Melody Maker (5.14.83)
DANCING ON GLASS
Voodoo Tales from Hawaii as SIOUXSIE and BUDGIE discuss the CREATURES, Cannibalism and snuff movies, breaking glass and their weird new album "Feast". Steve Sutherland listens in awe. Tom Sheehan photographs.
TALKlNG about music is impossible. We can talk all around it untiI the cows come home, we can get visual or literary or pseud, but we can't talk about it and do it any justice. A bass drum is boring. The sound it makes needn't be. What does it sound like? Ah . . . now there's a question.
And so it was that Budgie and I found ourselves in much the same boat, ensconced in a Brompton Road wine bar trying to describe the indescribable, spurred on by our undampened enthusiasm, dogged by our memories, stretching our imaginations, hoping - hopelessly - that the spark of our desire to communicate would overcome the improbability of being able to do so.
"Picture this," he reminisces purposefully. "Picture sitting at a hotel bar in Waikiki, drinking cocktails and looking out over this bay, and there's an airplane moving across and the sun's going down very, very slowly and there's brilliant gold here and red here and it's black there and it's just all shifting down and you're sitting there drinking, like you're watching a movle. You can't believe you're there. You're sitting there thinking 'We're here. We are here aren't we? Pinch Me!' Now, how can I describe that?"
Picture this: an album of filtered brilliance, fertile, sensual and erotic; an album that, in its desperate naivety, attempts to articulate that moment when the monsoon ends, when the smell and the heat conspire in a perfumed mist and life sprouts instantly, green and luxurious. The album is called "Feast", the first from the Creatures, the scent belatedly picked up and pursued from the hit "Wild Things" EP.
"An eternal keep your passion alive as opposed to letting it wilt and die away," is how Siouxsie describes it.
Recorded in Hawaii during three weeks working holiday last January, it's unavailable until May 20. lmagine my impatience. I want to invite you all round to my place and make you listen to my white label now. . .no, not make you listen, entice you to, want you to want to. But I can't. Like Budgie, I'm stuck with words to do my wooing and words, as Siouxsie warns, are not to be trusted.
"I never want anything to be reviewed as 'my piece of art'. I feel very proud of everything I've done but I don't want to talk about my pride because that's somehow deflating it. It's like if you play a record, you can feel so much from it, but how can you explain how you felt when you were really high and felt really good about that record? You have to think about it and almost translate it into words. That's why I love music, because there's a lot of words in there that aren't in the dictionary and it's not exclusive to people who can read and write or know their Roget's Thesaurus or something. It's the way music is -- not like if you read a book and then you see a film of that book, it's always disappointing because it's there visually and you'd imagined something totally different."
So . . . listen to me but don't listen to me.
Picture this: a studio on the jungle's brim previously used by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Marvin Gaye and Japanese electronic outfits attracted by the competitive rates. Two Banshees are knuckling down to work after a New Year's Eve flight that managed to encompass the midnight celebrations three times.
Budgie is recording the snap of machettied bamboo, producer Mike Hedges is burning resistors out of the mixing desk, Siouxsie's crushing ice and four Hawaiian chanters are standing transfixed, enchanted by the playbacks of their secret, sacred songs. Slowly, the jarring sounds gell and a song is born -- not a smug, imperialistic pillage of another ethnic culture, but a wide-eyed impression of alien surroundings. Not the Banshees' notoriously considered despatches from the brink, but instant, instinctive reactions on the way over.
The atmosphere is suffocatingly humid. Budgie is sticky and wild-eyed with sweat as Siouxsie starts a homage to the native lizards. Just then one such lizard, a baby Gecko, creeps over the carpet and onto her lap. Uncanny.
PlCTURE this: a band of cut-throats, the sort who would promise you release on condition of some favour and then, the favour fulfilled, slit your throat anyway - capture a young man and his fiancee. For some reason unspecified they bind the man and threaten his girlfriend with rape. Whether the brutal deflowering really takes place is uncertain, but the bandits decide to torture the captive beyond his sanity by testing and mocking his lover's affection. They litter the floor with broken bottles and stipulate his life will be spared if the girl dances and sings barefoot over the shards.
Such is her love that, despite the hopeless futility of the gesture, she dances her feet into crimson ribbons.
"Dancing On Glass" was inspired by an lndian musical televised before Christmas as a trailer for Channel 4's season of classic lndian films. A hymn to Bacchanalian abandonment, it celebrates the mad irresponsibility of a crazed carnival, oozing with guile, panting with lust. "Forget tomorrow's mess," governs Siouxsie, "because right now is the best." Why the advocation of hedonism?
