We’ve Got A File On You: Daniel Ash
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
On the Mount Rushmore of Goth, Bauhaus shine darkly right along their colleagues in black the Cure, Joy Division, and Siouxsie And The Banshees.
Few bands have ever debuted with their aesthetic so perfectly locked-in as Bauhaus did with their 1979 debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” a bubbling cauldron of dread and dubby basslines. The members of Bauhaus — guitarist Daniel Ash, frontman Peter Murphy, bassist David J, and drummer Kevin Haskin — took their name from the German art-school movement of the ’20s that stressed minimalism and emphasized circles; the band knicked Oskar Schlemmer’s logo as their own, eventually making it a T-shirt staple of goths everywhere. (Boy band members and soft-rock titans also love the shirt; more on that later.)
Bauhaus followed-up “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” with several key albums and classic singles, including “Kick In The Eye” and “She’s In Parties,” before the band split. Ash rebounded with his spacey post-punk project Tones On Tail with Haskins and then formed Love And Rockets with the remaining non-Murphy members of Bauhaus. Strutting, glammy, and not-at-all afraid to let the light in, Love And Rockets unexpectedly became one of the key artists of the late ’80s Modern Rock era, the pre-Nirvana time where college rock, goth bangers, and anything else left-of-center laid the groundwork for what would become the ’90s.
For a guy synonymous with gothic subculture, Ash arguably doesn’t get enough credit for being a versatile, fluid player, able to move from with folk-rock concision on “No New Tale To Tell” to the brittle funk of “Kick In The Eye,” the evocative, chiming mystery of “Slice Of Life,” and the slinky, nearly-Prince like purr of “So Alive.” And while Love And Rockets’ career undoubtedly stalled after the release of 1994’s Hot Trip To Heaven, in retrospect a rock band embracing rave culture now feels very forward-thinking.
While Bauhaus have broken up and reformed a few times, and last year’s scheduled reunion tour didn’t achieve liftoff, they’ve never really gone away, popping up in needle drops in prestige dramas, getting air time on South Park, and remaining a perennial influence on any musician that eschews wearing primary colors. Ash, for his part, has kept busy; he recently formed the band Ashes And Diamonds and is prepping both a Love And Rockets summer tour and a reissue series. 1987’s Earth, Sun, Moon and 1989’s Love And Rockets are out this week, while June will see new versions of 1994’s Hot Trip To Heaven and 1996’s Sweet F.A. plus the outtakes collection My Dark Twin.
Ahead of Ash’s latest outing, we Zoomed in with him to talk about why he loves pop music, how he feels about being a goth godfather, and a certain Saturday Night Live sketch.
Reissuing Earth, Sun, Moon (1987)
So let’s start with Earth, Sun, Moon, which is a turning point for the band, both artistically and commercially. To my ears it has a bit more of a Beatles influence to it. It’s just a touch folkier. What was going on with the band when you were working on that album?
DANIEL ASH: Well, with us on Moon, the album, I think before that was Express, which was very much electric guitars, full-on. So every time we’d make an album with Love And Rockets, we wanted to do the opposite sonically from whatever we’d done before. So, we would joke about it, and say, “Okay, it’s time now to make our acoustic record in the countryside.” Hence us on Moon, which was more acoustic guitars and stuff, rather than the electric thing. So yeah, it was a conscious decision to get out of the city and work in the countryside, in effect. So it was a completely different atmosphere to the previous album. And that’s what happened. If I remember correctly, we recorded that in Rockfield, Wales. That was a complete opposite to being in the city. It was literally cows and sheep outside the door.
Do you remember when you wrote the riff for “No New Tale To Tell”? Because it’s so simple and it’s so catchy.
ASH: Dave came up with that riff. With this band, it’s very much either Dave’s songs or my songs. Occasionally we would collaborate or join two songs together. But that was his riff. I just played it.
Was there any sort of temptation to add onto it? Or any fear that it was too simple? Or did you guys know, “Let’s not make it too complicated? It works really well stripped down”?
ASH: Me specifically, I always like to strip stuff down to its bare essence and make it as simple as possible. I’m not into overcomplicated — quite the opposite. The simpler, the better. And if you look through all the tracks, the most successful songs that we’ve made are always the simple ones. I mean, “So Alive” was created in one day, in 24 hours. Same with “Bela.” “Go” from Tones On Tail, that was a one day thing. The simplest songs are 90% of the time the best.
“No New Tale To Tell” became a big college radio hit in the States. What do you remember about that time?
ASH: Lots of California sunny weather. Lots of gigging in the USA. No gigging in England. It was all about working over here. I mean, the first single that we released as a band was “Ball Of Confusion,” and that was a club hit in the States and Canada, and nothing in England, nothing in Europe. It was all right from the get go. I mean, we thought we were going to have to start playing little clubs and bars and stuff, start from scratch again after the breakup of Bauhaus.
