Interview : Twice Upon a Time

"Twice Upon A Time" is SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES' second singles compilation, the sister volume to 1982's "Once..." It's a testament to a band who came out of punk with more vision than their contemporaries, and retained their sense of dignity and wonder long after most of 1977's upstarts had burned out of faded away. CATHI UNSWORTH takes a journey through the past with Sioux and Severin.

"We're single-minded," says the beautiful Sioux. "it's not worth doing unless you've got certain values and certain standards, and you stick with them. It doesn't make you the most popular person always --- but that's never bothered me."

"And you can't ever try to be fashionable," adds Steve Severin, who's watched many incarnations of the Banshees spark, splinter and re-generate since he, Siouxsie and Sid Vicious first raised hell in The 100 Club in 1976. "Or you'll just get caught up in the industry wheels."

This time around, we rejoin their story in 1982, when Duran Duran were Number One, and Siouxsie wore fishnets and inspired a further 10 years of emulation from her Goth admirers. Her "rivals", Toyah and Hazel O'Conner, wouldn't last the year out...

(Originally released May 1982, single only)

"We did a 'Top Of The Pops' appearance for this, and they had this horrible flashing neon sign going 'SIOUXISE! SIOUXSIE!' and then they were going to have fireworks..." recalls Sioux, with faint distaste. "We said, `NO! NO! NO!' --- so they got the hump. They really do take it personally if you object to anything they do. The video we did was cut short cos the guy who was in charge of pyrotechnics blew his face off!"

"We were in an island in the middle of a lake," recalls Severin, "with a glass tunnel that went all the way to the shore and up to this little platform..."

"And what happened," rejoins Sioux, "was that suddenly we heard an almighty bang and he was going, 'AAARRRGH! AAARGH!' He ended up in hospital with three layers of skin missing."

"And about a year later," Steven recalls, "he looked 10 years younger."

"A great face peeler," enthuses Sioux. "So, any old bags out there who want to look younger should blow a flare off in their face. I think Michael Jackson has, but it didn't work too well..."

(Originally release October 1982, and appeared on the "A Kiss In The Dreamhouse" LP)

"It was just a drunken evening..." recalls Severin.

"And I remember I wanted the string players to slow down and get tired, " says Sioux. "So the 'Oh my God!' in the middle of the song is one of the string players' wrists falling off! And the video was this boy's first dance routine! It took months of rehearsal, and getting him to wear false eyelashes."

Severin smiles ruefully.

(Originally released November 1982, also from "...Dreamhouse")

"We'd just come back from our first tour of Japan, and it made a real impression on us all," remembers Sioux. "Lots of people gave us Japanese clothes and artwork and cards. They were incredibly generous, it was almost embarrassing to be treated like that. But the impression of being in Tokyo in the spring, and all the blossom, going on the bullet train for the first time, drinking saki in copious amounts with gold leaves spinning in it...it's the most different place you can ever go."

(Originally released September 1983, single only.)

"We recorded that in Sweden, and the idea came from touring round Scandinavia, listening to The Beatles' 'White Album'," says Severin. "That album has always been an influence on the way we work. One of the main reasons we chose it was that John Lennon's version sounds a bit unfinished. There's also the background behind why he wrote it, that was supposedly to do with an attempted rap on Mia Farrow's sister, by the Maharishi (The Beatles' guru at the time). It's the same as why we do 'Helter Skelter' (again from 'The White Album'), because there's a context to it. (Charles Manson said he used it, and the accompanying 'Piggies', as inspiration for the Sharon Tate murder).

"There are always misinterpretations. Songs like that are more than just pop music."

(Originally released March 1984. Appeared on the "Hyena" album)

"This is based on a programme I saw about a female version of Amnesty, called 'Les Sentinelle'," reveals Siouxsie. "They rescue women who are trapped in certain religious climates in the Middle East, religions that view any kind of pre-martial sexual aspersions as punishable by death --- either by the hand of the eldest brother in the family, or by public stoning.

