Blue (April '00)
Siouxsie Sioux was the high priestess of punk and Goth's glamour girl. The former Banshee reminisces with David G Taylor about dodging the gob, kissing the girls and bad fashion monents.
The voice on the phone from southwest France is relaxed, laughing, happy to talk about anything. It's owner even apologizes for calling late. Not exactly what I was expecting from the archetypal punk princess herself. I was expecting... well, an obstinate bitch. But that's reputation for you. And Siouxsie Sioux is the first to admit she has one.
"Radio and record companies were just shit scared of me," she laughs. "They hated me. I think it was because I wasn't this fluffy-wuffy little pop thing. I suppose I built a reputation for being pretty fierce, but it was always in defence of what we were doing. I wasn't happy to troll along with all the rest of the sheep. If people want to see that as aggressive, fine."
Sioux's legendary single-mindedness and strident sexuality made her a feminist role model and a hit with dykes worldwide. Does she know what it is about her that appeals to gay audiences?
"Apart from the music, I think we've always had a sense of fun with our image; a bit of glamour, and there's a kind of out-on-a-limb feel about what we're doing as well. We've lasted this long because we haven't needed the orthodox ways of doing things, of relying on radio play, or MTV plugging us. So it's that kind of underdog appeal."
While Sioux has enjoyed her share of success over the years, it's always been as one of the outsiders, the weirdos, the beautiful freaks. Born in the late '70s punk explosion, Siouxsie And The Banshees shared stages and notoriety with the Sex Pistols. With the moody '80s albums Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss In The Dreamhouse, characterised by darker rhythms and primal screeches and wails, Sioux became the wilder, witchier older sister to the New Romantics. The band spearheaded the Goth movement and depressed teenagers from Manchester to Melbourne donned the funereal robes, white facepaint and black eyeliner of their heroine. Despite exploring new territories in the '90s, the Banshees never successfully shook of the Goth tag.
In 1996, after a 20-year career which included the classics "Hong Kong Garden", "Dear Prudence", "Christine", "Kiss Them For Me" and "The Passenger"- and just as the aging Sex Pistols reformed for a money-grubbing world tour- the Banshees decided to retain their dignity by calling it a day. Throughout their career they had been allowed by their record label Polydor to do pretty much what they wanted, but in the commercial climate of the '90s, success was measured by sales and not longevity.
From their new home near Toulouse, France, Sioux and long-term drummer/bed partner Budgie went on to resurrect The Creatures, a sideshow which had afforded them occasional breaks from The Banshees in the early '80s. With no major record deal in the offing, The Creatures decided to go it alone. They set up their own label, Sioux Records, and last year released the album Anima Animus. This, combined with a show-stopping duet with Marc Almond at London's Mardi Gras, a Halloween mini-tour of the US and the release of an album of dance remixes, was a warning shot to those quick to write Siouxsie Sioux off.
The spikey hair and raccoon eyes of Siouxsie (born Susan Dallion, London 1957) were a Banshees trademark, but her style evolved continuously. Whether in crushed velvet and lace-up rubber or flashing her tits in sex-shop bra and fishnet stockings, one thing remained constant- Sioux always looked fantastic. Has she never had a fashion disaster?
"I'll never forget doing a show with The Cramps, somewhere in Belgium, in '81," she recalls. "We used to end with 'Israel', and I used to play [Indian] bells with my arms raised up. I was wearing this really tight dress with bits of leather hanging off, and it had no straps.
"Gradually my top just went all the way down. I had nothing on, but I thought, 'I'm not fucking well being put off my stride.' So I was moving my arms and elbows in front of my breasts trying to cover up. I turned around and managed to get off, get some gaffer tape, but fucking hell, what with the sweat it kept happening."
Sioux remembers this as only one of many embarrassments in the name of glamour. "My God, some of those early shows. I'd be wearing my fishnet tights, and no knickers of course- I hated knickers- and wondering why people in the front row were looking up so intently. I caught a shot once, and oh my God! You just don't think. Now I look at every angle before I go on stage."
