New Musical Express (5.14.83)
ALL CREATURES GREAT & SMALL
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE BANSHEES AND WHO ARE THE CREATURES? WELL, THE WATERMARKS ARE SIMILAR WITH IMAGES OF THE DIABOLIC, THE FANTASTIC AND THE SADO-EROTIC. SIOUXSIE AND BUDGIE STROKE THEIR SHARP, SHINY IMPLEMENTS WHILE RICHARD COOK TAKES DOWN THEIR STORY. PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTON CORBIJN.
"NOBODY WANTED a peccary."
You'd look after one, though, wouldn't you, Budgie? The drummer basks in the glow of parenthood.
"It's like a little pig and it stinks. There's this adoption scheme for animals at London Zoo. You pay a certain amount for an animal's upkeep for a year... and nobody wanted the peccary. We thought it would be nice to adopt it. You can go and see how it's getting on. We're going to call it Gregory Peccary."
What you might call a taste for the down-at-heel exotic. Siouxsie Sioux gives her compatriot her best old hag's cackle-- "An ugly little peccary!" -- and stirs her tea. There is someone to look after all Creatures, great and small.
'FEAST' IS what The Creatures are giving us this spring, a collection of shattered cameos drawn and splintered by the voice of Sioux and the percussion of Budgie, abetted by an enigmatic chorale of Hawaiin throats.
Holiday snaps or deeper traps? You can decide for yourselves with the record's release this week, but its conception and birth were brought about in conditions rather different to the phony 'alien encounter' of most such ventures.
"There's only one studio there," remembers Sioux, "and it's what people might call a demo studio. Everything is custom-made for what is like a house and it's in the middle of the Hawaiian jungle. There's no soundproofing. If you're making a cup of tea out the back you've got to be quiet if someone's doing a vocal at the same time, otherwise it comes through."
What is the purpose of 'Feast'?
"The purpose of The Creatures is being able to do something a lot more relaxed -- not laid-back relaxed, but without having a monster around what you're doing. It allows different atmospheres, and there's none of the tension you have with the Banshees because that's so... big."
"We have certain obligations with the Banshees," agrees Budgie. "We're not obliged to be The Creatures and do an album or single or anything. Anything we do is like a bonus."
But you do lay yourselves open to a charge of cultural slumming with something like this-- a record like a baroque sequence of charred ethnic paintings, recorded in a Hawaiian jungle?
Sioux: "It sounds crass when you list how it was done, but it isn't like a tourist guide. It doesn't just depict Hawaii. We never thought about it in terms of what we'd come back with, no specific number of tracks or anything. We did everything very quickly in two weeks and it snowballed into an album."
Budgie: "The people who'd been there before us had been Japanese bands and some West Coast people like Crosby and Nash. We really wanted to go somewhere which was really isolated -- we tried East Africa but there was a language problem -- and then we picked on Hawaii. We found one drum kit on the island and only one marimba. So it was like we had to find all the stuff and do it all for ourselves. There's no real cultural crossover, no more than with Japan or Australia. Just us out there."
I say, very serious, that it sounds like a Banshees dub album.
They both laugh. Crestfallen, I try to remember -- what does it sound like?
ACTUALLY, LIKE a particularly brittle and diamond-eyed variation on the Banshees' deathly kiss of sound. For what is basically a record of voice and drums, The Creatures have assembled a multifarious sonic boom that is as various and kaleidoscopic as can be imagined. The humours of Sioux's frosty larynx are nakedly outlined against skins of sometimes fabulous quality -- the drum sound on 'Ice House' must be one of the greatest on record-- and with the corroded metal of Banshees guitar entirely absent, we seem to have x-rays of a taut, raw nervous system before us.
They sustain it over ten tracks with occasional flashes of the outside world. Hawaiian singers intone with featureless passion on 'Inoa Ole' and 'Festival of Colours'; a mock party background is constructed to offset the bloody nursery rhyme of 'Flesh'. 'Miss The Girl', the most skeletal of all the songs, is like a moment of bitter reflection in the middle of the second side.
Impressive? Perhaps--except, as always, it is something of a passion show that is devoid of human bearts. The unyielding curse of Siouxsie And The Banshees stains The Creatures with the same watermark: they establish their images of the diabolical, the fantastic and the sado-erotic and then simply don't know what to do with them.
Sioux's toying with the macabre isn't irresponsible, merely purposeless. A glut of ideas and fragments whirl in the mix, but their presence feels arbitrary. Strange beasts -- roosters and geckos-- are the spectres at the feast, a ranomly chosen exotica.