Siouxsie: "lt goes back to, I dunno, you probably don't do it but if I get either really happy or really pissed off, I'II smash stuff, mainly glasses. In my own flat -- I won't break anyone else's. I tend to do it when I'm really whooping it up, when I'm really happy, playing some music on my stereo and maybe getting a bit drunk and I'II dance around smashing glasses. I've cut myself quite a lot but there's no pain because I'm either really up or too aggressive to feel anything. When I get up I really do get uppy and when I get really (she knots her face into a tense scowl) . . . like that, as opposed to strangling someone, it's a real release to just smash glasses. It sounds crazy, but it works."
Budgie: "Yeah, the rest of us are really good at ducking now! To get the underlying percussion for 'Dancing On Glass' we danced on these beautifully designed mirror tiles imported from Seattle, danced on broken mirrors, just linked arms, almost like a hoe-down."
Siouxsie: "With shoes on!"
But what about all those years' bad luck?
Budgie: "That's what I was thinking while I was breaking the mirrors. Y'know, 'Oh fuck-- that's 14 years already!"
PlCTURE this: the Creatures on "Top Of The Pops".
Siouxsie: "I think maybe a lot of people don't know who the Creatures are, they've just heard 'Miss The Girl'. There is a kind of stigma with the Banshees, a lot of people have heard of them and think, y'know, 'difficult people'. But if you're seen to be having fun a lot of the time and you get on with everyone, people think you like the music business which isn't the case. We don't feel that way and the Banshees is an attitude towards all of what we're involved in. We hate it, but we want to make this music and we want to be put in the same arena as all those lions, not separated to a cult audience or anything, but we're certainly not gonna blend in with that arena.
"The Creatures is not a different attitude, it's just more relaxed as opposed to having different morals or attitudes. And, to a certain extent, we've proved a point of how you don't have to be elitist to be uncompromising".
Are the Creatures a release from the burden of the Banshees' reputation?
Budgie: "Yes, we're not obliged to do anything. Having joined the Banshees somewhere along its progression, sometimes it can be a big weight. It's not a heavy weight but to get away . . . nobody knows what we should be doing, nobody can say the Creatures shouldn't do that. There's no binds."
Siouxsie: "I can't put a finger on it. The Banshees is still the most important thing to me and maybe the fact that this is not what I'm really fighting for... I'm really into it, but it's not like the Banshees' 'let's get the bastards' kind of attitude and, in that way, it's more like playing as opposed to . . . I mean, that makes the Banshees sound like a jailer or something. It isn't that, it is the most important thing to me, it's like my life, a way of life almost, but I'm fed up with the idea that a lot of people like us for the wrong reasons - 'Ah, they've been in the business' - the business! (she baulks) - 'six years, they must be able to play their instruments by now.'
"I hate that. A lot of people commented on the musical dexterity of 'A Kiss In The Dream House' and I thought 'fuck off!' Of course we've been playing a lot longer, but our attitudes towards playing haven't changed one iota, and I suppose that doing something like the Creatures, it's 'Miss The Girl' - there's no production!' Damn right there isn't! That's why I wanted to release it, because I'm sick of all this wall of production coming out at you, it's really boring and predictable. People aren't taking any risks any more, aren't pulling things out."
Budgie: "lt's like me playing the marimba. I can't play a marimba to save my life if you like, but I used it. I watched a guy on television last night, on 'Loose Talk', playing a vibraphone in the known, accepted way. That's really good, really admirable, y'know. I don't want to be admirable, I don't want to be respected."
Siouxsie: "You do but not in that way. It's like people laughing with you as opposed to at you. I want respect but I don't want to be treated as a superhuman being. It's not that pompous at all. It's like, when we were in Australia, I couldn't stand the way it was obviously so racist against the Aborigines. It's almost like I'd feel the same way if I was a suffragette way back then, I'd be chaining myself to the walls and really screaming at those people that were being so unreasonable and pig-headed about how superior they were. I can't stand the idea that it goes on . . .that's not respect, that's just being treated like you're not senseless or you're not a primitive being."
But they don't come much more unapproachable than your image.
Siouxsie: "That works in that it cuts out a lot of the crap. I mean -- can you believe it? -- I've done photo-sessions with guys going, y'know, 'lovely, lovely, lovely'. They don't do it to me anymore, they won't do it because they know I'II probably throw a bottle at them."
All the same, it's the fantasy element in the Banshees and, perhaps, in the Creatures, that puts some people off. They see it as an act, role-playing rather than any expresslon of true personality. Is what you do ever pure emotion or reaction as opposed to calculated image?
