Making Music (November '89)
Budgie and Siouxsie have been to Spain to record a new Creatures album, Nice holiday? Not exactly. Interview Jon Lewin. Photography Grahame Tucker.
THE CREATURES have been at it again. With Siouxsie & The Banshees currently 'resting' Siouxsie and Budgie have been off in Spain making another Creatures record, six years on from The Creatures' debut as a vocals and percussion duo. The resulting "Boomerang" (The Creatures' come-back??) is a fine album, full of the wit, peculiarity, and roughness that too often gets smoothed out of more self-consciously career- oriented recordings. There's a sense of freedom and spontaneity here that makes The Creatures sound like a new band rather than two old pros taking a bit of time out from their real job.
But what is it that draws the line between The Bs and The Cs? As Budgie explained when we met in Advision Studios, time is the main factor. With a successful Banshees LP and tour out of the way (Budgie regards "Peepshow" as the strongest Banshees record for ages), he and Siouxsie felt spurred on by their sense of achievement. It's also a relief, he explained, to get away from the "big machinery" of The Banshees organisation.
How do they decide which are Banshees' songs, and which Creatures' songs? There are several tracks on "Boomerang" (most obviously the rolling 6/8 feel of 'Pluto Drive') that would fit well in the Banshees' canon.
"Because we wrote them at this point in time they're not held over for the Banshees," Budgie says. "'Pluto Drive' is the first time I've really written lyrics. I've never written lyrics for Siouxsie & The Banshees, apart from one B-side ('Cuckoo') - Steve and Sue always write the lyrics, alone or together. That's another difference: with The Banshees, sometimes one person will come up with an idea, but the three or the five of us will all introduce parts. The Creatures is the speed and just two people, the short democratic move."
THE HI AND LO
Songs for the LP were put together at a residential rehearsal studio in Surrey, using a distinctly odd combination of hi-tech gear and lo-tech recording techniques. Like many experienced musicians, The Creatures are wary of making polished demoes, for fear of problems recreating them in the studio. Budgie's drum kit and marimba, a Hammond organ, steel drums, tubular bells, and anything else that came to hand were crammed into the rehearsal room with a TR808 drum box, a DAT machine, and a huge speaker foldback system. If Siouxsie wanted anything louder, she'd take her vocal mike over to it.
"First we started like The Creatures that we knew, with tunes suggested by the drum tunings. Siouxsie came up with the melody for 'Manchild' playing drums herself.
"Within three days we'd filled two 60 minute DAT tapes with ideas. Then we'd retrace our steps, playing it back on the DAT and overdubbing on to my Professional Walkman. We'd have the 808 on the DAT with drums and vocals, I'd go on to marimba, and the DAT would go through the speakers, the marimba would go through the other speakers, and we'd record all that on to a cassette. Then we'd listen to that on the cassette, and it went on like that, rapidly deteriorating in quality all the way," he laughs.
REIGN IN SPAIN
Cheerily pursuing the spirit that led them to record the first Creatures LP in Hawaii, Siouxsie and Budgie decided to take producer Mike Hedges and the Abbey Road 2in 16-track mobile off to a ranch in southern Spain built on the site of an 11th century convent.
"We decided not to do it in a studio. We'd talked about it with the Banshees, but there were too many problems involved - like mains power and accommodation. But with the two of us and Mike, who'd been collecting mobile gear, we could virtually go anywhere. But staying in Europe, we could transport the drum kit and the mobile desk and so we'd be self-sufficient."
It may have been Spain, but it wasn't a holiday. "We couldn't speak to anyone else as no-one spoke English, the heat was quite oppressive, the situation was fairly full of friction because we knew the owner was an ex-bull fighter so everything was more emotionally charged...But we wanted to be in this situation.You're able with just two people to put your self on the edge. When you've been working for a long time, every studio looks the same, and you have to rely on yourself for the sense of urgency, thrill, imagination, and attack - it's the fear of the unknown, knowing that it might not work. But we didn't know how hard we were making it for ourselves."
