David J Is so Goth He Wears Sunglasses in Bed
We got tricked into interviewing the former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets member about his new album, his lack of beef with Daniel Ash, and why goth bands were all so serious.
A couple months back, on the occasion of a pledge drive for his new album, I had the chance to interview Daniel Ash. It was swell. I then received an email from the publicist of Ash’s old Bauhaus and Love and Rockets band mate, David J. The email strongly implied that David J would love to respond to some of the things said in the Daniel Ash interview. Being a real cub reporter, possessing a crapulent soul, and apparently being credulous as all hell, I jumped at the chance. Turns out David J had not in fact even heard of the Daniel Ash interview and was promoting a new record himself.
I am at peace with all this as David J’s new album, An Eclipse of Ships, is a very fine affair indeed, and he was a delightful interview. He had been at the same bar as me the night before so he stayed in sunglasses, bathrobe, and bed throughout the entire interview. He was warm and forthcoming, and he wrote and recorded some of the essential music of my youth, so I was grateful for the initial subterfuge.
Noisey: Unlike your former band mates, you don’t seem to shy away from the term goth.
David J: I embrace it with a smile. I don’t take it that seriously but I embrace it more than I used to.
Do you still speak to Daniel?
We parted very amicably after our last gig, which was eight years ago. But we haven’t spoken since. It’s not like there’s any bad blood or anything. We just haven’t reconnected.
He’s said there’s not going to be a reunion.
No. The closest anyone is going to get to that is this band, the Gentlemen Thieves, doing Love and Rockets songs. They do them very well and they bring their own personalities, which I encourage. Bring your own thing to the party. Nobody can copy Danny anyway, but what would be the point? Do it your way and that way you breath new life into the old beast. I always encourage my musicians to just be themselves and it keeps it alive for me as well.
Do you see your career as continuity—
I see it as an evolution.
A refinement but also it’s important to maintain the raw spark that got you into the thing in the first place, which for me was punk: never to lose sight of that. I saw Black Lips last night. They shave that vital edge. Such an excellent show. Another example is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I mean, he’s gothic but in a very cool way.
You seem to share some interests with Cave, being interested in somewhat literate lyrics, telling stories.
Sure and crafting that. The new album isn’t so much character sketch though as about just being me. A travelogue of desire. This album is a polyamorous song cycle. It’s homage to women…specific ladies. There are six songs about a specific person and then a few more general songs that, uh, compliment the theme.
So this is someone you’re in a relationship with?
"An Eclipse of Ships" is an allusion to the phrase "ships passing in the night," so a lot of these relationships I address are fleeting. Ranging from two days to 38 years. Thirty-eight years being my wife; my long-suffering, very understanding wife. She has the song "The You of Yesteryear."
Is she currently your wife?
Oh yeah! Very much so. Like I say, she’s very understanding. Anyway these are character sketches of these women, and they’re very affectionate.
How do you determine the balance of materials between new stuff and Love and Rockets? Do you worry about your fan base?
It just evolves. What I do happens very organically and is very natural. It becomes obvious what direction to go. I never plan or plot anything, and I just follow the muse. And the audience either comes with or not—nothing I can do about that. I never pander to a specific audience. I know with this new album I’m going to lose some but I’ll hopefully gain some. I’ll hopefully gain a lot!
Do you find the new landscape of people not buying entire albums frustrating?
Well sure, but I still get correspondence from people who love and appreciate listening to full albums. That justifies the whole process. And I can’t think in any other terms because I grew up in the era where albums were sequential pieces of art.
Daniel talked about Bowie appearing on "Top of The Pops" being a formative moment for musicians of your age, and you talk more of punk.
With punk, that wasn’t so much about albums. That was more about the visceral experience of going to a club, and it was about singles. But someone like Neil Young, the flow and the sequence was very important. Lou Reed and Velvet Underground as well.
That makes sense, as your body of work is more glam.
Yeah, but there’s an acoustic element as well that I’m mining with my solo work. So l look at my catalog and figure out what makes sense for me to play now. I look to, say, "Earth, Sun, Moon," and there’s a resonance there with those songs and the songs of my current album so it jibes.
Daniel mentioned how he has no interest in doing acoustic version of Love and Rockets songs. I don’t know how aware he is of what you’re doing, but was he taking a shot at you?
No, not at all! He was just being genuine. No, he’s always been like that, and it was a discussion we’ve always had. Because I’ve always loved, say, seeing Elvis Costello doing an acoustic gig, and I would love that sort of stripped down [performance]. And he has no interest that at all. He loves the full production, which I like as well, but he loves the layers. It’s not a dig at all. We just have different taste.
Will you be touring on the new record for the rest of the year?
