The Bubbleman Cometh: An Interview with Daniel Ash

Daniel Ash is private person and perhaps the most enigmatic of all the members of Love and Rockets and the and the Haus of Bau. Some may look at him and his penchant for stylish shades that shame Bono, and think that he must be the classic egotistical rock and roll archetype with the trademark god complex.  I’d hate to be the one to break it to those people, but Daniel Ash is not only a badass motorcycling  rock star, he is also a very down to earth and friendly guy.

Before he launched his Pledge Music campaign for his retrospective album of rearrangements “Stripped” (Produced by the Legendary John Fryer, and you can still contribute here), I spoke to Daniel about Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail, and ofcourse, The Bubblemen.

Dannycycle


Post-Punk: I want to start by saying how much I love your name. I mean, Daniel Ash, it’s like you were born to be a rockstar.

Daniel Ash: That’s funny. I remember somebody about 20 years ago in an interview saying, “what’s your real name?” That’s my name. They told me it sounded too perfect to be in a band. Whatever, that’s my name. I never really thought about it. I remember in school as a kid, I really didn’t like it as you might imagine, and the teachers would say if they were pissed off at you – Ashhhh. It sounded so vicious and harsh. I hated my name then. I don’t mind it now.

Post-Punk: What did you listen to when you were growing up?

DA: What really got me obsessed with music was a strict diet of early Bowie, T.Rex, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and nothing else. Peter and myself grew up in the same school, we new each other from about twelve years old and were really crazy about those bands I just mentioned. Particularly Bowie and Roxy Music as well. That whole glam thing from the early 70s. There’s a film called Velvet Goldmine which you’ve probably heard of. That pretty much summed up our youth at that school. I though that was pretty accurate, that film.

Before that, when I was really young, I used to see stuff about The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five. That was another one. I was fascinated by the drum sound that that guy would get in the Dave Clark Five because there was all this echo. A massive drum sound. Apparently my mum told me my face used to be about four inches away from the TV screen with the volume up full, listening to the Dave Clark Five’s “Bits and Pieces.” So I suppose that was the first thing that really got me interested in music from about eight or so.

Post-Punk: Was there anything that you listened to while in Bauhaus that was a direct influence on you?

DA: Well we all had some really eclectic tastes. David and Kevin would play a lot of dub reggae from the ‘70s; the really good stuff from the ‘70s. I used to think that stuff was amazing. Also, the whole punk thing, particularly for me the Sex Pistols. Seeing them on Top of the Pops was really something because it was a really conservative, middle of the road show. They’d have some really boring stuff on there, real mainstream and boring stuff like Barry Manilow and shit like that, so suddenly the Pistols came on screen and it got rid of all those horrible prog rock bands from the ‘70s like Yes and all that stuff. The whole punk think really had a big influence.

I think that’s why we had the guts to really try and do music because we realized that those guys could only play a couple of chords. That cliché about punk really was true. All of those guys, from the Pistols to Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division. We were all…we couldn’t really play. We learned to play as we went along, but punk gave us the confidence to have a go. Beforehand, we thought we couldn’t stand a chance because before that there were all these boring musicians doing 20 minute guitar solos that we couldn’t compete with.

Post-Punk: You mentioned the banshees in that breath, it is true that they tried to poach you at one point to play guitar for them?

DA: Yeah, at one point, because they would go through guitarists quickly. I was very flattered at the time. Bauhaus had only been going for a year or so and I got a message saying they wanted me to audition for the band. I had no intention of leaving Bauhaus because I was so excited about what I was doing. I was completely satisfied with being in that band, but it was very flattering to be asked. I think Peter was worried for a second…

Post-Punk: I also heard somebody also tried to poach him for The Damned.

DA: Yeah, that’s also true. It was Captain Sensible that was trying to get Pete. I do remember that they wanted Pete because they had a falling out with Dave Vanian. Knowing Pete, I don’t think he would have connected with that at all. To be honest Pete wasn’t into punk. He didn’t like that whole movement, it wasn’t his thing.

Post-Punk: Bauhaus was a very artistic band, are there any artistic inspirations that you brought into it?

DA: Well, when we were working together, my personal obsession was to make the band sound like nobody else. If we started working on a song and we’d got to a particular chord change that sounded like pop music or something, or just sounded corny or something we’d heard before, I would deliberately change that and take it somewhere else and do a chord progression or something to make it sound original. Also, I’d use the e-bow a lot, or a drum stick on the strings – anything to avoid sounding like just another rock band.

A big part of the band was to stand out and be something different. I do remember over here when we were first signed up with A&M Records, they couldn’t put us in a category because they didn’t know what we were. They couldn’t put us in rock, or reggae, or pop music; it was just something else, and I personally was chuffed about that. I thought that was great, there wasn’t a category they could put us into. I thought that was an achievement for us.

