35 Years Ago: Siouxsie and the Banshees Pull a Classic Out of Chaos With ‘A Kiss in the Dreamhouse’
When Siouxsie and the Banshees released their fifth LP, A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, on Nov. 5, 1982, the reception among fans and, especially, U.K. rock writers was laudatory. The post-punk band, who had already begun to expand their sound on 1980’s Kaleidoscope, had merged a psychedelic approach with a darkly romantic atmosphere. There were recorders, bells, strings, sonic weirdness and one more in a series of increasingly strong vocal turns from frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux.
The Banshees sounded stronger than ever, but in 1982 the band was a mess. Before the sessions for the new record even began, there was a shake-up. Manager Nils Stevenson, Sioux’s one-time lover, became enraged at the developing relationship between the singer and drummer Peter “Budgie” Clark, who had joined in 1979. Although bassist Steve Severin (who also previously had dated Sioux) and guitarist John McGeoch (who had not) didn’t take issue with the budding relationship, Stevenson grew jealous and returned to a heroin habit.
“He became erratic and unreliable,” Sioux reflected to Uncut in 2012. “He came out to the last show [on the previous tour] in New York at the Peppermint Lounge and just… lost it. One particular situation got out of control and John pinned him against a wall and said, ‘Just f---ing go home.’ He was too obsessive towards me and I felt suffocated by it.”
As the group prepared to record their new album, they made another switch in the role of producer. Although Nigel Gray had helmed the Banshees’ last two records, they didn’t feel the same creative camaraderie this time. The band would produce the LP themselves, with a big assist from engineer Mike Hedges. In the summer of 1982, the band entered the London studio Playground for what Hedges recalls were booze-soaked sessions.
“The band drank a lot,” the engineer said. “Every day they came in someone would go back out and buy four or five bagfuls of wine which would then go in the fridge. That was at about five in the afternoon and we knew it would be an all-nighter. We were working 14-hour days, and I don’t think I was drinking as much as the band, because I couldn’t have done my job.”
Sioux also remembers her mates getting increasingly into cocaine and speed while she experimented with LSD – proving that the word “psychedelic” didn’t just refer to the songs being produced in the studio. As the Banshees were experimenting with drugs, they were just as eager to experiment with sound.
“Hedges would invent things for us to do when we got bored,” Budgie remembered. “We let off hundreds of indoor fireworks. We found out that fire extinguishers do very strange things to fabric. We froze buckets of water with microphones in them to see what would happen as they thawed out.”
In addition to the crazier stunts, the group employed an abundance of instruments on Dreamhouse, from McGeoch playing keyboards and the recorder (heard in a recurring motif on ”Green Fingers”) to Sioux contributing bells to “Obsession” to the presence of strings on a couple of the album’s stand-out tracks, including dancey closer “Slowdive.” The notion to include strings began before the album sessions started, with the non-album single “Fireworks,” arriving in May of ’82.
“‘Fireworks’ indicated the direction we wanted for the album. We wanted strings ... John wanted a machine but Steve and I said it had to be real strings,” Sioux told Record Mirror in 1982. “They give a real, earthy, rich sound. You could hear the strings spitting and breathing and wheezing. Me and Steve have always wanted our music to be performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We’ve always thought our songs would suit orchestration. Real strings have a very physical sound.”
A string trio on “Obsession” lends a dark elegance to a track that otherwise serves to highlight Sioux’s singing. Her voice – on this album, but “Obsession” in particular – is a rich, thick swath of purple paint, the centerpiece for the sounds swirling about. That’s even more remarkable, considering that Sioux had lost her voice during a recent tour and had been warned that it might become permanent if she pushed it.
Sioux would survive and endure, although this lineup of the Banshees would not. Just before releasing A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (named by Severin after learning about plastic surgery that made prostitutes look like ’40s movie stars), the group realized that McGeoch was having serious problems with alcohol when he had a breakdown at an October concert in Madrid. He was fired so that he could get help and replaced by Cure guitarist Robert Smith (his second stint as a Banshee) for the tour to promote the album.
The tour would go reasonably well and Dreamhouse earned a winning response, landing at No. 11 on the U.K. chart and becoming one more Banshees LP to go silver in Britain. Many fans and critics consider the album the band’s finest album – as did the group themselves, with the possible exception of 1988’s Peepshow. Dreamhouse inspired the likes of LCD Soundsystem and the Beta Band, as well as guitarists the Edge and John Frusciante, who were drawn to McGeoch’s playing.
It turned out to be the guitarist’s swan song with the Banshees, who didn’t return to the group after being fired – later joining Sioux’s old pal John Lydon in Public Image Ltd. In later years, reflecting on her band’s career, Sioux spoke glowingly of McGeoch’s work. When he died in 2004, she paid tribute to her former bandmate.
“John McGeoch was my favorite guitarist of all time,” she said, via the Independent. “He was into sound in an almost abstract way. I loved the fact that I could say, ‘I want this to sound like a horse falling off a cliff,’ and he would know exactly what I meant. He was easily, without a shadow of a doubt, the most creative guitarist the Banshees ever had.”
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