By Alan Brostoff
Parts of The Damned (bassist Paul Gray and drummer Rat Scabies) and parts of D.I. (vocalists and guitarists Sean Elliott and Alfie Agnew), Professor and the Madman come with a ton of well known musical experience. The group releases a new album, Séance, on November 13, 2020. Séance was produced by Elliott and Agnew, and its dozen tracks have a thematic approach similar to the classic rock concept albums of the '60s and '70s. Séance will be available on yellow vinyl, CD, and digital download via Fullertone Records.
Goldmine runs the audio premiere of "The Council of Purgatory," from the new album Séance, below.
The following is an interview with Professor and the Madman vocalist/guitarist Sean Elliott.
GOLDMINE: The new album Séance comes out on November 13th, correct?
SEAN ELLIOTT: Yeah, Friday the 13th.
GM: The album is much more than just music; it also is part of the first ever punk rock board game.
SEAN ELLIOTT: You are correct. As a matter of fact we just got the test boxes today and it looks great. So the game itself is a place, kind of like Monopoly, but what we've done is take on an old trip through punk venues. Basically, from back in the '70s and '80s. Yeah, I feel bad for the kids these days because all they have is digital music. When we were growing up, we had, you know, we'd play Monopoly or Payday or something like that when it rained. We'd be playing board games, listening to music. Um, there was other things to do, other than just sit on our phones, you know, and Facebook and all that crap. As a parent I thought it would be cool to have a board game. You know, I’ve been thinking about putting a board game on the full gatefold of the album. That was an idea I'd had for years and years and years. By the time we got to a place where we could do something like that, vinyl was on its way out and CD was on its way in. At that time, we were doing our records with Revenge Records and XXX Records and those companies weren't going to foot the bill for a gatefold concept or something like that. So, there was no way to do it at that time.
However, with vinyl coming back out I had what we needed for this idea to do that board game thing. And so, we kind of brought it back, back to life. Instead of Boardwalk and Park Place, we take you to CBGB and The Cuckoo's Nest. We've got The Vortex and the old Marquee Club and the old Roxy club in in London. So, a lot of cool places, you know. Just something to go back to. Instead of landing on hotels, it’s entertainment and liquor licenses if someone lands on you. The game lasts as long as the album. So, whoever is still standing at the end of the 40 minutes, that’s the winner. Whoever has the most money who did not die in that 40 minutes. That's kind of how we made it. Just a quick touch on how it used to be, you know, and that's what Seance is about, even though we've done the concept of the record it really is about doing albums that I grew up loving. Alfie (Agnew) feels the same way. We've always complained about it. You know, it's like, we were punks on these tours and we're talking about Elton John records and stuff like that. But if you think about it, it's how it should be. You know, because we were part of the influences coming up so there wasn't a whole bunch that we could look to in the world of punk. We couldn’t go back any further than the Damned and The Sex Pistols. We already liked the Ramones, you know, Iggy and the Stooges. They were rock and roll bands. We never considered them punk rock, you know. That’s what Séance is all about, visiting a different time. So, that's kind of what we went with as far as the concept.
GM: What a unique way to do that. You did something else with this release: You made it very consumer friendly, meaning at the time people sign up they don't even pay for it, correct? And you are going to invoice them once you get enough orders?
SE: That's correct. At one point, we did have the 'you can pre-order it and if you pre-payed it, we gave you 20% off.' We had a lot to prove with the whole Pledge Music “thing” when it collapsed. We were part of that platform with our live album. We did Disintegrate Me through Pledge Music and then we did the live album through Pledge and we pre-sold it. We did everything and we sold a lot and Pledge folded. I’ll leave some of the bands names out, because it’s just not cool ... but a lot of the bands, you know, didn't follow through. People paid their money and they didn't get anything in return, you just got a “Sorry man, that big corporate giant got us.” Alfie and I looked at that a little bit different. Alfie and I are the ones who told you to go to this site and put your credit card in. We were the ones that advertised to you and said it's safe. Go for it. So I can't tell you to go do something and then say, "Oh, you know, it looks like you're screwed." We know what you paid for and we fulfilled that pledge out of our pocket. We were happy to do it. We didn’t need any credit for it, it was the right thing to do and I think we maintained our credibility with that. However, it's still pretty tough to do.
With us, there always seems to be something going on, record companies collapsing or something like that. So our new release is scheduled to come out right in the pandemic and we thought, “Let's give them the opportunity to at least reserve it.” You don't need to pull your credit card out right now. Maybe you don't have the money right now to do it. We figured, let's just go for it. We'll do a pre-album and we will order that many based on how many we get. Some of the people that are flush right now and can afford it and do trust us with their money got a discount. We wanted to make it special and limit the purple (vinyl) to 200 copies. We thought let's give somebody a chance to get it. Maybe they don't have a paycheck right now. Maybe they want it and then what's going to happen is when they do have the money they will go on eBay and find that someone is going to be selling it to them for three times (as much). Let's give them a chance to get it. If they buy it, great. If they don't buy it, that's also no big deal. No one got hurt and we will sell it to somebody else.
GM: Now you are on the second limited color option, yellow. How many is in that run?
SE: I think we are doing 300 of that color.
GM: Additionally, you are offering different price points for the release, from $9.99 to $49.99, correct?
