The Creatures

Alternative Press, Nov 1990

Siouxsie Sioux and fellow Banshee, Budgie, travel to Spain and out bounces Boomerang, the long-awaited second album from the duo's second identity.

When you read one of these elongated features on an "I've got all their records" artist, what is it you really want to know? Would you rather hear the conditions under which they recorded their latest album, or where they got their hair cut? Do you want to know about musical influences or each player's bitchiness quotient? In other words, is the purpose of one of these stories to uncover blandly professional or juicily personal details?

I suppose there's no one answer to these questions -- as record company staff are so eager to cry, "Every act is different," I only raise them because each person I told that I was interviewing Siouxsie Sioux (along with Banshee drummer Budgie) seemed desperate to hear if she was a nice person and what she wore, and not one of them asked anything about music.

To get it out of the way, here's the dirt: Siouxsie is astonishingly friendly, enthusiastic, open -- particularly if you consider that she's been at this punk thing for an awfully long time -- and also much taller, thinner, and short-haired than I'd expected. Budgie, her co-Creature, is polite enough not only to offer me coffee, but to teach me how to play the drum part on "Love in a Void" as well. But the pair are here not merely to chat (which we do once the tape recorder's off), but to expound on their new, occasionally brilliant album, Boomerang. So instead of babbling about Budgie's wonderful migraine of a shirt, let's get on with it.....

As is clear from just about any of the album's sixteen (count 'em!) tracks, the Creatures based the album -- sound and spirit -- around the Medieval Spanish convent in which it was recorded. Nevertheless, the choice of location was due more to logistics than an inherent love of things Castillian. As Siouxsie explains, "We decided on Spain because we were restricted to Europe anyway, because we decided to take this 16 track mobile desk that Mike Hedges [producer of Boomerang and loads more cool albums] had been assembling with the help of an old engineer from Abbey Road who was the only one who could have known anything about it, since it was left over from the sixties. Mike said it would be great to take this and not be restricted to a studio and just find a great place and set up there."

"It could have really been anywhere," Budgie continues, "but Spain was somewhere that we'd touched upon in various forms, either through dance or through the Flamenco music. It could have been somewhere like Greece, as we touched upon their kind of cultural music as well, but Spain had more of a passion I think, more of an aggression underlying their culture. But it could have been anywhere in the sense that we wanted to be cut off from the world, to be given the space to think." Siouxsie chips in, "We wanted to find a non-commercial place to do that. It was almost like when we went to Hawaii [where the Creatures' first album, Feast, was cut]; that worked so well because it was such an alien environment, and it was so inspiring and we worked so quickly because of that. It was because we weren't in a rock and roll environment."

The "alien environment" of Spain -- Jerez de la Frontera, to be exact -- directly affected Boomerang tracks like "Standing There" with its anti-machismo stance and "Morinna"'s languid saunter; what may not be as immediate is the album's other major influences: blues and jazz. "I think those [blues and jazz] are influences that have always been there that have been allowed to come out in a more obvious kind of way. Influences always seem to spark up the idea that you listen to a record and you take it and use it yourself. It's like saying the beat on "Happy House" was a straight reggae beat reversed, that all it was was playing a reggae beat on a different side of the drum kit. The reggae influence was there, but it wasn't the Banshees doing reggae."

Siouxsie nods in approval. "I think what's really great about pop music -- or whatever you want to call it -- is the crossing over of different styles," she says. "I really like mixed things coming together." A pretty trendy sentiment if there ever was one, but Siouxsie's love of blending culture --this IS the woman from Bromley, Kent who wore Star of David t-shirts singing "Israel" and "Arabian Nights" -- is nothing new. "It is [trendy] now, but the Banshees have always drawn from different areas. I like the fact that things aren't pinned down, with people describing themselves as 'we're a punk band' or 'we're a goth band.' I don't like those kind of labels -- I just find them really limiting."

Whether or not Boomerang is your cup of strong Spanish tea, it's easy to recognize its creators' aversion to these labels; just as the castanet pulse of "Standing There" gets going, the languid saunter of "Manchild" begins, only to be halted by the wacked out bop of "You!". Alternative --probably, innovative -- definitely, but never simply punk, goth, or any other easily pin-pointable category.

Nevertheless, the album is a tightly focused, finely wrought unit, which may come down to the crystal-clear communication between the couple. "It's easy to get two people to align themselves with an idea, and also to agree to be in a certain place and be cut off," Budgie feels. "We didn't have much contact with anyone except ourselves." Siouxsie confirms, "With the Creatures, the possibilities are open because we travel a lot lighter -- there's no set up with excess people, amplifiers; it's all pretty basic."