Well, I just got a book deal, for my memoir; Who Killed Mr. Moonlight; Bauhaus, Black Magic and Benediction. I’m still tweaking it. I’ve been writing it for five years. I had a hotel room in Hollywood; follow Nick Cave’s regimen of writing five hours a day. It’s the only way I could have done.
I didn’t know he did that. Guess the muse needs a shove sometimes.
Yeah, he’s got an office. I think rather sometimes the recipient of the muses’ graces needs a little shove. The vessel needs discipline to be worthy. Nobody shoves the muse. You try that, and she’ll kick you right back and just leave.
You told me that on this record you’ve accessed your inner Serge Gainsbourg. Did you set out to do this?
No. I just realized it. I’ve always loved his music. I used to have this argument with Daniel. He used to regard Gainsbourg as a joke, a one hit wonder and a joke…I relate now because I’m of a certain age and he was of a certain age, writing about women who were a lot younger than him.
There’s sadness to that.
There’s sadness to the record. It’s bittersweet. I like being this age because of the perspective. It’s a much deeper experience, life, the sadness is much deeper but the joy is elevated. I find the older I become the more extreme the experience. I’ve found that especially since I have a son, who’s 25 now, ever since then you project situations on to your offspring, and it really intensifies the experience.
Has your son heard the record?
He’s got it. But he’s yet to comment.
No comment on his father as aging Lothario? I’m sure that’ll be a lot of laughs for him, listening and having a nice squirm.
Hopefully he won’t squirm. We have a great relationship. There’s nothing we can’t talk about. It’s nothing like the relationship I had with my dad.
What did your father do?
He did different things. He had a shop. He was a shopkeeper and he drove a van, did haulage, door-to-door salesman. Sold double-glazing: insulation to keep out the noise. Maybe I was an inspiration for that. Anyway, he was an aspiring writer. He did have a talent for that. He’d write little limericks. He was very funny, very droll and acid…we used to rub each other up, like, a lot. But we made our peace before he slipped off. Which was fantastic.
So your relationship with your son is different.
Oh yeah. We go to gigs together. He turns me on to new stuff. He played me this guy Dirty Beaches. And I play him Suicide. So we have this lovely rapport. Outside of music, he can come to me, and I’ll help him. And sometimes he helps me. He’s a poet, so [between my father and my son] there’s a lineage.
Do you still have a sizable fan base in UK?
Well, my press has gotten better and better.
Do you think it’s because you’ve transitioned into becoming an elder statesman?
No, it’s hard to be honest about yourself without sounding like you’re blowing your own trumpet.
Go ahead. Blow your own trumpet.
Well, there’s depth to what I do. I know this. And some journalists who are of a certain influential set appreciate it. And, now, Bauhaus is lauded by the press. I think we were really ahead of our time. We were provocateurs. We knew were winding people up, and we delighted in that actually. But we still were just being true to ourselves and making music that we thought was just bloody good. And yeah it was kind of going against the grain of the time.
Post punk, there was an attitude of being sort of humble and unpretentious and working class and meat and potatoes, whereas we delighted in being pretentious. But in being pretentious we were being ourselves. You know, it’s the lie that tells the truth. Like how camp is the lie that tells the truth. We were being truer to our real selves by being that glam and that avant-garde and outside the meat and potatoes.
A lot of those meat and potato types were from very well-to-do backgrounds.
Yeah that's pretentious, but not in a really appealing way. But musically we were just ahead. And that’s been borne out by the number of bands influenced by Bauhaus. They’ve told me personally that they have, and that’s really gratifying. I hear the influence coming through a lot. And Love and Rockets. In America certainly. We focused on America. We turned down tours in Europe and Australia and focused on America and Canada.
Really? You were more popular in America?
I think it’s the appeal of the alien. In England, we liked the American bands. They were exotic to us: Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith Group. Huge in England. The appeal was so exotic. The Englishness of Love and Rockets—and we were very English—I think was appealing to Americans.
So how long have you been living in the US?
Seventeen years now.
The new stuff doesn’t feel very English.
I think there’s an English whimsy that runs through this album. And it requires some whimsy to balance out the investigation into the subject matter.
If you’re going to talk about sex and death you have to be supremely serious and supremely unserious at the same time.
Absolutely. If you can pull it off. A lot of the early goth bands took themselves far too seriously, but with Bauhaus there was always a wink. Even the songs that were very serious and intense, we’d counter it with one that was not so much.
You weren’t wacky but there was a humor.
And a lot of that was missed. Same with punk, especially the English ones. There was a lot of humor. It was a laugh but it was also very serious.
Zachary Lipez is winking about death right now. He's on Twitter - @ZacharyLipez
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