Professor and the Madman are back with Séance, an intricately-crafted, thought-provoking, adventurous concept album, out November 13 on the band’s own Fullertone Records. Of the album’s (and band’s) intrepid spirit, guitarist, vocalist, and keyboardist Sean Elliot says: “The whole thing is our rules.”
Elliot is again joined by guitarist, vocalist, and keyboardist Alfie Agnew, and a pair of Damned alumni—drummer Rat Scabies and bassist Paul Gray.
About this record, it’s just really powerful, the whole concept, and it just sounds like it was a huge endeavor…
It’s kind of like, sometimes you just gotta do it a little bit different. We enjoy it.
So, you sing and you wrote most of the material on this album?
Alfie and I both—we generally split the songs down the middle, so we both work on each of our tunes equally. It’s kind of a weird thing where I might write something and Alfie might sing it, or vice versa. So, it’s not necessarily if I’m singing on it I wrote it or if Alfie’s singing on it he wrote it. It’s just kind of let’s see what voice is going to fit that better.
It’s all pretty much equal. It’s a true collaboration, which in the past when Alfie and I were in D.I. at different times and at the same time, normally we would write the songs and bring them to the band or whatever it was, it was usually kind of a sole effort. In this case, we’re really actually writing together.
What sparked the idea for this whole concept?
How do I answer that one? Basically, like the old days when we used to get albums, when you used to get an Alice Cooper record, it made you feel like you were somewhere else when you listened to it. And I haven’t heard that in albums in a long, long time. No concept, it’s generally just 12 songs, kind of the same style, same tempo, nothing exciting about it. No emotion.
So, we wanted to take it back to the way Pink Floyd would do it, the way The Beatles would do it. Albums that kind of take you somewhere and not, oh, I’m listening to it while I’m driving. I like to feel like I’m somewhere else while I’m listening to it, so that was the point behind it.
I was going to say it’s a very immersive experience.
I hope so. That’s what we’re trying to make you feel: you’re on the ride with us.
Actually, for Disintegrate Me, I spoke with Alfie [the Professor namesake of the band], so it’s cool to talk to the Madman this time [laughs].
Oh, cool. I’m glad.
Yeah, he did mention, I was looking back, that sometimes the person who writes the lyrics or the song isn’t always the one who sings it, so that’s cool. It’s the way it feels and all that.
Yeah, we kind of kept that—all the records, the recordings we’ve done, we try to keep that in mind. We’re going for the overall sound and not so much—like Alfie and I really don’t even think of each other as lead singers. We always still refer to ourselves, “Well, I’m a guitarist” [laughs].
So, when it’s, “He’s a co-lead singer of the band,” it’s like, “No, I play guitar. What are you talking about?” Or when they refer to keyboards, because Alfie and I can play pretty much anything. If it makes noise, we can usually conquer it. But, primarily we’ve always played guitar. Alfie plays the trumpets on this, “Like, yeah, but I’m a guitarist.”
Yeah, wow, OK, I didn’t realize he did the brass too.
Yeah, that’s all real brass. Alfie’s trumpet days.
So, like you said the keys. So, both of you played the parts on this?
Yeah. It’s kind of funny because sometimes we’ll both take a stab at it to see which one— it’s not necessarily who played it better. It’s not a performance. It’s actually the feel, whichever one feels right, is what we’re going with. And there’s no competition, so it doesn’t matter if it was my song and I played one instrument on it. It’s not about that. It’s about which one sounds best and that’s the one we go with. So, a lot of times we’ll be listening to the piano track and we don’t know who it is unless we go back and pull the tracks up and see which one it is listed. So, it makes it kind of fun.
I was going to ask later, but now that we got into it, just like you said you can play anything, I saw in the old bio that you started out playing guitar when you were really young. What made you pick up other instruments?
It was just kind of—my brothers both played and oddly enough, the Agnews and the Elliots were actually kind of similar. Whereas Rikk and Frank and Alfie had their little family band, Alfie played drums in that band, and in my house, I played drums and my oldest brother played guitar and my middle brother played bass.
So, Alfie and I actually both started out on drums and then went to guitar. There was a piano in my house, there was a piano in the Agnew house. As kids we were always banging around on the piano and then that’s pretty much it. Once you play guitar, the bass is tuned the same. There’s kind of an art to playing bass, but we don’t have to worry about that ‘cause we managed to get Paul Gray to play bass on it [laughs].
