The Shriek's Back

How long must one wait for the Rapture? Realizing that it's best to play live for a living, and after adding a little of the Velvet touch, the Banshees return to splendor after a three-year hiatus. Dave Thompson contemplates smoking in the afterlife. ****

Siouxsie's pissed. Eight hours into another day of interviews, several dozen stories up Geffen's New York headquarters, and she can't have a cigarette.People say her smoke causes lung cancer. But their complaints give her headaches. Doesn't that make them even?

"I rediscovered smoking," she relates proudly. "With all those no-smoking bans everywhere, I kind of thought, `I'm not a quitter, I'll go back to it for a cause.' Later, she idly muses on Geffen's non-Banshee musical output, They don't mind polluting the airwaves, but you can't have a cigarette."

Polluting the airwaves. Hmmm, devotees will boil my head for this, but maybe you can count the Banshees in there, too. Neither Peepshow nor Superstition, nor the Bat-meets-Cat "Face To Face" soundtrack single have done the Banshees the musical justice they historically deserve. And just when I'm framing a nice way of putting that, Siouxsie does it for me. Bless her.

"You look back, and there's a large element missing from Superstition, and that's the nature of how it was recorded. It was so synthesized. We'd used computers before, but we've always had a live approach to the studio work making room for experiments later. The process was kind of frustrating."

With producer Stephen (Pet Shop Boys, New Order) Hague at the controls, the group-now reduced to a basic trio of Siouxsie, bassist Steve Severin and drummer Budgie-admits, "We did it that way just to try something different and work with someone we hadn't worked with before."

Siouxsie doesn't mean to be rude, but, "You get the idea that Stephen was one of those kids who spent their life in a hospital, in a bubble, or hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine. No fresh air, only this kind of synthesized clean air that you only otherwise get in places like Geffen, where they don't allow you to smoke and stuff."

"Stephen Hague is a computer fiend," Budgie continues. He expressed a wish to work with us and it was a perverse kind of idea. We thought maybe there's another side to him as well.

Unfortunately, there wasn't. "He had a great bedside manner in the writing situation, but the demon came out in the studio. He's a lovely guy, and I've nothing against him, it's just that you have to be honest about the end result... and that's it.

In the three-year hiatus since Superstition, the Banshees have only broken cover for the first Lollapalooza ("A fabulous experience," enthuses Budgie, "seeing six other bands going through the day, struggling against all the things that you thought only ever happened to you.") and again for Batman Returns' "Face To Face."

Director Tim Burton himself brought the Banshees into the project, says Budgie, which was another six months of their lives. "It started off really quickly, but we had to work with Danny Elfman's themes and work within the film; it had to be in a certain key, a certain tempo, and things just started to go sour.

"Tim Burton was meant to do the video, but he hadn't even finished the film at that point, so we had to get on with that. Then, when it was released, the song wasn't included on the soundtrack album, they released it through Warners instead of our company (the Banshees' own Wonderland), and it hardly got the promotion it deserved. We're not really that green, but in the end we were fighting tooth and nail to keep our dignity intact."

Working alone on what would become The Rapture, the Banshees' eleventh all-new album was their way of ensuring that. And one has to admit, they succeeded, sashaying into view aboard the rawest roar they've made in seven years (since Through The Looking Glass, fight fans). Siouxsie and Budgie began work two years ago, shortly after the pair quit London to go live in France. And the change in scenery took immediate effect.

"There was a sense of uprooting from what you're familiar with," Siouxsie explains, "so I invited the other little Banshees-Severin, cellist Martin McCarrick, guitarist John Klein-to come and live with us for a while. That was when I knew I wanted to approach this album more in a live way: no microscope, no tweezers, bold strokes and simple ideas. Some songs are left quite naked and some are embellished, but it's all generally live."

"I would say it's a reaction against Superstition," Budgie adds. "We started producing ourselves as well, got in an engineer we trusted, and very quickly got the bulk of the album down."