SE: That’s correct and the $49.99 edition comes with not only the LP, game board and pieces, I think you also get the CD. We're not making a whole bunch of money on this you know. It's been a long time since any musicians have made money off albums. It's always been about the touring anyway. We are certainly coming out of pocket on this one, but it's worth it. First run, we will lose money, but by the time everything catches up, it'll either equal out or we will make a little bit of money on it. The people that buy our records and who we are reaching out know that we are not reaching out to every audience and that our audience is very specific. We don't want to be famous. The music is what drives us so we will continue to make something cool for our core little audience. Um, and why not have a board game. It's something cool to do. And we'll do another product on the next record. We'll do something fun. It's kind of like our little joke between us and the fans. Here’s what we've got, most everyone that's ordered anything from us has either my direct email address or Alfie's direct email address and we stay in contact. It's, you know, this is like our little secret club. If you get an email about something going on with the releases, it’s coming from either Alfie or me. if you got a gripe go ahead and call and we will talk with you.
GM: Besides you and Alfie, there are two other very respected musicians in the punk universe: your bass player Paul Gray and drummer Rat Scabies. With The Damned getting back with the original band — Rat included — will there be a tour to support this release once the pandemic is done?
SE: We would love to do it. I think all of us would love to. I know Rat would live to do a little 10-day tour and Paul would probably be up for it. Alfie would certainly be up for it. It’s just the timing getting Paul and now getting Rat when it won’t interfere with The Damned tour. We don’t know what to expect. Rat is doing those five shows, which will probably turn into, you know, seven shows. I noticed they purposely did one show six days out from the rest of them. That tells me that they're expecting it to sell out and they'll fill those slots with additional dates. The break even is probably those five shows, but now we know that Rat and The Captain have somewhat buried the hatchet, and you get a resurrection of the 1980 Damned. By the way, this is my dream come true.
So, for now there is no tour for Professor and the Madman, because the two key components will be with their other band, which is good and it should be that way and that's what I've always wanted. Alfie and I had this idea a long time ago, pre-Paul Gray, that we were going to get Rat, and then we're going to try and con each one of the old members (of The Damned) into doing a song with us. Then we would kind of rewrite it in a certain way that they wouldn't be able to recognize that they're all playing on the same song, mix it and then put it out with that actual lineup. But, back to the point. If The Damned start touring again and maybe Rat stays on, who knows what's going to happen in the future. In the past it's been impossible to lock down days where we wouldn't be crossing over something. Maybe Rat is in Japan with The Mutants or Paul's in America with The Damned. It’s not like we are all going to fly to Germany to do one show. That's why you know we did the one-off show and that was a miracle.
GM: Is it true that you learned some of your first guitar chords from Dick Dale?
SE: Yeah. When I was little, I worked at this grocery store and the store was located right near a beach. The store would pay me, I think $2.25 an hour to sit and make sure that people did not park in the lot and go to the beach. So, I would bring my guitar out there with me and sit around. Dick Dale shopped at the store and I would see him at least once a week. Dick Dale was always in that market. He would pull in all the time and I would be sitting out there, learning how to play my guitar. I know my E and my D chord, and he was the one that said, “Now you got to learn the 12-bar blues” and if you're going to do the 12-bar blues, you need your B7th. He taught me it and it was kind of weird because he played a right-handed guitar but was left-handed, like Jim Hendrix, even though he was doing it upside down. Then he taught me the G7 and the D7. He was a legend in our town, and we all loved him, so it was super cool. I really love surf music. It was really cool. I stayed in touch with Dick for, you know, years and years, up until just a couple years ago when he died. So yeah, that is true. I did learn my chords from Dick Dale. Some of them anyway.
GM: I can hear that surf tone in the new album. The album is more than just punk in your face, it tells a story. Sure, it ties into the game but it’s also a good album as a standalone.
SE: We love hearing that. A lot of the sound on the record are more of Alfie and I not using an engineer on this. We have had some great engineers in the past, but I think it's impossible for an engineer to hear what you're hearing. Alfie and I know what it’s supposed to sound like when it comes out. What’s exciting is when Paul and Rat get to the song and come back with something we were not expecting. We already know what it's going to sound like because we know what they do. We write the songs with them in mind, but sometime the engineer does not get it and that's where a lot of our sound was getting lost. If you listen to this record, you'll hear Rat's drums get louder and quieter with as hard as he's hitting it, because that's how he plays it. Most engineers would level that out. Same thing with the bass. Sometimes you will have a “pop” and most engineers shave that off. So your drums and your bass are just all level going across, and that was killing our sanity we hated it.
GM: Tell me about your record collection.
SE: I’ve got every Damned original pressing and I’ve got an authentic Beatles Yesterday and Today that I have had forever. I've got, you know, some of the old surf records. I don't take very good care of my stuff. So, like as record collectors, you guys probably wouldn't like me too much. I’m tough on the sleeves and covers. I’ve got my Dead Kennedys albums that are all scratched up. I've got some of the old, the original Surf music like Wipeout by The Safaris.
GM: Do you still visit record stores, and any favorites?
SE: There's a record store here in my town and they've got some cool stuff. My son is really into vinyl. He has gotten into the Frank Zappa world which is super cool. He's 19 and loves prog.
GM: Any records out there that one of our readers might be able to help you find?
SE: Yes, there is one that I have been looking for. A Dick Dale record where he was playing live at Frank Sinatra’s place, Ciro’s. It came out on Capitol in the early '60s.