'Feast' shimmers and breathes, more so than any Banshees record, and it is very different from the suitcase full of mementos one might expect. It has a crystal, allusive quality. But its portent seems shallow. Does the shange tongue of 'Inoa Ole', for example, have a particular meaning?
"We knew the chants were special to them," says Siouxsie. "They guard their language and customs very carefully. We were told what they mean and they don't want them to be a commercial property."
She stops abruptly. It's a secret!
"I think 'Feast' is a rich title. That's why it was chosen."
Is England still a good place to work in?
"Not if you know you're going to do this in that studio and do a tour and play there. We're reconsidering how we work anyway because it's too familiar. If you go to places that aren't geared to musicians -- that's what I liked about Hawaii. There's no rock bands playing there. You weren't bumping into a recording artiste everywhere you go."
"We didn't have work permits when we went over," adds Budgie. "We had to bluff our way through customs and say we were just there on a holiday. After a couple of weeks they were saying, what are you doing if you're not working! And we'd be going round listening to the tracks we'd done on Walkmans, just to remind ourselves, cos we were working so fast we'd forget things we'd already done.
"There's something good about being isolated like that. The only person who knew us there was Mike Hedges so there were no people dropping in all the time saying Hi, remember me!"
You mean the big pop family we're all happy to be a part of.
"Our attitudes haven't changed. We still don't really care."
Siouxsie dismisses her competitors. "It's just that we miss the unfamiliarity that we had when we first started. People were interested but didn't know exactly what to expect. That's why we've been working abroad a lot, not just as The Creatures but with the Banshees too --Japan, Scandinavia, one-offs in Italy. We like them wondering what we're going to be like. We don't like the idea of a gig circuit.
"I don't think we've ever seen ourselves as entertainers," she continues. Sioux has a way of speaking in a monotone that has a surly force underneath it. Her Londoner's accent has been flattened of the careless common touch, except when she deliberately puts it in. There is a hint of the heavy smoker's rasp in her throat.
"We know we can be entertaining, but I don't like show business. Value for money, I mean, I'd rather see someone I like play for ten minutes than Bruce Springsteen for ten hours. That's like looking at yourself as a commodity, which I don't like. I think it's become very commodity-orientated.''
Sioux practices some lines she must have spoken many times. Budgie says something about VFM sounding like Jimmy Young. He is a cheerful, sweet-natured fellow, concerned to brighten the thunderous cloudline that Sioux sometimes puts up.
"It's not as if we're not aware of other groups," he offers meekly. "We do hear them all the time. You can't avoid that."
"We are pretty much in our own world," says Siouxsie. "We don't review our own work."
Then what perspectives do you introduce on it? How would you reject something as artifice?
"If it's not up to standard, if it's not good enough. We can start by thinking something's good at the time and then chuck it out as rubbish later."
Yes... but there are criteria, reasons, motivations. It would be a simple matter for them to exist inside a mannerism. On 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse', a record filled with sophistication and grace that nothinng in their previous music had truly pointed at, there was still a clumsy spiral of noise like 'She's A Carnival'.
"My favourite track on the album is 'Circle'," deadpans the singer. "And 'Cocoon'. You have things that you like better than others."
I meet the stare from a perfectly sculpted mask of black and cream, shaped to the contours of a voodoo imagination, before ducking my eyes to the teatable. Budgie is the diplomat again.
"We can't deny the strong identity in the sounds we make. It's inevitable that there's a Banshees sound. It's the way we change it around."
Do you set out to be profound?
"Ummm... Profound as in original and really meaningful? In that way, to us, I think so."
Budgie: "I hate cool and meaningful and deep!"
Then do you have to think yourselves into a state where you can write or perform?
"It's always more urgent than that," says the drummer. "The actual doing of something is quick, even if it comes after a long period of consolidating it.
"We get a reaction of us being rigid and uncommercial when we put our foot down for what we want. Like, when we're on Top Of The Pops and say we don't want those lights here or whatever."
Is it important for them to be seen in a place like TOTP?
"Yeah," says Sioux. "I've never agreed with the argument that you don't go on TOTP because it's what you're against. That's really stupid. Otherwise it'll always be that way unless you go on it."
So you should appear there with the idea of your appearance helping towards change?
"Yeah! I'd rather we went on there and be something unexpected there."
"It's very rare we do TOTP anyway," laughs Budgie. "We have turned loads of other things down. All the time Tiswas was on we never did that. It's like we release singles as well as Dollar and Imagination and we want to be heard alongside all of them. Your ideals may not be competing with theirs, but that doesn't stop you putting out singles. We'd love to see 'Miss The Girl' number one everywhere!"
