Record Collector (January '05)
SIOUXSIE AND THE B-SIDES
Interview by Ian Shirley
"SHUT IT!" screams Siouxsie from the stage of the 100 Club to some errant fool who has opened the doors leading out of the packed basement venue. "You're letting the music out!"
No, this isn't some grainy black and white footage from her first gig in September 1976 with Sid Vicious on drums, but October 2004 where the queen of Spellbound has returned to play three intimate gigs with husband Budgie - "we get divorced when we go on tour" - and a backing band featuring Japanese Taiko drummer Leonard Eto. Eyeball to eyeball with her fans and driven by thundering rhythms of drum kit and Japanese clatter, Siouxsie dances, sings and mesmerises, giving a masterclass in how to get fans eating out of the hand. By the end of the set the sweat is dripping from her face, although like Budgie, Eto and guitarist Knox she looks as if she could go another three rounds.
Nine days later at the Royal Festival Hall with an orchestra thrown into the mix, Siouxsie is screaming at the audience again to "rise up you corpses!" and get their arses to the front of the stage. Looking a decade younger than her 47 years and out-Bjorking Homogenic-era. Bjork in a stunning kimono ensemble, the face that launched a thousand female goths is riding a crest of renewed creativity. The Creatures' latest album Hai! (2003 - the title is Japanese for 'yes') features Eto who, beside a gleefully chirping Budgie, creates a maelstrom of rhythm on tracks such as Say Yes, Godzilla, Seven Tears and Around The World, over which Siouxsie whoops, hollers and croons some other best vocals ever.
Prior to coming to the UK the Hai! tour slew American audiences, mixing in classic Creatures material with a chocolate-box selection of Banshee songs such as Dear Prudence, Christine, Arabian Nights, Kiss Them For Me, Happy House and of course Spellbound. At the two Dream Shows at the Festival Hall, many of these songs were fleshed out with orchestral backing from the Millennia Ensemble, a two-man percussion factory and even a harp, ensuring two hours of heavenly music on both nights. With a box set of Banshees B-sides,Downside Up, hitting the shops, Siouxsie is showing her fans with all other heart and soul that the past is not only part other future, but the present is well out of hand...
How did the three shows at the 100 Club come about?
We were approached first by the Festival Hall. I thought that as we were doing a tour in America and then coming back to do the Festival Hall, I would like to play somewhere where we haven't played before or just make an event of it. The 100 Club just seemed like a perverse idea which I thought would be great if fans could get along to the shows. In conjunction with the Festival Hall, they were two extremes f-or venues and atmosphere - and I found that appealing.
Did it bring back any memories when you entered the club again?
Of course! It seemed huge when I was first there and it seemed absolutely cramped going back. I suppose I was reminded about how optimistic I felt when I first played there, and what was happening around that time. It reminded me of how depressing things are now in the music business, which seems to have shrunk. There are fewer record labels, but they're bigger, more controlling and more powerful - and it's kind of gone the wrong way.
Things like spontaneity, excitement, imagination, taking risks and being creative have suffered. It's all gone down to business and making money and where there's business and making money, there are fewer and fewer risks being taken. It's more predictable there are more people saying "Yes, we want six of- what's at No. 1 and No. 2. More of the same!" I know the way the industry is run by lawyers and accountants, but I'm still going to be here!
Did you consider performing The Lord's Prayer?
No. We decided that we wouldn't play it live after we'd recorded it. We did the sin of recording it for Join Hands- and it will stay there.
The 100 Club shows were a great showcase for the band that toured Hai! in America.
We've got a really great band and it felt really good playing. The gigs were a real achievement, as rehearsals leading up to the tour were touch and go, close to being a complete disaster. I thought that we might have bitten off more than we could chew, or that it was too ambitious to incorporate Leonard Eto (traditional Japanese kodo drummer), a new keyboard player and backing singers. But all the gremlins happened in rehearsals and the music came together in the shows that just got better and better. Chris the keyboard player said to me that normally when you've been touring the peak happens at some point and then you go onto autopilot. But this tour has kept going up to another level, culminating in the Royal Festival Hall shows with the orchestra.