We were pleasantly surprised that we were already going to be able to play 2,000-3,000 capacity theaters and stuff like that right off the get go. So, that was a real surprise for us. We didn’t have to go back to square one again with the band. It just carried on because of “Ball Of Confusion,” the doors were open for us.
Sometimes this happens where if a UK band gets popular in the States, the NME and the British press will turn their noses up at them, like, “They’re not ours anymore.” Did that happen to you?
ASH: Yeah. Well, we weren’t even acknowledged in England as being a band. There’s a story about the record company, Martin Mills told me at Beggars Banquet that they re-released “So Alive” as a single in England three times, and it sold a grand total of 600 copies. [laughs]
Whereas in America, it went to 3. It’s like Prince was #1, Madonna was #2, and “So Alive” was #3 in 1989. That’s something I’ll never forget. And in England we had nothing, no interest at all. There’s no interest in Love And Rockets in the UK.
Do you have any idea why?
ASH: No. I mean, if the record company had known why, they wouldn’t have bothered releasing the single three times. It didn’t connect. Whereas college radio in the States embraced us, like they did the Cure and a lot of other bands that came up at exactly the same time.
Covering The Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” (1985)
What was this behind the thinking to make your debut single a cover of The Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion”?
ASH: That was Kevin’s idea. We thought it would get a foot in the door, which it certainly did. It worked. And also the lyric was really relevant to what was going on at that time, and thinking about it, I mean, it’s totally relevant now.
It’s always going to be relevant, to be honest. It’s the human condition to be in a mess, which we’re globally in a bit of a mess, obviously. But yeah, we thought that would be something that could be really commercially accessible and get us to get a foot in the door, and that’s exactly what happened. So yeah, it was very deliberate to choose that track.
I guess if you’re trying to make it in the States, covering a Motown classic is a good way to start.
ASH: I just remember hearing the song and going, “Okay, let’s work on this, could work really well.” It obviously would’ve had to have been a track that was a big old hit to begin with, otherwise what’s the point? But we certainly made it our own. It doesn’t sound like a copy of the original. It’s like it’s on another level, it’s totally different. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it?
Love And Rockets (1989)
You’re also reissuing your self-titled album, which is probably the biggest album you’ve been involved with in your career in terms of sales. Would that be accurate to say?
ASH: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That’s why it’s my favorite. Because I’m Captain Commercial, I’m into big jumbo hits. I think there’s a lot of talent involved in actually crafting and writing a three-and-a-half minute hit single in preference to album tracks or whatever. It takes real talent. It’s like I’ve always said, “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson is the perfect pop song. And it’s just superb. And I just wish we had more of them. [laughs]
Whereas the indie boys, the indie boys wouldn’t necessarily agree. I’m not into that elitist, “Oh, yeah, if it’s commercially successful, it’s not cool.” I’ve always hated that with a passion.
Did you ever have any misgivings early in your career, along the lines of “Okay, people know us for Bauhaus, and now we’re going to this real pop direction with ‘So Alive'”? You have backup singers, you have that really slinky bass. Was there any trepidation of, “I don’t know, we might alienate our old fans”? Or were you just like, “Let’s go for it”?
ASH: Yeah. No, I don’t care. It’s like, a hit is a hit is a hit. And as I’ve just said, I love hit singles. I just remember when we finally… because it was all created in one-and-a-half days from its conception. That day we were supposed to be recording another track, and it was on a Monday morning, and I said, “No, no, we’re not doing that track. We’re doing this track.” And David and Kevin said, “Well, can we hear it?” And I said, “No, I haven’t written it yet.” All I had was the first two chords and the first line of the lyric.
But I had this burning thing in me, and I can’t explain it. It was just a magic day. And I just said, “Give me half an hour.” And I went into the basement of the studio with an acoustic guitar and a little tape recorder, and I put it together, the bare bones of the song in half an hour. And then I came back upstairs and we recorded it right there. Kevin started with those drums just without even talking about it. Very much like “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” And we ran through the track and recorded it instantly, and what you hear is what we recorded.
ASH: And then on the second day, we got the girls in to do the backing vocals. I think one of the girls was one of the guys from Fleetwood Mac’s daughter.
ASH: Or wife or something. Yeah. Something like that. I remember we were listening to the finished mix, and David and myself, we looked over each other and just started sort of laughing and smiling. We said, “If this isn’t a hit, let’s quit. If this doesn’t work, forget it.” And there’s also a thing with the record company, they were so confident about that song that the CDs of the album were made up with stickers saying “including the hit single” even before they put the album or single out. That’s how confident they were that this thing was a smash hit.
But as far as your original question of alienating the audience, it’s like we did to a degree. I heard that some people were turned off by that track because it was a commercial hit. I’m like, [laughs], screw you. I want it. Thank you very much. If you’re too narrow-minded to enjoy a commercial hit, well, that’s your problem, not ours.
