Enter The Dragon
JOHN GILL tries to defrost Siouxsie Sue
It’s an off-the-cuff observation, you understand, but Siouxsie and I spent our childhood living about a mile from each other, on opposite sides of a large wood on the border between Kent and London (my claim to fame!).
A 94 bus, if I’m correct, took her into the legendary Bromley contingent, and some hacks have tried to ascribe historical importance to her suburb of origin, Chiselhurst.
I can now reveal the place is only noted for it’s caves, ponds and a wood named after William Pett, who invented British Summer Time for the benefit of the working classes. Still, it’s a start, and en route to her PR’s North London office I envisioned some sort of reunion; she looks the type who’d have joined a particular gang of infant school Amazons who made Gill Junior’s life an absolute misery.
But we even fail to connect on that. Having read her talkative interview with Pomeranian courtier, Herr Veene, I dismissed the ‘difficult’ tag - and walked straight into a brick wall. She croaks hello and sits in a forties armchair across from Steve Severin. A rowdy chorus of PRs bellows and gibbers from a neighbouring room. When he talks, Severin is so quiet it’s barely audible. Siouxsie speaks in single sentences as though they were Famous Last Words. Maybe she was away from school the day they did photographs.
The press release for their upcoming tour says it’ll be the "last Siouxsie and the Banshees tour". Are they giving up completely?
Severin: "No, we want to re-think how we tour. Every time we tour, we try to think of a new place to play. Like just London, we don’t particularly like to play the Odeon all the time."
So have they thought of any new ways to play live?
Siouxsie: "Yes! No guitars!" They both giggle.
Severin: "Last year, with John McGeogh’s situation it was difficult. But now we’re a real band again, everything’s sorted out. Now we’re a band again, we thought we’d tour as much as we could until the end of the year and then just think it out."
So you won’t disappear after this tour?
Siouxsie: "No, we’ve all been doing other things on our own, as well as what we do together. Steve’s been producing Altered Images, I think their album’s out in June, and Budgie and me have put together some songs. Just drums and voice."
Siouxsie: "Oh yeah, we’ll treat it as a very viable, commercial product!"
The current single, ‘Spellbound’, isn’t indicative of the material on the new album, ‘Ju Ju’, they say. Is the album more inshore or mainstream than the last two?
Miming incomprehension, Siouxsie deigns, "I think it’s more direct. Much straighter." And smiles, as if to say who let this klutz in here.
At this point there are a number of optional explanations for their attitude: they’re cautious, or tired, or lazy, or suspicious, or snide, or wilful, or they don’t have an original thought in their heads. Which is it to be, viewers?
We listen to the album on a battered stereo, and Siouxsie seems to warm when it becomes obvious I like it (perhaps I should have worn a badge). Its strength and soul burn through the murk and fuzz of the hi-fi, and it seems a heavier/darker album than ‘Kaleidoscope’.
Siouxsie: "Well, I, um, I mean, we didn’t think of ‘Kaleidoscope’ as being, ‘this is the direction we’re going in'. It’s just ‘Kaleidoscope’, full stop."
Something like, say, ‘Voodoo Dolly’ (the album’s finale and possibly their ‘Horse Latitudes’) sounds very sexual.
Siouxsie: "Sexual? Hah!"
Well it seemed so to me.
Siouxsie: "Each to his own."
Severin: "I disagree, but I disagree with the ‘Ice Queen of Punk’. I’ve disagreed with that for the last five years."
Siouxsie repeats that she just thinks it’s more direct. Let’s try another track.
From ‘Hong Kong Garden’ onwards, it seems as though they’ve been able to get away with much more than their peers, taking singles with experimental touches up to the top of the charts. Few, if any, other bands have swung that.
Severin: "That was always the intention. We didn’t want a cult following, we didn’t want ‘here we are on Factory Records...’"
Siouxsie: "We didn’t want to be a shallow pop group, either."
Would they agree that their music has an avant-garde edge to it?
Siouxsie demurs, but Severin says, "Well, nearly all our influences come from that."
Any names? Such ghosts as the Velvets and Doors?
Siouxsie: "Yeah, but I don’t think - I think most groups who are talked about in comparison with the Velvets or the Doors, they lack somewhat in imagination, or are just being totally derivative of those groups. Which I despise, to be quite honest. I dunno, all those people are influences plus, I dunno, James Brown or Aretha Franklin, the Jackson Five!"
