Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and Diva talk about POPTONE
Published on May 2, 2017
“The whole idea was to give people exactly what they want,” explains Daniel Ash on POPTONE, his new project with Kevin Haskins. Having worked together in Bauhaus, Tones on Tail and Love & Rockets, the musicians are now going on the road to perform material from all those bands. In the case of Tones on Tail, it is music that hasn’t been played live since 1983.
While the idea of doing a project like this had come up before, Ash hadn’t been interested in revisiting his musical past for live performances. But one morning at 4 AM, he woke up with a revelation, realizing that it was indeed what he needed to do. With Haskin’s daughter Diva Dompe rounding out the lineup, the group began rehearsing and doing local performances. They will be embarking on an extensive tour, starting on May 11.
In a set of phone interviews conducted on March 24, 2017, the members of Poptone talked about the new project.
Part 1: Daniel Ash
How did you come to start working with Kevin again, as Poptone?
“Something strange happened to me about two months ago. I was at my desk in my office, and I was watching videos on YouTube, and I fell asleep. I woke up at 4 in the morning and had this revelation that it was so obvious what I needed to do, and that was to go out on the road and play this material. I can’t explain it. I went from one extreme to the other. I had no intention of ever doing the live thing again, no intention at all, and then suddenly two months ago…4 o’clock in the morning, I woke up, headphones around my neck, and I thought, oh my God, I should do it. I felt 100% right about doing it. That’s all; that’s what happened. I’ve been rehearsing the set over the past month, with Kevin and Diva.”
You recently put out a solo album, ‘Stripped,’ where you re-interpreted material from your various projects. Did that have any effect on what you’re doing with Poptone?
“No, not at all. We’re doing these tracks just as were recorded.”
How has it been going preparing for the tour?
“It’s pretty much worked out exactly how I’d imagined. The whole idea was to go back out. The big difference now is that I’m doing this live; it’s not studio stuff, it’s not making a record, it’s not doing music for a film. It’s strictly going out live, playing these songs as they were. It’s that simple.”
Was it obvious that you wanted to bring Kevin into it?
“A few different people have been pestering me to do something like this for a long time. Kevin was the obvious choice because he was in all three bands. He was in Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets. So, he was the obvious choice. Plus, to be honest, he’s probably my favorite drummer on the planet. I love how he plays. He’s not a typical rock drummer. He was trained by a jazz drummer years ago as a kid. He also does a lot of things with percussive sound effects that are triggered live to recreate the sound from those records. He was there all the way through those three bands. Diva, his daughter, is playing bass. She is amazing and gets it completely.”
Did you conceive it from the start as another trio?
“I definitely wanted a trio. There was talk about getting other people in, and I shot that idea down straight away. I love the idea of a trio. For me, the fewer people in the band, the better. It makes life a lot less complicated, the fewer people you have. We can cover it completely sonically with three people; we don’t need 4.”
I remember reading in an interview once that you didn’t think the Tones on Tail music should be played without Glenn Campling on bass. What changed our mind?
“Good question. About 65-70% of the set is Tones on Tail material, and I couldn’t have called this thing Tones on Tail because Glenn is not in the band. We also weren’t going to be playing JUST Tones on Tail songs, so it is what it is. We were searching for a name for a while. For a few weeks, we were going to be called Slice of Life. At the 11th hour, we found out about another band using that name who were about to go out on the road. Not everybody was 100% with that name anyway, and again at 4’clock in the morning, I had the idea of Poptone. The idea came from the song ‘Poptones’ by Public Image Limited. It came into my mind at 4 in the morning, the plural Poptones, but then I thought it sounded better just to call it Poptone. But again, we’re not just doing Tones on Tails songs; it’s not a Tones on Tails tour. I suppose they call it a retrospective or a nostalgia trip, whatever you want to call it. But it’s a mixture of 3 different bands, so I thought a good name to encapsulate those three bands would be Poptone, in conjunction with using photos of the painting I did of the hands. That image of the hands worked with the ultramodern lettering of the Poptone. That tied it all together for me.”
Are you doing any solo material?
