Siouxsie 2


Siouxsie’s tucking into a sizeable picnic of Lucozade, mini-Marathons, grapes, tangerines, and Maltesers. (Average annihilation time for one packet of Maltesers: eight seconds.)

She is giggling about Beetlejuice, doing her impression of Paul Weller (a gem), slagging Prince’s medleys and people who believe the nose-job story, doing her impression of Paul Weller’s dad (another gem), talking tattoos…

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, I say.

“I haven’t got a normal one. It’s a unique type of tattoo, that’s all I’m saying.”

Come on don’t be coy.

“No, no, no, you can’t see it. It did hurt, yes ! Extremely painful, but it’s very private.”

Last time we met, Siouxsie said: “If everything about me was public knowledge I’d pull my eyes out” before telling me about her father dying when she was 14; being in love for five years; her brother’s off-licence; her first pair of high heels; her emotional fascism; and her pyjama case. People who knew her expressed their surprise that she’d said it all.

Three years later, she’s 31, lives in “a poxy old flat in Notting Hill”, giggly but guarded. The veil drops back down.

Do you go to extremes?

“Yes, I’d say I’m still very hot and cold. I’m a Gemini so I can be positive or negative, I change my mind a lot.”

What about sexually?

“Are you asking me if I’m extreme sexually? Well, that’s a very personal question and I shan’t answer it.”

Sweeping in wearing a bum-hugging black mini, black and white striped leggings and leotard, high heels, and a very fetching bobbed haircut shaved up the back, Siouxsie is approachable and funny, suitably shirty and snobby, very thin with big grey-blue eyes and a soft croaky laugh. (I can’t think why the giggle shocks me. Is it supposed to be a secret?)

Above all, it is Siouxsie’s taste – Eartha Kitt, Prince, Eraserhead, Steven King, WC Fields, Nightmare On Elm St, Richard Pryor, Sparks, Fantasia, Truman Capote – that determines what The Banshees are and tells you more about them than any old-fashioned post-modernist thesis ever will. Humour everywhere: humour and unease.

Look at the Mae West phrasing on ‘Peek-A-Boo’ or the ‘Whip-crack-away’ hoedown spirit of Doris Day on ‘Burn Up’, the wicked-witch horror-songs. Since what she calls ‘The Leg Episode’, she’s given up meat, stopped smoking, and cut down on drinking.

“Eighteen months without cigarettes ! I just thought I was no better than some pathetic old junkie. Stopped waking up feeling I’d swallowed an ashtray, ha-ha. I used to enjoy it so much, knocking them back, but you waste so much time. It got the upper hand over me. I have a very strong need to be in control. I hate dependence – like relying on plumbers or electricians, or bloody British Telecom.”

The Banshees are preparing for their first British outing since ‘The Gimpy Tour’ and their first live shows since America a year ago, rehearsing a few favourite B-sides like ‘Humming Wires’ and ‘Something Blue.’

“The leg’s just about OK now. Whenever I meet someone who’s dislocated anything we spend hours discussing our torture. Now I torture myself at the gym, enduring the music. I hate Walkmans. I’m just beginning to remember how shit-scared I get before a gig. It’s a proper show. I felt it was time to lose some money, ha-ha-ha. We’ve been muddling along, not making or losing money, perhaps that was wrong. So this is a ‘Spend Spend Spend’ tour. Go bankrupt, for fuck’s sake !”

Siouxsie concedes you can’t seriously expect surprises from a group that is twelve years old and on their eleventh LP.

‘Peepshow’ isn’t a surprise but it is a sweet sleight of hand, making something seen before seem new, like a golden re-spray. 

It’s also their best record since ‘A Kiss In The Dreamhouse’ because it’s the Banshees deciding to be a Pop Band rather than a Rock Group. 

The Banshees make a pretty monstrous Rock Group to be honest. (Exhibit A: 1986’s ‘Tinderbox’.) Siouxsie though doesn’t care for such debates, even amongst fans let alone critics.

“I’m not interested. People dismissing us because we’ve been going twelve years are just showing something about their expectations for themselves in twelve years. I do have a crying need to do this, yes, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. You know, anyone slags us off to my face I’d just say: ‘Fight you for it’ (no giggle here). It’s not that I’m very defensive about the group, no, it’s just that’s how much it matters to me, that’s all. I’m bored with all that talk… I am quite good at fighting, yeah.”

Let’s see your nails. Not bad…

“Oh, I don’t scratch. I’ve got sharp teeth, ha-ha. I often wonder if people would dare say things to my face. It’s like, when men in groups shout things at me. I always think: ‘we’ll see. I’ll catch you on your own some day.’

I wouldn’t mind being there should Siouxsie catch The Mirror’s Gill Pringle on her own some day after her story about Siouxsie having had a nose-job.

