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lizziedavis on 08/04/2012 at 03:00PM

The Lost Devilcore Hits of Severed Lips Recordings

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Severed Lips Recordings was a cassette label which operated out of a basement in Ringwood, NJ from 1992-2000. Somehow, their catalog of horror garage gems from an incestuous roster of artists has managed to stay under the radar, a rare feat in the "information age."

The fascinating story of Severed Lips Recordings is inspiring to anyone who's been involved in a fringe DIY community. I had the pleasure of hearing it straight from William Hellfire, the mastermind behind SLR's operations, via email.

First off, how did the label get started?

I started Severed Lips Recordings with Scott Beattie, aka Agent 78, in 1992 when we were 19 years old. Scott and I had just started playing music together and called our band Gerbil Church. The music we played was just our two Vantage guitars blasted through crappy, failing vintage amplifiers, no drummer or bassist.

I was also reworking a small set of Big Black-inspired noise rock songs and through an old band mate met Eddie Blade, whose solo agro/industrial recordings were amazing by any 4 track demo standard. I invited Todd and Eddie to learn the songs and record with me over at my basement HQ. When they got to my place, they popped a hit of LSD in my mouth. The session didn't go as planned-- instead, it was hijacked by a brand new creation, "DISCO MISSILE." Scott and I decided to take all the boom box and live recordings from these bands as well as the new Disco Missile cassette and start releasing them. We made our first release with personalized covers consisting of retro wrapping paper, string, ink, oregano, cinnamon all kinds of bits and bobs, Xerox, pen, crayon. I think we may have sold and given away about 20 or so in total.

December 1992 was the initial release party. I had also created releases out of recordings of an acid trip I took in my room with my cat and my friend Ruby Honeycat’s childhood audio tapes with her friends, which consisted of a bunch of 5 year olds talking about dinosaurs and singing kid songs that made no sense. Anything I could find with original audio on it, I just made up a band name and cover for and tried to sell it.

My friends and I were very small-town and naive, and in that naive thinking had come a lovely purity. The sensibilities were childish and devilish, sweet and sadistic; we were naive anarchists not just rebelling against the political establishments but the whole ideal of reality and the homogenized art world, the corporatized social structure. Around 1989, everything started to go bad. There was very little happening and the stream of consciousness was getting thinner and thinner.

It was "mall culture" and MTV, and the minute something good would squeak its way in, there were corporate clones of it. Punk rock, the last stand of decency in the world, was being homogenized for the mall market. It was getting hard to breathe. We had to entertain ourselves--create our own music, our own culture and our own fun.

Severed Lips Recordings cassettes were $4 each. Basement shows were $2-3 bux donation, and we rented out a legion hall in butler for--get this--$65 bux! $3 dollar admission. Can't beat that. We baked cookies and made Jell-O, served coffee with cassettes and played noisy and fuzzy caricatures of psychedelic punk rock. Then in 1996, SLR started going outside the legion hall and basement and began to frequent Connections in Clifton NJ, Continental, Coney Island High and CB’s NYC.

Most of the bands on SLR were made up of the same musicians. Who are the main "Severed Lips Recordings people?" Where are they now?

photo Scott Beattie, AKA Agent 78, played guitar and sang in Gerbil Church and did backup vocals and horn for Disco Missile. Scott was also the main design element for the zines, cassettes and flyers up until 1995, when he split with the fear!

Eddie Blade was the main engineer until 1995, when he split with the fear and a bad drug habit that later took his life in 2003. He sang and played 2nd guitar, keyboards and sax for Disco Missile, sang and played guitar for Strange Peoples Daycamp, and had a number of solo projects. He engineered Disco Missile and Gerbil Church till 1995, then I started to take over.

Todd Vigorous (bass for Disco Missile and Strange Peoples Daycamp) and I took over SLR in 1995 when Scott and Eddie defected. [At this point,] things took a darker turn, as we were fascinated with Mondo snuff films, cults, Hare Krishna and true crime. Todd lives in Texas, plays country music and assists people living/recovering from head trauma.

photo Ruby Honeycat got more involved in the inner workings and recordings of SLR in 1995, singing for Dynomite Cat and starring in Carress of the Vampire 2 and Nude Strangle. She flys to Japan now for MAC and lives in Brooklyn.

In 1995, Matt Ickland and I started King Ghidorah!, hired a bass player, and started the second phase in the corruption of plant earth through microcosmic audio interference! The music was heavy, acid fueled math rock and fuzz.

Mikey Ovum, a teenager from my old high school, joined SLR in 1995 and really brought a strong enthusiasm to the projects. He became bass player for Dynomite Cat, King Ghidorah! and recorded for SLR under Mono Ovum. He spearheaded the arrangements behind Armageddon Gospel Revival and was also a heavy improv player with Matt and Myself in Alien Pornography recordings. They both acted in the early SLR films up until 1999’s Duck! The Carbine High Massacre. Mikey Ovum is still in NJ, singing in a chorus and painting. Matt Icklan is in Virginia/DC area with his beautiful and groovy wife Karen.

photo I am the only one that has been in it and is still in it from end to end. I organized SLR and fearlessly encouraged the madness that ensued, basement shows, improv-ed bands, improv-ed live shows. I loved shocking people, so playing real car accident videos behind Disco Missile live shows was as natural [a] decision as having a burger n fries for dinner. I encouraged LSD-fueled recording sessions and bonding pow-wows, which seriously affected the music and direction recordings took. SLR always was trying to make full, layered, rich releases out of 4 track recording sessions as opposed to straight up bland demos. (Headphone theatre, ya know?!) I wanted to press vinyl with the Disco Missile Vinegar Eel recording, but I couldn’t rally enough dough from the troops, so everything stayed in the cassette realm. In 1998, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had to take some time off for chemo, which really put a kink in the works for SLR. The live shows stopped, and I focused primarily on keeping my lo-fi video business going. I still recorded music for the soundtracks of the feature films, and that is where SLR ended up.