It never put Sioux off wearing fishnets though. "I carried on- but I wore a g-string over them. I should have worn a toupee there actually."
Not that Sioux was ever against shock tactics. She tells the story of asking for three microphones at an early US gig so she could be "three times louder" than usual.
"That's how naive I was. I had this idea that we'd make this noise, that would make people's guts fall out and glass break and make people sick. I guess it was a real switch from the performer being at the mercy of the audience and wanting their approval."
The common perception is of punks as out-of-control marauders when in fact the opposite was more commonly the case. Punks were reviled not just by the establishment but by gangs of thugs who would show up at gigs just to harangue the bands and start fights.
"Punks were enemy number one," recalls Sioux. "It was a fucking battleground. Kids would turn up with golf balls, sharpened coins, you know, missiles. More often than not, I'd end up jumping into the audience and trying to beat the shit out of somebody. It was like running the gauntlet, you'd have to turn up with rocks in your pocket."
Sioux admits she was lucky to escape serious injury. "The worst I got was hepatitis from all the gob, and conjunctivitis. That was really revolting. Everyone thought, 'God, she's such a cool cat, she's wearing an eye patch,' but I literally had a big red eye from being gobbed at so much. It used to be so disgusting. It was like this punk ethic, but I always made it very clear that I hated it. I remember kicking heads like pumpkins on the edge of the stage if I caught anyone doing it. Then they reverted to doing the sly gob, spitting and then looking innocent."
Among all that insanity, drugs never featured in Sioux's life until "very late. I mean I dabbled with LSD in the early '80s, and of course there were dabblings of cocaine. I tried it a few times. I seem to remember things got really horrible when smack got discovered. That's when Sid [Vicious] lost any charm he had. He just became an arsehole.
"I'm not particularly anti-drugs, I'm just anti that predictable victim thing. I'm fine if people can use drugs, but usually they end up using the person. I think that old cliché of the rock star and the cocaine and the smack is just really boring. I kind of roll my eyeballs back and yawn.
"If you misuse alcohol, you're an arsehole as well. I suppose I have been guilty of that in the past. I've never been rushed to the Betty Ford clinic, but I do amaze myself at the amount of alcohol and the lack of sleep I used to have. I wonder how I didn't become a basket case. In retrospect, it's part of growing up; you find out your limitations or how far you can go."
Have Sioux's priorities changed much since then? "I think I've got back in touch with my priorities over the last three years- I'd say, from the decision to stop The Banshees and do The Creatures. It ahs been pretty hard, but it's been really educational. I've faced up to a lot of things: not to feel too discouraged that we couldn't get signed by a major label, that it wasn't the end of the world that we didn't get a huge advance, and to take responsibility for what I'm doing now. It's been a bit scary- to decide not to compete in the circus has been a major decision. I don't ever want to feel tied to other people's expectations."
In an interview with the British gay press, Sioux once coyly stated that while she was very fussy about who she had sex with, she wasn't restricted by gender. So let's get some confirmation here: she's dabbled with girls, right?
"Yeah," she admits, "I guess I have. Kissing a girl is really wonderful. It's so nice to melt into soft skin on a face. It's probably why boys like kissing girls as well." Only some boys, I point out. "Yeah, some boys," she laughs. "Some boys like the rough rub- a nice emery board against you."
So, if gender isn't a particular constraint, what is it that attracts her to someone? "To begin with there's always a physical attraction before you actually open your mouth to speak. But for me personally, if what comes out of that physically attractive face is rubbish, I usually find that a real turn-off. I know a lot of people aren't like that, they think, 'What the heck, it's a pretty fire so I'll poke it'."
But has she ever been in a full-on relationship with a woman? "I wouldn't say I've had a relationship that's been friendship as well as a sexual thing. And I'm not looking around for the moment," she laughs, "but never say never."
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.