Daniel Ash returns! exclusive interview with former Bauhaus guitarist
John Robb from Louder Than War and the singer from the Membranes gets an exclusive interview with Daniel Ash.
Transcribed by Melz Durston
Daniel Ash is the brilliantly original guitar player who made his name as one of the four talented members of Bauhaus who each contributed to the group’s stunningly original sound.
He never played anything as boring as a trad riff or indulged in dull soloing and instead coaxed out amazing sounds from his guitar that helped to redefine the instrument and flavoured the highly influential band. His guitar was a mixture of noises, e-bow drones and the hum of electricity as it created a whole new language of its own.
Currently pledging an album, Stripped, that remixes and reimagines tracks from all through his career with Bauhaus and his follow up projects Tones On Tail and Love And Rockets he spoke to LTW from the studio in Los Angeles as he was putting finishing touches to the album which sees imaginative reworkings of those classic songs.
John: The Stripped album is an interesting idea. It’s like you are going backwards and forwards at the same time- taking the past and fast forwarding to the future and being creatively restless.
To me it’s like I’m just doing modern versions of the old songs, reworking them in a different way. We’ve got a couple of the tracks left to do, I’ve just been working in my spare room basically with a laptop and an engineer, you know using Logic and mixing it with real instruments – a mixture of the two.
What you can do now, you know 20 years ago would cost you an absolute fortune – it now costs you next to nothing. I got a microphone which would’ve cost 3 or 4 grand years ago, and now costs $137 . Technology is like that – making things immediate and I can get a sound that years ago would’ve been expensive in a real studio. It’s a real plus.
I’ve been putting some of the songs up on YouTube. I couldn’t resist putting the tracks up there for people to hear. We were only supposed to do like one or two on Youtube just as a taster. I was sort of excited the way they turned out and I thought it would just hopefully bring more people to the table if I just put them up there along with the pledge website as well and that’s another aspect of the technology that I find interesting.
John: The project, sees you releasing with Pledge- do you prefer this method of working?
Yeah, I went to this meeting with a friend of mine who’s been helping me out for years, Christopher the Minister in LA (Christopher the Minister is the DJ name of Christopher Goins, an Alternative Music DJ best known for his work with the satellite radio station Sirius XMU). I was sort of jaded with everything but he said get in the car and we’ll go to LA and do this differently- we can release this differently. He said we’ve got this meeting lined up with this set up called Pledge who were trying to shop it to me instead of me shopping it to them, which was great- they wanted me to do this project and they wanted to meet me. So I could tell they were enthusiastic about it.
John : The original idea from Pledge was to do stripped down acoustic versions. Has the basic premise changed?
Initially Pledge asked me to do acoustic versions of the tracks – I was very wary of that because I’m not a big acoustic fan at all. It just sounds so hippy to me, the idea of sitting there strumming- I hate that. It sounds so boring, a real cliché to me. I can’t stand it. So I knocked that on the head within the first 24 hours, and I said you know I’m not doing this acoustic version now – it’s not working for me, it never has. I did, ironically, write those songs with an acoustic guitar, but I can’t stand it, I don’t like that format, it’s so boring to me, just reeks of hippy, I can’t stand that stuff.
Anyway so it just evolved into just reinterpreting the songs in a modern way. I love loops and drum machines, I love the efficiency, the sound and I don’t apologise for that. I think there’s some great stuff in the realms of dance music. People like Deep Dish (Deep Dish are a duo of DJs and house-music producers consisting of Iranian- American members Ali “Dubfire” Shirazinia and Sharam Tayebi). I do generally like that style of music. I love the quality of that music in preference to organic if you like. I’m sort of mixing the two – the people who sparked that way of working off were Joy Division and New Order, way back, they used electric guitar and drum machines in essence. That’s what I’m doing in my own way and I’ve been doing that for a long time.
John: A lot of that clash between electronics and electricity is like what Martin Hannet was doing with Joy Division in the early days. The way he made the drums sound like a drum machine putting the humanity into the machine and vise versa. Bauhaus as well- the machines versus the electricity.
