Friday, November 22, 2013
JOE BOYD and WHITE BICYCLES
director's cut, Time Out, 2006
by Simon Reynolds
White Bicycles, Joe Boyd’s riveting memoir of his life as record producer and manager in the 1960s, is perfectly timed. British folk rock is freakily fashionable at the moment, with Boyd protégés like The Incredible String Band, Vashti Bunyan, Nick Drake, and Fairport Convention revered as sacred ancestors by the new breed of beardy American minstrels such as Devendra Banhardt. But the New Jersey-born Boyd’s involvement in music extends way beyond gently-plucked acoustic guitars and dulcet-toned troubadours.
He was the production manager at the Newport Folk Festival of 1965 (it was Boyd who plugged in Dylan’s electric guitar that fateful night), he co-founded the legendary London psychedelic club UF0, and he produced Pink Floyd’s debut single “Arnold Layne”. Boyd appears across the pages of White Bicycles as an almost Zelig-like figure, popping up alongside legend after legend: Muddy Waters, Roland Kirk, Eric Clapton, Duke Ellington, Nico, and--most unlikely of all-- the pre-ABBA Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida, with whom he spent an evening wassailing in Sweden. He shared a house in Laurel Canyon with John Cale and even dated lovely Linda Peters, the future Mrs Richard Thompson.
Unlike Zelig, though, Boyd was no bystander, but a crucial backroom catalyst and enabler, or as he prefers, “an eminence grise”. His career really took off when he arrived in London in late 1965. Swept up in the “incredible energy of 1966,” he neglected his day job (setting up the UK branch of Elektra Records) and became a prime mover on the city’s psychedelic underground. With partner John Hopkins, he started UFO. “There were a lot more freaks in London than we’d realized,” he recalls of the club’s wildfire success. “The great golden period of UFO was from December 1966, when it opened, to April 1967, when “Arnold Layne” came out. Then Hoppy and some of his pals at International Times threw the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream rave at Alexandra Palace, the one Hendrix and Lennon turned up too, and there were a lot of cameras there. Almost instantly, UFO was swamped by the curious.” Hard on the heel of these “tourists” came the media and the law, resulting in tabloid horror stories about naked 15 year old girls tripping out of their minds, police raids, and a drug bust for Hoppy.
The idea for UFO evolved as an offshoot of the London Free School, an idealistic “education for the people” venture operated out of a basement in Ladbroke Grove. Renting a nearby church hall, Boyd and Hoppy staged a series of precociously triptastic Pink Floyd sound-and-light shows to raise money for the LFS. “Then, we thought ‘why not raise some money for ourselves?’” chuckles Boyd. “We were both broke--I’d lost the Elektra job, while Hoppy had been a photographer but had given it up for ‘the revolution’. So starting UFO seemed like an obvious way to make a bit of bread”
Among the more anarcho-yippie “heads” of the time, like Grove hairy Mick Farren, the organizationally-skilled Boyd was regarded as suspiciously bourgeois and business-savvy. But in this respect he exemplified a breed of aesthete-entrepreneur who flourished in the Sixties--characters like Chris Blackwell of Island Records (with whom Boyd’s production company Witchseason forged an alliance), Chris Stamp & Kit Lambert (the team behind The Who and the Track label), Peter Jenner, Giorgio Gomelsky, et al. All of these cats managed to walk the line between art and commerce, the underground and the mainstream. Equally driven by a passion for rock and a love of the hustle, record biz mavericks such as Denny Cordell and Tony Secunda (the producer and manager behind the Move) are as vividly drawn in Boyd’s memoir as far more widely known figures like Nick Drake and Sandy Denny. Although Boyd similarly managed to balance the demands of music and the bottom line, he says he wasn’t nearly as tough or shrewd as the true players of the era. After recording “Arnold Layne”, for instance, he was maneuvred out of any stake in Pink Floyd’s future.
Ironically, for someone at the swirling kaleidoscopic center of London’s freak scene, Boyd’s own approach to producing records shunned all the trippy tricks that got slathered over music in the late Sixties, opting instead for a warm and luminous naturalism. “I had a horror of making the hand of the producer visible, so all those overdone studio effects like phasing and panning never appealed,” he explains. “I felt it would date the music, whereas I always wanted my things to be listened to in 50 years. For me the task of a producer is to create the illusion of a band in a room playing together live in a real acoustic space.” You can hear the timeless fruits of Boyd’s sensitive approach on the White Bicycles double-CD of Witchseason productions that’s coming out in tandem with the book.
