"Will The Banshees Queen Rule The World?"
Pop's Royal Couple?
Ten years ago Siouxsie and the Banshees were punk rebels, tearing down the bastions of rock and society. But are they now only part of the cosy '80's establishment, the handsome heads of a new royal family? Kevin Murphy asks if they're still a dark, menacing shadow over music. Peter Anderson turns the spotlight on Sioux and Severin.
The story of the Banshees has been told in myriad ways. Their utterances have been neatly wrapped in a cocoon of intellectualism.
Those glorying in their dissection have pained long and hard over their worth in language not normally afforded a mere pop band.
Why have the Banshees warranted such treatment? Are their scream-filled tales hinting at more?
Those who have crossed their path and felt the lash of Siouxsie's scything tongue have hit back from the safety of their typewriters. And in the face of such ignorance the Banshees' intolerance and mistrust has been sold as arrogance.
As articulate spokesmen for a generation of lost souls, seeking solace in a nocturnal world, the Banshees have been heralded as the initiators of a gothic movement that preens and dreams; and it hangs like a noose above their heads.
The Banshees are now ten years and nine albums old.
The years have done little to weaken their resolve. The make-up and ideals remain intact. Ten years has seen them elevated from acidic pretenders to establishment--a role they're constantly defending. Their latest album, "Tinderbox," romps and swoons with all the majesty of "Dreamhouse," and so casts off the laboured millstones of "Nocturne" and "Hyaena" which threatened to be laid at their grave. "Tinderbox" is a refreshing slant on the Banshees' disturbing perspective and restores their vivid shades to pop's pale palette.
After my endorsement of their new-found lust, I was informed they wished to restore links with Sounds and, perhaps feeling an enthusiastic ear would be a sympathetic one, I was chosen.
And so it was that at four one morning, I found myself in Cologne's Holiday Inn with Siouxsie, the Banshees' queen, perched at the end of my bed and her prince, Steve Severin, in a near-by chair. They had just completed three European dates--Brussels, Amsterdam and Bonn--in preparation for their first major assault on the States.
Involved as I am in the exhilarating world of rock 'n' roll, even I am not at my best at such an hour, even if the animated conversation of this pair showed *their* resilience. What metamorphosis was it then that has changed these mere mortals into the precious personae of the printed page?
Perhaps people take the Banshees *too* seriously.
"I don't think we warrant analysis," Sioux replies.
Surely simply by setting yourselves up onstage you're vulnerable to analysis.
Sioux: "It's hardly set up. I mean, it was a very naive thing to do to form a group anyway. Completely thoughtless and very naughty, horrible of us to unleash ourselves on people. Completely selfish. To an extent, you can analyse what a song is, or what a group is but there are generally a lot more important things you don't talk about."
You're always talked about in very reverential tones.
Steve: "We've been victims of some terrible purple prose. It's nothing to do with us, it's just people tend to launch off into some very strange areas when writing about us."
Would you like to be seen as a band with humour?
Sioux: "With fun rather than humour."
Following the birth of the Banshees, legions of pale imitations hurried in your wake, and so a generation of gothic monstrosities were spawned.
Steve: "It was quite weird watching the support group tonight and thinking it was very obvious that we must have come into their influence somewhere along the line, but in a narrow way."
Sioux: "But it's completely humourless and ridiculous that they call themselves Christian Death. For us to be perpetrators of the goth government, which is what's been thrown at us, bemuses us."
How do you see yourselves?
Sioux: "Not as goths. I can imagine The Damned influencing the goths."
Steve: "I was sitting at the side of the stage listening to their sort of thing and thinking that we were starting with 'Cities In Dust,' which was a universe away from what they were doing--it's just a really happy pop song--and thinking where does it all connect? It's really bizarre."
Perhaps it has to do with people picking up on the subversive side of your music.
Sioux: "People are confused by the fact that we do songs like 'Tattoo' and 'Obsession,' which are wrongly classed as horror, which I hate. And into black, I mean, the words 'black,' 'gloomy' and 'doomy' have been used so much about us. I just think those songs are the hidden side, rather than the overt side, as opposed to black. I hate 'black' as an adjective."
Steve: "Somehow, 'Ju Ju' set off all this goth thing. I think we've done one goth album and that was 'Join Hands,' in '79 for God's sake."
"The subject matter wasn't goth," Sioux adds indignantly.
"It has gothic overtones," explains Steve.
"Burial overtones. *Burial*," corrects Sioux.
Steve: "Take someone like Bowie, the things he was actually writing around 'Ziggy Stardust' and 'Aladdin Sane' were completely at odds with the way people thought about him or why they were into him."
"They pick up on the superficial aspects of the way Sioux looks. The way we might mention death every now and then. But there's so much more to it than that. Take 'Dreamhouse,' there's nothing goth about that at all."
