To investigate the mind of Timo Ellis is a rather daunting prospect to undertake, to say the least. The enigmatic artist and sonic provocateur, so ingrained and so well-respected in the New York City music scene, has worked tirelessly to blaze his own trail throughout his illustrious career. From his well-known works with Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon to working with John Zorn, Ellis has already left an indelible mark on NYC’s arts — but let that not fool you…
Let that not fool you, oh innocent reader, for time is no enemy of one Mr. Ellis.
The frontman and heart of Netherlands — the “future sludge” outfit (as their Instagram so perfectly encapsulates) — has struck down not once, but twice in this godforsaken year with their volatile musical concoctions. Tinged with elements of electronic music, industrial and fuzzy sludge, the Brooklyn-based quartet unleashed “Zombie Techno” in June for the masses. Now, Netherlands returns four months later with “Zombie Techno Undead,” jam-packed with three bonus cuts just in time for Halloween.
Featuring new zingers “Go Wrong” and “P.T.S.D.,” Ellis and gang further explore wonky sonic territories with their eclectic songwriting and synthesis of unorthodox sounds. From Thee Chuq and Josh Musto’s zany synthbass lines, Damien Shane Moffitt’s virtuosic drum patterns and Ellis’ falsetto lines reminiscent of Our Lady Peace’s Raine Maida, the maddening kaleidoscopic mishmash of sounds continues onward with “Zombie Techno Undead.”
The record also notably features “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” — a jarring, but apropos rendition of The Jacksons’ 1978 classic. On choosing the disco banger to cover, Ellis reminisced on his childhood and noted that Michael Jackson inspired him to pursue music in the first place.
“MJ is like one of the original inspirations for me even wanting to play music at all when I was a kid,” said Ellis. “That song “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) was a radio hit… I love that song. It’s like this exuberant joy as a child — that was my jam!”
Jacksons covers aside, “Zombie Techno Undead” is rather rife with political commentary and tongue-in-cheek nihilism. The album overall takes aim at “mankind’s devolution via its addiction to technology, the scourge of capitalism, and the plague of distraction,” per Netherlands’ Bandcamp. Never one to shy away from political discourse, Ellis did not hold back when discussing his thoughts on the 2020 election cycle and America’s political standing today.
“I’m extremely worried and f—–g outraged and demoralized by the open corruption and incompetence and just insanity that is characteristic of the Trump administration,” Ellis lamented on the state of the nation. “I have to limit my news consumption a little bit because it’s rightfully destroyed my peace of mind and my sense of hope for the future because things are already so f—-d up now.”
Some might perceive the frontman’s political views as abrasive; others might perceive it as brutally honest. But regardless of perception, Ellis is unapologetic in his stance and that very stance often finds itself bleeding through Netherlands’ thought-provoking music. Lines such as, “You thought America would last forever, but the chickens are coming home to roost” (from the track “We’re All Gonna Die One Day”) — a Malcolm X reference in fact — offer a direct and poignant reflection on the state of our nation through the lens of Ellis.
Although Ellis has a penchant for profound thought, let that not overshadow his brilliance through his musicianship. Calling Manhattan home, Ellis honed his versatile multi-instrumentalist skills in a land where pressures for musical excellence were rigorous. Working alongside some of the city’s most elite musicians, Ellis etched his place among those in working with names such as Sean Lennon, Sam Koppelman, Joan as Police Woman and Cibo Matto.
One name that Ellis worked with that caught our attention was John Zorn, the eclectic avant-garde composer and musician also hailing from New York City. On working with Zorn, Ellis noted that the experience was “incredible.”
“John’s a force of nature. He’s like one of the greatest living artists and he’s a completely terrifying prolific badass. Truthfully, I feel like that experience schooled me. It forced me to have to operate probably a higher level than I thought I was at at that moment, but that’s the incredible thing about John Zorn… He raises the bar.”
In a land where seemingly every musician is influenced by some sort of avant-garde jazz or classical music, Ellis proudly wears his pop and 1980s arena rock influences on his sleeve.
“Van Halen is my f—–g jam, it’s almost like a disease!” Ellis passionately proclaimed. “I can’t play like Eddie at all or Alex [Van Halen], but I just like the swagger and the f—–g ferociousness of their thing.”
Listen to the hour-long interview where Ellis discusses more of his vast influences, life as an artist during COVID, passions outside of music, what he eats for breakfast and more — available now!
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