Steven Severin (born Steven John Bailey, 25 September 1955, Highgate, London), is an English musician, composer, bassist, producer and co-founding member of Siouxsie and the Banshees. He took the name “Severin” from the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch character who is mentioned in the Velvet Underground song “Venus in Furs”. After the split of Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1996, Severin created his own label RE, and released several instrumental albums via his official website. He regularly performs live in solo, playing music over footage of silent films.
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Severin—who was known as Steve Havoc when he joined the band— was the co-founder. He was a full contributor to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ musical output from the first release (the B-side to the top 10 single “Hong Kong Garden” was the Severin-penned “Voices”.) Although the entire band often was credited for songwriting, the lyrics were usually indicated as the work of only one or two members. Severin would contribute lyrics to a great many of the album tracks, singles and B-sides produced by the band. He also initially wrote many of the songs recorded by the band, composing earlier versions that the band would work upon in the studio with every member then contributing. In the same way he would add his input into potential tracks contributed by Sioux or others.
He recorded eleven studio albums with the group. Since their split in 1996, he has been supervising the entire back-catalogue, choosing extra-tracks for reissues.
Other artists and bands
During his tenure with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Severin was also involved in records by other bands, often with Banshees connections. Altered Images had toured as a support act for Siouxsie and the Banshees and Severin produced their first two singles “Dead Pop Stars” and “A Day’s Wait”. He also produced the majority of the album Happy Birthday (all 1981). The only track not produced by him was the title track (which also formed the intro and coda), which became the band’s breakthrough hit.
In 1982, he produced, and played bass on, the Lydia Lunch EP The Agony Is the Ecstasy and in 1983 co-wrote the song “Torment” with Marc Almond on the latter’s LP Torment and Toreros (by Marc and the Mambas).
Severin’s work outside Siouxsie and the Banshees, in this period, is however most known for The Glove, his side project with The Cure’s (and then current Banshee guitarist) Robert Smith. This led to the release of the album Blue Sunshine and two attendant singles. The album reached number 35 in the UK charts in 1983 and the single “Like an Animal” peaked just outside the UK top 50. The next single from the album, “Punish Me with Kisses”, only just made it into the top 100. Though Smith did sing on a few tracks, the featured vocalist is Jeanette Landray – a friend of Banshee drummer Budgie who was at the time involved in progressing a musical relationship with Sioux under The Creatures banner. The album is noted for its low-level musical interludes between tracks.
Musically close enough to the differing Cure and Banshee styles to attract large sections of both sets of fans, the more experimental nature and references to 1960’s psychedelia and pop-art also attracted a more eclectic audience. The use of keyboards and synthesizers, as well as the inclusion of instrumental only tracks, were also an early pointer to Severin’s post Banshee musical output. In 2006, a remastered 2CD version was released, the second disc featuring Robert Smiths guide vocals over tracks in various stages of completion – being the point in the composition where the vocal guide was added, without the final segments as well as Landray’s voice.
Solo work: 1989-present
Severin’s post-Banshees output was the Visions of Ecstasy soundtrack created for the Nigel Wingrove short film interpretation of the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila. This 1989 sensual fantasy film remained unreleased until 2012, as it has been refused a certificate on the grounds of blasphemy – the only film so banned by The British Board of Film Classification. The four parts written by Severin for the soundtrack, “Sphere”, “Come Deliver Us”, “Skin Crawl” and “Transverberation of the Heart”, formed the basis of his first post-Banshees release. Almost ten years after creating the Visions of Ecstasy soundtrack, Severin released an album entitled Visions, featuring four tracks derived from the original pieces written for the film, plus another five instrumentals. Severin completely reworked the soundtrack – originally eighteen minutes long – into a forty-five-minute ambient album. It was also the first release by Severin’s RE: Records label. The record also featured Banshees’ cello player and keyboardist Martin McCarrick.
A year later in 1999, Severin released Maldoror. The origins for this instrumental album were as far back as 1993, when Severin wrote some tracks for Brazilian Theatre Company “Os Satyros” production of Lautréamont’s Chants of Maldoror. After losing and regaining contact with the group, Severin composed further pieces for the 1998 production Os Cantos des Maldoror. These pieces were collected together and released on CD.