What was it like at those two Festival Hall shows performing with a small orchestra behind you?
Again, we didn't know how that was going to go. We had two days of rehearsal with the orchestra, plus the two percussion players who played tubular bells, timpani and marimba xylophone. Then we had the strings and the brass and the harp player. When it came to the shows, the musicians were so responsive. They weren't rigid, they watched and they listened, and that's very rare for an orchestra to do that. Afterwards a lot of people asked if I was daunted by being in front of the orchestra and I said no. I felt really at home, really comfortable. Being able to adapt to a situation is vital: too many musicians are too set in their ways and too rigid, and can only play in certain situations. To me the rest of a really good musician is someone that can react and respond to the situation.
How did you feel about the fans turning the front of the classical music stage into a moshpit?
It was great. I was so glad that that happened and people did not stay in their seats. It was great to transform the Festival Hall and make it feel alive, almost like the Speakeasy. I think the audience outside that crowd also got pulled in more because of it. They picked up on the energy.
Hai! formed the backbone of the first set. Did you then cherry-pick Creatures songs and Banshees material such as Dear Prudence and Christine as well?
Quite often we go back and do things that we haven't done for over 20 years - and it still feels fresh. The fact that you've never done it live doesn't feel nostalgic. In a way, it's like doing a cover of a great song that you have always wanted to do. We did Weathercade, which we had never performed live since recording it as a B-side for Right Now.
We also did Obsession, which worked really well - it really cut through and was really dramatic, because it's quite a sparse song, so I think it complemented The Creatures and The Banshees and that kind of transition thing. We had lots of other songs - we've got too many songs - and on the Seven Year Itch tour we'd been back to Scream and Join Hands, so I didn't feel the need to go back there so much.
It was basically doing something I'd always wanted to do, having the brass on things like Right Now and seeing what they would come up with. Some people noticed that we didn't do Fireworks or Overground - the kind of stuff that's got strings or stuff from the Thorn EP - but I said that would be too predictable. I'm not intrigued what would happen and I didn't want it to have any pompousness about it - and I thought that might possibly make it too serious. I really wanted it to have an element of fun and surprise.
Were you tempted to draft in a bass player - Severin perhaps - for the Festival Hall dates?
I didn't want Severin to be in there. He wasn't invited, so he wasn't invited. That's why it wasn't Siouxsie & The Banshees it was Siouxsie because I was drawing from everything I've ever done.
But I saw some amazing footage of the Doors playing somewhere live at the Hollywood Bowl or something. I've always loved the Doors' sound, and they had never had a bass - it was played on keyboards. I saw that at the end of last year, and it kind of sparked me off thinking that a keyboard player might be really interesting, and it might free up a lot of things as well. I love some of the adaptations like the keyboards on Christine - sometimes I get lost in them. It's really nice to hear someone take something you know somewhere else.
Leonard Eto played alongside Budgie on Hai! songs like Say Yes and Godzilla, which also takes things somewhere else.
Making that album, Hai!, was a dream come true. We didn't dare dream that that could happen and that was a fluke, a chance. On The Banshees' Seven Year Itch tour, the support band that Budgie found was called X Girl from Tokyo. It was from getting on with them and talking to them that we found out that Hoppy (the person who looked after them) knew Leonard quite well. That introduction was made when we were in Tokyo. It was like, well, shall we book a day in the studio to see what happens? That's what happened - we got the basis of that album from one afternoon in the studio.
Those tracks also sound fantastic live.
It's a very visual experience when you go and see Kodo drummers, which is something that I really love about it. Leonard had his back to the audience when he was playing, and that was so visually stimulating. The sound was almost too much - I thought, 'God, it can't get any better'.
I was amazed. It is strong. It's also great to know that if anything goes wrong with the instruments or anything, we can just bypass and just go to drums and voice! It could have gone horribly wrong, but it didn't, and it really felt like an achievement to pull it off and to have the people involved in the orchestra enjoy it. They were really into it, and it wasn't just about the notes - they became a part of it like an extension of the band. All these musicians were hooked in - every one of them, with their eyes locked in - and you don't see that often enough.
You and Budgie performed But Not Them as a duo.
