Rewind: Parker on “Boomerang”

Posted: July 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

In discussion with Parker on “Boomerang” by The Creatures (1989).

Is your fascination with The Creatures tied to this album, or does it go back to the band’s origins? When did you first hear their music?

I was a fan of the Banshees from the beginning. There were only two Creatures albums and one EP during the twenty years of the Banshees. So they were special events and had a subtly different musical personality to the parent group. „Boomerang“ is the second Creatures album after a six year interval so I was very excited to hear how they would follow “Feast”.

Siouxsie Sioux and the drummer Budgie once conceived The Creatures as a side project from their activities with Siouxsie & The Banshees, but they regularly came back to it over the years. Originally the concept was to record music consisting just of her voice and his drums, which certainly still is the backbone of „Boomerang“, too.

At the time of the Creatures first EP (“Wild Things”, 1981) the idea of a pop record getting into the charts that was made purely with percussion and voice, was quite daring, innovative and very exciting. „Boomerang“ stays true to the original idea but takes it much further with lots of marimba and steel drums and some brass stabs every so often.

How would you describe this album, and what makes it so important to you?

For a fan, „Boomerang“ was a triumphant return. I bought it on the day it was released. There was a tube and bus strike and I had to walk a really long way home from work on a dark November night to listen to it. Winter nights in London are miserable but „Boomerang“ was a very hot and sunny sounding album. Hearing it for the first time made me want to be scorching in the Spanish sunshine where it was recorded. I wished that I could be making music somewhere hot and remote, rather than doing a boring, badly paid job and living in a gloomy basement flat, which I was at the time. I hate and fear the cold. I crave heat and the record makes me ache to feel sunshine on my body.

Budgie was always my favourite drummer and every song he played on has a different beat. There’s never any repetition, always something surprising that you have never heard before. I marvel at his inventiveness. There are some fantastic vocals on „Boomerang“, particularly on “Pity”, very tender and restrained, and “Standing There”, very scornful and shouty, so you get both ends of the Siouxsie spectrum. „Boomerang“ also includes of some of her best and most ingenious lyrics.

These are two people who are emotionally as well as musically involved which is most obviously reflected in the intimacy of the cover portraits. Neither of The Creatures ever referred to their status as a couple in the media but for an informed listener this can add another level of interest to the music. There’s a physicality and directness about the relationship between the two musicians you are hearing. Watching them perform live together as a two piece was exciting because of this unexpressed emotional as well as musical connection.

Are there ups and downs while listening to the album, or do you find it a coherent pleasure?

There are sixteen tracks so there’s lots of songs to learn but the album isn’t overly long. I think there were fourteen on the vinyl. There’s everything from gentle marimba and vocal tracks, to frantic drumming and yelling. Creatures albums were often recorded with limited facilities and so they represent musical triumphs over adversity. „Boomerang“ is not a smooth, polished, produced-sounding album but manages to remain sophisticated and accomplished. Creatures albums tended to be written and recorded very quickly so there is a freshness and immediacy to all the material because it hasn’t been laboured over.

For the recording of „Boomerang“ both went to Andalucia, and then recorded the album in a former convent. You can hear some obvious influences of their time in Spain, but a lot of reviews at the time also stated that the environment seeped through the whole sound of the album. An environment one would not necessarily connect with Siouxsie and Budgie. Do you agree that it left some mark?

Location recording was often intrinsic to Creatures albums. “Feast” was recorded in Hawaii and “Hai” in Japan (in collaboration with Kodo drummer Leonard Eto) and the atmosphere of these settings is deliberately allowed to permeate the recordings. On „Boomerang“ a local flamenco school features only once and the subject matter of the lyrics is not often specific to Andalucia but the overall sound is a vivid picture of the place it was made in and makes you want to go there. You can feel the environment in the sound.

I have always admired the Creatures’ method of collaboration with music from different cultures – in a respectful and non-patronising way, not like certain other horrible western musicians discovering and claiming “world music” for their own. Instead a synthesis of ideas to create something really new. The locale is used as a creative inspiration. Leonard Eto was happy to tour the “Hai” material with them – so apparently this respect is mutual.

