|SUPERSTITION - MAGAZINE COVERS|
|SUPERSTITION - INTERVIEWS/ARTICLES|
|MELODY MAKER 11/05/91|
|RECORD HUNTER 01/92|
|THE ISLAND EAR 20/01/92|
|ROCK WORLD 01/10/92|
|UNKNOWN SOURCE 1992|
|MELODY MAKER 17/10/92|
If you knew Siouxsie
Still reeling from the shock of a hit single ‘Face To Face’ from the latest ‘Batman’ movie, SIOUXSIE is even more surprised to find herself a bona fide rock veteran with even a ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation on the way. GITTI GÜLDEN tracks her down to a cemetery in France.
Siouxsie’s looking hot. All black leather and smiles, she sweeps into the cemetery with all the charisma of a Thirties movie legend, her old man Budgie on her arm.
They’re late, but high-spirited, proudly showing off photies of the new additions to the family ... four stray kittens they’ve adopted. "Aren’t we boring!" says Budgie, laughing. "Showing off cat photos like other people show off pictures of their babies."
Siouxsie and Budgie thought it would be a bit of a hoot to do the photo session at a cemetery so here we are at the Cemetiere de Terre Cabade overlooking Toulouse. They moved to France in April and now live in a tiny village not far away on the outskirts of Toulouse.
"I wanted to quit England and live in a Catholic country!" giggles Siouxsie. "No, but look at the beauty of the buildings. The French obviously enjoy a much more aesthetically pleasing and more exciting lifestyle, just in their daily routine. I find the English very reserved and rather cold - you’re not meant to show who you like or dislike, you have to be neutral. I find that a bit boring.
"I first got the taste of a different lifestyle when we were down in Spain, close to Cadiz. We were working as The Creatures then on ‘Boomerang’ (released in March, ‘89) and we ended up living on this old ranch, which was a 14th Century convent called ‘La Penuela’. I basically just wanted to experience living somewhere else in my lifetime - I wanted to risk something. There are so many people who always want to do things like that and then stay at home with their dreams. It’s good to put yourself in an unknown situation every now and then. Otherwise you become complacent. Sometimes I wish I was in London, but then again it’s always worth trying something different. Even if coming to France turns out to be a mistake, at least I’ve learned something."
So here we are in a French cemetery and before you know it Siouxsie’s changed out of the black leather and is gliding around in a skintight floor-length gold number, decorated head-to-toe with daring slashes and topped off by stunning high-heeled slippers. The effect is breathtaking.
Siouxsie engages the locals in friendly banter and impresses them with her command of French, buying a pink plastic bouquet from a thrilled flower lady. The cemetery jobsworth is less impressed, forcibly removing the whole entourage from the premises. Siouxsie’s instantly on the phone to the local mayor and the cemetery gates are magically opened once more. Everyone, including the jobsworth, look on in amazement as the divine creature in the stunning outfit throws herself around the tombstones with a relish that is almost surreal, if not downright weird.
"I think cemeteries are beautiful," she says. "I like cemeteries and churches for the peace and romanticism, and the beauty of the architecture, especially in the southern part of Europe or Mexico. They hired top artists of the period to do them and it was very much a way of expressing their feelings for religion or lust for life and it showed the craftsmanship of it. It’s sad that religion itself doesn’t work like that. It’s very monetary based and it’s more about barriers and differences. Instead of uniting people it separates people. When I’m in church I feel very religious, but I think religion has been bastardised. I go more for the symbolism of it than the reality. Religion’s become so politicised that it seems to be man’s intention to scare people into behaving themselves. Religion is always used as a threat or a power - I know so many people who had a Catholic upbringing who still have a fear rather than a love of God.
"But I still have a childish belief in churches because of the beauty and the tranquillity. On a hot day you can go into church and it’s wonderfully cool. You’ve got lovely windows and sometimes cascades of flowers and it’s beautiful."
It’s been a satisfying period for Siouxsie And The Banshees. Their international reputation soared with the ‘Face To Face’ single included in the ‘Batman Returns’ movie, a forthcoming ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation should further enhance their status as one of rock’s long-term giants, and Budgie’s in demand as a drummer, playing on a couple of tracks on the new Indigo Girls album.
Not bad for the 19 year-old Londoner who sold her soul to punk in 1976, getting up on stage at the 100 Club punk festival with Sid Vicious, reciting ’The Lord’s Prayer’. Of all the mad bastards running riot at the time, Siouxsie looked one of the least likely to build a respected long-term career. And no-one has been more surprised than Siouxsie herself.
"When we made the ’Kaleidoscope’ album in 1980, I think that was the first time I actually felt part of something rather than just being in the right place at the right time or physically being caught up in a whirlwind of the aggression and excitement of simply living through all of it. I started to consider myself as a musician for the first time when we were doing ’Kaleidoscope’ - not seriously, but it was then I started getting interested in sounds.
"So I learned basic guitar and started to write on the guitar. I’m not a lead guitarist or anything, but I learned how a song should sound. Sometimes I’m still frustrated by my lack of ability, but it’s very direct when you write on guitar - there’s an immediacy that you don’t get when you write on keyboards."
She’s also highly critical of her previous work, especially last year’s ’Superstition’. Commercially, it was the most successful Banshees album ever, but artistically the least satisfying.
"It was far too accessible and I think a lot of the guts of the band was sacrificed with that. There are still songs I like on it, like ’Kiss Them’ and ’Drifter’, but we were trying a different kind of working style, a different kind of discipline, during which I really built a strong case against computers.
"I don’t mind technology if you can use it and you’re not a slave to it or in complete awe of it. It makes people lazy. With samples and computerized sounds people tend to use the same sounds over again and they’re not adventurous any more. I think our next album will be very different."
Doing ’Face To face’ for the ’Batman’ movie was, she admits blushingly, a dream come true.
"I love the Batman comics and the whole imagery of the story. In the first movie I was disappointed with some elements and one of them was Kim Basinger. When I heard that Michelle Pfeiffer was going to play Catwoman I thought, ’oh no, not a blonde!’ I thought they’d do this acceptable female image with the Catwoman as well, but in fact Michelle Pfeiffer performed quite well. She’s a good actress, maybe a bit underrated."
The Banshees have been going for the best part of 15 years now, but Siouxsie insists there’s still plenty for them to do.
"I’m a little uncomfortable with our last record so I’m willing to risk more again. I had a lot of problems with my vocal chords because I had constant infections in my sinuses and we had to cancel some dates. Six weeks ago I had a serious operation but hopefully, touch wood, everything’s alright now, so I can work without trouble.
"See, I’ve always seen pop music as something in which anything is possible. Like Laurie Anderson can have a hit with ’Oh Superman’ and there’s a chance anything, from Roxy Music to T. Rex. Sadly pop music has become such a commodity now that the chances of that kind of fluke happening now are really closing down. It’s becoming too much of a business.
"In the Sixties and Seventies it was a very young medium, but where is the youth culture now? The radio stations are run by people who care more about themselves or are getting more advertisements instead of being music fans. Pop music has lost its naivety, and nobody seems to be excited anymore about anything. It’s all become cynical and controlled.
"If you don’t have a youth culture, who’s gonna kick back at the system? Without that no-one is safe. A lot of people now are only in it for the money, but that’s not a vocation. Where’s the excitement? All you get is homogenised music - how boring!"
This sense of pop history has inspired her to record a bunch of celebrated cover versions, notably The Beatles’ ’Dear Prudence’, which became one of the Banshees’ biggest hits.
"I don’t necessarily want to do covers of my all time favourite songs or anything, but ’Dear Prudence’ appeared because of its sound and I could imagine it being sung to someone fragile.
"Dylan’s ’Wheels On Fire’ was me giving my bow to Julie Driscoll who did this wonderful version of it and who I still admire a lot for having been this strong and proud cool woman at a time when there were all these cute little-doll-like pop girlies. And ’The Passenger’ has this wonderful movement and this was my tribute to Iggy Pop."
Later, out of Marlene Dietrich mode and reunited with her beloved black leather, she drinks champagne and holds court on the terrace of a tasteful French restaurant. She rescues a fly from her champagne, checks that it’s still alive and asks "Did you have a nice time?"
She’s not, I tell her, at all as I’d expected. I’d imagined someone dark, moody, serious and miserable.
She laughs delightedly.
"Ah, everyone says that. People seem to have this attitude about me, but believe me, I’m very down to earth."
You better believe it...
Gitti Gülden 01/10/92
If you knew Sioux...
The pvc bra, the swastika armband and the scary
hairdo are history. Siouxsie Sioux is back with a new album and a
new image for the Nineties.
"It felt right to take a three-year break," says Siouxsie, "and it feels justified in that we've come back so strongly. For the last few albums, people have been arguing that we've had our time and that we should just disappear. There was someone at Radio 1 who was saying that we've been uncompromisingly weird since 'Hong Kong Garden'. It's never felt that way to us. There's never been a logical or fashionable progression. The Banshees has always been more of an idea than an actual solid group. The idea was never to get a recording deal, go on tour or meet other pop stars. But there must have been a fantasy at the back of our minds that we could go on Top Of The Pops and disturb some kind of equilibrium.
