|NOCTURNE - MAGAZINE COVERS|
|NOCTURNE - INTERVIEWS/ARTICLES|
|SMASH HITS 1983|
|MELODY MAKER 01/10/83|
|SMASH HITS 27/10/83|
AND THE BANSHEES have always played the game by their own rules.
Seven years on from the original punk uprising, they continue to haunt
the mainstream, railing against easy options and fashionable poses . . .
JUST about the only laugh to be had from perusing the music mags theses days is coming across the occasional idiot telling you how you shouldn’t be enjoying yourself. Or, at least, you should, but not just in any old way!
It’s a scream reading these ranting hacks desperately attempting to invest some fashion or its leaders with enough mystery, elitism and cool to manufacture themselves a hip enough cause to champion; and most importantly, of course, to be seen to champion. Sometimes, it seems, liking something simply isn’t enough.
Recently one such writer (who we wont embarrass by naming here) suggested that no-one should listen to The Glove’s "Blue Sunshine" album because it sounded more like "Satanic Majesties" - era Stones than Wilson Pickett; his sole critical criterion toppling off the premise that revivalism’s par for the course providing you rip off the right things. Accepting, then, that never having been eulogised before by a music press traditionally more fascinated by original ideas then populist clichés, the soul-boy ethic provides a virgin platform for eager young hacks looking to get ahead (for "ahead" read "their own chat show on Channel 4"), on anything that ain’t soul’s no go.
On these terms Paul Weller is God and Sioux is most unfashionable.
"So what’s more idiotic," asks Siouxsie, "the fool being followed by another fool?"
In MM’s recent Glove interview Steve Severin claimed that contrary to public opinion Siouxsie And The Banshees are as valid, if not more valid, than they’ve ever been. Doesn’t he know what’s going on?
"We don’t have to qualify anything," says Siouxsie.
The Banshees just wont fight on bozo terms.
It’s not my intention here to bleat on about how difficult it is to interview them - that’s been done on countless occasions, and tediously too: It’s the oldest trick in the book for a writer to tart up his inability to communicate as some cheap confrontation. (You should know, Steve - Ass. Ed.)
Then again, although the Banshees are neither wilfully obtuse nor gratuitously offhand, they don’t suffer fools gladly and their conversation is always at its most passionate when they’re forced to defend their precious right to total freedom of expression.
Though their ultimate weapon is a contemptuous silence, implying a question’s too thick to warrant response, their answers come easy. It’s just that unlike most bands’ paranoid surrender to the dictates of the image machine, their answers are seldom the definitive ones you either wish for or expect.
"I don’t think you need to justify what you do," says Robert Smith. "Anything you want to achieve with a group has got to be, by its nature, really amorphous. You can’t possibly pinpoint it otherwise you’d go straight there and knock the nail n the head. There’s like an overall sense of direction, if you like. An overall sense of what goes on and the way things are done, but there’s no ulterior goal, it hasn’t been striving towards a certain point for seven years. There’s a general malaise of total pap that’s always there, that you’re constantly fighting against . . ."
"Let’s forget that," counsel’s Budgie. "Let’s not talk about things that we don’t even bother ourselves with."
The Banshees are aware that they’re unique and are proud of it. They’re also aware that they’re something special, that not only are they different but that what they do has the power, presence and unswerving internal logic of obsession. (Mere otherness, as the collapse of the Birthday Party proved, is seldom enough.)
"The difference will always be the approach to whatever we do", says Severin. "No matter if it’s a different type of group like Culture Club, Roman Holliday, Spandau, anybody, the Banshees’ approach is always completely different from these people."
It’s a boast delivered with the cool conviction of fact.
"Having worked with several bands," confirms producer Mike Hedges, "the difference in approach is that the banshees do not go into the studio and thing ‘Right, we’re gonna write the song that everybody’s gonna go out and buy and it’s gonna be poppy. This line’s commercial, let’s use this.’ It’s the total opposite to that. Actual relevance to whether it’s gonna sell or not never comes into it. And if I ever mentioned it, I’d get thrown out of the studio."
It’s a statement delivered with an affectionate chuckle.
This "not being sure of how to handle things . . . like, uh, what’s gonna happen next?" (Budgie), is central to the Banshees’ current recording technique. For example, "There’s A Planet in My Kitchen", a track on the B-side of their latest 12-inch was indeed recorded with Siouxsie in the studio kitchen while the band played in the studio. They could hear her screeching and bashing around but she couldn’t hear them. Out of chaos comes . . .?
In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve just run head first into that infamous and recurring Banshee attribute, the thing that separates the artists from the artisans; the will to do one’s own thing on one’s own terms. It’s an attribute that many have conveniently bankrupted, but not the banshees. They’ve never capitulated to temptation, never used their reputation for self-discernment and self-assessment to cloak the occasional commercial cheapshot. They’ve refused to succumb to lucrative self-parody, refused to get desperate in the face of falling sales, refused to surrender their pride and put out a last ditch disco mix under the pretext that they’re cunningly beating the system at its own game. I don’t think they'll ever stoop that low. That’s one reason why I like them.
The last two Banshees’ singles, "Melt" and "Slowdive", bombed, whereas The Creatures "Miss The Girl" and "Right Now" were top tenners and the Glove’s "Like An Animal" nudged the top 30.
Any worries that the side dishes have spoiled the public’s appetite for the main course?
"I don’t think it really matters," says Severin. "The difference between ‘Slowdive’ being 41 and being 12 is a sort of mass of faceless people that we’d never come in contact with anyway."
"Which, to some people, comes into the realms of what the Glove were criticised for; being self-indulgent and trying to express things that you feel," adds Smith. "But, to me, the opposite of self-indulgence, trying to be relevant to a vast amount of people, is even more worthless.
"There’s a set of criteria that we set in the Banshees which aren’t verbalised, they’re just there. Very few things, I think, have passed through unscreened, nothing’s been done without obviously having a reason behind it but to actually pinpoint that reason or specify it is too difficult really. You can’t actually put a reason behind certain actions, they just occur . . ."
"It could be, for instance," says Budgie, "if you say the Glove are tangents, then the Banshees may be the biggest tangent that we have to everybody else. Somebody said before that Siouxsie And The Banshees go and almost, like, peek through the window every now and then, where everybody else goes through the open door. We’ve always looked through the next window to see in, we’re always poking in and doing something and moving on along the walls. It’s keeping that option open all the time. If you want to know what keeps us going, what motivates us, what makes it worthwhile; it’s that kind of breezing past the dross that keeps us ticking over."
That the Banshees are a tangent is, I’d say, as close to indisputable as any opinion is likely to get in something as trivial and titillating as pop. It’s exactly what they’re a tangent to that’s the problem.
They’ve never partaken of any prevalent musical strain in their seven year history; they’ve never courted causes. (Funny how Banshees virtues are so indefinable that, to praise them, we’re always thrown back on commending them for not doing things.) The closest they ever got was probably their "punk" incarnation when the great brooding structures of their debut album, "The Scream", adhered to the spirit but refused to adopt the 100-mile-an-hour style of three chord wonders.