I think that her icy voice and the complex drum sounds make a fine combination. Both of course also play an integral part with Siouxsie & The Banshees. Has the music of The Creatures other connotations than the mothership? In what way are both bands different, or similar?

The spirit of the Banshees can be heard in the Creatures because of the voice and the drums. The sparser and more stripped back sound is akin to Banshee b-sides which those who know will tell you contain some of their best and most experimental work. There are no Severin basslines or lyrics, so the personality of the music is much more concentratedly Siouxsie and Budgie and their recurring preoccupations – the natural world, the battle of the sexes, outer space and inner space.

Siouxsie and Budgie revived The Creatures in regular intervals until their divorce, seemingly they found the concept well worth exploring beyond a one-off experiment. The Creatures, however, never quite surpassed a side project status. Do you think this was inevitable, or should they have developed it further? Did the band have some potential that could have not been used with the main act? And was it distinctive enough to stand on its own?

The Creatures were more like a band-inside-a-band than a side project. An unexpected Banshees pregnancy. The first Creatures song came out of a Banshees session at the suggestion of the other two members who thought the song in question sounded perfect with no guitars. For a period there were Creatures intervals during Banshees live shows. Severin suggested the name to Siouxsie. So it was all conceived with the blessing of the Banshees and the two groups fed into each other. I don’t think there are many parallels in other bands which is why the idea of The Creatures is so intriguing.

Does „Boomerang“ capture The Creatures at their best, or were there other works you found equally interesting?

All the Creatures albums are quite different. „Boomerang“ was the first to show just how much each was going to be different to the last and not repeat old ground, so it has a special place in my affections as it was such a big step forward musically from “Feast”. The Creatures back catalogue has been neglected by Polydor, „Boomerang“ more than others.

The stylistic variety of „Boomerang“ should come as no surprise, as both Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Creatures never really maintained a particular trademark sound, and they included a lot of different influences. Nevertheless I always had the impression that her voice is so distinctive that everything connected to it got stamped somehow. Would you say that this might have kept them from receiving the kudos their creative changes throughout the years deserved, or was it just what was within their reach?

I think all good singers indelibly stamp their material.  I find it hard to say what appeals to me about the voices I love best but I have found that many of my favourite singers have a love-it or loathe-it effect on people I play them to. The Banshees were very idiosyncratic in their approach to the music business which may have held them back from greater success but made them dearer to their fans.

Would you think that The Creatures could have led to something else entirely again, if their personal and working relationship had not ended, or did they already exploited what they could do musically? Did you follow their path until then?

The Creatures achieved a great deal, culminating in a collaboration with Kodo and a performance of that material with an orchestra so maybe there was nowhere to go after that. I don’t know why the relationship ended but when I heard that Siouxsie and Budgie had split up I was gutted because I had been listening to that combination of voice and drums in one band or another for 27 years and now there would never be another new release to get absorbed in – the thrill I got when hearing new songs for the very first time which you can never recapture – so exciting.

In the Banshees the role was much more than merely “the singer” or “the drummer” or “the bass player” which I think made them quite different to a lot of other bands and is precisely the reason why The Creatures could exist as a separate entity: each of those people had a distinct musical personality in their own right.  I was interested in all parts of the Banshees equation but particularly the drum and voice.

Particularly Siouxsie & The Banshees were quite a successful band, and like The Cure, with whom they were affiliated, they managed to reach that status without much compromising. Are they a still valid role model for remaining popular in a respectable manner, or is their success closely connected to the time they became famous? Is it still possible to have comparable commercial and artistic success?

I can’t imagine Siouxsie wishing to be a role model. My guess is she would prefer that people do their own thing.

It’s an impressive achievement to have a thirty year career without particularly selling out or acquiring a mid-Atlantic accent and to end up being regarded as an icon. When Siouxsie is mentioned in the media in connection with punk rock or women in music it is always her stylishness and fearlessness that are commented on, particularly by other women performers.