And the title of the memoir? It’s an emblem, explains Boyd, for all those “lovely ideas of the Sixties” that didn’t work out. It specifically refers to the Dutch Provos scheme of distributing white bicycles around Amsterdam for people to use for free—a utopian plan that worked fine for a while, “until by the end of 1967 people started stealing the bikes and repainting them”. Boyd explains that in his increasingly desperate search for a title, he recalled that in the book he identifies the moment when UFO faves Tomorrow performed their Brit-psych classic “White Bicycle” as the absolute zenith of the Sixties, the peak before the crash into disillusion and disintegration. The pinnacle occurred at “just before dawn on Saturday, 1 July 1967.” If his sense of recall sounds suspiciously precise for someone who surely ought to have been blitzed out of his gourd at the time, Boyd anticipates any objections, confessing “I cheated. I never got too stoned. I became the eminence grise I aspired to be, and disproved at least one sixties myth: I was there, and I do remember.”
White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s is published by Serpent’s Tail on May 27th. The White Bicycles anthology of Boyd productions is released by Fledgling.
PUNK'S ETERNAL RETURNS
written for Italian Vogue, 2006 ?
by Simon Reynolds
written for Italian Vogue, 2006 ?
by Simon Reynolds
Punk stalks the culture again. You can see this in the success of Asia Argento's The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, in which the director stars as a bad mother whose combination of punk, stripper and junkie bears more than a slight resemblance to Courtney Love. Then there’s the return of the Stooges, the group who defined the punk sound and attitude with songs like “No Fun” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” a good half-decade before the movement actually began, and who are about to release The Weirdness, their first album in thirty years. There’s Lady Sovereign, the UK’s rising rapper, who has recorded a version of the Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” for an episode of America’s most popular teenage TV drama, The OC. And there’s also official commemoration of punk’s thirtieth anniversary in the form of exhibitions like Panic Attack! Art In the Punk Years (showing at London’s Barbican Art Gallery this June) and The Secret Public: the Last Days of the British Underground 1978-88, on tour now following its launch in Munich last year.
Punk’s back, then. But when was it ever away? In truth, there has barely been a single year since 1977 when some aspect of punk rock or punk fashion has not been rediscovered or reworked. Punk’s ghost is a perennial presence, serving as both inspiration and reproach to every new generation of musicians, artists, and cultural radicals. Since its near-simultaneous detonation in mid-Seventies New York and London, punk’s shockwaves have reverberated through every corner of the arts and popular culture. It gave us pop icons like Kurt Cobain, Beastie Boys, Morrissey, Green Day, and Bjork (her first band, formed when she was fourteen, was the Icelandic punk group Spit and Snot). But punk also indelibly shaped artists from outside popular music: film-makers like Jim Jarmusch, novelists like Irvine Welsh and Isabella Santacroce, artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst, fashion designers like Vivien Westwood and Alexander McQueen. Through the Nineties and into this decade, punk’s legacy has cropped up in the oddest places, from the gritty, stripped-down approach of the Dogme movement in Scandinavian movie-making to the way designers like Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui rifle through the wardrobe of New Wave and Goth styles. John Richmond called one of his lines of clothing “Destroy”, after the last word of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”--the same place Santacroce got the title of her second novel.
What’s so good about destruction? The idea of clearing away the detritus of tradition and rebooting culture at Year Zero is always attractive to the young, appealing both to their sense of iconoclasm and to their ambition (one way to speed up your career is to discredit your established elders who’ve clawed their way up the establishment hierarchy). Punk’s who-gives-a-fuck attitude of snarling defiance and solipstic self-love is galvanizing (“Anger is an energy”, as Sex Pistol singer Johnny Rotten put it). Like a snort of cheap amphetamine, it gives the insecure-but-ambitious the necessary boost of will-to-power to kick down the door.
