Much has been written about Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins‘ numerous projects, but the ink has yet to dry on their latest celebratory outing, Poptone. So the story goes, Ash was dozing with his headphones on and woke with a start at 4 a.m. to the telltale sounds of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” The jarring urgency of the moment is what inspired him to get back on the road, this time drawing heavily upon (but not limited to) the work of short-lived project Tones on Tail. Enlisting Haskins on drums, the trio is rounded out by Diva Dompe, Haskins’ daughter, a formidable force fit to fill the shoes of both David J and Glenn Campling.
After a wildly revered tour, which pitted much of Tones on Tail’s transitional back catalog against Ash-sung Bauhaus and Love and Rockets highlights, Poptone cut their debut album with LA’s Part Time Punks. Due out across various formats on Cleopatra Records on June 8th, the record captures thirteen classic songs from the band’s repertoire, a testament to the strength and timelessness of the material. They’re also slated to tour again, kicking off a short stint of west coast dates this Friday, May 11th.
We were able to catch both Kevin and Daniel for two separate but parallel conversations about the band’s past, present, and future.
While Poptone celebrates your entire catalog as a songwriter, it draws heavily upon Tones On Tail, which I’ve always felt is the freshest and most vital, yet most criminally underrated project you’ve been a part of. How has it been revisiting this material live considering how much of it was created in a studio?
Daniel Ash: Well, it wasn’t quite a studio project – we would be in a room rehearsing the tracks before we got into the studio actually. A few tracks were created in the studio perhaps, but for the most part we’d be in a rehearsal-type situation, with some experimentation done after the fact – there were some tracks that would take on a different flavor. Things like backwards echoes and reverbs would be added afterwards, but the core of the song was written and played in the rehearsal room beforehand.
Out of the three bands, Tones on Tail is my favorite because we were completely free to do whatever we wanted. My plan on that band was to do music that sounded like it came from another planet but you could also tap your foot to it – in other words, it’s commercially viable. I think we achieved that. I think the band has aged well – it’s very simply recorded – but I think most of that stuff could have been recorded last week. It’s very fresh sounding even though in essence, it’s 30 years old. You can’t really put it into a category, which I love.
It’s funny because “Go!” probably has the most cross-genre appeal of anything you’ve done, including “So Alive.” I’ve heard “Go!” at sporting events, for example…
DA: Wow, yeah! It’s ironic, because it was a B-side. The DJs in the clubs would flip it over and play the other track, and it became a big hit in Germany for six weeks. It’s one of those magic moments in the studio, but for us, I saw it as a B-side. I was more into “Lions” at the time, you know, because again, ironically when I was younger, I preferred slow tracks. Now that I’m older, I prefer faster tracks – it’s very strange!
Kevin, I recall reading that Bauhaus – Undead was meant to be a celebration of your work with Bauhaus in light of years of negativity – is Poptone meant to keep that positive vibe going?
Kevin Haskins: Very much so, yeah. We all get on really well and have a lot of fun doing it. We’ve been rehearsing the past few days after not seeing each other for several weeks and we’re really enjoying dipping into the back catalogue and realizing what a great collection of songs that Daniel wrote. We’re bringing in possibly six new ones – we didn’t plan on doing that.
Any hints as to what the new songs will be?
KH: We didn’t want to talk about it until we were sure these songs would work in the set, but I’ll just say that “Haunted When the Minutes Drag” and “Burning Skies” are working out very well.
Otherwise, we’ve pretty much exhausted everything we can reproduce live with Tones on Tail on the last tour – so it’s going to be more Love and Rockets this tour. I think it was rather Tones heavy last year, and now it’ll be more of an even balance.
I love the guys at Part Time Punks and I’m excited to hear the recordings you made with them. It really feels like they’re tapping into the same level of support and enthusiasm that John Peel was back when. I’d love to hear more about the session.
DA: We originally recorded a couple of nights in LA in the spring, in last April, as a sort of a tester for us. The capacity was 250 people per night and we recorded both gigs. As the tour went on, the original idea was to put these recordings out as a live album, but as the tour progressed through the year, we were playing a lot better as time went on. When we listened back to those tapes in comparison to what we were doing into the middle of the year, and the stuff we were doing later was better in essence. We decided to go into that radio station and recorded a session. It’s all live in the studio. 1-2-3-GO!
