Daniel Ash Talks New Album Stripped: musician discusses new album featuring fresh takes on classic tracks from Bauhaus, Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail in our exclusive interview.
Daniel Ash has kept quiet the past few years. The former guitarist/vocalist/saxophonist from goth icons Bauhaus, post-punk one-offs Tones and Tail and alternative rock pioneers Love and Rockets has led a fairly nomadic existence, shying away from the spotlight.
But that’s about to change: Ash is back with Stripped (released via Mainman Records), his first solo studio effort since his 2002 eponymous album.
The new effort (crowdfunded via PledgeMusic) sees Ash tackling former songs from all his previous musical acts, with electronica-heavy reinterpretations featuring guest collaborators from acts including Puscifer and She Wants Revenge.
I recently talked with Ash about Stripped, the challenges of being a rock musician in the internet age, reflections on the death of David Bowie and much more. Enjoy the Q&A (edited only for length and clarity) that follows:
SLIS: First off, I wanted to say I really enjoy your new album. What made you decide on making an album of reinterpretations from your earlier work?
ASH: Well I really didn’t have any intention of doing that record–of doing retakes of those tracks. But I had a meeting with the guys at PledgeMusic a few years back and that was set up by Christopher (The Minister), a friend of mine who pretty much manages me, now that I think about it. He does my website and gets me all these different things. So they were saying I should do an acoustic album of selections from stuff I’ve done in the past to get the ball rolling again, if you like.
But I said I didn’t like the idea of doing an acoustic version, cause it just reminded me of a hippie sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar, you know (laughs)? It’s really not my thing. But I went into the studio and tried that out and the idea lasted about 7 minutes and I thought I can’t do this, so I’m going to go the complete opposite and do an electronic based record. But they suggested it would be a good way to kickstart the thing, and if its successful it could give me the finances to do another album of new material.
And it was tough, reinterpreting those tunes because they were sort of fully realized in their own right back then, so there were a few of them I spent 4 or 5 weeks getting them right because it was a real challenge to try to better the original versions. I’m really pleased with how the record came out…because I think I did what I set out to do but it was a challenge because you’re trying to better yourself on something you did from many years ago, and you want them to sound 21st century, not just a copy, because there’s no point in doing that.
The engineer I work with Dustin Byerley, the combination of the two of us and working with people like John Fryer, or Matt (Mitchell) from Puscifer, brought in new blood to kickstart into something that sounds like it’s from now and not 1986 or whatever.
SLIS:You worked with producer John Fryer on So Alive, who also produced the original Love and Rockets version in 1989. Did you both have an idea on a new approach or did it come about through experimentation?
Ash: The idea (again) came from Christopher the Minister who said what about John doing a new version of that track? So I thought yeah absolutely. And he was actually in Europe so he sent me over a backing track in dubstep style…and I remember I got the email about 9 o’clock in the morning, which is a real tester to see if anything’s good or not when you’ve just woken up. I put it on and I really liked it. I loved the direction.
So it was very simple I just put vocals onto the track that he sent me and put some guitar on it and sent it back to him and that was it. It was finished, so that was probably the easiest one to do. In comparisons to some of the others it was a piece of cake.
And we never actually met when we were recoding that: the wonders of modern technology. He just sent me the backing track and I added to it. And that was actually the same situation with Matt from Puscifer (Christian Says) and the track that I recorded with Adam Bravin from She Wants Revenge (Ok This Is The Pops). So working with these other people was a sort of indirect thing since we were just emailing each other music.
SLIS: Did Christopher put you in touch with Matt and Adam as well?
ASH: Yeah he did (laughs). He’s very good at putting people together for these projects: that’s his thing. Because most of the time I like to just go off and ride my bikes into the middle of nowhere and he’ll just text me and say “I’ve got this idea or I’ve got that.” He knows all these different people, so he me put me together with them to do those numbers.
SLIS: You mentioned using PledgeMusic for Stripped. What did you enjoy about that process, and how does it compare to the days of record labels providing advances for album production?
Ash: Working with Pledge was great: I just had to deliver the music by a certain time. The release was really delayed, because at first I thought we were going to give each track say 3 or 4 days. But some of these tracks were 5 weeks on the same track just to get it right. So it went way over schedule. It took 6 months basically, in there 5 days a week in the studio in my office in a little room. Dustin would come over and we’d be working together and it was baking hot in there…we’d have to turn the air conditioner off when we were doing vocals and turn it back on afterwards, its like an oven in there (laughing).
