” to everything. It didn’t sink in until I got the file from John and heard my song coming out of this voice that was so familiar!
This article is from FILTER Issue 47