Ringwood, NJ is notoriously haunted. How did that affect the music coming out of SLR?

I was always a fan of dropping LSD, going to Skylands manor house and hanging out there all day long, then walking back home through the woods. Never had a bad time at it. That creepy place is right out of a Dracula movie. The music is haunted. An example of what we called ‘phantom power’ would be the song "Chair" by Dynomite Cat from the Primateen Mist Kills Super Models cassette compilation. If you listen to that tape, you will hear ‘om-ing’ low and dark voices coming through the recording. You can hear this ‘phantom power’ among many of the early analogue recordings, 4 track fuzz fests like King Ghidorah!, Alien Porn, Dynomite Cat, and Disco Missile.

Did Alien Pornography exist solely for the purpose of contributing a different kind of sound to the Caress of the Vampire 2 soundtrack?

photo Alien Pornography started as impromptu noise jam sessions at legion hall shows. When we had a few minutes left before shut-down and too much electric energy between the bands, we would rush the equipment and play all together without any regard for key or tempo. It was a frustrating mess, a cathartic explosion, a goof. Later, it was the name given to the soundtrack bands, as the members would vary and the sessions were usually improv for the purpose of compilations or soundtracks. Alien Pornography was mostly Mikey Ovum, Matt Icklan and I, with the benefit of a few guest appearances here and there. Alien Pornography recorded the Caress of the Vampire 2 soundtrack then Nude Strangle, I Was a Teenage Strangler, and Infamous Bondage Murders 2 with this lineup. The M.O. of these sessions was to improv, to use our psychic ability to produce a song without even discussing key, tempo, or phrase. The best of this psychic connectedness was produced on Nude Strangle, where many of the tracks were just press record and GO, no pre-planning. Caresses 2 were more rehearsed, but all came from minimal pre-production in a session.

As time went on, I started recorded the soundtracks by myself mostly. The final Alien Porn tracks were recorded for the Duck! The Carbine High Massacre soundtrack. I had Misty Mundae and Joey Smack assist.

By the late 90's, SLR's focus had shifted from tape releases to erotic horror film production. How did that happen?

I have always been a rabid horror fan since I was about 4 years old. Having cut my teeth on the DIY music scene, it came as a natural progression to get into video and filmmaking. I was fired from my telemarketing job in 1995 and at the time, Disco Missile had just been added to the Shot on Video (SOV) production of Psycho Sisters. The distributor of this film was WAVE productions and one of the sub distro’s was a catalogue company called E.I Independent Cinema. Mike Raso, the owner and sole employee, hired me to do phone sales, cold calling video stores and selling really low-budget VHS horror films. This was the end of the video boom, but [there were still enough] mom and pop shops and small chains outside Blockbuster that we could get our movies on video store shelves and I could earn a commission. I used to take the movies home and man, they were bad... I had no idea there were such micro-budget movies being made, having only been subject to the mainstream horror and some of the more rare sub-genres of my rental stores.

I used to make fun of all the films we were distributing, [so when] Mike finally had enough, he pushed a S-VHS camera in front of my face and said, “Go make your own movie.” He gave me Caress 2 as a title, having had success with his Caress 1 production [so] he knew he could sell it. I went ahead and rounded up the people of SLR, and we put together a Faust-like, lo-fi, erotic-horror vampire rock n roll movie. We barley wrote a script. Production cost me $250, all said and done, to get in the can. The idea was that as long as there was some sexploitation element, I could do whatever I wanted.

Being a fan of Jess Franco and the groovy Euro-sleaze of the 60’s and 70’s, I convinced Ruby to do some topless scenes. We found a few other local girls who were up for it too and got down to shooting. A customer of E.I. Cinema was always looking for foot-fetish movies, so we make the Dr. Acula (Matt) character a podiatrist with a foot fetish. The podiatrist sells his soul to Billy the Vampire (me) so he can live out his foot fetish fantasies. When he neglects his practice and runs out off money, they start a band and are managed by Lon Straus (Mikey). When Ruby (Ruby Honeycat) gets all the attention, Billy kills her, and is in turn murdered by Acula before he commits suicide. When Lon Strause is still making money off the music group, the undead Billy and Acula seek revenge.

It seems like this movie would have died before editing, but the idea was if it had nudity, it would sell, and it did. It even ended up on Tower Video’s new release wall! So, I was off to making movies. The features got darker and disturbing, emulating the Last House on the Left sexual-violence vibe, and incorporating all the local hipster indie-rock kids and bandmates I could gain access to. It was a fun, dark, counter-culture vibe, sex and death with groovy, spastic, noisy and psychedelic music. The cinema of end times, the decline of the human race-- that was the idea, anyway.

The King Ghidorah! song “Sleeping Sickness” eerily predicts the outcome of the film Duck! “Sleeping Sickness” is about gaining infamy and fame from creating chaos, mass murder… Joey Smack, the co-director, and I were both arrested after Duck! was released on VHS. We were charged with having guns on school grounds. The news media had a field day, it was really crazy. Charges were dropped, but that is a whole other story.

Checkout the Severed Lips Recordings Archives, right here on the FMA. 

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