To mark last week’s release of New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love and Rockets, Slicing Up Eyeballs caught up with that band’s frontman, Daniel Ash, to chat about the tribute album, his new music and his involvement with a trio of classic goth- and psychedelic-tinged ’80s acts: Bauhaus, Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail.
Featuring more than a dozen covers of classic Love and Rockets tracks by the likes of Black Francis, The Flaming Lips and The Dandy Warhols, the new tribute album was released digitally last Tuesday, and will arrive on CD on Aug. 18.
Ash spoke from his home in Ojai, Calif., last Wednesday, just hours before he was scheduled to mount his motorcycle and ride to Austin, Texas, where he is scheduled to appear at a listening party for New Tales to Tell this coming Tuesday.
In addition to offering his thoughts on the tribute record and some of the more radical interpretations of his songs, Ash firmly closed the door on working with longtime bandmates David J and Kevin Haskins again as Love and Rockets: “No. No. No. I mean, no. … It’s boring for me to do those songs that are so old. … You’ve got to realize we’d been working in one capacity or another since 1979. That’s like a lifetime, you know. Time to move on.”
Ash also revealed that following sporadic reunions beginning in 1998, it was the decision to go into the studio with Peter Murphy, David J and Kevin Haskins as Bauhaus to record 2008’s Go Away White that did in that band: “We saw things in a differing light. We were actually lucky to get an album out of those sessions in the first place.”
With the recent Love and Rockets and Bauhaus reunions put to rest, Ash is moving ahead with new music. He recently teamed up with Zak Ambrose to record a cover of the David Essex tune “Rock On” (which Love and Rockets used to play live), and also is focusing on scoring and writing songs for film and TV.
The full interview, edited slightly for clarity, appears after the jump…
SLICING UP EYEBALLS: So how did this tribute album come together? Was it something the band wanted to do, or did someone else put it all together?
DANIEL ASH: We’re not part of it. The guy who put it all together, whose idea it was, is called Christopher the Minister, an old friend of mine who used to be my manager years ago, and we’re still friends. He was with Sirius radio for like seven years. He’s left there now, and this is his first project since leaving the radio station.
EYEBALLS: What did you think of the idea?
ASH: I was like, well, very flattered. I mean, you know, I didn’t know of anybody who would be wanting to do this, so it’s quite surprising who he’s got on board to be part of this tribute album. There’s some interesting names out there.
EYEBALLS: Were you surprised by the number of bands who contributed? It seems like there were too many to put on the single CD.
ASH: There is. I think there’s about 26 different bands or individuals contributing, so there’s other stuff coming out as bonus stuff that’s just going to be available online. There’s a lot of stuff going on here.
ASH: Yeah, I really like that one. I think it’s much more interesting for me to hear something that’s been completely changed around rather than just copying the original. There’s no point in that at all. I love that. I really like the Frank Black approach to “All In My Mind” as well.
EYEBALLS: Do you, as someone who wrote and created these songs, hear something different than maybe a casual listener or even a longtime Love and Rockets fan? Hearing these covers, does it evoke something in you?
ASH: It brings back memories, yeah. A lot of these songs are 30 years old. I mean, they were recorded in the ’80s. In fact, they probably all were. That was a long time ago. It’s often strange for me to hear. Like the Frank Black version. I never would have thought of doing that song, personally, in that way. I mean, he’s done a punk version of it. It’s very raw, but it works. It’s almost like the opposite of how we recorded that track. In fact, it is the opposite of how we recorded it. We were trying to make it all silky smooth and everything, and he’s like completely punked it up, which I really like. I really like the Dubfire track, as well. “I Feel Speed.” That’s probably one of my favorites as well, because I really like dance music.
EYEBALLS: It’s interesting to hear some of the more modern electronic takes on these songs, because in Love and Rockets’ later years, you started going in that direction as well.
ASH: Yeah, that’s right. But some of this stuff sounds like a mix of all that. Take the Flaming Lips track. The guitar on there, I love it, it sounds so naive. It’s like how you learn to play guitar when you very first learn how to play. I mean that in a flattering sense. It reminds me sort of early Devo before they learned to lay. It’s just more interesting. When Devo learned to play properly, it got a bit bland for me.
EYEBALLS: Did any of the song choices surprise you?