Now, speaking of being a hit, how famous did you get in America? When that song was #3, did people recognize you on the street?
ASH: Well, we all lived in England at the time, so we didn’t have that problem. But when we were on tour over here, I remember little things like going into a supermarket and getting supplies, and then you’re in the queue to go out and then suddenly there’s a little kerfuffle going on, and we were sort of oblivious to it because we lived in England. And then when you’re on the road, you’re always in a tour bus or you’re in a hotel lobby or you’re getting in an airplane, whatever, so your contact with the public is very limited. So the only time that it would affect us if we were just popping into a supermarket to get supplies while you were on the road. So it didn’t affect us adversely at all, ’cause we lived in the UK.
So it must have been weird to be huge in America and England won’t even touch you.
ASH: Yeah, well, we didn’t really think about it because it doesn’t really matter if you’re popular in the North Pole, who cares? As long as you’re popular somewhere, you can actually do this and make a living and do your art, what you do, it doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s very, very nice to be popular in the USA, for obvious reasons. And looking back, we didn’t really question it. Because we lived in England, it was actually really convenient to not get hassled at all over there and be able to breathe and walk down the street anytime you want. Not an issue. So it was great the fact that we lived in England so we didn’t have all that bullshit to contend with.
At the height of Love And Rockets’ popularity, did you get a sense of how many fans you had who followed you from Bauhaus, and how many fans you had who had never even heard of your first band?
ASH: I don’t know the answer to that. Who knows? We don’t know. I think there would be a degree of fallout ’cause it’s the same three people that were in that band. But, I think in retrospect Love and Rockets were more commercially accessible.
Hot Trip To Heaven (1994)
After your huge album, it took you five years to make Hot Trip To Heaven, which was way more influenced by rave music at the time. What was going on there?
ASH: It took two years to make that. We were in the studio for two years, on and off. Again, in the countryside in this really flashy studio in the south of England with all these gorgeous grounds with all these plants. And it cost us an absolute fortune. I think we’ve only recently got out of debt for that album. It was like a lot of money. But we were on a roll with the previous albums, and then we were fed up and bored with doing guitar-oriented songs. We were listening to Orbital, Leftfield, stuff like that. We were embracing all of that.
We didn’t want to make an album with guitars on it. In essence, we wanted to join that club, the techno world. We were in love with it. I remember when we were recording Hot Trip To Heaven, I was thinking personally that this is either our Dark Side Of The Moon or a complete commercial flop. And unfortunately it was the latter. Commercially it completely bombed. I heard stories about Americans going back to the record store that they bought the CD of Hot Trip and demanding their money back saying, “This doesn’t sound like Love And Rockets. I don’t want it. I want my money back.”
ASH: I remember hearing stories like that. It was a complete departure from what we’d done before, but as a band, we were always into… “Right, we’ve done that. Let’s do the total opposite.” So that was again us being awkward and English.
How do you feel about the album now?
ASH: I’m having to listen to all of the stuff now because we’re going on the road in a month. But I haven’t, I haven’t heard that stuff in years. But my memory of Hot Trip To Heaven, I am extremely proud of that record. Even though it wasn’t a commercial hit, we loved it. We still do.
Naming The Band After An Influential Underground Comic Book And Associating With Comic Writer Alan Moore
The band was named after the Hernandez Brothers’ very influential underground comic series. I take it you were a fan?
ASH: I wasn’t a fan, no. David came up with that. Dave and Kev are comic book fans. I’m not. It’s funny, because I live about 10 miles down the road from those guys now. ‘Cause they came from Ventura, and I just live about 10, 15 miles from Ventura. But I love the name, though. As soon as I heard the name — obviously, we all had to agree on a name, and I loved it. We all did. That’s why we chose it. I can’t say I’m a fan of the comic. When I saw the comic, I loved it. But I didn’t know about the comic initially.
I’m just going to take a swing here. David was in a band with the comic book writer Alan Moore for a minute, right?
ASH: Well, I don’t know about a band. But they did that duck song. You know about it. What’s it called? Yeah, that was with Alan Moore.
Yeah, Sinister Ducks.
ASH: Well, he lives in our hometown, by the way. He lives in Northampton in England.
Were you guys tight with Alan Moore?
ASH: I wasn’t, no. David was.
That’s cool. Did he have any stories?
ASH: Yes, but nothing I can tell you about. [laughs]
Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (1979)
Let’s take it back to the beginning. So, legendarily “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was the first song Bauhaus ever did, right?
ASH: It was in the first batch of songs. We were together as a band for a couple of days or a week when we came up with that. And then we recorded it within three weeks or a month. We recorded it at Beck Studios, which was 10 miles down the road. Yeah. So we’d got that in the can within being a band for about a month. So that was wonderful.
