Whisperin & Hollerin (November '03)
'Interview (NOVEMBER 2003)'
He's played with Liverpool punk supergroup Big In Japan, laid down the rhythms on The Slits' dubwise post-punk masterpiece "Cut" and went on to push the beat envelope with one of the greatest Punk/ New Wave UK outfits of all, Siouxsie & The Banshees, but now legendary drummer BUDGIE is back with Siouxsie as THE CREATURES and their exotic new album "Hai!": an album all about new beginnings with a distinctly Far Eastern slant.
Indeed, it's not every day that one of the greatest drummers of the past 25 years or so calls to chew the fat, so W&H were honoured when Budgie got on the blower to us last week to discuss everything from the making of the new album to travelling in Japan and why the marimba is such an under-rated instrument.
Budgie, the new album's fascinating, but I'm led to believe the seed for the album was sown within 24 hours or so of you coming offtstage at The Banshees final gig on your "Seven Year Itch" tour in Tokyo in August, 2002, when you got involved in an impromptu studio session? Please tell us more...
"Mmm, yeah, well the support band we had on the tour were Ex-Girl from Tokyo," says Budgie, who is quite truly one of the most likeably affable blokes you could ever chat to.
"They'd joined us in Chicago and I'd been asking their producer if he knew any of the Kodo Drummers, as I've been a huge fan for years. I've been trying to meet up with them in some shape or form. Turns out he knew Leonard (Eto), who's been their musical director during the 1980s and has devoted a great chunk of his life to writing music for them."
"So then The Banshees got offered the Semisonic Festival in Tokyo and Kyoto and Hopi (Ex-Girl producer) suggests he'll sort a studio date for us and I was like..."Whoa! Hold on a minute!" I could hardly believe I'd actually be working with a Kodo drummer."
Even after creating something as exciting as "Hai!" (the fourth Creatures album, and the follow-up to 1998's "Anima Animus"), Budgie still sounds in awe of having worked with Leonard Eto.
"Yes, well we didn't say all that much in the studio, beyond "hello, how are you?" and a few things, but instead we just started playing and feeling each other out. We had no initial idea what we were gonna do."
Right. Obviously you have intimate knowledge of Leonard's past work, but do you think he knew your work with The Creatures and The Banshees?
"I don't think he did, no, " replies Budgie, with just a trace of his Lancashire accent coming through.
"I never asked him and he never said. Certainly I'm a huge, huge fan of what the Kodo drummers have been doing. I've tried to see as many of their concerts in London as I possibly can in the past."
"It was amazingly liberating playing with him. It was so instinctive. I mean, I had a previous similar understanding playing with Talvin Singh, who was working with the Banshees for a while..it's like if you watch the DVD version of the new album, it's incredible to watch, you'll see the smiles gradually grow bigger on our faces as we start to interact. It was amazing it was so tight and spontaneous."
"And it was totally intuitive," continues Budgie, enthusing.
"Because normally western rock drummers play either 4 to the floor beats, or they solo and get their chops down, it gets very formularised, so to do something with this much freedom, but that was still very disciplined was really fantastic."
OK, but did Siouxsie herself take more of a back seat with the writing of the songs this time? She's quoted as saying: "I was mindful of breaking the spell, I had to store my inspiration until we got back to France."
"No, she didn't take a back seat, but really the way it went was that when we were building up steam in the studio rhythmically it was all pretty non-stop," Budgie explains.
"There weren't any structures as such, but Siouxsie was hearing bits of vocal melodies, but instead of stopping the flow and waiting to set up mics and all the things that would have disrupted the flow, she stored her ideas until we returned to France (Siouxsie and Budgie now live in the south of France - Ed) we started doing rough edits and divided it into 11 or 12 natural rhythmic columns and started patching in Siouxsie's melodies."
"It worked really well, too," he continues.
"I mean, Siouxsie already had things like "Tourniquet" pretty much worked out and she got it down really quickly. It was an exciting way to work."
Right. Actually, "Tourniquetıs one of my favourites on the new album. I love the noir-ish atmosphere and the fact Siousxie sounds so predatory on this one. The effect is really hypnotic. How sexual is the lyric?
"Hmm, I never ask Siouxsie too much about her lyrics," reveals Budgie.
"I prefer to feed off the sound and delivery. It's uncanny what she does there, though, she sounds like she's guiding the track and it sounds very open. I think the sound of the word 'tourniquet' itself influenced the song's outcome. The whole thing sounds like a rope slowly being twisted and tightened."
What about the other textures other than the drums themselves. For instance, I always love the marimbas on the Creatures records all the way back to "Thumb" on the very first EP. Presumably this is your domain as well?
"Yep, that's my bag!" Budgie fires back proudly.
"It's funny because whenever I used to pull out the marimba at a Banshees session, I'd get these looks of horror. (Steve) Severin (Banshees bassist) would be going: "Is this a Creatures record then?" (laughs)."
"But I love the sound of the marimba and The Creatures is the perfect percussive outlet for it. I love the way you can put tracks together with the marimba. They kind of jar against each other. It's brilliant and totally under-rated. It's similar the way you can do incredible harmonics with tubular bells. Many overtones."
Going back to Siouxsie's vocal performance for a moment, she truly sounds better than ever these days. How does she do it?
"I think working at home's and being in our own space is a big part of it," muses Budgie.
"It really suits her. There's always a sense of performing, even when you know the person well in the control room and we've always tried to work with the same producer for a number of projects. For instance, Mike Hedges (long-time Banshees and Creatures producer) has been a constant and that's important for confidence."
