Siouxsie Sioux, the former leader of Siouxsie and the Banshees, is enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea on the rooftop pool deck of a quiet L.A. hotel. Apart from a dash of red lipstick, the British singer is sporting none of her signature stage armor spiky black hair, Kabuki-white face, pools of Cleopatra eye shadow and is dressed simply in black pants and a sheer red-and-white flowered top. At 47, she looks a good 10 years younger a feat, considering a lifetime of smoking (she just quit) and ''indulging'' in her fair share during the '80s heyday of a 28-year career. In town to rehearse for a recent mini-tour, the infamous ''Ice Queen'' is outspoken (no surprise there), but also relaxed and funny, peppering our conversation with her throaty cackle. ''I like 'Ice Queen' now,'' she says. ''I'm pretty regal.''
Of course she is.
A ferocious and fearless icon, Sioux kicked down doors for such gutsy, against-the-grain musicians as PJ Harvey, Garbage's Shirley Manson, the Distillers' Brody Dalle, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O. ''I learned to sing listening to her records she made me connect with rock music,'' says Manson, who discovered the Banshees in 1980 at age 14. ''Women in the charts up to that point had been presenting a glossy, sanitized version of femininity wearing little rah-rah skirts with their bellies hanging out. But Siouxsie, her face painted with that tribal makeup, she came along looking like a warrior.'' Adds Banshees cofounder and bassist Steven Severin: ''Her influence can't be undervalued. In some sort of negative universe, she's as influential as Madonna.''
Like Madge, Sioux has made an indelible mark on fashion, spawning clones around the world and earning a place in haute couture history. Designer John Galliano honored the singer with his ''Siouxsie Sphinx'' collection in 1997, and in recent years, everyone from Gucci to Alexander McQueen has trotted out Goth-revival lines that are unmistakably Sioux-like. ''She set the [women's] standard for cool-looking rock idols,'' says designer Anna Sui, who in 1997 painted her runway models with Siouxsie-esque makeup. ''The boots, the fishnets, the hair, the Eyeliner she epitomized that whole style, and it's a look that's never gone away.''
Born Susan Janet Ballion in London in 1957, Sioux grew up with a taste for the dramatic. Her earliest memory is of lying on her bedroom floor, pretending to be dead. Her older siblings turned her on to the Beatles; as a teenager, she discovered David Bowie, the Velvet Underground, and the Sex Pistols. By 1976, she had adopted her exotic pseudonym (Native Americans had always fascinated her) and, with pal Severin, become a regular at Pistols shows, often showing up in cupless bras, thigh-high vinyl boots, and little else. ''I've always loved visuals the thrill of not looking like anyone else,'' she explains.
Watching the Pistols perform convinced Sioux that she too could make some noise. On a whim, she and Severin signed up to play London's 100 Club during the city's first punk festival, on the same bill as the Clash and the Pistols. Never mind that neither of them had ever so much as held an instrument. ''I wanted to be a singer the opportunity came, and we took it,'' says Sioux.