Did you know right away that you had lightning in a bottle with that song?
ASH: Yeah, absolutely. We’d started playing with David, ’cause Dave wasn’t actually in Bauhaus at the very, very beginning. There was this other bass player, but he was no good. But anyway, I got Dave in pretty damn quick within a few weeks. After we’d rehearsed a couple of times, I was talking to him on the phone about an upcoming rehearsal we had, and I said, “Listen, I’ve got this riff and I’m using these strange chords where there’s this really haunting chord progression I’ve got here. It’s really ghost-Like, it’s got this thing about it.”
And Dave said, “Well, that’s really weird you should say that, because I got this lyric about Bela Lugosi, there’s a Dracula character that he plays.” And I’m like, “Wow, let’s put these two things together when we get to the rehearsal room tomorrow,” or whenever it was. So we did, and we got it, we went into the room and David handed the lyrics over to Peter. I started playing that riff, and Kevin just started doing that bossa nova beat, and we played it. Peter started singing, and that’s pretty much the “Bela” that you hear now. It was that instant.
ASH: Magic moment.
If you think about it, it’s a very long song. It has that dubby bass part that’s so unique and not something you hear very often in rock songs. There’s Peter’s amazing scream. It just builds and builds. It doesn’t seem like your typical debut single, and yet it worked great for you guys.
ASH: Yeah, well, it’s a nine-and-a-half minute single, if it is a single. But obviously, we couldn’t resist putting that out, because it was magic. I remember, this was the tester for me. After we recorded it, it was all mixed and everything, everybody was in the studio and I went for a whiz, and I’m in the bathroom having a whiz and there’s a tiny little speaker on the room, a little tiny radio speaker, screwed into the wall, about three inches diameter, a tiny little radio thing. And it still sounded good. It sounded great on that speaker. At that moment I knew we had a brilliant track.
Did record labels tell you to try to edit it down?
ASH: Absolutely not, not from my recollection. Because we had it written in the contract with Small Wonder Records that we have full artistic control. From my recollection, there was never… there might have been that conversation, but we would’ve said, “Absolutely not. It is what it is.” But I don’t remember them saying that at all. I remember we went down with the acetate, played it in the guy’s record store, and we’re just all smoking a joint and, listening to it, and then at the end of the track he goes, “You guys have got a deal.”
So, Peter (Stennett), great guy. There was no money. He had a little record store in the East End of London, and the whole deal was we split everything 50/50, which was wonderful, ’cause as the years went on, we got 50% of the profits all the time. So that was actually, we used to call it the Bela cheques, [laughs] the Bela cheques would come in. They’d basically keep us alive there for quite a while.
I’m from Florida, and for whatever reason, likely because of the sunshine and Disney, there’s a huge, huge goth subculture in Florida. It’s a very goth place. And I can tell you, to this day, I even saw it happen like four or five years ago. If you go to a goth nightclub and “Bela “comes on, people go nuts. Have you ever been to a goth nightclub and seen people just lose their minds to that song?
ASH: Well, about 10 years ago I was doing it. I used to do a lot of DJ gigs. I don’t do it anymore. But about 10 years ago I was booked in this goth club, I suppose you’d call it, in Fresno of all places.
Okay. Makes sense.
ASH: And it was really weird, because you sort of blink and everybody’s dressed exactly the same as how the goths were dressed in 1982, and yet this was 2006 or whatever. But, I don’t have any recollection of when “Bela” came on, people going crazy. It’s probably ’cause I don’t go to clubs. I think I’ve been to a goth club probably twice in my life.
The Whole Goth Thing
Do you remember the first time your band was called goth?
ASH: It would’ve been in the early ’80s. It was created by, probably the NME or Melody Maker. Back then. Yeah. I mean, it was a complete accident, because it’s funny, if you think about the name Bauhaus, that is connected to the art movement, which is the absolute opposite of goth. It’s all extremely simple design, whereas Gothic is very flamboyant.
ASH: Yeah. Ornate. So there’s a complete juxtaposition between what we were like visually and the name of the band. But anyway, going back to your question. In the very early ’80s from the NME or Melody Maker, there was some little statement in one of those mags that said, “Goth was invented in 1978 by Bauhaus from Northampton, UK.” The little statement, it’s about the size of a postage stamp. That was the official little statement. But, if you say to a lot of English bands they’re goth, it’s a bit of an insult. Like, if you said to the Cure they’re a goth band, or Siouxsie And The Banshees, it’s not cool, because goth in England at that time was bands that had really big hair, too much makeup, and no talent.
How do you feel now to be considered one of the godfathers of goth, these days?
ASH: I don’t really think about it. I mean, what can you say? It would be a bit pathetic if I thought about that all day long, wouldn’t it? You know what I mean?