Uh, yeah… [laughs]. Kinda good.
Neither of us can play like Scabies on the drums, so I think we’re lucky.
That’s so funny that you two had similar trajectories.
It is. It’s very strange. We’re like the opposites almost. In third grade Alfie skipped a grade forward and I stayed back a grade.
But did you guys meet in school? How old were you when you met?
I met Alfie when I was, I think the first time I ever met him was when he was playing in The Adolescents. I think it was at Fender’s [Ballroom in Long Beach], I met him briefly and I didn’t really meet him and get to know him until D.I., 1991. But that’s kinda when I noticed, “Wow, he’s really good.” We both hit it off. We both thought there was gonna be some rivalry when he came back to the band, but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth, so it was great. And we always said ‘cause Al had left the band at the end of ’91 probably just going into ’92 I think it was, to finish his schooling. But we always said someday we’ll get together and do it without all these other voices involved—record companies and everyone wanting the punk rock sound and you gotta recreate what you did back then. It gets tiring after a while. And we always said we would, and we did.
And then all the records are on Fullertone. So, that’s your [label].
Yeah. That’s just us. So, it’s not a record company yelling at us, it’s just us yelling at ourselves.
[Laughs] Have you ever put anyone else out?
No. For now it’s just ours. It’s kind of like the original Epitaph. It was Bad Religion’s label. They did all their own stuff. They picked up stuff. Our schedules are already maxed out as it is, so I don’t see us picking up anyone, but you never know. But it’s mainly, one of the problems of having a history in a somewhat popular punk rock band is record companies want that sound. They expect that sound. We get offered to play shows and it’s with these super punk rock bands and it’s like, well, we’re not gonna fit because we’re not that band. Our resumes kind of elicit a, “We’ll sign you if you do some punk rock like the old days,” and we’re not very interested in that.
That makes sense. Well, this one, I’ve seen you were doing pre-orders, and one thing I noticed was that you had a board game for some orders?
Yes, so, let’s talk about the board game. Again, when I was young, I used to love album covers that were super interesting and you’d open them up and they’d have stories about—it was more than just a record, like cool artwork. I remember Queen News of the World, I remember looking at that artwork, just staring at it, “Oh my god, robots killing people.” It was the coolest thing ever. And looking at the Alice Cooper records, “This guy is nuts.” Elton John Captain Fantastic. Just interesting album covers. So, we wanted to take it a step further, put a board game on it. It plays similar to Monopoly, so you can play this game. It’s a lot darker than a game of Monopoly, but it’s just something fun to do and the whole séance concept, it’s not about ghosts and goblins and spookiness. It’s really about going back in time to when it wasn’t downloads and you’d go to the record store and you’d get the album.
And it was kind of a cool thing. We were both like, “We gotta do something cool,” so I was like, “Let’s do the gatefold with a board game.” So, it comes with an actual board game, pieces, the cards, and it’s a collector’s item for sure. It’s expensive to do, so we’re not gonna make a whole bunch of money on it, but the whole point is to have something cool so it’s more than just a record. We want the record to be accompanied by something cool, like, “Oh, man we played this game, it was fun,” and that’s about it.
Maybe get some people off the Internet for an hour. Play a game with some friends and not talk about politics, just to actually have fun. The way the world is right now, it’s kind of scary. I think it’s kind of needed right now. Get people back to family time.
Yeah, but just what you’re saying, one of my favorite things when I was younger with Monopoly, were the tokens and the cards. So that’s cool you have that.
Yeah, it’s got all sorts of things. Land on places, it doesn’t go well for you on some of the things you land on, so it’s kinda cool [laughs].
That’s great. So, like I was saying, you guys really thought this whole thing out.
Yeah. Well, we wanna make it fun. We’re not trying to change the world. If we’re gonna do something, I’d like it to be something I’d like to see and not just run-of-the-mill we put 12 songs together, we mix it really quick and spit it out and let’s hope we make some money on it. We’re the complete opposite. This is more of a passion than anything. I think that’s what makes it so real, that there’s no blueprint for it. It’s just kind of organic [laughs].
Do you think that since you guys have done stuff already and are older, that you can do your own thing, you don’t have to go by the rules—obviously now touring isn’t a thing, but you can do things on your own schedule.
