Punk survivor and Gothic icon Steven Severin on life after the Banshees and the Gothic revival.
There are very few people who can truly be called punk survivors, but
Steven Severin definitely is one. He first took to the stage in 1976
in a band formed out of the infamous Bromley Contingent. Four punks,
including a then unknown Sid Vicious on drums, played 15 minutes of
shambolic noise at the 1976 Punk Festival on a bill that also featured
their heroes, the Sex Pistols.
The band was Suzie and the Banshees, the longest enduring punk band of
all. While the Pistols split and Sid followed his own tragic path,
Steven and the vocalist, now known as Siouxsie, played on for twenty
years. They finally split in '96 to avoid the hype surrounding the
Pistols reunion and the so-called 'Punk Revival'.
Siouxsie and her husband Budgie, the Banshees' drummer since '79,
focussed on their long-time side-project, the Creatures. Steven,
however, has struck out on his own with a new label and a new career
as a composer. He described the experience of starting fresh after 20
years, without the Banshees as a safety net, as scary and hard work,
but also invigorating. One of the main problems he's likely to have
is trying to do something new against the background of his
long-standing reputation. He said that it's a double-edged sword.
"But it's nothing I lose sleep over. In fact, I have been afforded a
great amount of respect in terms of the 'punk' thing. I quite enjoy
being a 'commentator', after all, I was there!"
The Banshees have the dubious honour of being regarded as one of the
main bands who spawned Gothic rock. Goth history even credits
Siouxsie with coming up with the term 'Gothic'. So, it's ironic that,
after ending the Banshees to avoid the Punk revival, the Creatures has
returned in the middle of what seems to be a Goth revival. At first
Steven was unsure of what that meant.
"Goth revival? Are you talking Alexander McQueen or those sad fucks
After pointing out that Bauhaus aren't the only band who've returned,
the others including the Sisters of Mercy, the Fields of the Nephilim
and Clan of Zymox, along side innumerable new bands following in the
wake of Marilyn Manson, he admitted he was happy to miss it.
"I've avoided getting reviews like the one The Cure got today in The
Guardian. [Where the "godfathers of goth" were described as ten years
out of date and Robert Smith, also a former Banshee, was called "a
terrible disappontment".] I'm glad I missed that. All those names!
The Glamour! Pass the talcum powder!"
Scenes, fads and 'revivals' are not something that concern Steven
Severin at the moment. He has taken full control of his own career,
going so far as to set up his own label, 'RE:'.
"I'm a control freak. It's only a 'label' in terms of the fact I will
'RE:lease' CDs. I intend to make available my written work both in a
printed form and web form. A recording contract with an indie/major
wouldn't be flexible enough. I think a lot of people are going to
come to the same conclusion. Eventually."
RE: exists exclusively on the internet, which, for him, is the best
environment for some future plans.
"Hypertext fiction it is the ONLY place. Free speech, baby. C'mon,
why would I want to EVER speak to an A&R scumbag again?"
Steven is optimistic that the current freedom available on the 'net
will last, "you have to be", and isn't one of the punks who turned
cynical when they didn't change the world.
"Oh no, that was the Clash's thing. But then again in many ways it
did until the accursed Band Aid gang took the easy option and handed
everything back to the corporations."
His first release on RE: is based around a soundtrack he wrote in 1989
for the controversial Nigel Wingrove film "Visions of Ecstasy", a
short (18 minute) piece with no dialogue. The film is an attempt to
interpret the eroticism implied by the well-documented 'visions' of
St. Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Carmelite nun. The film was
denied a certificate in the UK on the grounds of blasphemy and despite
an appeal to the European Court, remains banned.
"It isn't the greatest film by any means and some people may say it's
salacious, but I felt, on the whole, it was fairly reverential and
serious and certainly not something that should be forbidden. My new
album 'Visions' takes it's start point from the original soundtrack
and expands from it."
He found the legal process surrounding the film fascinating, and
described it as a good opportunity to give the establishment a "nudge
and a wink.
"The first hearing was in a place called 'The Institute of Hygiene'.
It was hilarious. I'd never seen the British establishment at work,
up close. All the stereotypes seemed more than likely. You know,
transvestite barrister gets a damn good caning in his chambers."
The album also draws inspiration from literary and musical works. The
track 'The Baphomet', in particular, is a reference to the book of the
same name by Pierre Klossowski (Balthus' brother). St. Teresa is a
character in the book. The 'breaths' of the dead Knights meet each
year on the anniversary of the Grand Master's execution to commit the
atrocities they were falsely accused of and eventually admitted to
under pain of torture.
"It's a fantastic flight of the imagination. That's part of the
expansion I spoke of."
Musical influences included Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Ryuichi
Sakamoto and Eno.
"Music I'd always been into, but it's influence on my work with the
Banshees was pretty subliminal."
At the moment, Steven Severin is a very busy man. He said that he's
very close to the finished "Visions" and that he has more interviews
to do. Next week, he's in the studio to finish his next album,
"Maldoror", for 'RE:lease' in the new year.
"I'm now starting to canvass for other artists to join RE: bands,
singers, writers, web designers. Multimedia is a horrible buzz word,
but I guess that's what I do now. I want a digital camera and after
this a chatroom!"
"Visions" is officially scheduled for release on the 26 of October.
"If it comes in earlier it will go straight out."
RE: is essentially a mail-order only company, so the only shop in
which the album will be available is their site [www.stevenseverin.com].
This interview was conducted by Donnacha DeLong in the Sorted chatroom.