The following interview with Budgie, drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees, was conducted 7 November, 2002 by film maker Ken Volok. It was to be included in issue 11 of the Santa Barbara based hE@D Magazine. Layout by George Delmerico.
The musical explorations of few bands result in creating new styles and trends. Siouxsie and the Banshees not only redefined themselves with each successive album but left a trail of imitators in their wake. Budgie, who joined the band as its drummer at the recording of their third album, Kaleidoscope (1980), also ended up marrying the much idolized and lusted for Siouxsie Sioux, breaking the hearts of millions of black-clad teens. But as the Banshees’ music evolved, Budgie’s contributions were a crucial element to creating the sound and the ensuing enigma of the Banshees that still captivates audiences today. Interview by Ken Volok, 7 November 2002.
Ken Volok: When you were compiling the new “Best of...” CD, did it perhaps inspire a return to the studio as “the Banshees” or perhaps a new Creatures album?
Budgie: The compiling started… two or three years ago. We’ve been trying to get this thing off the ground with Universal for awhile. I’ve got compilation tapes going back to the beginning of 2000. We were probably doing the last Creatures album [Anima Animus] while we were doing this. What was great was being in the studio and remastering the stuff and hearing it kinda take on a new life as it came out of the speakers all enhanced and digitally tweaked.
KV: Have you always been active in the mixing?
Budgie: We always have and even in the cutting room. We quite often went down to the cutting room with a bottle of wine and made a night of it. We thought it was our duty to chase it right to the very end until it left and got pressed. But certainly the 12” mixes on the CD [were] our fun nights as well. We didn’t hang out in clubs very much; we did a lot of hanging out in studios. So we’d have people come around and we’d have parties in the studio while we were mixing the album. Sort of trying to keep the work ethic going but have a bit of fun as well.
KV: When did you first start banging on things; how old were you when you began drumming?
Budgie: Still doing it really, tables and pans and cups and stuff. I used to drive my family pretty mad when I was a kid. I used to play furniture actually. I used to rock in chairs...my Dad bought me a rocking chair which I trashed. Then I went to the settee which I trashed. I used to rock in it and try and find the best spring parts; I would kind of rock in time to the music. When I got into my Black Sabbath period, I just started trashing the chairs. But it was good when I realized I could do something about it by not trashing the chairs, by trashing drums instead. It’s been quite a long journey for me. And it still throws up surprises. The last thing the Banshees did was play in Japan. The last invitation we got was to go out and do a festival there. And knowing that we managed to set up a meeting with one of the Kodo drummers who I’ve been a fan of for years. We did a session in the studio with just drums--a guy on his big Japanese traditional drums and me on my little drum kit. Some way or another this whole project spawned new stuff, quite unexpectedly. It was a dream come true really.
KV: Was The Slits your first band?
Budgie: The Slits was my first London Band. I had a band in Liverpool, the Spitfire Boys. We played in London and met The Slits; they were our only fans. So we’d regularly play to four people at the bar and the four girls in the audience. Then I was in a band called Big in Japan, which were Liverpool based as well. In Big in Japan we had Holly [Johnson] on bass, who went on to be in Frankie Goes to Hollywood. In fact, the singer for The Spitfire Boys was Paul [Rutherford], who was also in Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The guitarist in Big Japan is Ian Broudy, who went on to become Lightning Seeds; and a guitarist also was Bill Drummond who went on to become KLF. Let me think who else was in there; it's like a cast of thousands! It was a pretty incestuous little riot. We felt like we were going for about a year, but it was probbaly about six months. And then I kinda just left Liverpool and worked with a couple of people and then landed the drum seatin The Slits because I knew them. It was a great opportunity. They were about to do their first albu,m and I knew the songs anyway. They wanted it to be entirely different than what they were doing when they played live. It was probably my first real studio thing.
KV: What prompted your move from The Slits to Siouxsie and the Banshees?
Budgie: I said to Viv [Albertine], Tessa and Ari [Upp] after the album that’s really it. I didn’t see it as an onward going thing. It was like we kind of done justice to The Slits at that point. I left it not to do anything in particular. I went back to looking for “that band” that I was to be in. I got a phone call from the Banshees’ management. I just thought that the management had several bands--I knew The Banshees were on tour, because they were all over NME [New Music Express] at that time. I got an offer from The Psychedelic Furs also at that time, but I thought they were another “girl band” and I had had enough of that. But it was The Banshees, so we went down and met Siouxsie and Steve [Severin, bassist for Siouxsie and the Banshees] and did a quick audition with Marco Pirroni [who went on to play with Adam and the Ants] on guitar because they had no guitarist of course--and they went “Alright you’re in!” It was that quick.
KV: The sound of Kaleidoscope [first album with Budgie on drums] is really different than Join Hands or The Scream. Was that decided before you signed on?
Budgie: The weather was right. And it was the first time from being a band--a four piece, having the first album, and having toured for such a long time; the second album they found was quite a difficult album to make. And of course the third one had to be just an entirely different way, so the writing process was very different as well. Siouxsie and Steve had done a lot of little demos with little beat boxes. So I had things like “Christine,” “Lunar Camel” and “Desert Kisses” stuff like that--they were strange, like really little films, like little pieces of atmosphere. I had just listened to Lou Reed’s Street Hassle and on that album he did a version of “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together,” and it starts off in a studio, then halfway through the whole thing switches off into live, like kinda segueways. And I just thought it was a great idea and I thought it would be a great way of entering into the recording of Kaleidoscope. So it was halfway through Red Light, with Red Light kinda clicking on with its little drum box and synthesizer line and I just kinda filtered in, with this live kit playing on top of it. That was my entry into The Banshees if you like, slipped in through the jazz door in the back. I think that really did point us in the direction that you really should keep pushing the envelope, because you only get this chance once.