What I’m doing is a mixture of a real drummer with a drum machine. Back in the day, I remember, particularly before Kevin was on board in Bauhaus we had a drum machine. We could only afford a 50 quid drum machine at the time which was twice the size of a packet of cigarettes. Initially we would write around that drum machine. If you listen to early stuff of bands at the time like Scritti Politti and New Order, it’s that sort of sound as well. I even hear that sound with the Bryan Ferry stuff and Roxy Music. Obviously Mr Ferry would make it sound very shiny, which, again, I’m not averse to, I love the production on the Roxy Music stuff and infant all the way along the line but especially the early stuff with Eno, I love all that.
And, you know it’s not really changed much, it’s very convenient, the sounds are really terrific.
I did get a drum machine that cost me $1000 – it’s called “the machine.” It’s a hot item in Rap and R&B where they use it a lot. And there are a terrific amount of drum sounds and samples – compared to the old days you can get the sound that would cost a fortune 20 years ago.
John: Did you have an idea of the songs you wanted to do with Stripped?
I put it out there to the public. I asked online. I didn’t want to do a bunch of songs that the general public didn’t want – and what came back was so across the board. There weren’t any real favourites which was a good sign, so in the end I just recorded the tracks that I really wanted to record and they have come out really good all in all.
Of course there’s always going to be somebody who hates what you’re doing – that’s inevitable. We actually started off by doing Candy Eyes – we hooked up with engineer John Fryer – who I have worked with on and off for years on that one and he said “what about doing a dubstep style thing?”
I said “Absolutely! go for it!” I don’t want to hear guitars on that track – even if the original has subtle guitars, but you know what I mean, it’s completely ultra-modern, and it works out great.
John is actually in Denmark and I just sent him a vocal acapella at a particular BPM and he put the music to it – it worked out great – and as soon as I heard the final mix, which was at 8am in the morning my time it sounded great and if it sounds good at 8am then it must be good!
So that was the situation on that one.
Fuck, I love the sound of this new version. I honestly think it tops the original which is a really hard thing to do. That has been a real challenge for me because a lot of the stuff I’ve chosen, the originals themselves, are really fully realised in their own right.
Each track has taken between 1-3 weeks to get right because I’m competing with myself from back in the day with the originals. There’s absolutely no point in doing this if it’s worse than the original, that would be pointless and I’ve had to really work on this stuff to make it sound relevant.
John: Was there a consensus in choosing tracks?
No there wasn’t, it was all over the place and I thought there would be – a lot of people would be asking for specifics, so in the end, I chose the ones that I thought I could do a really good version of. It was very scattered. I thought there would be favourites when I asked people what tracks they wanted. People seem to have a very varied taste in what they want to hear. That was alright and I could choose from all the suggestions – the ones that I thought I could do the best job with.
John: Did people make suggestions of how to do them as well?
In a sense. The one thing I got asked was “more guitars”. People predominantly see me as a guitar player, but that’s just a means to an end. It’s the whole song for me – if a song is better without the guitar then I have no problem taking the guitars out. For me it’s much more exciting to do something interesting and if that means taking the guitar out and that sounds so much better then that’s the way it has to be. I’m not precious about guitars at all, most people think I probably am – I don’t care, I’m quite the opposite in fact, it’s just what sounds good.
John: The way you play guitar is very unconventional- really original and never resorts to cliche.
That was very deliberate. Yeah, why would you want to sound like someone else? I know from bands I’ve been in, particularly with Bauhaus – we started working on something and I’d go: hang on, that sounds like so and so – knock it on the head, take it another direction. I remember when I discovered the e-bow – that was a god send, and it took my sound away from being a normal sound. I used that a lot. There’s this other thing called the Sustainer which was made by Fernandez and it has the same principle as the e-bow, you can hit all 6 strings and they’ll resonate for as long as you want. They’re amazing with guitars, you can do an individual note and it will howl on 3 different octaves of feedback or you can do a whole chord and it will go on forever, it’s a controlled feedback, perfect. It’s very hard to go back to a regular way of playing once you’ve had a sustainer. It’s hard to go back with all this stuff at your fingertips and that infinite sustain which is controllable suits me. And it turns the guitar into a keyboard if you want it to as well. So many possibilities.
