Diva (April 1999)
She may have moved to France and started going to the gym, but Siouxsie Sioux hasn't lost the brooding glamour that made her the terror of Bromley. LUCY O'BRIEN met her.
Siouxsie Sioux sits in a hotel lounge in the heart of Covent Garden, sipping coffee and talking with sensible detachment about going to the gym and shopping in the sales. Her once spiky black hair is combed sleek and smooth, and she wears the demure urban uniform of black jeans and sweater. This is a far cry from the 19-year-old punk dominatrix who stalked into a suburban Bromley wine bar, followed by her pal Berlin on all fours wearing a dog collar. Now aged 41, there seems to be little hint of the mischievous punk who, with the Banshees, terrorised the charts from the late 70s with brooding, metal-voiced hits like Hong Kong Gorden, Happy House and the psychedelic Dear Prudence.
That is until she reminisces about her first cocktail. It was in New York in 1981, amid the faded grandeur of the Gramercy Park Hotel. "lt was a Vodka Gimlet. I just fell in love with it." What's in a Vodka Gimlet? Diva asks, innocently enough. "Vodka!!" she says, and then cackles uproariously. It is a joyous cackle, an anarchic cackle. It seems to loosen an outlaw spirit that has until now been kept in check by 90s politesse. She warms to the theme; talking about the inspiration behind 2nd Floor, the strongest track on her latest Creatures album, Anima Animus, a driving, thumping dancefloor thing that exudes a brooding glamour. For her the song is about being a barfly, having one-too-many Vodka Gimlets.
"lt's when you still want more, when you want the party to continue and it's beyond being sensible. I remember times when I was the one person left in a place, and the euphoria that goes along with it. 2nd Floor was my idea of what a private drinking bar would be, that was open all the time," Siouxsie continues. "There's something very religious about bars. They're like altars. The lighting. The colour of the bottles. Having a drink. It's like Santa's Grotto time."
That sense of a rich, ritualistic world, where the everyday meets the surreal, runs throughout the album, from the iron will of Exterminating Angel to the ghostly lullaby Don't Go To Sleep. It's not always easy listening, but it has a charged, confrontational passion that was missing from some of the Banshees' later music. "Put it this way, it's not inspired by Doris Day," remarks Siouxsie. She's found this fresh artistic freedom as scary as it is liberating. "But there'd be something wrong if it wasn't scary," she says matter-of-factly. "Unless something feels a bit scary, maybe it's not worth doing. Maybe I realised I should've been feeling that a lot longer before. Attaining a comfort zone and looking for security doesn't sit well with the creative process. For instance, I find it offensive that a video will cost 500,000 pounds. We did one the other day for five grand. When you've got a limited budget, it forces you to be creative in a different way."
By the time the Banshees broke up in 1996, they had become a rock institution, the very thing that Siouxsie kicked against when she first went on stage as a punk, mutilating Bay City Rollers songs with Sid Vicious. Although she is wary of talking about the past ("that was then and this is now"), those punk values still infuse her attitude. "l'm proud of being part of something that was so innocent, so uncontrived. When you look back on it through those rose-coloured glasses, it looks like it was orchestrated. But it wasn't. It was very visceral, very spontaneous-a spontaneous combustion." She admires the new DIY attitude of the current drum 'n' bass jungle scene, because it reminds her of how the Banshees started out, operating outside the usual promotional circuits. "Whenever we had a hit I'd think, ooh, we sneaked in that one. I felt like we'd gatecrashed somebody else's party," she recalls.
For now, she and Budgie live as well as work outside the usual circuit. In 1991 they left London, which had become "a rat-run: very small, very confined, very village-y", and moved to a large old house with high ceilings and stone floors in rural Toulouse. "You can relax into ideas there, let them unfold. You can use the neurosis of the city, but not be caught in it." Siouxsie is careful to stress, though, that living in France is not like "that fucking book, A Year in Provence". Less cosy domestic bliss, it is more a pared-down, deeply thoughtful existence that provides an extreme contrast to the adrenaline rush of the city. "I like extremes, I'm not good at middle ground," she announces.
It was that love of extremes that led her from teenage go-go dancing in West End clubs to donning fetish gear and becoming one of the most striking frontwomen in rock. Hers was the ice-goddess face that launched a thousand Goths. She celebrated the power of the dominatrix. "The masochist and the sadist is a relationship made in heaven," she opines, "it's so perfect. Both get what they want. It's honest, it's clearly defined. Maybe that's why people get offended, because it looks like they've got their lives sorted out. Maybe there's a subversive form of envy there." Siouxsie embraced queer sexuality long before the term was invented. She's had affairs with women as well as men, and people have been "confused or bothered by that. I'm always bemused people think it's such a big deal." For her, punk was about opening up a lot of areas and not "waiting to be invited". You only get sexual repression when people are unhappy about how they're expressing themselves."
She ruminates on past relationships, about how she always used to fall for gay men, how important female friendships are to her. Especially the flirtatious ones. Then she suddenly bursts out: "I hate being pursued, in any relationship. I don't want someone forcing their attention onto me, whether it's a man or a woman. I tend to get that a lot from women, or have done in the past. It's weird, they think just because they're female it won't get on my tits. But it does." She likes the hint of the unattainable, Shirley Manson from Garbage, "because she's really naughty", or PJ Harvey, for her "addictive quality," or "Dame Bolan" (Marc Bolan), because he had a "female side without being foppish." Her long-term romantic partner now is a man, her peroxide-blond collaborator, Budgie. "But he looks fabulous in a dress. He's got great legs," she says, and lets loose a good, long, hearty cackle.
Anima, Animus is released on Sioux Records.