Do they consider they walk a thin line between the grim and the populist?
Severin: "I don’t think it’s something that you think about, consciously."
Siouxsie: "I dunno, I just like it."
What I managed to catch of the lyrics on ‘Ju Ju’ seem to be more similar to the unwholesome psychology of ‘Join Hands’ than ‘Kaleidoscope’.
Siouxsie: "I just think... the way things come across can affect you, very much on one hearing. Like ‘Kaleidoscope’, I think that was very light and airy, a lot of the subjects were light and airy."
Yet dark at the same time?
Is that controversial aspect intentional - zooming in on religion, madness, dangerous role games?
Siouxsie: "Well, I’ve never thought that, as a rule, you should talk about something odd and come across that way (odd)."
Siouxsie: "It’s too obvious. It sensationalises, it’s overdramatic. Very theatrical."
Yet something like ‘Mother’ is like that.
Is any of this material autobiographical, or just received information?
Severin: "I think a lot of it’s autobiographical."
Siouxsie: "Whether it’s things that strike you or things that happen to you, a personal account, it still affects you."
How does their audience react to such subjects as destructive relationships, incest etc.?
Severin: "On a one-to-one basis, backstage, it’s just one of those things that don’t come up when you talk with fans."
Yet there must be some point being put across in those songs - do you get any feedback that says it’s being received?
Siouxsie: "Yeah, but also it’s just as good that people can hear something they can enjoy and dance to as well."
Are there any personal betes noir on ‘Ju Ju’?
Siouxsie: "That makes it sound very much like, ‘What are we talking about this year?’ Y’know, what politics or what’s in the news that’s topical to talk about. It’s not as flippant as that."
What about ‘Voodoo Dolly’, its intensity sounds almost personal. What’s it about?
Siouxsie: "I suppose everyone has their own personal voodoo dolly which is capable of destroying them. A bad habit, or something they like but shouldn’t. A vice, most vices; one that’s hard to control, hard to kick. It’s the same for men with certain girls, they’re like voodoo dollies, always winding them up, and they destroy them."
You seem to have a borderline obsession with the darker aspects of humanity. Have you ever written a song with a ‘happy ending’?
After a minute or two, she profers, "I suppose ‘Playground Twist', is quite happy at the end, because the baddies are swinging in the gallows."
Couldn’t it be seen as depressive, that you only have that side on view?
Siouxsie: "Well, did you get depressed listening to that album?"
No, but I couldn’t hear all the lyrics.
Severin: "I don’t like people using the word depressing. It’s demanding, if anything at all. You have to sit down and get involved with it."
(Diplomatically) Do you think it’s a case that people don’t want to deal with certain subjects?
Siouxsie: "It depends on what depresses you. A superficial gaiety... or an interest in the wicked things that are done to people."
And you’d line up alongside the latter?
Siouxsie: "That makes it sound like a message!"
It doesn’t have to be. You can still be concerned.
Siouxsie: "I like to know if countries are being wiped off the face of the earth and it’s being kept hush, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I want to know about those things."
Would you say, then, that you’re a concerned person whose concern is reflected in your work?
Siouxsie: "But not as do-gooders. I ain’t no do-gooder!"
Just like Julie Christie in McCabe and Mrs Miller - and perhaps intentionally so.
Don’t you think you’re taking a risk, taking that stand in a business devoid of any principles?
Siouxsie: "I don’t care... I mean, how do you mean a risk? A risk to myself or a risk to our gaining a bigger record-buying audience?"
Siouxsie: "I’m aware that it’s probably a risk to our being successful." She doesn’t qualify this further.
Can you define where you stand? You don’t want to produce pop, you don’t want to go grim. You want your lyrics to have depth yet not be intellectual. How do you draw the line?
Siouxsie: "I think if you’re convinced in what you’re doing, I think you’re convincing to others. it’s the strongest thing anyone has."
Have you always been convinced, or did you gradually acquire it?
Siouxsie: "I’ve always been convinced... not about how things turn out, but convinced about what I’m doing."
Do you think the band’s present image is ideal for you?
Severin: "Our image has altered. Our idea of our image has altered quite a bit over the last five years. The media just can’t see beyond this, or don’t want to see beyond this stereotyped bracket they’ve put us into."
Severin: "The ice queen of punk thing. Depression. Bleak outlook. Punk, as well. The spirit of 1977."