You mentioned Robert Smith and Siouxsie And The Banshees. When other bands that were called goth started popping up, were you competitive, or did you view them as friends?
ASH: No, we weren’t competitive at all. No. There were various bands. We loved New Order, we loved Joy Division. We loved the singles from the Cure. Same with Siouxsie And The Banshees. I don’t think any of us really listened to the albums, but we loved the singles. So we all sort of came up together, but not in competition with other bands at all. No. We just had tunnel vision. I mean, we were just on a mission to get ourselves out there, big time. We were pretty obsessed with wanting to be successful. But as far as, no, if anything, we admired these other bands. There were various singles from Siouxsie And The Banshees that we loved. Joy Division, we had a lot in common with them. “Atmosphere,” we adored that song. When that came out. Whoa. You know, it’s undeniable. “A Forest” by the Cure. Undeniable. Brilliant. Various Siouxsie singles. “New Rose” by the Damned.
How long have you lived in America?
ASH: I think I officially moved over here in ’94. ‘Cause I’ve been coming here obviously since like ’79. [laughs] First time we went to New York, I think, was 1979, 1980.
I ask because, as someone living in America, did you ever see the Saturday Night Live sketch “Goth Talk”?
ASH: I never watched, I never watched Saturday Night Live. I missed out on all of that.
Basically, it’s a sketch, like this teenager’s hosting a talk show, all about goth music and goth life. Christina Ricci would drop by as a guest, and “Bela” was the theme song of the music. So I thought maybe it was on your radar for that.
ASH: Nope. Missed out. It went right over my head.
Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties” (1983)
What do you remember about making “She’s In Parties”? That’s a beautiful song.
ASH: That was a case where, and I can’t remember the guy’s name, where we actually used a producer in the studio, ’cause all of this stuff we would produce ourselves, with a really good engineer. And it was very odd, actually, to be being told what to do. [laughs]
I know it was weird for me, ’cause I remember there was one bit where we were on tour, and the guy was working on the track, and I got a phone call saying, “You gotta go back down to the studio in Wales with your saxophone ’cause he wants to do some saxophone thing.” So after a gig, I had to get on the train and go to Wales, record this saxophone stuff, which was never used, actually, and then go back on tour again. So that was really odd, you know, to have some guy telling us what to do. So we never did that again. There wasn’t any clashes, by the way, with “She’s In Parties.” It was just I remember it being alien having such an organized, produced track. You know, I wasn’t adverse to it at all, but it was a hit, so great.
Forming Tones On Tail (1982)
Because it wasn’t around for very long, Tones On Tail seems like the bridge between Bauhaus and Love And Rockets. How do you feel about it looking back on it these days?
I always wanted that band to sound otherworldly, but you could also tap your foot to it. It was commercially accessible, but it wasn’t from here, it was from another planet. I think we actually achieved that. But that’s some of probably my favorite stuff I’ve ever been involved with. I loved making that, the album and the singles that we made, because there were no commercial pressures whatsoever. The record company let us do exactly what we wanted, and they really loved what we were doing.
And it’s funny, we never actually made a video for any of the songs, any of the singles or anything. We never even talked about it. It’s very odd looking back. But I’ve got the fondest memories of making that music. I’m extremely proud of that band, ’cause I think it really stands up now. If you listen to the tracks now, they could have been recorded last week, to me. They were, it was fully realized, that band. As I said, probably most of my favorite stuff was with Tones.
Was it the first time you sang lead on a project?
ASH: Well, actually, I was doing lead vocals on “Slice Of Life” and stuff, a few things, but yeah, basically, yes. I was writing all the lyrics and doing all that. I wrote the lyrics for that band and, yeah, it was magical to me.
But it was particularly free with Tones to go off into this other world. I mean, we were just allowed to indulge. But again, I was still into the idea of a hit single, but funnily enough, “Go” was a B side, a track called “Lions” was the A side, but all the DJs flipped it and was playing “Go.” And it was a big old hit in Germany, I remember. Like five weeks.
The Bauhaus Logo And Aesthetic, And Bauhaus T-Shirts Appearing In Strange Places
If you name your band after an art movement, you’re probably obligated to have a really strong visual identity from the start, right?
ASH: Yeah, absolutely. We had that down. That again just came naturally. You know, it was a very natural progression. I remember from art school, I’d always wear black when I was at art school, ’cause I was always mucking around with motorcycles. So black was… you know, it’s practical. But we never ever spoke about what we were going to wear. Ever. Oh, how we were going to look. It was completely organic in the way that sort of evolved. We never spoke about it. We never said, “Oh, we’re going to do it.” It was just like, we’d turn up and we’d all be wearing black. I don’t know. It was a complete accident. It looked good.
Do you remember when you first saw Oskar Schlemmer’s iconic logo from the 20s? What made you decide to use it for the band?
