Without a Ouija board in sight, Punktuation reaches out to contact Professor and the Madman to talk music, game boards and their new album, Séance!
“Hello? Hello? Is anybody there? Can you hear me?” says a disembodied voice coming through the ether. “Can you hear me, now?” A face slowly comes into view. No, it isn’t a long-deceased relative, and we aren’t conducting a séance. It’s Orange County punk legend, Sean Elliot sitting in his garden as he faffs about with the Zoom connection on his phone.
OC punks, Sean Elliott (D.I., Mind Over Four) and Alfie Agnew (Adolescents, D.I.) are the singers/guitarists/songwriters/producers of Professor And The Madman – originally a duo but today an international ‘supergroup’ – now that the legendary Damned rhythm section of Rat Scabies and Paul Gray are firm fixtures.
Rat was pretty much ‘press-ganged’ into the band after Sean and Alfie spotted him sitting in the audience at one of their gigs and persuaded him up on stage to play the Damned song Smash It Up.
Being ‘opportunistic bastards’ (as Rat describes them) the duo persuaded him to lay down a couple of drum tracks in their studio, which led to Rat joining Sean and Alfie on a more permanent basis. Paul Gray, on the other hand, was a late-comer and was recruited via Facebook for the band’s last studio album, Disintegrate Me.
Their latest offering, Séance, (which is released on Friday the 13th – whooooooo!) has taken a huge step away from their punk roots and leaps back into the ‘60s; cherry-picking influences from The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Kinks to name but a few. The LP even (dare I say it?) dips its toe into prog-rock territory with a definite ‘concept’ feel to the album.
‘That was a conscious decision,” Sean says, while we wait for Alfie to join the ‘Zoom séance’. “Alfie and I were in SoCal punk bands where there was an expectation from the fans that we would release punk music, so it really backed us into a corner musically.
“Both Alfie and I are big Beatles fans and Kink fans and I’m a huge Dick Dale fan – I love the old surf music – and if you like good music you’re not going to be happy stuck to one genre, so we decided to branch out a little.”
Another voice suddenly breaks into our conversation.
“Hey guys!” Alfie’s smiling face appears on the Zoom screen.
“Hey, I was just listening in to what Sean was just talking about and you know, I gotta agree with you, Sean. I have to be careful how I phrase things here,” Alfie continues, “but yes, in some aspects, punk is limiting. Still, also it’s very liberating. The punk philosophy and attitude as I understand it is very freeing as it’s really about ‘no rules’.
“So, I think it’s our punk background that has allowed us to get out of the very narrowly defined subgenre of hardcore 1985 Orange County punk, but we are not afraid to get back into it either.”
“In some aspects, punk is limiting. Still, also it’s very liberating. The punk philosophy and attitude as I understand it is very freeing as it’s really about ‘no rules’.” Alfie Agnew.Tweet
All the Professor and the Madman studio albums have been recorded via file sharing and Séance is no exception. Séance was recorded across two continents – the main tracks recorded in Fullerton, California, Rat’ drums in a studio in Glastonbury, England and Gray’s bass was laid down in a studio in Cardiff, Wales.
Doesn’t that physical ‘disconnect’ from fellow band members make the recording experience very different?
“No, doesn’t make much difference.” Sean says, matter of factly. “I think it’s been so long since any of us have recorded stuff in the same room together that it’s become the norm now. The last time I recorded with an actual band would have been the mid-nineties. I think that was with Crash Kills Four.”
Alfie interjects. “With Professor and the Madman, we also don’t have the luxury of being in the same country as half the band, let alone the same town. So really we have no choice but to record this way. But it works really well.”
Alfie and Sean both agree that what they love about Professor And The Madman is that musically they don’t have restrictions nor the insecurities they experienced within previous bands.
“I think when we were in bands when we were young there were members who would be afraid of stepping out musically. They would say shit like, ‘oh that song’s not punk enough’ and ‘we can’t release that – I don’t want people to think we are sissies,'” Alfie says. “I was like, why would people think that?”
“So many bands have insecurities, but I think if you are so punk and so rough and tough you shouldn’t have insecurities. The great thing about Sean and I is that we do it on our terms with none of this nonsense. “
So, is it correct to say that Séance is a concept album?
“I guess,” Sean says. “We both like that old album vibe. You know, where you’d put the album on and it would take you on a journey. The days of download has lost that I feel. Bands today just release single after single and then put them all together and call it an album – no real thought has gone into it.”
“I suppose the album is very loosely based on the idea of a group of friends who go to a séance together and end up on this journey. There is no real ‘deep concept’ behind it, but we hope it takes you on your own journey.”
