INTERVIEW: DANIEL ASH

INTERVIEW: DANIEL ASH

“This is sort of make or break time for me,” Daniel confesses, “in fact my long time collaborator Christopher the Minister egged me on to record the album Stripped (a fresh reworking of songs Daniel has written either with Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, or Love and Rockets). And with Dustin (Byerley) our co-producer we’ve been working solid for the past six months and I really wanted these songs to be contemporary versions – not just copies of the original because that would be really lame. I do feel they turned out great so we’re calling the whole thing 21st Century Space Age Pop.”


– Daniel Ash
October 11, 2014

“Love Me” is my personal favorite song you’ve ever written – will you please share a little of the story behind writing it?

Around that period David (J.) and I were pretty obsessed, every time we got together whether we’re traveling in a car or whatever, Kevin (Haskins) would be sitting driving or keeping quiet, David and myself would start talking about the cosmos and all this deep introspective stuff, and what’s it all about; and we’d get on to these conversations that were sort of endless and used get on Kevin’s nerves actually and that is song is about The Big Question: what IT is all about and going through the things that every single human being goes through to reach that final state, let’s call it enlightenment, and all the process to get to that state. That, mixed in with a desire, to be loved by your fellow man. And woman of course (he chuckles).

You have a song titled “Burning Man.” Have you been to Burning Man? (The world’s largest art installation / weeklong brigadoonish extravaganza in the middle of Nowhere desert Nevada)

Well yeah.
Of course. Otherwise I couldn’t have written that song. Absolutely. Yeah, I wrote that in 2000 after coming back from Burning Man the first year that I went. I had just moved into Ojai where I live now and I met this guy who I’d known for like 5 days and I had two motorcycles at the time so I said, “Hey you got a motorcycle license?”
He said, “Yeah.”
So I said, “do you fancy going to Burning Man,” in that instance, just a spontaneously thing. So we both jumped on the two bikes and went with two $55 tents…
unfortunately that year I hit the vodka tent at like 2 o’clock in the morning on the night before The Burn, so I staggered back to my $55 tent at about 5:30 in the morning when the sun was just coming up and had the worst hangover I ever had in my whole life and missed The Burn on Saturday night. So that’s sort of my memory of Burning Man, unfortunately.

Well maybe we’ll get to bring you back there and have you DJ? Somewhere awesome like the White Ocean camp run by Paul Oakenfold?

The thing is, I gotta be honest, I’m not a real DJ. I’m a jukebox, you know, I hardly ever beat match. I just play my favorite songs, from whatever period of time. So I did DJ, when I went back to Burning Man in 2007, just blasting out what I wanted to play, but I’m not a real DJ if you know what I mean. But I’ve been doing that for the last 20 years – well you know what I spin, you were there the other week – it’s just a big ole mish mash of whatever I feel like playing in that moment in time.

VG: Yeah I was kind of upset you didn’t play ANY Love and Rockets.

DA: It’s a bit weird to play your own stuff when you’re DJing. It’s sort of a strange thing to do I think, if you’re a jukebox…occasionally I’ll play “Go” or something, but I’m sort of cringing when I’m playing my own stuff. I’d rather play other people’s stuff when I’m in a club, you know.

VG: I have to say I am so glad that Regan (Catam) turned me on to “Tones on Tail” during this project
(Veronica filmed a short rockumentary of Daniel Ash titled, 8th Gait watch below) because I wouldn’t have gotten that “Go” Tones on Tail reference otherwise. I honestly kind of love Tones On Tail more than Bauhaus…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzHOg1zEh_E&feature=youtu.be

 

DA: Yeah well I’ve got to say of the three bands I’ve been in, that’s my favorite band, by far. I’ve just got very fond memories of that band; there were no commercial considerations; we never actually made a video, we talked about making a video, although we made many singles. It was just completely free. The record company let me do exactly what I wanted to. I wanted to make music that sounded like it came from another planet but you could tap your foot to it; that was commercially accessible. And we did achieve that. And if you listen to that stuff now, it could have been made last week – it doesn’t date badly.