Ironically, though, their very proximity to punk only served to illuminate their individuality. Never since has their Otherness seemed as relevant or outrageous and today, in an atmosphere awash with fashion posing as purpose, the Banshees seem slightly more adrift than unhinged.
One tangent among many tangents. Lost?
It has been assumed that their latest single, an inspired if hardly insolent cover version of the Beatles "Dear Prudence" is a sign of waning interest, indolence, desperation . . . everything in fact, except what the Banshees claim it is: a good song that they wanted to cover.
Being special, it seems, means always having to have a good motive.
Apart from admitting that it was the swiftest way of getting Robert Smith involved as a recording Banshee (despite replacing John McGeoch almost a year ago, "Prudence" is Smith’s Banshee vinyl debut as a fully paid-up Banshee) and, besides, after The Glove and the Creatures, it was hard for the band to function again as a band.
Severin: "I think reviews that said it wasn’t particularly different to the Beatles’ version haven’t listened to the original to find out. It’s completely different. On the ‘White Album’, it’s a soft ballad, we’ve just made it sound like the Banshees.
"It’s not the same as doing ‘Helter Skelter’ (the Banshees’ other "White Album" cover version, effectively Mansonised and once dedicated to Roman Polanski) - we translated that in a different way because the song was bigger than just the song. This was just one of those things you hear and think it would be nice to do. Simple. It’s like we did ‘Supernatural Thing’ (originally recorded by Ben E King) as a B-side and the Creatures did ‘Right Now’ (a hit for Mel Torme). It’s just a cover version."
It transpires that the Banshees were acutely aware of what would be said about "Prudence" long before it came out: that a cover version might get them back in favour with daytime radio or that they assumed, on the strength of their reputation for unpredictability, that they could get away with just about anything.
"People who say that don’t realise that we’ve always done what we want," says Severin. "That kind of criticism only works if it’s directed against somebody who’s been building up a career to such an extent deliberately so that they can do anything they want. We’ve never done that."
"’Dear Prudence’ is not trying to open another door so we can eventually ingratiate ourselves a little bit more into the popular consciousness," insists Smith. "I mean, anybody who buys Culture Club will probably never have heard the song anyway."
"We never slog hard to crack any kind of market," says Siouxsie, "and I think fans appreciate that because they’re not being patronised or commanded to or told what they already know. It’s more of a friendship. I really think music can . . . I dunno . . . I still really think music is like a lifeline, it really is."
But that still doesn’t really explain why "Dear Prudence", of all things?
Siouxsie: "I think the sound of it sticks out like a sore thumb."
Severin: "When we finished it, I suddenly thought ‘This’ll never get played in clubs because it hasn’t got the disco beat . . ."
Siouxsie: "Yeah, we’re really sick of everything having a disco beat. That’s lazy."
Severin: "It kind of fits in with the culmination of ‘The Dream House’ in my eyes. That’s the end of that sound. In the same way that ‘Fireworks’ stopped ‘JuJu’ and started ‘The Dreamhouse’, this one stops ‘The Dreamhouse’ and . . . "
Severin: "It’s too early to specify."
The new banshees album, at present a collection of thoughts, fears, hunches and rough sketches, ("too many!" - Siouxsie) will surface some time early next year.
"We’re having to force ourselves," says Severin. "It’s not coming out very easily . . .which is probably good."
Before the album release, there will be an EP featuring "Overground", "Red On White", "Voices" and "Placebo Effect"; all old numbers re-recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Only "Overground" is consistently included in the Banshees’ current live repertoire, enhanced on the last tour by the Venomettes, the Mamba’s string section.
Isn’t it strange, disturbing old ghosts?
"Not as strange as playing them with a different guitarist," says Severin. "Most people try to keep their older songs up to date, especially in a live sense, by adding more people and drastically changing. We’ve never had to do that; they’ve evolved anyway because we've always had a different guitarist playing them. So this time, just because the strings gave such a different dimension to the songs, we thought: "Why not, just once, get these on tape’. I mean, there’s no versions of McGeoch playing McKay songs, there’s no versions of stuff that Robert did on the ’Join Hands’ tour and it was all quite different."
"We’ve always wanted to hear our music classically," explains Siouxsie, "and no bugger’s ever taken up the initiative to do it, so we’ve done it ourselves."
"We’re infiltrating the LSO," says Smith. "They’ll refuse to do anything else now!"
What, after the Banshees, no more Beethoven?
"Yeah!" Siouxsie laughs, "Though I really do like some classical music. It’s much more powerful than The Clash can ever be. I mean, ‘Romeo And Juliet’ . . .so strong! It’s really emotive . . .it’s really powerful and aggressive and potent without needing guys with tattoos and muscles . . .it’s really Oi!"
"That’s what they said to the LSO," laughs Hedges. "Think Oi! Think chains and studs and sweat!"
"Orchestral music is still and always has been like a very sort of snob type music which is total nonsense because the most powerful music I’ve ever heard has been classical music," says Smith. "It dwarfs most bands but when ‘The Scream’ came out, I remember it was much slower than everybody thought. It was like the forerunner of the Joy Division sound, it was just big - sounding and although it was still labelled punk, that was only in the media sense."
The Banshees image has always been out of step with reality. Today it’s increasingly so.
"Well, what should I do?" asks Siouxsie. "Put on a twin set and glasses? That’s like changing to fit their idea of what goes with . . ."
Well, you’ve not exactly made it easy for yourselves. You’ve never been as accessible as you could have been.
"I think we have, in keeping with the idea of what the Banshees has always been: to do things and reach people without going through the normal trappings of just being so available and so watered down that that’s the only way they can accept you. I think we’ve managed not to water it down and not to be that available."
The Banshees’ artistic self-sufficiency is no pose, no idle boast. They do actually go about things differently from anybody else. Where most use music to create an atmosphere, leaning heavily on musical clichés to transmit Pavlovian reactions, the Banshees create music from atmosphere, feeling for the true sensation. Their influences and motives are extraordinary.
"That’s what we were saying when we first began," Severin agrees, "that we weren’t musicians. The inspiration has come from other things apart from music. I mean, what possibly could you listen to that would inspire you? We’re masters of our own style, it’s not like we slip from soul to funk-jazz and whatever . . .there’s really nothing that interesting on a fretboard or a keyboard that could keep your imagination going. It has to be situations and visual or sensation things that keep you wanting to express it in musical terms."
The only criteria for a subject to become a Banshees song is, according to Siouxsie: "That it’s interesting. That it’s something that you found out that you didn’t know happened or existed."
A problem recording in Hawaii (the Creatures), travelling extensively (The Banshees having played in Australia, Japan, Europe and Israel this year), sucking inspiration from videos (The Glove) and books ("Tenant" and "Painted Bird") is saddling the Banshees with a reputation fro contriving sensation, for following the imagination at the expense of the true emotion. In essence, are the Banshees fakes, experiencing by proxy?
"I can’t think of anything I’ve written that’s been completely conjured up," says Siouxsie.