"And there was this instance of a woman whose daughter had developed a tumour, and, of course, gossip abounded that she was pregnant. The doctor who removed the tumour allowed her to take it back to the village to prove that, no, it wasn't a baby --- but they wouldn't believe her. The woman knew her daughter would have to be stoned to death so she poisoned her, out of kindness, to save her from a worse fate.

"Now this organisation has all these escape routes for women like her, mainly through the elder brother who pretends to have killed them. But, once they've been saved, they can never go back.

"So the song starts, 'Kinder than with poison...' I also used the imagery of, 'He gives birth to swimming horses', from the fact that male sea horses give birth to the children, so they're the only species that have a maternal feel for the young. It was, I suppose, an abstract way of linking it all together without being sensationalist. I remember just being really moved by that programme, and wanting to get the sorrow out of me."

(Originally released May 1984, also from "Hyena")

"I wrote the strings for this on a toy piano!" remembers Sioux, fondly. "The sentiment behind it is of lying on the gutter but still looking up at the stars. I'd seen 'Marathon Man', and I was really intrigued by the guy swallowing diamonds to keep them, and then realising it was like swallowing glass --- that they would pass through his system and tear him apart. So that's the line --- 'Swallowing diamonds, cutting throats'.

"Quite a lot of this, and 'Swimming Horses', came from visiting Israel for the first time. 'The sea of fluid mercury', in the lyric, is the Dead Sea. We did this crazy thing and hired a car to go to the Dead Sea, Robert (Smith, their then guitarist) had to be the chauffeur, he was the only one who could drive. But, when we got there, it was like 'The Hills Have Eyes' --- all barbed wire and tanks and flags with skull and crossbones on them!

"We also went to Tel Aviv, where most of the audience were on acid --- which was available after the show, so we took it as well! We ended up on the beach, having a party until sunrise, and, of course, we ended up swimming. The sea was very clear, but there were all these little fish flying out of it. It wasn't the drugs, honest!"

(Originally released October 1985, from the "The Thorn" EP, but the track first appeared on the debut Banshees album, "The Scream")

"On the tour after 'Dreamhouse', we went out with a string section," explains Sioux, "and we incorporated 'Overground' into the set. We got so many enquiries as to whether we would release it like that, we went ahead."

"It was early 1978 when we wrote it," says Severin, "and everyone else was going twice as fast and..."

"To be in a punk band was to be in a thrash band," finishes La Sioux.

"Like everything, it all gets very cliched, and people just get one-dimensional."

(Originally released October 1985. From the "Tinderbox" LP)

"This was our first trip to Pompeii, another amazing experience," Siouxsie enthuses. "Seeing a whole civilisation petrified in lava was like putting yourself in the place at the time, and imagining how it must have been to be there when it happened. I find it really easy to do that, to get ghost images of life continuing as it was. I often wonder if that's what real hauntings are --- your imagination and your senses bringing things back to life. That's why you'd never be able to capture it on film."

(Originally released February 1986, also from "Tinderbox")

"'Candy Man' was trying to put across the unspeakability of child abuse, and again, trying no to sensationalise it, just coming up with a very strong picture of a character that was sickly sweet and oozing repulsiveness," Siouxsie explains. "The amount of people who've been abused is incredible, and it's only lately that the subject's been brought out into the open. The whole thing's such a power trip, and you realise the victims must have been so in fear of saying anything --- cos they've been told by the perpetrator that they'll go to hell or something. I suppose religion is very guilty of funding that as well," she muses. "Organised religion is all about separating and dividing, it's not what it should be about. And repressing. And making sure that no one tells the truth. They use the fear of God to keep people down and obedient."

(Originally released January 1987, from the "Through The Looking Glass" LP)

"I had the hots for Julie Driscoll!" Sioux laughs. "I can't remember when this originally came out, but I'd have been about 11, and I was besotted by her, by the way she looked, by her voice. It was very different to watching Lulu on 'Top Of The Pops', this woman with a shaven head and huge black eyes. I though she was incredibly beautiful, very spiky and strong and tough --- not as all cute and cuddly and feminine. And I loved the song. It conjured up all sorts of fantastic stories to me."