"I know it probably sounds strange, when you think Siouxsie sings in front of thousands of people, but when you're playing live you've got a song nailed down and you know where it's going, but it's actually a lot more nerve-wracking trying to get a song right when you're only in a room with a producer or co-writer or whatever, so for Siouxsie to be in an environment where she's comfortable really helps. Same for me, of course."
OK. How about the album's influences, Budgie. It all sounds really rich and diverse, but I believe Tokyo itself influenced the songs, such as your explorations in the city's Rappongi district?
"Yeah, well Rappongi's really just a tourist area," reveals Budgie.
"It's a bit like going to Sydney and saying you've seen all of Australia (laughs). You'll get a taste of the culture, but that's all there. It helped that we were with Ex-Girl as they helped to show us around. Rappongi itself is full of late bars and the red light district is there. There are Lady Boy shows and so on. It's not something to be taken seriously."
"Actually," he continues, "it's a bit of a juxtaposition from the hotel where we were staying where there was an old temple right next door, which was still serene and revered in modern life."
"We were lucky enough to be able to travel a bit too. We took a train sixty kilometres south to a beautiful natural park area. But really the whole experience was quite a culture shock. Being in Japan's like being slapped around the face like wet sushi. Your guard gradually goes down as there's nothing familiar to you."
Right. What about the album's title "Hai!" Translated in Anglo-Japanese it means, basically "yes!" Was this chosen as an affirmation of a new chapter for The Creatures?
"Yes, exactly, because it's an affirmation you hear everywhere. Yes! Yes! We wanted it to be something positive and a real exclamation mark. Something totally accessible."
"Besides, we felt it was something so right after the final chapter in the Banshees story. We really needed to do that final tour ("The Seven Year Itch" world tour in 2002) because it just kinds fizzled out in 1995 and was left hanging. Back then it didn't seem final and we needed to do those songs we had justice. That the drum sessions came right out of that and it led to this new album has definitely brought a new lease of life."
Of course you're based in France permanently these days. Do you find it weird being aucked into doing interviews and TV and competing with people who weren't even born when you'd started making great records? Or do you feel removed from it all?
"Well, only in that we opted out of London. That was mostly because being on tour it was one city after another and then straight back to London. We needed some space."
"The thing is, though," he continues, "with a Broadband internet connection it's immaterial anyway now. So we're always totally in touch. I mean the industry now has its' priorities wrong. It's in decline, but it still has these sad, pathetic, little stratagems with chart positions and playing the game and so on and as an independent as we are, you tend to get forced out. But we've no illusions about that."
"As to young bands coming along I've absolutely no problem with that," he continues.
" When we first started out we knew we were making great records and we thought older bands trying to get in our way were all sad old crapheads. That's the way we felt. And I totally love getting into young bands myself. I'll plug one: a young band from Texas called Explosions In The Sky. I can't stop playing them. They're fantastic. I've been listening to the new Radiohead and Blur albums and they're interesting, but Explosions In The Sky are just great."
How happy are you with The Creatures previous work. Do you have a favourite album?
"Well, I suppose it's a cliche to say the new one, but I am unbelievably proud of "Hai!", says Budgie emphatically.
For me, just that we made it is enough. In that sense, it didn't even have to be released, because it's such a massive thing for us as a partnership and for me myself."
"But there again," he says after a pause, "All the previous albums are really special to me. Thinking back, it was a real risk when we eloped off to Hawaii to make "Feast", the first one, back 1983, because it was just us and Mike Hedges, a three-way thing. It was really exciting, but incredibly nerve-wracking. But I still listen to that one at times and it still makes me feel proud. Not bad after all this time."
I love the quote from your press release where you say: "The Creatures are primal...it's our guts, our deepest instincts coming through." Would you agree that most people would rather shy away from such feelings rather than celebrate them, though?
"Well, I think you've got to be secure in yourself to not interfere with such deep instincts too much," considers Budgie.
"I mean, music production is really all about taming and polishing and I think often energy gets lost as a result. With The Banshees it was kinda like a filter system where everyone had an input. With these new songs, though, there's very little tampering between the moment and the end result. Drums are so primal, not an annotated thing in their purest form, and in the studio we were radio receivers and what we played came from life experience, not from having everything toned down."
Finally, Budgie, let's put you on the spot as a drummer. Your own style is so versatile, but who's really influenced you?
"Oh God!" he groans and laughs all at the same time.
"Well, obviously I'd always have to say the Kodo drummers. They seem to have been around forever in my universe, though in reality I think it's only since about 1979!"
"But I guess I'd also have to choose Can's drummer Jaki Leibezeit. I love the fact he was so single-minded. Someone once said to him: "Forget all the jazz stuff, just be boring" and he stuck to it so brilliantly. That's a genius quote (laughs uproariously)."
"Oh...I can't just say Ringo, can I?"
Course you can!
"Well, yeah, he's really under-rated. Take some of the stuff he did on "Abbey Road"..."Something" for instance. Thatıs great. He saw drums as another instrument. Oh, and a contemporary influence must be Dave Grohl. His work on that last Queens Of The Stone Age album was outstanding. It's a great fun rock album and a real drummer's album. D'you know what I mean?"
I certainly do, Budgie. And I'm entirely sure he'd return the compliment, too. Many thanks for the continuing fantastic music!
Author: Tim Peacock
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.