Interview: Siouxsie Sioux / The Creatures
This is quite a blast from the past, dredging the archives for one of my first interviews to find its way into print (Pat Kane, from 80s pop duo ‘Hue & Cry‘ actually takes that high honour). I resurrected this piece to commemorate Siouxsie’s latest album, ‘Manta Ray’, her first solo release in three decades of recording. More importantly, it’s the first album without the emotional crutch and creative involvement of ex-husband Budgie – a partnership that outlasted the Banshees and, via The Creatures, arguably contains some of Siouxsie’s most innovative and complex work.
As a teenager, I was a keen devotee of Siouxie Sioux – and, to this day, I still own a near-complete collection of Banshees singles and album releases on vinyl. She never fails to impress and her allure is still remarkably potent.
Back in 1990, my pre-interview nerves were somewhere off the Richter Scale, being particularly mindful of the old cliche – “never interview your idols”. The reality was wonderfully different – Siouxsie and Budgie were not only relaxed and charming, but hugely welcoming and disarmingly open. Of course, it only made me love them more. The interview was first published in the Glasgow University Guardian in 1990.
After so many years as figurehead for the Banshees, no one can blame Siouxsie Sioux for being tired. The band are in a position where everything seems familiar – the approach to their continual projects resembles a well-trodden path, and if you’re not careful, stagnation and boredom can set in.
This may be part of the reason why six years after their debut album ‘Feast’, The Creatures have returned, creating one of their finest pieces to date – ‘Boomerang’. One of the most surprising aspects of the project was their decision to tour – even more startling was the fact that they chose to perform as a duo without the aid of any session musicians.
“We’ve taken it on, we have to see it through,” says Budgie, with more than a hint of apprehension in his voice. Tonight at the Queen Margaret Union, their backing tapes – controlled by Budgie’s drum pedal – refused to stay in line, causing a chaotic mess during a few intros. “It’s the first time on stage without Steve [Severin] and it’s as scary as shit.”
“I’m starting to enjoy it,” admits Siouxsie, “because it’s a completely different way of doing it. It’s getting the adrenalin going again. With smaller venues you start getting a sense of the audience again. It feels very different – which is the whole reason for doing this really.”
After eleven Banshees albums and numerous tours, you can imagine that the pair must hit the wall of disillusion on many occasions. Have they never thought that the end of the road must arrive one day?
“When we started this, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do another Banshees project,” explains Siouxsie, “I said ‘That’s it! I’ll leave it open, but I’m not promising anything.’ The last Banshees album ‘Peepshow’ as a whole album was probably the best we’ve done for a long time. ‘Hyaena’ and ‘Tinderbox’ fell – but they weren’t all bad. Half of ‘Hyaena’ I thought was really good, and ‘Cities In Dust’ I was really proud of, but as ‘whole albums’ they just didn’t work.”
Budgie: “‘Through The Looking Glass’ [the Banshees’ album of cover versions] just taught us how to work really quickly again. The songs were already written – all we were doing was figuring out how to play them, and we did that in a couple of weeks.”
Siouxsie: “We just wanted to stop hanging around the studio waiting for the guitarist to turn up. We got really bogged down with trying to find a guitarist to replace John McGeoch – we got let down by Robert Smith at the last minute – and then we started a new tour with John Carruthers… It was bit unfair to push it that way.”
It would seem then that to plough through another Banshees project directly after ‘Peepshow’ would have resulted in a terminal disaster. Fortunately for The Creatures, working as a duo is creatively far less inhibiting. Is it the case that tracks on ‘Boomerang’ may have never existed if they been put through the familair ‘five-piece’ channels?
Budgie: “Well, take the Banshees track ‘Peek-A-Boo’ for instance. To keep that the way it was, and the way it ended up, was quite a fight on Siouxsie’s part.”
Siouxsie: “It wasn’t done in the regular way. It was just an idea that I had and I didn’t want it to become ‘band-ised’, with guitars running all the way through it. I wanted to keep it bare with all the original ideas intact.”
Budgie: “I think that’s the way we approach The Creatures. It’s less precious in a way – because there’s just the two of us, you can play any instrument and there’s no guitarist in the corner thinking ‘Well, what am I going to play?’. You’re not being precious about what the band is supposed to be.”
Siouxsie: “And it’s not the case where everyone has to have a say in what you do. Trying to convince someone that the best thing they can do is ‘nothing’ is quite hard to do without sounding harsh. It’s good to strip yourself down and let yourself breathe.”
So are The Creatures prolonging the life of the Banshees?
“Something like The Banshees that’s got such a history can be inhibiting,” replies Siouxise, “you can step to the side and see what it’s doing – rather than being a part of it all the time – it keeps you interested in what you’re doing. I think nervousness and fear are really vital emotions.”
Listening toThe Creatures’ output, with the tribal chants of Hawaiian singers on ‘Feast’ and the crazed horn section on ‘Right Now’, the idea of transforming such orchestration to a small stage seems near to the realms of impossibility. However, judging by their appearance on the ‘Big World’ tv show, their attempt at re-constructing ‘Standing There’ or ‘You!’ seemed cluttered by the addition of a large band.
Budgie: “I didn’t like the sound of it, but it wasn’t the musicians’ fault. Basically, we discovered that you can’t mike up a marimba – it just doesn’t cut it live. You can put a hundred microphones on every slat and you still wouldn’t hear them with the feedback. The only alternative is to use a synthesised mallet and programmed backing which we’re using on this tour.”
To record ‘Feast’, The Creatures flew to Hawaii, and for ‘Boomerang’ they took their mobile studio to the cultural heart of the Spanish mainland. It’s the kind of scheme that the Banshees would never have undertaken.
Siouxsie: “It wasn’t a studio enviroment – we couldn’t have taken the band with guitars and amps to a situation like that. It would have horrified everyone around.”
Budgie: “When you’re with the band you’re very much ‘back in the gang’. You kind of walk all over whatever the situation you’re in because of the strength of the unit.”
Siouxsie: “No matter what you’re intentions are, people around you sort of stay back, because they see you as…”
Budgie: “They see you as confrontational, or just cheeky. When we took The Creatures to Spain it was different – we just slipped in. We were in a village, on a farm, and there was a community there -and we just went into the barn and made a lot of noise.”
Siouxsie: “We all ate together at this big table. It was great because there was very little language, due to the Andalucian accent. I can speak some Spanish, but with the Anadalucians … well, it’s like someone coming to Glasgow who has just learned English…”
How do The Creatures deal with the concept of ‘world music’, baring in the mind the diversity of ‘ethnic’ influence in their work?
Siouxsie: “I don’t like the way ‘world music’ has being a very hip thing. Ever since ‘JuJu’ we’ve been really into using different types of percussion and suchlike, but we’re not really delved that much. I just don’t like labels. It’s like when people say ‘you’re a punk band’. I say ‘well, we’re not a rock band, we’re not a punk band, we’re not a soul band … we’re not anything’. I really like the idea of things not being snobby like that. There are people who are like ‘we’re a Heavy Metal band and we’re not having bloody bells in our songs!’. That’s really stupid. I think it’s just whatever you hear and you like it, you’re curious about it, you don’t know what it is, so you pursue it.”
It seems then that the future of The Banshees is assured?
“I hope that the good things about The Creatures will carry through into the next Banshees project,” affirms Siouxsie, “I think the next Banshees thing that we do will be a really positive thing.”