Beyond the attitude, there’s two main reasons why punk endures as a reference point: the unsurpassable extremism of its style, and the contagious potency of its guiding concept of do-it-yourself. As invented by couturiers like Westwood but also, crucially, by the punk kids themselves, punk fashion consisted of ripped-and-torn clothes held together with safety pins, hair slashed into spiky shapes and dyed inorganic shades of green or pink, and a Marcel Duchamp-style repurposing of lowly readymades like plastic garbage bags into garments. Punks also exploited the shock impact of tweaking taboos, wearing fetish wear associated with sado-masochism (the famous bondage trousers, where a strap connecting the two legs constrained one’s movement), and even using forbidden and offensive symbols like the swastika. The ice queen of this version of style as a kick-in-the-eye to straight society was Siouxsie Sioux, one of the original London punks. Punk’s most abiding fashion legacy is the Gothic culture spawned from the sepulchral sound and visuals she created with her band the Banshees. Goth has been a fixture of popular culture ever since, from movies like Donnie Darko to TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the black eyeliner-wearing misery boys of emo (short for emotional punk) such as My Chemical Romance, currently riding high in pop charts across the world.
Punk’s do-it-yourself ideal arose out of disgust with the early Seventies emergence of a remote rock star aristocracy, who played stadium shows where they pranced onstage looking like distant ant-like figures to the bulk of the audience and showed off their virtuosity with interminable self-indulgent solos. Aiming to democratize music and open it back up to teenagers, punk was deliberately primitive music, rock stripped down to rudimentary three-chord-or-less riffs crudely bashed out on cheap electric guitars. “ This is a chord, this is another, this is a third - Now form a band" was the famous cover line of the punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue (and zines themselves were a prime expression of the do-it-yourself principle). The ultimate manifestation of this ethos of anyone-can-do-it and irreverent non-professionalism was the cassette underground, where bands sold tapes of their work for dirt-cheap prices via mail order, or even gave the music away for free if you mailed them a blank cassette. But more influential on the wider culture was the explosion of independent labels in the postpunk period. Some were owned and operated by a single band, others by socialistic musicians collectives, and others still by aesthete-entrepreneurs who wanted to support innovative music but also saw a market for experimental and edgy sounds. Almost all of the original punk independents have long since perished, but a handful grew to become enduring forces in contemporary music, such as Mute (home to Depeche Mode and Nick Cave) and Rough Trade (the Libertines and the Strokes).
The independent label concept has proliferated far beyond rock, giving rise to indie publishers, indie movie-makers, every kind of autonomous cultural production you can imagine. But where the do-it-yourself ethos lives largest is on the internet. Today’s blogs and livejournals are the modern equivalent of the photocopied, hand-scrawled, cut-and-paste fanzines of the punk era--sometimes collaborative ventures, but far more often, lone voices yelling out their angry and excited opinions and finding a niche audience of like-minds. And then there’s Myspace, which fuses the independent micro-label with the fanzine to create the ultimate expression of the do-it-yourself impulse: bands uploading their own music to circulate for free. Do-it-yourself is the empowering lesson that every generation, bored and alienated by what the mainstream offers, has to rediscover for itself. In that sense, punk will never die.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
The Wire 1992 (?)
by Simon Reynolds
These reissues are mementoes of an unimaginably different
Brit-rock era than ours. Today's indie bliss-rock aims to engulf us
in 'dreamtime', simulates the effects of drugs; back then (1979-81)
the goal was to wake us from our mass culture sleep, rouse us from
addiction to TV and pop. Demystification was the goal; alienation
was both aesthetic strategy and subject matter.
Along with Cabaret Voltaire, Scritti Politti, Pop Group,
Throbbing Gristle et al, This Heat forged the syntax of the
post-punk avant-garde: synth-drones and squelches; hissing,
programmed percussion; tape-loops and found sounds; effects-ridden
guitar; creepy vocals. Rhythms had a ciphered relation to reggae or
disco rather than rock'n'roll, vocals recalled the lugubrious
Englishness of Robert Wyatt; American rockism was stoutly resisted.
Both "This Heat" and "Deceit" are haunted by the standard-issue
spectres of the 1979 worldview: fear and disgust at the amnesiac,
anaesthetic comfort of domesticity; anti-consumerism; dread of
nuclear annihilation. What This Heat and co feared most was sleep:
every element of their music was designed to put you on edge.