"There isn't...it's herbal," laughs Sioux.
The Banshees' music has always had a uniformity, but within its spectrum there has always been room for pop.
Sioux: "I don't think it's a deliberate strategy, but both are vital for each other to remain healthy."
Steve: "Anything that's popular tends to have many sides. Someone like Prince you can take on many different levels; nothing too intellectual about it, but in a way there is because it's clever."
Sioux: "There's a lot of lunacy in it, which I like."
Steve: "You don't usually get lunacy without some intelligence."
Prince's sense of humour has never been questioned.
Sioux: "No, but it would probably sit much better if we looked like Dire Straits. The fact that we're handsome little bastards goes against us."
Why, because people don't take you seriously?
Sioux: "They don't want to take us seriously."
When The Clash wrote "No More Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones" as a reflection on the state of the music business with its antiquated regime of superstars stifling the development of fresh talent, it was taken as a slogan to be chanted by the voice of punk.
This new breed vowed to change things, and as the Banshees were amongst its hierarchy their word became folklore. Early pieces were punctuated with scathing quips about the redundant dinosaur age, how life ended at 25. Their music and stance were focused on teenage rebellion.
Ah, the impetuosity of youth.
The Banshees are no longer 25 and the years have seen them join the ranks of superstars they once despised. Irony moves in such glorious circles.
Steve: "I think it's really strange that in the last couple of years, it upset us all for a time, we've been treated as though we shouldn't be here, we'd outstayed our welcome. But we've got through that. The way we started and the way we've done things has always been a precedent, maybe not on a grand scale but a precedent nonetheless. I don't know how people can take the argument for getting rid of Genesis and getting rid of Yes from ten years ago, and apply it to a different bunch of people."
Sioux: "We haven't replaced Genesis or Yes by any means."
Steve: "People seem to miss the point that the whole reason to get rid of Genesis and Yes was because the music was fucking tedious, not because they were ten years old. I don't think that applies to us."
Genesis probably felt the same as you.
Sioux: "The groups we've mentioned are men groups. Budgie and John knew Led Zeppelin, and they probably were good, but those sort of groups leave me cold. To me they were very much boys' groups."
But in the same way as you feel what you're doing is different they probably felt they, too, were vital.
Sioux: "How can Phil Collins ever have felt different?"
Steve: "I see what you're saying, but I wouldn't give people like that the benefit of the doubt. It's another decade, for God's sake."
Sioux: "There are different values for a start."
Steve: "It's not as if we're sitting in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills saying, 'We're not talking to Sounds or NME, they're slagging us off.' There is a certain responsibility to face up to all those questions, but we're not going to defend what we're doing because we're confident what we're doing is the right thing."
"It goes back to that Quantick thing. (A recent NME interview by David Quantick who confessed to them he hated 'Tinderbox' and wondered why they carried on.) I mean, we probably won't do an interview with the NME for another of couple of years now. If they're going to have that attitude, we're not going to waste our time."
Sioux: "They've always had that attitude. No one has actually said to our faces, from *that* paper especially, something we're doing *now* is good. They have to rely on the ammunition that what you did last year was brilliant, but what you're doing now is shit."
"It's almost like they're the biggest dinosaurs ever: an artist makes money when they're dead, like something that went before was good but at the time they were too narrrow-minded to see it."
Is one of the reasons you carry on because it's safe; you know what's coming next, your immediate future is neatly planned?
Steve: "No. I think our lowest point came after Robert's (Smith) departure, that was when we started to think about whether we should carry on."
Sioux: "I'd say the lowest point was when John and Kenny left."
Is the reason you carry on to spite people like them?
"Spite keeps us going," smirks Sioux.
Have you achieved as much as you'd have liked?
Sioux: "No, not at all. I don't care about sales, I just want to make the definitive album for us, and we haven't done it yet."
Would you know if you did?
Sioux: "Yes, I think 'Dreamhouse' came close."
If and when you achieve this, would you call it a day?
Sioux: "I think so, yes."
But having achieved the ultimate Banshees album, you might turn round and think, "Well, if we've managed to achieve this who knows what else may lie ahead?"
Sioux: "Then maybe we might have to learn how to enjoy success, 'cos we've never managed to do that."
Steve: "I would imagine success would give you two things--freedom and time; time to sit back and think. But we've never achieved that; it's always been on and on."
Sioux: "It's irrelevant whether something's going to be successful or not, it's taken for granted it's not."
So you're pessimists, ha?
"No, just realists," comes the synchronized reply.
So, what is your ultimate ambition?
Sioux: "To be as huge as the throwaway people, but without changing."
Does change mean compromise?
Steve: "I can't think...I may be completely wrong...we've actually said we wouldn't compromise. Maybe we did in the first few years. The whole idea of a single is a compromise."