It still sounds good stripping it down to drums and voice. People are still amazed how good it sounds -they can't believe it's just drums and voice. But Not Them works great live, it's powerful - you don't get that simplicity. People always try to complicate things.
How do you feel about the new box set of Banshees B-sides?
I've wanted the B-Sides to get recognition for a long time. I wanted them to be available and accessible, because obviously in America they're very hard to get hold of. I just think that they're the side to The Banshees that everyone should be aware of, because for me it is my favourite side. There's no precious- ness about them, they're all about happening quickly with very little thought - but the spontaneity is there and the idea is there. It's all about the ideas and making it happen quickly, and that's why I hold them quite dear.
The Banshees are known for experimenting with sounds in the studio.
Quite often we would play different instruments as well. Rather than stick to being a four-piece with bass, drums, guitar and voice, we said, "What's in the studio? OK - we'll play that!" What was there we used- I played more guitar on the B-sides than any of the album tracks.
Shooting Sun still sounds good enough to have been a single.
We played Shooting Sun on the second night at the Festival Hall as we'd never played it live. It's a good song - we had a lot of B-sides that were almost lost songs, or could have been developed further. Peek.A.Boo was going to be a B-side but we turned it around and made it into an A-side. Tattoo was the B-side to Dear Prudence. It was a great riposte, a great flip to the kind of sunshine and lightness and Eve White Eve Black B-side of Christine. I love El Dia De Los Muertos - our version of Supernatural Thing - and I really, really like Drop Dead.
Which was directed at Kenny Morris and John McKay who left you in the lurch on the Join Hands tour.
Bye Bye Blackheads, yeah. But I think that song is great for anyone who's been let down - it's a good anthem for that. It's a fuck-off-a-gram!
That was one of the first near-derailments of the Banshees' career, wasn't it?
It was sink or swim. We could have just folded and given up. Those two albums would still have stood up, but that's all it could have been - I think it would've been at a Joy Division sort of level. And who knows what would have happened [if Morris and McKay had stayed in the band]. Would the longevity have been there? We might have just worn each other to death. You don't know. I do believe in fate, and that there are reasons for things - and that even when things look like they're disastrous and going horribly wrong, there's usually something good that will come out of it as long as you can survive it and use it to build on.
They were replaced by Budgie and John McGeogh. The latter recently passed away: do you have any particular memories of John?
When he died this year it was strange, because me and Budgie were thinking of John when we were considering doing the shows at the Festival Hall and the 100 Club. We were thinking, we hope he's well, we must look him up - maybe it would be great for him to play or guest. So it was really sad when the news came in and that avenue didn't happen.
What kept the Banshees going when you kept having to change guitarists, sometimes at short notice?
It was almost like an obstacle course - how to survive the worst thing that can happen. People let you down. You end up with a leg in plaster, or someone says that they can't do the tour days before the tour starts. All kinds of things like chat. It's strange - I think that adverse conditions aren't the way to get rid of us! Although I moan about it, I thrive in adverse conditions.
Robert Smith had two spells as a guitar Banshee. Does he appear on any B-sides?
He did the Whole Price Of Blood, but that was like an out-take. He was hanging out with Severin a lot when we were doing Dreamhouse and so I saw him a lot as well. He really wanted to be involved with the band, I could tell. Who wouldn't, with such a fantastic band? I think it certainly taught him a few tricks!
Your B-side experimentation extended as far as the spoken word approach of Execution and the melodic instrumentals like The Quarterdrawing Of The Dog.
I can't really explain the differences. Obviously all the B-sides were done at the time. and they were done quickly with maybe a day or so in the studio, when they were recorded and mixed. They were usually written on the spur of the moment as well. I just think they're just like sponges to emotion - or any subliminal influences going on in your life at that moment at that time. They're very much of the time, whether you're reading a certain book, or you've seen a film and there's something in your head. When you spend time on a single or an album, it's a long period of time it's more worked out but B-sides are barometers. They're litmus papers of the moment.
Can you shed some light on the songwriting dynamics of The Banshees?
