Meltdown (Autumn '02 - Issue 11)
Exclusive Interview! Screaming Like a Banshee
She's known all over the world for both her looks and her music, but what's really going on in the Siouxsie camp? The most famous Banshee talks to Natasha Scharf about why the Banshees reformed, her plans for The Creatures and what it's really like being married to Budgie...
Siouxsie Sioux is not one to mince her words. She's got a reputation for being an ice maiden and detesting all journalists, so it was with great trepidation that I began this interview with a woman whose music and style has inspired and influenced so many for over three decades.
Today, the ice maiden seems to be in an amicable mood. She's stopped over in London to have her hair cut by the friend whose scissors created the singer's original trademark black locks, imitated by masses.Her press officer has told me that this is one of the few interviews she's granted as she genuinely dislikes talking to the press and prefers to get on with making music.
Once upon a Banshee...
When the Banshees dissolved in 1996, it looked very unlikely that we would see them together again. Siouxsie and Budgie went off to concentrate on The Creatures while Steve Severin set up an online record label called RE:. But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder and after a seven year break, the band have made their peace and joined hands once again.
So what did actually happen in those somewhat barren years? Siouxsie reveals in her husky voice: "We'd been having screaming matches with Polydor and when UMG/ Universal took over we were still trying to get the back catalogue looked after and remastered. We'd been hearing horror stories about how a lot of the old tapes that our original recordings were on were crumbling to dust. Dear Prudence was actually lost so we had to master from something else. This had been going on for seven years and we still hadn't got a go ahead or anything in February of this year. That was when Severin called me and said he'd had an offer from our old promoter in the States to do the Coachella Festival, near Palm Springs, and it was a bit of a shock," she laughs. She continues: "But we thought: 'What the hell, Universal aren't doing anything, let's just go out there and play the music.'"
The band started off playing a series of 'rehearsal' gigs on the East Coast, before working their way over to Los Angeles for the festival - they hadn't played together for seven years. As word spread about their reformation, the Banshees were quickly booked for dates in the rest of the USA, England, Scotland and Japan. Anyone who caught their Seven Year Itch shows would have noticed the choice of material was very nostalgic. "We decided that we would play a lot of the older stuff that we hadn't played since it was recorded," Siouxsie says, elaborating: "We played stuff from The Scream and Join Hands and we decided to keep it as a four piece."
Siouxsie, Budgie and Steve Severin were joined on stage by guitarist Knox Chandler, who joined the band as a live member shortly after they split somewhat acrimoniously with former guitarist Jon Klein on tour for The Rapture.
Siouxsie explains: "Ironically we had thought we'd found the perfect guitarist for the Banshees. My favourite guitarist of all time was John McGeoch and I think Knox fits in with that mould of guitarist better than anyone else we've had. He was just really easy to get on with and didn't need things explaining so much musically."
Siouxsie hand-picked the band's support act -The eX Girls, all the way from Japan. "I love the eX Girls," she says. "I think if we were financially a bit more able to do something with Sioux Records, we'd love to sign them 'cos they've not got a deal."
The dates in the US and UK rapidly sold out and Siouxsie admits she was surprised, adding: "We didn't really know what to expect. I thought it was a great finger up to the industry to do that without any kind of blanket promotion, MTV... funnily enough, people asked us whether we had planned to do this at the same time as the Queen's Gol den Jubilee and I said: 'F**k off! Don't be stupid!'" she cackles.
"It was quite bizarre playing in the UK again but there was a great atmosphere and I personally saw a lot of people I hadn't seen for a long time - they seemed to come out the woodwork. There was a great young audience there as well - maybe some of that young audience came from the fact that The Creatures had been playing a lot and they got into us through that."
Of the two dates at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, the second was recorded and there's a very strong likelihood it will be released as a live DVD containing exclusive footage next year. Siouxsie says of the venue: "The shows at Shepherd's Bush were very intimate; when we played there it seemed a lot smaller than I remembered it and I love intimate theatres."
Best of the rest...
But sold-out shows weren't the only thing the band managed to achieve through their mini tour - it also chivvied Universal along into remastering the Banshees' singles and putting them out as a Best Of compilation. The CD contains 15 classic Banshees tracks, including Christine, Killing Jar and Hong Kong Garden. Although there are some omissions, Siouxsie says: "We realised it needed to be a taster for people who don't know the Banshees and we were quite brutal in what was included. There are some tracks we really wanted to have on there and we really kind of had to deal with not including just to make it more concise and immediate." She adds: "If we'd put all the singles on there, it would be a double album so we thought we'd keep it short and sweet. It's been great just hearing the stuff remastered and clearing all the cobwebs away."
The old favourites sit happily alongside the previously unreleased track Dizzy. "We chose to add Dizzy because we wanted to release it around the time we split," Siouxsie reveals. "It wasn't released before because we finished with Polydor. Us throwing the towel in just overtook everything and the track was just left there so it was an opportunity to resolve something that had been left hanging. I would like it to be released as a single."
With Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees now in the shops. Universal are looking at doing a boxed set of what Siouxsie describes as her favourite best of: the b-sides. She reveals: "There's no release date yet but it's been a relief that we're actually talking. It's just really been in the last few months that there are new people at Universal and they're really excited. It's about f**king time."