Post-Punk: There’s an urban legend about “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” that says you created the sound of it and the beat of it and the whole guitars coming in and out to represent sex?

DA: I never really thought about it in that way. There is a story about that. It was one of those synchronicity things. We’d only been together as a band for about three weeks. David and myself were talking on the phone and he said, “Hey I’ve got this lyric about a vampire. Bela Lugosi. Remember the old guy in the old Hammer films?” I used to love watching those old films. I was pretty obsessed with them from the time I was a kid. I said to David, “Well that’s weird because I’ve got this real haunting riff that I think could be perfect with that lyric and subject matter.” So, the next time we went into rehearsal, which was probably the next day, David just handed the lyrics over to Pete, Kevin started paying that beat, and I started playing the riff, and David followed the riff on the bass and we wrote that song there. The first time we actually played it in a rehearsal room – that was what you hear on the record. I think about a week later we went into a little 16 track studio and recorded it like first or second take, everything done live. I think Pete had a bad cold at the time which surprisingly gave his voice a real strength, and then I just put a little bit of echo on the guitar and the snare drum and just fucked around with that as the track went through and that was it.

It probably cost about 45 dollars to record that track, and that was like back in ‘79. That’s one of those things I call “the magic moment” in the studio, well it was actually a magic moment right in the rehearsal room. It was just instant. It was almost like the whole thing was pre-written before we actually went in there. It’s like we had been playing it for a couple of years the first time we went in and started those chords. What you hear on the record is what we did the first time we tried to work out that song. It’s very bizarre.

Post-Punk: Do you feel like you recaptured some of that spirit on the last record “Go Away White”?

DA: Well, it was actually a real similar way of working. David, Pete, and myself would put up lyric sheets on the vocal booth for Pete. He had his own lyrics as well, and then we’d then set up the drums, bass, and guitar all in the same room and Pete would be in the vocal booth but in the same room, so it was a very organic thing. It wasn’t a case of going in and putting down drum loops – everything was played live. Kevin would start doing a beat and then we would add to that, and David and myself would sit next to each other and we’d start playing whatever. The first track, for example, we would just lock in, and one of us would then say, “Change to A, ok now back to D” and then that was the track. So actually, that was just how Bela was made. 90 percent of that album was made in that way. We were actually writing it as we were recording it. There were no rehearsals before, and we were only in the studio for about 18 days.

Post-Punk: Do you feel you were able to channel something new, based on your experience?

DA: Yeah. Somebody said that it sounded like a mix between Love and Rockets and Peter Murphy’s solo albums, and I really see that. Love and Rockets were together 17 years and there’s a lot of history there. Somebody else said it sounds like Tones on Tail with Peter singing, and I can see that as well. Some of the bass lines in particular sound like Tones on Tail. There are all those influences coming out with the four of us in the room, but what was great about it is was that we didn’t have time to analyze it or think about it. Bauhaus has always been extremely spontaneous. It just happens when the four of us are in a room. We’ve got a real strict quality control policy – if something doesn’t work within five or ten minutes we get bored and move on to the next thing, and so things happen really quickly. We’re very impatient as a band. We like to do things immediately and if they don’t work we move on straight away. It’s just what happens when the four of us get together. I’m curious, do you like the album? Do you find it strong? Do you think it’s good?

Post-Punk: I think it’s a good album. I’d say it’s from a different place than the other Bauhaus records. I liked “Adrenaline” and “Saved,” I think those are really good tracks, and I really enjoyed hearing the stuff played live when I saw you with Nine Inch Nails back in 2006. You guys are definitely at a different place than you were in the ‘80s, but it is a great record. I do think it sounded a little bit different from say, “Mask”.

DA: It was a different time. Plus, we’ve got all that history, all that stuff from doing other projects in between when we were first together in the ‘80s and now, so all that came through on the record, but as I said, we never thought about it. We just worked in the studio and that’s what came out. It’s almost like you’re a channel. Every band worth anything has a spirit to it, it has its own character, and the character with Bauhaus is extremely strong. It is what it is.

I live in a little hippie town 80 miles north of L.A., it’s away from the city and I deliberately booked the studio Zircon Sky because it’s terrific. If anything, the vibe in the town is real hippie, which is obviously not what Bauhaus is about, but the juxtaposition between the town and us, funnily enough had no influence on us, because the spirit of Bauhaus is so strong it sort of overrides wherever you are. If anything, we might have been reacting to that hippie drippy vibe. That stuff gets on my nerves and is a waste of time to me. I just find that sort of music so drab and boring. Someone was talking to me about the Grateful Dead and I just don’t get it. I don’t comprehend that stuff.

Post-Punk: But do you like Syd Barrett?

DA: Yes I do. The early Floyd stuff absolutely. And I think Dark Side of the Moon is a work of art. It’s brilliant.

