V (Nov/Dec '02)
Very Interesting People
I misspent hours of my youth trooping round after Siouxsie and the Banshees. They sucked me in and held me tight like no other group. But I was not alone in my obsession. When the Banshees reformed to play a handful of gigs earlier this year, the tickets evaporated in a matter of minutes. You could credit this phenomenon to a fashion moment that sees Siouxsie's style celebrated on global catwalks (for god's sake, don't call it Goth!). I prefer to think it has more to do with the grip she continues to hold on the collective imagination of a surprisingly disparate group of individuals. Her dark wit and contrariness of vision mark her as a true original in an industry where such a strength is harder and harder to come by. Who else would base a reunion tour entirely on rarities and B-sides? Who else could make the wearing of an Armani suit seem so radical? Even the ten years of marital bliss (to platinum-blond powerhouse Budgie, the Banshees' drummer and Siouxsie's partner in the Creatures) and the home deep in the French countryside—where her family of adored cats awaits— speak of someone who could give a rat's ass about the fame game. And her nom de guerre is still the best pseudonym in pop. Tim Blanks
TIM BLANKS: It's funny that you wrote a song called "Icon" so early in your career, because you ended up becoming one. How does it feel to be the template for a generation?
SIOUXSIE SIOUX: [groans loudly] It fucked me up completely. What a terrible thing to do to anyone!
TB: How conscious have you been of your influence?
SS: It's your downfall if you start considering your importance. I'm actually more comfortable being outside of it. I've been living in a small rural town in the southwest of France for ten years, and I find it a real shock coming back to London. I grew up being on my own quite a lot and being quite comfortable with that as long as I've got a pussy to stroke. That hasn't changed.
TB: So you must have felt quite odd sitting in the audience during Galliano's Siouxsie collection.
SS: I felt completely disembodied. It was bemusing. It would be the kiss of death to take it seriously. I was kind of thinking, Go, girl!, because I had someone else in my mind. I was remembering growing up and being the antithesis of what was desirable at the time. Every girl wanted to look like Doris Day. I was skinny, pale, dark-haired.
TB: You wanted to look like Julie Christie?
SS :Yes, I probably considered bleaching. I was a late-developer as well, and I was thinking, I haven't got any breasts, either, and I'm nothing like the ideal, what am I going to do? And thank god I discovered black-and-white movies and the goddesses from the '20s like Louise Brooks. I realized it didn't have to be all roses. There was a place for the more spiky, exotic plant.
TB: You must have been 19 or 20 when you wrote "Icon."
SS: It was 1977, so I was 21.
TB: Does it intrigue you how prescient you were as a young woman from the suburbs? I mean, the Banshees felt so fully formed from the very beginning.
SS: And so seemingly self-assured and seeming to know what they were doing. But the reality was we were just reacting to the situation. We were incredibly innocent in a way, certainly in terms of the media at that time. Now everything gets so scrutinized, and it's all so neatly packaged and narrow, Back then, you were allowed to fuck up and make mistakes. When we were on Top of the Pops, I felt ludicrous, like the gate crasher at someone else's party. But it felt like a great place to be, to be causing ripples and watching the effects of it.
TB: Often when people look back at their old work, the farther they go, the harder it is for them to relate. Do you relate to the girl you were?
SS: Yes, because even now when you listen to just the singles, there is a theme of alienation running through pretty much all of them. "Hong Kong Garden" sounds like a perfect, cute single, but I wrote it about my Chinese take-away in Chislehurst. I remember the horrible abuse those poor people got when they first arrived. I wanted to be Emma Peel from The Avengers and kick the shit out of the skinheads that were hanging around bombarding these people with animosity and aggression.
TB: So it's fair to say you found punk, punk didn't find you.
SS: What happened was I met some people who got me into going to see this band the Sex Pistols, and from that, it was really a social scene. Everyone thinks punk suddenly just happened, but it didn't, It was just these like-minded outcasts from different parts of London who didn't feel comfortable where they came from, who somehow came together from fashion and art college and film and writing. It was like putting the right chemicals together.
TB: At the time you were lumped in with punk, but it always felt to me like there was actually a different thing going on with you.
SS: Even if you play the Pistols' first album, we were so not part of any of that, and I think a lot of it comes from our being self-taught musicians. We weren't musicians when we decided to start a band. It was just an idea, thinking out loud: We can do it; anything is possible. We certainly didn't have to do anything boring like learn how to play our instruments,
TB: So at what point did you decide, We can do this?
SS: I think I'm still kind of pinching myself. But after the first album, after we did "The Scream," I remember being at RAK Studios and seeing our tapes. Up to that point, we'd only played live, We hadn't been signed to a label because nobody would touch us, even though we were doing the John Peel Sessions [prestigious live BBC broadcasts], and we were all over the music press. Everyone seemed to think that it was part of some master plan, that we were perpetuating some kind of myth, that we were outside of everything and couldn't be touched. But it wasn't true. The music industry just wasn't enamored of us. I don't know if it was the fact that it was a band that was fronted by a woman...
