Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Banshees, Sans Siouxsie

Text by David G, introduction by Robert Barry Francos
© 1982, FFanzeen; introductory comments © RBF, 2010
Images from the Internet

The following interview with the Banshees (and the Creatures), who supported Siouxsie Sioux, was originally published in
FFanzeen magazine, issue #9, in 1982. It was conducted by David G.

With the Stimulators opening up, I saw Siouxsie and the Banshees play at Irving Plaza. For some reason, that night, I did not bring my camera. It was also my first experience with a mosh pit (led by the Stimulators’ Harley Flanagan). While unofficially hanging out a bit with the band afterwards, I learned what the expression “Turning Japanese” meant, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which member of the band told me.

Truthfully, I wasn’t much of a fan of Siouxsie & the Banshees, but knew enough about them to realize that it was important to see them perform to make a true judgment. While I respected that she was part of the history of British punk, which is why I went in the first place, their goth sound was just too, well, post-disco for me. I was – and am – more into plug-n-play. Still, I’m glad I was there. To date,
The Scream is the only recording of the band I own. The person with whom I went to the show, Alan Abramowitz, was and remains a fan.

David G. was deeply into the British esoteric bands, and was a huge Robert Fripp follower, for example. However, he didn’t write an introduction to this piece, but it’s not like no one knows who Siouxsie and the Banshees is (and if you don’t, look it up, dammit!). So, without further adieu, here is the Q&A. – RBF

[Budgie, Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin]

FFanzeen: Are you playing here now to “break the band,” so to speak, or just so the fans can see you?
Steve Severin (bass): I think that America needs us more than we need America.

FF: The band is taking some time to do some other projects, like the Creatures record. Steve, what are you and John [McGeoch, guitar] up to?
Steve: I did some producing earlier in the year, which is something I might continue, and I’ll probably be doing some stuff with Robert Smith of the Cure. John’s planning a solo album that he wants me to help with and we’ll probably spend a lot of next year working more extensively in video, and maybe even film, rather than slogging [smirks].

FF: How did those photos come about that adorn the Creatures package?
Budgie (drums): They came out really quickly. During the British tour, when we were really trying to find a way of presenting these five songs on the EP. We ended up in the Newcastle Center Hotel and got a photographer up and got an art director up, and turned the shower on and got into the drink and – [laughs].

FF: So, you’re not an item.
Budgie: Photo sessions, the best ones, usually end up being very spontaneous.

FF: Where did those (Creatures) songs come from? Were they leftover Banshees stuff, or new songs?
Budgie: It was a bit of both, really. There was sort of ideas hanging about and it was suggested that we make a project of it, if you like. We didn’t really know what was going to happen – and I don’t think anybody else did – and we said we’ll just go for it and see what does just come out of it.

FF: Its sound definitely has a precedent in some Banshees records, like “Congo Conga” and “Lunar Camel” from Kaleidoscope.
Budgie: The thing is, “Congo Conga” is another track like that: not done on the EP, which was going to be included on Juju, which is why we have, like, extracts on the 12” releases, because we found ourselves with what was going to be a double gatefold album reduced to a single album. We had extra tracks, so those tracks on the EP that were Steve and myself and Siouxsie, we had ideas that were like just passing through; like “Thumb” is like another track that was closely linked with the band, yet given a different path to kind of develop on; just with the drums and voice.

FF: How come it took so long for Kaleidoscope to be released in the U.S.?
Steve: Basically, because last year when we came over here, Kaleidoscope was the album that was released in-between American companies, whereas we’d been on Polydor for The Scream and Join Hands. But they kept on releasing our records over here [i.e., Join Hands, “Playground Twist” – DG], and they turned down “Happy House,” and that was the last straw. We just said, “You’re not putting anything out so we’re not gonna stay with you.” We had about 18 months – two years – without a record company over here during which time Kaleidoscope was released, and we only just signed to Jem. Juju was coming out in England so they, as with a lot of other things, felt that Kaleidoscope had exhausted its market in import sales so they didn’t put it out until now, which basically is a gesture as we were on tour, and the people might want to catch up on it at half the price.

FF: How does the material come about? Many of the songs sound pretty loose, like jams.
Steve: Songs always happen in a multitude of different ways; like what you’re saying, some of them are very obviously structured jams – not in the sense where you sit down and play blues for three years or something – but it depends. When John and I come in with a chord structure, most things happen just playing in the rehearsal. “Nightshift” is a jam; it doesn’t seem that way any more because we’ve refined it into a very structured song, but most songs do come out of just playing.

FF: How did John some to join the band?
Steve: Well, first of all, he was just, like, helping out in between working with Magazine, and they had just finished Correct Use of Soap and he had quite a long time off, so we did a short tour of England, just filling in dates we had missed out on the previous tour when John and Kenny (Morris, Jr.) had left the band – and it’s during that period that he became “enticed.” But he didn’t actually leave Magazine to join the Banshees, he left Magazine with no firm offer from us as being the guitarist, because for a long time we weren’t particularly keen on diving straight into another band situation.

FF: How did you feel at that time? John and Kenny left you pretty much high and dry at a really band time.
Steve: Pretty much [laughs].

FF: You were actually out on tour when this happened?
Steve: Yeah, it was almost the first date of the tour.