Post-Punk: I’ve seen interviews with David Gilmour and Roger Waters talking about creation and the creative process for Dark Side of the Moon, and it seems very similar to your creative process, like the overall sound is more important than the individual elements.

DA: Yes. always. If you think about it from the public’s point of view, they don’t care how it was made, all they’re interested in is the finished thing. So you have to de-associate yourself with the record – like if you’re playing guitar you shouldn’t be obsessed with the guitar overwhelming everything, or the bass line, or the vocals. It’s a matter of keeping your ego in check for the sake of the song that you’re working on. I do remember seeing an interview with Pink Floyd about that, where David Gilmour was saying about Roger Waters that they might have a terrific piece of music, but for the sake of the song if it sounded better going through a transistor radio he had no problems in doing that.

Post-Punk: That was exactly what I was talking about, that interview.

DA: Well there you go, we’re like that as well.

Post-Punk: Do you think the whole association with Bauhaus being Goth is ridiculous? Almost like there’s gothic taste and then gothic people are like Count Chocula as opposed to Vincent Price or Tim Burton?

Daniel Ash: It’s a weird one. To me, the whole Goth thing is very one dimensional. It’s sort of cloak and dagger. It’s ok, it has its place, it’s fun, but we just find it funny that we’re thought of as that. In the same breath, if you wear black and your first single is “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” you’ve pretty much got a stamp on you. That’s always been one of our strongest songs, so it’s sort of undeniable. I think a lot of it is the imagery, but we never actually spoke about what we looked like when we started out. We never mentioned wearing black, never mentioned makeup or any of it. I know for Peter and myself, we were pretty obsessed with the whole Bowie thing, and the visuals were really important to us, so without even saying anything it was like, “Damn right I’m gonna wear eyeshadow and have a funny haircut because that’s where I come from and that’s what I feel like.”

We were real crazy on the Bowie thing that came before us. You know all those punk bands were very influenced by that whole thing, the glam rock of the early ‘70s, particularly in stuff like Siouxsie and the Banshees, you can see that stuff in their visuals as well. The English press called it Goth and the only thing I can think of is they heard us do “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” It’s a nine and a half minute song, it was the first thing we ever released, it made quite an impact, and the way we looked sort of backed it up. Ironically, we’re just like the original Bauhaus movement, which is art for function, the opposite of gothic. It was about art being very simple and functional, which is just like the music that we made. However, we were very flamboyant visually, so we had those two juxtapositions going on. It’s almost like a contradiction between the visual side and the musical side. I’ve got to be honest. We find the whole Goth thing a joke, really, we sort of laugh about it. We were an art band. We all went to art school. We were like an experimental art band. I think that’s accurate to say that.

Post-Punk: I would definitely agree with you there. Your very first song was a work of art. Not to beat a dead horse- I don’t know if you noticed this but I think James O’Barr made The Crow look like you in the comic book. I don’t think it helped!

DA: Really? You know, if it’s the comic book that I’m thinking about, I remember seeing this years ago where various characters would look like either Peter, myself or a mixture of the two. I remember seeing that.

sandman

Post-Punk: The Sandman is your haircut, or Robert Smith’s with Peter’s face…

DA: Yeah, you know what? That’s so funny. I remember when we would do the gigs in the ‘80s and Kevin mentioned that there were lot of guys in the audience that look like caricatures of you two, except they had more makeup and bigger hair. It was really weird, like looking at a distorted mirror, except those guys were more muscle than we were. They were all American and toned up.

Post-Punk: Any memories that stand out from from the final touring wit Bauhaus in 2005 and 2006? How did it go? They seemed like fantastic shows.

DA: Well the bigger the gig the better as far as I’m concerned. I liked doing those gigs with Nine Inch Nails ‘cause they’re all huge venues. The bizarre thing about those shows is that it was one corporate company putting on the whole tour. So you’d do a gig in one city, get in the tour bus, travel 500 miles down the road, get out of the tour bus, and the changing rooms were exactly the same, the stage was exactly the same, and the grass on these outdoor gigs was exactly the same. As you’d look out – the scenery was identical, and the first six or seven rows of people were the same people. That’s my memory of that tour, it was almost like you were playing the same gig 32 times.

Post-Punk: Groundhog Day!

DA: I remember looking at the back, there would be people playing with their dogs and kids, and it was the same I’d seen the night before. It was surreal, but those guys were great. Really nice people, the Nine Inch Nails guys. They were terrific.

Post-Punk: They probably wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for you.

DA: Well, so I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know. I could see a few influences there, yeah.

Post-Punk: What about when Love and Rockets played Coachella.?