Siouxsie: "I know what you mean. I think there's an element in the Banshees of wanting to project what the Banshees are so, therefore, it's something blown up that is definitely a part of you, but it's the part you want to project. Y'know, it's the idea of, like, being in a pub and cute little people come up to you and want autographs and, thinking of my reputation, the first thing I should do is slap 'em round the face and tell 'em to fuck off. And I've done that -- well, I haven't done exactly that, but I've been like that sometimes, not because of an impression I wanna make, but because of a mood."
The Creatures seem to find it easier than the Banshees to laugh in public.
Budgie: "There is humour in the Banshees, we laugh up our sleeves, but this is like telling a joke almost."
"Gecko" is a carefree song, something the Banshees, as yet, seem unable or reluctant to write.
Siouxsie: "Yeah, again I know what you mean, simply happy -- happy for happy's sake. It's a different way of working; I'm not saying 'the Banshees ugh eek', but sometimes working within four people is like such a monster, it's become a real fuckin' 11-headed monster. But, like, I always think 'Cocoon' off 'A Kiss In The Dream House' sounds really happy but, again, the lyrics are a bit odd, they grate against the sound of the music. I think that's something we're good at, subverting lyrics."
Talking of subversion, I still marvel at your deviousness, sneaking that line about conquering orifices in "Arabian Knights" and the one about frozen balls in "Mad-Eyed Screamer" past the censors, though I hear the "Miss The Girl" video is unofficially banned. Considering your reluctance to censor yourselves, our chances of seeing it seem pretty slim. Tell me about it.
Budgie: "lt's just the two of us in a thing that we built which is mostly metal with nails sticking out of it, with dangerous elements in it and the play off of flesh against elements of spikes and metal. You might get your hand caught in this wheel as it turns round. Plus we threw in a couple of staged slaps..."
Siouxsie: "John Waynes! Really, we should have just done a horror film with my eyeball going into a nail. We could have gone to town if we'd wanted to shock people, but still one guy at the 'Switch' doesn't think it's suitable for the viewers. I hate these programmes that are supposed to be alternative music programmes, the voice of the youth. This is turning into a 'Switch' bitch . . . "
PlCTURE this: an eerie convalescent home run by a brother and sister who dress in a certain colour identical to some extraordinary, self-perpetuating, interbred flowers that tower above an old ice-house at the bottom of the garden. A new inmate, curious to assimilate his surroundings and unaccustomed to the home's routines and rituals, is perturbed by what he thinks he sees and begins to fear what he senses. He suspects the home's other inhabitants are under some strange intoxication, some spell spread by the Aphrodisiac blossoms and while browsing, feverish with trepidation, the newcomer glimpses bodies frozen in the ice. His claims are discredited as hallucinations.
After periods of will-sapping insomnia and troubled sleep-walking, the newcomer wakes shivering in the night to discover a hole in the window, perfectly flower-shaped as if a solitary bloom had somehow entered and touched him. Finally the newcomer is led down the garden to the ice-house and enters voluntarily, the door closing behind him,
By an odd coincidence, both Siouxsie and Budgie caught the same TV play at home in London and were intrigued enough to carry its germ io Hawaii where the pod slit under the strange sensory ambush of the tropical climate.
They were recording "lcehouse" before they knew what they were doing.
PlCTURE this: Her eyes meet his across the crowded room and, in that instant, they are alone, oblivious to chatter around them. Helplessly drawn towards each other, they are entranced, spellbound, as if, for the first time, forever, they realise the power of love. He catches her hand and she feels she must faint as, in a dark brown voice, he says, "My names' Budgie, what's yours?"
"Siouxsie," she replies in a whisper, her cheeks flaming like fire. He tells her she's the most beautiful girl he's ever seen but, as midnight tolls, she tears herself away and vanishes in the direction of the ladies. Two days later, sleepless in his search, he tracks her down to the orphanage and claims her as his bride. And they both live happily ever after.
Come on Siouxsie, don't be a spoilsport. Why should 'Miss The Girl' be so cynical? Why have you never written a fulfilled love song? Don't you believe that people can actually . . .
"Not permanently, no. It's something that I wish people would accept. I see it all around me, people tearing their hair out -- 'Oh, we've split up! I knew him for so long and he just suddenly changed!' It's not negative to accept it. You shouldn't cling onto something -- it's like a lot of musicians cling onto their way of doing something and they'll never change because they know that it's their hit formula whereas, in the end, they'll just die a slow death.
"lt's horrible to see, whether it be when I was really young seeing other people's mums and dads or now, seeing young couples living together, how they actually really abuse each other and take each other for granted. Why can't you live it up for . . . be a butterfly, really be blossoming for that long and not try to make it linger and go grey? I don't think that's negative. I could think 'there's only one person I'll ever love' -- fine, but then, you accept that probably you won't want to live with each other forever.