ASH: Well, it again, it was a natural connection. It was just something from the original movement. Things are either right or they’re wrong. They connect or they don’t, and it’s just like, “Yeah, okay. That works.” Just like the name. It works.
Going back to the topic of pop music… I’m not making fun of anyone, by the way. I’m just saying it’s very weird how Bauhaus’ imagery made it out into the world. Are you aware that Peter Cetera in his “You’re The Inspiration” video wears a Bauhaus T-shirt?
I’m not making that up.
ASH: I don’t even know who you’re talking about.
He used to be the singer of a band called Chicago, a soft rock group. It’s not my kind of music, but if you heard the song you’d probably recognize it. [I begin to sing a bit of the song, and then instantly regret that decision.]
ASH: Wow. What’s the name of the song? I’ll look it up.
It’s called “You’re The Inspiration.” I don’t think you’d care for the song, it’s a soft rock ballad. And this is like the late ’80s too, so it’s really kind of crazy.
ASH: No. Listen, I’m interested, ’cause I want to see it. So he’s wearing a… Is he wearing a T-shirt with the logo on it?
It’s not the classic logo. It’s a different Bauhaus shirt, but it’s still, he’s wearing it.
ASH: Is he doing that to be cool?
I don’t know if he likes the band, or if a publicist said, “This will make you look edgy.” I have no idea.
ASH: That’s news to me. Yeah.
Have you ever heard of a boy band called New Kids On The Block?
ASH: Yeah, of course I have. Yeah.
One of the members also wore a Bauhaus t-shirt in one of their videos. Did you know that?
ASH: I have a vague memory of that. Yes.
What’d you think?
ASH: Yeah, that’s cool. It’s like Justin Bieber. I’ve got no problem with Justin Bieber. I’ve never had an issue with pop stars. It’s like Britney Spears, I’m okay with all that.
Bauhaus’ Ska Song “Harry” (1979)
I want to ask you about one song I was quite struck by while re-listening to your catalog for this interview. On one of your early songs, “Harry,” it’s kind of like a ska song.
ASH: Yeah, it is.
How’d that happen?
ASH: That was at the very, very, very beginning when Peter and myself… Peter and me go back to like 11 years old at school. When we left school at 16, we never saw each other again for five years. And I went to visit him. I didn’t phone him. I didn’t have his number. I just jumped in my little cheap car there and I just went 10 miles down the road to Wellingborough, which is where he lived and basically just waited for him to come home from work, was waiting in the car. I hadn’t seen him in five years. And he came home, he had a little motorcycle, him and another guy, they had a couple of bikes. And they parked up, and “Hey, I haven’t seen you in five years,” and all of this.
So I was actually playing him a cassette in the back of the car there of something that I was involved with with Dave and Kevin. I said, “Hey, do you want to be in a band?” And before I could say the word band, he said yes.
But anyway, one of the first riffs and songs we came up with was “Harry.” I just started playing the reggae beat, the reggae riff on the guitar. And Peter had The Sun newspaper, which is the equivalent to the National Enquirer over here. And so he started singing out of that. I don’t know if that’s where he got the lyrics from. There might have been a writeup on Blondie or Debbie Harry or something and maybe it started that way. But that’s how that song started. It was from just us two in a room with a little 15 Watt amp and started playing that reggae riff and then “Harry” happened.
It’s just very unusual for you guys. I had forgotten you had made that song.
ASH: Well, I love reggae and I love ska. I think the first record I ever bought was Dave & Ansel Collins, Double Barrel.
Utilizing Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies
I’ve read that you guys would use Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards sometimes. What did you learn from them?
ASH: They do work. It totally frees you up. All bands will be in the studio at some point, they hit a brick wall. They don’t know whether to carry on. It’s very similar to the I Ching for me. You would just pick up a card and it would suggest what to do.
Sometimes it would be something [like] “carry on exactly as you’re going.” Sometimes it would be “turn everything upside down.” Sometimes it would be “emphasize the tambourine,” all sorts of bizarre, on the surface of things bizarre suggestions sometimes. When you’re out of ideas or you don’t know if you’re going in the right direction, this thing would suggest and tell you what to do, and therefore you would be free.
Performing The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man” With Nico (1982)
ASH: I remember very, very, very well about that. We were in Manchester, and Nico was living in Manchester at the time, and to cut a long story short, we invited her on stage to perform that song. And I’m presuming that’s where the recording comes from, ’cause it’s a live recording. So yeah, I’ve got very specific memories.
She wasn’t doing so great at that time, and I think somebody that she was hanging around with wasn’t doing her any favors as far as her health is concerned. She had some problems. But, yeah, I remember the gig really well. We start playing the song and she walks up and starts singing with Pete, and it was a magic moment, for sure.
The Bubblemen (1988)
I didn’t know about your side-project the Bubblemen until I started research for this interview. Uh, what was going on here?
