The current heavyweights of alternative, pop, and dance music owe a lot to the men like Daniel Ash, and Kevin Haskins.
The two were the backbone of some of the most iconic bands punk and New Wave bands of all-time — Bauhaus. The duo were also members of Tones on Tail, the cult band known for their monster hit “Go!” and chart-topping alternative outfit, Love and Rockets.
The duo recently reunited early this year to form Poptone, along with Haskins’ daughter Diva. The outfit celebrates the hits of all three of these bands, as well as both men’s solo careers.
Earlier this summer, we caught up with Ash to talk about how he was inspired to play live music again after a long hiatus, the appeal of a cult band like Tones on Tail, and the thrill of performing live.
What was the impetus to form Poptone to do a retrospective on all the bands you’ve been a part of in your career?
[Earlier this year] I had no intention of doing the live music thing again. The last time I had played was eight and a half years ago. But [earlier this year] I woke up at 4 a.m. and had this revelation of playing live again. It was a very, very specific change, it was one extreme to another. I went from having no intention of playing live to I just had to. A few different people had wanted me to do it in the past, but it just never felt right.
I remember that night though. I woke up at four in the morning, and I had my headphones in. I had been watching YouTube videos, and fell asleep. The YouTube channel was on rotation, and Motorhead’s “Ace of Spaces” woke me up, and I woke up with the revelation that I needed to go on the road again. It was a strong feeling of elation. I felt like ‘Of course this is what I need to do.’ It went from not wanting to do it for years to “When are we doing this?”
So I called up Kevin within a week of this happening. I waited because I wanted to see if the feeling would last or if it was a fleeting notion. So I said to Kevin, let’s do this, but who are we going to have play bass? As soon as he mentioned his daughter Diva, I got a really good feeling. I thought if she could play as good as looks this would be incredible. She’s a very good looking woman, who isn’t your typical rock chick. We rehearsed, and she auditioned. We thought if she could play “Go” we’d be fine. She nailed it on the first try. It was a no-brainer.
Were you searching to fill a creative void, or were you just thunderstruck by the idea out of nowhere?
I wasn’t searching for anything. I had been DJ-ing for years, and had just got back into painting. Not painting and decorating (laughs), but painting using posters, and aerosol cans — I had been doing that since 2009. So with that, and the odd DJ gig here and there which I’ve been doing since the mid-90s. This thing completely took over. I can’t explain it, but it was a switch that went off in my head.
What was the reason you stopped performing live?
I had been performing from 1978 to 2005. Enough was enough. Everybody wants to change, but I was burnt out. [Touring is] one of the most unhealthy things to do. I was fed up and wanted to do something different. I loved the idea of doing music for film and TV. Those gigs are few and far between. Most people in my scene want to land that dream job scoring a really good film or TV show.
I thought I was too old to [perform live again], and I’d embarrass myself. But after practicing and getting out on the road, I feel 25 years younger than I did before I started playing again. Rock ‘n’ roll keeps you young. You see things like you did in your 20s. You don’t need to grow up when you do this.
What does Diva bring to the band?
What she brings to the table is she’s a damn good bass player. I was checking out some audio from our first two gigs, for a live album we’ll put out later this year, and the bass was incredible. So that in a nutshell is what she brings to table. The chemistry onstage…she brings a breath of fresh air. She’s younger, and brings a fresh dynamic to the show. Her vocals are great too. Diva has played a lot of gigs since she was 15, and has toured with various bands and solo projects. See, I’ve known her since she was 13 when I gave her a bass guitar for her birthday. She’s been doing this a long time, and she’s got a great personality. It’s all working out.
When you perform your hits live — are you putting a new spin on it, or are you staying true to the original compositions?
We’re staying true to the original songs. There’s a couple where we can go off, and we can extend parts. It was important for us to make it sound like the record. They aren’t like new electronic versions, or alternative takes on songs. We wanted people to hear these songs sound as close to as they did on the record. And that’s important.
I saw the setlist — it’s a collection of all your hits. I’m curious as to why the band has decided to a retrospective of your career, and not do original songs?
There’s a big demand for us to play the Tone on Nail stuff. That was only played for one little tour in America, and the U.K. in 1983. Since then the record that has grown over the year. They still sell, and there’s a demand for this weird little band called Tones on Tail. I called this band Poptone because I couldn’t called it Tones on Tail because the original bass player is not in the band. Luckily, Poptone sounds like a 21st century version of Tones on Tail. It’s all fallen into place nicely.
So, it’s people want to hear this stuff, and if we did new stuff, we’d be starting from scratch. If we did all new music we wouldn’t be able to book the shows we’re booking right now. People want to hear the music we recorded over the last 35 years.
When you’re performing live, are you seeing it’s not just those original fans, but younger fans as well?
Oh yes. We’re getting the moms and dads, but they’re bringing their sons and daughters. There’s people from 12 to 65 at these shows.
I could see people in 20s and 30s coming out to see you guys because of your sound’s influence in modern pop and alternative.
I think because of social media because information is spread so fast. They can check out all our music throughout careers in an instant. There’s no more doing a hard slog across the world to get your name out. The internet is great for a band like us.
How did it feel to play live again? Was that feeling you had earlier this year satiated?
It’s exactly like riding a bicycle. It comes to you naturally. When we started rehearsing, and it came back. It’s a cliche, but 10 years could go by but it feels like [we were playing just] weeks ago. I remember I had a few first starts and I tried rehearsing the original stuff by myself, but that switch went of. I don’t know how it happened, but Kevin said it was Lemmy because I was listening to “Ace of Spades” when I got the feeling.
Now that you’re playing live, is there a plan to produce new, original music in the near future?
I would imagine so. This tour will keep us going to November of this year. We have breaks but it’ll go to the end of the year. We’re going to busy till November but hopefully we’ll start to rehearse and record new material. Obviously, we don’t know what will happen between now and then — projects, offers, etc. Right now we’ve got tunnel vision with this — doing a retrospective tour.
Poptone performs at The Stone Pony tonight in Asbury Park. Click here for tickets.