Groove was mostly foregone in favour of brittle, fractured tempos;
when it did appear, funk had a foreboding compulsion. Elsewhere,
This Heat made ambient music, but without the flow, without the
repose. "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback to arid,
timebomb tick-tock dub to an abrasive funk-scrabble. "Not Waving"
sounds like Robert Wyatt languishing in a dungeon while mice scamper
over Ivor Cutler's harmonium. "Independence" is a mirage of
Oriental reggae, gorgeous and deadly like a jewelled cobra.
In 1979, this music was meant to be the dawning of a brave,
all-new frontier. In truth, the post-punk avant-garde was really a
resumption of the techniques of the pre-1977 experimental fringe
(Henry Cow, Art Bears, Faust, Can, Soft Machine, Residents etc) with
a different agenda and more apprehensive aura. With the world scene
getting more apocalyptic by the day, This Heat's unsettled and
unsettling music seems more timely than it has for a long while.
review of This Heat's debut album reissued for
This Heatemusic 2006
by Simon Reynolds
This Heat are regarded as one of the archetypal post-punk vanguard outfits. Which they were, but the fact is that this South London trio were just as much a post-psychedelic band, with audible roots in the UK's progressive underground of the early '70s. In 1975, even as Patti Smith and the Ramones released their debuts, This Heat's drummer/vocalist Charles Hayward was playing in Quiet Sun, a jazz-rock combo led by Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. This Heat's slogan was "All possible processes. All channels open. 24 hours alert," and those first two sentiments could easily have been endorsed by proggy weirdos like Van Der Graaf Generator, Gong, or Can. But the third plank of that mini-manifesto marked This Heat as true contemporaries of Scritti Politti and the Pop Group, its totally-wired tone of paranoid vigilance tapping into the atmosphere of tension and dread that suffused the late '70s.
Political anguish — fears of nuclear armageddon, of a right-wing backlash reversing the gains of the '60s, of an emerging police state — suffused This Heat's music, creating a vibe a world away from the whimsical meander of pre-punk noodlers like Soft Machine. Nonetheless, you can still hear This Heat's proggy past come through on their self-titled 1979 debut in the Robert Wyatt-like plaintiveness and Englishness of Hayward's vocals and the undisguised virtuosity of his drumming, as well as in the group's tell-tale penchant for disjointed structures. More post-punk DIY-noisy in spirit and sound are the contributions of Gareth Williams, a non-musican who supplied jarring blurts and abstract smears using broken-down instruments, effects-pedals, and a primitive form of sampling involving tape loops.
This Heat could be propulsively, even convulsively rhythmic: the eerie percussive timbres and frenetic beats of "24 Track Loop" offers an astonishing audio-prophecy of '90s drum 'n' bass, while "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback, to a time-bomb tick-tock of Cold War skank, to an abrasive funk-scrabble, But the group were equally effective making a kind of ambient music, albeit of a decidedly non-tranquilizing sort. "Not Waving" sounds like Wyatt languishing in a dungeon where the rats scuttle morosely over the keys of a decrepit harmonium. "Late-prog," "post-punk" — either way you slice it, This Heat is a category-collapsing classic.
transcript of interview with Charles Hayward -- an out-take from Totally Wired - as published at the Quietus
Monday, November 11, 2013
Siouxsie and the Banshees
The Scream: The Deluxe Edition
by Simon Reynolds
Knowing Siouxsie as Godmother of Goth, it’s easy to forget that the Banshees were originally regarded as exemplary postpunk vanguardists. Laceratingly angular, The Scream reminds you what an inclement listen the group was at the start. Sure, there’s a couple of Scream tunes as catchy as “Hong Kong Garden” (which appears twice here on the alternate-versions-crammed second disc of BBC session and demos). “Mirage” is a cousin to “Public Image,” while the buzzsaw chord-drive of “Nicotine Stain” faintly resembles The Undertones, of all people. But one’s first and lasting impression of Scream is shaped by the album’s being book-ended by its least conventional tunes. Glinting and fractured, the opener “Pure” is an “instrumental” in the sense that Siouxsie’s voice is just an abstract, sculpted texture swooping across the stereo-field. Switching between serrated starkness and sax-laced grandeur, the final track “Switch” is closer to a song but as structurally unorthodox as Roxy Music’s “If There Is Something”.
