06th Sep2009

History Lesson: Steven Severin and Siouxsie & the Banshees

by Todd

Siouxsie+and+the+Banshees

In reviewing the history of post-punk, the next logical step after Magazine is to talk about the music of Siouxsie & the Banshees. Formed in 1976 during the British punk movement, they took the spirit of anarchy and channeled it into a post-punk legacy that has influenced music and fashion for decades. To continue our theme of quoting Morrissey, he once said of the Banshees, “If you study modern groups, those who gain press coverage and chart action, none of them are as good as Siouxsie and the Banshees at full pelt. That’s not dusty nostalgia, that’s fact.”

There were only two constants through their twenty years of recording: Singer Siouxsie Sioux and bassist Steven Severin. His bass melodies are a signature of the bands’ music and continue to be referenced by current bands like Radiohead and even Jane’s Addiction. Steven has remained extremely busy since the last live Banshees performance in 2002. Overseeing the remastering of their catalog, while continuing to work on music in a variety of capacities including some brilliant soundtrack work. Steven took some time out from writing and recording his latest project to answer some questions about his years with the band.

TDOA: You were there for the infamous Bill Grundy/Sex Pistols TV appearance and were a part of a scene that “shocked” mainstream Brits and Americans. Sadly, you never see this type of anarchy amongst current bands now. Any idea why bands seem to be “safer” than they were back in the late 70′s/early 80′s?

SS: I’m not so sure they are.  The vast majority of bands that emerged in the wake of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Wire and us were mind-numbingly ordinary and safe.  Sorry if that disappoints you but it’s true.  Very, very few bands ever make a difference.  The rest are cannon fodder.

TDOA: The fashion and styles of that period were truly cutting edge. Now I see teens and people in their 20’s wearing the same eyeliner, dyed hair, ripped clothes, multiple piercings and they think they’re punk. Does it bother or disappoint you that this generation hasn’t progressed in their ability to challenge society thru fashion?

SS: It’s disappointing that so many just buy into a Hot Topic standard “look” but then again we were never given that opportunity.  Our generation wasn’t targeted by marketing the way today’s youth are.  There weren’t even any ‘style’ magazines when we started.  Hair products have come a long way.  The music business hasn’t.

TDOA: You were a part of all 16 (!) Siouxsie & The Banshees records. Can you talk about the collaborative process of writing with the band? Obviously, you changed guitarists a few times. Please tell us about the differences between writing with Robert Smith v. John McGeoch.

SS: The Banshees songs, for the most part, were driven by ideas then words then the music.  In that order.  Siouxsie & I had total control of the first two so the collaborative elements were all about adding the musical framework to the concepts.  Each and every member of the band was allowed to bring their own flavour to the mix (within reason) and that’s a freedom that good musicians cherish but rarely enjoy.  John was a full member for 3 years so we would sometimes get together at my apartment and try things out before presenting them to the rest of the band in rehearsal ~ quite a lot of ‘Ju Ju” was done this way.  Spellbound & Arabian Knights, for example.  Robert on the other hand, was moonlighting from The Cure so his time with the band was limited and was mainly in the studio.  I’m sure we would have all preferred it to be different but there were forces in the background who did their best to saboutage his time with us.  We were all aware of that though and worked through it regardless.

TDOA: After the Banshees split, you formed your own record label. Frankly, there are few bands that were able to tolerate being on a major label and still be successful as long as you were. Can you talk about your experiences with major labels and theorize on how you were able to maintain a good relationship with them while others didn’t?

SS: I can honestly say I have never heard of a band leaving a label because they couldn’t “tolerate” it any more!  Maybe McCartney or George Michael i.e. people who have millions in the bank already.  It’s the other way round.  The majors will drain you until they fancy some new blood.  We signed in 1978 and at that time the company didn’t understand why we were successful ~ they didn’t have a clue ~ but they figured we knew what we were doing so they pretty much stayed clear.  They were scared of us too which always helps :)   It was only later on, probably from the mid Eighties that the companies took back control ~ post Live Aid really.  That’s when they tried to fiddle with everything especially with new bands ~ shelving albums because they couldn’t hear the “single’, bringing in their choices of producers etc.  None of that stuff EVER happened to us.  They wouldn’t dare.