"There's a general feeling that we've been erratic over the years and, in a way, I would agree with that. I agree that there have been disappointing albums (Join Hands, Juju, Tinderbox), but they've never been completely hopeless. They were more like intermediary phases really. We've always approached them with 100 percent commitment. Every time we set out to make the definitive album. Each one is a different kind of transformation."
The Banshees' remarkable powers of regeneration have always been reciprocated by Siouxsie's ability to subvert her own image. The prototype punkette look was born the night she wandered into a Sex Pistols gig at Islington's Screen on the Green in August 1976 wearing a black plastic cupless bra, fishnet stockings, suspender belt, transparent polka-dot mac, stilettos and swastika armband. Twelve years on, she would take to the stage wearing knee-length boots, satin hotpants and glitzy top hat. By this time, she had popularized New Japanese Chic, Gypsy-Punk and, most famously, the startling all-black outfit with the gravity-defying crimped hairstyle which became known as Gothic and was consequently aped by every noir aspirant from Middlesborough to Manhattan.
"Dressing up is important in that it's an almost constant source of amusement to me. But it's something I would do anyway. Everyone has phases where they just feel like slipping into a pair of jeans, usually when they're feeling a little out of sorts and can't be bothered with anything. But it's great when you know exactly what you want to wear. It puts you in a great frame of mind. It's playtime for me. It's a good form of recreation. It's always been more a sense of playfulness than any kind of career move. Ever since I left home, I've got a strange, perverse thrill from looking the way I did. It was like having a massive surge of adrenaline.
"It's not that I set out to create a new look that will be memorable. I just get tired of things quicker than most people and often I just feel like being contrary, just because someone's got to be. It's nice that some things are remembered. Other times its irksome. The Siouxsie with spiky hair and black leather thigh boots became something of an icon. It obviously influenced girls and boys that went on to form bands and sadly it turned into Goth.
"Basically, I just like people who have many faces. The way Marilyn Monroe could go from looking very glamorous to sad and vulnerable. The way Jayne Mansfield could go from looking sweet and childlike to some kind of sex siren. Maybe it's got something to do with a kind of schizophrenia."
Back in 1979, Siouxsie remarked, "We are spanners in the works of uniform progression." The Banshees seem determined to remain punk rock's obstinate survivors. Superstition brings them kicking and screaming into their third decade, as offish, capricious and wondrously out of context as ever.
"I always used to say that we would finish when we made the definitive Banshees album," she says. "I guess that's a real good fail-safe. Every time we make a record that sounds like our best, all those other possibilities open up. It always seems more interesting to carry on than not to. Besides, we wouldn't give our enemies the satisfaction of seeing us throw in the towel. After all this time, spite still seems to spur us on."
Jon Wilde 1991
KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN
Twenty-four years ago, the Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield had her head cut off in a car accident after a satanist put a curse on her boyfriend. This cheerful episode in the life of Los Angeles is the inspiration behind 'Kiss Them For Me', the first single in nearly three years from Siouxsie & The Banshees, which despite it's fashionable dance production and vaguely baggy trappings is a nightmarish return to the sinister Banshees landscapes of yore, which is exciting news for THE STUD BROTHERS.
"I was in the studio, waiting for my turn, reading Marie Claire and they had this outrageous article on Jayne Mansfield which summed up someone's arrival, success and tragedy in Tinseltown. I was interested in the idea of someone being motivated by all that glitters and the results of that. Mansfield wasn't a puppet. You tend to think that all these people under the studio-system were, but she wasn't. What was so apparent with her was that she had a total grasp of what she was doing, she'd do anything to promote herself."
Siouxsie sounds wonderfully passionate. Mansfield was something else. Since reading that article in Marie Claire, Siouxsie read virtually everything else on the woman.
Jayne Mansfield was a film star. A real star, not one of those pissy, clean-living excuses for personalities Hollywood throws up today. Mansfield was truly up there and out there, ensconced in the stratosphere, living out in the Hollywood Hills in a place called the Pink Palace.
The Pink Palace, as any Los Angelino will tell you, lived up to its name. It was pink. Pink, pink, pink. The pool was pink, the beds were pink, the champagne that flowed from the pink marble fountains was pink. Jayne's pet poodles were dyed pink.
Jayne married three times, once to a Mr. Universe. She was pneumatic. "Men," she once told a reporter, "are like milestones. You have to hurry on to the next one on the road ahead."
The Pink Dream Lady died 24 years ago in a pink halo of blood and brains, decapitated in a car crash on her way to New Orleans. With her died her chauffeur and her man of the moment, lawyer Sam Brody.
It's this messy corner of Hollywood Babylon that the Banshees have chosen as the subject for their new single, their first in nearly three years, "Kiss Them For Me". And it sounds so sweet, so deliciously sugary ("Sugar-coated," says Sioux) - lots of lines about heart-shaped pools, beauty queens, glitter and glitz. We love it, it's got one of those classic Banshees choruses, delivered with unexpectedly dizzy delirium - Siouxsie sounds so innocent.
A DJ friend of ours loves it too. Which is weird because he DJs in House and thinks rock 'n' roll stinks. Basically, he tells us "Kiss Them For Me" has a classy St Etienne percussion, nice funky guitar and a real sweet New Ordery keyboard. Yes kids, it's Banshees In Baggy Shock. There's even a Youth remix, an electro-pulsebeat aimed at, Siouxsie explains, the real sonic vegetables.
Blows you away, doesn't it? But then that's what the Banshees have always been good at - perfectly reinventing themselves for the time.
We meet them in Whitechapel, home of Jack The Ripper, the distinguished Victorian serial killer. We're in a photographic studio run by a group of gregarious young people who supply us with endless cups of real coffee and Maryland chocolate chip cookies. We're sitting on a church pew. Siouxsie and Severin are reclining on the couch opposite. Only Budgie's braved the modernist furniture. There are at least five pieces of modernist furniture, all, we imagine, designed by a joker passing as a sadist. There are metal-framed stools and a metal-framed dentist's chair, all upholstered in black rubber spikes that comfortably give way as you sink onto them.
Siouxsie strokes the dentist's chair.
"I know someone who'd like one of these. If the spikes were real."
In the corner there's one of those huge open coal-gas fires. And we mean huge - you could roast a pig over this one.
No one says anything for a while. We begin to get the feeling we must all be waiting for Bulldog, Cat and Mouse to come in and kiss each other.
Eventually we say it's a great single, very modern, very dancey. Very now.
"We deliberately chose the single for those reasons. It showed that we were listening to what's going on."
Severin's looking very Spanish, or at any rate as Spanish as any fair-haired, fair-skinned Englishman ever could. The same applies to Budgie. Siouxsie's simply looking Spanish, magnificently so.
"You're saying because it's dancey it's modern?" she asks.
Well, er, no. Not just that. The production's very up to the minute and it does end on a very high note, builds to it in fact. Ending on a high note is pretty characteristic of the times, isn't it?
"Well, the production was to do with Stephen Hague (of Pet Shop Boys fame)," says Siouxsie. "And as for the dancey thing, we've always put out dance mixes."
We're told Siouxsie dances a lot. Apparently she danced at her own birthday party in top hat and tails. Which, when you think about it, is a very great thing to do because most popstars are too self-consciously cool to even meet the guests, let alone trip the light fantastic. As a teenager Siouxsie also danced a lot, mostly in London's gay nightclubs (really, in the late Seventies, the only places a young punkette could go without being trashed or molested). The Banshees met at a dance club. But to say the Banshees have always released dance records is a bit...
Severin sees it coming.
"No, Sioux, you mustn't say we've always been into dance music. Because we haven't. We hate it."
Siouxsie nods vigorously.
"We're just jumping on the bandwagon," she sneers in Miranda Richardson Queenie.
Irony's not something the average pop fan is terribly familiar with, particularly those who wear black trousers, black jackets, black tee-shirts and black hair with black highlights. If the reaction to The Cure's baggy debut, "Never Enough" was anything to go by, the release of "Kiss Them For Me" should inspire another terminally tedious debate in the Backlash column. They'll be loads of "How dare they?" missives from Christine in Hong Kong Gardens and Justine de Sade from Griefingtons Central.
Siouxsie says the Banshees have always been funny though their humour's not of the rubber-chicken, whoopee-cushion variety. More about playing with pop.
We wonder what they think of the current state of pop.
"Like what?" ask Siouxsie.
Like The Farm, we blurt.
"Well, I wouldn't pay to see a bunch of brickies onstage," she says.
Budgie's puzzled by them.
"They remind me of lads that've dared one another to go onstage, like lads in a pub egging one another on. It's like karaoke but one step further."
There's not a lot you can say after that. Let's talk about Jayne Mansfield. Let's talk about how you relate to Jayne Mansfield.