And then a couple of my dogs would start barking if someone rang the front door (laughs)…so it was back to basics again working in a little room, but you can make an album in your living room now. We used Logic, so there you go, and that’s it.
So basically I got $35,000 to do the record and all of it was used up. Paying Dustin who engineered and produced the album and, also mailing off cd’s and albums. Now that sucked up a lot of the money actually, mailing off a lot of the vinyl that sucked up loads of money. I mean I didn’t make anything off the album up to now, I’ve made a loss matter of fact. So it’s been a labor of love.
But hopefully since these songs are out there, I’m hoping some of them will be picked up for film or TV. I’ve also signed up with a company called AWOL, which is a subsidiary of Cobalt, which is based in the UK. And they’ve been great; they’ve put out the album in a bunch or different formats so its out on Spotify and iTunes and everything from here to China. And I’ve also actually got a record deal with Main Man records on the east coast…they’re actually manufacturing it on CD, so you can get that as well.
So that’s really weird in a way that technically I actually have a record deal. (laughing) Which hasn’t happened in a long time.
SLIS: You also have some original tracks on Stripped, including Come On. That song feels like a commentary on all the digital distractions we have in today’s society. Are you frustrated with the effect of the Internet on music as both a commercial and cultural force, or do you see any upside to interactions with fans via social media and being more in control of your creative content?
ASH: Well the social media thing is not really my sort of thing. I’m pretty reclusive. But I can do things like phoners like I’m doing with you. I can do that all day long, so that’s not really a pressure to me.
But from the start even back in the 80’s we never had pressure from record companies: we were never told what to do. So we always had it in our contract to have complete artistic control. So that was something we always insisted on. So we didn’t have some guy from a record company say, “you gotta write a hit single!” We didn’t have that bullshit.
So that hasn’t changed. Its been very important to me and the other guys as well to have full artistic control because we couldn’t function under the idea of a record company breathing down our neck. We never had any of that ever.
But the other thing is that artists needs somebody out there helping out as far as the social media…I keep mentioning Christopher the Minister, cause he’s had my back all these years and we trade-off ideas on almost a daily basis, from putting the artwork out, to the paintings I’ve done, all the way to doing an album…he’s just had a big part in that. So that’s the main change is I’m talking to an individual who happens to be a good friend of mine in preference to somebody anonymous at a record label.
So the whole thing has pros ands cons because obviously now it’s so much harder to make a living making an album–because essentially albums are free. I’m sure all musicians say that now and it’s true. It’s a freebie to promote the live gig or to get your stuff placed into film or TV. Whereas in the old days the live show was something to support an album. It’s a complete reversal of how it used to be. Now the album is a promotional tool for the live gig and the merchandising.
But I have no interest in playing live. I’ve done that for long enough. The idea of doing a gig and getting on a tour bus and traveling 500 miles down the road and doing the same thing again for 3 months…no, I don’t want to do that anymore.
SLIS: Did it just become too much of a grind?
Ash: Well yeah, I mean I’m not a spring chicken anymore!
When you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s you can do that—but it’s just run its course. I mean I’m 58 years old. I don’t want to be on the road. But some people do! I remember I was saying this a few years back that I was done with that. And someone said well what about Paul McCartney? And I think “well what about Paul McCartney?”
I don’t understand why he would still want to do the live thing. It’s not important to me…. it’s not top of my list of all. And the other thing is to be honest; I don’t think I would get the offers to play live that would make it financially viable anyway. Because it’s so expensive to get the whole thing together and to get a rehearsal room and get people together and pay everybody, lights, crew, etc.
But I don’t know: maybe that will change with this album. Maybe somebody wants to pay me some real money to go and play live. I don’t know. But I’m not really looking for that.
SLIS: Stripped isn’t your first foray into electronic music. In addition to your earlier solo work, DJ’ing, you also made two Love and Rockets albums, Hot Trip to Heaven and Lift that were also very electronic oriented. Do you think those albums went over people’s heads at the time?.
ASH: Yeah it’s funny, they weren’t successful records. And people have asked me, they say well you’ve done that before with those albums and they weren’t successful, why do that again? But to me, the reason I’m doing it again is because I love that style of music. I can’t just do something tailor-made to a particular audience. I mean people say “well they want to hear your guitar”, and I’m like it can’t be guitar-bass-drums all the time…I like to branch out. I really love the sound of drum machines and drum loops; I love the sound of keyboards. One of my favorite bands has always been The Pet Shop Boys.