"They can be inspired by things we’ve read or seen, but they’re very real reactions," says Severin. "You can trace that right back to our beginnings. We’ve never written for an audience like The Clash or the Jam, we’ve never written for a specific cause and, as we go further on and we get further and further away from our audience - which is inevitable because of the myths that they build up about you - that’s all you’re left with, your imagination."
"Imagination and what’s called unreality are obviously inextricably linked with reality anyway," says Smith. "It’s either an escape from it or it’s a way to explain it. Your imagination can’t be divorced from your waking life, it’s impossible."
So the Banshees’ only litmus is their own reality?
"Well, it's like people’s different views on sex," says Siouxsie. "Something’s better than nothing to a lot of people if they’ve got a need, whereas, to some others, only the best is good enough. I’d rather have nothing than just anything. It’s a want not a need."
Enigmatic, but honest.
"All these questions about what we feel we need to continue and what are we trying to achieve, they’re all media questions, they’re all based on the idea that the media should be there as a barometer against us," says Severin. "I think it’s nonsense."
"D’you know," sighs Budgie. "It still seems like we’re trying to convince everybody the world is not flat."
Suppose someday they succeed?
Why, most every other band would just fall off the edge.
SIOUXSIE - My Favourite Things
Hawaii with The Creatures. It felt I was somewhere completely different and things happened all the time. It was ideal. As a child we always used to go to Broadstairs. I remember seeing Cliff in the Pavilion there once. They also had those horrendous talent contests where kids would sing a song. I was once pushed up on stage and Adam Faith, I think, tried to coax me to sing "Ba Ba Black Sheep". I was so shy I just stood there and didn't utter a word. Terrible.
Soap. It's very funny and it's also so extreme. They go twice as far as in any other soap opera and that's so much better than trying to make it look real. My favourite character is Bert. He's so good and completely unpredictable. He's always the one who sees Martians or thinks he's invisible. He's outrageous.
The Last Judgement by Bosch. He has this grossly rich but horrible-looking person Bosch was sending up those people who could afford to eat then when there were millions of starving orphans. He uses painting like a hard instrument deriding someone who needs to be derided.
Again there's a lot but I'd say Jim Morrison. His voice has been aped and affected by so many people but he still sounds so relaxed and natural. I like the empty songs best where it's just his voice and a single instrument Drive". His voice was definitely the lead instrument in The Doors.
As far as watching goes, snooker. Sometimes I think it's really stupid watching balls go round but it's also so hypnotising. I like Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins who is spasmodically brilliant.
This is so hard. I've got so many favourites. I have a compilation tape that contains many of them. It includes "Romeo And Juliet" by Tchaikovsky, it was the theme music for the film Caligula. A piece from "The Rite Of Spring" by Stravinsky. It's another heavy orchestral piece. "Homo Sapien" by Pete Shelley, "Hello I Love You" by The Doors, various tracks off Lou Reed's "Berlin" LP, some DAF numbers. I can't pinpoint one. They all fit different moods though the one that always makes me go 'wooooh' is "Mighty Real" by Sylvester. It's a real celebration.
Japanese if I feel like a treat. If I see a huge plate of something I immediately lose my appetite but with Japanese there's lots of little courses. Funnily enough, I had my first Japanese meal in Los Angeles. I don't like the raw fish so much it has that bubble-gummy texture. But at home it's Heinz Baked Beans.
There's a kimono I was given in Tokyo. It was sent backstage with an anonymous card saying "thanks for playing in Tokyo and love the Banshees' music ". It's hand-made and is the type that's used in traditional Japanese theatre or on special occasions.
I've got loads of favourite pieces. I've a pendant that ends in a scarab beetle with a ring to match, It comes from Manila and Steve (Banshee) gave it to me. There's also a piece that a kid gave me in Japan. It's like a ridged gold tube that goes round the neck and meets as a snake in the middle. I've got some great tacky diamante which I've bought from theatrical junk shops. My favourite comes from an Indian shop. It's like a spiderweb diamante hand. I wear it in the video for "Miss The Girl".
Bad Timing with Art Garfunkel. It was set in Vienna amongst all those old, tall buildings that you find there. I wouldn't class it as a horror film but as a thriller Garfunkel was brilliant. I was really surprised. I didn't think of him as a musician in the film which you often do with rock stars who go into acting. There wasn't one bit where I went, 'eek!'
A cat but I haven't got one at the moment. My favourite ever was called Poochie. I've also got a peccary called Gregory and an armadillo called Amy in London Zoo. They have a scheme where you adopt an animal for a year. It was the time of The Creatures so Budgie and I thought, what a good idea. We had a look around and thought of a Tasmanian Devil, We chose the peccary because nobody else had enquired about it. It's a wiry-haired hog that's supposed to be really smelly and really bad-tempered. But it isn't. It's just nervous.
It's called Man Ray and I bought it in Japan. He's the best photographer ever. He uses amazing textures like flesh with wood. There's a picture where a Venetian blind makes a weird effect on a skintone. He'll make the body look like a chameleon. It's like looking at things under a microscope. He's influenced me a lot in presentation.
Ian Birch 27/10/83
SIOUXSIE (we might have had a
Siouxsie sits in a corner, dreaming. There's a secret in her brain. She looks for an invisible partner. She hesitates. We might have had a conversation.
What are you doing?
Wakening up to life
A life of pleasure?
I have something up my sleeve.
Will it be fun?
Not as serious as that, but something very personal and even quite proud.
Will it be pop?
That's the first really stupid question I've been asked, but no doubt not the last. Pop is something to be devoured, surely. Or at least diverted. It's too decent. But it will want to use me, so I will have to fight back. Even if it means wearing a mask.
I look forward to some strange episodes.
Well, I don't want to boast, but...
Siouxsie sings punk rock. Punk rock comes out of the corner and behaves like a small scale media phenomenon. Some loyalties shatter in the panic, a few people tighten their grip, and the wise ones decide that pop has no future or it's a future made up entirely of picture discs and limp memories of the year rock music was "revolutionised" by tiny pockets of aggression. Was punk rock a fight, a fumble, or one of the century's great fakes? Was there ever a chance of any kind of victory? It's no mystery. Punk rock was Spiral Scratch, the Sex Pistols playing live somewhere in the midlands, Siouxsie's hair and a bizarre accumulation of faith. Not really enough to change the way that we play our lives. Even so, the passion poison that some of us let into our heads gave some people a great opportunity to find pleasure through excess, and so at least challenge their deadening, wearying surroundings, to at least demand the mysterious, marvellous, elusive 'better'. It lasted for a while. It lingers to this day. It was never really believable. It was a prelude to the current confusion. After punk rock nothing could be the same again, but everything would end up the same. The result of punk: more rock music, more records, more groups - from Psychic TV to D. Rudan - saying 'believe in us'. What a weight.
And some of us still wait. Wait for what?
What are you singing?
No. it's just a fairy tale.
Will Siouxsie & The Banshees come to much?
They'll be a little ecstasy, and some insanity and then sometimes in the '80s, some cabaret.
It's only pop, though.
That's what they all say, but I won't let it hinder me. Why should I? If I don't believe what I read, why should I believe what I hear?