"I think I related to her in a very distinct way," says Siouxsie. "In that there seems to be a lot of girls who're using music as a vehicle to fullfil their ambitions in the way that Jayne Mansfield used the studio-system. Making movies wasn't the be-all-and-end-all for Jayne Mansfield, it was being famous and living that way that counted. And I think it's the same with a lot of girls in music now."
And that concerns you?
"Yeah, it's sad. I mean, tragic. It's like people are taken by the allure of the glitter and not by the content. If you get no enjoyment, no satisfaction for what you're doing, what you're striving for, if it's all image, then once the media has sucked up your image and moved on you're left with nothing, you're left really sad and terribly lonely."
Siouxsie reckons that a good part of the reason she started in music was to become famous.
"Deep down," she says, "I'm sure I did."
But fame was never really enough. And for 10 years this has been a bone of contention between the Banshees and their American record company, who quite reasonably presume that, were the group to spend a little time on the road, they'd break America, they'd break the world.
The Banshees have never toured for more than two months.
"I will not live to an itinerary," says Siouxsie. "I don't like knowing what I'm going to be doing tomorrow, let alone in two or three years time. And that's what it takes nowadays. God, three years."
Following the release of their as-yet-untitled new album (due in mid-June, produced by Stephen Hague and featuring John Klein and Martin McCarrick who played guitar and keyboards on 'Peepshow'), the Banshees have agreed to join the Lollapalooza tour of 20 American cities. It's a kind of Reading on the road and good for everyone concerned. Good for the Banshees because it's not that long; good for their record company because they'll be playing alongside some of America's fastest rising stars - Jane's Addiction, Living Colour, Ice-T and Nine Inch Nails.
When they get back, they take a break and then, in the autumn, briefly tour Britain and Europe. This is about as busy as it's ever been for the Banshees.
Are you looking forward to America, Siouxsie?
"Yeah, sort of," she smiles. "I mean, I do like the States but I don't think I could live there. I think it's immaturity would get to me after a while. It's just too young a country, no past. I would certainly never choose to live in Los Angeles. I don't know why people even go there."
The sun, the sea, the stars, the money?
"You can get that anywhere." shrugs Siouxsie.
"I think you'd end up not knowing anything if you lived out there. You pick up a newspaper and there's nothing in it."
As two of Los Angeles most vociferous British advocates. we find the Los Angelino's total ignorance of anything beyond the California State Line thoroughly understandable. If we had our brains cooked in California sunshine and our senses sated by purest Peruvian marching powder, we too probably wouldn't give a monkey's what happened elsewhere. Strike that, we probably wouldn't give a monkey's what happened outside the front door. Besides, we explain, Los Angelino's may not know anything but at least when they meet you they're curious.
"Yeah, but it's a funny sort of curiosity, isn't it? It's a bit like being curious about the moon. Like, you don't actually want to go there because you've heard its a pretty miserable place, but you'd like to meet someone who has."
Sure. To a Los Angelino a Brit is literally an alien. Which is sort of where our defence collapses.
Come on though, America s not just Los Angeles.
"Well, I do like that about America," says Siouxsie, "the fact that it's enormously diverse, that you can have a Los Angeles and a Chicago. New York's probably my favourite place. Oh, and Houston, Houston's wild. I thought it'd be full of rednecks shouting obscenities but it wasn't. It's got this really strong gay scene out there. We played this really outrageous club. Afterwards we went out into the audience and had another show there. They've really got a sense of enjoying life in Houston."
We hear American fans are generally more appreciative of you than their British counterparts.
"In a way, yes," says Severin. "They don't have you catergorised in the way they do over here. It's like people here get pissed off if you play a venue that's too big, over there they don't care. They're used to big spectacles, they're used to people being celebrities and stars. At the same time though that seems to breed an obsessiveness I consider rather unhealthy."
How do you mean?
"You know, screaming, shouting, the obvious things."
And you don't like that?
"No, no way," says Siouxsie. "The worst thing though is when people start crying in front of you."
Sounds weird. What do you do?
"Well, I don't say, 'Shut up! Don't be stupid!' I've tried patting them on the back and saying, 'There, there, there', but that just makes them even more hysterical. They start screaming, 'Oooh! you're so nice!' You can't win, you really don't know how to respond."
Budgie: "The only fans we really meet at close quarters are those who've taken the trouble to get there and they're exactly the sort who gush and grab. They've normally run away from home to follow you round the country."
Sioux: "They try to talking to you and its like, 'B... b... b...b...' Total gibberish. So they sort of grab at your clothes and hair."
She illustrates the point by stuttering madly and making a savage grab at Severin's collar. The normally unflappable Severin is flapped. Briefly. Almost subliminally.
Budge: "That sort are almost better than the ones who come on really cool with some cerebral dissertation. You know, like,' I've studied your lyrics for years now'. That's actually really scary because you're not sure what they've got on their mind. Or behind their back."
Sioux: "The American thing about being open worries me too. You'll meet someone for the first time and within 10 minutes they'll have told you how they were raped at the age of six. And that's when the great British reserve becomes a bit of a hang-up too. You're in a quandary as to what to say because people never say things like that over here. Obviously it depends on what's being said. I mean, if someone's saying they've been raped then I don't say, 'Oh don't bore me'."
Severin and Budge smile sardonically and Siouxsie drops her jaw in mock indignation.
"I don't, I do not do that. Naturally though it does depend on the degree of injury. I mean, if someone was telling me their tortoise died I would tell them to shut up."
Are people in the habit of asking you to sort out their problems?
"Fans, yeah, but usually in letters. There's always this thing where they put you on a pedestal and sort of give you this mystical healing power. Somehow they believe you've never had any real problems. To which I always say, 'Yeah I had that problem too'."
Budgie: "That's the irony, there, because they tell you their problems and you point out you've had similar problems too. But, of course, as soon as you relate to their problems there's really no reason for them to be talking to you. Suddenly you're just the same as them. It blows the whole thing for them and then they seem really lost. It's basically, I think, because they're looking for a secret you can give them."
He pauses to ponder this.
"The worst thing," he declares suddenly, "is when someone literally gives you their problem, makes it your problem. It's like you get some bloke from London turning up penniless in California and saying, 'I'm here for the tour, look after me. It's mad."
Sioux: "It is mad and in the past we've been real softies and its turned against us. After a while they've behaved like spoilt brats. It's made us a bit harder."
Severin: "We're very insular anyway on tour, its like a family thing. There's no open door backstage. There is no open door."
Are you saying the easiest way of coping with fame is to behave like a star?
"Well," say Severin, "that's all part and parcel of the sort of attitude you have to get on the stage in the first place. You can call it a star-attitude or just an attitude that you're presenting something only you can present, so you've already got that in your make up anyway. So to be larger-than-life offstage as well is quite easy."
Sioux: "Thing is we don't act the star with each other. We couldn't. This band doesn't and never has."
Severin: "Though of course, Sioux travels in a limo, me and Budgie go on a tour bus and Martin and John are on pushbikes behind."
Siouxsie giggles enthusiastically then adopts a Thatcher-like severity.
"We tell them," she says, wagging her finger, "you can't come on the bus because you haven't earned it yet. We've been here longer than you."
She plays the part very well, so well we're left with the feeling that were Martin and John present they'd have burst into tears. And she does this kind of thing a lot, slips in and out of roles - Queen Bee, Queen Bitch, dizzy coquette, even thigh-slapping lout (though this, we must say, wasn't one of her best).
Ages and ages ago, Siouxsie told a fanzine that so long as the Banshees continued to be seen as "nasty" they'd be on the right tracks - the Banshees had to unnerve.
They still do. Even before we knew what "Kiss Them For Me" was about we felt there was something skewiff about it. Partly because of the way it sounds, but mostly because it was the Banshees who made it sound that way.
With the Banshees, even after all these years, you still suspect some sinister motive. Siouxsie admits they play on this suspicion, slip barbed one-liners in to f*** us up. So the Banshees are still nasty but they're no longer shocking.
Nothing's shocking nowadays.
Thoughtlessly we exclaim that nothing shocks us. And then remember porno-mutilation, Holocaust newsreels, the grotesquely inflated stomachs of malnourished African kids with a mouthful of lies. And serial killers. And car-wrecks. Real ones. But what shocks us most about all of it is that it continues to fascinate. It holds you like nothing else and leaves you feeling sick with yourself.
"Everyone," says Siouxsie, "is fascinated by people like Dennis Nilsen, everyone. The classic one is car crashes. When you're driving past, you know you really do want to look but you know it'll be in bad taste, so you don't."
Everyone's fascinated by violence. But does everyone fantasise about it?
"Do you mean violent dreams?" asks Siouxsie. "Because I do have them but I've never enjoyed them. They've always been nightmares for me. Have you had, er, nice violent dreams?"
Guiltily we confess that, yes, we both have. And that we both find them quite exhilarating
Siouxsie nods sympathetically.
Worse, we continue, we recently discovered that we both spent a fair amount of our waking hours daydreaming about punishing imaginary assailants, using our respective mind's -eyes to choreograph and rechoreograph the violence. We tell Siouxsie we think (we hope) it's cathartic. She looks baffled.
