A Kiss in the Dreamhouse is Siouxsie and the Banshees’ fifth album, released in 1982 and thought by many to be their best. Musically, it’s post post-punk – often described as opulent, psychedelic or innovative. There’s lots of interesting tales about the recording of this album and the track Obsession.
When punk first attracted young girls and boys to do their own thing, it usually meant getting up on stage and making a noise, attracting a crowd of like-minded punks and having a laugh. The first Banshees appearance at the 100 Club Punk Festival in 1976 supporting the Sex Pistols was exactly that – a laugh. Siouxsie, Sid Vicious on drums, Steve ‘Spunker’ Severin and Marco Pironi improvised a ‘tuneless, formless racket’ whilst Siouxsie shouted random bits from The Lord’s Prayer, Knocking on Heaven’s Door and Twist and Shout. At the time, that is what punk was – it was only later that recording singles and albums became part of punk’s national and international spread.
John Walters saw Siouxsie and the Banshees support The Fall at The Greyhound in Croydon and immediately offered them a session for John Peel, who declared his love for the band, later playing Siouxsie’s first single ‘Hong Kong Garden’ to start his show every day for a week.
There’s a common idea about young bands going into studios, where the first recordings are done quickly, cheaply and full of character. The result can be fantastic, particularly if someone is driving the process. With a Peel session, it’s straightforward – you’re on a well-worn production line: Get in, blast the tracks, quick mix and out. No time to breathe and a recording that captures the band’s live energy. At the time, there had been a massive fan-led campaign to get Siouxsie and the Banshees signed by a significant record company; the well-received and repeated Peel sessions were evidence of the band’s popularity, but there was a long period of frustration around this until Siouxsie and the Banshees signed with Polydor in 1978.
Whilst outlandish clothes, attitude and sheer noise can go a long way to make an impact at a live gig, or a demo/Peel session, going into a studio to record an album is a totally different discipline. Discipline is a key word, because, without some kind of musical, financial, organisational and social discipline, there’s the chance of time slowing down to zero, the project sprawling and tempers going to 100 degrees.
For any band’s first and second albums, the musicians are often happy to let a manager, engineer or producer take charge. It’s unfamiliar territory and so times are kept to, suggestions listened to, and everyone has a common goal in getting the album finished and released. As time goes on, and bands have more experience of recording, it gets a lot more complicated, and the Siouxsie and the Banshees experience was no different. Individuals become more precious and certain of their ideas and less willing to compromise. The studio can be a welcome let-yourself-go pause in a hectic touring schedule so musicians get even more lax with time-keeping, urgency or committment. Band relationships can become strained in a psychological battle between ‘I want complete control’ and ‘I don’t want to do this any more’.
And so when Siouxsie and the Banshees went into the studio to record their fifth album, emotions were already running high. Gary Mulholland, writing in Uncut magazine explains that Siouxsie and her drummer, Budgie had become a couple on tour. They’d formed their own duo The Creatures and put a sexy selfie on the cover of their first EP.
Being unable to deal with the new relationship between Siouxsie and Budgie had, apparently driven manager (and ex-lover of Siouxsie) Nils Stevenson back to heroin and it fuelled a series of obsessive, jealous actions which have been mentioned as inspirations for the songs, the sounds and even the ‘Nellie the elephant’ quote on the inner sleeve.
“He was too obsessive towards me and I felt suffocated by it. It was almost a Play Misty For Me scenario. He’d be waiting outside my house… it was almost scary.”Siouxsie
The recording of previous album, Juju had been a straightforward transfer of songs well-practised through months of touring. In contrast, A Kiss in the Dreamhouse was to be one of those ‘different’ albums – written, shaped, tinkered with and finished in the studio amidst lust, hedonism, mental breakdown, new experiences with LSD as well as excessive alcohol and other drugs. Despite having been told on June 6th 1982 to stop singing by a Swedish throat specialist, Siouxsie continued through the pain and discomfort to do the vocal tracks.
“It’s a product of addiction, stress, old, sick love and new, dangerous love, money woes and a darkness that would eventually claim three lives: McGeoch, Nils Stevenson, who died of a heart attack in 2002 without ever reconciling with Sioux, and the co-owner of Playground, who died of a heroin overdose soon after the finishing of the album, forcing the closure of the studios. But, as none of the protagonists could talk openly to each other about what they were going through, the terror, desire, depression and anger was poured into the stunningly beautiful music that emerged from a small room in Camden Town.”Gary Mulholland, Uncut
Mike Hedges, the producer was keen to push the band to explore new techniques whether it was freezing microphones in buckets of water or dropping acid to boost the psychedelic experience. The album was well underway when Budgie accidentally saturated the mixing desk when opening a bottle of champagne. The whole project decamped to Abbey Road Studio 2, where the legacy and ‘ghosts’ of that studio impacted on an already hyped-up group. The track Obsession has led to uncanny and interesting lore. Siouxsie herself provides the rhythm by stamping on the drum riser in a reflection of obsessive following footsteps. The stalker theme of the song is often attributed to Siouxsie’s own experiences with the jealous Nils Stevenson, although the detail of breaking into an ex-lover’s flat to leave a pubic hair on their pillow as an act of terrifying menace is said to have come from a ‘tattooed sailor the band met in New York’. And then there’s the story about the end of Obsession:
“McGeoch was recording a part for ‘Obsession’ and, at the moment that this guy started talking about Lennon, the tape inexplicably slowed down for a minute and then speeded up again. We left it [as it appears on Dreamhouse] and everyone congratulated us afterwords for this clever special effect. In fact, it was the ghost of John Lennon, I’m sure of it.” –Steve Severin in Authorised Biography
A Kiss in the Dreamhouse was released in November 1982 to universal praise, labelling it ‘innovative’, ‘beautiful’ ‘complex’, ‘luxuriant’ – with agreement that this was a superb way to progress away from punk and towards psychedelic mystical rock. Days later, they set off on tour, taking Robert Smith as guitarist, since John McGeoch was in such a bad state and sectioned under the mental health act.
We agree that it’s an important album; it showcases the strength of Siouxsie in working on through extreme physical and emotional states, and her ingenuity in creating something new and remarkable-sounding. Just Siouxsie and Mike Hedges worked together to shape and finish the album, and Siouxsie made sure that the band ploughed on with successful touring by sacking McGeoch. Ruthless? maybe a little, but it would have been easy for Siouxsie and the Banshees to cave in as so many other of their punk peers did. Siouxsie’s obsession with her own band is the key; a twenty year long career with 11 albums and 30 singles is indeed something to be proud of.