As NewBeats turned 11 this month, here is an interview from the archives: David J of Bahaus and Love and Rockets, circa 2003.
The Estranged World of David J
by David Chiu
Any fan of modern rock, especially Goth, for the last 25 years will certainly know who David J is. The artist first made a name for himself as the founding member of the legendary, influential band Bauhaus of the early ’80s, and then later as one third of Love and Rockets. The former band achieved cult status while the latter netted a huge commercial pop hit (1989’s “So Alive”).
The British bassist and vocalist has also forged his own solo career throughout the ’80s and ’90s (Songs from Another Season, On Glass, Etiquette of Violence). Now David J has returned with his latest solo record called Estranged. Inspired by the breakup with his partner, Estranged might sound somewhat surprising to those expecting something abrasive or Goth emblematic of his past. Estranged is an atmospheric, intimate spare album with David J singing in a deadpan manner. Combining both elements of folk and country (reflected on tracks like “Mess Up,” Time in the Sun”), J’s album evokes a sense of beauty even during moments of melancholy and darkness (some things never change). J even covers an old ’70s standby Bread’s “The Guitar Man” with some soaring guitar lines by Dave Navarro and American Music Club’s Bruce Kaphin.
Born David J. Haskins, the artist made his mark in music back in 1978 when he, drummer Kevin Haskins, guitarist Daniel Ash, and vocalist Peter Murphy formed Bahaus. Their sound inaugurated the Goth post-punk movement, which would prove influential and imitated for years to come. Their most famous single was “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” followed by a hit remake of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. After the group broke up, David J, Kevin Haskins, and Daniel Ash formed Love and Rockets. Streamlining their sound without the doomy trappings, Love and Rockets scored a huge hit “So Alive” in the late ’80s and recorded several subsequent albums.
Things recently have come full circle for David J. In 1998, Bauhaus reformed and toured to much acclaim, proving their legend is still alive. J was also making his own music-Estranged was recorded three years ago but was temporarily shelved for release due to the usual label and legal matters. To finance the record, J sold his old Bauhaus memoribillia on eBay. It eventually turned out to be a good deal for both J and the fans.
Now with this latest solo album, David J is taking his act on the road. Here, he talks about the new album, his past, and future plans.
You sold items from you Bauhaus days to finance your latest album. Was it difficult to part with them?
Not really, because I had the spirit of out with the old and in with the new. Let’s make some new music. It was kind of cathartic in a way.
The most prized item that you sold was the handwritten lyrics to “Bela Lugosi is Dead.”
I didn’t even know I had it. It was the last thing found in a box. That went for four grand.
Would it be correct to say that Estranged has a sort of country folk sound? And feel is very spiritual, dark, and psychedelic?
The subject matter is pretty dark, and it’s cold and alienated. And that’s how I was. I was outside of the house and I wanted to get back in. But I always liked country music. Before punk, I was into old country like Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, and Merle Haggard. I was thinking about getting a country band together. But punk came along and that was it.
How did you come across covering Bread’s “The Guitar Man”?
It was one of my earliest musical memories. My dad had that on an 8-track and used to play it in the car. I always liked that song. That’s an example of something that sounds light, but if you listen to it, the subject matter is very dark. I like the idea of bringing that melancholy out of it even more. It was descripitive of me being itinerant. I was in LA and I was estranged from my wife and going through an awkward, mixed up time in my head.
And you got Dave Navarro to play guitar on the track.
There’s an interplay there between Dave on electric guitar and Bruce Kaphin on pedal steel guitar. It’s really nice how those two mesh.
Do you have a particular favorite track on the record and why?
Probably “The Great Blue Whatever.” It was really wrenched from my guts, heart, and soul. It was very raw and real, and I wrote it in the head of that. I wrote and recorded it the next day. It was a chance thing. I was staying at a friend’s. There was a guitar in the room. It was a beat up old guitar. I wrote the song very quickly on the guitar.
Aside from Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction appearing on the album, you co-wrote the title track of their latest album Strays. What has been the relationship with that group?
It goes back to ’86 when our agent at the time sent us a tape of them because he think they would be a good support band on our U.S. tour. Danny and I played it and thought it was really great. We just got along really well with them and we stayed in touch ever since.
I read that you were went through a breakup with a soulmate at the time of the record. Was recording Estranged a form of therapy for you?
Oh yeah. It was exactly that. It was finished three years ago. It’s taken this time because I held on to the publishing. I didn’t want to give my publishing away. That was really heard because I wanted to get it out quick.
How would you describe your songwriting process? What inspires you to write?
I never try to write something unless I’m seized by it. Once I embark on it and surrender to that muse, I love the process. I feel much alive when I’m writing it. Those things usually come really quick.
Who were your musical inspirations growing up?
The Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie., T. Rex, Roxy Music.
I read in your bio that your father sighed when you told him and your career officer that you wanted to play in music and decided you should be sent to art school ? Has he been supportive since then of your decision?
He never gets wildly enthusiastic though. He was very dismissive when I was just starting to learn to play guitar. You are gonna come to your senses, laddie. Get a real job. My mum was more encouraging.
You and Bauhaus appered in the film The Hunger that starred David Bowie? What was your recollection of that moment and have you ever met Bowie.
Incredibly charismatic and charming. He was real nice because he made a decision to hang out with the band. He was indentifying with us because he was in a young band once. There was a jukebox outside his dressing room. He came out, put on a record, and he would be dancing in front of us.
There was one disappointment. We had this great day and then he left with his little entourage, and he never said goodbye. We were all looking crestfallen. Then the doors crash open and it’s him and says Guys I’m sorry, I meant to say goodbye and I wanna come and see you play live.” And then he went. And that made it.
It’s funny, Peter avoided him. He was so overcome. So it was me, Danny, and Kevin with Bowie. Peter’s funny and complicated. Sometimes he’s full of bravura. That’s a mask-he’s masking his shyness. So he hid away.
And you also had an encounter with Iggy Pop back in the day.
The first time we met Iggy Pop, the bravura came out and then some. The first time we were in New York, we were sitting in this bar at the Iroquois Hotel. This guy comes in and we recognize him as Iggy Pop. He was like ‘Hi fellas. Are you guys in a band? We got drinking withhim. Peter was like very nervous but Mr. Fresh came out, ribbing Iggy and asking him if he can have his hotel key so he can come up later and We could get into bed together.” And Peter left. Iggy Pop was saying, That;s some fresh kid, man! I don’t think he ever made it up to his roof.
You were part of two influential bands in modern rock. Do you sometimes think about the legacy you left for many alterantive and Goth bands of today? Are there any bands today that remind you of Bauhaus or Love and Rockets?
We weren’t really aware of the extent of it until we did the Resurrection tour in ’98. We had a sold out world tour. And the crowd was mainly young and fanatical. We had no concept that it was influential.
Do you rule out the possibility of playing again with your former bandmates?
We never ruled it out but it’s very unlikely because there’s so much friction in the band. It make it very exciting and creative, but there in lies the seed of its own self destruction.
You are going to tour behind the new record next year. What can we expect?
What I am doing is cabaret obscuro. It’s a set I’ve been working on a year now. It is very visual and theatrical. I’m just singing and prancing about.
What are your next projects?
I already got enough songs for another new album as well. I’m also writing music for a film on the ‘Black Dahlia’ murder. And I got an art gallery show this weekend. And I’ve been writing a lot of prose stuff now.
You have been a resident of California now for six years. What are your thoughts about the recent recall election.
I think I would have been more happy if the porn star got in.