John: I have an e-bow as well, it’s fantastic…
Yeah, they are great. I have a funny story about them. In my hometown Northampton when we’d just started the band, I think we’d just got signed, I went to the local music store – and i bought an e-bow and it like a little chrome thing then. it was on the top shelf and it intrigued me – and they explained it to me. and I asked how long have you had it? and she said: Ages. So I asked, Why won’t anyone buy it? and she said ‘They didn’t want to spend £99 on something so small.’ which is a crazy logic, so I said ‘I’ll have it right now!’ and I never looked back when I got that e-bow.
John: so you didn’t have an idea of what it would sound like when you bought it?
No, no they showed me in the shop, as soon as they did I grabbed it. I said, how come these things aren’t selling like hot cakes? I’m talking about 1981…1980. and that’s when she said, because it’s so small people think it can’t be worth £100.
So I grabbed it immediately.
We are always looking for interesting things to use. I remember Kevin from Bauhaus, he had got one of those little syn drums you can effect the sound on them and we used that as well.
So I got an e-bow and Kevin got a syn drum and we were happy campers. Those two things were very much a part of the Bauhaus sound. That was a big deal, to have this electronic drum thing compared to the organic drums and helped give us an original sound.
John: Those things made you sound really futuristic back then.
Absolutely. Back then, suddenly you had this little pad and it changed the sound, it sort of opened it all up for us, those two things.
John: So this was all happening in Northampton in the post punk era where you grew up?
Yeah we all were from Northampton but Peter was born nearby in Wellingborough.
If you lived 10 miles away from each other in those days you’d have a different accent, it was really funny.
Going to London from Northampton was like “oh God, it’s so far!’ It’s really weird. Over here I’ll jump on my bike and go for breakfast 50 miles away… in England it was weird if I went from my hometown to London because it took an eternity…something to do with traffic jams, I think, on the M1! and it made everything seem further, especialy in those days.
John: everyone was so locked into their little town mentality…
I think so, even more now it seems. I’ve lived over here in LA for 22 or 23 years, and the roads are larger and people travel a lot and there are further distances over here anyway.
John: In those early days pre Bauhaus, what was the first music to affect you? was it Glam rock?
Yeah! particularly for Peter and myself – we already knew eachother for a long time. We were friends since we were 10 years old. And as soon as T-Rex came on to the scene, and the whole Starman thing with Bowie and then Roxy Music and the first couple of Lou Reed albums and Iggy Pop as well . It was just brilliant.
And then the Pistols came along a few years later. When I saw the Pistols on Top Of The Pops doing Pretty Vacant in 1977 I was so fucking happy. It was really breaking the mould. I loved that band anyway.
I remember when we were all living in the same house in Northampton with Bauhaus when we’d started and if I’d had a heavy night and I’d wake up with a stinking hangover I would put on Never Mind The Bollocks and it would get rid of my hangover. Everyone else thought I was a total loony but I put it on as loud as possible and my hangover would be gone in about half an hour. It was the adrenaline, I think, it’s just one of those classic records for that.
So yeah there was the whole glam think and then the punk thing and that put it up for me on another level. It was so exciting –I know you’ll agree with me on that.
I loved the Damned as well – New Rose was the perfect single…
Also, the band the band that was really underrated was the Only Ones – that single, Another Girl, Another Planet – fuck, it’s brilliant. And also Television – Richard Hell and the boys, I loved that stuff, The Ramones, etc etc brilliant, brilliant. So that whole punk thing when that hit was very big for me. I remember trying to go and to see the Pistols play in Northampton. It was that tour when they never showed up to any of the gigs, it was so exciting, and they didn’t show up.
So I never saw them but I remember that feeling when they weren’t allowed to play,.
That tour, there was a huge buzz you know, very exciting. I know David and Kevin saw them play in London – but I went to see them in my hometown and they didn’t turn up. That stuff is documented on why they didn’t turn up – all the demonstrations – the Christian stuff, the devils music, Elvis and all that…
John: That was like in Wales at Caerphilly with the choir outside…
I saw that on YouTube! (laughs)
John: Apparently the woman in that Sex Pistols clip in Caerphilly is Mick Jones’ auntie. He went to visit her for a cup oftea before the gig but he didn’t have the nerve to tell her he was in one of the devil’s bands… (laughs)
I’ll tell you another story, when Bauhaus started, we’d go up to this little studio in Wellingborough called Beck Studios run by a guy called Derek Tompkins. We’d go there to do some demos. I’d come back home and I’d play it to my Mum and I’d say: “hey Mum, check this out what do you think?”, and instead of putting on our stuff… I was just testing her out, I would put on something from Never Mind the Bollocks…something like Bodies. At the end of the track, I’m like “What do you think?” and she would say, “Very nice Daniel, very nice.”