TB: I've always wondered about that. The primal fear that punk aroused in people tended to be about violence, but maybe with you it was sex, which is much more primal.
SS: I think it frightened people seeing women in a physical role and being linked with aggression and violence and defiance. When you say "sex," I think maybe "the sexes." Possibly there was some latent sexuality there, but it wasn't really mentioned. But I love anything that is not defined and not explicit. I think it's very healthy to have something that is suggestive or ambiguous. I much prefer to see how people react to that than to give them something black-and-white.
TB: You were also pretty fearless with your use of iconography. Swastikas, for example.
SS: Swastikas, crucifixes, Stars of David, S&M... I think I've always been very attracted to very strong imagery anyway, whether it's religious or cinematic or pop cultural. I remember seeing an exhibition of John Heartfield's photomontages. The way he used the Nazis' own propaganda to attack them was so incredibly powerful. I think at that time there was also still a certain naivete. I remember in films like Salon Kitty and The Night Porter, you were more aware of the imagery than the political and social implications.
TB: And even with the Top Ten hits, you managed to preserve the air of the outsider.
SS: Well, it's obviously a preoccupation of mine, of all of ours. Even growing up, I was aware of not fitting in with the norm. In the suburbs, it was so strictly down to maintaining standards and what the neighbors thought. I got a lot of satisfaction when I discovered clothes and makeup. As I walked down the street, the net curtains were twitching, and the neighbors were going, "Oooh, what's she got on today?" And I'd take the train up to London and find the sanctuary of a gay club.
TB: How did your parents take to your rebellion?
SS: My dad had a drinking problem, and he died when I was 14. My mother worked and did everything around the house, so I grew up seeing her as the one who held everything together. She was very supportive. She was the eldest of seven children—five girls and two boys—and all the girls wanted to be doctors, but society wouldn't allow them to fulfill their ambitions.
TB: Did you ever feel that in some way you might be fulfilling a debt to your mother by so defiantly being your own person your whole life?
SS: It's not something that I've consciously been aware of, but there's definitely been something lurking back there. Defiance is a great word. I think a lot of what we've done as a band has been about defiance.
TB: What's your response to people who say that when bands reunite after a long time, they're only doing it for the money?
SS: Well, I say, in case no one has noticed, this is how I make my living, by writing and performing my material, and we're still without a recording contract, and we've enjoyed playing these songs and realizing how strong they are. It's been a very... educational exercise, but it's also been very brief. After Los Angeles and Japan, that's that. Then it's back to the future.
TB: How long have you been married now?
SS: I've been married since 1991.
TB: Is that a surprise to you?
SS: Definitely. I grew up knowing I didn't want to get married. I don't have kids, which was one resolution I kept. But yes, I definitely grew up quite prepared to live on my own and be self-sufficient.
TB: How has life with Budgie changed you?
SS: It's great to have an ally and a really close confidante and a friend, and that's probably helped in some way to stay defiant, because there is that real confidence there.
TB: Is it as simple as his being your rock?
SS: A good relationship is symbiotic. Personality-wise, we're complete opposites, and I think we admire in each other qualities we wish we could develop.
TB: What do you think he admires in you that he wishes he had?
SS: [indignantly] Oh, I can't say that. I can't say that. Let's say the good cop admires the bad cop and vice versa, I'm being too simplistic here. It's not just being married for ten years. We've worked together since he joined the band in '79, and we've had a personal and intimate relationship since '81. That's definitely not "normal" in this business, and I'm definitely for that.
TB: Are you ever frightened by the ardor of your audiences?
SS: So long as I don't get to see it close up, no.
TB: But you're looking at these people who are such slavish devotees that they know every hiccup of every song.
SS: It was worse in the early '80s, when the audience was so visually inspired by how I looked that there were mirror images everywhere. I hated it. I would try to say in interviews that I didn't like it, don't copy me. That was definitely the reason I cut my hair and had the short-bob thing and why I think I wore white.
TB: Now I have to ask the Armani question.
SS: No, no! No name dropping! Oh, all right. It's a nice suit. It reminds me of a suit that I found in a jumble sale in '78.
TB: For obvious reasons, your wearing Armani is subversive.
SS: I don't know anything about him. Is he?
TB: No. Not him, you. He's the last designer in the world people would expect you to wear.
SS: Me too. I certainly wasn't thinking, Oh, I must find my Armani, dah-ling. That belongs in Ab Fab with a bottle of Bolly, dear. But in my head I had an idea that I wanted suits for these shows similar to the one Bowie wore on the back of Pinups. When I found The Suit, I went, Omigod, it's a fucking Armani. I can't believe it. But it looked great. I thought, Fabulous. I don't care. I won't tell anyone. Then of course, there's my crystal bra, which was a present from a guy called Willie in Hollywood who specializes in bras. I like the idea of wearing a suit and then stripping down to a crystal bra when I get hot.
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.