TDOA: Most recently you’re focus has been on soundtrack work, which is just as dark and compelling as much of your work with the band. How do you find inspiration after so many years?

SS: By changing my path often and feeding off of other people :) Working in film & TV you are constantly thrown into new and challenging situations with different personalities.  The question should rather be “how did you keep finding inspiration working in a band?” and the answer to that is that eventually, I didn’t.

TDOA: I remember being shocked that Siouxsie and the Banshees were playing Lollapalooza. Can you tell us what you experience was like during that tour, given the diversity of the bands?

SS: One of the main reasons for doing it was because we knew it would shock some people.  We needed a challenge like that ~ at that time ~ bands by their very nature are insulated from the world and the Banshees were even more insular than most.  It was definitely a challenge worth taking though as we had some of the most memorable and enjoyable times ever on that tour.  We really stepped up our game, I think.

TDOA: When I look at bands that were popular around the same time (The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, etc.) I can’t help but wonder if there was a friendly rivalry with those bands. How did you get on with your contemporaries and do you keep in touch with any of them?

SS: Absolutely there was rivalry!  It’s human nature.  There again it was, as you say, friendly.  We all knew we were pretty much on the same side.  I’ve had great nights with all of them in the past. Barney, Hooky & Stephen, McCulloch, Lydon & Wobble, Colin, Graham & Bruce from Wire, Pete Shelley, Pete Wylie, The Human League. They were all great but the only one I keep in regular contact with now is Robert Smith and that friendship only really re-kindled when we re-mastered the Glove album a couple of years back

TDOA: You’ve been involved in the restoring and remastering of many of the Banshees old records. I’m assuming that it was interesting to go back and listen to these tracks again and to put together the “deluxe” packaging with rarely heard extra songs. Can you tell us about that experience? Was there one record that you were particularly fond of, as you went through this process?

SS: I feel a tremendous sense of duty to “the work”. That’s the only thing that gets me through it because it’s not fun.  It would be entirely different if there was still a band involved but S & I have truly burnt our bridges and consequently, the WHOLE process is laborious, frustrating and when “extra” track options get vetoed, maddening. The only reason I persevere on a personal level is because of the feedback I am now able to get via the internet.  If I was attempting to do this in the old “void” I might have jacked it in ages ago.  I’ve not received one word of encouragement let alone a single “thank you” from ANY ex member of the band. Sad. That said, I’ve always felt it was “my” band so preserving all this great material is something I’m very proud of.  That is reward enough ~ just.

TDOA: When you listen to the music of today, do you hear bands that you like? Any bands that you think have successfully picked up where Siouxsie & The Banshees left off?

SS: There is SO MUCH music out there now that I really don’t have the time (or if I’m being brutally honest, the inclination) to go looking for it like I once did.  I’m sort of resigned to the fact that it has to find me.  My passion for so called “rock music” has waned quite considerably (not that it was ever that great) and I find myself going further and further left field to find hidden or somewhat neglected gems.  That sounds pretty jaded but I can assure you that when I hear something genuinely inspired I feel 15 again. Seriously.  As for anyone taking up the mantle of the Banshees well…. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.  It’s not a baton ~ it’s an albatross!  That was never part of the plan anyway.  We created an entire universe.  Now you go create yours.

For more information about Steven’s current work, visit StevenSeverin.com where you can listen to streams of his latest project.  Click here to order their music from Amazon.com

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3 Responses to “History Lesson: Steven Severin and Siouxsie & the Banshees”

  • Erik R. Hansen

    That was really cool. Boy, I can’t keep up with all of these interviews you keep getting of our heroes from the hipster days. My favorite line was “Hair care products have come a long way, but the music business hasn’t. ” That and “Cannon fodder.” Nice job!
    Erik

  • Incredible!!! This makes me want to blast some Siouxsie! This was such an interesting article. I adore the song Nicotine Stain and used to blast it and repeat it,repeatedly..;)

  • Jay Stewart

    This is way the Banshees are one of a kind.

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