Rob Severson is a busy man. When he isn't touring as one-man-band Googolplexia, he performs locally, organizes events and releases records through the imprint he founded, Pancake Productions. Severson took the nickname "Pancake Master" in high school and has carried that name into the public eye, taking with him an enthusiasm for eclectic music made evident in his history as an artist, a producer and, most important, a music fan.
In May 2001, Rob Severson attended Webster University, where he worked on several short films. One of his earliest works, What Is Mustardfish? was a mockumentary based around Severson's own duo. Mustardfish was Mustard Rob Severson and Mustard Ron Warner, and they attacked many St. Louis venues equipped with a keyboard, banjo, accordion, guitar and mandolin. In the early 2000s Mustardfish shared stages with the Conformists, Dysrhythmia, the Frogs and other prolific bands.
Severson's musical exploits extend far past his experience with Mustardfish. Throughout the last ten years he has performed as a guest in several diverse groups, including MSIF, King Kong Magnetics and with Johnny Vegas. Severson once spent six months as the bass player for the Pubes, a scrappy group of post-punk outsiders. His collaborative efforts aren't restricted to St. Louis; he occasionally works with Chicago's beat-box aficionado Lord of the Yum Yum to perform as a cappella duo Dick Move.
Rob Severson started Pancake Productions in 2002 as a label for various short films and motion picture works. In 2009, the company broadened its focus to become one of few active record labels in St. Louis. Pancake Productions opened the floodgates in 2010 with releases by King Kong Magnetics, Popular Mechanics and Bunnygrunt, building a roster of eclectic artists.
Severson's strategy for producing records is not driven by profit but fueled by his passion for inclusive, varied music. Producing music posthumously is usually something any label, even a small one, would avoid — the opportunity for profit is nonexistent unless the band in question had a massive, unyielding fan base. Yet Getting Fantastic With... by the Fantasy Four was the first official Pancake Productions release. The full-length CD was the unreleased document of a St. Louis group that was active in the early 2000s. Featuring members of Bunnygrunt, the Fantasy Four performed in and around St. Louis until late 2002 and promptly split before releasing its studio debut. Severson, an avid fan of the group, hunted down these tracks many years later, had them mastered by Mario Viele (of the Sex Robots and Bunnygrunt) and produced the album with permission from former Fantasy Four members Steve Nagy and Karen Ried.
With a focus on archiving the unsung heroes of St. Louis music, Severson also saw fit to release an album for the Shitty Friends posthumously. The Shitty Friends was active in 2008 and 2009, and Severson says, "I felt it was somehow my duty to capture the awesome tunes this band had put together in their short time in existence." In 2010 Severson released the band's full-length album I'm Sorry It Might Not Have Happened This Way. Members of the Shitty Friends currently perform in MSIF and the Campfire Club.
"Musically, I love basically everything, and I would consider releasing just about anything," says Severson, who remains open-minded and enthusiastic — an attitude clearly reflected in the diverse Pancake Productions roster of currently active bands.
The satirical hip-hop cult King Kong Magnetics has earned a reputation for being a party onstage. Severson was charmed by its rhymes and clever irony. Pancake Productions brought the first full-length King Kong Magnetics album to life, financing Futuristic Money Makers and sharing the young group's dark comedy with as wide an audience as possible.
Bunnygrunt has been a prolific force in St. Louis music since 1993. The pop-meets-rock group has had more than twenty releases. Severson produced Bunnygrunt's latest EP, Lady, You Just Got Von Damaged!, adding thoughtful indie-pop to the Pancake Productions catalog.
The second Pancake Productions seven-inch release was Fire Dog's Wait To Die, a tribute to the late Dave Hagerty. This record was a community effort, a true tribute to the inspiring frontman of Fattback fame. Dave Hagerty was a cherished member of the St. Louis music community, and Fire Dog recorded this tribute record with studio time earned at a benefit raffle for Hagerty's medical expenses. The record features Hagerty's bandmates from Fattback as well as Hagerty's girlfriend, Ellen the Felon.
Rob Severson works with Matt Harnish of Bunnygrunt and the Bert Dax Calvacade of Stars to annually produce A Very Bert Dax Christmas. This holiday compilation CD features local artists doing new songs based on the wintry season as well as tasteful cover songs of Christmas classics. The latest of these compilations, A Very Bert Dax Christmas, Volume Nine, has a series of four release shows scheduled for next week. The current track list includes Catholic Guilt, Navigator, Bug Chaser and Dubb Nubb, among other St. Louis mainstays.
"I wanted to create something strong and stalwart with longevity and genre-defying purpose. Even if I stop actively releasing records altogether, Pancake Productions will never cease to be as long as I'm still around," says Severson. Information about the entire catalog is located at the Pancake Productions website.
Pancake Productions is not the only labor of love in Severson's arsenal: He has continued to play music. Googolplexia is the most active of Severson's projects. The one-man aural sensation features catchy a cappella choruses and the occasional ukelele, accordion or drum machine cameo. Severson is always ready to find inspiration and upholds a unique musical philosophy.
"I might wake up to some obnoxious birdsong coming from outside my window and get an idea for a stupid or awesome melody from it. One idea may lead to another or take me down a completely bizarre and unrelated path," he says. As Googolplexia, Severson dons a trusty headset and often comes equipped with a wireless instrument or portable amp. He treks about the audience, ignoring personal space and any mounting awkward tension. Severson's personality extends past the walls of musical genres, and the honesty in his comedy is tangible.
Severson spits lyrics of whimsy out from behind his thick-rimmed glasses and unkempt hair. He deals with stiff showgoers by relentlessly working the crowd: The audience is often called upon to join in, and Severson transforms them into his personal backup chorus. Participation is usually not optional, as Severson's songs are infectious and reek of catchy pop sensibility. Googolplexia is a singular entity of quirky cover tunes and simple but memorable melodies. Expect references to Star Trek, McDonald's commercials of the '80s and other playful nostalgia.
Googolplexia has been particularly active in 2011, embarking on two nationwide tours, enjoying a monthlong residency at El Leñador and performing in various spots around the River City. 2011 saw the release of 'O' Before 'L,' and Only One 'E,' a collection of recent songs and previous recordings. It isn't unusal to see Severson performing as Googolplexia at a punk-rock show in a dusty basement, a Christmas shindig at Mangia Italiano or an all-out party at the Way Out Club.
Rob Severson pays close attention to what makes him happy and hopes to share that, regardless of what he's working on. "I know I'll be doing my best to have a good time, and I know myself well enough to know that I'll likely succeed."