“I’m doing one song called ‘Flame On.’ There are a couple of cover versions. We’re doing Adam & the Ants ‘Physical, ’ and we’re doing Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’”
How much of a focus do you see Poptone being in the future?
“I don’t know where it’s going to go. What we’re doing is simple. We’re officially starting the tour in the first week of May, starting in Phoenix. We’re playing all the way through until October. We’re doing 12 or 14 days, and then we have a week of and then another week and a half, so it’s a very civilized tour. We’re not going on the road for three months solid; we’re just doing it in batches or like 14 days and then a week off, going on through the year.”
Do you think you will work on new material?/
“The name Poptone and this band is a vehicle to go out and play these songs. What comes after that, and how it develops, I have no clue. I’m not planning ahead beyond the next nine months.”
At this point, you have multiple generations of fans. Do you feel that you are targeting particular audiences? Or perhaps trying to do a cross-section of your material?
“The whole idea was to give people exactly what they want. The set list, as I said, is very heavy on the Tones on Tail material. We haven’t played that since 1983. There is a lot of interest online and on social media where people want to hear those songs. We’ve hopefully tailor-made this to give the audience exactly what they want to hear. If you look at the songs that we’ve chosen, it’s basically all the favorite songs that used to go down really well live. There’s nothing obscure here. It’s the songs that went down the best live in the past.”
The song “GO!” really took on a life of its own, with longevity in the clubs and appearances in commercials and soundtracks. Did you have any idea that track would be special?/
“It’s funny because when we recorded it, it was a B-side, back in 1983 or 1982. But it took off and was like #1 in Germany or something for six weeks. When you record something, you don’t know what it’s going to do. ‘Lions’ was actually the A side but all the DJs were flipping it over and playing ‘Go!’ It just took on a life of its own, way back then. They still play it in clubs now, which is amazing. The German connection, I’m doing that ‘Ya Ya Ya’ thing which is ‘yes’ in German. I don’t know where that came from when I was singing it, but it connected with the Germans, big time. I think it was in the charts there for six weeks when it first came out. We weren’t expecting that. We recorded it in a tiny little studio outside of Northampton. Then I was in a bar in New York way back then, and I saw everybody on the bar dancing to the song. I thought, ‘If only you guys knew where this was recorded.’ It was in this tiny little studio on the outskirts of Northampton.”
The music industry is very different now than when you started. What changes do you feel have had the biggest impact on you as an artist?
“I think that with what I told you about, waking up at 4 in the morning and having it blatantly obvious that I should go out and play live, I’d never thought of doing that, but I think subconsciously it was the fact that it’s how you can actually make a living. You can’t make a living selling albums; it just doesn’t exist anymore unless you’re in that top 5% of commercial artists. It’s a completely different world now. So probably, subconsciously, it was a way for me to not just survive but actually make a decent living. I never thought that I would be playing live again; I thought I was done with that. But doing these rehearsals, I feel about 25 years younger than I am. It really does keep you young doing this, and actually getting the guitar out again and playing and singing in a band situation in a room. It’s completely different from working in a studio making an album; it’s a very physical, instant experience. It’s very different from being in the studio making an album or doing a soundtrack for a film. It’s on its own, and it keeps things vital and vibrant. I never thought I’d be into it again at this stage in the game, but it just feels completely right to do it right now. I’m quite aware that I’m completely contradicting what I said for many years, but it is what it is.
“It’s been surprising how quickly we’ve got it going. I think we started with ‘Go!’ to break the ice, ‘Mirror Peoples’ was pretty instant. After a few days, we tried doing different things. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is what we used to do with Tones on Tail, so there was a live version of that, and as soon as we played, that sounded great. Doing ‘Physical’ has been a lot of fun for me; it’s a song that I love. It’s a personal favorite of mine. It’s like riding a bike: you don’t do it for years and you get back on, and it’s amazing how quickly you can get back into it. That’s pretty much what it was like.”
At this point, Ash suggests that I should also talk to his bandmates and says that he’ll text Haskins to expect my call. While I’d covered all of my questions already, I gladly accepted the opportunity to talk briefly with the others.