Are you doing something important?
I'm breathing... if I stop breathing, I'll die, or at least get a red face. So that's important... And if I do something boring, I'll get embarrassed, or at least get a red face. So... important? Put it this way, I'm not ashamed of my feelings and I don't see why people shouldn't submit to my fancies. It's a... diversion, if that doesn't sound too indecent. Although, I don't feel an eagerness towards any cause or anything. Causes just supply journalists with more copy, the drips. The thing is, I want to do some form of damage to stupidity. On my own, it could be important, it must be something. Maybe it's just a sentiment, or maybe I just have good manners.
But it's still only pop.
I can't help that. It's not something I can hit in the mouth, is it?
Will you be influential?
I will tyrannically enforce my taste without any feelings of shame. If there are people who will copy me, then I'm not about to hit them in the mouth either. I just want to create my own sun for myself. That's not much of a boast. Those with a good conscience surely work for the same thing.
What are you singing?
Love In A Void
It's not light music, if that's what you mean. Need is suppose to be the cause of things but in truth it is often only the result of things.
Is punk rock a revolution?
There are those who will say that it's honest rage. Maybe it's short-sighted. Maybe it will demolish some things. I think probably all that will happen is that some people will meet who otherwise might not have met.
And you'll get a lot of free time.
In a manner of speaking. Maybe pop was only ever meant to create some free time for the chosen ones.
Who does the choosing?
I chose myself.
Siouxsie sits in the Nashville, maybe longing for certainty, maybe waiting for her hair to dry. I meet her for the first time. I'm scared, because I'm shy. She's cold, because she's shy. Siouxsie & The Banshees are about to perform at The Nashville pub in West London, and I must interview them seriously. I wait for Siouxsie to speak to me. She sits surrounded by chilly, hardened Banshees, demanding yet despising that you fix your eyes on her. A flawed study in concealment. What an adventure... and what glamour. I wondered aloud if the group had anything to tell me. They kept it to themselves if they had. Were they playing pop music to solve one or two riddles? The question had never occurred to them. Were they playing pop music for any sense of danger? The question was obviously impertinent. They just stared at me, as if to say, there's a job to do and were the ones to do it. They were neither polite not joyful I thought 'This must be Punk Rock'. Will people ever be nostalgic for some of this? A few months later Siouxsie & The Banshees would sign to Polydor Records and become professionals. Is that adventure? Would it be glamorous? I asked Siouxsie & The Banshees why they made music and they stared through me as if to say - if you have to ask, you can never understand the answer. I looked back at them and I tried to say, but is there an answer?
I waited for Siouxsie to talk to me. We might have had a conversation.
Is THERE an answer?
If you're looking for motives, I don't want to help you.
So what's the difference between Siouxsie & The Banshees and a vulgar, mediocre pop group?
That's a secret.
Is it just a matter of desire?
I don't think it matters. Let me give you a hint, we want to curse and we want to bless. That won't help you.
But it will keep a distance...
Almost exactly... you see part of the secret is, never be gentle. When you're gentle and you give things away then that's when you become weak, vulgar and mediocre. The aim isn't to change peoples lives or become spokesmen or to shock them into slashing their wrists. It's just that you must never give in... to whatever... because then you might as well give up. And it's only you yourself who can ever know whether you've given in and whether you should just give up.
How will you know if you've given into... whatever?
If we ever play the Albert Hall.
When you get a record deal, will your records change people?
I suppose there'll be some sort of effect. I prefer to be ignorant about the future. I don't want to come to grief by being impatient and anticipatory. I believe in the unlikely more than I believe in promise.
What are you singing about?
All things broken and deformed. The hour of our birth. The illnesses of history. Smells, screams, skin, dreams... ideas for frightening stories. What more do you want to know? Everything is part of life, and you include it in what you do whether you're a pop group or an athlete. If you see that the world is empty, it's there to be filled with feeling.
Isn't that just twaddle?
I'll be silent if you want. I don't care if I'm particularly misunderstood, as long as my progress isn't sabotaged.
Progress towards what?
First I found that I had a body, then that I had a mind, then I found the world that I live in... maybe I will shortly come to believe in invisible things, gods and angels, wills and powers, atoms, voids. Is that your answer?
Who are you performing for?
For anyone who wants to find out what I'm like.
Why should they bother?
Will they ever find out what you are like?
You're always after details. You're trying to get me to make pronouncements on what is right and what is wrong... is only in history, government, propaganda that it is of any importance if anybody is right about anything. There are things that come to be as something that is an end in itself... you ask for details. Really, you're just after safety. I don't really care.
Is what Siouxsie & The Banshees do just youthful blundering, or is it coincidence, self-discipline and the ardent desire for beauty?
That's the real dilemma, isn't it?
Are the Banshees about estrangement? Keeping banality at a distance and extricating experience from its mortal enemy - oblivion.
You're still asking about details...
Have you a plan?
I wouldn't fall into that trap.
Siouxsie sits on a train, tired. At the Nashville it was an unfriendly early evening: this time it's less unfriendly early morning, a train journey from Liverpool to London following a Banshees show at some large theatre. I remember absolutely nothing about the show, maybe it was at the University. It could have been an early Human League who supported them. It's all sickly history. Siouxsie & The Banshees are now two LP's old and standard-with-a-twist pop stars. And what's changed in the world, or in the air, or in the music papers? The tiniest of things. So exactly. So there. Some point is proved, that effort will often only lead on to more effort, that there's never any time for a real celebration. Siouxsie & The Banshees have melted into entertainers with a submerged sense of vocation who practice self-determination, freedom and the pursuit of kicks. Their strength lies in the fact that they oppose facility and sentimentality, and they hope dearly that anything can happen. Has anything died within them since they were caught up inside a punk movement? Are they less the people they were? Do they demand less from the world and its depths? It's hard to tell. They are what they always were and what they always will be: a choice. In this absurd world all we can do is make choices. I wait for Siouxsie to agree. Maybe we had a conversation.
Do you feel any different not being apparently controversial - now that you're not a crypto-fascist but one of those innumerable pop stars?
I still have the same fascinations and I still think that there are people in the world who require embarrassing...
Have you grown up?
I still have the same resolve to live.
Do you feel useful..?
What a strange question... I suppose I will be asked stranger ones. If such a thing were ever the case I would be tactful ever to admit to it... There are certain tactics I employ when talking to you people.
Is writing the songs hard?
No, the writing is easy. It's the waiting that's hard.
Waiting for what?
For them first to live and then to die That seems to be what happens to songs.
What is important to you in life?
Sin and grace. And, I suppose, making something of myself...
That seems to be what you are doing.
It's maybe all that I am doing...
But on what terms?
One set or another.
What frivolous things are important to you?
To be noticed.
You admit it?
It's the very opposite to wanting to fight wars.
Siouxsie sits alone at the back of a Ford Transit van, lost in herself. Siouxsie & The Banshees are in the middle of a long tour of Britain, playing their songs, saying their things, embedded into the very centre of pop routine. There is - and we were daft to ever think otherwise - no escape from that routine's pits and falls and demands. You ride the routine and do your best. From Jagger to George we see that the possibilities are there. Where? Right inside the appalling routine, at its heart, which you must win over.
