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6/2/1984  Sounds
Avenging Angels- Siouxsie And Severin Open The Doors Of The Dreamhouse

'Severin' Ah, this must be the place. I push the button beside the neatly written name.

"Who is it?"

It's Bill Black.

"Sorry?"

BILL BLACK!

"It's right at the top."

In from the warm Saturday afternoon sun and up three or four flights of stairs. Just as you think you're going to end up on the roof of this town house just off Tottenham Court Road, you're halted by an unimposing white door. Behind it can be heard Loud Music. This must be the place. Knock. No answer. Knock harder. Almost instantaneously the door swings open and reveals the surprisingly slight figure of Steve Severin. He appears a bit nervous.

"Siouxsie hasn't arrived yet," he whispers, beckoning me in, at the same time reaching for his coat. Er... "I'll go and get something for us to drink. Red or White?"

Left alone in the tiny flat I get a chance to survey chez Severin. The music is still babbling away, although more quietly, as I cost the impressive looking HiFi. No surprises there. Sure he's got a compact disc player but then Siouxsie And The Banshees have been a successful pop group for seven years now and that doesn't go unrewarded, right?

More interesting is the nod to the Creative Process: the obligatory Portastudio and a fair-sized keyboard, adorned with the now-famous Prisoner emblem of an elaborate tricycle (there are half a dozen commercially released Prisoner videos amongst his large collection. Clearly a fan). The record collection. A healthy showing of the Banshees' back catalogue, three copies of 'Blue Sunshine' (The Glove's LP) plus a good deal of classical music, stretching forward to Brecht/ Weill's 'Threepenny Opera' and Philip Glass. Hmmm, interesting.

I raise my eyes to the bookcase. Isn't it strange how many bands have taken their names from 'hip' book titles? There's Steppenwolf and Soft Machine - even Heaven 17 if you delve deep enough into Burgess' Clockwork Orange. I make a formal count of title/band names just to amuse myself until Severin returns. A man of taste.

"That was the Italian DAF," offers Severin as the music finally comes to an end. "A friend of mine sent it to me."

Do you get sent a lot of tapes?

"Yeah, I suppose I do; mostly from people I know though."

Silence.

Any chance of hearing some tracks off the new album? I enquire sweetly. Severin busies himself hoisting a white label of 'Hyaena' onto the linear tracking turntable. Plucking his glass of wine from the coffee table, he retires to a seat, mute and motionless.

I slurp and listen intently to the song now forming itself in the speakers. It's the new single, 'Dazzle', a lustrous jostling of strings swarming forward before dying slowly to reveal Siouxsie's rich, textured voice. Apart from the elaborate (and successful) introduction, the four tracks I hear (Severin mysteriously jumps the second half of each side - in case I attempt an on the spot and therefore exclusive review? This man IS suspicious!) hold no great surprises - I can exclusively reveal that the Banshees have not gone Tamla - only a refining of the 'Dreamhouse' sound with perhaps more emphasis placed on the drums and no noticeable outings granted new boy Robert Smith's grumbling, glassy guitar.

But Siouxsie is singing better than ever (maybe the 'keep off the high notes' warning a year or so back was a good thing) and the Eastern flavour added by some of the instruments used is effective and suitably exotic. Embedded in the very foundations of these songs, I muse, is the metallic anguish of 'The Scream', only warmed through and ripened by a fuller, less flighty exploration of the component parts (submerge/substitute latterly the name of the game) that has seen the Banshees take a thread from 'Carcass', twist it, knot it even, but never let go.

As the last track I'm granted a listen ends, a knocking becomes apparent at the door. It's photographer Carole Segal. She's immediately set to work signing a release form giving the Banshees a degree of control over the use of her pictures.

Is this really necessary, I wonder?

"I never let anyone use my pictures without checking with the band first that it's OK," says Carole sincerely.

"Every photographer we have ever worked with has said that," snarls Severin. Time to change the subject. Did Robert Smith's Cure commitments cause any problems when it came to recording 'Hyaena'?

"We always knew he'd be taking December and maybe January off to record 'The Top', but we'd started recording stuff for the Banshees album as long ago as last June so at the start it seemed such a long way off it wasn't really important. But we had to start speeding things up towards the end and even then it meant we had to mix the album without Robert, which is a pity because he's really good in studios and it's always useful to have an extra pair of ears."

It becomes apparent that despite the leisurely recording schedule ("We had no real deadlines, only the ones we always work to") recording 'Hyaena' was not without it's problems.

One was the choice of studio, a converted church used to record orchestras, chosen for it's drum sound (significant) but cursed with primitive recording equipment. Another was the novel way the Banshees had chosen to work.