ASH: I remember we were in a pub in England, this would’ve been obviously Love And Rockets times. And we were thinking about what to do visually for a song. I can’t remember what single it was, but we were thinking about “what can we get visually that’s different and fun” or whatever. As we were talking this through in the pub, I was doodling these, the bubble men, not knowing what they were. And then we look down and go — somebody did, I don’t know who — “What about these guys?”
And it’s like straightaway we called them the Bubblemen. Oh, yeah. Look, that was it. That’s how they came about, a doodle. And in actual fact, it’s funny, on the album Mask from Bauhaus, if you look at the cover, there’s a little black bubble man right there. If you look on the shoulder, there’s a little, it’s like a negative of a bubble man, because he’s got a black face instead of a white face, but that’s the — ’cause he got the antenna. And that was the first ever bubble man. This is something that comes out, came out of my subconscious, obviously. But the fact is that on that day in the pub, a few years later, I’m doodling the bubble men again. So it came out of a doodle.
What did people think when you made the single and video “The Bubblemen Are Coming!”?
ASH: When we were in the conception of it, we were just laughing around a table. I’m like, “Oh, look at these guys.”
The Bubblemen we used for Love And Rockets. They would be very good in us not taking ourselves seriously. You know, with all the pressures of all that stuff, when you start having success a little bit. So it would keep our feet on the ground, and we’d always have something to take the piss out of ourselves and to laugh about. The Bubblemen were very good at us, stopping ourselves taking ourselves too seriously. That was their job, and it worked out great. But if you’re talking about the videos and stuff, people embraced them. There were people that would come up to us at gigs and ask if they could be a bubble man for the night. Put on the costume. So there was a whole thing with mums and dads and kids wanting to be bubble men. And then we’d have these blow-up saxophones and blow-up guitars and they’d go on with that. It was a blast.
Bauhaus Reuniting For Coachella In 2005
I did see you when Bauhaus played Coachella in 2005, and very memorably, you opened with “Bela,” and Peter sang the entire 10-minute song hanging upside down. It’s still one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Whose idea was that?
ASH: I don’t remember whose idea it was. I remember when we started rehearsing because it’s very difficult to sing upside down. And it was funny in rehearsals ’cause we’d be playing and Pete would be hanging upside down on the door, from a door hanging there. So that was sort of like, it’s comical, it’s funny thinking about that.
But what an idea, yeah, what a great idea. And the other thing is that I remember on the afternoon when we were sound checking, Pete was up in the air on a crane, and he was way up several hundred feet hanging. And I think initially that’s where he was going to hang, until somebody had the bright idea of actually getting that cord to come right down, just so it was about a foot off the ground. Because initially he was way up there.
ASH: And that’s like a really precarious place to be, like 200 feet in the air on a crane upside down.
Yeah. That’d be terrifying.
ASH: But if you’re hanging one foot from the ground, and something goes wrong, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to fall a foot, but I remember looking up and he was way — and I’m like, “What?” But then the idea was to actually bring it right down onto the [stage], so he’s with us on the stage, and there he was. And that’s my memory of that whole thing.
Sitting In With Jane’s Addiction At Madison Square Garden (2022)
I saw you sit in with Jane’s Addiction at Madison Square Garden last year, and you did “Jane Says” and “Slice Of Life.” How’d that happen?
ASH: We’ve got the same management now. So I got a phone call from Jane’s and Perry Farrell’s management asking. Apparently, the band had asked me if I was into it, and I was very much into it. So, yeah, that’s how that came about.
How long have you known Perry Farrell? ‘Cause Love And Rockets toured with Porno For Pyros back in the ’90s, right?
ASH: Jane’s Addiction used to open for Love And Rockets. Way, way back. Yes, so that’s how far back we go.
Do you remember anything about that Madison Square Garden moment?
ASH: Very odd to be stone cold sober. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never walked on stage and played in somebody else’s band, ever. Completely new to me. So I was sort of basically waiting behind the drum kit for like five songs. And then I’d have to walk on, put the guitar around my neck and start playing. Yeah, it was a few weeks coming up, because I’d rehearsed the hell out of those two tracks, just so I didn’t screw them up live. And I would go through nights of like, this is surreal, can I do this? It was a weird one for me, but at the same time, what a blast to play such a gig. I was extremely flattered that they asked me to do that.
New Band Ashes And Diamonds
So you have a new band Ashes And Diamonds. How’s that been going?
ASH: We’re really excited about it. We started it three years ago, and then the pandemic hit, so it put a hold on everything, but it’s Paul Denman on bass, he’s from Sade, and it’s Bruce Smith from PIL on drums, and myself, vocals and guitar and whatever. And we’ve got… We’re just putting the finishing touches, we’re about 99% done on the mixes of the tracks. We’ve got 10 tracks, no cover versions. And it’s worked out really well. We’re really excited about this album.