KH: I’ve DJed for Nigel before, and we kept in touch. Occasionally we’ve discussed recording a session, so I thought it would have been prudent to do it while we were on tour. The crew would be there and everything would be all set up. I just thought it would be great instead of doing five or six songs, let’s do as many songs as we can in the time we have. It definitely reminded me of those Peel sessions where you only have six or seven hours, but it takes three hours to set everything up – especially now with all the electronic drums and computers and keyboards. So, we ended up with about two hours in the end and I said, “let’s just play as if we were playing live.”
We didn’t get everything, but we got most of the key songs down.
How has social media and streaming helped grow or sustain your music over the years?
KH: Well, I think any form that your music is put out there, it all helps to keep the legacy going and keep you in the public eye. We don’t get paid very much for streaming, it’s true, but there is the plus that your presence on those platforms is important for new generations – it helps reveal you to them.
DA: The bottom line is that it’s the new way of doing things. I sort of reacted against it a few years back – thought it was too many cooks, everybody having a go, too much stuff out there and you tend to disappear, but I’ve changed my mind on it completely. I think it’s a good thing because you can reach so many more people. In the old days, if you didn’t get a record deal, you were done, what were you going to do if you didn’t have a record deal? You’d just be playing at the bar at the end of the road and that was it. Now, kids can get on their iPhone, make a great video, put it on YouTube and it reaches so many people, so I’ve come to the conclusion now that all of those formats are great. I love it. I used to hate it but now I completely see its effect and I see its power and I’m embracing it, just like everything else.
I don’t think any medium is the solution, you know? There’s no one service or one way of doing that covers everybody – but it is incredibly useful when you’re seeking out hard-to-find material or trying to discover things on your own. Much easier than when I was getting into music in a big way, at least…
DA: Yeah, I mean, if you want to discover ANY band if you’ve heard the name, you just go on YouTube and there it is, and it’s great. This is the world we live in – everything is speeding up. It’s sped up SO much. I don’t know where it’s going to end. There IS concern that the generation growing up now – the ten year olds with their iPhones, they walk down the street don’t even look up, even to cross the road, and it’s freaky. I don’t know how it’s going to affect the psyche of these young kids – it’s SO different.
It’s funny me saying this though, because when talking to friends my age, I start laughing because we sound just like our dads and granddads when they were talking about TV or whatever and saying, “when I was a kid I used to be climbing trees and mountains and going for a swim at four in the morning, and now you kids just sit there and watch TV,” and now we’re saying the same thing about the so-called millennials and their iPhones. There are pros and cons to every generation though, it’s just the way it is, so I try to keep an open mind on the whole thing.
I remember when I was getting into your music, how difficult it was to even find a Bauhaus CD, so I’m envious of the way things are now in a way.
DA: We were so left of center, we were so alternative, it was ridiculous. It was an irony there, because me personally, I’m a REAL fan of commercial music- there’s nothing better than a three-and-a-half-minute hit single. I love that stuff, and yet I was in the most alternative band you could get. I wanted Bela to be a big hit, but it ain’t gonna be because it’s nine-and-a-half-minutes long. It’s the weirdest thing, I have huge admiration for anyone who can write a hit single. I think it takes a lot more talent to do that than to make an album of obscure, weird, elitist alternative rock.
Which is funny, because your guitar playing strays from that theory as well – you don’t play any solos, for example, and your playing is much more textural and minimal.
DA: I’m just a ball of contradictions, aren’t I? I give up! I just like, say one thing and then say something else. Someone asked me the other day if I was an introvert or an extrovert and quite honestly, I said BOTH, depending on the time of day…
How would you say your playing has progressed over the years? Each of your styles are both instantly recognizable, and in some cases, change radically from track to track.
KH: Well, I started drumming when I was twelve, and I would just play along to all sorts of different bands’ records and I’d pick up little things by doing that. Then I had drum lessons where I learned a jazz beat, a pop beat, bossa nova – it was bossa nova I used on “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” I’d also play along to Ringo Starr and Faces drummer Kenney Jones – I’d navigate towards simple drummers. When Bauhaus started, the first Banshees drummer Kenny Morris, and Joy Division’s drummer, Stephen Morris, were favorites. They were a big influence on me at the time.
When we’re writing and recording, even if you just listen to another song, it all goes into your brain and it’s filed away and I’ll find things coming out of nowhere. It’s really organic the way it happens. If I set out to do anything, it was to be as innovative and as unique as possible. I always tried to come up with something different to the previous song – I felt contrast was important.