VG: You’re exactly right because for the first time in my life I picked up Tones on Tail just now and it sounds completely fresh and relevant and new and of today. It didn’t sound like something that’s like “clearly 80s” you know…

DA: The only thing that is clearly 80s about it is that none of us in the alternative genre could afford good drum machines so all those records were made with a $55 drum machine, about twice the size of a packet of cigarettes, a little square box. I’d feed that little drum machine to a speaker that was partially broken to give it an edge so it would add that distortion to it, little tricks like that. But it was so much fun doing that because we had complete freedom to experiment sonically with anything we wanted to.

And I mean, that’s what I’m doing now with this album Stripped. We can do anything and everything. It’s great. There’s no record company on your back saying, “Oh you’ve got to change that verse,” or “You’ve got to make the chorus twice as long.”
I’ve never been able to work under those conditions anyway. There was a time with Love and Rockets they started saying that to us and straightaway I remember myself telling them to go f-/:;()$&@”.,?!’

Well since you brought up Love and Rockets again, one of your song titles is “Here on Earth.” As you know I am a devout environmentalist. If there was something you could fix Here on Earth, what would it be?

Ok well my big thing on that front is Animal Rights.
I cannot understand how human beings can’t point a bow and Arrow or a gun at a deer, and shoot it and kill it; I cannot comprehend that.
To me, the deers are the supermodels of the animal kingdom, they’re so beautiful. Whenever I’m traveling on my bike through A Forest or whatever, there’s often a deer that will come into view. I’ll stop, I’ll turn the engine off the bike and just look at that beautiful animal and the way they move. I cannot comprehend how people can kill those, those animals. And the whole idea of blood sports like bullfighting in Spain still happening, I mean I’ve heard that the new generation of kids have no interest in bullfighting which is great so hopefully that’s gonna die a death and that’s the end of it. Things like cockfighting, you know, dog fights, fox hunting in England – I think that’s been banned, I don’t know if that been changed again. The whales, the way the Japanese are killing the whales and the sharks; overfishing. All of that stuff: I have a big big problem with it. Big problem. I’ve got this great T shirt that I found in a store actually and it’s the silhouette of a deer with machine guns where the antlers should be and it just says, “Arm the animals” and that pretty much says it all for me.

Well speaking of all the “blood sports” this is a fun question: How did Bela Lugosi die? And who killed him?

Well you know, yeah, that’s a weird question. As far as I know, I know he was, literally speaking – I can only talk about it in that way – Bela Lugosi dying – I think he was a heroin addict. Don’t know if he actually died of a heart attack but I’m pretty sure that he was an addict when he died, if you’re actually talking about the person. Is that really what you’re asking though? Or are you asking about how the song came about.

VG: Well I was gonna leave it up to you how you wanted to answer that; if you wanted to be cheeky and be like, “He died in the library by Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe,” that would have been an acceptable answer too.

DA: See David (J in Bauhaus) wrote the lyrics to that. There is an interesting story behind that song. I’m very very clear on this. I remember because the band had just started; we’d been together about two weeks or something and it was uh, me and Pete (Peter Murphy) started the band off, you know, just had a little rehearsal room in a school yard, you know I’d just managed to rig that up because it’s always difficult for bands to get rehearsal rooms and that’s always the big nightmare because of the sound thing. Anyway, got this rehearsal room and Pete and myself are just jamming on some tracks, you know some things that we worked out and then umm, cut the long story short, Kevin (Haskins) was with us then after a few days and then David actually came around a little later after we’d played one gig – there’s an article, party.

Anyway, there was one day, I don’t know who phoned who but David and myself were talking on the phone and I said, “Dave I’ve got this real haunting riff, and I’m not gonna tell you which song it is, but it’s like of a very very well known song and it’s that riff slowed down and mutilated during different chords. It’s rooted in this chord progression.”

And he said, “Well that’s very interesting because I’ve got this lyric about Bela Lugosi, you know the famous actor who did the vampire films or the horror films and all that stuff.”

I said, “Wow, these two things could really fit together because I’ve got this haunting riff.” So anyway the next day we’re at rehearsal, David J handed over the lyrics to Peter, Kevin started playing that bossanova beat without any……..and I started playing the riff; Dave followed the riff on the bass and we played “Bela” pretty much as you hear it now. It was instant.

