Given his goth-rock pedigree, it’s perhaps not surprising that David J — supplier of the low end in both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets — should find himself stumbling into the creation of an “accidental” concept album about mortality. Yet that’s exactly what happened with the bassist’s latest solo effort, the haunting Not Long For This World.
Speaking to Slicing Up Eyeballs from a San Francisco recording studio last week, David J explains the genesis of the dark, cabaret-infected album, which mixes original compositions — including songs about the late Spaulding Gray, Hank Williams and Jeff Buckley — with covers of tracks by the likes of Smog, Ed Harcourt, Tom Waits and Dennis Wilson.
As for Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, both of which reunited at various points in the 2000s, David J notes a “sense of completion,” and seems reluctant, in the interview, to discuss either band. He does, however, explain just how he came to hop on stage to front a Love and Rockets tribute band (“it’s on the edge of almost like self-parody”).
The full interview, edited only for length and clarity, is presented below — and you also can stream the new album, Not Long For This World, in full via the player embedded below.
SLICING UP EYEBALLS: I understand you’re in the studio this week, doing some recording.
DAVID J: Yeah, I’m producing an album by Darwin Meiners, who’s my manager as well as a songwriter. We’re tracking it right now. It’s going great. It’s nice.
EYEBALLS: Obviously, you’ve just put out your own new album, ‘Not Long For This World.’ It’s got a nice mix of original songs and a number of covers by a fairly diverse group of artists… yet it all fits together thematically and sonically. How did that come together?
DAVID J: That’s quite interesting, really. I did a show in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, I was invited to do two nights at this little theater called The Cavern Club. I wanted to do something special, and so I came up with this idea of a themed show called “Bouquets, Wreaths and Laurels,” which is a title of an old song of mine. I split the set into three sections, so “bouquets” was love songs, “wreaths” was death songs and “laurels” was glory songs. Actually, we’re nearly finished with the DVD of that; should come out later in the year. But after that show, a lot of the songs stayed around in my set, especially the “wreath” songs, the death songs. I recorded a couple because they were sounding so good, and then did more. I realized that those put together were an album that had a concept, and that was mortality. It’s an accidental concept album, and then I consciously started to bring in other songs that it into that theme.
EYEBALLS: You’ve also got sort of trilogy of real-life characters: Hank Williams, Spaulding Gray and Jeff Buckley, all of whom met tragic ends. How did you come to incorporate those three?
DAVID J: Well, Spaulding Gray, that came to me when I was approached by a musician, George Sarah, and he wanted me to come up with a lyric for a track that he was recording. It was just after Spaulding Gray had been found dead. And I was always very much a great fan of his work, so I was very affected by that. So it was in my mind, and just spilled out. There’s another version, the original version, which is electronic, actually. The backing was electronic with a real-life string section. When it came to the album, it was an obviously one to reinterpret, to do acoustically.
Hank Williams, again, always loved his music. I was doing an instrumental track, a collaboration with a musician by the name of Marcelo Radulovich, a Chilean guy. We improvised the instrumental music, and then Marcelo said, “I hear vocals on this. Do you have any lyrics?” I didn’t at the time, I didn’t even have a lyric book or anything. I just looked around his studio and he had the complete lyrics and songs of Hank Williams, so I took this big tome off his shelf, and I just started flipping through it at random lines, just very spontaneous, page-line, page-line, and I wrote them down. Five minutes later, I had that lyric. It’s a poem, but it it’s also like a prayer. I had this vision of Hank Williams dying in the back of the car, delirious, in conversation with the angel of death. We set up a mic and it was very spontaneous. So that was the first take.
And Jeff Buckley, I’d been invited to perform at a tribute for Jeff Buckley that his mother was attending. It was in Pittsburgh in an old music hall, so I wrote that for that event. And then Damien Youth, my friend, he was also invited and he wrote songs with Jeff. We collaborated on the music for that, performed it for the first time at the memorial. Jeff’s mum was there, so I was a bit wary, it goes in deep. But she came up to me afterward and she just gave me the biggest hug and I could see the tears running down her cheek. So that was confirmation that it was all right.
EYEBALLS: Did you ever meet Jeff Buckley?
DAVID J: No, as I say in the piece, I just saw him that one time. And I wasn’t going to see him – I was in New York, going to see John Cale perform at the Bottom Line, and I ran into my friend Hal Wilner, the producer, and he was there to see Jeff. He invited me a long, and it was an early show, so I had time and I went with. And was just completely blown away by it. But I never met him, no.
EYEBALLS: A number of the songs feature pretty prominent piano, which gives it that sort of cabaret feeling. Are you writing a lot on piano?