What about all the wit and spontaneity (see above) of professional musicians playing around and having a good time?
"The fun things on the record came after we got back and were putting the brass parts and the percussion on. We used vibes, matchboxes, we sampled match strikes, speeding racing cars... The jaws harp on 'Untiedundone' just makes me laugh. A lot of these things came about after the pressure was off."
"It's a massive thing I'd developed for 'Peep-show', courtesy of Tama - basically it was me taking the opportunity to get as many drums as I could free," he laughs. The kit is mostly all power toms with Evans CAD/CAM heads. "There's also this gong drum which I've always wanted. The gong drum is single-headed, with a skin larger than the diameter of the drum which pulls over like a timpani head. Most people use them with a plastic head, making this brrlapp! noise. I tune it to a low C, that becomes the root note of the kit."
Apart from drums. Budgie's other most obvious contribution to The Creatures is on marimba (a large wooden xylophone-ish machine). "It started on the first Creatures thing because I wanted the notes to sound more. I just tried to play it and I could. I've got gaffer tape all over the keys to tell me where to play - they're all brown, so it's different from a keyboard. But then I scribble all over keyboards as well. Rhythmical stuff, that's what I do, I like playing octaves then putting things between, doing paradiddles, but changing the notes around. I can always hear tunes anyway, this gives me the opportunity to put down the tunes that I can hear - and I can keep the tune very close to the drum beat. Some times with the marimba you can hit the wrong notes, and that's kind of nice as well - you're going so fast, you're just getting the movement."
Has Budgie made the transition from drummer to multi-instrumentalist? "I'm definitely not a multi-instrumentalist. I still like to think the sensibilities of drumming should really be adhered to through all the instruments - understatement is the hardest thing to do. There's part of me that wants to be very talented with all instruments, but limitations are good, as that helps you get more out of things. I'm still learning so much about playing drums that ifs quite a preoccupation."
"This was written very quickly in Spain. We had drums and voice in the same room, all spilling on to the same microphones. Siouxsie had got the lyric by that point so we played it on eye contact - that kind of spontaneity. The intro was an elongated count-in that got kept. The last thing we did on most of the tracks was develop the final melody, giving in to the seduction of the tune. We could have had things a lot harder, but if there was a nice tune we let it breathe."
"The flamenco dancers on this came from the local ballet school. We had one mike at their feet, one on the hands, and we just gave them the 808 through a speaker. Obviously we couldn't have it very loud, so I had to stand there conducting madly. We knew roughly the arrangement but we didn't let them hear it. "
"Siouxsie got the vocal part from the dictaphone she always carries. The crunch of the condenser mike on that was something she wanted to retain, but we didn't achieve it till the cutting stage, when we compressed it right up - it just sucks everything else dry when the vocal comes in. It was important to keep that initial feel - the song was losing something, and we didn't know what it was. The funny harmony on the chorus may be an SPX1000. It was just an over-the-top effect put there to pull back some of what the little dictaphone did. It was meant to be otherworldly, strange, obsessed, and that gave it the right kind of lean."
"Sioux wrote the lyric about one of these little cells in a convent in Almagra. It really changed when we put the steel drums to it, a pair of mid-range ones. I had great fun playing them; their tuning doesn't have anything to do with a piano keyboard - C is here, C# right over there. I was playing them with dowelling rods with elastic bands around them for the beating parts. If you hit them hard, you get a dipping and rising note, like 'bwrang!'."
"Putting it into 3/4 time with a very recognisable beat lets the vocal really have its moment, and I think the lyric works really well. The impulse for the brass came from the only Fleetwood Mac album I've got, a greatest hits album from when Peter Green was in the group. There's a song called 'Love That Burns', and it has the most drunken brass playing I've ever heard. I wanted that mood to put some kind of tune in it. There's some really late snares at the end of 'Killing Time', but we kept them. I was off my stool at the time - I'd jumped and caught the cymbal about three feet in the air, and came back down again - it had that 'only just made it' feel. It's very important to capture that on tape; that's the difference between records and live. Concerts have lots of little moments within what can be a quite ordinary concert. What you're trying to do when you're making the album is pull all those little moments of magic together, make it all magic."