VG: It was like Lightning in a Bottle. It just happened, and it was perfect.

DA: You know what, all the best songs with us, the most popular ones happened like that. They were pretty much instant. “So Alive” was a very similar situation. I’d gone to a party on Saturday night, and I was married at the time, and I saw this woman over the other side of the room, and I was completely transfixed which is very odd because I was freshly married; it was very weird, but I was completely infatuated by her and so much so that I couldn’t go near her to even speak to her, it was just this overwhelming thing. I can’t explain it to this day. That’s why the first line is “I don’t know what color your eyes are” because I didn’t get that close, I just saw this person in the distance.

Anyway Monday morning came around and we were gonna record one of David’s songs; I said, “No no no, I’ve got a song, I’ve gotta do it today.
He said, “Well ok let’s hear it.”
I said, “No, no I haven’t written it yet.” (Daniel laughs) So I just had the first line of the lyric and the two chords. So I went down to the basement of the studio with a bottle of whiskey, wrote the track, came back up an hour later or whatever and then we recorded it that day. Everything was done. The next day, we got three girls in to do the backing vocals and we had in mind the idea of “Walk on the Wild Side” – that vibe of the song. The second day we got the backing vocals on and it was all finished in two days. From being written to produced and mastered and everything. All in 24 hours. Same thing (as “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”). Magic moment. I just wished those things happened every week instead of every ten damn years.

Now we’re gonna go in a completely different direction. Have you ever done Ayahuasca and if so, please share your experience.

Yeah, I know exactly what it is, I am very intrigued by it, but I’m way too neurotic to indulge. I’m a red wine guy. I need something to calm me down, not something to open the doors – they’re too open as it is.

What is the strangest thing a fan has ever done in your honor or gifted you over your long career?

Once at a Tones on Tail gig, I think it was in New Orleans, I was walking back to the hotel late late at night, a girl came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for your music. It stopped me (from) committing suicide three times in a row.” I mean, how do you react to that? It’s very strange.

One last question. Obviously you love riding motorcycles. I love surfing. Have you ever been surfing?

You know I’m probably the most pathetic swimmer you’ll ever see. Regan my girlfriend, she swims like a fish. I don’t even dive into the pool, you know, at the gym there, I just sort of jump in like a lead weight. And then she sees me swim and she just cracks up laughing. It’s like ridiculous you know. I can barely kick. I’m not a water person; I’m definitely a dry land creature. Definitely not a swimmer. So yeah, as you can imagine, the idea of me surfing would be ridiculous. I’m not a natural in the water at all. It’s not my thing. It’s ridiculous. I see those guys doing that you know on PCH…I’m a dead sort of guy in the water.

VG: Last Sunday I asked Erasure the very same question (because of their new song “Under the Wave) and their answer was similar to yours. Maybe it’s something from the gentlemen from the UK.

DA: Yeah well you know if you think about it, there’s not a lot of surfing going on, in the north of England, or even in London, you know. That’s why great music comes from England because we have such terrible weather, it’s either go down to the Pub, or be in a band. I don’t think that’s really changed much because there’s not much else to do, ‘cause the weather’s so crap.

VG: Yeah you know, Robert Smith of The Cure, he said the only reason he started the band was so he didn’t have to get a real job.

DA: That wasn’t the only reason, because, he’s very very talented. He’s a Taurus and Taureans are often very good at music, that particular art form. You know Brian Eno is a Taurean as well. There’s a lot of Taureans that make great music. So you know…we all say that. I didn’t even think about getting a job.

Interview: Veronica Grey

3 Comments

  1. Nice interview Veronica!

    i love ya Daniel, but i don’t grok some of the Stripped set i purchased- sometimes the lyrics feel weirdly grafted onto the interesting grooves. honestly, most bands remixes seem too detached from the emotional/sincere undercurrent of the originals.

    “where’s my leather catsuit” and “come on” are great/fun!

    I think i’ll like other original songs with the new sound, and i’ll keep my ears open for another album to add to my complete discography of your work <3

  2. Thank you so much Surf Lady Veronica Grey for all you do to bring your Art to life and for sharing it with the world! I can’t wait for Daniel Ash to go on tour! :?)

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