Daniel Ash has a story he likes to tell about how the inspiration behind his current group Poptone came like a thief in the night. Ash, the former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets singer and guitarist, had fallen asleep at his desk with a pair of headphones on. He’d been clicking around Youtube, and recalls with hazy detail one of the last things he heard before drifting off to sleep: Brian Eno’s 1975 album, Another Green World.
“Eno is one of my favorites of all time,’ Ash says over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. The album’s flowing atmosphere and minimal pop rhythms are more than enough to send anyone’s subconscious mind drifting through dreamland on a cloud of pastel impressionism.
But sometime around 4 a.m., the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll Lemmy Kilmister of Moțrhead emerged to commandeer the streaming algorithm of Youtube on continuous play.
The buzzsaw guitars of Moțorhead’s “Ace of Spades” came ripping through the headphones at maximum volume. When Ash heard the song and Lemmy’s rasp growling out from beyond the grave, “You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me/The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say,’ it was as though Ash was given a new lease on life. “I knew what I had to do,’ he says.And it had to happen immediately.
“Until that moment, I had given up on the idea of ever playing live again I wanted to make film and TV music,’ he says. “I had lost my confidence, and thought that playing live would never happen for me again.”
Charged by this late night shakeup, Ash let the idea simmer. “I slept on it for a few days,’ he says. “I just wanted to make sure it really was a good idea.” Sure enough, the powerful late-night jolt had awakened in Ash a desire to break his long hiatus from performing live.
His longtime cohort and drummer Kevin Haskins was ready as well. Back in the ’80s, Ash and Haskins had played only a handful of shows with Tones On Tail, the short-lived band they shared with bass player Glenn Campling.
Revisiting Tones On Tail’s songs and giving them the attention they deserved became priority one. But Ash and Haskins had other songs on their minds as well. There was Bauhaus’ austere “Slice Of Life,’ from 1983’s Burning From the Inside a song that Ash identifies as the birth of Love and Rockets. There was also Love and Rockets’ early cover of the Temptations’ 1970 hit “Ball of Confusion,’ which consummated the group’s vitality, along with its shift from Bauhaus’ visceral goth and post-punk charge into the realms of shimmering psychedelic pop.
Love and Rockets also scored a legitimate Top 10 hit with the seductive 1989 single “So Alive.” Poptone was born as a career retrospective, but Ash wanted the group to be a nostalgia trip with a life of its own. It was a new band rather than a reunion with Campling, or Bauhaus and Love and Rockets bass player and Haskins brother David J. The latter has carried on with an extensive a solo career, and has recently been supporting his latest album Vagabond Songs
Ash’s first question: “Who’s going to play bass?” They decided on Haskins’ daughter Diva Domp̩. Domp̩ has carved a niche for herself in Los Angeles’ music scene, releasing solo albums via Critical Heights, and performing in bands such as Pocahaunted, Blackblack, and most recently as Yialmelic Frequencies, as well as hosting a monthly guided-meditation show for DubLab.com.
While much of Diva’s musical aesthetic is steeped in layers of mystical, electronic, and largely instrumental drones, adapting to the role of bass player for Poptone came naturally. After all, she shares the Haskins DNA with her father and David J, and has been exposed to the songs her entire life. The influence even manifests itself in subtle ways, such as her 2015 single “Satori,” which gives a nod to Bauhaus’ 1981 single “Kick In the Eye.”
“I have always been inspired by my dad’s music,’ Domp̩ says. “It was challenging at first, but I wanted to honor this musical legacy, stay close to the original songs, and do my part to hold the space energetically, and make this group happen.” In April, Poptone premiered with a two-night stand at Swing House Rehearsal Studios in Los Angeles. Since then, the trio has been touring across the country in short two-week bursts of shows that keep the group’s energy levels high amid a flurry of blazing lights and the haunted pop ambiance of songs such as Love and Rockets’ “Mirror People’ and Tones On Tail’s “Movement of Fear,’ “Lions,’ and “Go!” Through it all, “Slice Of Life’ is the one song that Poptone has chosen to represent Bauhaus, and it’s still one of Haskins’ favorite songs to play. “I kind of feel proud when we come to that song,’ Haskins says. “I don’t know any other way to explain it, but I start feeling a little emotional when we play it.”
Haskins says the Tones On Tail songs are at the heart of Poptone’s drive. And now, because of technology, they more closely resemble how they sound on the records; each one maintains the haunting presence of its original version, packed with a renewed energy. From Tones On Tail’s ghostly cover of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel’ to the distorted rush of Love and Rockets “No Big Deal,’ inhabiting these songs in a modern context has been enriching for both Ash and Haskins. But it’s the audience’s responses that have affirmed their instinct to return to the stage.
With confidence rekindled, what happens next remains to be seen. Writing new material has been discussed, but nothing has been determined.For Ash, the power of Poptone lies in the freedom of living in the moment. “I get tunnel vision when I’m involved with a project, and I’ll follow it to the end,” he says. “I put everything into one thing, and when it’s done, I move on. So I’m not really thinking about what happens next. It’s like something John Lennon said: ‘One thing I can tell you is you got to be free,’ and I’m a huge believer in that. I don’t know how long this will last, but it’s an absolute pleasure.”
This story was originally published by CL ATL.
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