Long before “alternative” became just another label in the mainstream music industry, Siouxsie and the Banshees were proving that it was possible for an unusual band to find success. Without the aid of excessive promotion, the band managed to build up quite a following, something that made them an ideal choice for the first Lollapalooza tour. By creating music that is both dark and highly melodic, the band has influenced a slew of gothic/ethereal bands. On their new release, “The Rapture,” Siouxsie and the Banshees prove to be as unique and innovative as ever. Siouxsie and the Banshees’ line-up has changed quite a bit over the years, but it has always revolved around core members Siouxsie Sioux (vocals), Steven Severin (bass) and Budgie (percussion). Sioux and Severin had worked together from the very beginning, when they performed with Sid Vicious on drums and future Adam Ant sideman Marco Pirroni on guitar. Budgie joined while the band was touring to support their 1978 debut album, “The Scream.” Two days into that tour, the Banshees guitarist John McKay and drummer Kenny Morris abruptly left. Robert Smith, who was opening for the band with The Cure, came in on guitar but left in 1984. After completing “The Rapture,” the line-up changed yet again with the departure of guitarist Jon Klein.
The following is an interview with Severin:
At one point, you were putting out a new album every year, but lately there have been longer gaps between albums. Why?
Steven Severin: “We didn’t really intend for there to be this length gap, we certainly didn’t take a year off or anything like that. But we toured “Superstition” right up until March of 1992 and then we got involved with the “Batman Returns” movie and putting together a second singles compilation album and that took us up to the end of the year. The actual writing and recording didn’t take very long, it’s just all the stuff in between. We did a lot of festivals and a tour of Australia. We tend to break things up for some reason rather just going straight through, trying to finish something and then release it.”
The line-up has constantly shifted around the core of you, Siouxsie and Budgie. What impact has that had on the group?
Steven Severin: “In some senses, if we were the same band from the beginning maybe we’d be able to work more continuously as opposed to breaking somebody new in. But new people always bring a different kind of element to the band, so maybe that’s what helps us change our sound a bit.
Are there any other major factors you see behind the band’s longevity?
Steven Severin: “For us, it’s not really a celebrity thing. It’s more that we grew up as fans of music and just wanted to be in a band. Siouxsie hasn’t got into acting, or anything like that. We’re a live band and I think that growing up as a live band has helped us a lot. We did two years in kind of secret, playing live. There was a certain amount of spotlight on us from the beginning, but not nearly the kind of pressure that new bands are put under now. So we were able to build up a really solid live following who have remained loyal to us over the years.”
What are the major changes you’ve seen occur in the music industry since the band emerged?
Steven Severin: “When you said things were ‘underground’ or ‘alternative,’ they really were. It seems that as soon as you form a band you’re thrown onto the cover of a magazine, or you’re making a record or you’re on MTV with a video almost immediately. People were able to develop outside of the spotlight a bit more and the people who really wanted to follow them had a chance to. So the people who would follow you around were really passionate about what you did, and it was less of a trend. I think MTV changed a lot of things, and Live Aid changed a lot of things. Back in those days, we kind of caught the record companies asleep and they didn’t really know what was happening. All these bands emerged from nowhere and they didn’t really know what to do with them because they were so different from the people they were used to working with. The newer bands didn’t want to do the same things that the older bands were doing. These days, the business has a bigger control over everything and it tries to steer everything.”
What was it like being part of the first Lollapalooza tour?
Steven Severin: “The great thing about the first one was that right up until almost the first show, everybody was really nervous about whether it was going to be successful, whether it was going to work, whether the bands would even get on with each other. It was a bit of a risk, but as soon as it started off it was obvious that all the gigs were going to sell out, and it was really, really exciting. The first bill was a lot more diverse than the other ones, I mean you had Ice-T, Butthole Surfers, us, Living Colour. You couldn’t get more different bands from each other, but yet everyone got on back stage and it was sort of like a traveling circus.”
Each one of the tours has become more and more commercial. Do you think you would still do it if asked today?
Steven Severin: “If we hadn’t have done it, I guess our management and our record company would say ‘yes, yes, do it’ but I don’t know. I’d hesitate. We certainly wouldn’t go it again, we wouldn’t want to spoil our memories of the first one.”
How did you come to work with John Cale on the new album?
Steven Severin: “We had 9 songs at that point, only 7 of which we used on the album, and we kind of thought ‘well is it finished?’ and we realized that it wasn’t and there wasn’t the kind of lead single. We wanted to write some more songs, and up until that point we’d produced everything ourselves, and we thought the best way to sort of finish it off was to get in a referee, a producer. We started making inquiries about who was available and it went on for months. Some good ideas, some really bad ideas. People were either busy or they just didn’t seem right or we didn’t agree. In the meantime, Budgie had done some session work in Paris in the course of which he met John Cale’s French manager. It was as if somebody had switched a light bulb on. We hadn’t heard if he had been producing anything of late, so we just sent him a tape and faxed him, and he faxed back the next day. It was brilliant. All these other guys had big managers in the way and it took two weeks to get a word out of them as to whether they’d actually listen to the record. Cale came back within one day and said he loved what we’d done so far and was really flattered to be involved. So then it was just a case of finding the right time to write and record some more songs with him, He was really fast, supremely professional as you would imagine. When you’re a band like us, engineers and producers come along with their own ideas, like are they really as scary as they seem? So it was good to have it the other way around. What was he going to be like? He was great. He was very funny, very intense, but very cute as well.”
What overall effect did he have on the music?
Steven Severin: “The songs were pretty embryonic when he came in. We did a few days of pre-production and writing with him. He just helped us focus on the material. There isn’t a John Cale sound or anything, he’s not that kind of producer.”