DAVID J: The piano player is Susan Costantini Green, a wonderful pianist. I wanted piano, so I just went with her. I wrote on guitar, so I have her a chance to translate. I cannot play piano like that.
EYEBALLS: You used Kickstarter to fund the new record. Are you happy with the way that turned out, and do you see fan-funding as a viable way to help sustain a recording career?
DAVID J: I was really happy, very much so. The support is amazing. That is just a great vehicle for independent artists. I just think it’s really nice how the audience, the supporters, become involved in the process. It’s like everybody coming together to make dreams happen.
DAVID J: I suppose in the performance of the pieces, they can be quite theatrical. But conceptually, I suppose, the two plays, “Chanteuse” and “Silver for Gold,” they’re in effect song cycles, they have a theme and all the songs are going toward telling a story. So in that way, it’s similar, yeah.
EYEBALLS: What was it about Edie Sedgwick’s story that you felt inspired to write a play about?
DAVID J: I didn’t intend to write a play about Edie Sedgwick. I just wrote one song. It was sparked by reading an aborted screenplay by Leonard Schrader and David Weisman, who co-directed “Ciao! Manhattan,” which Edie was in. And I met him and played him that song and he loved it and he encouraged me to take it further and write a play. So I started to write more songs and put a little bit of monologue in between. Then it just grew from there, so he was the catalyst, David Weisman. He came to see the lay when we put it on and got inspired by the notion of making a film based on the play in combination with documentary footage that he has, incredible stuff. So we’re actually in talks now with a director about making htat happen.
EYEBALLS: Are you planning any more theatrical work in the near future?
DAVID J: We certainly want to re-stage that and take it to New York. And I also want to re-stage the “Chanteuse,” because I cut that one short due to the fact… well, for a lot of reasons. A lot of logistics were involved and a lot of money problems. It just wasn’t sustainable financially. I got good reviews, but it was too late in the day and I couldn’t take a risk on not having the audience come. So I hope to re-stage that at some point, hopefully toward the end of the year.
EYEBALLS: Any thought of a theatrical component to the new album?
DAVID J: Not really, not. I mean I’m doing a live set at the moment that includes some of those songs and, by their nature, they have a theatricality that’s just simply down to the performance and expression of those songs. But it’s not really a piece of theater.
EYEBALLS: You’ve got some shows coming up in California and Canada. What should people expect?
DAVID J: In Canada it’s going to be more of a conventional acoustic show that will cover the whole spectrum of everything I’ve done, touching on Bauhaus and Love and Rockets. It’s a little trio, very intimate. Not so cabaret-esque as the set I have been doing of late. I’ve been playing with this band Adrian H and the Wounds from Portland. It’s very cabaret-based, which I love, and I love this band, and the band is naturally inclined toward that kind of stuff.
EYEBALLS: You mentioned performing material from all across your career, and I know that in recent years, you’ve jumped on stage with a Love and Rockets tribute band called Luv’n Rockets. I’m guessing you still have great fondness for those songs and enjoy performing them.
DAVID J: Yeah, well, how that came about is I met that band while I was DJing and I was really impressed with how they got the songs and down. And they were great guys and we became friends. In fact, Darwin Meiners, whose album I’m doing and who’s now my manager, he’s the bass player – he was me. So I’m producing me, but it’s not me. But, just, really, for a laugh, we decided to do this gig, we got invited to do a gig on Halloween a couple years ago in Las Vegas. The idea of me performing our songs with a tribute band was just so bizarre it had a kind of appeal. So we decided to do a one-off gig, but it went so well we started getting all these offers coming in, and it was just such fun, and they play them so well. But it’s hard to pull off, it’s on the edge of almost like self-parody. But it’s a fine line. I enjoy walking that edge, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that anymore, having said that. It was fun, but I’m concentrating on my newest songs now.
EYEBALLS: In the last few years you’ve gotten back together with both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets for more shows, and, in the case of Bauhaus, a new album. Do you feel you’ve now put those two bands to bed?
DAVID J: Yeah. There’s a sense of completion with both of those bands now.
EYEBALLS: Are you happy with how they ended? Does it feel like they no longer hang over you?
DAVID J: Yeah.
EYEBALLS: Aside from your upcoming shows, what else do you have planned for the rest of the year?
DAVID J: The main thing is to go out and promote this record. I love playing live and I certainly want to go to Europe. There are plans for that at the moment, probably at the end of the year, a little European jaunt, including Eastern Europe as well. We’re getting some good interest over there. Before that, I’ll be sporadically touring the States, yeah. And writing some new songs as well.
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