The Banshees on their tour... are there plenty of bitter pills they must chew and swallow? Were they once dangerous and are they now respectable, or vice versa? Are they still allowed to have strange obsessive thoughts? Does popularity give them power? Does success give them unlimited leisure and suck them dry of any terrorising tendencies? Is it possible to be a professional pop group and produce something that just cannot be missed?
The Banshees on this tour are not as ice cold as they used to be, but they're just as keen... keen on their job... and their job is maybe just being distinctive... the brute courage of being yourself is proved to be more than another mere punky banality. I spent some time on tour with them, and decided that the Banshees weren't yet drowned by the relentless, pouring safety of their pop context; that they were managing to stand aside from it, and were not being trodden down dead by the jollity of their surroundings; that they were still elaborately cynical and absolutely greedy. And sublimely self-centred. Was this all their magic?
But the questions are hurled about... and they rebound... and the silences are resounding... and I have to ask Siouxsie if 'all that we see and seem is but a dream within a dream'. Has Siouxsie won over the heart of routine? I wait for her to talk to me. Maybe we had a conversation.
Are you still good?
It's all a matter of taste.
Do you love life?
I live it... it hasn't broken my heart yet. And you must know that some of our songs are love-cries.
What is the best thing that you can achieve?
Raising the dead! That's what we spend all our time doing.
You admit you have an aim?
Well, if there really is one, its outline wavers and recedes and fades until it's lost in space.
Siouxsie haunted the year, a ghost from the past, punky or otherwise, a vision from some future, not quite correct in the present. Something drifting through. Was there anyway a group that grew out of the incoherence of punk, invented its own thrilling rhythms, a group once so agitated yet patient, dynamic yet grandiose, unreasonable yet irresistible, was there any way this group could seriously combat the yawning triumphs of Wham, Duran Duran, Paul Young, and could it even matter? Were they capable of appearing as committed and as deranged as the Bat Cave breed or would it even matter? Were the surfaces even less important to them than they'd ever been? Did competition have no meaning at all? Was it enough for them to create surprises in their own half-hearted, craftily, careless way... Were they refusing challenges? Were they betraying their own hard struggles in the past, their light successes, by being so erratic and remote? Were they working just as hard as ever, still in love with their jobs, but we couldn't see it? Did they finally decide that they had no duties to anyone except themselves? Had they given in? Were they saying that there was no place for energetic people, that what they had spent seven years building up was actually a farce?
More questions than ever; 1983 was such a confusion, and the difficult and easy questions flooded out in front of us. Is it worth waiting around for something like punk to happen again, in disguise or completely different? Do people care about fighting banality and joylessness? Are there people waiting for something beyond style, beyond categorisation, beyond classification? Are people just prepared to tolerate the drift, the clamouring cries of pop groups with their 'Believe In Us'. Do we wait? For what?
There were lots of end of year questions that I was going to put to Siouxsie - about her group's strange part in this crushing year, about the wait and the weight... often, she has just been an invisible partner, but this time I thought that maybe she or we could discover the extent of her responsibility, or her neutrality. Are we now just sinking away, the Banshees amongst us, punk the last promise, everything else just lapses and levities? I waited for Siouxsie to talk to me. She didn't turn up.
Maybe we had a conversation
Paul Morley 12/83
A 27 year-old singer who...
"I had fried moose last night." Siouxsie tells me for no apparent reason when we first meet.
"Fried mousse, as in pudding?" I enquire incredulously.
"No. Fried moose as in M-O-O-S-E, the animal with horns."
I am shocked. For I thought that Siouxsie, with her fondness for pussycats and animals in the zoo (The Creatures have adopted a peccary called Gregory and an armadillo called Amy), would be veggie. "What!" she splutters. "I'm not a veggie. I couldn't get up in the morning if I were a veggie. I need my beefburgers!"
"Yes. Birds Eyes are the best. Birds Eye make the best fish fingers too. Birds Eye beefburgers, baked beans on toast, instant mash - that's the stuff!"
Siouxsie, it turns out, is a mass of small, endearing contradictions. The beefburger-guzzling furry animal lover doesn't like contemporary pop music much at all - yet she never misses Top Of The Pops. She has a passion for horror movies and is currently trying to track down a copy of the banned 'video nasty' Driller Killer - yes she would often rather be watching Terry Wogan. She is fascinated by grisly murder mysteries - yet, it is obvious, she wouldn't hurt a fly. She thinks that Howard Jones is, frankly, rather "wet" - yet describes Robert Smith, whose hair-dos rival Howard's in the silly stakes, as cuddly.
On stage she rarely cracks a smile, preferring to project herself as the cold, sinister siren - yet throughout the following Q&A investigation session, she cackles and giggles with unnerving regularity.
What do your friends from before you were famous think of you now?
I don't have any friends from before. I haven't got any school chums. I didn't have any deep friendships at school because it was all silly girls talking about their boyfriends. I thought they were all a bit ridiculous so I tended to hang out quite a lot with my older brother and sister.
What do they think of you now?
They're jolly proud. They come to the concerts. My sister's a dancer and my brother owns an off license in Lewisham. I hunt out strange liquors for him in diverse places and for my birthday he bought me a whole crate of Saki (foul-tasting alcoholic beverage from Japan).
Do you often get recognised when you're shopping in Tesco's?
Yes. It doesn't make my day when I get recognised, particularly when I'm feeling delicate with a hangover. It's ridiculous when people start noticing what you're buying and following you when you're making a bee-line for the mincemeat - "Ooh, look! That's her doing that!" I suppose I should go shopping in disguise to make my trip less traumatic but I don't really have anything normal I can wear - unless I got out in my dressing gown.
Do you ever get verbal abuse in the street?
No. The looks I get are sometimes abusive, but no-one has ever come up and said "Ooh, I think you're disgusting." Before I was well known they did, but these days people tend to be wary of me. Except for some of the fans.
Fans bother you?
Well, I do get a bit angry when people find out where I live and start banging on the door and inviting themselves in for a chat. It's stupid and inconsiderate. The Banshees are not the Bay City Rollers, for goodness sake! We don't want to rush out after a gig into a Rolls Royce and zoom off but a lot of the time were forced to. I'm not Simon Le Bon. Mind you, I can't imagine who'd want to know where Simon Le Bon lives. Some people must be very bored that's all I can say. Marc Almond's been besieged quite a lot. I think he's a charming young man.
As charming as "cuddly" Robert Smith?
Oh, Robert's a cutie. I punch him around and hug him. Mind you, you won't catch me doing a song about pussycats even though I passionately adore them. It's a bit weedy to go on about things you passionately love like that. I love chocolate cake but I don't sing about it.
Tell me about the men in your life?
You'll have to start working for the Daily Star if you want to ask those sort of questions. You can't trick me. Do you think I'm a fool?
Alight, then. Tell me about Steven Severin.
Steven's very cuddly. Actually, that's an ironic lie! (peals of ironic laughter).