"It wasn't until I dug it out of my record collection that I realised it was written by Bob Dylan," add Severin.

"And I nearly said, 'Let's not do it'," admits Siouxsie. "I hate him!"

(Originally released March 1987, also from "Through The Looking Glass")

"Iggy Pop's someone we've admired for a long time," reveals Sioux, "and the first time we played France, our gig was cancelled without anyone telling is. But we found out that he was playing on the same night, so we all bundled into a cab and, a we got there, in the distance, you could hear 'The Passenger'. The song is very much a journey in itself."

(Originally released July 1988, from the "Peepshow" LP) "I really like the violence of the sound," says Sioux, "and I was really surprised that it got played on the radio. I just thought that the subject matter and the sound of it would scare too many people away. We were incredibly un-hip at the time, too, and we really confused people. They just didn't know what to make of us then."

(Originally released September 1988, also from "Peepshow")

"From here on, we were a CD band, and we were always asked to do remixes," smiles Severin, ruefully. "This one worked really well. Mike Hedges did the remix, but he called himself Roland Death --- as in roll on death..."

"It was really playful at the time, the idea of f***ing around with somathing, rather than doing it because you had to," Sioux recalls.

"Now you have to do it," Severin grimaces. "it should be done because it's interesting to do, not because the record company needs it for the clubs!"

(Originally released November 1988, again from "Peepshow". This version was recorded live at Lollapalooza, August 1991.)

"We thought this would work at Christmas," sighs Siouxsie, "but it didn't! Still, I really like the song, and this version's from the last gig of Lollapalooza in Seattle, so it's quite emotional. It was raining as well --- bit of a damper, that day. It wasn't quite as good a farewell as it should have been. But I think farewells are always a soggy let-down."

(Originally released May 1991. From the "Superstition" LP)

"It'll be remember as one of the key songs of Lollapalooza, along with Nine Inch Nails' 'Head Like A Hole'," says Severin.

"It was fun," adds Sioux. "It was originally going to be called 'Let's Get Smashed'."

"And it had Budgie rapping on it," Severin laughs. "But not while Sioux was singing!"

(Originally released July 1991, also from "Superstition")

"This wasn't intended as a single," Severin reveals. "It's a Roxy Music 'For Your Pleasure' tribute for all you trainspotters out there!"

(Not previously released in this country as a single, again taken from "Superstition")

"That was a case of a really good remix totally changing the song," says Severin.

"We were in Amsterdam, ordering the remixes down the phone to Junior Vasquez," laughs Siouxsie.

"And the worst thing was, he sent 17 of them back!" says Severin. "We had to listen to them all on a coach in America. It was like, 'Okay, which torture shall we have today?'"

"But I did get to live out my Emma Peel fantasy in the video," Siouxsie enthuses. "Lots of catsuits and karate kicks!"

(Originally released July 1992, from the "Batman Returns" soundtrack)

"Now I can spit and scream!" roars Siouxsie.

"This is the biggest up and down I can remember in our career," says Severin. "The excitement and adrenalin of doing it so fast was just brilliant. We hadn't felt like that in years. And then, as soon as we'd finished recording it, there began the worst nightmare I've ever had."

"Basically because it was Warners who put it out," Sioux explains, "and they procrastinated about when they were gonna release it for months, so then Geffen said *they* were gonna release it. And, as soon as that happened, Warners did release it, but in such a way that it's probably the world's best-kept secret. The best thing about it was that we did a really great song, we did our own really great video, and we got to meet Tim Burton --- who I really admire."

"It was the first time that we've had a taste of what it's like to not be in control," shudders Severin, "and it's really horrible."

"Warners are such scumbags!" Siouxsie spits. "I'd like to go on record as saying that. I hope someone there dies really soon, or they all fall down a big hole on the golf course and never come back! That sounds bad, but I enjoy bitching about a good baddie."

'Twice Upon A Time' is out now on Polydor

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