In 1999, Severin had been invited to be musical director for the Canadian dance company “Holy Body Tattoo” on CIRCA – described as a 70-minute multimedia “celebration of the sensual forces of submission and control” – a postmodern deconstruction of the tango that interwove film footage by William Morrison and original music by Severin, Warren Ellis and cult cabaret trio The Tiger Lillies. The music from CIRCA was largely drawn from Martin Jacques and company’s album Circus Songs. Severin contributed keyboards and also produced this album for the Tiger Lillies.
Severin’s third RE: release, The Woman in the Dunes was specially commissioned by Shakti and the Vasanta Mala dance company to accompany the stage production of the Kōbō Abe novel of the same name. It premiered at the ICA in the summer of 2000. The only vocal included is “I Put a Spell on You”; a version of the Screaming Jay Hawkins classic sung by Jarboe (ex Swans).
In 2000, Oneiros Books published The Twelve Revelations; a collection of Severin’s erotic prose/poetry, illustrated with line drawings by Catharyne Ward.
Severin returned to composing soundtracks, and in 2003 film director Robert Pratten approached Severin to compose the soundtrack for his first film, a British independent supernatural thriller called “London Voodoo”. The film contained four tracks that Severin collaborated on with his wife and songwriting partner Arban, under the name “Darling Hate”. As a result of this new direction, Severin wound down his RE: label to concentrate on writing for film and television.
London Voodoo was followed by a soundtrack for The Purifiers, the second film feature by Richard Jobson, which premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2004. The tracks extensively used in the score were “Enter Into These Bonds” from Visions and “Prelude:Europa” from Maldoror.
In 2005, Severin released another album based on a soundtrack originally commissioned by the Indo/Japanese performer Shakti in August 2003 for her interpretation of the story of Beauty and the Beast. The album Beauty and the Beast is credited to Arban and Steven Severin. It was the first release on their Subconscious Music label. Though jointly credited, the fifty-minute score was created in an original manner which owed much to the circumstances in producing it. As it was commissioned to accompany a dance production, the titles and timing of each individual part was already decided upon by Shakti, who also suggested the theme for each piece. Owing to other commitments upon their time, it was decided by Arban and Severin that each would work on alternating pieces individually. Arban Severin took responsibility for the odd-numbered tracks and Severin for the others. After a piece was substantially completed it was given over to the other partner to review and to make contributions. Only when both parties were satisfied was the track considered finished.
This method of working was deemed so successful it is being applied to the partnerships most recent project, the soundtrack for director Paul Burrow’s psychological thriller “Nature Morte” (Still Life). This film score recording was released on 16 October 2006, again under the Subconscious Music label.
In 2009, Steven and Arban scored director Matthew Mishory’s film Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman, a tribute to Steven’s old friend Derek Jarman. The film has been permanently installed in the British Film Institute’s National Film Archive, in the special collection Beautiful Things, “a major collection of over 100 films and television programmes that chronicle and explore queer representation and identities over the last century”.
In 2010 Severin released his debut album for Cold Spring titled Blood of a Poet. The album is a recording of his soundtrack for a 1930 silent movie by Jean Cocteau which was screened alongside his live performance at Montreal’s Fantasia festival. A UK tour took place in autumn 2010.
In 2011, Steven and Arban renewed their collaboration with filmmaker Matthew Mishory, scoring his feature film Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean. The film was set for a 2012 release.
He also composed a score to Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr; it was his second collaboration with the label Cold Spring. Severin now resides in Edinburgh.
In March 2017, he released a 6-track album The Vril Harmonies.
For his works with Siouxsie and The Banshees, see Siouxsie & the Banshees discography.
- Visions (1998)
- Maldoror (1999)
- The Woman in the Dunes (2000)
- UnisexDreamSalon (2001)
- London Voodoo (Original Soundtrack) (2004)
- Beauty & The Beast (2005)
- Nature Morte (Original Soundtrack) (2006)
- Music for Silents (2008)
- Eros Plus Massacre (2009)
- Blood of a Poet (Cold Spring 2010)
- Vampyr (2011)
- The Vril Harmonies (2017)
- SleeperCell (Lumberton Trading 2010)
- Circles of Silver (Lumberton Trading 2010)
- Hours of Gold (Lumberton Trading 2010)
- Idols of Glass (Erototox Decodings 2011)
- Wand of Flame (Erototox Decodings 2011)