“It does matter, yeah, that people will think I’m so obsessed with my appearance to go that far.”

She has been told there’s not much she can do about it. (The stories that is, not her nose.)

Do you think about what you’re trying to do with the group?

“No, I don’t consider the career side. Never have done. We’re nothing to do with being ‘modern’ or ‘old-fashioned’ pop or rock. We’re working to our own taste and standards, not the critics’ or record companies’. I don’t think we’ve been assimilated, like a lot of bands. What I want is more attention. We deserve it. We’d make people’s lives happier!

“It really is too easy to be either total chart fodder or the alternative, which is also fodder – noise-ridden, angst-ridden rubbish, which I’m particularly bored with. The only thing I can find that doesn’t depend on the wheels of the industry in order to make it is Hip Hop. Salt ‘N’ Pepa are great. Really rude. Filthy, ha-ha.”

Three years ago, Siouxsie summed up The Banshees as “going in stages of being sarcastic, deadly serious, or being bemused by it all.” 

Like ‘Dreamhouse’, ‘Through The Looking Glass’ and 1981’s singles collection ‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘Peepshow’ finds a subtle, exotic, balance of all three, limiting the glistening charges and “whoah-whoah” choruses, resisting the attempt at power that generally emerges as torrid pomp.

New pieces like ‘Ornaments Of Gold’, ‘Turn To Stone’, and the sharp Roxy-pop of ‘Last Beat Of My Heart’ are a strange, spiky, pop that balance Sioux’s glacial tenderness with hard, darker, tensions. In the past, a song as bewitching as ‘Carousel’ might well have been butchered.

Currently considering a second ‘Once Upon A Time’ (possibly with a B-sides collection), The Banshees are A Great Singles Band – which in itself makes them an anachronism – and like all Great Singles Band shouldn’t really make albums at all (see also Pistols, Blondie, Smiths, the Mary Chain etc). 

They make heavy work of them. Usually.

“This record was very easy, possibly the easiest of all The Banshees albums. I felt I was literally kicking away the crutches. If it goes wrong, it goes wrong, fuck it, let’s at least DO it. It’s very important to scare yourself into doing things, gets the adrenalin going. Some people’s fear paralyses them. I’ve managed to be motivated by it.”

The quality of Not Giving A Fuck is of course the first pre-requisite for any legendary Pop Group.

‘Peepshow’ is full of film references. Michael Powell and Ken Russell on ‘Peek-A-Boo’; Dennis Potter on ‘Scarecrow’ (a guess); Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka on ‘Ornaments Of Gold’ (along with Klimt and Cleopatra): ‘Adorable, rewardable you/I’d like to cover you and smother you with ornaments of gold.’

“Yes, Eureka’s a big part of it, I love that film. That song’s about imagining adornment, intoxication. I wish people were much more exotic with one another. I was flicking through The Koran, a book there called ‘Ornaments Of Gold’, saying ‘Don’t look for riches on earth, you’ll get them in Heaven’, which is just keeping people who’ve got nothing content. The song’s saying why not have both !”

Of the other songs ‘Killing Jar’ (surprisingly remixed as the new single), ‘Scarecrow’, and ‘Rhapsody’ provide the inevitable evidence that when The Banshees are obvious or ordinary they are very bad indeed. What’s good about the much-maligned ‘Rawhead & Bloodybones’ (“reaching from dark cupboard”) – like the new B-side ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ – is that not only does its quirky disturbance resolve the perennial Side Two Track Three dilemma but it shows The Banshees taking on their own clichés.

“I did think about whether it should go on the album, yes, but then if I wasn’t interested in those things I wouldn’t write it. To call it pure weird just shows how big people’s misconceptions about us are.”

After 12 years The Banshees’ lyrical obsessions – desire and disgust, flesh and bone, sin, death, possession – remain, although Siouxsie’s contributions are not the shell they used to be. Nevertheless, The Banshees again seem to be saying very little behind the cloud of familiar perfumed imagery: ‘needles and sins’, ‘majestic’, ‘imperial’, ‘lament’, ‘shadowplay’, ‘serenade’, ‘rapture’, ‘rhapsody’.

“I think they are saying something, obviously. A lot of those are Steve’s. Mine are more physical now perhaps. ‘Rhapsody’ is deliberately rich. It’s about Shostakovitch, a really sad man, who was victimised, ridiculed, and then broken by the Stalin regime. I love his music. Really powerful. The song’s about wishing you could have been a consolation to him.”

Typically, the word ‘I’ only appears on three songs, and then sparingly.