Glam’s an obvious reference point for the Banshees, but The Scream also draws from the moment when psychedelia turned dark: “Helter Skelter” is covered (surely as much for the Manson connection as for Beatles-love), guitarist John McKay’s flange resembles a Cold Wave update of 1967-style phasing, and the stringent stridency of Siouxsie’s singing channels Grace Slick. In songs like the autism-inspired “Jigsaw Feeling,” there’s even a vibe of mental disintegration that recalls bad trippy Jefferson Airplane tunes like “Two Heads.” Another crack-up song, “Suburban Relapse” always makes me think of that middle-aged housewife in every neighbourhood with badly applied make-up and a scary lost look in her eyes. Siouxsie’s suspicion not just of domesticity but of that other female cage, the body, comes through in the fear-of-flesh anthem “Metal Postcard,” whose exaltation of the inorganic and indestructible (“metal is tough, metal will sheen… metal will rule in my master-scheme”) seems at odds with the song’s inspiration, the anti-fascist collage artist John Heartfield.
Scream is another Banshees altogether from the lush seductions of Kaleidoscope and Dreamhouse. McKay and drummer Kenny Morris infamously quit the group on the eve of the band’s first headlining tour, and their replacements--John McGeoch and Budgie--were far more musically proficient. Yet The Scream, along with early singles such as ‘Staircase Mystery” and the best bits of Join Hands, does momentarily make you wonder about the alternate-universe path the original Banshees might have pursued if they’d stayed together and stayed monochrome ‘n’ minimal.
The Creatures : Demon HuntersThe Observer, 1990
by Simon Reynolds
From her punk beginnings as style terrorist through her early Eighties reign as godmother of 'Goth' to the almost motherly figure she now presents, Siouxsie's career with her group The Banshees has seen her pass through a fascinating array of personas. There has even been the occasional alter ego.
In 1981 she formed The Creatures with Banshees' drummer Budgie. Despite the abrasive minimalism of their sound (just vocals and percussion), a contrast to the lurid rock of The Banshees, The Creatures scored a series of hits ranging from the bacchanalian 'Mad-Eyed Screamer' to their melodramatic cover of Mel Torme's 'Right Now' in July 1983. Now, after six years of hibernation, Siouxsie and Budgie have reactivated The Creatures.
Siouxsie explains this latest extra-curricular excursion: "The Banshees carry a lot of luggage in terms of what they mean to our audience, and it's difficult to write in a spontaneous way for an established group format. Your ideas have to be mediated through other people.
"With The Creatures, things are less precious, so there's less at stake now."
The Creatures' 1983 debut album, Feast, was recorded in Hawaii. For the follow-up, Boomerang (just released), the duo once again fled the 'battery hen' schedules of London studios. They transported a mobile studio to a ranch in rural Spain, just north of Cadiz.
"When you're cut off, you react more instinctively. We recorded the album in the heart of a rural community, with their age-old superstitions and their love of the bullfight."
The Creatures' single, 'Standing There', is a product of Siouxsie's mixed feelings for Spanish culture. Her admiration for the flamboyance and female strength of flamenco is countered by a disgust for bullfighting. "I see it as glorified slaughter, I don't go along with the romanticisation of rural life. If you look at country people's relation to nature, you can see that they're almost at war with it, trying to make it do what they want it to."
Now vegetarian, Siouxsie's conversion came "partly through touring, being provided with backstage food and seeing all the day-to-day waste, the bucketloads of chicken drumsticks." Giving up meat was just one facet of "a whole cleansing and rethinking" of body and soul around 1985 that involved also giving up smoking, cutting down on alcohol and taking up circuit training. "Growing up and adolescence last way beyond your teens, and after a while you find it frustrating that you can't harness your energies. I've always wanted to be in control of myself."
Now 31, the new holistic Siouxsie seems odd when, in both the Banshees and The Creatures, she has always been interested in people who can't control themselves; the obsessive, the disturbed, the unbalanced. For a herbivore, Siouxsie's music has strangely preyed on listeners' fears.