DA: It’s exactly the same as when Bauhaus played in 2005. The promoter just offered us this irresistible gig and the spot we got is just before Roger Waters comes on to do Dark Side of the Moon. Wow, we’re on the main stage just before Roger Waters! Yeah, I thought, I wanna do that gig, very much!  But it wasn’t after dark, that was very peculiar with Bauhaus. We were doing some of the gigs when the sun hadn’t even gone down, and I must say that that was really alien to me to play Bauhaus music in daylight with the sun still shining. All I can say is thank god for sunglasses.

Post-Punk: I remember those shades.

Daniel Ash: Oh yeah, I ain’t gonna do without ’em in the daylight. Are you kidding me? I tried to get the darkest shades I could. You can’t play Bauhaus music in the daylight. It’s like playing in the supermarket, it doesn’t connect.

Post-Punk: Man, supermarket with a hangover.

DA: Yeah, right. There you go! That’s a good description.

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Post-Punk: I also wanted to ask you some Tones on Tail questions real quick. Have you noticed you’ve been to any clubs and they’ll play “Go” and “Christian Says” and “Performance” more so than a Love and Rockets or Bauhaus song?

DA: I haven’t really noticed because I don’t go to clubs much, but I do know people still play “Go,” and I’m thrilled about that because that’s one of my favorite songs. That was a great day in the studio. It was actually a B-side, a B-side to a track called “Lions.” It just took off, when that first came out it was apparently #1 in Germany for about five weeks – because of the chorus, the ya ya ya, that means “yes” in German. I had no idea, as I was just winging it. I had no idea where that lyrics came from – I just started singing it. To answer your question, I’m thrilled about it.

I’ve got to be honest, I think that’s probably my favorite band out of all of them. There were no commercial considerations, I was completely free to do whatever I wanted, and my idea with that band was to make music that sounded like it came from another planet, but you could still tap your foot to it, and I think that’s what I achieved. I listen to it now and it still sounds contemporary and timeless, which I’m really pleased about.

Post-Punk: It does, you have kids who’ve never heard it before at contemporary clubs and they’ll immediately storm the dance floor because it’s got the beat that you can dance to and it’s good.

DA: That particular track has a killer bass line as well. That’s Glenn Campling on bass. It’s ironic because we didn’t have any money, so when we used drum machines, we only had the cheapest one that had just been invented. It was twice the size of a packet of cigarettes, about 35 bucks new, and was real cheap sounding. So I’d put it through a fucked up 12’’ speaker and overdrive it to give it that edge and then record it in a large room with a couple of mics to try and dirty it up, because it was so meek sounding at first. That sound came from lack of money, and I think it’s a great effect.

I can’t believe the way that track sounds actually, because it was made on an extremely small budget. I mean, we did have a studio called Beck’s, and it’s the same place we recorded most of Bauhaus’ stuff. It was a 16 track studio with all analog gear, and there was this real character called Derek Tompkins and he just used to take the piss out of us all the time. We’d go, “Derek, how did that track sound?” and he’d go, “fuckin’ rubbish do it again.” He just put it all down, but he really made us work hard. [Beck’s] was this little backstreet studio, but the sound coming out was very warm, and Derek and us were a good combination. When “Go” came out, I have my memory of recording it in a little tiny studio. The main recording room was just like somebody’s living room with those real tacky carpets that they had in the ‘70s. Those sort of orange colors, like your grandmother’s living room. Then, I was in New York at the Pyramid Club and suddenly “Go” came on and these two gay cowboys just jumped up on the stage with their hot pants on and started gyrating. I was laughing so hard, and I thought to myself, “If you knew this came from grandma’s living room, you would not be doing what you’re doing.” It was funny.

Post-Punk: Who are The Bubblemen and how’d they come to be?

DA: They came from my subconscious. We were actually mastering In The Flat Field and I was just doing a doodle, which turned out to be the cover of Mask. If you look in that drawing there’s a little black bubbleman just at the bottom there, there’s three characters and there’s a little bubbleman that’s actually black not white on that one, so the whole thing came from that, from a doodle that I was doing, and it progressed to the Bubblemen that you see now. It was just a joke, and then I think we were in a pub somewhere in London. We were talking about needing something extra for the Love and Rockets video, and someone said, “what about those bubblemen that you do?” Actually, it might even have been me that suggested it. They don’t rock, they wobble, and it was almost like a reaction to rock’n’roll, really – just me being typically awkward.

Post-Punk: Did you ever see the episode of Beavis and Butt-head where Beavis thinks he’s going to be abducted by The Bubblemen?

DA: No, I didn’t see that, but I remember that the Love and Rockets video came on and they were talking about it. What was interesting was that they weren’t slagging it off. Beavis said to Butthead, or perhaps the other way around, “Yeah these guys might wear makeup but they could kick your ass” and I thought, “Oh good, because sometimes when they have the videos on there they completely take the piss out of the band that’s playing.” Fortunately for us they were pro-Love and Rockets and pro-Bubblemen.

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/stripped


 

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