DA: Well, it hasn’t really! I just do the same thing I’ve always done, ha ha! The big change for me, what made me sound totally different from other people – I remember when I was in art school, all the kids wanted to sound like Jimi Hendrix. No way was I going to do that for two reasons: Number 1, he’s already done that and got that sound, and Number 2, I’m much too lazy to learn to play like that. So I thought I’d go the other way and keep very innocent and not learn many chords and scales and all that, so that hopefully would make my guitar style sound very different. The main thing that changed for me is because I got a hold of an e-bow very early on and that little gizmo in my hand there changed the way I played guitar completely. It opened it up for me to get my own sound. There’s a lot on the records that you think might be a keyboard, but it’s not…
Having played live for so many years, how has the experience changed for you? Do you still get the same thrill?
KH: Oh, definitely. In fact, I thought that I was done with touring eight years ago, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it. I’m loving playing drums again. It takes more effort and practice because of my age, which isn’t surprising, but I still enjoy the whole thing. It keeps me fit too, which is great!
Has it gotten easier with all the new technology?
KH: I met with Roland and they gave me a really good deal on a TD-50, which has a lot of built-in sounds, but you can put your own sounds in there. I started triggering samples in the late 80s, because in the studio we’d come up with different snare drum sounds. I really love sampling and triggering all these sounds. It became an important part of the song structure. So I’m still doing that now – I’m using six pads and a trigger on the snare, and that’s basically what I’ve been spending hours on every morning this week before going into rehearsal. I have to go and try to find the samples, and if not, I have to try and re-create them, which is really difficult.
I enjoy it though, it’s a challenge and it’s creative. Live, it makes the songs sound more like the records and there are more of the elements – the cherries on the cake.
What’s your take on the Poptone tour so far, how has the response been?
DA: It’s been a blast, yeah. Touch wood, we rehearsed for eight weeks solid and it paid off. There weren’t any bum gigs, I mean, we were consistent. Hopefully it’s going to be the same this year. It’s a great little unit we’ve got – the crew, the band, we all get on great, it’s like one big happy Partridge Family on the road.
KH: The audiences have been AMAZING, another element of it that I didn’t predict. Especially as our demographic is older now, and as you get older, you tend to want to stay at home, but we’ve been getting a LOT of people to come and see us, and the enthusiasm is really wonderful. I feel very grateful and blessed that we have fans that still want to come and see us and have a good time. It’s such a celebration of the music and it’s a wonderful thing.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, but I know these things are always fluid – any plans to write or record new material together?
KH: Personally, I’d like to, but Daniel’s kind of hesitant – he sees it purely as a retrospective project. That’s how it started out, and it’s working really well as that. That’s what he wants to do with it, but I keep hope open all the time that maybe he’ll change his mind.
DA: Well, it sounds crazy, but yeah the original idea was to do put this thing together for a limited amount of time and play a LOT of Tones on Tail songs because the demand was there – we’d only done two very small tours in England and one in the US back in the ’80s. We’d done reunions with the other two bands several times, so this time we wanted to just do the Tones stuff. People wanted to hear that, and that’s what we’re doing now.
As far as new stuff, in the time off we had between Christmas and now, I came up with this song called “Alien Love,” which you can check out on my website. It’s a couple of tracks as a download or a limited personalized CD. I put that together on the break just to test myself and see if I could still write stuff basically because it’s been a while. I was satisfied, it was great fun doing it, so please do check it out!
Will Poptone be sticking around for a while?
KH: We have this west coast tour we’re about to go on and we’re also setting up an east coast tour for July. We’ll keep going where the interest is. We went to Mexico this year, and we’d love to go to Europe and South America and wherever else people will invite us.
DA: You know, we really don’t know. We’d like to do Europe, etc., but it’s all down to finances and whether or not we get the right offers in order for us to carry on. We’ll have been through the States twice now, so we can’t really come back and play again for another year or two…so it’s either going to be Europe or festivals.
After July, the whole thing’s up in the air!
Check out the Poptone tracklist and tour dates below:
Poptone- Poptone LP/CD
- Heartbreak Hotel
- Ok This Is The Pops
- Mirror People
- Movement Of Fear
- No Big Deal
- Love Me
- Christian Says
- Ball Of Confusion
- Slice Of Life
Poptone Tour Dates:
- 5.10.18 – Solano Beach, CA – Belly Up
- 5.11.18 – Pomona, CA – The Glass House
- 5.13.18 – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom
- 5.15.18 – San Francisco, CA – The Regency Ballroom
- 5.16.18 – Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst
- 5.18.18 – Seattle, WA – Neptune Theatre
- 5.19.18 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
- 5.20.18 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theatre
All photos by Paul Rae.