"We wrote everything in the studio and that's the first time we've ever done something like that and it wasn't ideal. Before, we'd either gone in with an album with most of it written, or, as with 'Dreamhouse' had two ar three songs to be getting on with. But this time we had nothing, only the constant thought that we had to come up with an album of songs, and we don't wake up every morning wanting to write a song.

"Yes, it was slow, slower than usual. We'd exhausted ourselves on our solo projects so it was hard to get back into writing for the Banshees immediately after doing the Glove and the Creatures."

Was this frightening?

"Just frustrating. We knew it would come eventually. It helped that if we got stuck we could go off and play abroad or do those Albert Hall gigs. It seems like a long time but but we didn't spend all those months just recording the album, we did a lot of other things as well."

Like The Glove, Severin and Smith's unremarkable collaboration of last year resulting in the 'Blue Sunshine' LP. Was it conceived as an answer to Budgie and Siouxsie's Creatures?

"We'd actually agreed to do it long before the Creatures decided to do something. I think it was around the time Robert was doing 'Faith' that we thought of doing something together because at the time Robert was completely in the Cure and I was in the Banshees so it would have been a mixture of the two groups. When it finally came out it seemed like the other half of the Banshees' Creatures." And the pasting, deserved?

"Of course I don't think it's deserved!"

Not even in hindsight?

"I just think it turned up right in the middle of a general Banshees backlash."

Well that didn't stop the Creatures from scoring a hit or two. Was he bitter at his partners' success?

"Not at all. It's pretty obvious why one was successful and one wasn't - Siouxsie."

But Smith's nearly as famous, surely?

"But neither Robert nor I made much effort to make it clear who was actually the Glove. We did that on purpose (going as far as drafting in a female vocalist to do the duties on the single 'Like An Animal'), maybe that was a mistake."

There may well be more Severin/Smith collaborations, but they won't go under the name of the Glove.

At this point Siouxsie arrives. In a simple, stunning grey suit and that equally simple but no less striking makeup she appears her public self: intimidating, cold even.

"Hello," she barks. I'm surpised into a ludicrously royal 'have you come far?' type diatribe. Oh Kensington? Nice.

But of course Siouxsie is no Ice Queen. She's very friendly. Guarded but friendly.

"You're late, we've done most of the interview!" shouts Severin from the kitchen, while he's busy making the new arrival a cup of tea.

"Oh, I needn't have bothered coming then!" snorts Siouxsie dismissively. For a moment I think she's serious. But Siouxsie wants to talk.

"I love the Weather Girls, don't you? They're just so... oooh!" She forms a huge circle with her arms and allows an equally large grin to crack that neatly painted face. "They're just so womanly aren't they? I think they're terrific!"

"Did you know that one of them has twelve children?" chirps Carole.

"No really? Then that goes to show that they're real women doesn't it!"

Am I hearing this? Siouxsie Sioux, who once wore a swastika as the "ultimate symbol of shock" rejoicing in femininity? But times have changed and from scorning her nonconformity, the popular press has dubbed Siouxsie 'Glamorous' and 'sultry'. Anyway, there's Boy George to worry about now.

But paradoxically, Siouxsie (and Severin for that matter) have hardly changed a bit. His bleached crop, her weave of jet black hair - have they never felt the need to give the image a shake up? "I LOVE BLACK HAIR!" is Siouxsie's fiery response.

"It's not a fashion thing," sighs Severin.

"People have never been able to see me as dressing in a clown's costume," continues Sioux, "this has always been me. And it always will be, unless I want to change, and then I will."

But surely, now that your look is accepted and copied, don't you want to...?

"I don't think Siouxsie has been accepted!" chimes Severin. "There's still something more daring and dangerous about walking down the street when you're dressed like Siouxsie than if you were dressed like Sheena Easton."

So Siouxsie hasn't stopped shocking people?

"The most rebellious thing I've ever done I did quite recently and that's grow my armpit hair. The number of letters that have been written complaining about that! Everybody was going 'yuk!' and even my mother was disgusted. I was amazed! So never mind shaving your head girls, grow your armpit hair and shock everybody!"

All this talk about fashion does have a point, and it's to do with serving as an indication of the Banshees' approach.

Of the class of '77' we've seen the Clash turn into the new Rolling Stones, Billy Idol defect to the States, even Johnny Lydon (nee Rotten) go beyond the grave of 'Death Disco' to record 'This Is Not A Love Song' - not to mention new boy Weller's denial of rock to lead a new life as the coffee bar kid. And yet the Banshees soldier on, through bitchy and bizarre break ups (first the McKay/Morris contingent, then John McGeogh - both on the eve of Banshee tours) and even major scares like the 'stop singing' bombshell dropped on Siouxsie last year, in the same mould.