I know its old, but I think West End Girls is a work of art, I love that. I love that style of music. But I love all different genres really. But I’m a sucker for electronic music and I have been for many years now. So now when I write a song it starts with a drum loop rather than with a guitar. It’s just how it is.
So whether it’s commercially successful or not, that’s in the hands of the gods really. I have to do what I like doing. Because I can’t fake it. So if someone were to say “do a guitar-orientated album”–well I would if I felt like that while I was recording…otherwise I just go with what feels right at the time. Unfortunately it’s not always commercially viable, but that’s the way it its. So we’ll see. But I do think at the end of the day the real stuff shines through, no matter what music genre, so if you’re being honest with yourself I think that shows. Its real…it’s not me trying to be Moby or something, Its me now.
SLIS: I feel like Love and Rockets were ahead of the curve in regard to electronica during the 90’s.
ASH: You know with Hot Trip to Heaven–we loved that record. We were so pleased with it and I remember saying that’s either going to be our Dark Side of the Moon or it’s going to really flop. And unfortunately it flopped in a commercial success. I remember hearing stories from these Americans in London–they told me that they went into a store to buy Hot Trip To Heaven and they brought it back and said “this isn’t Love and Rockets! I want my money back. There’s no guitars!”
But what can you do? To us it was fresh and new and I think if you listen to it now I think it really stands up. It’s the real thing. We were really feeling it—we were listening to the orb, we were listening to orbital…we weren’t listening to AC/DC, we were listening to electronic music and we always go with what we feel rather than oh is this going to sell? I can’t work like that. I have to go with whatever I’m excited about at that moment in time when I’m recording.
Like you know on this album a couple of the tracks turned out reggae. I didn’t know that…its just the way that it worked out. Etc. etc.
SLIS: Even though the album is largely electronic, your guitar work is still front and center. I think you have one of the most distinctive guitar tones in rock. Have you tweaked that over the years, or has it largely remained unchanged?
ASH: With the guitar for me—I’m much more Telecaster guy than a Les Paul guy. A Les Paul is not sharp enough for me.
For myself I like guitars that are razor-sharp so it has a real contrast with the bass, because I love basses that sound really dubby and deep. I don’t like a Rickenbacker sound on a bass for example, I prefer that real round Fender precision bass sound if you like.
With the bass I use flat round strings which gives it that real…its a Paul McCartney sound actually. It sounds like a bass, it doesn’t sound clangy, it sounds really deep and also like the basses on 70’s dub records, I really love that sound. I like a bass that sounds like a bass basically. So I love that extreme contrast between a bass with a really sharp guitar.
For example on the Bauhaus stuff, that guitar was a combination of these old H&H transistors amp that were so sharp sounding, I mean really trebly and that would contrast with (David J’s) bass so well. I thought. And I got that idea for that guitar sound from a guy called Wilko Johnson from Dr. Feelgood.
The guitar sound on their album Stupidity is where I got my sound. I remember seeing it on TV way back. And if you look it up on YouTube there’s some live footage of the guitarist and you’ll see what I mean. His name was Wilko Johnson.
I noticed that he used the Telecaster with this H&H amp, and that combination, it just doesn’t get anymore trebly than that. So that’s where I got my sound from. Very simple and fucking sharp. It’s like a razor blade. So that sort of works for me.
But having said that I love people like Mick Ronson who was a Les Paul guy. That’s his tone that’s his thing. I appreciate that but it’s not for me. It’s just a different thing.
SLIS: Speaking of Ronson: I know David Bowie was a massive influence on you. His death really hit the world in a profound way. Did it hit you on an emotional level, and why do you think his passing resonated so strongly?
ASH: It really did. I had just gotten up and my girlfriend told me “you’re not going to like this. I’ve got really bad news.” It just really hit me hard. It was strange. I met the guy once and I have just so much respect for his songwriting, his vocal ability, his imagination in the studio, his songwriting craft and just the fact that year after year he would create something that was both commercial accessible and also brilliant.
But yeah, I cried for a couple of days. I’d just breakdown I was crying like a baby. It was really weird. And she started putting some stuff on YouTube…and I couldn’t watch it. I had to leave the room. It is very strange. I didn’t think I would feel that strongly about it.
I mean when Prince died a few weeks back it didn’t affect me like that. I mean I really loved Prince but it’s not the same as Bowie for me. And I think that’s because Bowie hit me in the 1970’s when I was like 15 years old and that was the first stuff that really got me going–well not the first thing–that was a band called The Dave Clark Five which I when I was 10 or something and I remember seeing them on TV with a song called Bits and Pieces and I was fascinated with the drum sound on that track. The drums and the echo they used on the vocals sounded so amazing…it just fascinated me.
