40 Years of Bauhaus | An Interview with David J Haskins

Next week David J Haskins and Peter Murphy are set to embark on their Ruby Celebration Tour commemorating the 40th anniversary of their seminal gothic rock band Bauhaus.

During a stop in Berlin a month ago, our Editor met up with David J at Dream Baby Dream to discuss the 40th Anniversary of Bauhaus, along with the topics of goth, reggae, his solo work, and his return to Beck Studios in Wellingborough, where Bauhaus recorded the iconic track “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, along with four other sounds which are included in upcoming release of Bauhaus’ Bela Session EP.

Watch the interview below:

While editing the Berlin interview, our new writer Sär Blackthorn called David for a follow up questions where Sär discussed how David and Peter reconnected, how it was to return to Beck Studios after several decades, and perhaps supernatural during that return:

Q: How did your last show at Beck Studios go?

David: It was very nostalgic, of course, for me. I hadn’t been back there since ’84. I felt instantly at home again; it was sort of like all the years just fell away. And Dave Smith, the guy who’s taken it over, has done a really good job. He had an acoustics expert come in to look at the place and he was anticipating he might spend a lot of money in getting it up to scratch, but this guy did all his tests and said, “Don’t touch a thing because whoever put this studio together really knew what they were doing because it’s acoustically perfect”. He said it’s very unusual for these provincial studios, which usually require thousands of dollars worth of renovation, but he said it’s perfectly set up. The guy who built the studio, Derek Tompkins, he really did know what he was on about. He built a lot of the equipment himself.

“the door opened and slammed shut on its own!”

I felt his presence there very strongly and it’s strange– I put a photo up on Facebook that somebody took at sound check and it’s rather spooky because there’s all these sort of swirling, phantom-like shapes around me. And of course we had to play “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” as the final encore– we did a very different version of it. But during that, there’s a little door behind me. I wasn’t actually on stage, I had my friend and collaborator Tim Newman out front just playing these atmospheric sounds to set the scene and I was waiting to come on. I was in the control room and didn’t see this happen, but obviously people in the room did– the door opened and slammed shut on its own! I mentioned that to Dave, the owner, and he said, “Yeah, a couple weeks ago we had a band in rehearsing and this figure of a man walked through that door, passed them, and passed through the other closed door at the other end of the studio”. They feel like warm, friendly ghosts– no negative energy at all. I’m kind of attuned to that sort of thing psychically and it felt very good. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was the ghost of Derek Tompkins.

And then the next day I stayed there and recorded a new song. It turned out so well I’ll have to include it on my next album, so now it’ll be a double album which wasn’t the intention, but it’s growing. It’s a bossa nova which “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is also.

The show was great– it sold out, nice appreciative crowd, very attentive.

Q: How did you meet Tim Newman?

David: He took it upon himself to do some remixes of a track of mine “Pulling Arrows From Our Heels” which is on the album Estranged. He takes elements of the original tracks and then records multiple instruments over the top and he loops it. I call him a sound alchemist and he makes gold, it’s incredible. We’ve done a lot of work in the past and a lot that’s going to be released in the future. So he sent these tracks to me and I was very impressed, so I contacted him and told him “I love what you’re doing here, let’s work together”. That was about four years ago now, not long.

Q: And then Dave Stretton you’ve known since you were a teenager?

David: Forever, yeah, about 16.

Q: How often do you guys get together?

David: Once in a blue moon when I go to England. And we only reconnected a couple of years ago. Although he would occasionally show up to Bauhaus gigs in London.  I was also reunited with a real old friend who was in the same band, Dave Exton, and I hadn’t seen him since the 80s. He turned up in this amazing silver suit that he had back then in ’79 and he looked great. He was the guitar player in my old band The Submerged Tenth. So we all three reunited that night.

Q: Who were your influences at the time of your initial solo albums?