I would say “Mum that was the Sex Pistols! I thought you hated that stuff!” and she would say, “Oh no! You’re not one of those Sex Rockets are you?” (laughter) and I would answer, “Yeah mum we’re one of them Sex Rockets!”
I mean really, Sex Rockets! Yeah! great band.
She obviously wasn’t listening – because if she was listening…she would’ve hated it. But my Dad, loved Bela Lugosi’s Dead , he would say, “I like that one, it’s something you can tap your foot to – I like that one – you can hear the lyrics!”
John : Bauhaus came together vey quickly.
I got hold of Peter because I knew him and I just thought he looked great, I thought he’s just got to be in a band, and on a whim I had jumped in my car and went to see him. The band I had with Kevin and Dave had just split up. It was one of those things where it just didn’t work, so the three of us, we went in 3 different directions. We didn’t even phone each other to say the band was over. So I was sort of pissed off, I had nothing to do, I was working at a petrol station, and I just jumped in a car.
I just got in my Ford Cortina Mark 2, that cost me £50 from my maths teacher at school. I jumped in the car, drove ten miles down the road to Wellingborough , just knocked on his door and he was just come home from work. And I just said:
“Hey, do you want to be in a band?” and he said: “Fuck yeah.”
So that was it, I got this little rehearsal room, just Pete and myself, and I had this 15 watt amp and I had this echo unit and he starting singing out of The Sun newspaper, and I’d be playing this reggae riff which ended up being a song called Harry.
He started moving around straight away, and it was just a matter of time now – and I thought: “this is it, this is the one.”
We recorded Bela within 3 or 4 weeks of being in a band – the chemistry was obviously there.
John: what was the first proper rehearsal like?
I had a couple of riffs. To get it going. I started this song which ended up being called Harry which is about Debbie Harry and it was a reggae thing. Dave came along just to have a listen – there was Kevin, Pete and myself and a bassist– we started playing that reggae track. And we played a couple of others. Dave took me aside afterwards and he said: “the band’s fucking brilliant… the singer is a diamond, but you’ve got the wrong bass player…”
I thought – you’re not fucking joking. Because this bass player was useless. And then Dave was in the band at the next rehearsal, and the rest is history.
Every time we came back from rehearsal, I’d say “we got some fucking great songs today.” and my father would say: “Have they got any lyrics?” but when I played Bela to him, he went “oh ok, you’ve got something there…”
John: Maybe he had a good set of ears on him! (laughs)
He liked it. ’It’s got a great melody to it’ he said. I remember when we started and I went to look for a record deal and I just booked in interviews with 4 or 5 big major record companies and went on my own to EMI, RCA, Decca and somebody else. I went in with the acetate under my arm. I got on the train, went down to London and actually got interviews with these big A&R men. They all said the same thing- “This is great but it’s the sort of thing I listen to when I’m at home but it’s not going to sell.”
I knew they were going to say that though – But I was always in a fantasy world, thinking, they might just get what we’re doing here.
So we ended up with Small Wonder records, which was run out of a tiny little record store in the east end of London. They signed us on a 50/50 deal and he said, well, (we were all smoking a joint), halfway through the track he said: “yeah, this is fucking great. You’ve got a deal but there’s no money for promotion, but I’ll give you a 50/50 deal and let’s take it from there.”
Of course nobody else would sign us, so we blagged that deal with Small Wonder. And then, after that we got signed to 4AD and then Beggars Banquet and that’s that. And that’s what happened there.
John: The band had come together quickly out other bands in the local scene. In mid 78 you, Dave Exton, Kevin Haskins and David J. Haskins play several shows in Northampton as The Craze. The you and Pete Murphy form a band named “S.R.” in late 78 with Kevin Haskins and Chris Barber. S.R. played its first show in Northampton for Nene College of Art’s Christmas ball in an event booked by Glenn Campling). S.R. played one more show before David Haskins replaces Chris Barber and David renamed the group “Bauhaus 1919” and on Dec 31st Bauhaus 1919 play at Cromwell Public House in Wellingborough as the debut gig. Four weeks later you recorded your first demo- fast work!