But then the Bowie thing when your 5 years old and you see him on the Top of the Pops in England…and I know, I mean we all talk about it, like Boy George talks about it, Morrissey talks about it, but seeing that footage of him doing Starman on top of the pops. It was like “what is this androgynous creature doing?”
That song Starman changed my life. When I was 15 I remembered buying that single, and there was this voice in my head that said, “if you go in that store now and buy that record nothing is ever going to be the same again.” And obviously I couldn’t resist buying it but there was just a feeling of “should I go down this road?” And so I bought that single…and I was just staring at the record and I was just shaken, like “something’s changed.” And I don’t want to be melodramatic about it, but it really did change everything. There was another world out there that I was really interested it. So it sort of worked out in that way!
SLIS: Being younger and American, I know my perspective is different, but I also had a really emotional reaction to his death that surprised me as well.
ASH: Well it was really out of the blue–it was typical Bowie. I mean I remember when he went quiet after like 2006 and I’d occasionally go onto YouTube and put “David Bowie?” to see what was he up to after being so quiet for years…. and there was talk of him coming back and playing live years later like 3 years ago and I was really hoping that he wouldn’t do it.
Because I didn’t want to see this guy that was that much older going ahead and doing rock and roll, because I wasn’t a big fan of The Next Day…it didn’t grab me I gotta be honest…but then when I heard Blackstar and those two videos came out I was like wow; he’s back on track big time. And I haven’t gone into a store and bought a CD in a long time. But I actually jumped on my bike and went to the nearest record store in Ventura and bought it. And two days later he died.
SLIS: Since you aren’t planning on touring for Stripped, have you decided on your next project?
ASH: Well at the moment I’m actually working with John Fryer again, He sent me over another track ands it’s really good. That’s all I’m going to say about it …in fact I’m going into the studio tonight to work on it and add some guitar and keyboards and vocals. I started on it a couple of days ago and I think its custom-made for a scene in a film or an advert or whatever…I think it’s really powerful.
It’s whatever comes along at this point in time, as it always has been actually…just whatever I feel like at that time and whatever offered. I just do it: I have no master plan. Whatever feels right on that particular day? So as far as the future goes I’ve got some tracks that I’ve recorded that are done. And then when I got ten of them that sounds like an albums worth you know? And that’s how it goes with me.
There was actually something out there that was released a couple of years ago called Anthology on Cherry Red Records. And basically they re-released two albums that came out in the early 90’s: Coming Down and my god I’m getting old man, I can’t remember the name of the fucking record!
Now I remember, it’s Foolish Things Desire!
So they’ve been re-released with some extra 12-inch versions. And it’s a 3-disc set. So on the third disc its got this thing called Bits and Bobs which is a bunch of previously unreleased stuff I’ve done through the years. There’s a track I did with Deep Dish called She’s a Sad Song. Which actually is a song that’s about Paris Hilton.
SLIS: You’ve stated in the past that Bauhaus and Love and Rockets are finished. Is that still the case, and if so, would you ever consider joining another band, or are you only interested in solo work going forward?
ASH: Yeah those two are done–it really does feel like 1000 years ago now. I mean it was even hard for me to revisit these songs for Stripped. But then I got my head around the whole idea, but I want to move forward now, like that new track I mentioned John Fryer sent–which is a real rocking track, very high energy…its going to be a good one.
And I’m doing this other thing…I’m signed up with Quiver, this agency that shops music to films and TV. They’re a really good company…and I found this track…called Freedom I Love…this one number I did from about 7 years ago that I revisited and I thought “wow this thing is really good”. So I’m about to get it mastered and do a couple of videos…and see what happens with it. So that’s something that will hopefully be out in about three months.
Somebody the other day told me it sounds like The Pet Shop Boys! So I was very excited about that.
That’s a compliment…except it does have guitars on it, but its in that sort of area…and I hope to have a very interesting video for that one very soon.
SLIS: Speaking of videos, do you have any planned for Stripped at all?
ASH: Well there is a plan for doing a video for the remake of So Alive…and I wonder if I should tell you…(he did but I’m sworn to secrecy, given it’s completion depends on a particular cult figures participation. I really hope it happens).
Thanks to Daniel Ash for taking the time out for this interview, you can order ‘Stripped’ and ‘Anthology’ via the Amazon links below.