Budgie looks strangely relieved. He looks over at Siouxsie from his spikey stool.
"Yeah, the other day someone said something to you, I remember. We were in that shop and the door was stuck, I couldn't get it open but I heard what the guy said. And I had this very slow kind of playback of me with a baseball bat smashing him over the head. But I had to replay it a couple of times because I didn't get it right first time. I was thinking, 'No, if I hit him in the kidneys where it'll really hurt'. Then I thought some of his mates would come up so I'd have to learn martial arts so I could kill them all."
Budgie looks round at us. Finally, soul-mates. Perhaps potential cell-mates.
"Don't you think," says Severin, "It might have something to do with us being constantly aware of how fragile our frames are, and how easy it would be to just die? See, I have the opposite sort of daydream where I'm walking down the road thinking 'That car's gonna hit me'. Or sometimes I just fantasise about my own death, how simple it could be, how completely unconnected to anything. That's what's so scary about serial killers, you've got no say in it. You can guide your life all you like, you can be in absolute control and still someone could come along and end it all."
Probably what Jayne Mansfield was thinking when her head left her shoulders.
Apparently not. The Pink Dream Lady's boyfriend, Sam Brody, had a curse on him.
"There was this guy," explains Siouxsie, "called Anton La Vey. He was a kind of magician, a sort of Satanist to the stars. Jayne Mansfield was always getting involved with people like that, people she thought could help her career. Anyway, her boyfriend was very jealous of this guy because Jayne was always saying how wonderful he was, and one time he knocked all the candles off the guy's altar. And the guy put a curse on him, told him he'd be dead within the year.
"And in the course of the next 11 months they had nine accidents. The 10th accident, in the 12th month, was the one. And, since then, The Pink Palace was bought by Mama Cass (of the Mamas And Papas) who choked to death, and Ringo Starr who refused to live there after pink started seeping through the walls. Finally Englebert Humperdinck bought it, had it exorcised and he's living there still."
She does sound wondefully passionate. Mansfield was something else.
"Kiss Them For Me" is gorgeous, wicked, glamorous, wide-eyed and utterly self-aware.
Pretty in pink.
The Stud Brothers 11/05/91
THROUGH THE PAST, DARKLY
'Twice Upon A Time' is SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES' second singles compilation, the sister volume to 1982's 'Once...' It's a testament to a band who came out of punk with more vision then their contemporaries, and retained their sense of dignity and wonder long after most of 1977's upstarts had burned out or faded away
SINGLE-minded," says Sioux. "It’s not worth doing
unless you’ve got certain values and certain standards, and you stick
with them. It doesn’t make you the most popular person always -
but that’s never bothered me."
PAINT IT BLACK
Eyelined pharaohs of punk, the band who gave birth to Goth... Betty Page plots the turbulent first year of a seminal combo.
Back in the mid ‘70s, in nice but boring suburban Bromley, Kent, when most teenagers were listening to The Eagles and Steely Dan and hadn’t relinquished their cheesecloth and flares, 17 year old Susan Dallion must have felt especially isolated. She was already a self confessed loner, and her taste in music reflected this. She favoured the renegades and outsiders: Bowie; Bolan; Roxy Music; The New York Dolls; The Stooges and Lou Reed.
In 1974, at a Roxy Music gig in Wembley Stadium, a mutual friend introduced Susan to Steven Severin. They were soon to become kindred spirits, together in their splendid isolation. Steve then introduced Susan to his best mate (at the time): Bill Broad (later to become Billy Idol), a student at Sussex University.
1976 turned their world upside down. Early that year, Severin called his friend Bill to announce he’d seen a group called The Sex Pistols. Severin and Broad were so excited by their conversation that immediately the latter dropped his books and returned to London, and thus was born the infamous Bromley Contingent. This grouping was posthumously described in the Burchill/Parsons rock ’n’ roll epitaph The Boy Looked At Johnny as "a posse of unrepentant poseurs, committed to attaining fame despite their paucity of talent other than being noticed; achieving their aim by displaying themselves in a manner meticulously calculated to kill." The Contingent attached themselves to the Pistols and formed the nucleus of the embryonic punk scene.
Susan soon reinvented herself as Siouxsie Sioux, dressing herself in what was then an outrageous amalgam of glam, fetish clothing and fishnet: peek-a-boo shiny plastic bras, spiky stilettos and swastika armbands; her face was painted "with the instinctive skill of the truly obsessed", as it was described at the time. She was the high-profile leaderene of punk style; "the female Sex Pistol"; the role model for a thousand bored middle-class girls who wanted to rebel.
The media soon latched on to Sioux’s powerful image, and her scantily clad form was flashed across TV screens as she danced by the side of the stage when the Pistols played Islington’s Screen On The Green. But the fantasy-fetish look was a parody: "To show that erogenous zones are over-rated," she explained of the outfit, "and that tits are no big deal." And all this, ten years before Madonna had even seen a conical brassiere. Nevertheless, Siouxsie became the tabloids "pin-up punkette".
Ms Sioux had anything but titillation on her mind. In September of 1976, London’s 100 Club held a Punk Festival week, an event now catalogued by many an apocryphal myth. One thing was for sure, though: the festival provided a platform for Siouxsie And The Banshees’ first performance. The ’band’ consisted of Sioux on vocals, Sid Vicious on drums, Steve Havoc (Severin had renamed himself, too) on bass and Marco Pirroni on guitar. None of the protagonists had ever played their chosen instruments or been on a stage before the night in question. And that, of course, was the whole point.
Sioux - dressed as a mannish boy, her hair cropped - droned her way through a medley featuring barely discernable versions of the Isley Brothers’ ’Twist And Shout’ and Dylan’s ’Knockin’ On Heavens Door’, but chiefly an anarchic, thrashed rendition of ’The Lord’s Prayer’. After 20 minutes they got bored, limped off and the ’band’ split up immediately: Vicious to his tragic destiny with the Pistols; Pirroni to The Models, and subsequently to Adam And The Ants.
Witnesses say the performance was a cacophony, but it kick-started more than one illustrious career. More importantly, it made the Banshees into a reality, because one admirer in the audience that night was Nils Stevenson, who linked up with Sioux and Severin to work on putting a proper group together.
On December 1 1976, Sioux and Severin formed part of the Pistols’ entourage when they appeared on the now infamous ITV show Today, hosted by Bill Grundy. It was the latter’s provocative chat with Sioux which caused the verbal onslaught that followed. Everyone concerned became stars overnight.
It was against such a controversial backdrop that ’original punk’ Kenny Morris joined the Banshees to play drums, with guitarist P T Fenton (otherwise known as P P Barnum) following in February 1977. The band would have joined the original Anarchy In The UK tour, but failed to get it together in time. Their first real gig was when they supported The Slits at the Roxy; they were unfocused but intense, toying with taboos: Nazi imagery, Manson chants, jabbing at the dark side, digging up hidden nasties, twisting the knife in the psyche.
It was subject matter that inevitably attracted negative press attention, and guaranteed them a rough ride with the conservative record industry, who not surprisingly found this fascist fascination naïve and repellent.
In July, guitarist Fenton departed, to be replaced by John McKay, who really helped the band find its feet. Having settled on the four piece line-up, they started gigging in earnest, supporting Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers and Manchester punk princes the Buzzcocks. But while most punk and new wave groups were putting out records as often as they had breakfast, the Banshees hadn’t been within sniffing distance of black vinyl.
They made their TV debut on So It Goes that November and recorded a session for John Peel, but no deal emerged. Then the graffiti started to appear on walls in London: "Sign Siouxsie And The banshees". It got them rock press coverage, but still no deal. Even though they were breaking house records at the Vortex and selling out the Nashville - then prestige London venues - record company interest was conspicuous by its absence.
The flirtation with fascist imagery was undoubtedly one of the principal factors keeping the labels away. But there was another reason: both manager and band were holding out for the best deal possible. Nothing less than total artistic control would do. At long last, however, they found a company who agreed to their terms, and in June, 1978, the Banshees signed to Polydor Records, for a rumoured advance of £400,000.
26 August 1978: ’Hong Kong Garden’
(Polydor 205 9052)
So was it worth the wait? After all the talk of icy visions, Teutonic precision and morbid fascinations, a hitherto unglimpsed accessibility was revealed of the Banshees’ music, chiefly due to McKay’s chiming ’oriental’ guitar riff that rung deliciously throughout. "A brash, delirious two-chord triumph" announced the NME. It was to be one of their most successful singles ever, spending ten weeks in the charts, and peaking at a very respectable Number Seven. "Its oriental ’authenticity’, its flickering eroticism, its simple beauty pushed it deep into the charts," said Sioux sycophant Paul Morley at the time. Alienation certainly wasn’t on this takeaway menu. The single’s success ended the band’s isolation and gave grist to their uncompromising mill.