And we are hoping to go out on the road with it before the end of this year, probably November, December to showcase it as such. We’ll be probably putting various tracks out online. So when the pandemic hit we were working from different ends of the country, so that’s never as good as actually being in a room together. So since then we’ve actually come back together and reworked stuff in the same room, same studio. So it’s finally finished, but it’s something that we are really, really excited about.
How would you describe it?
ASH: I mean, all I can tell you is I’ve used the EBow for many years, which turns the guitar into a violin almost. But I’ve found this new pedal, I don’t want to get into technical stuff, but I’ve found this new pedal that basically turns a guitar into like a Hammond organ or whatever. It’s got various keyboard settings, like an old B3 setting and this and that. So, I’m using that quite a lot on the album. So there’s a lot of atmospherics which, when you hear it, you’ll think it’s maybe keyboards, but it’s a guitar with my sustainer and EBow stuff in conjunction with this new pedal. So that sound is all over the album. So it’s got a… I can’t really, I don’t know, what is it, alternative rock? I don’t know. It’s not Barry Manilow, I’ll tell you that much.
Performing In The Horror Film The Hunger (1983)
I think this is a good place to end it with. What do you remember about being in that film The Hunger where you performed “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”? Did you get to meet David Bowie?
ASH: I’ve got real memories about that because… Well, I would’ve been 26, ’cause I know Bowie was 36. We were all in our mid-20s then. And he definitely was 36 when they were making that. And I remember at 7:30 in the morning at a dress rehearsal, I’ve got all what I’m going to wear on the scene. And I hear this voice behind me going, “Oy, you’ve got my shoes on.” And it was Bowie. I look round and we had the same shoes on, these patent leather shoes. And of course, I’m completely starstruck.
ASH: Nothing comes out of my mouth. I like grunted or something, ’cause I’m completely starstruck. And I remember Kevin was standing around, he was laughing his head off at my reaction ’cause I was frozen on the spot. It was… He was my complete total hero from the Ziggy Stardust days and on. So I just went, “Oh, yeah,” something awkward like that. And he knew straightaway, Bowie did, because he just sort of changed the subject and was sort of trying to break the ice with me, trying to put me at ease.
But yeah, I’ll never forget that. And the thing that struck me about Bowie then, ’cause he would’ve been 36, that his skin was… and this was pre makeup, his skin was like porcelain. He had this skin. Just looked striking. Looked extremely healthy with his perfect skin. That’s what I remember of that. So that was the main memory of the day. And also I remember at the end of the day I was sitting in a corridor and he was in a room there and I overheard them, Bowie with a bunch of other friends, and they were all having a competition on who knows what about music and the name of the bass player in some obscure ’60s band in 1962. They were having this little game behind closed doors. And I remember Bowie being able to answer all the questions.
ASH: All this information about all these different bands. And I was listening at the door, not with my head like that, but I was sitting on the floor, I don’t know, drinking something or whatever. And I could overhear this conversation, and I was amazed at his knowledge of the quiz that was going on in the room. And then when he came out he just saw me there and he bent down, he went, “Very nice to meet you,” and shook my hand. And I was like, “Wow. David Bowie, David Bowie just shook my hand, you know?” That’s it. Cool, very cool. Great guy. An absolute genius.
And what do you remember with the film itself?
ASH: I remember going to the cinema and seeing it. I loved the film. I thought it was a great film. And then again, with filming everything is so drawn out, you’re waiting around for hours literally before you do your bit. But yeah, I thought it was really well executed. It’s not a film that’s embarrassing. It’s a valid film. The subject matter was right up our street anyway. But again, yeah, somebody, I don’t know how we got that gig, but, I don’t know, a friend of a friend who’d just seen us play live and then we got the phone call just out of the blue, and so of course we said yes to doing it. It was an amazing, amazing thing to do.
But then you guys broke up shortly afterwards, so you didn’t necessarily get to ride a sort of wave of popularity from it.
ASH: Oh, yeah, I suppose. I don’t think it really had an effect on the band one way or the other. It wouldn’t have harmed if we’d carried on as a band throughout with that under our belt, the fact that we were in that film. I don’t think it would have affected us one way or the other, really, if we’d carried on. I don’t think it would have made us more popular… I don’t know, I don’t think it would have, though.
I think it helped you later on. It’s how a younger generation of people found you over the years, through that film.
ASH: It’s advertising. Yeah, if you’re in a film and the film has a degree of success, that’s never going to go away, yeah.
Especially ’cause it just kind of fits your entire band’s vibe so much.
ASH: I mean, if you think about it, that’s why they chose us as well, because of the subject matter of the song that we’re doing. They’re in a modern nightclub, these two vampires, and the band on stage are singing the Bela Lugosi song. There you go. Fits perfectly.