David: With the first album Etiquette of Violence, it wasn’t that personal. In fact all my albums have become more personal as I’ve gone on. So I’d be inspired by something I’d read in the newspaper, for example. I put something of my own experience into it, but it would be very fictional. That first album also contains a lot of cutups like William S. Burroughs cut-up technique and there’s a little bit of that in Crocodile Tears. And I gradually moved away from that and became more personal and lyrical. For example, like the story of infidelity– I wasn’t experiencing that, but I had friends who were going through those experiences and they would cry on my shoulder and I would take that on board and it just kind of seeps in and comes out as a song.

Q: What are your favorite songs to play live?

David: Usually it’s the newest ones because they’re very alive. But I do make the old songs live by reinterpreting them and especially when I play with invited musicians just out to be in that town that night. Maybe they’re local or just people I meet on the street who I invite in to play and improvise. And that changes those old songs and gives them new life. I’m really fond of this song “In The Wake of Lady Blue” which was on my last album, it’s just very romantic and personal like most all the songs on that are.

I really like playing “The Day That David Bowie Died” and that gets a very emotional reaction and that’s a song that’s very pure that poured out of me that night when I heard the news that he passed. I was able to record it the next day ’cause I had a studio booked in Portland actually, Revolver Studio intending to record something else which I did record, but first I recorded “The Day That David Bowie Died” and we just invited players in. Collin was saying “What else do you hear on this?” and I’d say “I hear trumpet” “Okay I know the guy” So it was like a revolving door, everybody invited everybody back after we’d mixed it and we did it all in a day. And there were tears in the control room and I knew I had something very special with that one and I think I was really tapping into the psychic energy that was really palpable that day ’cause it’s the day after– everything was about Bowie. And I play it live… I remember being int he Crystal Hotel and writing that song and it all comes very vividly to me and it’s very cathartic. The passing of a huge hero and influence, somebody that I personally met and it was lovely.

“2,000 Lightyears” I love playing. Americans don’t really understand the lyrics because it’s very English. The terminology. I had this one moment where I was playing a Living Room show which I Do a lot these days. And I wasn’t planning on doing this but I kept stopping it to explain the terminology I was using. And it made this thing about 15 minutes long. I’d be like “Do you know what the spinny is? It’s like in a park there’s an area with a lot of trees and that’s a spinny. You know, so pledging blood brotherhood down in the spinny. It’s all about North Hampton and childhood and growing up and then leaving friends, it’s very poignant, it’s about nostalgia, but it also has a kind of cynicism to a degree although it is romantic and melancholy. It has a lot of references to places in North Hampton so that’s a very personal one and I played it of course at Beck and I played it with Dave Stretton who’s part of the soul of that song because he was one of the old friends I left behind but now reunited with. Of course I’m copying the “2,000 Lightyears From Home” from The Rolling Stones, The Gold Street is the main street in NH but on the intersection of Gold Street and Horse Market street is where Bauhaus had our first rehearsal where we wrong Bela Lugosi’s Dead. I like songs that mention street names and places so it’s like going on a little journey. Like “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison where he’s going back to Belfast and revisiting in song, lyricism and poetry there’s the places that were magical to him.

Q: When and how did Peter approach you about performing Bauhaus songs again?

David: Totally out of the blue, I just got an email asking me to play on his residency at The Chapel in San Francisco. I was really surprised and I immediately thought, well, this is an opportunity for a reconciliation because we left on really acrimonious terms. We had last spoken 12 years prior, 2006. He wanted to have a Skype talk. I very rarely use Skype, but that’s what he does and it was good because I could see him in Turkey and we had a heart to heart. And there was an elephant in the room which was the acrimonious parting. I had to be real because it was really important to get together again that we don’t leave any elephants in the room. So I said, “About this elephant in the room…” and I could see him desperately meander with his papers in front of him on his desk and he was searching for something. I knew he was searching for a cigarette. And then sure enough he appears with a cigarette, which he never lit, he just had to hold it! So it was very interesting. And then I stated the reason why we split up and I described his behavior and he was kind of shocked by that. “Really? I did that? That’s awful! I didn’t say that!” It was like I was talking about somebody else. I had the sense that he had gone through something very big. He’d changed. So he was able to own it and admit that he was impossible. “Sometimes you’re great, you’re fantastic, you’re amazing, but you can be a pain in the neck and you’re impossible”. And he accepted it, we had a laugh about it and it was very healthy.