"Like, if you play a record that often, you'll get sick of it; if you watch a film i that often, you'll get sick of it; if you're with that person that often, you'll get sick of it. I think if you really care about someone, even if you don't want to, you should actually put some discipline in -- 'I really wanna be there but no, I wanna feel that emotion every time I see you as opposed to getting used to you."
So you won't succumb to pop's glib illusion - kiss me quick or woe is me?
Siouxsie: "lt's too black and white, it's like yes or no. I don't think it is ever yes or no."
Budgie: "lt's too interesting, it's too wonderful.. People's relationships are too special to be anaesthetic in that way."
PlCTURE this: "I get invited to a lot of happening parties man and, at a certain party, they were showing snuff videos of cock amputations and things like that. I'd heard a lot about snuff videos, girls from the Third World being used because they're not as revered as the sons who carry on the family name, so the daughters are sold and used for snuff movies.
"I didn't want to call it 'Snuff' because I didn't want it to be that sensationalistic, but it was something that I was disgusted about. I bumped into a friend a few years ago and he told me, in ltaly they're not bootlegs, you can actually go to a cinema and see a snuff film and, in this particular one he was talking about, were these young girls.
"Maybe they'd been told 'you're going to be in a bit of a saucy film' -- these 14 year-old girls, bare-chested with not much on at all who couldn't understand the language anyway. And it happened in a primitive situation, like huts and primitives with spears, and in one scene these guys invaded the camp and he said he'll never forget the total shock, the genuine shock on a girl's face as a spear is rammed up her and slit upwards, and it's all on film and it's real and it's happening and a lot of rich people, the idle rich -- I'm not putting down rich people because a lot of rich people do something with their money -- but these bores, these fuckin' bores, to get kicks, have to watch something like this!
"They could read about it -- many fantasy things can be repellent in real life, everyone thinks of horrible things, everyone thinks 'Oh, the worst torture would be...oooh, wouldn't it be awful!' You think it, but the idea of wanting to see it is disgusting."
"Flesh" is crude, cruelly vindictive, the victim's revenge, voyeuristic eavesdropping on a party pissed on punch, feigning dispassion, equating human traits with brutish animal instincts. Unbearably, relentlessly claustrophobic, it refuses to acknowledge the convenient civilised disinction between safety in numbers and dumb, easily-led mob rule.
Budgie: "Less pointedly, it's like going to a party where nobody wants to appear unhip or uncool so everybody laughs at the same jokes and goes 'ho ho, yes, because he's the host, isn't it wonderful he's doing that, shitting on the carpet'."
PlCTURE this: Budgie wakes up to a late, chill Spring morning struggling with a pounding hangover. He turns on LBC Radio and the man with the painfully muzzy voice is going on about an adoption scheme at Regents' Park Zoo where you can sponsor the upkeep of an animal for a year. The man mentions that nobody seems interested in taking up the patronage of the peccary, a bristling pig-like animal reputed to stink to high heaven.
Budgie, not feeling exactly tip-top himself, sympathises and that's how come we're standing here, just below the bear pit, making comforting noises at the much-maligned beast. Adoption duly decided and a name, Gregory Peccary, established, it seemed pertinent to point out the contradiction between Siouxsie's partiality to black leather and her obvious affection for most critters great and small.
Siouxsie: "lf I had to kill my meat, I wouldn't eat it. I just can't stand cruelty. Robert Smith (full-time Cure, part-time Banshee and currently recording and album with Steve Severin as The Glove) was at home in Crawley and some guy gave him a 'horror' videotape and it turned out to be a whole film about different types of abattoir. He said he couldn't watch it - I mean, there's guys who don't just do it quick...y'know, they want job satisfaction so they toy with the animals and cut them to pieces before they kill them, or skin them alive and laugh about them wriggling. The film showed these Chinese tables with holes in the middle where they put live monkey's heads up through and just crack 'em and eat their brains while they're still alive. I could never do that!"
I'm glad to hear it.
Siouxsie: "But then again, I'm not averse to being a cannibal. Y'know there are a lot of wanky people that die or get killed...but then, if I was served up someone that I hated, I don't suppose I'd want to eat them anyway."
PICTURE this: innocence, energy, humility and wonder rediscovered after half a decade in the thick of the most debauched, spoiled and morally bankrupt business in the world. An insistence that there is another way -- maybe myriad other ways -- than selling spirit and soul to corporate taste.
If, with "A Kiss In The Dream House", the Banshees made magnificent mountains out of molehills, the building of those molehills more awesome and alarming than anybody else even dared contemplate last year, then "Feast" leaps from the top, giddy and free and foolish enough to believe that, with ballast shifted, breath held and senses alert, it has chanced, momentarily, upon the secret of flight.