A lyrical preoccupation here, a musical inflection there, the Banshees have still not deviated drastically from the route mapped out by 'The Scream'. From the tempered howl of that album to the perfected purr of the Creatures, the journey has been at times longwinded but always negotiable. So why should this rigid yet vigorous approach have lasted so long amongst the shifting sands of our recent pop history? Both are vague on this subject.

"Well we're hardly a revivalist group so we can't say 'what shall we have a go at this time'!" offers Severin a mite sarcastically. Siouxsie takes a different tack. "The Banshees have always been out on a limb, we've never had a cameraderie with other groups. It's just something that has never been there."

So are the Banshees lonely?

"It's not so much that we're lonely," adds Severin, "as insulated. We've never really liked 'hanging out' with other musicians, most of them are really tedious anyway.

But that's a driving force in itself. If there are loads and loads of things you hate like all these horrible pop faces turning up on your radio and TV then that's a great form of inspiration. But I do try very hard to avoid hearing things I know I'm going to hate." There follows a general discussion on the state of the charts, with Siouxsie describing it in turns as "disgusting", "desperate" and "perverse". She doesn't like the sight of old men scrabbling for success, "a poxy slot on Top Of The Pops." Severin is more specific.

"I find everything very, very dull. There is a distinct lack of personality in the groups that are around today. There's also a very real lack of male singers too. It's only made noticeable because the heritage of male singers is so strong. It's really good to have Phil Oakey back in the charts because he can sing. So can Billy MacKenzie but he's off walking his whippets somewhere."

Which begs the question, what does Siouxsie think of the current (bumper) crop of female singers around right now?

"I really don't listen to any Western singers," she replies apologetically. "It's hard to explain but I don't like the Western style of singing at all. It's all so obvious isn't it? The gaps and intervals between notes and stuff like that, it's all wrong.

"I much prefer the Eastern style of singing where all that is broken down and singers use their voices in really unusual and unexpected ways. It sounds like a wail to the Western ear when in fact it's very formal and incredibly difficult to achieve."

Which all makes perfect sense when you listen to Siouxsie's voice. I venture it's better than before the throat scare.

"It's really not that different, although I've taken some advice about how to sing the earlier songs because my voice has actually got deeper since I started singing and that caused a lot of problems when I tried to sing some of the stuff off 'Scream'. But it's got a lot more to do with the microphones we use now. I never used one that could capture the whole range of my voice properly but we've found one now so it should sound a lot better."

Getting back to her pechant for things Oriental, did this influence the instrumentation on 'Hyaena'?

"At one point we wanted to do something that sounded medieval, use harpsichords, lutes, that sort of thing. The backing tracks seemed to suggest that sort of thing but we dropped that idea in favour of using woodwind. Not clarinets, we wanted a 'honking' sound like you get from Turkish pipes and things. We wanted a 'rough' sound rather than a smooth one."

Severin: "But all those ideas have been there since 'The Scream' when John and I were experimnenting with open strings acting as a drone like Indian music has. But obviously if you do that on the actual instruments the whole effect becomes far more obvious."

But it's still merely 'flavouring', wouldn't you like to make an album solely of those ideas?

"I'd like to do something where we wrote the music but didn't necessarily play the instruments. That might be an idea if were offered a film score or something, just so that we could do the music but not have to record it."

Seems there's no shortage of offers to get into film soundtracks fluttering through the Banshees' letterbox (plus plenty of acting roles for Siouxsie) but the band have always been wary of lending their name to a dodo operation.

Severin: "We've always said not to do anything that smacks of dreary artiness or any of those teen flicks that advertise 'featuring the music of' and then has you coming out of a car radio or something. But there's an interesting film that we're looking into now which is going to star Hannah Schygulla (of Fassbinder fame) and has Bunuel's script writer working on it. Eno's supposedly doing the atmospheric incidental music for it and we've been asked to write four songs. The only drawback is that it's all about a pop group led by this girl. We'll have to see the script first."

So, another project to swell the extracurricular activities of Sioux, Severin, Budgie and Smith. But with all this going on ("nothing planned" is Siouxsie's word on a future Creatures get together) how strong can the corporate identity of the Banshees (battered and bruised by seven years' comings and goings) remain?

Severin: "Nothing else would happen unless the Banshees was a strong unit. It's only because we have faith in our attitude that we can go off and try other things without worrying if we're going to lose something along the way. The Banshees is still vital to all of us."

And momentum? How has that been maintained in the face of so many setbacks?

"The choice of people," replies Siouxsie mysteriously.

But whatever the pros and cons of a 'permanently flexible' line-up there's no doubting that the Banshees have grown up, grown wise and grown wary until they wear their size nines with considerable aplomb - and not a little self- satisfaction. But then they're the survivors.

 

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