“Now you’re stuck with me again, you poor sod!”

So when we finally did get together we just had a big hug and he kissed me on the cheek and said “Now you’re stuck with me again, you poor sod!” But we reconciled anyway, and then we just went straight into playing the set and it clicked right away. And then the gig was fantastic, it was really positive and we’ve done three more since then and they’ve been better and better and better. So it’s been very emotional and bonding. That Skype conversation was eight months ago now. That whole bonding experience is all part of it now, so when we get on stage, it’s part of the fabric of the emotion that fuels the fire of the performance and it’s a very deep, rich thing.

Q: Do you think you and Peter will tour the U.S. for the Ruby Celebration of Bauhaus?

David: There’s a very good chance, we really want to. It was all down to Peter’s visa [delay]. We had to postpone three times at The Chapel. It was incredibly frustrating because we’d been rehearsing for it and sounded great, but he kept getting [his visa delayed]. But it’s looking extremely promising at the moment so we’re really hoping. Fingers crossed! It’s been hard for him because he converted to Islam years ago, he lives in Istanbul, so that’s not an optimum situation with the current Clown Town administration to get into the country. That’s what it’s all to do with.

Q: What is your dream bass?

David: The one I own! 1972 fretless P bass. I’ve had it since 1994. It’s the best bass I’ve ever had. It’s a dream to play; it’s got a lot of soul. I believe instruments resonate with the experiences they’ve had. All the music that’s been played with them, the experiences, just being held– instruments have a soul and I felt very connected to this one as soon as I picked it up. I haven’t got that many, but that’s my baby.

Q: Do you name your guitars?

David: The only guitar I’ve named is my nylo string classical guitar which I play when I do solo gigs. That’s a mysterious guitar because it’s from China, but it’s a Spanish style classical guitar. Nobody knows who made it or where it came from so I call it Monica after Monica Lee, the mysterious Chinese girl– that kitsch painting of the Chinese girl with the gold dress, it’s very famous. Well the model was Monica Lee, a mysterious Chinese lady in the painting.

Q: What is the craziest supernatural experience you’ve had?

(David told me the story of Genesis P. Orridge that can be found in Who Killed Mr. Moonlight.)

David: There is a follow up, though, and it’s very interesting because at that time of the fire, Genesis was full of self-loathing. I know because of conversations we had and conversations I overheard. There was a court case which he won, which we got embroiled in, because he sued Rick Reuben. He didn’t want to, but his lawyer said “Look, you’ve got $140,000 worth of medical bills and Rick Reuben is a multi-millionaire. If you sue him, he’s gonna cover that and then some and you were in his house so he is ultimately responsible.” It’s a horrible thing to have to do, but this is what happened. So he did that and then Rick, who bore no malice against us at all, he was amazing actually, really zen-like about it. All he was concerned about was that we weren’t injured. Anyway, his insurance company countered-sued Love And Rockets and they pulled every dirty deed in the book to try to get us convicted. We didn’t, but we paid a lot of money to a lawyer so we were really in a lot of debt. But Genesis won, and he won a lot of money, $1.5 million. A lot of that he spent on plastic surgery as part of his androgyny thing. And he changed very dramatically.

I went to see Psychic TV play a few years later in Hollywood. He looked extraordinary and really androgynous and dressed all in white, he looked kind of beautiful in a weird way. And somebody shouted out, “I love you, Gen!” and he went up to the mic and said, “I love me, too”. In that moment it made me shiver, because I thought of what he told me about that doll saying “I came to make you love yourself”. That whole fire happened and because of that, I think, in great part because of that doll, he wouldn’t have got the money or had that surgery and gone to this place where he did indeed love himself.

Q: What current bands are you into?

David: I do like Cigarettes After Sex. I really like Star Crawler from LA, a very young band we tried to get as opening acts on this tour. The singer sounds like a female Iggy Pop, very exciting. But they’re on tour with Wayne Kramer doing the Mc5 thing. They’re very visceral, really good. Those two bands couldn’t be more opposite so that’s a good arch.

David J and Peter Murphy begin their Ruby Celebration Tour on October 7th.

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