The Indepedent (10.24.03)
ROCK & POP: RETURN OF THE CREATURE
It was early in 1976 that the teenage Susan Dallion, one of punk's famous "Bromley contingent", changed her name to Siouxsie Sioux. In September that same year she appeared at London's 100 Club as the singer of Siouxsie and the Banshees, in a slashed T-shirt, her sister's pinstripe jacket and a black star painted over one eye. After singing a 20-minute set including a savage version of the Lord's Prayer over a wall of feedback, she threw down the microphone and stalked off stage. It was the beginning of a career that would last over 20 years. Despite sometimes being overlooked by punk historians, Siouxsie and the Banshees were among the genre's most consistently successful and long-running bands, surviving numerous line- up changes (members have included Sid Vicious and The Cure's Robert Smith), record company upheavals and internal bust-ups.
"I guess we were just trying our luck at the 100 Club," Siouxsie recalls. "There was never any intention of doing it again and there was certainly no thought of making a living out of it. That would have been absurd."
Now, 27 years on, the Banshees have announced their split. Again. The last one was in 1995, but then came the reunion tour, The Seven Year Itch, in 2002. "It suddenly seemed a good idea to perform songs that we hadn't played for 20 years," explains Siouxsie. "And for a while it was fun. Me and (the guitarist Steve) Severin actually seemed to be getting on again. I say seemed. Obviously now I can't stand the sight of the poisonous old toad."
Decades of publicity shots and album sleeves have depicted a sad-eyed Siouxsie, an outlandish cross between Cleopatra and Tallulah Bankhead. It may be a result of her precipitous cheekbones and sparkling eyes that, at 46, she looks a lot younger than her years. Stripped of the cadaverous make-up and with her trademark black hair pulled back into a high ponytail, she looks fresh-faced and girlish. There is certainly no sign of the regal haughtiness displayed during live performances. She cackles endlessly throughout our interview and delights in recounting tales of glories - and ignominies - past.
In the Seventies, Siouxsie arrived with a glamour and femininity that had previously been absent in punk. Her aesthetic was compellingly unique, her air of rebellion ingrained rather than contrived. "I like situations where people don't know how to react," she says. "Back then I liked the fact that people were looking at me and wondering 'Is she serious or is she being funny?' To me dressing up was a natural form of expression but it was also a useful armour. I think I also saw my image as a way of covering up my lack of actual beauty. I didn't want people to see the real me."
Siouxsie insists that there is no chance of another Banshees tour since she and her husband, the former Banshees' drummer Budgie, are focusing their energies on The Creatures. The band was conceived in 1981 as a side project, with Banshees albums remaining the top priority. Now, however, the pair see The Creatures as their primary creative outlet and are about to release a fifth album, Hai!, a work which contains collaborations with the Japanese Kodo drummer Leonard Eto.
Siouxsie remembers having seen the Kodo drummers perform in the early Eighties at London's South Bank. Twenty years later, at the end of the Banshees' Seven Year Itch tour, she and Budgie found themselves in the Kodo's native Tokyo. They made contact with Eto through a mutual friend and persuaded him to join them in the studio for a day.
"I think we were both pretty nervous when it came to meeting Leonard," confides Siouxsie. "The Kodo Drummers are like an army of Bruce Lees when they get down to their loincloths and play. It's very powerful and potent, kind of like a martial art but also like a religion. It's very spiritual, and dramatically different to anything we're used to in our culture."
The resulting session forms the backbone of an album of dense atmospherics, frenetic rhythms and, of course, Siouxsie's visceral wailing. It is as darkly imaginative, raw and energetic as anything they made in the Banshees. "I suppose there are comparisons to be made," she concedes. "The difference with The Creatures is that it's always been about drums and voice. It's not all about squally guitars and big macho sounds. It's a lot more subtle in that way."
When she was a teenager, Siouxsie liked nothing better than to get the neighbours' curtains twitching. One afternoon in Chislehurst, where she grew up, she took a walk around the neighbourhood dressed up in a Fifties- style flared dress, stilettos - and with her friend, Berlin, on the end of a dog lead. Stopping at a local wine bar, she sashayed up to the waitress and said "I'll have a vodka and orange and a bowl of water for my dog." Needless to say, they were both thrown out.
Her mother, who brought up Siouxsie and her two siblings virtually single-handedly, admired her daughter's wardrobe. Back then Siouxsie's heroes were David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Bette Davis. With little money to spend on clothes, she starting hiring outfits from a local costume shop for the weekends. For a while she toyed with the idea of being a model; it was only later, after meeting the Sex Pistols, that it occurred to her to start a band.
As the Banshees grew in sales and influence, Siouxsie was dismayed to see fans copying her style. "I thought: 'Stupid idiots. Haven't they got any of it?' I wanted people to be themselves, not copy me." She still vehemently refuses to accept her status as the prime inspiration for a generation of vampire-loving, crushed velvet-wearing, pathologically depressed goths.
"I don't want to be some figurehead for some dreary movement," she bellows, appalled. "I find it offensive that they've taken a look of mine from a certain time and turned it into a uniform. When I was 18, if everyone was wearing one thing, I would want to wear something completely different. I remember feeling like that when punk went tabloid and people started wearing bloody safety pins. They turned it into a cartoon. We had never dressed like that, for us it was never about being part of some army. It was about striving to be original."
Siouxsie lives a comparatively quiet life nowadays. Fed up with fans staring through the windows of their basement flat in west London, she and Budgie moved to France 11 years ago. Now they live in a converted farmhouse in a small village between Toulouse and Bordeaux where they have a garden, cats and mountains of books. A few years ago they set up their own label, Sioux records, and have just finished building a studio in their house.
"There's no stopping us now," Siouxsie says, excitedly. "For the first time, we're in complete control rather than bowing to the whims of a record company. We can do what we like, when we like. People keep asking me when I'm going to retire, like I'm some old mare ready to be put out to pasture. They've asked me that since was 30, and the answer is still the same. Never!"
'Hai!' is out on Monday on Sioux. Siouxsie and the Banshees' 'Seven Year Itch' tour DVD is out now
Contributed by Jerry Burch.