Yeah, we went in the studio within 4 weeks of starting the band and recorded Bela along with 2 or 3 other tracks – Bite My Hip, a track called Harry, and Boys- I think we recorded 5 tracks in 4 hours, mixed them, the whole thing.
We were all broke then so we were all chipping in our money and we recorded it in Becks studio which was a little 16 track studio. It was all homemade gear.
When you walked into this place, there was a real character there called Derek Tompkins who ran it and it was like walking into somebody’s living room. It had the tacky 70’s wallpaper and carpet on the floor – Derek was a chain smoker, 60 cigarettes a day, and then he’d get a throbbing headache, so we always had a big tub of aspirin, to counteract the chain smoking!
Sometimes we’d all be smoking so much in there, we literally couldn’t see each other over the side of the room. And then he’d just open the back door and get some of this lemon spray, and spray the room and we’d all start again…
It was fun times – especially when we recorded Bela. That was like first or second take, all done live. Pete had a stinking cold but the vocals sound great. That was it, we were on our way.
John: how many times did you play that song before you recorded it?
It’s an interesting story – it was one of those magic moments. We’d done a couple of rehearsals. Dave wasn’t actually in the band then, we had another guy who played bass, he was really bad, I had to show him every note to play and he just used to play it on the E string.
That was when Dave came to see us and he said, “I’ve got to be in the band” – and to cut a long story short, he was in the band. The story with Bela was, I called Dave up, or he called me and said,
“Dave I’ve got this riff, it’s a really haunting riff, and I’m not using normal chords. And it sounds really haunting. “
And he said: “That’s really weird, you say that, I’ve got this lyric about Bela Lugosi – the actor who plays the vampire and I said: “really?”
So the next rehearsal, Dave gives the lyric sheet to Pete and Kevin starts playing that bossanova beat right off the back, and I start playing the riff, Dave comes in with the bass line – and Pete sings that melody pretty much as you hear it on the record, right off the back- boom! – it was written immediately, strange things…
It was just magic right from the get go – we didn’t have to work it out – it was very strange that it was written within about half an hour.
John: I guess at that point in time you didn’t really have an idea of what the band was supposed to sound like?
Pete and myself were pretty much obsessed with the whole glam rock thing. Kevin’s favourite band was The Clash and The Pistols and The Damned as well, but The Clash was the one for Kevin. David was always ahead of his time – I remember when we were at art school and he was listening to Dr Feelgood – when all the hippies were listening to that fucking godawful Genesis. I detest that shit to this day and I’m sure you do too. (Laughs)
You’d better hate them! anyway, Christ, it was fucking horrible that stuff, especially Yes.
We knew what we liked. Pete and myself pretty much obsessed with the whole Bowie thing, and T-Rex, Roxy Music and Iggy. Kevin’s 3 years younger so it was all about the punk thing for Kevin.
You can see it in the early photos, Kevin’s trying to look like one of The Clash whislt me and Pete are trying to look like Bowie. And then David’s there as an anchor – he liked a real cross-section of music – the thing I liked about David, he was ahead of his time at art school, like I said, because he loved Dr Feelgood when all the scumbag hippies were listening to Yes and Genesis. I loved that as well as soon as I heard it. I got the whole punk thing straight away. We knew what we liked but we didn’t want to sound like anyone else and we didn’t. Of course there’s obviously a heavy Bowie and Iggy Pop influence, with the vocals. I don’t deny that.
The chemistry was there – it was there from the start – that’s something that’s out of your hands. Because it’s like the Beatles – how did those four guys meet up? The Stones? How did they meet up? They were meant to meet up. The same with us – we were meant to meet up.
I knew Pete from school since from when we were 10-12 years old, and I knew him all the way through school. And then Dave and Kevin and I met at art school when I was like 17.
I’d been in bands by then– they were called – you remember Power Pop. There was a band – we called ourselves The Craze, and another one was called Jack Plug and the Sockets. And they were Power Pop bands which I did with David and Kevin. We just did local gigs in those early bands and we never got further than Northampton.