He acknowledges that the Banshees have never been a technical group. "Experimental, yes, but not technical. When the band first started, they never knew about concert pitch or tuning. No one even had a tuner. It was, 'Okay, that's an E because it's the bottom string', and everyone tuned to that. We had so many problems later, trying to do some of the early songs live, because they're in different keys. If we're now using tuners as a standard, the very early songs are impossible to play!"

The Rapture is not quite back to basics, but it comes close, even closer than the band originally envisioned. And they're swift to point out the reason why: co-producer John Cale.

"When we'd recorded and mixed about nine songs, at that point the album was finished," Budgie recalls. "The company was ready to release it last October and we were going back to Australia for the first time in ten years. Then we decided it wasn't ready yet.

"A lot of bad suggestions from the Powers That Be" followed about who would be the right person to help the band finish the album, but then Budgie ran into Cale in Paris. Siouxsie now admits, "We kicked ourselves and said why hadn't we thought of him before?"

Cale has long hung heavily over the Banshees' output, to the point where they recorded the Welshman's "Gun" for Through The tooking Glass. Indeed, Siouxsie bought her first Cale record, 1974's Fear, before she even heard of the Velvet Underground.

The resultant union, she avers, is "bizarre but perfect, strange but wonderful. I always feel that maybe there's a good reason why he came in at this point, and not worked with us before."

Cale ended up producing five of The Rapture's fourteen tracks (he remixed a sixth), so the credit for this reborn banshee shriek is not wholly his. At the same time, though, his recruitment does bring things nicely round full circle. Born of a love for the Velvets, hardened by the sight of an out-of-time Nico out-of-place on the Banshees' Scream tour, the group acknowledge that Cale did much to reaffirm their own sometimes scatty resolve.

"When John came into the room," says Budgie, "I think we changed. There was no need for him to prove himself to us, which is usually the situation you find yourself in. John came with all that in place, and straighaway we upped five gears."

Mention of the Velvets' chanteuse Nico, though, raises another of Siouxsie's pet fascinationsPthough first, we hedge furiously around the correct terminology for it-Women In Rock? Why has Siouxsie never been regarded as one?

"I never really courted the media in that way, and I'm quite happy not to be part of that. If you want to play in the circus, fine, but to say, 'My ambition is to become an utter bitch, the biggest bitch, the next, new bitch'-I'm not part of that. Even at the punk time, I remember, we resisted being the punk pin-up kind of thing. The media always wanted the angle of Women In Rock and all that crap, and I again distanced myself from that. I really don't like being lumped along in one potpourri and being called something.

"I think it's interesting that women are getting more involved in rock music. There's a new 'about time' angle to rock music, and that's the female influence."

Siouxsie has remained aloof, yes; even when she and Budgie bared their top-half all for a Creatures pic sleeve, she continued determinedly antisex onstage, and off it, rigidly anticonvention. She doesn't even own a washing machine!

In his recent autobiography, John Lydon tells a story about Siouxsie inviting him round to look at her new washing machine. And as soon as it's mentioned, Siouxsie exclaims, "Completely fabricated! Bloody hell! I didn't invite him in to look at my new washing machine, fucking no! I didn't have one! I was in a rented accommodation that was already furnished; if you'd have seen the flat I was living in, you'd have laughed at that comment because it was all revolting plastic furniture. Besides, at that age you don't really care about..." she spits out, "washingmachines."

But then her memory stirs, the source of the story, a strange little rumor... "I do seem to remember, someone wrote about me being seen in a department store, looking at washing machines and dishwashers-and that was true. But I was coming down from an acid trip at the time. I was there tripping, and that was the only way you'd get me looking at..." She really can't bear to say the word again, so I supply it for her.

     Washing machines?
     "Fucking hell. I'm going out for a cigarette."

From DECLERCA@CARLETON.EDUWed Apr 12 13:06:54 1995
Date: Sun, 9 Apr 1995 16:00:57 -0500
To: Multiple recipients of list SATB-L <SATB-L@BROWNVM.BROWN.EDU>
Article by Dave Thompson
Reprinted without permission, unfortunately (never heard back from editor).
Alternative Press # 81, April 1995
pp 50-51
Copyright 1995 Alternative Press Magazine, Inc.
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