December 1978: The Scream
(Polydor POLD 5009)
Their primal punk aesthetic laid to rest, the Banshees set the tone for their future with this album. There was a more stylised approach redolent of the Velvets’ gothic rock, with Sioux’s vocals evoking Nico’s deep, atonal drone. Punk prophetess Julie Birchill hated it: she couldn’t forgive Sioux for her apparent anti-Semitism, calling the band "a self-important threshing machine... loud, heavy and levelling, the sound of suet pudding." Nick Kent was more charitable, comparing the songs to a hybrid of the Velvet Underground and Tago Mago-period Can. Certainly it was jagged and jarring, in stark contrast to the chiming, charming single. Lennon and McCartney’s ’Helter Skelter’ took on a menacing mantle, as did ’Metal Postcard’ (dedicated to anti-nazi artist John Heartfield - the guilt purged?); ’Mirage’ was a roller coaster ride to the meat fetish horrorcore of ’Carcass’ and the psychosis anthem ’Suburban relapse’. Produced by the band with Steve Lilywhite, The Scream achieved Number 12 placing in the charts and put the Banshees firmly on the map - but on a much wider road than the dead-end that punk had become.
31 March 1979: ’The Staircase’ (Mystery)
(Polydor POSP 9)
Filled to the brim with elliptical guitar figures from McKay, this single failed to repeat the success of ’Hong Kong Garden’. Sioux’s voice was becoming even more commanding and trenchant, but the spiralling claustrophobia of the song made it a difficult listen; too demanding, perhaps, despite the lure of Bolan’s ’20th century Boy’, covered on the B-side. ’The Staircase’ reached number 24, a relative failure. Perhaps the problem with the Banshees was that they could never really write pop songs. ’Hong Kong Garden’ began to look like a happy accident.
7 July 1979: ’Playground Twist’
(Polydor POSP 59)
Drums, chimes, fuzz, wailing... The Banshees’ third single from their forthcoming second album had a relentless, nursery rhyme quality, and was certainly not one of their more distinctive tunes. It would’ve been more at home in a gothic opera. Uncompromising, and a taste for...
September 1979: Join Hands
(Polydor POLD 5024)
A progression? Well, not exactly. The parameters differed a little from those on The Scream, save for maybe a little added tension and melodrama and a "leaning towards a saturated, exaggerated punk MOR," according to Paul Morley in the NME. But even he, as a big fan, detected a formula at work here. ’Placebo effect’, ’Icon’, ’Premature Burial’: all were dark, neurotic mini-dramas with over-exerted, mannered vocals which to some tastes verged on the unlistenable. Fear, horror, ghoulishness and menace all abounded, but the puzzling thing was the apparently retro inclusion of ’The Lord’s Prayer’’ which took up 15 minutes of Side Two. It was the song that started it all, and the band had been finishing their live show with it for over two years, but it seemed incongruous. It was an uncomfortable, uneven LP, curiously fragmented. And the world was soon to find out why.
The recording of Join Hands had opened up a fault line in the group. The fissure divided Sioux and Severin on one side and McKay and Morris on the other. The latter pair, who didn’t even help to mix the LP, had spent most of their time bitching behind Sioux’s back.
The planned UK tour failed to get off the ground when McKay and Morris walked out of the band hours before the opening concert in Aberdeen, on September 7. The Cure, who were supporting, were forced to play an extended set. An irate Siouxsie went onstage to tell an angry crowd the pair had quit without warning. Rumours abounded that Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook might step into the breach, but a week later Sioux announced the new, then temporary members: Cure guitarist Robert Smith and ex-Slits drummer Budgie.
The split made Sioux and Severin wary of making anyone else permanent, and the two remain as the solid nucleus of the Banshees to this day. But however traumatic the split may have seemed at the time, it was to herald a new and fruitful period of development for the band.
The Banshees’ first 12 months provided chiefly stylistic influences. Sioux boosted sales of black hair dye and eyeliner for years to come, spawned a thousand look-alike Ice Queens and inspired a generation of Goths. The first year of their recording career provided inspiration for bands like Bauhaus, Sisters Of Mercy, All About Eve, Fields Of The Nephilim, and even now groups like Curve, Slowdive and Chapterhouse (the shoe-gazers) are sure to keep well-worn copies of the Banshees’ early recordings in dusty boxes at the bottom of their cellars.
Betty Page 01/92
arsenic and old lace
Siouxsie doesn't like the '90s and it's all your fault. This generation, you lot, are 'sadly lacking' as far as youth rebellion goes. The glories of punk are recycled into comedy TV. So how does the Ice Queen survive in a time of global warming? David Cavanagh goes Sioux-gazing...
THE VERTIGO SCALEXTRIC LOOP-DI-LOOP SCENARIO THAT LAYMEN know as the Hammersmith flyover must look pretty unspectacular from Siouxsie Sioux' window. With a non-committal grunt she lets the blind snap up, fidgets with fingers that still haven't learned to cope with their owner-operator's decision to sack the fags, and transforms her patented femme frigidaire veneer into some vaguely endearing it-were-all-fields-round-here-when-I-were-a-lass nostalgic moue. It's a gesture she will come back to again during the morning.
Out there beyond the blinds chugs the number 11 bus, ferrying a new generation of post-pink shoppers to Shepherds Bush Shopping Centre, past the Hammersmith Palais where sweaty bloodletting gigs have yielded to godforsaken disco inferno nights and Esther Rantzen's Search For A Star auditions. A few miles away is Notting Hill, where Siouxsie used to live until this spring, when hassles and boredom and Poll Tax demands forced her out. The Sioux domicile is now in the south of France, where she shares house room with four cats and one budgie - her husband Budgie, the Banshees' drummer since 1979. She does call him Budgie, in case you were wondering. "And a few other things besides."
She peeks once more out of the third floor of the Polydor building. She's seen them all come and go. Another Polydor employee is leaving today: eleven years at Polydor - a life sentence, but still three fewer than the redoubtable Sioux.
Back home is the first garden she has ever had, and a chance to speak the language she first heard when her Belgian father used to sear at her in French when she was a baby. Over here is a London that means nothing to her and a monarchy that she and a few mates had a rather famous pop at some centuries ago, and which is now, ironically, decaying with every day.
"Yes, the guillotine's been sharpened," she says warmly, peeking out at the flyover and the buildings that weren't there last time. "It's ironic."
But it sounds like it's a fairly meaningless victory for her. "I'm disappointed with London," she says. "I think it's lost something vital. It's become safe and very complacent again. people are so self conscious about looking for the next punk thing, all ready to pounce on it and clingfilm wrap it. Whatever happens, it's got to be contemptuous of what's happening now and what's gone before."
Hmm. Music is dying (runs her argument) and this generation are not worth saving. It's all a bit Imelda-Marcos-in-exile somehow.
"This generation are like the love children. They grew up with parents that understood them. They grew up liking the same music. That's maybe what the problem is. The youth rebellion of looking at society and poking holes in it is sadly lacking in this lot, I think."
Have you got any children?
Do you want any?
"I've always said never," she replies after some thought. "But the idea isn't possible now."
She's garbed in a startling combination of black leather and brownish lace. The waistcoat, trousers and boots are shiny black leather, the style of a woman who is just about to give a motorbike a really hard time. She has a small, black heart painted on the left side of her face, just under the eye. The eyes are black. Her bag is black. It's a bit fucking black in here actually. And under the black waistcoat is a brownish lace body wrap thing that appears to be see-through. Actually transparent. To stare would be ungallant, but, you know, while she's looking the other way out at the flyover...
So, Siouxsie. The past. Siouxsie Sioux is one of the few rock stars who will admit to you that the current line-up of her band is not her favourite. That personal honour goes to the Siouxsie/John McGeoch/Steve Severin/Budgie line-up (1980-'82), the full-tilt orchestral power of which kicks off the new Banshees double compilation album, 'Twice Upon A Time', with the swaggering 'Fireworks'. That was, true enough, the stellar Banshees line-up: 'Melt!', 'Slowdive', the 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' album in 1982 and, God, all those strings. Siouxsie giving it the seven veils on Top Of The Pops in a golden antediluvian dawn before MTV or CDs or the resuscitation of the dinosaurs. The Ice Queen. Cruella De Wossaname. Budgie, whacking hell out of the drums. A mystery and a playfulness to the Banshees that yanked them out of the post-pink pack.
Listening back to side one of 'Twice Upon A Time' must have been something of a blast for Siouxsie. She sounds like this was her favourite time. There was, she firmly maintains, "a lack of cynicism" about music at the time.
Her subsequent flits in and out of fashion - there was a serious wilderness period around 1985-'86 which still brings a grimace to the Sioux features - have left her cool, detached and totally out on a limb. Anyone who can write off an entire generation as "this lot" obviously doesn't have a hell of a lot in common with her constituency, and yet she was still the first person Tim Burton called when he needed a new song for Batman Returns.
Is is better to be in fashion or out of it?
"Probably out. If you want your ego stroked, sure it's better to be in fashion. But anything in fashion will be out of fashion just as quickly. I've learnt to not take either particularly seriously."
Who came up with the phrase Ice Queen to describe you? Was it you?
Did it immediately appeal to you?