“And so inevitably people say they’re not personal, ‘cold and icy’ etc, which is wrong,” she says with reasonable disgust. “I don’t want lyrics to become an indulgent confessional. I use ‘her’ or ‘he’ instead. ‘I’ just reduces everything to indulgence. Like with George Michael. ‘I’ seems just to mean him and no-one else. Also, I’m quite a voyeur I suppose.”

Which brings us to ‘Peek-A-Boo’. What are your fetishes?

“Mmmm. Kissing? I remember this story about James Dean talking to this crippled girl who was very attractive but felt very undesirable. So to prove it he kissed her, on the stump or whatever. I always thought that was very sexy.”

Two things about ‘Peek-A-Boo.’ Firstly it works as an idea as well as a record and that doesn’t happen much these days. Then it reminded me how good you’d have been in ‘Nightporter’ or ‘Crimes Of Passion’, or playing Christine Keeler.

“’Crimes Of Passion’ was a part of it. I wrote it because I was feeling bombarded by these moronic videos on Night Network, gormless singers surrounded by models and their sweaty cleavages, cherries dropping down on their boobs, really offensive. Pathetic. I love Prince because he’s so comical about sex, but otherwise there’s a terrible absence of anyone with anything to project through sex, imagery.

“I’m not anti-erotic, far from it. I’m against the horrible, insidious, so-called ‘harmless’ pornography. I mean Night Dreams was a really good porn film. Crimes of Passion was good because it showed someone involved in it but sickened by it, dulled. There’s a lot of misery on a very down-to-earth level. Like, ‘What is it you want, love? Fellatio? In a minute…’ So many people are into pain. I often wonder how far masochists will go, if they’re exceptionally brave or like being pushed towards death as the biggest kick.”

Disappointingly, Siouxsie remains unconvinced by the idea of being in films.

“I would if they were really good. I was always adamant about not doing modelling though. Unless it was for LYNX. There’s an ad in the tour programme: Siouxsie’s Not A Dumb Animal. We did a film called Out Of Bounds in Hollywood, playing ‘Cities In Dust’. All we get are offers for Howling 6 or scripts where we have to slam dance, ha-ha. I was dying to do this Italian spaghetti horror film, a vampire film in the American desert ! But we were on tour. I’d never have time because managing ourselves is so time-consuming, checking every bloody tour poster.”

Isn’t it cowardice?

“No, music’s not that secure, I think we got off the treadmill ages ago. Also I don’t like the tradition of pop-stars making films. Iggy would be great, reciting some salty old sea tale, with his voice and face he has so much potential!”

Isn’t someone saying that about you?

“No, I don’t think so.”

You told me about becoming your own ideal, Crisp’s idea of re-inventing yourself. Do you still feel “obsessed” by image?

“Yes, I think so. I think I always knew the way I wanted to live but you don’t ever kill off the person you were. I use my proper name, yes. When I write birthday cards to my family and write ‘Siouxsie’ I can’t remember if I’ve always done that or when I started to.”

What were you like as a girl?

“Everything was always very cut and dried. I was a tomboy, very aggressive about the limitations of being a girl, insisting on mowing the lawn, making my brother go to the shops. I’d go out of my way to have harsh, very unattractive cropped hairstyles. My sister was a big influence. When I was six, she was a dancer, ten years older. She and her friends were quite outrageous. I saw things little girls shouldn’t know about, like comprehending what ‘homosexual’ meant, knowing that the friends I liked best, that were funny and entertaining and dressed the best, were homosexuals.”

It’s noticeable that from ‘Playground Twist’ and ‘Happy House’ through to ‘Carousel’ on ‘Peepshow’, you’ve always associated children with terror. Toys are always sinister etc.

“I wasn’t very happy. I hated school. Out of school I was happy. But the dissatisfaction gave me the urge to go out and satisfy myself. Though when I left home I always wished I’d severed everything. I regretted that I wasn’t more ruthless. I love young kids, though I think it’s too late for me. I’d like to have a girl like the one in Beetlejuice. She’s brilliant !

“I always wonder what young kids are thinking. I have a lot of regret about that transition from being a child into adulthood, when a child stops looking at adults as ‘big people’. I think it happens when you’re made to lose faith in anything magic happening. Anything unexpected. Things are no longer luck or magic.”

You remember all this, being six or seven?

“Yes ! For my sixth birthday I had an Indian girl outfit and a wigwam.”

Get that out of the closet !

“I remember on the day of my seventh birthday this litter of kittens was born, coming down the stairs and finding these two black and two ginger kittens. I had lots and lots of cats around when I was young. Cats are a definite fetish. I’m obsessive. I can’t not touch them. I’m always shouting (excitedly) ‘Look!! There’s a cat !’ The others are just like: ‘so what ?!’” 

Siouxsie’s giggle makes you wonder if her whole ‘ice queen’ act is just a girl dressing up.