The Washington Post (4.23.99)
Resurrecting The Creatures
Mark Jenkins, Special to The Washington Post
A FEW years ago, Susan Dallion and Peter Clark decided to move to the south of France. It was not a novel choice for an affluent middle-aged English couple, especially one that was beginning to lose interest in its successful London-based venture. Dallion and Clark weren't about to take early retirement, however. With the end of their previous enterprise -- a goth-punk band called Siouxsie and the Banshees -- they reemerged as the Creatures.
The duo, better known as Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie, had actually recorded before under the Creatures name, although not since 1989. "The Creatures were always there for when there was a lull in the Banshees career, albeit there were very few lulls," says Dallion, calling from Minneapolis, three dates into the band's current American tour. "Then there was a big lull in the Banshees' career as it was no more. We were always a bit frustrated that we couldn't spend more time doing the Creatures. It just felt like the natural thing to do."
Still, it was a bit of a surprise when the band showed up at the 9:30 club last summer, playing a show in partnership with former Velvet Undergrounder John Cale. "I know it confused a lot of people," says Dallion of that tour. "A lot of the kids didn't know who John Cale was, for one. The adverts before, just to tell people what to expect, were 'Velvets, Creatures, Cale, Beckett, and Brel,' because we did a Sam Beckett piece and a Jacques Brel song. The kids were saying, 'Who's Beckett and Brel? Maybe they're the bass players.' So the two bass players were fighting over who was going to be Beckett and Brel."
The unusual collaboration began when Cale, who had previously produced some Banshees tracks, invited the Creatures to perform with him at a festival in Amsterdam that saluted Cale's diverse career. "It was with a 40-piece orchestra, which was amazing," Dallion says. The subsequent tour "was put together really quickly."
Touring before releasing an album showed the duo's disregard for the pop industry's rules. "The response that we had from everyone was that you can't go touring without promoting an album," Dallion recalls. "We said, 'Bollocks. Yes we can and will.' It was great to play material that people hadn't heard before. You usually only get to do that once, just when you release your first album. We were wondering how many people would say, 'No, we want the Banshees. We want the old stuff.' But it was great. The audience went with the spirit of the thing. Maybe there are some people out there who appreciate not being dumbed down to."
The tour that brings the Creatures back to the 9:30 club on Saturday is more conventional, since it's designed to publicize the band's new album, "Anima Animus." Still, the touring version of the group still has two bass players, although "one of them plays guitar occasionally, and the other one plays some violin."
Dallion is more impressed with the Creatures's fans than with the major labels, who were reluctant to sign the group. Ultimately, the duo decided to make an album and license it to dance-music labels -- Instinct in the United States, Hydrogen Dukebox in the United Kingdom.
"We were finding the record industry very closed-down and conservative," the singer says. "They didn't know what to make of us."
Dallion says the major labels kept asking about a Banshees' reunion. "There's lots of money to be made in the past," she mockingly notes.
The sound of such "Anima Animus" tracks as "2nd Floor" is very percussion-oriented, although Dallion's dramatic vocals and melodies certainly don't constitute a break with her Banshees style. The singer says she appreciates the contemporary British dance-music scene more for its outlook than its sound. "I really don't like the attitude of a lot of rock bands," she explains. "I never have. I find them very staid and conservative. When we set up Sioux Records through Hydrogen Dukebox, it was great to be working with people who are genuine fans of music."
Like many contemporary dance-music auteurs, the Creatures recorded their latest album at home. They used a mobile studio for some tracks, but Budgie, who's credited with percussion and "synthetiques," among other things, "had acquainted himself with using computers and some of the more modern pieces of equipment. It was kind of lo-fi with hi-fi," Dallion explains. "Where we start from is very much drums and voice. But we're able to add to it and make it as lush or as primal as we want."
The singer says this Creatures album and its two predecessors, which were recorded in Hawaii and Spain, respectively, are "almost like field recordings. There's always a dilemma in trying to capture the band at its best in a professional studio. A lot of studios are not the most creative environments. A lot to do with a good recording is the band being comfortable. Ideas tend to happen when you're not in the studio.
"A lot of the tracks were done live, albeit with just drums and voice," she continues. "But we also had a friend of ours, Knox Chandler, who played with the Banshees on our last tour. He plays great guitar loops through his equipment. He was able to get the vibe for the song with it being a traditional guitar part. So it was a three-piece for most of it. But we were using a lot of modern technology."
That's appropriate for a performer who quickly moved beyond her original punk style and has always been critical of backward-looking music. In 1995, Dallion was quoted as saying she was breaking up the Banshees in disgust over the regrouping of her old pals the Sex Pistols. Now, however, she says she wasn't really that outraged. "I'm not surprised at what they did," she says. "They're the band that did the 'Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.' "
The Pistols were more excuse than impetus, apparently. "They were reforming, so it was the perfect push to end the Banshees," she laughs. "I like irony."
THE CREATURES -- Appearing Saturday at the 9:30 club.
Contributed by Jerry Burch.