"It went well with my fairy tale image," she says, laughing slightly, "but it wasn't really an accurate description of me. It was the impression of someone who'd probably never met me. Every person I've ever met since then has expressed astonishment that I haven't frozen them out or glared at them or bitten their head off."
Well, the potential amputee would be excused for treading warily. Certainly, the personnel at Polydor all snap into action as soon as she appears, in a way that you suspect they don't when Little Angels come calling. They seem a bit scared of her. But if you tell her that, she gets embarrassed.
"Oh.. right... I'm not aware of that." She breaks eye contact. The flyover becomes riveting once again. "But I think everybody should be treated with some respect."
Do you think people are afraid of you?
You like that idea?
"Yes." She nods slowly. "In a faceless place like a record company it can be useful. I mean, I can imagine Phil Collins walking here and it not affecting anyone."
"Unless they were told he had lots of money."
Why Phil Collins? What brought him on?
"I don't like people who don't have a presence," she says, just a little coldly.
Yes, but Phil Collins?
"I hate Genesis," she says with sudden vehemence. "I despise them. I hate the affableness of them, just that ordinary blokes... the... I hate their music. I hate how they put themselves across. I think they should be (she looks around for a suitable punishment)... torched. And Abba.
Again Siouxsie Sioux seems somehow rooted in the past. Wasn't this a battle that was fought in 1977? Didn't she and the punks boyos get all this out of their system 15-odd years ago?
"Well, maybe it's something personal then."
Have you ever met anyone in Genesis?
"No. And I wouldn't want to."
It's a major beef, clearly. Weird. Is her music still important to her? Does it keep her going?
"Yes it does," she says slowly. "Music makes you dig deep down inside yourself. It's still very vital to m. I'm still not content. I'm still digging in. I still feel very ignorant. So yeah, I've no idea what I'd do if I didn't do music."
She has never acted, although you'd think she would have by now. The offers used to roll in - notably the role Hazel O'Connor later accepted in the distressingly putrid "punk movie" Breaking Glass - but now she's settle for a stylish cameo a la Nick Cave in Wings Of Desire or her hero William Burroughs in Drugstore Cowboy. What did she make of Sid And Nancy?
"I hated that film," she says, animated once more. "I hated that glorification of it. I just was not interested. Horrible. Ugly. Not being in control of yourself. I hate the romanticising of being a victim."
So go on then. What was Sid Vicious really like?
"Well, before he was in the Pistols or after?" she says, mollified. "I knew him before he was in them. He had a great sense of humour, and his meanness always had a sort of black humour to it, which is something he lost when he became caught up in the Pistols' whole rock 'n' roll thing. I probably wouldn't have been able to have got on with him then. From what I hear he did change a lot. I saw him once and I almost didn't recognise him. He was just gone. He'd left the planet."
Sid's former employer goes a bit quiet. This is about the longest speech she's given today. Siouxsie & The Banshees, of course, have never split up, so they have judiciously avoided all those tawdry getting-back-together atrocities to which their peers have repeatedly fallen victim. There are strong rumours as we speak of that...
"Oh, the Pistols," she says, affecting an air of immense boredom. "Yeah. God, it's so ugly. If you stop you stop. I think the idea of reforming something that's gone, I just find it really ugly. it's like bald men combing their hair over. Just admit it. It's gone."
Which punk bands did you like?
"Quite a lot of people from America, like The Cramps. Suicide, Iggy even then. Early Wire. There's probably a lot more. If you prompted me..."
Er, the Pistols? The Clash? The Damned?
"Oh, the cartoons. Well, the Pistols were really important to me, but that was before they signed and released a record. It was the event of going to the shows that affected me. I've never played the Pistols since. I've never had a desire to."
And there she was - large as life and twice as scary - standing behind the Sex Pistols and coming into our homes, when BBC2's Bank Holiday TV Hell extravaganza re-ran the infamous Billy Grundy/Pistols showdown from December '76.
It was the bleached, teenage Siouxsie, and she was only on for the most fleeting of seconds, but it was definitely her: snotty, fearsome, uncommunicative. And around her slouched various surly, monosyllabic Pistols, most notoriously an irregularly-dentured yob with a severe social grievance who went by the name of Johnny Rotten.
The day after this Siouxsie interview, he was up on stage at the Reading Festival regaling an audience whose language he didn't speak with taunts they were too bored to decipher. Blah blah... England is dead... blah... you're a blank generation... blah. Yeah, OK, John. If you say o.
So that's how they scattered, then. One went to Los Angeles, the other went to the south of France. Neither of them has a hell of a lot to say about the country they left. For the last time today Siouxsie Sioux contemplates life beneath the flyover and audibly curses the day she decided to give up smoking.
David Cavanagh 1992
It's not easy to picture Steve Severin,
bass player with Siouxsie & The Banshees, in a pair of gold lurex
socks. But there was a time when he couldn't go on stage without
them. Ludicrous, you may think, considering the cool, suave figure
who takes softly, punctuating his conversation with pregnant
pauses. Vaguely fetishistic. Or perhaps simply
'Superstition' is the title of the Banshees' latest album. Bathed in rich and golden imagery, shimmering with undulating rhythms and intricate ambitious strokes of musical mastery. 'Superstition' promises all the usual beauty and whispered spells which have always rolled and tumbled so exquisitely from this peculiar band. There's all you'd expect and nothing you'd expect. Siouxsie graces the sleeve, glowing like a legend from Hollywood, statuesque and ethereal, a goddess in a different disguise. A dance song (the one which broke the silence since 'The Last Beat Of My Heart', 'Kiss Them For Me') opens the bag of surprises and yet another transformation is complete.
It's funny to think that people still associate this sumptuous sophistication with black bandages and complexions generally associated with the mortuary. Images are not easy to lose when they're powerful. Steve Severin is patiently philosophical about the need people have to persistently label his band 'goth', maintaining that moving away from that has not been a preoccupation, rather an evolvement. Although he does admit that the album cover was designed to establish a new and equally powerful image.
"For a certain time the image was very strong and definable and so as much as we have tried to move away from it, perhaps we've been too subtle. For this one we had to do something like put Sioux on the cover looking completely different before people stood up and said 'it's a new image!" That dance song has helped as well. Critics either melted in orgasmic awe at the manifestation of something so completely unexpected and right, or said 'oh well of course dance has always been something to associate with the Banshees'. It gave them all a little piece of gold to chew over.
"It wasn't particularly conscious. It wasn't chosen to be a single because of that. It was chosen to be a single because of Sioux's melody rather than the rhythm of the track. Other songs like 'Cry' we chose not to put out, because they were too close to what people might expect, but whatever you call dance music, it's really just the area where people are experimenting with sound, and it's of interest to us on a sonic level."
Nonchalant detachment, a simple denial of cashing in on the dance craze, or merely how it was? Dealing in images, whether of themselves or those within their songs could lead people to wonder how contrived the Banshees may be. Beautifully, yet deliberately well thought out images maybe representations of something deeper, yet they do not necessarily have to be directly from the heart. Could there be a little of the voyeur in all of this? A smattering of detachment from the comfortable viewing position of a cosy backseat?
Until Severin mentions dream diaries, Angela Carter and Indian academics you could conceivably be forgiven for thinking so. Yet not only is he obviously fascinated with the idea of myth, effectively trading in it through his work, he also believes in re-creating it for himself, thus realising the same applies to the band and the way people need to perceive them. The way people need images.
"A lot of the stuff I was interested in last year was coming from Angela Carter (author of such modern day fairy tales as 'The Magic Toyshop' and editor of 'The Virago Book Of Fairy Tales') and Marina Warner (who's written extensively on myth and icons, notably Joan Of Arc and the Virgin Mary) and the idea of re-interpreting fairy tales. Angela Carter did that and Marina Warner concentrates more on why fairy tales became what they became, how society shapes them. It's quite interesting because most of them are really quite horrific and brutal to start off with, and end up as moral tales teaching people about right and wrong. It's to do with the idea of interpreting something in a completely different way. You wonder why people spin myths around this band. It's an interesting thing to play around with."
'Superstition' is scattered with images. The tragic Jayne Mansfield whose life ended on a curse, Elvis who sprang up in a dream Severin had, the dying earth and the unforgettable scenes of Tiannamen Square when a solitary figure beckoned death through the ultimate challenge. Myths and images of the 20th Century to play around with. "Dreams have always been important in the work of the band. Around the time of 'Kaleidoscope', Sioux had a period when she kept as notebook by her bed and started writing things down. I began doing it with this album, and the song that's most connected with that is 'Softly'. I had a dream that I met Elvis and all he said to me was "Softly". I also had this tape which I got in America. It was shrinkwrapped to a paperback called 'Is Elvis Alive?' and was supposed to be him ringing from a payphone explaining how he'd survived and what he'd been doing. There was nobody on the other end of the line. At the beginning and end of 'Softly' you can just about make out a short wave radio with bits of this tape in it. It's not important for people to know that, but it gives that atmosphere of something a bit more clairvoyant going on. The lyrics are nothing to do with Elvis though!"