Then as soon as the four of us got together – we were straight off down to the Marquee to play – I think the first gig we got was with a band called Gloria Mundi– remember them? We supported them, and then we also got on the Magazine tour. We had to pay then £3k to get on the tour – we had our record deal by then with Beggars by then which we signed in 1979 so we could afford to do it, and Beggars paid £3k so we could go on the road supporting Magazine. To be honest we blew them off stage every night.
They were real great, great guys – Magazine. They split up after the tour, I wonder if we were the reason for that, because we did blow them off the stage – half the crowd would leave after we’d played.
We had something and we knew it.
John: So how important was it being in Northampton- not a place you would expect Bauhaus to come from! was there a reaction against about being in Northampton? Or could you have been anywhere?
It could have been anywhere – at that time, unemployment was through the roof. There was crap weather in England, and the drudgery of the whole place and music was always a way out. That’s why you get so many great bands in England – the weather is shit. If you’re in Southern California, everybody’s out and about doing stuff. In England you either go to the pub or you start a band. I don’t think that has changed much. It’s a huge part of it.
If you listen to Bauhaus stuff, it’s not exactly Tiny Tim, tiptoe around the fucking tulips sort of stuff– it’s not exactly tying a yellow ribbon around the old oak trees. We were pissed off…
Pete and myself had gone to St Marys catholic school – it was real rough, people were getting beaten up all the time, the teachers were shit and the other kids were shit. And me and Pete were at the end of the class, we were the little arty farty kids who weren’t into sports – it was the cliché thing. We’d be doing painting and all the other kids were playing football. So we had a connection right from the get-go.
So all that stuff and paranoia came out at the gigs, they were like exorcisms.
We weren’t faking it then. We were pissed off. All that shit we’d gone through at school. The hypocrisy of the catholic faith. All of that stuff was mixed in. Because those kids going to church on Sunday were the ones kicking the shit out of each other on Monday morning. All of that stuff came out in the music five years later.
John: did your art school background make you look at music in a different way?
No not at all. David, Kevin and myself went to art school. Pete couldn’t go to art school because of his financial situation with his Mum and Dad – he had to get a job straight away after school and he had a job at a printing factory. He didn’t have the luxury of going to art school.
What art school did didn’t really need decoding anyway. What it did do was completely decode you from the 9-5 mentality. To be honest I didn’t need personally decoding, I was never going to get a 9-5 anyway.
I just felt completely at home at art school, you could be yourself. Art was the only thing I was any good at anyway. I completely fitted into that environment straight away.
The majority of students were listening to crappy music though, that horrible progressive rock.
I remember David – we were in different years by one year, we crossed each other in the hallway. We were the only two wearing drainpipe trousers… all the others were wearing the flappy, hippy flares. So we’d always say hello. We both had the drainpipe trousers because of the whole punk thing. So there was a connection right there. We were anti prog-rock.
John: So you first met Pete Murphy at Primary school?
It wasn’t Primary, it was Secondary modern – when we were 12 . We were best friends from the get go. We loved the same music. We were into Bowie and a strict diet of David Bowie,T-Rex, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.
John: did you dress as glam as you possibly could at school?
At school we couldn’t – we all had to wear school uniforms. But there was this one day where Pete turns up on Monday morning with bright orange hair, with a perfect Ziggy Stardust haircut. He was getting beaten up in the playground and all this crap. This was when we were 16.
I’d always arrived late at school ‘cos I couldn’t fucking get up in the morning. Anyway so I arrived there late. He was trying to flatten his hair down and he was getting so much grief. And I saw him and I went: “fuck, that looks fucking brilliant, that is the best fucking haircut, you look exactly like Bowie, that is fucking brilliant.”
He goes: “Thank you so much, everybody else is giving me shit, the girls are taking the piss out of me, the guys are beating me up.”
He was trying to flatten his hair and I said:
“Fuck that! Stick it back up again, it looks fantastic.”
We always had that connection. We both loved dressing up and wearing make-up and all that stuff.
