Women Who Rock (January/February 2004)
black is beautiful
In mixing the fury of punk with her own theatrical flair, Siouxsie Sioux established and epitomized the persona, style, and drama of the often-imitated Gothic look. In a rare interview, she speaks about that look, and how she enjoys gardening in stiletto heels.
BY JAAN UHELSZKI
It's easy to forget just how central Siouxsie & the Banshees were to the punk Zeitgeist. In fact, it was Siouxsie Sioux who helped light the fire that sparked the first punk revolution. It was Siouxsie who served as the catalyst for the Sex Pistols' infamous tirade on British television. Back in 1976, talk-show host Bill Grundy's lewd comments toward her on camera instigated the Sex Pistols' swearing debacle, which thrust punk rock into public consciousness. That incident truly became the F-word heard 'round the world.
Since that time the Banshees have become one of the most enduring survivors of those turbulent times, evolving from young punk primitives to undeniable Goth icons. Along the way they made several visits to the charts, most significantly with 1991's Kiss Them for Me. That year was quite a breakthrough for them, for not only was their song a hit, but they were also invited to inaugurate the first Lollapalooza. In spite of all their accomplishments and hardcore fans, who religiously dressed up like Siouxsie at shows, the band decided to call it quits soon after, ironically citing the Sex Pistols reunion as the reason for finally closing the door.
But that excuse wasn't entirely true. In her biography, Siouxsie finally comes clean about that and many other band myths. Siouxsie and the Banshees: An Authorized Biography, helped her make peace with her past, even allowing the Banshees to mount a reunion tour last year, dubbed "The Seven Year Itch," with her former band.
Tell me about your book.
It was started over two years ago with one journalist, and it really didn't work out. He was a friend of our bass player, Steve Severin, and we just didn't work out. Then Budgie [drummer] and I hit on the idea of Mark Paytress, since we both loved his book on Marc Bolan. We just thought he was used to doing this kind of thing. He rescued the book; it was kind of on the dumpster as far as I was concerned.
When you were doing the book, did it dig up a lot of stuff? Did you have vivid nightmares?
I think Mark's dreams were invaded by ours. There's some horror stories in there. We were correcting and doing interviews up until a few weeks ago. It was rushed at the last moment. I didn't want to rush it, but I wanted it done. There's a lot of points in the book at the time that were quite painful, but in the end it was very cathartic to actually get it out and have a look at what I thought was causing me a lot of pain. If nothing else comes of it, I'm feeling a lot better about the past and certain points of the past that have been adrift. It's been good. I'm totally selfish; it's my therapy. And I'll even make money out of it!
You called the Banshees reunion the "Seven Year Itch." Will there be an Eight or Nine Year Itch?
No. Whilst we were talking for the book, me and Severin seemed like we mended a lot of bridges that had been smashed. And we'd been having offers to play live, and we always said "No," and said it was the furthest thing from our minds. I suppose it got to the point where we really were talking and getting on well. And then this offer went to Steve about doing the Coachella Festival, and it was just that one show. And I wasn't sure, but Budgie was very keen, he always wants to play. And so the two of them were really eager and I wasn't sure, and then I said, "Okay, just as long as it's not an '80s package, and not hits only. We have the set we really want to and we have to have fun." In a way, I was kind of glad to do it; it did make the proper ending the Banshees should have had. It did kind of just fizzle out with lots of upset and depression. It did just slowly die away, which was sacrilege, really, for such a band. My overriding memories of the band are fantastic, and I felt that I had pissed on its grave, really. It shouldn't have ended like that.
You've always had such a shared fate with the Sex Pistols, and I remember that statement you sent around after they decided to get back together, that it was time for you to get out.
I think that was an attempt to see some kind of significance in our ending. That was our way of dealing with it at the time. And as I've said, after that it was tough to start again with the Creatures. I mean it was brick walls and closed doors everywhere. I can look back at all the really bad things that have happened to me, [and] I've always managed to get something really positive out of them. If those doors hadn't been closed, we'd have maybe continued blithely onward and really not had a good, strong look.
Your voice is so theatrical. Have you ever thought Of acting?
No, but when my legs go, I'll need something to look forward to.