ASH: The real surprise to me was the Dandy Warhols’ “Inside the Outside,” because, to be honest, for us that was a bit of a throwaway track. My memory of that is it wasn’t a big deal, it was a B-side or something. [“Inside the Outside” was the B-side to 1985’s “Ball of Confusion,” Love and Rockets’ debut single.] Strange how they wanted to do that track.
EYEBALLS: So after playing together again last year, is there any future for Love and Rockets?
ASH: No. No. No. I mean, no. That was way back; it’s ancient history to me now. It’s a bit odd doing Coachella and Lollapalooza last year. I wasn’t really into that. Really, it sort of drove it home for me. That was it for me. It’s boring for me to do those songs that are so old.
EYEBALLS: Is there any sense, then, that maybe this Love and Rockets tribute, and the recent Bauhaus album, sort of put your past to rest and let you move forward?
ASH: Whether this (tribute album) came out or not, I’m moving on. I mean, this is flattering and everything, but it’s quite bizarre in a way for me, because those songs are sort of the furthest away from my mind these days. I really want to get into film and TV now, not playing live. I want to get into scoring films or writing for films or TV or ads or whatever. I’ve done the band thing for so long now, it’s time to move on. But to answer your question, whether this tribute album came out or not, it’s definitely over as far as the band goes. You’ve got to realize we’d been working in one capacity or another since 1979. That’s like a lifetime, you know. Time to move on.
EYEBALLS: Those feelings that came from playing with Love and Rockets at Coachella and Lollapalooza, was that sort of an extension of what you went through making that final Bauhaus album as well?
ASH: Every time we get together, whatever the format, it’s because it feels right at that time. It’s very simple. It’s just, “Does this feel right or not? Yes or now?” So at the time, the whole Bauhaus thing, it must have felt right, or otherwise, why would we do it? It’s not like we were getting loads of money thrown at us. We actually recorded it on our own budget. It just felt right to do it at that time. But again, going into the studio after all those years of having a break, it was tough. It was not easy going in and recording, because when you go off and do your own stuff, you don’t have to compromise. And when you’re in a band, there’s always a degree of compromise with the other guys in the band, and we all felt that. But after you’ve had the luxury of not having to do that, to go back to that, it can be really frustrating. We saw things in a differing light. We were actually lucky to get an album out of those sessions in the first place. We were only in there for like three-and-a-half weeks when we recorded that stuff.
EYEBALLS: In terms of moving on, you’ve recently released a cover of “Rock On” with Zak Ambrose.
ASH: That’s just a one-off thing. It was one thing where I was asked to go in and play bass by Christopher the Minister because I knew the song so well. I took over the sessions somewhat and ended up doing the guitar and vocals. There’s two vocals on that “Rock On” track, but I’m not working with Zak anymore. That was just a one-off thing. I’d never met the guy. I was just in the studio to play bass and it sort of evolved from there. But that’s just a one-off little project. I’m doing other stuff now. I’ve got a MySpace now where I’ve got like five tracks, all new stuff. I’m just sort of giving it away. People can just listen to it for free and I can get a reaction from that.
EYEBALLS: Is there an appeal to being able to put music out there almost instantly?
ASH: It’s sort of a double-edged sword, the whole Internet thing. It’s great in one respect. You can get any information about anything you want because everything’s out there. But it’s hard to make anything feel special anymore because everybody and their uncle has got a Web site now. Big deal. I didn’t even put this MySpace up. I’ve never had an official Web site for myself. I’ve never bothered with it. Other people have sort of put it out there for me, like fans and stuff, so I’ve let them do it. But I’ve never been bothered. Everything’s a bit too accessible anymore. I mean, when was the last time anybody sat down and listened to a whole album. People’s attention spans are so small now because of this instant information. If I’m listening to iTunes, I can barely get through one song without having to check out something else because there’s so much stuff out there. It’s like everything; it has its good and bad side. I do, however, quite like the idea of singles rather than albums. Just one track rather than listening to 10 songs. Part of me really likes that.
EYEBALLS: One may to still make things special is like what you did with “Rock On,” releasing it as a 7-inch single, too.
ASH: Yeah, well, that was not my idea. That was Christopher the Minister again. He was behind that whole thing. But he printed up 1,000 copies just for the hell of it, because it’s a fun thing to do. I mean, he’s not making any money on it. It’s actually costing him more to make the vinyl than what he’s selling them for.
EYEBALLS: You mentioned wanting to do more music for TV and movies. Few months back, I was pleasantly surprised to hear your music all over an episode of “Fringe.”
