The Agit Reader

Poptone

June 27th, 2017  |  by Stephen Slaybaugh

Poptone

While Bauhaus has enjoyed the cult following that comes with being seen as goth figureheads and Love and Rockets the spoils that go along with a Top 10 hit (“So Alive”), despite having what has become a fixture of alternative club nights the world over (“Go!”), Tones on Tail has never enjoyed the degree of notoriety as the bands that preceded and followed it. Formed in 1982 by Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash with roadie Glenn Campling and (eventually) Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins, the short-lived band produced just one album and a couple EPs before they called it a day two years later, and Ash and Haskins went on to form Love and Rockets with Haskins’ brother, Bauhaus bassist David J.

As such, it came as quite a surprise when Haskins and Ash, who in a previous interview expressed an aversion to revisiting the past, announced earlier this year that they would be playing songs from the Tones songbook for the first time in more than 30 years. The new project, entitled Poptone after a PiL song, includes Haskins’ daughter Diva Dompe on bass and is a showcase for Ash’s songs not only with Tones, but Love and Rockets and, to a lesser extent, Bauhaus as well. Having completed the first two West Coast stints of the tour, the band was poised to begin the Midwestern leg when I caught up with Haskins via phone at home in Los Angeles, where he’s been making a living composing music for film and television.

Has the response to the tour been what you expected it to be?

Kevin Haskins: No, it’s actually been way more. It’s really unbelievable. The fans have been so appreciative, perhaps partly because we’re doing a lot of Tones on Tail, songs that people thought they’d never hear live. But I think it’s the whole package. We have a great chemistry with Diva, who’s kind of given new life to Daniel and I.

Do you think Tones on Tail has become more popular since you broke up?

KH: When we reformed Bauhaus, the response to that was pretty amazing and we played bigger venues than back in the day. I think it’s the same with Tones on Tail. Those bands have built up mystiques over time. Both were underground cult bands. Thankfully the music still sounds relevant and contemporary.

It seems like Bauhaus has overshadowed Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets. Do you feel like that?

KH: It’s probably due to the fact that we only did one LP with Tones so our imprint on time is smaller. We never had the opportunity to see how it would have progressed. I do think the music we made was very unique and very strong, but I know what you mean.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything on the impetus for Tones on Tail forming and the reason for dissolving when you guys moved onto Love and Rockets. Can you encapsulate that?

KH: Tones on Tail started as a side-project while Bauhaus was still going. Glenn was our roadie. Glenn and Daniel started the project and they did two or three singles and EPs. I loved what they were doing, and when Bauhaus split up, Daniel asked if I wanted to join. I though about it for a nanosecond and said, “Yes.” We did the LP and tours of the UK and America. But to give you a really boring response of why we split up, it was musical differences. Glenn was getting into electronics and New Order and was interested in going down that road. Daniel was the polar opposite and wanted to go a more acoustic route, and I remember that being a clash. So it just kind of dissolved. Sorry, it’s not more interesting than that.

I know Daniel has explained the idea for doing this as coming to him in the middle of the night. Did it take some convincing for you to want to do this tour?

KH: Actually, Daniel and I would talk about doing something like this about once a year. We’d get excited about it and then go through all the pros and cons. One of the things that kept us from doing it was the idea of going on a long tour and being away from home. We’re both kind of lightweights when it comes to touring—we always have been. It messed with our heads, and the idea didn’t sit well with us. But then our tour agent suggested that we could do these short week-long tours. We’ve done two now, and it’s been great. At the end of 10 days, we’re like, “Yeah, we’d like to go home now.” And we can! Then you have 10 days off, and you start to get the itch.

I interviewed Daniel a couple years ago, and when I asked him about the possibility of Love and Rockets getting back together, he really seemed like he didn’t want to revisit the past. Did you have any similar trepidations?

KH: Not really. Every time we’ve reformed, there’s been a niggling fear that we haven’t got it anymore or it’s not going to work. Daniel and I deejayed together on New Year’s Eve, and it went really well. He suggested that we do a deejay tour this year, and later on I thought, “Why don’t we do a band?” So I texted that idea to him, probably a little before he had that epiphany. He didn’t respond, but he was texting me pictures of motorbikes. Then I suddenly I got this text saying, “So who’s going to play bass?” So we were doing it. So no, no trepidations this time around.