I think the lyrics were mainly me or Severin.Nobody else contributed, although Budgie did later, a little bit. But musically, some songs had definite ideas, although they always opened up to what everyone was going to do with them. I do feel a lot of the elements are band compositions, despite where the initial elements come from. They sound the way they do because it's all four people. It's not a Prince or a Lenny Kravitz situation, for God's sake, where you have to play every instrument or dictate to people what they are doing! I wouldn't want to work with musicians who couldn't contribute something of themselves. In that way it wasn't a fascist set-up: The Banshees had always been about allowing response, and allowing input, and keeping it as long as it was good. If it isn't good if doesn't get accepted. It's not about, you can't do this because you're you. It's open to anyone.
Severin wasn't too pleased when Budgie started writing lyrics on Hang Me High on the early Rapture sessions, was he?
Severin just didn't like if. He just didn't think that Budgie should be writing lyrics. It became a bone of contention, so it became a B-side. We were having lots of disagreements with each other at that time, musically.
Was that due to the fact that, as original Banshee founders, you'd been together so long by then?
I think differences and arguments are part of being in a band. But you really should be on the same page - and I was finding that me and Severin weren't on the same page quite often. The fundamental difference is that I don't think Severin is a natural musician, and I think there's insecurity there.
Budgie is so natural and he has no ego problem- but I find with the best musicians it's not about the ego. I can see musicians that have definite egos and are musicians for the wrong reasons, and I don't like them as musicians. When he was on the same page, and when it felt more like a band it was great. I think as the band evolved and there were newer people coming in, it put a strain on the balance. New people coming in always sparked off some thing, but you also lost something.
We were continually having to get new guitarists in, so they had to be taught anything from the past and it's quite tiring to continually have to reach someone your past. That's why we're selective in what we do now, because to do it all would rake too long to teach. And it's too fucking knackering!
Was it difficult looking back at The Banshees' history for ex- RC staffer Mark Paytress' authorised biography of the band?
That book isn't the half of it! Because some of it was quite painful to revisit, I was the least willing. I was the one that had to be bullied the most. Budgie and Severin really bullied me for it to get done - but my thinking was that I'm always being asked about the past, so maybe if I put it in a book it would clear things up and no more would need to be said. I'm not going to repeat myself for another bloody 20 years!
How does it feel to be the face that launched the female Goth industry?
I had a lot of lookalikes, more than any other person I can think of. There was a time when it was quite frightening how many Siouxsie lookalikes there were, so there must have been some kind of resonance with some girls when they were growing up. It freaked me out but I thought that as long as they don't look like this when they are in their 30s, 40s and 50s it would be OK. It was just a launch pad for them to discover themselves and that's what any influence should be. It should never be taken literally it should always propel you to your own self-awareness.
Do you have a favourite Banshees album?
I think there is a lot on the Rapture album that was overlooked - stupidly overlooked - just because it wasn't fashionable at the time. That happened to Tinderbox as well. I think my favourite recent Banshees album would be Peepshow. I remember that it felt like a band with Martin McCarrick and Jon Klein. Martin is a very versatile musician, so we had the accordion, the cello and his keyboards.
I remember the process of making that record was really pleasant, as was working with producer Mike Hedges again, not having worked with him for awhile. The shows that we did around that time were great as well. They were very theatrical, and the staging was great.
Why did the Banshees scratch the Seven Year Itch in 2002?
We were offered this one show called the Coachella festival and it was very tempting. We were thinking that Severin hadn't been on a stage for seven years, so how were we just going to get together and do this one show? So we thought that we'd do a few shows that led up to it and draw from Scream and Join Hands. It grew out of it being one gig, and then it was seven shows. Then we played in London and Tokyo - and it I'd never done the Seven Year Itch tour, I wouldn't have met Leonard Eto and there might not be Hai! And if we hadn't done Hai! we might have not done these shows.
Now that the tour is over, what's next on the Banshees' agenda?
I'm still reaching for a peak. The Festival Hall shows were quite close to that, but I'm still looking forward. I'm looking forward to finishing the next record the next Siouxsie solo record which will definitely draw on elements of what we've just been doing.
With Budgie behind the kit?
Oh yes. If it's got drums on it, I wouldn't have anybody else!
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.