With 'The Ghost In You', Stephen Hague (who produced 'Superstition') tried to make me drop the reference to Tiannamen Square! But I think it's important to deal with those things, although in a different way, otherwise you're just sloganeering and it can come across as exploitative. That was stunning news footage, one individual stepping in front of a tank. Nothing has struck me that powerfully since." Maybe when Severin gets to America again he'll find something gross enough to stir him up.
The band are heading across the ocean this summer to perform with Jane's Addiction, Ice T, Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour and the Butthole Surfers on the Lollapalooza tour. It's to be a traveling festival with music, art, politics and access to all information from gun associations and the army to ecological concerns fringing the aural delights. A stab in the fat belly of the 90's, it's an ambitious and imaginative way to get people to dance like maniacs for a day and invite then to do some worthwhile thinking into the bargain. Perry Farrell, lead singer and eccentric genius with Jane's, is behind the circus and bring an avid Banshee fan, he required their involvement.
"We were the first band they approached, and in fact the only English band playing. I like the idea because it's ambitious and it doesn't really matter how well it works as long as everybody's having a good time."
Severin claims the Banshees would have been involved if the only other attraction than the bands had been a hotdog stand. But he obviously gets a kick out of the subversive elements - and possibly shaking any aspiring Bob Geldof's upside down by their ankles along the way.
"Lollapalooza is in a way what everyone's saying about the alternative culture with it's own newspapers and following. It's kind of an anti Band Aid thing. Of course it's great that people raise money for worthy causes, but at what cost? All the people that do it are well established bands and that's it. Rock music is not just for that, so if Lollapalooza is successful, it may be able to change things, not radically, but at least it can happen and that's a beginning." Lollapalooza will be swinging it's dusty way across America as you read this, but as I'm writing it the Banshees are still in rehearsal at The Rainbow in London.
The place has been closed for years and now belongs to some dubious religious sect with evangelist leanings who insist on wandering around the stage during these rehearsals, no doubt looking for satanic symbols hidden in the roadies' bootprints and voodoo dolls behind the drum riser. Thank God they didn't find the backdrop. Severin explains, "It's from this area in the middle of India where there are 20 remaining temples out of 85, left over from the 10th century, and they're covered in erotic carvings. I found a book on it a couple of years ago and I began writing a song about it. Then strangely enough, we turned up at Top Of The Pops and they'd really made an effort with the set. Part of it was these relief figures, like jelly moulds, of two of these erotic carvings. We thought it was great, but they decided it was a bit too saucy for 7.30 viewing in the end.
"I did some reading up about it, and I found this essay by an Indian academic about how people find these things pornographic. He was trying to explain why they were there and the connection with religion. It's something we got into before with 'Cities In Dust' - the idea of fertility rites. This one was actually about Tantra, the ritual sex that's supposed to bring you closer to enlightenment, but it quickly became used by the priests to bring in loads of temple girls. They turned it into an excuse, like most societies do.
I guess now we're in an age where that sort of thing is promoted by advertising, the idea of consumerism being sold by sex, and it's not really aligned to religion anymore.
Christianity put an end to that. "Spiritual sex, ecological awareness, tribal laments and Hollywood tragedies - it's all here. More than ever. Nearly billed as 'Thirteenth Hour' (being their 13th album if you count 'Nocturne' as a double), the name was changed for no particular reason, any concurrent thread running through the album being notably absent.
"There's a good reason for superstitions though, a lot of them are based on rational fears. personally I'm very superstitious, particularly in work. Everything has to be done in a certain way. It's more of a psychological thing, you want a series of events to happen and if they don't happen in a certain way you feel... well, I believe in good and bad omens and coincidences. But it doesn't preoccupy me." Don't believe a word of it. He spent three years fretting about those gold lurex socks.
Liz Evans 08/91
|THE ISLAND EAR|
with Siouxsie and Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees, as The Island
Ear did at the conclusion of their recent club and college tour of
the States, it's hard not to be struck by how fat the band has come
without compromising its roots.
This is, after all, a band who came in to being by playing an extended free form version of "The Lord's Prayer", complete with Sid Vicious on drums and future Adam Ant Marco Pirroni on guitar, at London's 100 club in 1976. Fifteen years later, after a succession of albums that saw Siouxsie (whose given name is Susan Dallion) and bandmates Steven Severin, Budgie, Martin McCarrick, and Jon Klein, restlessly turn over their sound without regard to current style or fashion, the Banshees are no less quirky or difficult to pigeon-hole. They were, early on, a relentlessly grim band, most easily characterised by their abrasive style, and yet their biggest hit prior to this year was a techno-dance track called "Peek A Boo," from their 1988 release Peepshow. More recently, their single "Kiss Them For Me," was the second most popular modern rock track of 1991 (according to Billboard magazine), while the Gavin Report gives their album Superstition, an eccentric blend of alternative instrumental turns, Eastern mysticism, otherworldly eroticism, and tension, similarly high marks in terms of college radio play. behind the scenes the album marked the departure of long-time producer Michael Hedges, who had worked with the band since the early 80's, and the signing on of Stephen Hague, whose previous credits include the Pet Shop Boy's "West End Girls", New Order's "True Faith", and Pere Ubu's "Waiting For Mary."
Which, in a round-about-way brings one right back to the question of just what this band is about anyway, and by extension, just what was the essence of punk. "It wasn't like 'I've read all the books you've read,'" says Budgie. "Punk was a whole way of life: fending for yourself and doing what you wanted to do. It was a bunch of people at a certain time and place saying, 'We don't need established BBC radio to do things. We don't need established official cinema to show films.'" And it was something, the Banshees' percussionist goes on to say, that caught on despite "the tabloids" efforts to contain it and make it safe.
"Once they do that, the industries take over and you get your token punk on a sit-com. Innovation doesn't come from the big corporations, it comes from people who are willing to do the leg work on their own."
What did Stephen Hague bring to the last album that you thought was missing in the past?
Siouxsie: I suppose he brought in a bit of discipline, maybe. He's very deliberate and very methodical, whereas we tend to throw things at the wall and if anything sticks, it'll stay. So we sort of approached this project quite differently, but we also got him to work a bit differently as well, recording stuff live and that sort of thing. We're looking forward to the next thing we do with him and expect to do a lot of things live then too.
Were you the person that decided 'We need this discipline' or did someone else come along and say, 'If you did it this way it'd be right'?
Siouxsie: I think it was something that we knew we had to find, and Stephen Hague had been pursuing us for a few years, and it was just the right time at the right place, so we considered using him, and obviously we had to meet him to make sure it wasn't just a jobs-worth person that we were going to work with. We had to make sure we had similar ideas and taste. We certainly didn't want to have somebody discipline us that we didn't either respect or get along with. So we met him about a year and a half ago, in Santa Monica, when he was working with Robbie Robertson, and we seemed to hit it off pretty well and Superstition was the result of that.
At this point in your career, how would you describe the creative relationship with the band?
Siouxsie: Pretty chaotic. There's no set way of working. It tends to be, I'll have a very strong idea - be it a lyric or the music or the mood - or someone will be playing something, just doodling, and I'll pick up on it and say, 'What's that?' And magnify it and make it into something. Or someone will bring in an idea and we'll work on it. Some things just happen spontaneously, for instance "Softly" was written in the rehearsal studio with just Martin (McCarrick) and Steve (Severin) playing something and me sort of part ad-libbing off of an idea that I had, and then us working it out together after we'd taped it and decided it was something worth doing.
Budgie: (On Superstition) some of the songs started with (Steven) Severin coming to grips with a computer, which was kind of a new way of working for him, and coming in with sequences of music. Which in turn was a great way to begin working with a new producer, because they could communicate quickly by transferring discs of information from computer to computer. That was one kind of direction that was happening. Meanwhile there'd be a lyric that was in constant development, and maybe a melody as well. Then of course we went into residential rehearsals where you just kind of kick around a lot of musical ideas and stuff. I was playing around with a lot of different rhythms and beats - as usual - and even as we got to the recording studio, where we were actually laying down tracks and things, we still kept little areas of the studio building available for people to escape to in order to create. 'Under the stairs' we called it. There was a little closet under the stairs and it was, 'Who's in the closet today'.
And some of the things written in there, like "Spiral Twist," ended up as B-sides. We actually had more than enough songs this time around, causing us to toy with the idea of a double album at one point (laughs).
What do you say to people who might consider composing on computers as the antithetical to the idea of rock and roll as organic music?
Budgie: But look at rock and roll, or whatever you want to call it; the whole things came about only because equipment got amplified. When Hendrix picked up an electric guitar and started making noise with it, the whole excitement came from the switch from what Elvis was doing or something. It suddenly became different because people were using the equipment that was new at the time, and I think it would be wrong to say, 'Oh well, this is as far as it goes. We can't use this because it's new, it's modern, and we don't understand it.' People are always frightened by new innovations, afraid, in a sense, that those innovations are going to take over and they'll lose that kind of organic integrity of the truth or something. It just means that you've got to be careful that it doesn't get out of hand and you're not used by it. You have to use computers the same way you use a recording studio, which itself is just a massive piece of technology.