ASH: That particular episode was called “Midnight.” I know one of the writers, Joel Wyman, and we were chatting and he said, “How’s it going,” and I said, “I’d really like to get some stuff into film and TV.” And he picked “Bela” [Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”] and two of my solo tracks [“Closer to You” and “Candy Darling”] to go on that particular episode, and that was great. I also recorded a TV series with him in 2003 called “Keen Eddie.” It was a comedy and I did the music for that with a friend of mine, Billy Goodrum, who is actually a neighbor of mine. It was so refreshing for me to record music when I’ve got a visual and a storyline and I’m actually writing music, songs or whatever to somebody else’s vision rather than when you’re doing it on your own. You’re always thinking about yourself and how you feel about this and that, whereas with this was a complete break from that and I was working to somebody else’s visual. That was, to me, liberating and a lot of fun. I noticed if the writing’s really good as far as TV and film, then the music comes really quickly. If the writing sucks, it’s really hard to get anything good out there. We did like 103 piece of music for that TV series. I never had so much fun. It was great. We did everything from reggae to ska to rock to techno, all of these different types of music. We had to put in like 15- or 30-second snippets of music. I would love to do more stuff like that. Also, the challenge was, it was a comedy, which I’m not really known for.
EYEBALLS: Do you think, given what’s going on with the Internet and the music industry, opportunities like that present a better long-term career for musicians?
ASH: I think the whole downloading for free thing totally sucks for us musicians. When Napster first came out, it completely killed us. I know bands that were doing great that split up because of illegal downloading. Young kids now, a lot of them, the concept of buying music they can’t relate to it. What we have to do now is look outside the box. At least we have iTunes now so it does bring some income. The lids have been ripped off this whole thing. It’s a different world now. It’s a very strange time for me. I do find it really weird in one sense, but I suppose if you look at it in an optimistic sense, it’s very exciting because of this instant gratification. Because you can get stuff out there and hear it straight away. But the bottom line is you do need to get paid, otherwise you can’t do anything. That is the tough part of this whole “free this, free that” thing. But, then again, in the old days, the record companies would take all of your money, so it’s just a different animal.
EYEBALLS: In that same vein, it’s a lot more acceptable to do commercials now. Seems like Tones on Tail’s “Go” is all over the place.
ASH: Yeah, “Go” has kept me alive, man, for years. First it was Starburst candy, I think. The latest is a Lincoln-Mercury ad, which actually I haven’t seen yet. But I’m thrilled that stuff is out there. Apparently the woman in the ad says, “Play that Tones on Tail song.” I mean, it’s such an obscure band. Who’s heard of Tones on Tail? I’d love to see that ad. I don’t watch TV, so I haven’t seen it.
EYEBALLS: I’ve always wondered why no motorcycle company ever used Love and Rockets’ “Motorcycle” in a commercial. Seems like a no-brainer.
ASH: Maybe they will one day. If you think about it, you very rarely see motorcycle adverts on TV, from my memory, anyway. I remember approaching Harley-Davidson way back in the ’80s because I had a few songs I wanted to submit to them, but they responded by saying they had no interest at all because they were doing great and didn’t need to advertise on TV. So that’s that. But maybe it would be a different story right now.
EYEBALLS: You said you’re leaving for Austin this afternoon; are you riding down there?
ASH: Christopher the Minister booked me a plane ticket and I said no, no, no. I hate flying anyway, so I’m going on the bike. He thinks I’m crazy. Everybody does. I’m going to bike 1,200 miles in the baking sun, but to me, it’s a road trip. It’ll be fun.
EYEBALLS: I imagine there’s a certain freedom to riding like that.
ASH: To me it keeps me sane. It’s my yoga. They call motorcycle riding a lazy man’s Zen, and it really is. You get on the bike and once you’re out there for an hour or so, you get in this zone in your head. It’s extremely liberating, a sense of freedom. I suppose it’s not for everybody, but I really encourage anybody to get into riding motorcycles. Within reason. Might be a bit tough if you’re never ridden and you’re 80 years old, but, I mean, I’ve been riding since I was 12. I’m just completely addicted. It’s my thing. To me, there’s nothing like it. It’s an incredible sense of freedom. That’s the bottom line.
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS:
- Bauhaus, Pixies, The Fall up for ‘Omnibus’ reissues from new Beggars Archive imprint
- Love and Rockets tribute album to feature Black Francis, The Flaming Lips
- Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy covers John Lennon, announces U.S. summer tour