Global Rhythm (September '05)
World Music Features
By Michael Heatley
Published September 1, 2005
Former Banshees singer Siouxsie Sioux and drummer Budgie have secured a second career for themselves as the Creatures. On Hai!, they've incorporated the rhythmic thrust of Japanese Taiko and Kodo drummers for some truly exhilarating new sounds.
If Siouxsie and the Banshees in their late-1970s heyday epitomized punk's improvisational, can-do spirit, then the spin-off group the Creatures, featuring Siouxsie Sioux on vocals and Budgie on drums, have inherited their original vibe. When the Banshees' Seven Year Itch reunion tour of 2002 was planned, it gave Budgie (real name Peter Clarke) the chance to turn a long-cherished dream into reality.!
And that's now available for all to share in the form of new album Hai! (Instinct Records).
"Rather than a local support act in each town, we thought we'd introduce something unexpected," says Budgie. "Trawling the Internet, I came across (female punk trio) eX-girl from Tokyo, who flew from Norway, where they happened to be, landed in Chicago and hooked up with the tour. My first question to their manager was, ODo you know any of the Taiko drummers or any way of getting in touch with them?' We've been trying to meet up for years."
With a Tokyo festival set to end the Banshees' tour in August 2002, a studio session was hastily arranged with Taiko drum master and former chief soloist of the Kodo drummers Leonard Eto. "There was no time to plan anything, really. It was just Omy God, it's happening.'
"I met Leonard in the studio at midday when we were setting up: him with his Daiko drum, a huge thing, and his little Taiko drums in front, and me with my Ludwig kit. We played and played for an hour and a half, and Siouxsie was in the control room gesticulating and trying to get into the studio and sing immediately. We kept the door locked so she couldn't!
"We started a little cautiously, with Leonard maybe not sure exactly who I was or what I was up to and me in absolute awe of a drummer I'd heard on many Kodo recordings. I knew he'd written many of my favorite pieces over the years. So it was a dream opportunity that might have ended with egg on the face. Thankfully it didn't." Indeed, by six o'clock the pair had put down enough rhythms to retire to a nearby fish restaurant to get to know each other and toast the project's success in hot sake.
Budgie had first experienced the loincloth-clad Kodo drummers in London "at Sadlers Wells a couple of times, at Covent Garden and in a theater where, when they hit the big drum, plaster fell off the roof!" He then traveled to see them on the U.S. West Coast. "That was the first time we saw them with a full dance troupe, a bigger show than they could take to Europe, and that was pretty spectacular. When I first heard of Kodo there were maybe 10, 16 guys in the whole thing; now there are families involved. Several troupes the Creatures, but all the things we do are collaborations with other people; that's one of things we look forward to."
The Creatures had recorded early albums Feast (1983) and Boomerang (1989) in Hawaii and Spain, respectively, so were used to plugging into a diverse range of ethnic musical sources. But even with three tapes full of drums to take back to France, where they now live, Budgie and Siouxsie had Banshees matters to attend to: a book, a DVD and a live album - before returning to the project in their home studio. Things started falling into place when they made a trip to London to talk to their artwork people and, by chance, came across the image that's now the front cover of Hai! in the Air France in-flight magazine.
"Kimiko Yoshida is a Japanese artist who lives and works in Paris, where we are at the moment, and the image was advertising an exhibition. So it was all a series of happy accidents."
The songs on Hai! were created, Budgie explains, "through trial and error. Siouxsie laid the guide vocals down to the extended pieces and then I would chop those to make things happen quickly, fit them around the voice and sometimes repeat them. But it's pretty much as it happened, almost chronological in its layout. The playing was pretty continuous and it felt right to treat it as a piece, divided into the different moods that gave rise to the lyrical ideas."
Key tracks include "Seven Tears," "because I can't believe the speed at which we were thinking, the way we locked into each other so quickly," and "City Island." "I love the space that it's got. It's nice to hear Leonard's largest drum, the big Daiko, have all of its voice resonating."
Budgie freely admits he's still learning the language of Japanese drums. "The engineer put a little map together to make sure I knew which one was which!" he says with a laugh. "They call the Daiko the Big Burger; it's almost like a Big Mac, a brown wooden thing with two white bits around it!" With Hai! the first album he's engineered and mixed without outside assistance, Budgie was conscious of "making sure the drums sounded like they should, giving them the space they should have. We wanted the Japanese courtesy extended to us to be returned."
Eto had previously worked with the likes of New Age harpist Andreas Vollenweider, African percussionist Aja Addy and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. But comparisons with this elite company didn't deter Budgie. "I think a lot of the collaborations were with jazz players, instrumentalists, and I think it was a surprise to him to hear our creations, which are free-form songs."
Eto believes the Japanese audience will take to the new project, while Budgie feels the vocal aspect prevents it from becoming "just another instrumental world music jazz thing. I don't mean to be dismissive, but there always seems to be two disparate elements in these East meets West collaborations, two things that don't seem to really marry. The common language is jazz, which always seems a bit cerebral, and this I hope is on a more base level. The beats are far simpler, there's nothing clever about the time signatures, they're not far off dance. It's the involvement of the voice that pulls you into it; you're not looking to be totally about the drums."
As for the future, a live production of Hai! is very much on the agenda. "Leonard is definitely up for being involved, which is the main thing," says Budgie. "It's now all about how to introduce the other instrumentation from the album 'cause in the studio we took care of it ourselves. I couldn't play them live like on the Creatures' previous tours, so perhaps we'll do it as an unplugged thing."
Since Siouxsie has officially called time on any further Banshees projects<"I'm sure I won't be working with Steven (Severin) again, though I wish him well," she says should give their plasterwork a thorough check-over and prepare for some Hai! excitement.
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.