Alight, then. Tell me about the men you admire?
I'd love to meet J. G. Ballard (trendy novelist). Who else is there? Sylvester - he's fabulous. And I'd like to bump into Jack Nicholson in the supermarket He's got a wicked smile. Oooh, I'm squirming! I hate being made to squirm. Can we drop the subject?
Very well. Do you miss the so-called 'heady' days of punk?
Not really. I get really fed up when people try and analyse it as a 'cause', which it wasn't. But it's a shame that there doesn't seem to be much of that kind of vibe for today's kids. I mean Howard Jones or somesuch - I feel sorry for kids that they haven't got something a bit more exciting than that. It must have been really exciting to be young when the Rolling Stones were around infuriating Mums and Dads, but Howard Jones - really!
Are there any contemporary pop acts you like?
I like the Weather Girls. They're pretty contemporary. But there's so many new groups and some of them might be brilliant but I wouldn't know because I don't listen to the radio. I listen to LBC (London news station) and their idea of the pop scene is Supertramp and that group that did "Sultans Of Swing". Apart from Top Of The Pops, I spend a lot of time escaping from pop music.
What would you be if you weren't a singer?
A make up artist or a pathologist.
Why are you interested in pathology (the science of bodily diseases)?
Well, I think crazy crimes and bits of fingers turning up on railway lines and finding out who dropped them - that's fascinating. I'm fascinated with untypical behaviour - or maybe it's typical human behaviour. Who can say? But murders aren't very clever anymore. They're not very daring. It's just get a gun - bang - and everyone sees you. No-one seems to use acid very much to destroy the evidence. I read something recently where they've come up with a dissolvable gun. You can kill someone and flush the gun down the toilet and it disappears. That's cheating, really.
What are your favourite horror films?
Things like The Alien, Psycho, The Tenant, The Thing and really stupid ones like Theatre Of Blood with Vincent Price. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was hilarious and I cheered to The Evil Dead because there's all these dumb college kids that start walking around in the dark on their own knowing that there's a demented killer about. They deserve to get it basically for being so dumb and such stupidly American college kids going "yak yak yak". They're so obnoxious.
What do you think of the musical category "New Women In Rock"?
Revolting! I suppose they think it's such a novelty that the little ladies are actually opening their mouths. It's insulting, tiresome and irritating. How DARE they dump me into their stupid little categories?
Where's your head at?
Ooh. It's a bit tunnel-vision at the moment and my hair's gone all weedy and fluffy and stupid. I've got terribly weedy hair today. I must say, I do like this idle chit-chat. It's much better than a real interview...
Tom Hibbert 1983
don't look black
Seven years have passed since punks first bleak winter, and this year the Banshees arrived at the impasse of a Royal Albert Hall gig, a double live LP and a hostile press. But is this really the beginning of the end, or just the end of the beginning?
"In a way," says Siouxsie, "there is sadness. Everything has changed, there's no such thing as an underground. It's impossible to get that atmosphere of being at something special that no one is aware of. Everything is always a media thing before it even happens."
Mourn the dawning.
"It must be really hard to be young now and hate your parents, because that's always been fed by the animosity between kids and grown ups. It must be tough for young people to sift through the quagmire. There's so many groups trying to be noticed, and in the way that they're trying to be noticed they're all the same."
Remember the overground.
"Earlier, I think there were groups who came along who didn't have a musical identity. People saw them and thought, What was that? Whereas now people know what to expect from things they've heard about. They know how they'll dress and they know the kind of people they'll meet there. Before it was always such a diverse audience, because it was always by chance that people turned up at things."
OK, so here we are, nice and snug in a big Christmas ish and as usual we have our celebrities on parade and Sooksie seems like a good in-limbo hanging-around sort of superstar, so we'll just slot her in and tell her things like, well Sioux, you've been conspicuously absent this year yet you're everywhere, all this black hair and leather and mascara and bands living off 'The Scream' and denying it and sometimes we just sit here and wonder where you're taking us...
Except that when we come back from tea with Sioux 'n' Sev there's always a Paolo Hewitt or two proffering helpful clues like, come on, mate, Siouxsie 'n' the Banshees are just a buncha fuckin' hippies that after all none of this changes the fact that...
THE SUBLIME IS THE SUBVERSIVE
... or that, as the girl who so kindly pours my tea has been heard to remark on a separate occasion, 'there is either a superficial gaiety... or an interest in the wicked things that are done to people'.
Every good story deserves a playground twist, specially if it doesn't look like it's going to end. Siouxsie & The Banshees once accused "hideous Springsteens" of manufacturing styles into myths and are not going to be caught rotting into their own myth. What a soulboy could not possibly see in a group like S & the B's is that (unlike soulboys) they do not have style (wearing, borrowing, temporarily appropriating a style) but are style.
That is pop's profanity: to straddle the little bits and pieces, the here and there, the this-billy and that-funk, and just be, be decisively and nihilistically narcissistic. This is all: to risk vulgarity for the sake of sublimity.
So they will not be this, and they will not be that. They will be Siouxsie & The Banshees.
It is worth mentioning that their music is beautiful - that it is styled and very stylish, that it refers to no "style", no subtext of behaviour or belief, that is is not factional, that it sways and intoxicates and binds us in a spell? Just thought I'd through it in.
I love Siouxsie because she is not vain and she is not a sex goddess and she is not a drug fiend and she is not a liar. See her face unfurl in sombre glamour; gracious and graceful.
EVE WHITE/EVE BLACK: PARADISE PLACE
"I suppose the difficulty is coping with being lumped along with all the other pop groups. We're finding it a bit frustrating that it's not obvious why we're different from any number of people who are in the charts for a few months.
"When you're frustrated like that, you feel really aggressive, and it usually ends up with you cutting off your nose to spite your face. We could have done more interviews to explain things, and its particularly me who's said no, I don't want to do anything, I think it's been good, but the motive behind it has been that aggression."
Upon this Venus-in-black waits a chauffeur named Severin.
"I think the problem is that young people can't discriminate between bands like the Bunnymen and us, they lump us along with them. Every year there's someone else to be lumped along with."
THE DAY THE GLO-WORM TURNED ART NOUVEAU
that dowdy flock -
The journey from suburban relapse to Klimtian dreamhouse is one we're too ready to assume is a flight from anger to picture-book mystery, as though this gaunt decadence, this untouchable exoticism, were merely a suburban fantasia, an upward mobile of escapism. Their remoteness then becomes just another form of sentimentality.
In every arthouse a dreamache: the torment of an Almond. The chrysalis has broken - indeed, as Bolan said, the butterflies have flown from our own stomachs (particularly since we all gave up speed, n'est-ce pas?)
Sev: "I think exotic's the wrong word, really. It keeps cropping up, but to me exotic is the kind of expression you use for Spanish holidays. I'd have thought we were more... imaginary."
Sioux: "There is something more exotic about us, but people do want to reach out for something a bit unobtainable. To me, it's all just looking at things differently, or just more openly. I mean, I'm glad I can look at everyday things slightly askew."
