THE INTERVIEW: Guitarist Daniel Ash of Love and Rockets
Daniel Ash is one of the founding members and guitarist in the legendary art-punk band Bauhaus, a group whose first single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” effectively set the stage for the emergence of goth rock in the early 1980s. After that group’s demise, he formed Love and Rockets with Bauhaus band mates David J and Kevin Haskins. The group’s sound ranged from swirly psychedelic rock and pop to folk to electronica, eventually resulting in a top three hit single at the peak of their success. He’s also maintained a solo identity, periodically releasing albums and most recently, a cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” as an iTunes single. I spoke to Ash hours before he embarked on a motorcycle trip from southern California to Austin, Texas, in time to DJ a listening party for the forthcoming Love and Rockets tribute album.
It’s well known that you’re quite the motorcycle enthusiast [Love and Rockets’ self-titled 1989 album features two back-to-back songs referring to his love of riding]…
Yeah, I’m going off on my trip this afternoon, that’s why I’m in a good mood! I was supposed to be flying, but I decided to go on the bike. It’s my yoga … the lazy man’s zen. For me, after an hour I go to this place that is pretty euphoric. Freedom is the bottom line. It’s incredible. It keeps me sane. I get loads of ideas out there. I take a mini recorder with me and I’ll just go off to the side of the road and record them on mini-cassette.
Your first two solo albums had more of a guitar-based sound, while the last one [self-titled, 2002] was electronica. Are you looking to return to more guitar-based music?
I have no idea, actually. I get bored very easily, so I love doing different styles of music at once. [New song] “Flame On” is full-on … it sounds like it could be from [Iggy & the Stooges album] Raw Power, and then there’s “Candy Eye,” which sounds like Euro Pop. It could be a hit – whatever a hit is these days. Maybe in France or something. What I’m hoping to do now is more film work – I’d love to score a great film or do some TV. In 2003 I did the music for a show called “Keen Eddie;” and it was a new and different thing for me to do. That’s of much more appeal to me now, not playing live. I’m done with that.
No more live outings then? You’re not as cut out for being on the road as you used to?
I love the idea of being on the road. If it’s on a motorcycle, I’m fit all the time! But touring with a band, I’ve been doing that since 1979, and that’s a long time. I mean, if I had some success with my solo stuff, I’d be into doing some one-off gigs, but the non-stop traveling and all that doesn’t appeal to me anymore. It feels like a nightmare now.
So I guess no plans to tour with Love And Rockets after last year’s one-off shows at Coachella and Lollapalooza then? Were you at all upset that Bauhaus broke up before the final album Go Away White was released? Would you have liked to tour any of that material?
No regrets in that area. I’d been working with the same guys and it was getting old, big time. I mean, Love and Rockets was together for 17 years. And with Bauhaus, those songs are 30 years old now, so it’s not exactly fresh anymore. We played two songs from that album when we toured with Nine Inch Nails a few years ago, but most of that album is really not conducive to a live gig anyway.
It was said there was some internal conflict and an “incident” that resulted in Bauhaus breaking up for the last time in 2007. That aside, could you have seen the band carrying on for much longer anyway?
Well, you have to put up with personality conflicts no matter who you’re with, and usually that’s what makes a band great. But the thing was that Bauhaus never really got paid. We absolutely never got into it for money, but when you’re out on the road touring for three months and in the end all you get is “survival money,” it gets disheartening. It was always a struggle, and the paycheck just wasn’t there year in and year out. I think if we were compensated more than we were, it would have helped us get on better.
Of course the music business is very different now than it was years ago. Has that made things more difficult as an independent artist? I remember a few years ago you were selling a three-song EP online to help finance your 2002 solo album.
It is really tough for bands now, unless you go out on the road and tour, which I don’t want to do. In the old days, you would make an album, go on the road and hopefully that led to people walking into a record store to buy it. Now you make the album, people get it for free, and it promotes you going on the road and hopefully people come to the shows. You have to think outside the box here, and yeah, it’s tough.
On the other hand, Love and Rockets were able to have some mainstream success and a chart-topping single in “So Alive.” That must have helped.
Oh that was fantastic, I wish I could write more tracks like that! Commercial success is very appealing to me. Sometimes there’s nothing like a three and a half minute pop single.
And now there’s the Love and Rockets tribute album coming out. The band covered a lot of musical ground, and that comes out in the many different acts that perform on the disc. What are your thoughts on these interpretations?
I guess we were all over the place, just looking at this list. I love a lot of these. Most of the tracks, I’m really thumbs-up with [the artists’] approach. I particularly like when they haven’t copied the original song and take it off into something else. Frank Black’s “All In My Mind” is great; love the attitude. And I love the guitar on the Flaming Lips track (“Kundalini Express”), because it sounds like how you play guitar when you’re first learning; sounds very interesting. As a side note, there was talk at one point of getting Tom Jones to do “So Alive.” Apparently he used to play that song at his shows in Vegas. Imagine it! It would be a complete laugh. That might be something we can still do… maybe add it to the online tracks [www.myspace.com/loveandrocketstribute]. There is still hope that Tom may come on board. Exclamation point. My mom would be pleased, anyway.
This might be a bit like trying to choose a favorite child, but is there any project of yours that you are most fond of today?
My favorite band of the three I’ve been in is Tones on Tail [formed after Bauhaus and pre-Love and Rockets with Ash, Haskins and bassist Glen Campling]. It was completely free; we never had any commercial considerations, but creatively it was the most fulfilling. That music really stands out to me and doesn’t sound dated, so it transcends time in that sense.
I gather you’ve had a reluctance to embrace the internet. How do you think it factors into things today?
It’s a double-edged sword. The downside is that since everyone’s got a website, it gets overwhelming and becomes sort of “So what?” I mean, when was the last time anyone listened to an album, right? I find myself barely listening to one song before slinking off to something else. Young kids are bad like that – they’ll sit there drinking Red Bull with the attention span of a mosquito, just bouncing around. And I don’t use e-mail. People think I’m crazy, but I just don’t want to sit in front of the computer for four hours writing e-mails. It’s perverse to me; I just can’t do it. The phone is so much better. If I’m not in, just leave a message.
That’s surprising in this day and age. Most people might say there’s no way they can live or conduct business without it. Has your not using e-mail ever caused any personal/professional difficulties or complications?
[Ash pauses for a second before responding in a succinct tone] No.
The Love and Rockets tribute album New Tales To Tell – A Tribute to Love And Rockets is out now on iTunes, and will be available on CD Aug. 18. Consider checking out any of Ash’s former bands a service to yourself.