"That's me on the bass harmonica. I've always had a harmonica with me since I first heard Canned Heat. I used it on 'Happy House', the first Siouxsie & The Banshees recording I ever did. I stuck my hand up and said, 'Excuse me, I can play harmonica as well.' With The Creatures, I feel that side of me has been allowed to come out more. Although I've been with Siouxsie & The Banshees for ten years, there are certain... not 'restrictions', but 'ways of doing things' - you're part of a team. With this, all the sides of your character can come through, and I think that's what I've been enjoying most."
"'Pluto' was one of four wild drum tracks I did in Spain. The drums had taken nearly the whole month to settle in with the heat and the humidity, and I ended up doing these four tracks just before we had to leave. The drum sound in this place was immense, with archways in the room, and a big cellar underneath- a real cacophony of sound. On this, we had the fast triplets which pulls you into one foot-tapping mode, and then the drums come right across this. I just locked into the beat and it was hypnotic - I held the beat for about ten minutes. The hi-hat's doing the offbeats and I'm sitting on top of that."
"We worked on the bass marimba a lot for this one while we were in Surrey, putting down interwoven parts. As for the oriental bit at the end, that was almost like 'we can't be serious', but it worked."
"These wild drum tracks were initially going to be B sides. It's the way we've approached Siouxsie & The Banshees B-sides - the spontaneity, the speed of working, though we've not always been able to do it with the Banshees as it takes longer to grow things with everybody putting their bit in."
"We'd finished in Spain and we decided to add the brass. I was at home working out the brass parts for 'Standing There' and 'Strolling Wolf before Peter Thorns (trombone player) came round. We were sitting there when Siouxsie came out with a tune for the drum part for 'Untiedundone' and we wrote it down. Harmony is important to The Creatures because it's such an important part of the arrangements. There's less competition than in Banshees' songs - guitars and keyboards always fight on the same frequency levels with vocals. It's definitely something I want Siouxsie to push further - very spontaneous."
"'Simoom' was done to a 50 foot tape loop running the full length of the barn, round pencils, mike stands... that loop was a DAT tape with the drum sound from rehearsals, with 808, recorded to DAT, transferred to 1/2 in., then made into the loop, and I played drums 3 along to the loop. That's an example of Mike saying, 'Let's do it this way.' At the end of it he just slowed it down, and when it got to half speed, I just picked up the note in the new key and kept on playing. That became..."
"So I actually wrote it on the spot on the marimba, thinking, 'Help, somebody record this.' That was the take and the drums were the last thing that went on. We'd been drinking a bit of sherry at the table that evening, so we felt loose enough to try it. As for the crickets on it - I went out with a portable DAT machine and sat down in the field at about 10.30 in the evening, completely dark - typically, the one I got sounded like he had a gammy leg."
"This is a Sioux lyric about the inevitable cruelty of things. It pinpoints a cruel aspect of nature, the turtles breaking from their eggs and being picked on by the seagulls. It was initially written on guitar, the blue Vox teardrop to an open D. That metallic drum sound (apart from the oil drums) is the dragon roar gong - the sound you hear in Chinese theatre, gushy but contained. I go in to Ray Man's in Neal Street, Covent Garden."
"This is a Spanish word meaning a lament, the feeling you get when something's lost and gone; Spanish blues. They're snippets of words that were written over the years pulled together. The droning comes from the bottom end of the bass marimba with the mike slammed up between the actual wood slats, completely out of phase. We attempted to clarify it with another marimba part, but we left it as it was. The vibes on top evoke the atmosphere perfectly."
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.