John: small town 70s Britain, the people who really got it, really got it. I always think the punk thing made up of The Stooges fans, two in each town- a small band of people…
Yeah, in that town there were 12 -15 people that looked different. Everyone else looked like blockheads. You were either a Bowie boy or you were jocks – you know blockheads – you call them chavs don’t you now?
I remember in my hometown there were these 15 people – male and female – 17-20 years old, these guys looked like they were in Roxy Music or David Bowie, they would wear this 50s rockabilly gear. These individuals, about 15 of them, completely stood out, they looked absolutely amazing. Perfect haircuts, perfect clothes, all from the 50s, doing the 50s rockabilly thing, wearing the crepes, but not Teddy Boys – they’d taken it somewhere else, it was that mixed in with the punk thing.
Everywhere these guys went they’d get beaten up. They’d have to have their own parties so they wouldn’t get their heads kicked in!
They just looked completely different from the rest of the town. It was really fascinating stuff. About 15 of them in the whole town. I think that was happening all over the UK . Little pockets.
And then that punk thing happened and – boom. That was the beginning of all the great music in that genre.
John: When did you start on the guitar?
I was 15 years old in 1972. It was just when Bowie was coming out with the Ziggy thing. My Dad took me to Shaftesbury Ave and bought me a Fender Telecaster copy – it was £25. I’m really lazy, I just used to look at it. I couldn’t be bothered to play it. For a couple of years I just used to look at it. It looked amazing, it was a starburst colour – I remember cutting out plastic stars and sticking them on it. Falling asleep with it, I’d wake up in the morning and I’d be holding the neck of the guitar.
All the other guys at art school trying to play like Jimi Hendrix – I was too lazy, to attempt that, mixed in with “what’s the point in sounding like Hendrix who’s already done it?”
And then the whole punk thing happened – I thought yes, I can do this, I can do the 3 chord thing – and that’s when it all started. It was definitely the punk thing that spurred me on. Seeing Steve Jones up there on the telly, what an amazing sound he gets with that Les Paul. Incredible.
John: That’s what that myth’s about the Sex Pistols – when people say they’re inspiring ‘cos they couldn’t play – it’s actually cos they COULD play…
They could really play, play fucking brilliant, I’ve seen live footage from the early days – they could really play, I thought it was all studio thing at first, but when I’ve seen live footage from the early days, they could really play – absolutely.
John: your self-confessed laziness- did it force you to play guitar in a style where you created noises rather than conventional solos?
Yeah – it was much easier. I mean obviously I learned 3 or 4 chords but I couldn’t be bothered to learn one scale. I still don’t know scales. I would make up chords, particularly with an acoustic guitar, a 12 string when I wrote and if somebody asked me what they were, I’d have no clue, but I’d just find them and it would sound good. The idea of learning to read music or learning scales is boring to me. So I’ve got a limited thing here that worked for me. I treated the guitar like a piece of wood with 6 strings on it and it developed from there.
Songs like Dark Entries – I mean that’s just one note on the E-string just going down 4 frets, that’s all it is – but it works – it works really well. You’ve got to learn how to do a barre chord though, otherwise you’re really in trouble though!
So, it’s funny, all these guys at art school, learning to play whatever that guy in Yes was playing- all that shredding nonsense in art school. Then there’s me hitting 1 or 2 strings and it works. All that soloing stuff is just ego wanking, boring. “Look how fast I can go…” I was much more interested in impressing girls not boys. Girls have no interest in that riffing, so nor did I.
John: So the music you’re making in the initial Bauhaus, is not conventional rock music… the drums are playing really off-kilter patterns…in a sense it’s kind of like the real post-punk early on and how I define post-punk in that everybody’s playing a lead at the same time…
Interesting, I never thought of it that way. I guess it’s something that is organic, It’s like the idea with Bauhaus, like “how did you get the idea of all wearing black?” We didn’t ever talk about it – it just happened. I know for myself, I would wear black because I was always tinkering around with motorcycles, so you can’t wear any other colours if you’re fucking around with motorcycles, especially in English weather. I was always on a bike back then. That’s why I was always wearing black and it looked good.