Sioux: "You compromise to make it sound fab on the radio."
So if someone offered you enough money to play Wembley Stadium, say, you would?
Steve: "Oh Lord, yes."
If your ambition is to become the biggest then surely any compromise is justified?
Sioux: "No. It's important to be the way we've always wanted to be."
Steve: "No one should ever step into a group unless they think: a) they hate every other group; and b) that they can be better than everybody else. That's the reason we started. We want to be happy at the end of it. We don't want to be Madonna."
What's wrong with Madonna?
Steve: "I don't think she's very happy."
Sioux: "I think that kind of thing inspired Bowie to write 'Fame,' the uncontrolled fame and overkill."
Steve: "There's not a lot of honesty in what Madonna writes. What we completely lack is selfish ambition. The sort of ambition people like Patsy Kensit exude is totally alien to us."
Sioux: "My ultimate goal is to mean as much to someone as my favourite pop star meant to me when I was 16 or 17."
If you'd felt like that you'd have given up nine years ago, for that's exactly what's happened.
"Really?" Sioux asks, somewhat surprised.
Being huge, but on your own terms, seems to be the stumbling block.
Sioux: "There's always a catch. We want to have our cake and eat it...and that's what I want."
Do you ever worry that the whole Banshees corporation will get too large, too impersonal and ultimately cause your demise?
Steve: "It's one of the first things we talked about with our old manager, Nils. He wanted a Banshees logo on top of a skyscraper, eventually. One of the things he did after seeing our first shambolic gig was to say, I want to see you on Magpie. And we thought, Brilliant, we'd love to be on Magpie playing this nonsense. That attitude permeates everything we're doing."
Why don't you do things like Saturday Superstore?
"We were on the Wide Awake Club and made some marzipan bumblebees," Sioux explains proudly.
Do you like all that?
Sioux: "I prefer that to a music programme. I think we're much better out of context."
Why don't you do more, is it because you're not asked.
Sioux: "No, it's just that I don't like doing any kind of promotion."
That's the game you have to play, though.
Steve: "I re-evaluated all of that when I saw George Michael on The Aspel show, he was really, really good at that. I'm not particularly keen on their music or what they're doing, but it was more honest than most of those type of people. Like, if we're classed as goths then I can refer to them as *those* type of people."
Do you resent him?
Steve: "I don't resent anybody, we both want our just desserts, basically."
And you haven't had them?
Steve: "I think people have worked a lot less hard and been a lot less inspired and got a lot more out of it than we have."
You've constantly appeared frustrated that people have tended to lump you in with other pop groups. What would you regard as the prime difference between, say, you and the Bunnymen?
Sioux: "I can sing."
Is that important?
Sioux: "To be honest that's not the reason. I don't like male singers that get all their cues from Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed or Bowie."
But, with respect, you're a woman so there is that vague chance that it might sound a teensy, weensy bit different?
Sioux: "Well, I've based myself on those four and I don't sound like them. I think if McCulloch had based himself on Eartha Kitt, it may have been more interesting."
Sioux purrs a glorious Catwoman purr.
"She's brilliant. What a dame."
Will Susan Dallion (real name) become redundant?
Sioux: "No. I'll just be able to live completely in my own head. I'll just desert everything."
How long will you keep it going?
Sioux: "I can imagine myself at least 2,000 years old, with banks of cats and banks of stone male statues. The best question that most women ask is, 'Would I ever do a TV interview without any make-up?' And I say, laaaaawd no! Well, unless I was feeling especially vindictive and I'd turn everyone to stone, if they saw me."
What excites you?
Sioux: "Just things like when I see a rabbit on the motorway and point it out, but no one else sees it. Once I get over nerves, every concert's exciting."
Add a token concession to their humble plans for world domination, they're shortly embarking on their first extensive tour of America.
Do they have much respect for the natives?
Steve: "No. None whatsoever."
Why bother going then?
"Cos there's always a load of misfits," Sioux adds mischievously.
Steve: "It seems to be a catchphrase wherever we go; like, Amsterdam's nice, it's a shame it's full of Dutch people."
Do you fall in love easily?
Sioux: "I try not to. It takes up too much time."
Isn't it exciting?
Sioux: "Not if you're looking at the watch."
Does the idea of three kids and a house still repel you?
Sioux: "It's boring, very boring. 'Specially when you think three kids were three babies before that. *Yeeeuuucch!* Hate babies. I think babies are the ugliest things ever."
"Three adopted boat children might be fun," chips in Steve.
"Put them on a stick," adds Sioux with glee.
Is it hard work being a Banshee?
Steve: "That's the question you should ask John."
Sioux: "It's as easy as pissing to us. Some people have got blocked bladders, though."
Finally, what ambition do you have beyond the Banshees?Sioux: "I'd like to be a brilliant hermit."