"I think that's putting the aggression in the right channel, using it to create rather than destroy. Everyone has demons. Unless they're allowed an outlet they fester and eat away at your body."
For over a decade, Siouxsie has been one of the few challenging female icons to maintain a high profile in the pop mainstream. "I'd hate to be thought of as a role model, but pop culture has always been geared to presenting one view of the female – blonde, manipulated, pliable. Maybe my having black hair and being like Beryl the Peril provides another archetype for people to use."
Siouxsie seems to belong to the Gyn/Ecology school of feminism. Does she believe that women have a monopoly on caring and men a monopoly on destruction?
"No, but the male performer has been done to death. The female artists who are now acquiring the kind of control and self-expression hitherto the preserve of men are producing the only new music around. I think that the female is the future because she's not violent or as territorial, as inclined towards conflict that leads to either big-scale war or pub-room barracking. Man, in the traditional sense, is like a dinosaur. A dying breed."
Q & A with STEVE SEVERIN (2003)
Seems like the sharpest people in the original punk scene were making their excuses and leaving as early as the first months of 1977! Didn't you yourself say something like it was all over when The Damned first played?!
“That was kind of true. When The Damned played it was like the first elements of the pantomime horse coming in. Punk was already getting uniform and predictable. That whole brief period before people like the Damned came along, before we even played-- it didn’t even have a name.”
Did you have a strong initial concept when you formed?
“The original Banshee idea was a pure musical democracy. There was no lead instrument --not the voice, not the guitar, which usually dominated. Everybody occupied their own space, melodically and rhythmically. I’ve never seen the bass as a supporting instrument at all, I always think of it as a driving instrument. That’s what very different about the early Banshees stuff. You cannot sit there as a singer-songwriter with a guitar and play those songs in a pub--it’s not buskable, because the instrumentation and the way it’s played is crucial. A big inspiration for that was Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, who I saw at the Royal Albert Hall in the early Seventies. It blew me away. I’d never dreamed that instruments could be played that way before."
One of the most interesting things about the Banshees is the way you’ve excelled at being both a singles group and an albums band. Some of the best work is the singles that weren't even on the albums. But the albums, equally, have all been cohesive, unitary listening experiences.
“That would be the mixture of influences--liking people like Cluster and Neu! and Can, but also loving T.Rex and a whole generation of good singles. The two main people we all loved, Roxy Music and Bowie, did great singles and great albums. We saw the single as the calling card. Our first single, the A-Side, "Hong Kong Gardens", was the most commercial song we’d written to date, but the B-Side, "Voices", was the strangest piece of music we'd written to date."
The Banshees never had any truck with that side of punk which was about ordinary blokes getting onstage. The side that related maybe to Stiff Records and pub rock.
“Oh no, we hated that. I never understood where that do-it-yourself ethic came from. It was so patently obvious that not everybody could do it. You had to have a modicum of talent. And an original idea. But for one moment the floodgates came open and everybody had their five minutes, put their single out, and then disappeared back to what they were destined to do in the first place. It was so diverse at the beginning, under the umbrella term 'punk' you had Wire, Buzzcocks, Throbbing Gristle, This Heat… They were so obviously not using the Ramones as an identikit for what they were doing.
"Wire and Buzzcocks were the two bands that we felt somewhat kindred spirits with at the time. They seemed to share this naivete about song structure. Wire especially, every song seemed to have a different format to it just to make it different. What they shared with us was the fact that the concept was more important than the ability--you can hear both bands really striving to get to the level of being strong enough to put across their ideas. But the writing is strong enough that you can get away with it. One of the things I still do to this day is, I never practise. Never have. I like being stretched. If I know how to play too well, I get lazy. "
My friend Chris Scott wrote a piece on incompetencefor this music fanzine we did called Monitor and he talked about Scream-era Banshees and how you could hear humans struggling with their musical instruments, and how that physicality created a thing-iness in the music, like the sounds were objects being grappled with strenuously. Whereas later on, when the more conventionally accomplished John McGeoch and Budgie replaced John Mackay and Kenny Morris, the Banshees became more about "atmosphere". (Like "a sofa" is how Chris put it, and it wasn't intended as a compliment).