I think it’s the same musically with the bands that came out post-punk. I think it’s a combination of having no money, a limited amount of gear that you can use, and just making the best out of the fact that you can’t play very well. New Order, Joy Division – they’ve got a very simplistic way of playing and it works. You can’t wait to get on stage, you got to learn from something. You make do with your limited ability and it progresses from there. I think we were all anxious to get a band going. As soon as we’d got 3 chords we were ready. We were impatient and it went from there. We couldn’t stand the old farts who could play properly anyway, ‘cos it was boring to us… So a combination of those things creates the whole post-punk sound.
John: was it also a reaction to your previous band, the Craze?
The Craze was leading on to that – it was a reaction to everything that had gone before, with the exception of Marc Bolan’s T-Rex. All the punks loved T-Rex. It was simple, it didn’t take itself seriously. Marc Bolan had no problem telling the world that he thought he looked fucking great. Whereas the prog-rock guys were hiding behind this bushy fucking hair and a pair of flared Levis and looked like shit. Whereas Bolan wanted to look great and so did the punks in their own way – they wanted to look sharp. It was a big part of it.
John: That’s the part that people have forgotten over the years…
Absolutely, it was like: “No we’re not going to look like fucking hippies, just look like we’re looking like the back of a bus. We want to look sharp. The Clash,looked great, The Pistols looked great and they all had something going. The Ramones, in their own way – had this great image. It was opposite to the whole boring hippy prog-rock shit. That’s what we were reacting against, if anything. That’s why we all loved Iggy and the Stooges. I mean God, talk about being ahead of your time. And stuff like Kick out of The Jams – that stuff’s fucking brilliant – not complicated – it’s just to the point – it’s just got it. It was opposite to that pompous crap that was happening in the early 70s- not the glam stuff, ‘cos that was brilliant. The prog-rock stuff was way over complicated. The bottom line for me is if it’s not sexy and there’s no sex appeal in it at all then what’s the point. I also used to love funk music and other 70s music, I still do to this day. I think it’s brilliant. Perfect, great sounds, it’s sexy, and the girls love it. It’s fucking hot. It’s the opposite, to me, of what the prog-rock guys were into. They were always in the kitchens in parties with their big fucking beards and even at 18 years old they would be wearing big, baggy jumpers and talking about politics, and drinking real ale. You know, that sort of crowd. So we were reacting to all of that.
John: Was the dub thing in there right from the start?
Oh yeah – the dub thing came from David and Kevin, they were really bang into 70s reggae and dub stuff big time. We’d always be hearing that when we were on the road. And it was Dave and Kevin that introduced me to the whole reggae thing.
John: Bela Lugosi is almost a pure dub track really? a dark dub…
Um, yeah I never really of that – there is something there, I nicked that riff for Bela (I’m not going to tell you what it is though) – not that it will spoil it but I don’t want anyone to know where I got it from. It’s based on a very, very, very well known pop song. That’s all I’m going to say – you might suss it out one day, it’s actually a pop song that’s really slowed down with some tricks with the tuning as well…
John: I’m usually quite good at guessing where things come from – with a couple of clues… (laughs)
I’ll give you a hint: It’s a slowed down version – to half speed, that’s where the riff came from. It’s got all these minor notes in it – but the root chord change is from … I might tell you one day. I think you’ll be really surprised when I tell you where it’s from!
I saw you on YouTube a couple of years ago talking about punk rock and DIY. I thought you were talking a hell of a lot of sense. I think I copied your haircut as well (laughs) ‘cos I’ve got a Mohawk now! (laughs) It comes and goes. I love it, easy to manage, especially in the heat over here.
Anyway you were doing some speech at TedX – you had a suit on and you had a very sorted vibe – I thought – this guy, I thought I really related to what you were saying.
It’s strange times now – I saw this interview with Kim Deal and they said to her “have you got a band sorted out?” she said “A band?! I can’t afford to be in a band, ‘cos music is free these days.”
Human beings can’t stop making music whether money is involved or not – you have to keep going – if that’s what you do, that’s what you do.
John: the ideas don’t stop just because the money does.
It can’t, it can’t stop. We never had any money when it all started out. Quite the opposite. And that was when the great music came from.
John: When the hand is forced, that’s what makes you more creative – if it’s too easy, you get lazy…
Well if it’s too easy you start sounding like Cliff Richard, that’s not going to work – apart from Devil Woman of course – that goes in history, that song.