FF: Budgie, how did you get involved with the band at that time?
Budge: I was sitting around; I wasn’t involved in anything either. I mean, I didn’t leave the Slits to join the Banshees, such has been said before. I got a phone call from Nils Stevenson, their manager, saying, “I need a drummer,” and I hadn’t met any of the band before or any of the people involved, I just went down and more or less talked and arranged a rehearsal that night; and it took almost a week to get back on the road again, to start the tour again.
Steve: Budgie almost joined up unconsciously.
Budge: [Laughs] I probably did anyway. It was just straight in there into a tour and, like, staying in hotels and traveling around Britain on a scale I’d never done before anyway, and we auditioned guitarists and it was just, like, useless, you know? And I was feeling, like, I was really getting frustrated myself. I was leaving after two days saying, “Christ, they can’t play anything, can they?” And Robert (Smith of the Cure) was sitting there and he said, “Yeah.” He’d jump in and do the Cure set and then double up, and then after the tour – towards the end of the tour – the beauty of it was that it just kind of – the momentum carried it. That kind of determination carried through. The actual tour was supposed to coincide with the first visit to America and to Japan, which is why it’s taken that long to get here – last year – because everything had to be sort of re-thought, and obviously re-scheduled.

FF: How does a guy from Liverpool, who used to hang out with Julian Cope (of Teardrop Explodes) and guys like that, end up in the Slits, and then Siouxsie and the Banshees?
Budgie: [Laughs] I don’t’ know! I lived in Liverpool for three years, and there were always people who used to hang out in the same pub or little vegetarian food bar we used to go in ‘cause it was cheap, and the same thing happened; I’d known the Slits, I’d hung out with them in London, and I knew Palmolive the best of them, anyway. Some guy was driving them around who knew me in Liverpool and came up to me and said, “Where’s your drum kit? I’m gonna take you down to London ‘cause the Slits want you to play with them” It sounds like I had no say in it, but I was, like, “Really? Oh great. That’s really good,” to go down to London anyway, ‘cause Liverpool was getting really boring by that time.

FF: You were here (in New York) about a year ago. That was the first time the band played the U.S., right?
Steve: It was almost exactly a year ago. We basically just did the two coasts because we didn’t have a record company dishing out the money so we had to go and lose it on our own behalf, so we could only really afford to just fly to the two coasts and hire equipment there and fly back and get ready. This time [laughs] we’re losing even more money, but we’re seeing a bit of the country.

FF: Siouxsie and the Banshees seem to be in an interesting position: on the one hand, you were there at the beginning, and on the other hand, you seem to be keeping up with the state of the art while trying to remain modern.
Steve: We don’t try any of those things; we are the state of the art!

FF: You got some flack for Siouxsie wearing a swastika armband on one of the tours.
Steve: That is a distortion beyond belief. We have never used swastikas. Sioux wore a swastika armband once.

FF: Yeah, but that picture was widely circulated. Was there any particular reason behind the armband? Obviously something like that is going to leave an impression with people, regardless of the intent. Then she wore a Star of David, as if to make up for the swastika, as the Village Voice put it.
Steve: Obviously, the main reason for wearing a swastika was shock value. But then, so was wearing a cross upside down or diving a nail into your head, or whatever. It’s just our sense of humor to turn around and start wearing Star of Davids.

FF: And driving nails into your head?
Steve: Well, that’s what other people do. We don’t do that.

FF: The English press seems very fond of taking people and attaching a label to them.
Steve: Very, very fond.

FF: For instance, you‘ve recently had the New Romantics and Oi, and the New Psychedelics, and the New Salsa, and the New Funk, and the new this and the new that, and I think it’s odd that when discussing the New Psychedelic bands, the papers never mention Siouxsie or the Cure, who are surely psychedelic. When I said that to Robert Smith, he replied, in reference to you, “That’s because they’re just a bunch of old druggies.” What do you think of that?
Steve: I agree, I agree. It is a heavy reference point era, and Satanic Majesty’s Request, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd; all those people are reference points for some of the things we do. Not necessarily very strong musical influences or anything, but just as a very creative time, and it’s one of the things we go back to for divine inspiration [laughs].

FF: Last year, how come you all had blond hair?
Steve: Fantasy. I’ve always had blond hair. There was just no pictures of it.
Budgie: I had blond hair in ’77. It was black before that.
Steve: He was the last blond-haired one.
Budgie: But it's kind of grey now, actually, I think. Grey with orange roots at the moment [laughs].
Steve: I think the review of the Palladium (NYC) show last year seemed to think that the fact that we all had blond hair was contrived, but effective. Something like that.
Budgie: Somebody bitched in Germany that we all had our roots showing.

FF: How did you get the name “Budgie”?
Budgie: It came from Liverpool.
Steve: He used to breed them.
Budgie: Yeah. When I was a kid somebody was beating a budgie up one night and I stopped ‘em from doing it, and they went, “Ah, ah, Budgie!” And that was it.

FF: What are some of your impressions of New York, or the U.S. in general?
Steve: I’m a bit disgusted in the lack of loyalty in American audiences. The fact that they would not come to see us because we’re not playing in the right place, I find that dismal. Whereas in England, we have – they’re very, very devoted. Over here, nobody seems devoted about anything.


  1. John McKay wasn't the guitarist in 1982, it was John McGeoch.

  2. Thank you for that correction, which I have made in the piece. I'd rather be corrected than stand wrong. It's appreciated.