“The physicality was very important to us then… We grew up playing live, there wasn’t a kindergarten period where we were learning to play Clapton riffs in our bedrooms. So we were struggling, trying to find a way of mastering the instrument to make your ideas come across. With the first album we’d been playing those songs for two years and so there was one way of doing them, playing live in the studio. It was only later when we had more time to explore the studio that we started writing songs in the studio, based around some of the sounds we could create in the studio. But the first two albums, The Scream and Join Hands, are live, physical albums."
By the time we get to 1982 and A Kiss In the Dreamhouse, it's almost like a totally different band. That album is very much a studio-confection, lushly textured and voluptuous-sounding, a world away from the cold, stark severity of Scream and Join Hands.
“Just better drugs!”
Oh, had you all plunged into a psychedelics phase?
“My psychedelics phase had been over by about thirteen years or something! But Siouxsie and Robert Smith were doing quite a bit. They were discovering it for the first time. Kiss was a lot about me and McGeoch thinking about the Beatles and The Stones circa Beggar’s Banquet. We'd done Juju and that had been so focused, and now we were onto our "second album" as that incarnation of the band, so we could do anything. The whole record started with the lyric for ‘Cascade’. I wrote this poem and then honed it down to a lyric, and I felt really odd about it, like, 'Is Sioux going to sing this?"
The lyrics with their imagery of moisture suggest that you were consciously proposing the melting of the Ice Queen.
“I was aware that we were moving on. Not so much changing the image but tapping into things that were already there but not exposed. Kiss came out of a mixture of things--I was reading late 19th Century decadent stuff like Baudelaire and Huysman's Against Nature. But also Ballard's The Unlimited Dream Company, where the imagery is very lush, sensual, and exotic. That decadence and sensuality corresponded with everybody else feeling the same way in terms of instrumentation. Like, 'why not try some flute here?' We were playing with other people's expectations of what the Banshees were. And also tapping into an English heritage of whimsical psychedelia-- Kevin Ayers and Syd Barrett. 'Green Fingers' is quintessentially English psychedelia, it's not American or kandy-kolored.
"A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, it was a strange time really because we felt we had complete creative freedom. We just felt we could do anything and get away with it. Mike Hedges, the producer, owned the studio so we could pretty much go in and stay there as long as we wanted. So we pretty much wrote it all in the studio. We were also, in the background, getting divorced from our first manager. So it felt like there were no constraints of any kind, in terms of where we felt the band should be going. We kind of felt the audience would go with us wherever we went."
Mike Hedges had a good 1982--as well as Kiss, he produced The Associates's Sulk, another psychedelia-tinged fiesta of sensual delirium. An important figure?
"Yes, Mike was one of those engineer/producers who had tons and tons of ideas, and open to experiment."
"Painted Bird" could almost be a purpose-built anthem for the emergent Goth Nation as represented by a hefty contingent of the Banshees audience--all about using style and flamboyance to "confound that dowdy flock".
“I don’t think Siouxsie meant it like that--it’s one of the few songs that directly taken from a source, Jerzy Kozinki's book of the same name. But yes, you can read that into the song, and 'Fireworks' similarly can be read as a manifesto."
What did you think of the whole Goth movement?
"It's very obvious why as a phenomenon it wasn't something we really wanted to get attached to. And a lot of Goth purists wouldn’t put us in their pantheon of Goth gods, simply because we’re too diverse musically. Goth was reacting much more to the way Siouxsie looked. To me, what people nowadays call Goth is someone like Marilyn Manson. I can see why he’s a very necessary force in the world. I can’t stand his music but I think he’s articulate, intelligent, and I think Middle America needs him. England and Europe don't need him, but there is a point in every thirteen year old’s life when they need someone like that to latch onto. For me it was Bowie. A much more intriguing proposition, because there was so much more ambiguity. The other thing about Bowie, on account of him being such a culture vulture, was that you'd find out about other stuff through him. Burroughs, or the Velvet Underground and The Stooges. And that was because he was stealing from them! I didn't know anything about Iggy and the Stooges until Bowie mentioned them. He was totally educational. But I can imagine if I was 12 today I might be a Marilyn Manson fanatic. I could possibly be quite evangelical about it. I mean, what are the alternatives? Travis?!?”