EXCEPT TIMES have changed. I hear and see the sound and the vision of Soft Cell and Culture Club, and where they are doing as much the expression of subversive, libertine spirits as is the produce of the Banshees/Creatures -- and it's proving to be more insidiously successful. This glamour is growing stronger by the record. There aren't the chart-pap weaklings that used to serve as competitors to the early Banshees.
It's something these strange and disaffected musicians flirt uneasily with. After two dour and dreary LPs they siphoned off the turgid wrath and picked the shiny colours of 'Kaleidoscope', a record of liquorice and cyanide, only to plunge back into the maelstrom on the overwrought and nihilistic 'JuJu'. 'Nightshift' from that set is one of the most crushing pieces of metal music a pop group has ever come up with.
Sioux: "'Kaleidoscope' sounded a lot softer. The content was still pretty BAAAAA! (Laughter). It just turns out that way, something coming out a bit quieter. You people, always dissecting things..."
And when 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' comes under the scalpel? A beautiful, electrifying, superbly dynamic record. The one Banshees LP that has the deep-seated power to affect beyond stunning to senseless jelly. Siouxsie still believes in a music's power to affect.
"Of course. It's like a lifeline. It was always important to me when there wasn't a lot else exciting happening -- when the most important thing was getting into your bedroom and playing your favourite record. It was like something unreal."
Budgie: "I think the thing about people like Spandau Ballet and Boy George getting to more people lies in their productions-- they're so full of the right ingredients. There's a certain element that doesn't hurt people's ears. It sort of goes past and doesn't intrude when you're driving or whatever."
How does something like the 'Miss The Girl' video intrude?
"You won't see it on TV," says Sioux with a certain relish. "That alternative music programme Switch wouldn't show it. They say they're not geared by the charts even though they show Michael Jackson and Human League videos."
Budgie: "The BBC wouldn't show 'Mad-Eyed Screamer' or 'Fireworks' either - because we were all hoiding flares!"
"It's just a load of bitching. I mean -- oh, fuck 'em." Sioux surrenders. "We could've edited it and made it palatable for them, but if they're going to censor it... who's to say it would be shown even then?"
What should a Creatures video be like?
"Ummm... it shouldn't be a storyboard for the music. I don't think visuals can ever compete with putting on a record and thinking what goes with it. Putting visuals to music can't ever be the same. Just listening is miles ahead visually. We just think in terms of something to watch -- I can't stand someone singing 'walking down the street' and there they are, walking down the street. I don't think our videos have ever really worked, though. They've always failed. But they're fun to do."
UNABLE TO resist testing the Banshees bubble, I wonder what they most dislike about their work.
"I'd like people to see us as cute!" giggles the singer. I think she jests.
"If there's elements we don't like, we cut them short," is Budgie's sober response. "Like touring. The rock'n'roll way of life. We don't work with people who try and push us like that."
I must be dreaming. I think I just heard Sioux say, "I wish you could set up a video and tape your dreams! That should be a new entertainment. Do you have mad dreams, like very cinematic things? I do. It's really my burning ambition to see them. I'd love to tape dreams...
"There are Miss Reality elements I'd like to get out of what we do."
"I'm Miss Reality! How d'you do!"
Has anything shaken your faith in your abilities, Siouxsie?
"For me personally, yes. That's... (sighs) when I'm trying to write and I can't. It can last a long time, for weeks, when I've got this blackness in me about what I'm trying to do. And it's always felt bad to be scholarly about it, to keep on trying - because I can't ever work like that. I just have to wait until the time's right. I can't toil when I don't feel like it."
Will there come a time when the Bansheee have to stop?
"I don't know about have to stop, but maybe want to, yeah, probably. If it doesn't stop itself in a plane crash like Lynyrd Skynyrd. You tend to get too close to something to be able to say when it's time to stop."
Budgie: "Anyway, we've been saying stop constantly. We keep changing and reassessing. And that's kept us going."
Do you feel much older now than when you started all this?
"Sometimes" says the singing Creature, to the creak of black leather. "When I say -- you're an old hag, Siouxsie! Give up! Age is a real fallacy anyway. It's horrible when I meet 18 year-olds and they're behaving so old! Having driving lessons and thinking about getting married and kitchen utensils... I feel like shaking people like that."
"When I go back to where I was born," says the drumming Creature, "and I'm out with me dad and seeing people who I went to school with -- they're married now and that. You say I've got lots of responsibiiities but they think I'm just shirking them. They think I've never grown up."
Yes, it's strange, thought the writing creature. And he put on his coat and went out into the Kensington streets, to look for a bus home.