Alfie nods his agreement, adding: “In the old album format there is also room for tracks that wouldn’t necessarily stand as hit singles on their own – that doesn’t make the song good or bad, you just have to use it properly.
“I think there are songs on Séance that make so much more sense when heard within the context of the album, rather than if they were just hanging out there on their own. In isolation on the radio, some tracks might sound weird, but within the trajectory of the album they work well.”
The Beatles are obviously a huge influence on this album.
“Yeah, totally, Sean says. “The Beatles are our number one teachers. The Beatles, then the Wilsons, then the edge is given to us by the Kinks. When I hear a Kinks’ song it takes me to that place they are singing about – that’s what great songwriters and producers could do in the ‘60s and early ‘70s.”
“We learnt our production from the Beatles and George Martin,” Alfie adds. “We try to steer clear of using too much technology – we try to keep the mixing techniques no later than 1985. We hate that over-compressed over-produced sound. When Rat hits the cymbals harder on this album you hear it louder – engineers today seem to want to level out the drums, level out the guitars, level out everything.”
Is their going to be a tour to promote this album?
“Look, I doubt it. Covid is going to be around for a while – at least here in the States, and we are all individually swamped on other projects and our 9-to-5 jobs and you know, to be honest, I don’t really like touring,” Sean admits.”
But you guys did do a gig at the iconic 100 Club in London a couple of years back… That must have been amazing. You don’t miss that?
Alfie: ”Yeah, that was totally amazing. The 100 Club means a lot to us as punks. Lots of the great British punk bands that Sean and I grew up listening to cut their chops there. It is a kind of holy place for punk, so there was that for sure, and it does just have an awesome vibe.”
“It’s in London, it’s underground and as you enter you’re looking at all the pictures on the wall of people who have played there,” Alfie continues. “You see Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The New York Dolls, Damned, Siouxsie and The Banshees, the Sex Pistols of course and not to mention all the great jazz people from the ‘50s. I mean, wow!”
“The crowd was great too,” Sean adds. “It was one of the best crowds I have played to for years. Although most of them were my age, it was like playing to a room full of excited 16-year-olds. There was such a great vibe – and playing live with Rat and Paul was great – they’re such great musicians,” Sean adds enthusiastically.
“Totally,” Alfie agrees. “Without getting too hyperbolic, it was a dream come true and did not let us down at all.”
As you hadn’t played live together before did it take a lot of rehearsal time to get ready for the gig?
“Nah, not really,” Sean says. “Two rehearsal – so may be less than 6 hours of practice. Quite a bit of that time we spent down the pub, so we didn’t even use all the rehearsal studio time we booked, we just packed up early and went for a beer!” Sean and Alfie chuckle, as if remembering the fun they had.
It was also the first time Rat and Paul had been in the same room together for over 20 years, I remind them.
“Yeah,” Sean says. “I tell you, it was bizarre because they didn’t need any practice – they locked in together right away. For years Alfie and I always thought that Rat and Paul must have sat down together and made notes together and rehearsed all the time to get that tight. But no… they don’t need to.”
Séance comes with what’s being touted as the ‘very first punk board game’ Who’s was that idea?
“It was an idea I’ve been kicking around forever,” Sean admits. ”When we had a foldout album cover I always thought ‘we should put a game board on that’ – so this time we finally did it.
“It’s loosely based it on Monopoly. To be honest, it’s not the greatest board game in the world but it’s fun and certainly better than doing nothing or staring at your phone, and that’s enough for us!” Sean says with a smile.
“You know, back in the day albums were a thing,” Alfie adds. “There was the music part of it, but also the album artwork and packaging was a thing. Sergeant Pepper’s was a great album cover, Led Zeppelin III had that disk thing that rotated. I remember a version of The Who’s Tommy that was like a pinball machine.”
“Yeah, totally,” Sean agrees. You could sit there and listen to the album while you read all the liner notes and trip out on all the artwork. It was early multi-media in a way. We need stuff like that more than ever, now that we’re stuck at home.”
“I think Séance gives a little nod to the old days of album making,” Alfie concludes. “We had fun making it, and hopefully the listener can hear that.”
Séance is released via Fullertone Records tomorrow – November 13, 2020 Pre-order: HERE
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I’m a London born and bred music journalist, a mediocre bass player and the occasional strummer of the guitar. In the ’80s I worked in recording studios and made a few records you’d probably recognise. I have written a couple of books and made the odd media appearance as a music commentator. I now call Brisbane home.