Part 2: Kevin Haskins and Diva Dompe
What is it like getting back into playing the music again?
Kevin: “It’s been a lot of hard work to get all the equipment together and find that a lot of it is not working properly, and then getting new equipment. I trigger a lot of samples live, and we’re using backing tracks, so we have to program all of that stuff. It’s been a lot of work, but it is paying off. It sounds really good.”
How is it working together as father and daughter?
Kevin: It was like finding the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and she just fits in. We work together as a rhythm unit really well. It must be in the DNA. She has a great energy to her and a beautiful soul. Her backing vocals really suit some of the songs, so that’s kind of interesting and in what way, she’s bringing something new.”
Diva: “It’s been fun spending time with my dad and getting closer with Danny. They’re really fun and tell funny stories. I’ve always thought my dad’s music was innovative, and I relate to it as well. I’m looking forward to going on the tour and playing these big shows.”
How much of a focus do you see Poptone as being for you?
Diva: “It’s pretty much taking over right now. We have things penciled in until the end of the year for North America, and then next year, we’re going to focus on international and festivals. So, we will be doing this for quite a while. But we also really tried to incorporate a balance in terms of home life, too. I have a young daughter, so I won’t want to tour too much. So, there’s a nice balance.”
I know that there is a lot of Tones on Tail material in the set, but what factor went into deciding the other songs?
Kevin: I don’t think it would have worked to play any songs where Peter [Murphy] was the lead singer; it just wouldn’t work. With Love and Rockets, Daniel wanted to choose songs that he’d written and sang on. “
You mentioned using a lot of old technology; are you trying to use exclusively original gear or newer stuff as well?
Kevin: “Well, I started off using equipment I’d had for 35 years. But some of it needed repairing and was also heavy and bulky. I’m embracing newer technology as well, and also running a few backing tracks for songs like ‘Performance,’ which is very sequenced, and the more studio-driven songs. So, we’re using a laptop for that.”
Are there any particular pieces of old gear that you feel had a strong impact on your sound?
Kevin: For the drums, there’s this one piece of equipment called the Synare Drum, which is a small analog synthesizer drum. I used that a lot. I don’t currently have one myself. I gifted one to Steve Perkins from Jane’s Addiction. I bought one for him once, and it’s kind of funny because I keep borrowing it whenever we reform. I’ve been sampling it. It’s wonderful, and it’s a very important sound to what I was doing. So it’s great to have that, and I’ve been sampling that so I can have it for the songs without having to fiddle around with this piece of equipment. Daniel’s using an old bass amp and bass guitar. We’re using a mixture of old and new.”
Daniel mentioned waking up at 4 am with the design to do this music again, having not wanted to before. Had you considered a project like this previously?
Kevin: Actually, for the past five years, each year Daniel and I would have a conversation about doing just what we’re doing right now. We’d go back and forth and start thinking about all the negative aspects; by the end of the conversation, we would go, ‘Oh, let’s not do it then,’ but I was always very open, and now Daniel is into it.”
Would you like to see Poptone eventually make new music?
Kevin: Yeah, I’d definitely be into making new music. We’ll see what happens.”
Do you have any other projects you’d like to mention?
Diva: I’m having some releases coming out this year. I do solo music that is kind of like weird pop music, and I also do guided meditations, so I make all the music for that. It’s sort of experimental, ambient music. I’m putting a few releases of that out, just the instrumentals, under the name Yialamelic Frequencies. So that will probably come out on Leaving Records.
Kevin: I’ve been working on a coffee table book about Bauhaus called ‘Bauhaus Undead.’ It’s about 316 pages full of memorabilia that I’ve collected, photographs I took, and I’ve written stories. I’m talking to a couple of publishers right now and hopefully it will come out this year.
Speaking of Bauhaus, what was it like making the 2008 release “Go Away White” after such a long gap between albums?
Kevin: Well, we decided to approach it in a very spontaneous nature, a technique we’ve employed with all the groups at various times. We had nothing really planned when we went into the studio. It’s kind of exciting to work that way, and kind of scary as well. I think it went really well, but it didn’t get the exposure it should have.”
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