Was creating "Kiss Them For Me" any different from creating things that were... less successful in the past? Was there something you consciously did differently?
Siouxsie: No. (laughs) In a word. And that's pretty much the way most singles start out, in that they're not normally written as singles - it all depends on how they turn out. "Peek A Boo" was a song that was going to be a B-side and as that progressed we thought, 'Oh, that should be a single.' It wasn't written as a single, but it turned into one.
Budgie: It's funny because it seemed to me that "Peek A Boo" was to Peepshow what "Kiss Them For Me" was to Superstition. It's the one song that was pushed right to the limit, in a sense. We laid way any barriers at all and we were constructing something entirely new, not really knowing what it was going to sound like. The song is peaking at the point that you hear it, in a construction sense anyway. It went way out there. (laughs) And what can I say, if people picked up on it, that's great.
What propels the way the band keeps reinventing itself from album to album?
Siouxsie: I suppose just our giving ourselves enough space in-between albums. We're very aware of not wanting to repeat ourselves and going too quickly from one album into another, as if it's a continuation. We realised very early on that every new album needed its own identity. You need to sort of gear yourself up in that frame of mind for it.
Budgie: It gets back to the fact that you want to do 'another' album. We don't want to just tread water and do something we've already done. people always want to define what it is that groups do, but our sound is the fact that we keep reinventing it. However, I'm sure that somehow it becomes apparent that the members of the group are integral to the sound of the band and that's what makes the Banshees the Banshees. If you're just fulfilling another commitment, doing something that you're not really motivated to do, that's when you end up with something routine. We've always avoided that.
Why is it that this band was able to survive when a lot of your contemporaries, people like the Clash and the Sex Pistols, didn't?
Siouxsie: I think because of the openness of it. We've always said that as soon as we feel trapped or for some reason unable to do things the way we want to do them, then we wouldn't do it anymore. And we've held on to it belonging to us all the way through and not really relinquishing anything to anyone.
Early on I imagine you thought of your music as a way to combat some of the staleness that had entered what we now refer to as classic rock. Do you still see your music as a vehicle through which you're rebelling against... whatever you want to rebel against?
Siouxsie: I think obviously the impetus of how we were born was very much a direct result of what was going on around us. And the thing you just mentioned was a part of it. But also the way London was as well. There were a lot of closed doors. And as you progress you end up having your own demons to exorcise.
In other words, the further you go along, the more it becomes a process of looking inward at yourself.
Siouxsie: I suppose so. Obviously you're still effected by outside elements, but I think... yeah, I suppose it's more inward.
Now you mentioned closed door before. What did you mean by that?
Siouxsie: Well you were saying musically that things were very stale, but also it had become a very insular thing, which it should never be. It should always be very open to anyone who has got something to do or say. That was what was very exciting in that all of a sudden you didn't have to be able to afford to but equipment or take lessons in how to play an instrument or go to music college or whatever. It was something that could work on the spur of the moment and on the energy of what you were feeling as opposed to any privilege you might have, being introduced with the music business.
You recently played C.W. Post, and it seemed like the majority of people in the audience were young enough to have been only five or six when the Banshees came together...
Siouxsie: Or not born. (laughs)
Do you think they get where the band is coming from? Is it important that they get what the band was about back then?
Siouxsie: No. I think it's important that it means something to them now. Right here and now.
When you look out at the kids in the audience today, do you see a youth movement?
Budgie: The only thing that I can see at the moment that certainly grew out of what the kids wanted, and that nobody saw coming, is Nirvana, whose success, I think, reflects the fact that they've just had enough of House Music and Acid House and the Manchester scene. That's the way it seems to me, but whatever it really is, I probably don't know about it. (laughs)
Are record buyers as or more open-minded as they were 10 years ago, 15 years ago?
Siouxsie: I think there will always be a portion of the record buying public that will be (open-minded). I don't think they're the majority, but I do feel that there will always be a section of the audience that is open and seeking something that is expressing what they feel as well.
Do you think that the success of Superstition can be attributed to the fact that as the band matures it's actually becoming a more professional unit?
Budgie: No I don't. I would hope it's because people are getting genuinely excited by something we've done. We are as 'professional' as we would like to be, in the sense that there are things that we consider doing, like coming into Geffen and doing interviews. There are certain things you do. But when you're in the studio, that's private. That's not a profession that's your lifeblood. That's what you do. That's what comes out. So the last thing in your mind is what comes into gear after the studio part is finished i.e. meeting with people and even touring to a certain extent.
When you started with this rock and roll thing, did you ever think that this is where you'd end up?
Siouxsie: Oh no. There wasn't really any concept of what the future would hold - and there still isn't. It was really just a case of our doing what was right (at the time). I mean, the band started with the idea that we'd do ten minutes and that was going to be the only show, and it's gone on from that - for reasons partly out of our control and partly in our control. I like to keep it open in that way.
Danny McCue 20/01/92
MADE IN HEAVEN
From their punk origins, Siouxsie & The Banshees have maintained a highly individual musical career for nearly sixteen years. With part two of their greatest hits compilation, Twice Upon A Time, out this month we ask original members Siouxsie Sioux and bassist Steve Severin if it was love at first sight?
We met after a Roxy Music gig in 1975. I bumped into a friend of mine on the train going home. She had a friend with her, blond hair and tight drainpipes, who turned out to be Steven. I started chatting to him and her boyfriend and we just sort of fell together into this gang. From then on we did a lot of things together.
There was a definite link between people like Roxy Music, Bolan and Lou Reed and what we were doing. Steve and the others in the gang looked and dressed in a very ambiguous way that really highlighted the feminine aspects of them. That was a revelation to me and I remember thinking that Steve looked so totally different, that he must be interesting.
There were no places to go for people like us to go. I introduced Steve and the rest of them to gay clubs where we could just blend in. There was never this dreadful attitude you got everywhere else. When we went to clubs in the suburbs it was 'Don't touch my bird or I'll smash your face in.' They felt very threatened by the way we looked.
After we'd been together for a while, going to clubs, parties and gigs, they told me about this band they'd been going to see. The Sex Pistols, who were really beginning to create a few waves. I vaguely knew who the Pistols were because by then I was starting to wear clothes from Malcolm McLaren's Sex boutique and they were being talked about. It was round that time when it all seemed to get an identity and the punk thing happened. By the time the whole Bill Grundy TV 'fiasco' had happened they'd coined a label for us so they could start hating us with some sort of unity. It was very amusing.
I was rebelling against the typical images of women that were in music then. Girls were a million miles from what I could relate to. We seemed to fit together really well. Olivia Newton John, people like that, all that prissy stuff was so alien to me.
The first gig we did as the Banshees was in 1076, Steve was on bass, Sid Vicious on drums and Marco Pirroni on guitar. It was a totally spontaneous thing because we hadn't really rehearsed or anything. The slot on the bill at the first punk all-nighter came up and we said "We can do that" even though we didn't have any songs or even a proper band for that matter. Steve didn't know one end of a guitar from the other at that time but it didn't matter. You just had to be part of it.
The Clash said we could use their gear but once they saw Sid with his swastika T shirt on they said "If you want to use our amps then take the stupid T-shirt off Sid." Sid said "Fuck off, we'll use someone else's." I think it was the Subway Sect who gave is theirs in the end. We played anyway and I did this twenty minute recital of The Lord's Prayer.
Steve Severin, Bassist
I actually remember the Roxy Music gig in 1975 where I was introduced to Siouxsie by a friend. It was just before she'd started wearing the stuff from Malcolm's shop and she'd got on this amazing puffball dress with ruffles, a sort of mermaid looking thing, that she's got from this theatrical costumers in London. I thought she looked great because there was no one else at the gig who'd dressed up like she had and she looked amazing. Really eyecatching.
I didn't really meet her properly until later that year and it was just under a year after that before we got a band together. Things were really changing fast then and as soon as the Pistols started to happen then we started to move too.
The first gig was something you could never forget. I was bloody loud and about the third time I'd actually seen a bass guitar in my life and only the second time I'd actually played one. I don't think you could reasonably call it playing the bass. I made a noise put it like that.
I can't look back on that time with any degree of seriousness, still less believe it was an important moment in rock history because it was all such a big joke to us. A giant wind up. I think the establishment began to get very threatened by us all. Imagine today anyone being arrested for playing a gig on a boat the way the Pistols did.
We felt under threat personally some of the time and it wasn't an easy period at all because we looked provocative, and that jarred and rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way.
I remember we went to Paris to see The Pistols and this gang of French teddy boys jumped us in a back alley and had a go at us with knives. That was pretty hairy! It was quite frightening being at our gigs for a good few years too. Unthinkable now with everything controlled so precisely. Violence became a common theme at our gigs. Once when we did a Mencap charity event they ripped up the whole of the front row of seats and I can vividly recall a huge burgundy velvet seat flying towards me on stage. I spent the whole gig dodging missiles. That's really what it was like then.