Some chicken-and-the-egg banter ensues over whether it's the band, media or audience who most contribute to the construction of an image.
Siouxsie: "I can see a lot of people getting confused about us."
And how do you get rid of that confusion?
"It’s amusing," is all she says.
Would they line up with all the other conceptualists who intentionally keep their audience in suspense?
"Yeah!" she laughs. "Keep ‘em in suspenders!"
Listening back to their earlier albums, it seems to me as though they predate a number of current fashionable avant-totems (no names, although one of the ‘died for you’). Contact!
Severin: "WHOOOH! I’ve been waiting for a journalist to say that for years!"
Fab! I grin voraciously at him, hands cupped to catch the verbal torrent.
Severin: "I’ve been hearing ‘The Scream’ in different people’s music for the past two years. Now they’re getting into ‘Join Hands’. But it’s not something we want to come out and say..."
Have the others had to go through anything strange, like being considered as your backing band?
Siouxsie: "I suppose so, more than with most groups. With other groups it’s more apparent that they’re a band."
"It’s just the little things that are most annoying," she adds.
Like her picture being used all the time, her name being tagged onto quotes (especially when they’ve come from someone else). So does her persona unbalance people’s perception of the band?
Siouxsie: "We sound very strong together, live, so I don’t think the fact that they’re watching me will affect the rest of the group. They’re taking it all in through their ears."
She cracks another bad one-liner when asked about band ‘growth’. But Severin takes the cue.
"That’s one of the reasons we’re going to take time off after the tour and sit down and think."
"This album feels like the first one with a new band, so we don’t want to rush into another one. We’d just like a rest, go off to Jamaica... or Surrey."
Is this an aversion to touring?
Siouxsie: "No, I like touring. It’s rather we want to assess it before we start regretting anything, if you know what I mean."
I dunno. You’re going to re-assess the future of the band?
Siouxsie: "Yes. It’d be terrible if next year we thought we should never tour again, or that we shouldn’t be doing this. Nothing’s happened, we still want to tour, but we’re just saying it before it happens."
You’ve spotted some blackspot up ahead?
Siouxsie: "Yeah, and we want to re-assess it before that happens. It’d be a disaster if it did happen."
Banshees Split Shock Horror Gurgle?
Siouxsie: "We’re not splitting up. It’s just that if we carried on blindly, possibly it might happen."
Severin: "I’d like to think we’ve done things in a very unusual way, but it could get to the point where it stops being unusual. And we don’t want it to end up like Genesis."
They haven’t found an alternative as yet, but feel a growing distrust for the rock’n’roll touring circuit/circus. Maybe, just maybe, the likes of Cabaret Futura point the way. They and we will find out late this year or next.
They’ve obviously thawed a little (if he didn’t speak so quietly, Severin would be more in evidence here) but by now my brain is wheezing towards a seizure. Any pearls of wisdom they’d like to impart?
Siouxsie: "I hate talking about what we will be doing, because we just don’t know."
Severin: "...I hate all this jive... what sort of books you should read with our music..."
Steve thinks Janet and John would be more apt. But why this fear or dislike of intellectuals?
Severin: "When they want to slag us off, that’s when they start intellectualising it. The good reviews are usually emotional."
Siouxsie: "I don’t like people who go through the ritual of being intellectual. They really show up their stupidity. I like clever people but the people who have a reputation for being intellectual are just very boring." And fixes me with a ‘Watch It’ stare.
But don’t you think you’ve given people enough ammo to start writing theses on the Banshees?
Siouxsie: "Well, they can go and do their homework."
Severin: "You could also write a 10,000 word thesis on the effect of Marc Bolan on the popular consciousness. We don’t want to steer it into that, neither do we want to steer people away from it."
Perhaps they’re in two minds about it or, more likely, don’t like talking about it for fear it might go pop! in their faces.
I’ve no fear the Banshees will go pop!, but I am in two minds. I came away still admiring their music and respecting them as individuals, but angry to the extent of wanting to slag them off for putting me through this preposterous ritual of put-ons, petulance and deity/supplicant role playing.
You can only allow The Artist so much leeway before you might as well give up and ask what they eat for breakfast.
Their PR says they’re extremely shy, unsure of the media and - quite probably - modest. But in my book you get as good as you give. I’m prepared to put myself on the line, Siouxsie.