Besides, are they lost in a dreamhouse? For every mosaic eye and pearl-bearded lizard, there's a cocoon or a pair of green fingers. This kiss is not synthetic, not duplicitous.
But you ask whether Siouxsie & The Banshees write about real life - grimy things - and if so, is Sioux the gentle, cat-loving creature painted by self-confessed animal lover Julie Burchill?
Sioux: "Well, she may like animals, but I'm not a mother... yes, I can be gentle, I haven't got a chip on my shoulder, but you should see what's in my freezer..."
Remember: Sioux wouldn't touch a hair on a cat's back but she might turn cannibal at any moment.
listening to your fear?
Sioux: "The fear is just seeing and being aware that things that might be pleasing to you... can be your downfall. People included. All the good things, all the happiness can be very negative in that they numb you. That's where the danger is, when you're numbed to other people's pain and other people's pleasure. That applies to anyone but more so given the unreality of being a pop star."
Sev: "It's like anything, it takes a bit of concentration and concern to find those things within the lyric, which you can't really demand of a listener and shouldn't really expect... because it's such a supposedly trivial medium. So it's almost inevitable that you get tagged with doom 'n' gloom etcetera, simply because most people haven't got the inclination to open up and discuss some of the subjects. But I don't see why we should not try and do that. It's ridiculous to do anything else.
all in my imagination,
POMP OF CIRCUMSTANCE
Sioux and the boys find themselves at an unenviable point on the exponential curve of fame. People like to suppose they know what Siouxsie & The Banshees are about: a few masks, a couple of images. And it's difficult, it has to be said, to get any perspective on these groups, the ones that stay with us.
Their powdered faces and lipsticks and bleached hairs pop out of every newsstand and flash across every vidscreen to a degree at which they become almost tiresomely transparent.
But in ten years I shall look back on even this live dubble of a record and feel a shiver of loss. I didn't see Albert Hall, that gathering of nocteens who, as Simon Frith had it, "make the exotic look dowdy" (forget not the dowdy flock!), but the Banshees live have frozen me to the floor - with the horrifying tenderness of 'Night Shift', the glistening whirlwind of 'Spellbound', the magnificent procession of 'Israel'.
Morley in his dream Blitz dialogue misses the girl but asks her what would make her realise that she'd given in. "If we ever played the Albert Hall" is the suggested reply.
Sioux: "The Albert Hall, I don't think I'd ever considered us playing there. Earl's Court or Wembley, yes, and I still say we'll never play there. It's not just a question of scale, it's a question of how perverse it is as well.
"The Albert Hall I thought was quite perverse. We've seen some of the footage we filmed and it's like this grand concert performance and all these diverse people arriving next to these huge portraits and busts and all the pomp and everything. There's nothing wrong with all that, if it's in the right place at the right time."
The Bunnymen played the Albert Hall.
Sioux: "Well, yeah, but we've never worn raincoats or had camouflage... we never tried to blend in with the audience! It's always been a show. At the beginning it was always frustrating that it wasn't bigger. Now it's frustrating to contain the simplicity. But it's good that there's that combat, still wanting something that isn't perfect."
Is it just a case of people not seeing the motion for the dry ice?
Sev: "All the visual drama is only there to enhance the mood of a song, as opposed to bands who just use it as a sideshow. If you have an audience that large, you have to project, but it's the way you project that matters. But with us, its always real smoke, never dry ice!"
Sioux: That is the difference between us and all the other bands. We use smoke."
Is there not a terrible stigma attached to the, urgh, live double album?
Sioux: "Well, yes. I always said we'll never bring out a live album, and I was being a real old boot about it, but when we played it all back with the visuals, I really thought it worked. Comparing it with what everyone else was doing with their live stuff, it was a million times better. I also think a lot of the songs were better live, like 'Cascade' and 'Pulled To Bits', because they were just so much less controlled."
Do the Banshees melt in performance?
Sioux: "Yes, I think when you're aware that you're on these objects, like a stage with amplifiers and electricity running in wires... I mean, I hate equipment. I like what can be done with it but as far as drummers talking about drums and guitarists talking about guitars, you know, I hate all that."
Sev: "I would have thought it was the only reason fro ever stepping on a stage. When we do, that's the point we have to get to as quickly as possible. The rest, the display and all that, is just incidental."
Is it surprising that the "punks" still show?
Sev: "Well, they're quite young, they're a different kind of punk..."
But still looking for something that is no longer on offer.
Sioux: "LAAHVE EENER VOIID!!! The time we spend editing these little bastards screaming after every song!"
Auntie Sioux scolds: "The unchanged and the unchangeable/Doing zombierama". And the Batcave mob? Why is this gothic glam so popular?
Sioux: "I dunno, for the first time in my life I wanna wear yellow flared trousers! White! Pink! I mean, I think people wear all this black because it's very glamorous. Everyone adores Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams."
Sev: "I think everyone's fed up waiting for The Cramps to come over."
Isn't it absurd that a couple of old nihilists like Sioux 'n' Sev should have supplied the imagery wholesale for positive punkers?
Sioux: "We should be hung, drawn and quartered for it!"
Sev: "Me and Robert had a very drunken conversation with Death Cult one evening. They got very irate when we called people who went to concerts punters."
Was positive punk a new club for heroes?
not seeing what I'm meant to
Can this demure Bromley pair really be something so grand as nihilists? Don't they believe there's a morsel of good in human nature?
Sioux: "That comes and goes! Mainly it's on the way. Did you see that thing on the boat people last night? It was quite horrific, just outrageous, these pirates attacking the boat people. There was this little girl who must have been nine when it happened, and she'd been subjected to multiple rape, and then you saw the officials who were supposed to be stopping the pirates, and it was obvious it was just a gesture and they couldn't give a fuck. For a start, they were trying to lure the pirates into a harbour when it was obvious that pirates weren't going to come anywhere near it.
"Sometimes you look around and you think great, London's such a great place, people are doing things, and then you see that and you're just sitting there screaming at the TV."
But the pessimism of a song like 'Circle' doesn't sum up the Banshees' world-view?
Sioux: "That's more domestic horror, but I think it's saying you've got a choice. It's disagreeing with the philosophy that says if you've come from somewhere bad then you've had no choice. I've known people who've come from appalling backgrounds and they're getting on and they're not jealous and they're not sitting back and saying, this is my lot, I give up. I'd love to believe that everyone does have a choice. I think everyone can have self-worth.
"People ask me if I think people respect me for what I do and I just think what a horrible, elitist question, because I think everybody should respect themselves and not feel less than or inferior to. People ask you that and they expect you to be humble and then they're shocked if you show some kind of self respect."
For Siouxsie & The Banshees, 1983 has been a year of diversions. They've haunted, watched on from the wings, but without paying much attention to what their numberless clones were doing. The divergent projects of The Creatures and The Glove have not so much kept them out of the public eye as averted their eyes from the public.
Sioux 'n' Sev will admit to a "humorous rivalry", but actually they've been engaged in very different pursuits: The Creatures was a cunning feint, an ostensible escape from pop that coughed up 'Miss The Girl', while The Glove was Severin and Smith taking a bubblegum bath in psychedelic pop.