Yeah. It cracks me up a little bit. The original punk rock days, we just did it exactly how we wanna do it. We weren’t very good at our instruments. It’s loud and obnoxious and powerful. We were just young and going for it. I always thought it was cool ‘cause we were doing it our own way. It doesn’t have to sound like this, it doesn’t have to sound like that. No one’s pressuring us. But then, later on, all of a sudden it got a little more popular and all of those aspects kind of ended up in the punk rock industry, where it does have to sound like this, you’re a sellout if it doesn’t. It just got very bizarre. So, it’s the same punk rock but without the punk rock music [laughs]. Same attitude.
Oh yeah, definitely. I kind of meant you’re doing it on your own and that you don’t have to deal with a label and have to have an album out—I know you guys are prolific and put stuff out every two years, but you know when it’s, “You have to have an album out by this time,” you can do it on your own terms.
Yeah, we can, and honestly, we could—we have enough material that we could probably put out two or three records right now if we needed to. That’s really not the issue because Alfie and I write like crazy. We have back catalogue songs that never got used, we’ve got tons of new ones. So, the song thing, that’s not really a problem. It’s about getting the time to do it and do it properly. I get what you’re saying is that we do take the time to get it right. But no, it is nice not having anyone pressure us, that’s for sure.
Well, then, even something you said before [about taking time to enjoy it and not look at the news…]. Even how you end it, with “New World,” kind of on a hopeful note.
Yeah. And it’s like that line there, “teach your children not to hate.” I really think that kind of says it all. We took our time with the placement.
One that you fuse together is so great, though, “Time Machine” and “Man with Nothing to Lose.” I love that.
Yeah, those are kind of standout moments for us. Doing the transitions and fusing songs together, it’s not the easiest thing to do in the world. But we have the patience to do it, so we decided, let’s just go for it. It’s kind of fun. In true Professor and the Madman fashion, we like to go from poppy to horror show in two seconds flat. I think it’s fun and interesting. So that’s certainly something I would like to hear. It’s basically an Alfie song and a Sean song fused together.
Yes. I like the “hit 1980 and go see The Damned” line in there.
[Laughs] Yeah, that was the original line. I’m like, “You know, let’s keep it.” That’s something, if I had a time machine, I would certainly, that would be my first stop 1980 to go see The Damned [laughs].
But that you played the 100 Club with [Rat and Paul]. Like, what?! That must’ve been amazing. The old stomping grounds.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to play at the 100 Club, and every time D.I. was in Europe, the U.K. would always get canceled. So, we never got to play there. I think D.I.’s first show was just last year, they played over there. They played like 10 shows or something like that. They did Rebellion. So, it was super cool and I always wanted to play the 100 Club. I’ve always heard of the 100 Club, it’s where it all started… And we got there and it was like, “Wow, this is cool,” and we were with Rat and Paul. For a couple of kids out of Orange County who loved The Damned, that was a dream come true. It was fun, the audience was great. I’m glad we did that.
Back again to the song though, I just love the two-parter of that, the two songs but it’s like one cohesive—I like how it’s almost a musical. It’s captioned the Lamenting Scientist and the Broken Man. It’s theatrical.
And it is. We thought about putting a musical together to it because it’d be very easy to do. That’s kind of the pattern we follow. Let’s just make it go from one place to another and just keep it moving.
Well, that one at least, did Alfie write “Time Machine” and you did “Man with Nothing to Lose”?
Yes, musically and lyrically. “Time Machine” is basically an Alfie song and “Man with Nothing to Lose” is a Sean song fused together. Granted, on both songs there was [collaboration]. Like on “Man with Nothing to Lose,” Alfie completely changed a guitar pattern in it to make it sound really spooky. Then once we do something, “OK, great, we’ll go with that,” and then we’ll springboard off of that. So, it’s all over the place. Then there’s things Rat will do different. We’ll send them over with basic tracks that either Alfie or I have done on drums and Rat will send something completely different back, change the timing, or he slows down in the middle of it. So, we’ll go back and change to adapt to that. So, from the start until we mix, they’re always evolving. It makes it really fun. Paul will send his tracks in, then there’s something different here, we’ll bounce off that. So, there’s all of these—it’s not like we sent them a song, they did something, and then we mixed it. It’s almost like we’re all in the same room writing it together. They’ll do something and we’ll make the change when it comes back. It really is kind of all four of us putting these things together. It’s interesting because you wouldn’t think it was possible [laughs].