KV: Were you interested in Hawaiian culture before you went there and recorded the first Creatures material?
Budgie: Nope, like most people I thought it all had to do with grass skirts and ukeleles and volcanos. The first place we were going to go was Mexico City, but they couldn’t speak enough English to understand what we wanted. It was literally a finger on the map and we landed in Hawaii. I think Siouxsie might have been guiding my finger as I was doing it. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for. And I still can’t believe that we did an album, and did the photographs and mixed the whole thing in two weeks. I don’t know how we did it.
KV: The imagery of your videos is as captivating as your sounds. How much input did the band have in those?
Budgie: We’ve always had a director on board, but the early videos was very much friends of friends really. We didn’t have a big production crew; we had the director who was also the cameraman and who had his mate who was also the set builder. So it was a team of about four people who we used regularly. We used the same guy who did the album photographs for the Kaleidoscope album for instance [Joe Lyons]. He also was building the sets for the video at the time, and we kind of built it from there really in our own way--“Christine”, “Red Light”--all done on the same set as the album sleeve, very simply. Then we started to build sets. And then we did “Spellbound”, “Arabian Knights”--then we went out on location and started to feel like we were doing proper films. But we were really seeing how far we could stretch the budget at that point. There was not a lot of money being put into videos. We always had very strong ideas, Siouxsie especially, about what she wanted to look like, how she wanted the whole thing to appear. And we had a good “language” to hit potential directors with, our favorite videos and films. Steve [Severin] had a vast library of Fellini-esque [films], the stuff that was all banned I think! So when we got .. say “Peek-a-Boo” it was like a great meeting of the minds with Peter Skammel. I think we met at the right time. We were always trying to get the instruments out of the videos, we were always trying to get away from performance- playback and trying to think of different things to do. So the ultimate thing was that we should all dance! We always had this thing for Busby Berkley you know.
KV: What inspired the carnivalesque atmosphere of the Kiss in the Dream House album?
Budgie: Probably too many late nights in the studio. I think we were probably at the peak of our “We can do anything” total self-belief, totally lost in our self-belief. I suppose that can be dangerous; I still think we were blessed with a healthy self-discipline. We knew what was crap. Collaboration is all important and that was a great collaboration with a producer, Mike Hedges. As for the image again we didn’t have to think too much, [painter Gustav] Klimt seemed to appear on the table. We had enough source material from the books we had around us, the next step was building the set and devising our Klimtesque strategies. We were quite able to follow our own devices with very little intrusion...that’s probably the key to all this really. It just seems like a different world now. There seems to be so much consideration on some kind of target audience. I think its insulting how companies would, and still do…insult people’s intelligence. We always loved getting lost, seeing how far we could get lost in a kind of fantasy world when you’re creating something. When you go into a theater you create a different world in a theater that night, it’s yours for the night--do what you want with it, albums especially.
KV: Hyaena is such a musically complex album. How long did you record it? How many musicians?
Budgie: [For “Dazzle”] it was a whole string section from the London Symphony Orchestra, but it was a section called the Chandos Players. We had gone into the studio with not a lot written so we were writing in the studio which did draw out the process and got quite costly. It wasn’t like we were considering those things; we just felt this is the way we want to do the album. We were also breaking off and going off to do tours as well. So we’d do a few dates in Europe and come back and pick up the album again. So it was over a year and many different ways of working. Robert [Smith, of The Cure] really wasn’t playing guitar much...he was far more on the keyboards; hence songs like “Swimming Horses” and “Take Me Back” with Robert at the piano and the organ just jamming out ideas. We were trying to get into the spirit of just creating in the studio, and in the end many different studios as you can probably tell. I think its one of those albums that’s sometimes overlooked. Even at the time it was so not liked in the UK, we thought there must be something wrong with it like the deformed one...nobody ever talks about that one. But when we revisited it later on we thought this has many qualities to it that we really are proud of.
KV: Did you choose any of the songs to cover on Through the Looking Glass?
Budgie: I wish. I think the final word was all definitely down to Siouxsie. We’d all picked songs and found that the lyrics were just unbelieveably bad. “This Town [Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us]” was a favorite of mine. For a lot of these songs it was like “Wow, I’ve never heard ‘Gun’ by John Cale.” To me really it was like bring on your worst ones really, let me see what I can get into.
KV: Is there any song not on the new “Best of” CD that you wish was?
Budgie: There were so many songs that should’ve been on there. I think Playground Twist...I really like that song.
KV: Do you enjoy playing that song especially?
Budgie: I did; we didn’t play it this time ‘round. It’s almost impossible to play. I remember playing it when I first joined the band and thinking ”this is impossible, I can’t keep this up.” It’s just relentless. We had to listen to a lot of stuff--everything, over and over. We’re looking forward to compiling a B-sides collection; that’s gonna be a real joy. I think there’ll be a complete box set as well in which we’ll have everything. Maybe all the singles back in their original packages and stuff. We think it will be nice for the people that want it.