Isn't there a pause for thought when 'Melt!' misses and 'Miss The Girl' hits?
Sev: "Both 'Melt!' and 'Slowdive' were risky choices as singles and we knew that, but it didn't really bother us, because we knew that 'Dreamhouse' was successful, not in sales terms but we were pleased with how it had gone.
With the special projects, it was like all these new avenues had opened up in the media and we could suddenly give them two new names. We could get away with things that we couldn't have done as Siouxsie & The Banshees, because so many people are scared off by the name. And we liked all the confusion of, Are the Banshees splitting up? That's always fun."
Are The Glove and The Creatures a part of The Banshees or are they complete offshoots?
Sev: "I imagine the lyrics could swap over into the Banshees, but both things had a very separate identity, and we both knew what we were trying to do was different from the Banshees."
Perhaps the Glovers should do 'Miss The Girl' and The Creatures do 'Like A Animal'. Quite honestly, I didn't care much for either. Creatures? 'Sky Train' was Lydia Lunch crossed with Hamilton Bohannon. The Glove? 'Animal' might have been Altered Images struggling with 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'.
Sioux on 'Feast': "It was just a lot simpler. The good thing about The Creatures was that it was limited to just drums and voice, and that was the challenge, to see what we could come up with."
(See also: Abba, 'Happy Hawaii'.)
Sev on 'Blue Sunshine': "Obviously there was an interest in psychedelia. We didn't have any set idea of what we wanted to do. After a few pointless discussions we just went in and started writing songs, and eventually honed in on shared interests, one of which happened to be late 60's garbage, but nothing hippy-dippy. The problem for us was how can we get Barbarella onto a record sleeve and not be seen as idols."
FROM MANSON TO PRUDENCE
From the splintered churn of McKay through the glistening mesh of McGeoch to the svelte scythe of Robert Smith; from the waltzing dirge of 'Staircase' through the darkened 'Heart Of Glass' of 'Monitor' to the gondolier's rhapsody of 'Melt!', the thing called Siouxsie & The Banshees has undergone some extraordinary expansions.
What happened after the desertion of McKay and Morris that led to the beautiful things of 'Kaleidoscope'? How did they come to trade in the portable black 'n' white for a full colour set?
Sev: "The main turning point was John and Kenny leaving, because up until then we'd written songs as a group. All through 'Kaleidoscope' it was mainly me and Sioux writing the basic structures of songs and everything else was like embellishments. Now we've got back to whole group songs again.
"Once we'd realised the advantage of working in those different ways, we tried to do it in other ways, where you just work from a completely different instrument, like a piano, or from a tape loop, and just try to extend your approach to recording. With McKay and Morris, the music was inevitably harder sounding, because we didn't really communicate that well."
There was talk of this "dirty sound" on 'Slowdive'. Is there a sequel to 'The Lord's Prayer'?
Sev: "I think the live album's quite trashy."
That's not exactly what I meant.
Sioux: "'Bring Me The Head Of The Preacher Man' could be like that."
I was going to ask whether the music of Siouxsie & The Banshees is still blasphemous, I guess that title answers my question.
What's coming up?
Sev: "The main topic at the moment seems to be disease."
SHAGG'S ON THING
I gather there are plans afoot (injoke) to release an album on Wonderland by legendary girlgroup The Shaggs.
Sioux: "Yeah, that's how were gonna change the pop industry. Forget your styles, listen to The Shaggs! They do frightening versions of 'Gimme Dat Ding' and Paper 'Roses'."
The Philosophy Of The World album should be the death of rock n roll.
Sev: "It makes The Residents looks like dullards. Its like the Texas Chainsaw family come to life."
Sioux: "Bit disappointing, though, they've got a bit more proficient by the second record. These little sparks will get polluted. I mean 'Foot Foot', that's my favourite. I love to imagine them in a swamp somewhere, with Pa and Ma and all the aunts and uncles involved. There's a live song with all these babies screaming along. It's like the whole clan has been gathered."
the victim stared up
Did Sioux 'n' Sev ever reckon on getting this far?
Sioux: "Of course not, but in a way that's what I like about pop music, that you can't be sure of what's going to happen. It's knowing that things can be turned upside down and people who look like they're in a very secure position suddenly find the bottom falls out on them. I enjoy that. It's annoying sometimes, but that kind of letdown or uplift within the pop market is a big part of what it's about."
Sev: "We used to have these people around us who were always telling us how to keep everything rolling and still be in the public eye..."
Sioux: "The rules and regulations of how to be a pop star..."
Sev: "It's only really in retrospect that we think of things as successes or failures. At the time what happened with 'Melt!' and 'Slowdive' didn't really bother us. We were too busy with McGeoch."
How do Siouxsie and the B's stay different?
Sev: "It's hard to feel different in England, because of all the things that have been going on, but every time we go abroad we get the same feeling of being on the outside of everything."
Sioux: "Certainly some of the times we've been abroad have really woken me up and kept me writing about things. Some of the places I really hated, like down under, I just wanted to kill everyone on the street."
What does Paul Morley want Siouxsie & The Banshees to do?
Sioux: "I think he'd like to see people like us appear alongside the brats who are gobbling up TV appearances and sort of level it out. I think that's what he means. And that's my dilemma."
Don't they have any inheritors? Aren't there a few misfits, like The Cocteau Twins, who aren't desperately exposing themselves as pop acts?
Sioux: "Yes, but they're still feeding a definite audience. It's not a chance audience, the audience that saw The Sex Pistols for the first time. I think music needs an implosion as opposed to an explosion. I think people have exploded so much that they're just too wide apart. Something needs to go inward."
Something will snap and send you spinning You will have no choice."
"It's only pop though." (Paul Morley)
So now The Banshees have followed in the path of Marmalade and gained a hit by swiping a song from The Beatles' White Album. Oddly enough, the mighty whitey, which came out in November, 1968, never provided the Fab Four with a hit single during the life of the band, even though there were 30 tracks to dip into. But others were never so reticent, the Marms and The Bedrocks being the first off the mark, both bands having a cover of 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' in the UK charts within days, the former's version climbing all the all the way to Number One. Meanwhile, the Stateside plunder merchants went berserk and during 1969 Chubby Checker charted with 'Back In The USSR', Ramsey Lewis with 'Julia' and Arthur Conley with 'Ob-La-Di', the biggest success of all going to an outfit known as Underground Sunshine, who latched onto 'Birthday', took it into the Top 30 and then disappeared from sight for the rest of eternity. Unfortunately, the album had other, less desirable admirers. Charles Manson adopting two tracks, 'Piggies' and 'Helter Skelter', as a kind of rationale for his odious activities - and it was in 1969 that his Family made its biggest hit, slaying actress Sharon Tate and her friends at a Hollywood party. Much later - in 1976 - The Beatles did obtain their own White Album hit when EMI belatedly released 'Back In The USSR' as a single and were rewarded with a Top 20 entrant. But since that time, all has been calm on that particular cover-version front... until Siouxsie and 'Dear Prudence' that is.