Does that mean you can still wear those towering high heels?
Yes, I do. I used to wear them just to go out and get a pint of milk; I'd go trekking in my stilettos. I've still got those bondage shoes from Vivienne [Westwood]'s shop.
Just because of your extreme makeup and hard outer shell, I think there was a double armor there. Do you still do your makeup the same way as you did during the heyday of the Banshees?
Well, I love getting into imagery. I'm still very seduced by all of that. It's not the same, but I find different things. It's still dramatic. I don't really want to see a rehearsal room vibe up onstage. I would rather sit at home with my records and my candles than see this rehearsal room onstage. I do like to see someone create something visually.
What happens when you write a song?
They just descend on me. I always find it's like you're just a conduit for something else taking over. You end up thinking, "Where did that come from?" And it's always quick. My best work is when I hear something Budgie is doing and just the words will trip off to the melody. I also get what I call "twilight thoughts" you're going off to sleep and you can't shut your brain down. I've learned that I must have a pen and pad by my bed, and I've learned to write in the dark.
What role do you think serendipity has played in your life?
A lot of what I've done has been a reaction to things happening. It's almost like you can trace it back to meeting up with these friends, that we ended up going to the Pistols concerts. It certainly wasn't planned. It's also having found the one person in my life that means a lot to me. I never went looking for him. I was young and I was tough; I had already decided I was on my own and didn't need anyone else. But the irony is I found the one without looking. And I think quite often, if you do actually look for something, you're always going to be disappointed.
Is there something that you do that might surprise fans? I remember reading in an interview with Budgie that you gardened, and took great joy in lopping the heads off of your roses.
Did he say I garden in my stilettos? I will say I'd love to know more about gardening. I'd love to be able to fix the plumbing. I hate getting other people in. I really wish I could do everything.
Yeah, you have to talk to them.
I know. I'm terrible. I hate having other people in the house. Even if they're doing work for me, I'm thinking, "Get out of my house now!" Isn't that awful?
What do you overspend on?
I suppose clothing--that's pretty boring--lingerie.
Speaking of lingerie, during your tour last year you wore a sparkly bra, which is a testament to how thin you still are.
That one was a gift from a friend named Willie. It was a present, and it fit, and I was amazed. And it was very flattering. I just liked the idea of having this sparkly bra under a shirt and tie. I did it for Willie, really.
Not a new Madonna getup?
No, first the bra came, and then I thought, "I'll get a shirt, a tie, and a suit and go over the top, and when I get hot and sweaty, I can look all sparkly when I strip off."
Do you think of anything mundane when you sing?
The best performances are when you're totally unaware of self. The audience, the lights, the sound all becomes one connection, really. There's some shows where you can't get beyond the fact you're on two feet standing on a stage wearing this outfit. I hate those concerts. Sometimes you cannot escape the reality, and I think I'm always looking to be transported with the music somewhere else.
I always wondered if it bothered you when Robert Smith of the Cure started doing his hair just like you, and making up like you. No one ever mentioned that.
I thought it was funny, and I thought, "Silly boy!" He put the lipstick on very badly as well. He should have used a mirror.
Do you think it's easier or harder for | women in music now than it was in the late 70s? Have we come a long way, baby?
I honestly don't know. Because they're certainly using women a lot more, and I'm using the word "use" purposely. They decided it's a good marketing tool. But I don't know if that means they're giving the power to the women on their own terms started, people didn't know what to make of us, because of me. I'm sure they just hoped we would go away. If you were a female then you | were supposed to be the male idea of what a female in a band should be like ... like Joan Jett and the Runaways.
But you were rather threatening to everyone.
There's always this sense that it's a man's club. And it doesn't actually bother me anymore. I'm pretty aware that not much has changed. I think men feel they have to say they're pro woman, and I wonder deep down how many men actually think that. I can speak for one. I know Budgie is totally trustworthy and open as a person. And I know a few men like that, but I wouldn't say I know a lot. In all the years, with all the men that I've worked with, they've all had a problem. Nearly all of our managers found it awkward to talk to me, just couldn't talk to me.
Any musical descendants you'd be proud to claim?
Shirley Manson in Garbage, PJ Harvey, and the X Girls. Fabulous.
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.