Some of the Banshees' material dates back as far as 1978, when The Scream was first released. How does Siouxsie see the Banshees in relation to the current music scene? She pauses for a while before answering: "I think our music just sounds really fresh now and I get the feeling that people are fed up with the same faces and the same marketing ploys. The way the music scene has become very sewn up and controlled it's almost really regressed to there being a lot of closed doors and there are only a few with very large budgets behind them to pump onto an unsuspecting audience. It's not just the music, it's film as well. It's quite stifling because there's so much out there but so little gets chosen to be rammed down people's throats."
Does she think there will be another big musical explosion, like Punk? "I think something needs to happen," she says, "but I don't think anything will be as big as what happened in the mid 70s just because it was so off-the-wall and unplanned really. I definitely think there's a lot of people not feeling fully dependent on being adopted by the industry. This is especially true with the internet and communications opening up a lot more. I hope people are just going to reject the usual channels of making music available."
What does she make of the current Punk revival? "Oh boring!" she says loudly. "I'm all for people looking at stuff and being inspired by it and being compelled to do something themselves - that's always a great thing. But just to go back and try to recreate or get all sentimental about it is just pointless."
However, the revivals have surely been helping the Banshees' popularity and there's also a new book planned. "We've been doing a lot of interviews for a Banshees biography and there will certainly be one at some point," Siouxsie reveals. "The shows have eaten into that a bit but there will be one at some point in the future. We have been talking to Paul Mathur about writing it but we need to find someone else to finish it."
Now the old material's in the can, are there any plans to record some new Banshees tracks? Siouxsie evasively responds: "For the tour, we did this version of Blue Jay Way, which was a great way of bringing us all together on the level of doing something we hadn't done before."
It seems that despite the nostalgia of the Seven Year Itch Tour, the chapter has finally been closed on Siouxsie and the Banshees. "It's been great touring as the Banshees. I mean, never say never but there's nothing else planned," she says. "Me and Budgie had to stop work on an album that we'd been working on. Me and Budgie can't wait to get back and work on our new material."
The new Creatures album has been in the pipeline for a while and follows on from the duo's last studio album, Anima Animus. "I don't know what the new album will be called but we're just recording and having fun and amassing as much music as possible," Siouxsie reveals. "It's gone even more DIY as we've not been working with an engineer so Budgie's been really busy learning engineering. We may come to a point and involve someone else but for the time being we just want to finish what we started."
She continues: "In Japan, we have contacts to link up with the oldest member of the Kodo drummers (a group of musicians who experiment with the traditional Japanese drum, the taiko). If something happens with that, it would be a dream come true." She adds: "We may do some recording in Tokyo but that doesn't mean the new material will have a Japanese slant to it. It's very mixed."
The Creatures released two exclusive tracks through their fan club last year. Red Wrapping Paper and Rocket Ship. She describes them as offering clues to the direction in which they're heading.
The Goth thing and other social misdemeanors...
Like many other peers, Siouxsie is somewhat bemused by all the talk of Goths. When I ask her how she feels when she sees people dressed like her in the Banshees' heyday, she replies: "Um, I haven't really noticed anyone else on the street. Maybe I've just been too busy traveling around and doing the shows..."
Mention 'Goth' and she laughs somewhat hesitantly and asks: "Is that still going on? I don't know, I suppose I find it very odd. It was very odd with the first shows we did - there was such resistance and intimidation and I enjoyed it being like that." She chuckles, "I was very confused when the audience changed and started to either look like or was welcoming us. I always found that very odd."
So what sorts of things are making her tick now? We've talked about the eX Girls but Siouxsie's also rather partial to another Japanese band called Buffalo Daughter. She's also enthusing about a show she recently saw: "When I'm in London, I love going out to see shows. I saw Kiki and Herb's Where are we Now? which was on at the Soho Theatre. There's no hint of Andrew Lloyd Webber in it, thank God!" she laughs. Siouxsie says the show, which was described in the press release as an "anarchic cabaret" is: "really ironic, wicked and quite surprising show because the choice of material is very eclectic. I don't want to give the plot away because I just think you should go and see it. That's my favourite thing at the moment."
But playhouses aren't the only thing she misses about London now she's relocated to the South of France with Budgie. She reveals: "I really love visiting London and I think I see a lot more than when I lived here and I love being by the river. I love the bridges and seeing the skyline but I wouldn't move back. We might move from the South of France but not back to London."
And talking of Budgie, what is the secret of her 11-year marriage to the drummer? "Ah-ha!" she says. "It's funny, as we were leaving to come to London we both said we need a wife! I don't know what the secret is. Perhaps it's the fact that we're physically involved in music and still learning things and discovering things."
What about mixing business with pleasure: how does that work? "Well, it's hardly business!" Siouxsie retorts. "It's more, um, the vocation and pleasure and maybe if we were working in an office for someone else, it would be business. Then it would be dull and we'd snap but I think the nature of what we're working with, the only down side is the business side of it but I think we both give each other support in dealing with that bullshit!"
And so as our interview draws to an end, it's quite clear that Siouxsie has a whole bundle of tricks up her sleeve. As to whether we'll be seeing the Banshees together again, she's remaining very tight-lipped but, in her own words, "never say never."
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.