The band's live show, which is hitting key American cities, promises to have a similar concentration on the basics; playing smaller clubs than you might expect, the emphasis is on intimacy. Explains Budgie: "We don't really want to go on tour with X number of musicians on the stages -- the stages we want to play are probably too small anyway, so we're trying to do it as just the two of us with every bit of modern technology we can get our hands on." Siouxsie continues, "We want to pare it down and not have another group. We want it to be really small and intense." But don't come to the show with too many preconceptions of the Creatures live. As Budgie warns, "It's not been done before, so it is an opportunity to do whatever we want. We're not being anybody's preconceptions of what we should be."

Avoiding preconceptions has always been one of the Banshees' specialties, and one of the factors that's kept them vital in a fickle industry. "The pressure is to stick with the formula," Siouxsie frowns. And Budgie admits, "People are so fickle they forget -- if you're not on TV for two weeks they go, 'Oh, we thought the band had split.'"

For Siouxsie and Budgie, the Creatures is not a sign of tension within the Banshees, but a creative release which can only strengthen the latter's next effort. Nevertheless, the Banshees' ever changing roster of guitarists has been one reason for the long delay between the Creatures debut album, 1983's Feast, and their latest effort. As Siouxsie sees it, "I think the reason the Creatures didn't happen for six years was because the Banshees were in such a flux of up and down and not really feeling very settled. In a way it's been good because every [Banshees] album has been good just by that nature. We haven't really had to work very hard to make each album sound different -- it's happened because we've been working with different people."

As part of a band whose American success has been primarily on college radio and other alternative media, you might be surprised at the pair's opinion of American music fans. "Music seems to be a lot more alive here than in England; people just take it a lot more seriously here," Siouxsie attests. "Music in England has always been an accessory -- you pick the music that goes with your clothes. Also, a lot of people [in England] tend to grow out of being passionate about music, which I think doesn't happen as much here. I suppose because there isn't so much snobbery about it, it sticks with people longer."

This transatlantic musical analysis is an ideal opportunity to return to Boomerang's Spanish locale. Here's a guide to music in Spain, courtesy of Budgie: "Barcelona's got the house thing -- that's where people from Europe have been flocking to and getting into that. But in Madrid they've just discovered life after Franco, so they're having a rock 'n' roll explosion. They've got all these guys in open neck shirts and medallions doing "Light My Fire." Where we were was down southwest -- away from all the tourist districts -- where the gypsy culture came from and spawned flamenco. What's happening now is you're getting from just over the Mediterranean from Morocco and Tunisia music crossing over into flamenco, without either losing their identity in any way."

Yet despite this thriving musical culture, most people still think of Spain as the home of tangos and Julio Iglesias. Believe it or not, Siouxsie brings up the Iglesias connection. "They [the Spanish] hate Julio Iglesias," she exclaims. "He's such a....prick I think is the word. It's such a shame that his records are seen as representative of Spanish music."

One thing which Boomerang represents is a healthy balance of creativity and technology; although the album is built around a comparatively primitive recording deck and just-plain-good songs, high-tech machinery is needed to perform the songs live. As long as that balance is reached, the band sees that equipment as okay. In Budgie's words, "It now seems right because we're looking for a way to use it. On Peepshow, for instance, for "Peek-a-Boo," which we wanted to do live, there was only one way of doing it, and that was using tapes. We've used tapes before, using triggers and samples of the brass selection. It's using it as you need it, not letting it take over and use you." Echoes Siouxsie, "It's not what you play, it's how you play it; it's not what you use, it's how you use it."

And, as Siouxsie and Budgie prove, it's possible to come up with new and interesting albums no matter how long you've been in the music business. As so many of their 1977 contemporaries have edged towards the mainstream -- think of Mick Jones, John Lydon, and most particularly (and some would say nauseatingly) Billy Idol -- Siouxsie and her cohorts have regally stuck to their guns, due in part, I should think, to musical sidelines like the Creatures to keep the proverbial creative juices flowing. From the sound of Boomerang, they're flowing just fine.

From: Allan Bolt <jinxb@CITYNET.NET>
Subject:      Alternative Press Interview w/the Creatures
Date:         Sun, 9 Nov 1997 19:18:10 -0500

The article, "The Creatures," is a transcript from the Nov. 1990 issue of Alternative Press (# 28, pp. 18-20). Story by Rachel Felder, Photographs (2) by Sharyn Felder. The following is the article as it appears, verbatim. I have not added my own commentary.

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