COMPLETE CONTROL: SIOUXSIE IN WONDERLAND
by Adrian Thrills
Siouxsie & the Banshees, Polydor recording artists of eight daysí standing, are clustered around a small table in the corner of a North London kebab house. It is Saturday evening and most of the band have just spent their first day in Highburyís Pathway studio at the expense of the record company.
In two hours this afternoon, theyíve bashed down demos of three songs: "Metal Postcard", the one dedicated to Anti-Nazi propagandist John Hartfield, "Switch" and "Staircase", the latter two being just a couple of the host of new numbers the band have yet to debut live.
Siouxsie Sioux (voice), Steven Severin (bass), Kenny Morris (drums) and John McKay (guitar) have been together now for about a year.
Following the Bansheesí 100 Club debut in September 1976 with Sid Vicious on drums, Siouxsie and Steve (then surnamed Havoc) spent six months re-forming and rehearsing the band with guitarist P.P. Barnum and drummer Morris who, before joining the band, had sat in with Flowers Of Romance, the band fronted by Vicious before he went on to other things.
They were to have supported The Sex Pistols (and The Ramones, as it was then) on the original billing of the Anarchy tour, but failed to get things together in time. A fifth member, violinist Simone, left the band before they finally played their second gig, supporting The Slits at the Roxy club last Spring. McKay joined later last year, following Barnumís departure.
"The 100 Club thing was such a good beginning," says Siouxsie softly but determinedly. "To go on when we hadnít worked out a set, or how to play, or timing... just to get up and get the most out of the instruments without being restricted to certain chords and certain bars and God knows what else.
"It was very spontaneous from the beginning, but from the moment we were on the stage it was very serious. Since then weíve been able to channel our ideas." So what do you think people should know about you now?
"Mainly that weíre putting across what we really feel strongly about. Itís not a novelty, and itís not political in the sense that most people take politics. Itís just life." It certainly is not Nazism either, a point which most recent articles on the band have pursued to painstaking lengths. Nevertheless, the old fascist image was undoubtedly one of the factors in keeping record company interest to a minimum in the early days of the Banshees.
Or was all the "oh-isnít-it-obscene-no-one-will-sign-them!" hoopla really justified? New rumours have it that the delay in the Banshees landing a four-year contract was merely due to manager Nils Stevenson holding out to get the most lucrative financial deal possible...
And just how much is that deal worth to the band?
Over to you, Sue.
"Yeah, we were holding out to a certain extent," she admits. "But just to get the right deal, the right control. No recording company would sign the band for what we wanted. If itís our material, we want to have control over what is put out, how it is put out... the packaging and God knows what else."
Examples flow forth of record companies who were prepared to take them on - IF they could change the name of the band, IF they could censor the lyrics, IF they could put session musicians behind Siouxsie...
"At one stage it got very bad," she continues. "We were angry more than anything else. It made us more determined to hold out. It led to some ridiculous situations for us - like not being able to go out because we couldnít afford the train fare, humping our own gear to gigs."
So the Polydor contract is virtually the one the band want. Complete artistic control... "On paper," murmurs Steve cagily.
"Itís early days yet. The thing to do is get inside a major company and prove your ideals there. Itís no good in romanticising about being an underground band."
All the necessary artwork and advertising will be the bandís own responsibility, and every record release, including the forthcoming single, will have the full lyrics printed on the sleeve. The band also hope to produce themselves, although they are enlisting the services of a leading American soul engineer for an album.
Oh, and that massive advance? The band remain dogmatically tight-lipped about that one, adding only: "Itís not as much as people think."
Soundwise, the Banshees deal in extremes. Whereas most rock, even so-called experimental music, is pretty flat and comfortably levelled, the Banshees confront the listener with a noise range that approaches reggae in itís use of light and shade, Ďtopí and Ďbottomí: the booming, basic drumbeat at one end and the taut, shrill guitar and voice at the other.
They defy categorisation.
Siouxsie again: "The sound was never thought out deliberately. We just plug the guitars in and get the sound that suits us. Someone else - I think it was Nils - once said it was a bit like a reggae band, but weíd never really thought of it as that.
"Weíd like to think that sort of thing can change as well," says Kenny. "We do build our stuff on contrasts - up and down, light and shade. But Iíd like to think that, once someone has said weíve got a certain sound, that weíll be able to change it, not get pinned down."
"Thereís got to be other ways of doing it," Siouxsie continues. "Bands should try and find other ways. We want there to be other bands around that we can respect for what they are doing."
The only other band they see as doing anything worthwhile at the moment are The Slits: yísee, they Donít Like RockíníRoll. Itís been said before, but that aversion is at the crux of the whole Banshee outlook.
"None of the new bands now are really interesting," complains Steve. "Thereís nothing you can see now that compares to seeing the early Pistols, early Subway Sect, early Buzzcocks, so you try to cling to bands that arenít quite so good and you get bored."
"One of the great things about the early Pistols gigs was seeing them cock up a
song and have an argument onstage. You never see that sort of thing happen now. It
happens to us occasionally, but with most groups it is just so slick. A job."
"Itís not a job for us."
"That said, the Banshees handle their instruments well. What they refuse to fake, if things start to go wrong, is what Kenny mockingly terms "a slick, professional show."
This band do not need encouraging. Swimming against the tide is their raison díetre. They know just what Rotten was on about all those months ago when he called for "more bands like us" - it was not a cry to be mimicked.
"Weíre trying to get across to young people," says doleful guitarist John McKay. "Thereís no encouragement to be an individual. Most young kids are like grandads already."
"Itís amazing the way people get stuck in their ways," concludes Siouxsie. "It seems hopeless for people who try to be open about anything. And thatís all built around the media. Itís up the creek - the whole system!"
Honest, idealist and realistic, the Banshees take over from around where the Sex Pistols split left off.
"Hong Kong Garden", the first single is out next month. The rockíníroll stereotypes have got a fight on their hands.