Did you talk to Glenn about being involved?

KH: The idea is, as our agent calls it, a career retrospective, with songs from all the bands. Had we thought it through a little more we might have realized that a lot of the material was going to be from Tones on Tail. That’s really because Daniel wants to do only songs that he wrote and didn’t share any of the vocals. And that really narrows it down. It turned out to be more Tones on Tail, but we thought it would be odd for Glenn to play David’s basslines or for David to play Glenn’s. We felt it made more sense for it to be neutral, and we had thought about Diva in the past if we were going to reform. And she adds another element too, being female and younger, as well as an artist in her own right. It really works. She clicked immediately and nailed the lines from the get-go. I think Daniel and I were struggling to play our parts more than her. Daniel and I feel like the gods are with us the way everything came together so fast. We put in a lot of hard work rehearsing and dialing it all in, but musically it all flowed really well.

Had you ever worked with your daughter professionally before?

KH: I filled in on drums. She was in a band called Blackblack many years ago, and for some reason their drummer couldn’t make it one night. I had been to see them several times, so I said I could do it. But that was just a one-off thing. I also engineered and co-composed to a degree on one of her solo albums.

Being a fan of Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, I’m a little disappointed to see it isn’t represented in the setlist. I would think that one would have the most in common with Tones on Tail.

KH: Obviously, it was our first album and I can see the connections. I was looking at every album and seeing what we could do, and I think we could do “The Game.” But if there were shared vocals with David, Daniel’s not keen to go there.

What were some of the challenges of doing these songs that you haven’t played for many years?

KH: Being a retrospective, people are going to want to hear the songs as they sound on the records. When I go to to see a band, I don’t want to hear them put in trip-hop beats or do weird versions, and we all feel similarly. There are two songs where we have backing tracks because there was a lot of studio production and electronic parts on them, but otherwise, it’s all done live. I really love triggering samples. It’s something I started with Love and Rockets, and I’ve gone back to the albums and sampled sounds from them. Back in the day when we recorded these records, I would keep samples and I’ve held onto them forever. Getting all that together was quite a challenge. For example, “Twist” has samples of seagulls and a crowd cheering and all sorts of weird stuff. I remembered taking that off a sound effects album, so I dug through all my vinyl and I found it. I was so excited that I actually had the album we took the samples from. It also took time for Daniel to get all the right guitar sounds and amplifiers that work… it was a process. It took us like 10 weeks to get it all together and rehearse everything.

You mentioned that you still had that sound effects record, and you did that book of Bauhaus memorabilia, so I get the impression that you’re the archivist of the group. Could you do a similar book for Tones on Tail or Love and Rockets?

KH: Unfortunately, I don’t know. I have some ideas on how to do books on those bands, but I’m going to keep them under my hat. I really enjoyed putting the Bauhaus book together. It was way more work than I ever imagined, but still enjoyable. I found I had a lot of material stashed away that I didn’t know I had, photographs I took backstage. That will be out at the end of October.

But you released it limitedly before, right?

KH: No, it didn’t come out. I tried to do it on my own, but I didn’t get enough orders. I should have done a business plan. I wanted to use a really great printer, so it was going to be expensive to make. The book was going to be too big and I didn’t realize how much it would cost to mail out. So it would have cost a lot for the consumer. I did have 250 orders, and I was amazed that people were willing to spend the money. In a way, I’m thankful it didn’t happen because now it’s going to be way more affordable and available through Amazon.

You’re going to be on the East Coast in August. Do you plan to extend the tour beyond that, perhaps go to Europe?

KH: Because we’re doing these little runs, it takes a lot longer to cover ground, if you like. So through the end of the year, we’re touring North America. Some of that is still being set up. Next year, we will be interested in doing festivals and going abroad.

Are there plans to record new music?

We’ve spoken about it and are all interested in doing it, but we decided not to think about it for now and just do the shows. Maybe early next year, we’ll think about it. I’m excited, though.

Did you miss being in a band?

KH: I had no idea how much I missed it. I’d go see friends in bands who were going on tour, and I’d think how it would be nice to go to Europe and tour. But the idea would come into my head, but then leave pretty fast. I didn’t dwell on it. But now that I’m doing it again, I’m really enjoying it.

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