However I feel that for Siouxsie herself it was always the music that came first. You can tell that by the live performances, the openness to experimentation and by the musicians she chose to work with to whom she remained loyal for a long time. I have always regarded all the Banshees as artists to whom making music was more important than being popular or fashionable.

Maybe it’s more difficult for new bands to become as well known now if their music isn’t immediately accessible and easy to bond with, which some of the Banshees and Creatures material certainly isn’t. But subversion lies in unpopular ideas which slowly glean disciples over a period of time.

There were times when they hired Synthpop producers like Stephen Hague, or house remixers to work with them. How would you characterize their pop and club appeal? Could they venture in such territories with reputation still intact? Were the ongoing activities as The Creatures some kind of creative counterpart to such efforts?

I preferred the less programmed material because what I found most exciting about their work, apparent to anyone who saw them live, was the very visceral and physical quality of their music. I saw many live shows but probably the most exciting was at London’s 100 Club in 2004, a really tiny club in Soho. The whole audience was close enough to feel like they were at a private, personal, but at times very fierce and frenzied, performance. There are no other bands who can match either the Banshees or The Creatures at full tilt, for that particular combination of paranoia and exuberance which is really unique to them, so it was an extremely sweaty evening for all concerned.

There is a tradition of dark pop sensibility, but the majority of pop music strikes a much lighter tone. Is relief more needed and thus more successful than its darker equivalent? Can you only have so much success with a certain sentiment, or do certain times require a certain type of pop?

Some people like “Penny Lane” but others prefer the darker b-side “Strawberry Fields” nevertheless they are both classics. You have to have light and dark or you can’t tell them apart. There’s a lot of black humour in Siouxsie’s material which people sometimes miss. At other times her writing is concerned with facing your fears and bringing the dark out into the light which is a life affirming attitude and not negative at all. Art is the construction of a way of looking at or hearing something, and should include all subject matter. There are enough songs about pathetic lovers. The vocabulary of song-writing should be as wide as possible and take in all aspects of thought.

Do you look for a certain sentiment or sound in pop music that you can find in their work?

I like most kinds of music with most kinds of sentiment and mood but I am more attracted to music that makes you question what you’re hearing than I am to music which is only intended as a backdrop to a style event.

There are still a lot of acts who seem to echo the music and especially the visual image of the bands and Siouxsie in particular. Why is their style still so appealing and persistent? Are they to blame for everything the goth style still sends out, or did their responsiblity end with projects like The Creatures?

I think we should blame the legions of copyists rather than the source. The Banshees did inadvertantly invent goth but I associated them more with psychological horror than vampires and the cliched aspects of the horror genre. Many looked or listened only superficially and behold, goth was born. Their true heirs are bands like Portishead and Radiohead who have been influenced more sensitively and imbued the Banshees’ take on film noir with their own distinctive hallmarks.

As their career goes back for such a long time, what did they leave behind in the history books? How original and influential were they?

I think the Banshees are one of music history’s great bands and produced a lovely bonus prize in the form of the Creatures. To my way of thinking Siouxsie is, in an angular, self-taught, do-it-yourself way, a seminal figure in music like Billie Holiday or Aretha Franklin in terms of her influence on aspiring singers and performers. The Banshees had a twenty year career, their live shows gave masses of people pleasure and they left a large body of recorded work for others to discover in the future. So despite their reputation for humourlessness and doom-mongering, this is a very positive thing to have done for the world. The Banshees and to some extent The Creatures had a lot of chart success with unusual sounding records. So they broadened public tastes and created a space for others to follow.

I regard Siouxsie as the Anti-Madonna or the Anti-Princess-Diana of music. Reluctant royalty. The opposite of a blond, smiling, approachable, establishment figure. Someone fierce, unpredictable and creative who has never been assimilated by the music industry.

Did they leave something behind in your own work as a musician as well? Does Zerocrop owe something to them?

„Boomerang“ encourages me in the view that a pop song can be about any subject, and that you can make music anywhere, anytime and use any means to do it.

Sounds like me 07/10

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