Words by Ken Scrudato
It’s hard to recall a time when the scent of Armageddon has hung so heavy in the international air as it has during this, the nose-end of the 21st Century. During the century previous, a few sentient seers–Orwell, Gramsci, Ballard–had, in fact, offered fair warning. But none did so with anything quite like the luridly affective glamour of the puissant post-punk prophetess Siouxsie Sioux.
By now lazily tucked into a few tired classifications (“Punk Survivors”, “Proto Goths”–whatever), she and her army of Banshees actually embodied all the horror of the post-industrial wasteland into which they were born in 1977, deftly and alluringly twisting it into their singular little heap of exhilarating cultural wreckage. After all, who but they could have recontextualized Nazi imagery whilst also penning an homage (“Metal Postcard”) to infamous anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield? And certainly none but they could have dragged Big Brother so presciently towards this new century, with positively chilling lyrics like those to “Monitor” (“The victim stared up / looked strangely at the screen as if her pain was our fault / But that’s…entertainment!”), cunningly predicting the human cruelty parade we now nonchalantly refer to as “Reality TV”.
So, in 2007, as Baghdad burns and Halliburton earns, one might hope the debut solo album by the Princess of Pyro-poetics would be another caustic call to arms. But as she would herself surely insist (or warn, actually), the most critical mistake of all would be to limit our expectations of her.
Indeed, the mysteriously titled Mantaray is, instead, Siouxsie’s journey into the within. “Don’t be bitter / Don’t be gloomy,” she asks of us, and you might think, okay, you can stop kidding around now, dear. But she may have simply had enough of being forever the diviner of doom. “I’ve burst out / I’m transformed,” she also exults here. Well, okay then.
And damned if she hasn’t taken everything we’ve ever worshipped her for—the Teutonic strut (“Here Comes That Day”), the buzzsaw metallics (“One Mile Below”), the eerie, cinematic grandiosity (“If It Doesn’t Kill You”)—and bathed it all beautifully in the light of earnest reflection. Stripped away are several layers of alloy, and songs like the charmingly glampop “About to Happen”, the jauntily sexy “They Follow You” and the gospel-tinged “Heaven and Alchemy” feel as intimate as you might have thought this media-dubbed “Ice Queen” would ever allow herself to be. Yes, she who once hissed at us that all our joys and comforts were counterfeit and that all our “truths” were probably lies, now purrs of new philosophical possibilities.
Perhaps, then, the Apocalypse can wait? Well…for now.
WC: It would seem there might have been a record with just your name on it a long time ago.
SS: “Yeah, I think I resisted that for a long time.”
WC: But now imagine someone putting on Mantaray and hearing you sing of this transformation, “Into A Swan.” It’s not really what one might expect from you. I’m not limiting you, but…
SS: “Well, it’s good to do something people don’t expect.”
WC: But is there something you’re trying to tell us?
SS: “I think I just really wanted to forget the past. There’s always some punk anniversary or something, and I have to say no to…”
WC: It’s such a drag.
SS: “It’s a drag for everyone that thinks I’m going to say yes to it.”
WC: Well, considering to how many different places the Banshees went creatively after punk, it should just not be a matter anymore.
SS: “I know, I know. I thought that we had surpassed any kind of labels. But the media loves their labels…and ever more shall it be so.”
WC: I interviewed Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode recently, and he’s just made a solo record which is very much about the, “I don’t believe in God but I’m searching for answers” time in one’s life. And you seem to also be…
SS: “Well, I think when you’re not in your twenties anymore, it’s a lot about trying to understand yourself, fitting the pieces of the puzzle together; and making sense of it for yourself. And that’s not exclusive to an artist–it’s everyone. Everyone at a certain point needs to understand where they came from and what they are.”
WC: Of course, an artist gets to project it into the world. And it seems there is some sort of journey on this record…I don’t know if spiritual is the right word. But your lyrics in the past have been very much a commentary on things going on around us, the socio-political, if you will. And this seems much more about the personal.
SS: “Yeah, the fantastic journey! Traveling inside of yourself.”
WC: Did you discover anything about yourself through writing lyrics like “Heaven And Alchemy”?
SS: “It’s weird, I think when you’re projecting…well, certainly with the way I write and with what motivates me…people will say, Oh, what’s that about? And I say, I don’t know, I’ll let you know when I figure it out. It usually comes later that it makes sense to me. When I write, I tend to just go with it and not question it.”
WC: Now, the Banshees were an outgrowth of an almost unimaginable explosion of radicalism and experimentation. One could go to shows or clubs and half the audience were doing some sort of confrontational fashion thing; and there were all the politics, and you had artists writing songs based on reading Camus, Mishima or Isherwood. Musicians don’t seem interested in such things anymore.
SS: “Well, the cult of celebrity has hijacked the cult of creativity. This preoccupation with other people’s lives, people who are famous for not doing anything. And TV, all those terrible…”
WC: Reality shows?
SS: “Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhh, please. But it was the right time [back then], the right place; and it was the people involved. It’s not something you can preordain or plan. It’s like chemistry. At certain temperatures you’re going to get an explosion. Trying to recreate that is like trying to control the weather.”
WC: But it is certainly missed now.
SS: “Yeah! But it’s got to be a reaction or response. There was a stagnation in the 70’s, creatively, and that made the time ripe for what was to come. That’s got to happen again soon, maybe as a reaction to how technology has taken over our lives. The virtual world is my bugbear.”
WC: Well, what’s mostly resulted from the technology explosion has been utter junk. It’s created this immense sort of alienation.
SS: “And a false sense of belonging. People are just pulled into this other world, and are not living in the real world. It’s 1984 with a new kind of machine, people sitting and watching a screen more than living their lives. And you have to get out into the world for things to happen. But even at gigs, I’ll see people watching me perform through their fucking phones!”
WC: So, how do you feel now about your place in all of this? As, on the one hand, this revolutionary icon, on the other, being still an outsider, someone viewed always with a bit of suspicion?
SS: “Well, I don’t ever move forward considering how something is going to appear or how do I fit in. I think it would be dangerous to do that. Or to take the wrong aspects of what I project too seriously. I love imagery; and how I go about visually attracting attention…it’s something I’ve always been interested in, it entertains me. But it shouldn’t overwhelm the significance of the content.”
WC: But do you still feel a bit the radical outsider?
SS: “I don’t know. There has certainly always been a big resistance to me within the industry, and nothing has changed there. But to be honest, I never thought that what I think is actually that radical.”