Bauhaus, black magick, and rejuvenation: A conversation with David J

These Living Room shows typically feature a comprehensive set list spanning all phases of Haskins' Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and solo albums, along with a few unexpected covers — rendered in a troubadour style

SPACE ODDITY: Former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets singer and bass player David J returns to play Living Room shows in Atlanta and Athens.
Photo credit: William Landers

David J Haskins, former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets singer and bass player, and author of Who Killed Mister Moonlight?: Bauhaus black magick and benediction (Jaw Bone Press), returns to Electron Gardens in Avondale Estates this Sun., June 12, for an intimate, Living Room performance [[/cribnotes/archives/2016/02/21/bauhaus-bowie-and-the-troubadour-tradition-an-interview-with-david-j|Read an interview from Haskins February Atlanta show]].

The show is sold out, but he's making two appearances in Athens: Haskins reads from and signs copies of his book at Avid Bookshop on Mon., June 13. He’s also performing live on Tues., June 14 at ATHICA: Athens Institute for Contemporary Art. RSVP for tickets. Atlanta's alt rock trio the Hot Place (featuring Jeff Calder of the Swimming Pool Q's, Lisa King, and Mike Lynn) opens both shows with a stripped-down acoustic set.

These Living Room shows typically feature a comprehensive set list spanning all phases of Haskins' Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and solo albums, along with a few unexpected covers — rendered in a troubadour style. In the midst of a 10-day, 7 gig tour of the Southeastern U.S., Haskins took a few minutes to reflect on the rejuvenating power of connecting with his audiences in an intimate setting, culling his catalog, and finding threads of connectivity that bind his career.

Do you often find yourself coming back to the same city twice in the same year?

Well, if the previous show has gone well — yes.

Do you book your Living Room shows through an outside organization that has a network of venues in place, or do you book these shows on your own?

It’s in the process of being established. There are no agents involved; that’s the whole point of it. I don’t want an agent, I don’t want a promoter, I don’t want a middle man. I want to deal directly with the music lovers. That’s a huge part of the appeal to me. I’ve been ripped off by sleazy promoters and I’ve had enough of that. I’d rather take it directly to the people.

Has playing these more intimate shows changed your perspective on touring?

I’m enjoying it more than ever. There’s a rapport that happens. At last night's show in Charlotte there was a back-and-forth with the audience — it’s very casual, and humorous, and I’m truly riffing off of the audience. I really just kind of abandoned my set list at the show. I love doing that. It’s very open, and it allows for an artist to be more creative. And you’re playing to a very appreciative audience.

That intimacy has to be a refreshing change of pace after playing much larger venues where it’s just a concert and not everyone in the room is a dedicated fan of your music.

It is, and I get to meet them afterward, and they get to tell me their stories about what the music means to them. That means a lot to me. When you’re on a regular kind of tour you might be playing to 10,000 people, but it becomes mechanical and faceless, and you never meet anybody. Sometimes you don’t particularly want to meet anybody. You just want to get the hell out of there — get back to the hotel. It can become alienating, and that’s quite ironic. It can really get you down, going from the airport, to hotel, to soundcheck, back to the hotel, play the gig, and then back to the hotel. It becomes repetitive, and it can make you a bit crazy. Here, with every situation I don’t know what I’m walking into. Every time I go to one of these venues I don’t know what the house is gonna be like. I love that. That’s very stimulating. Sometimes I stay in the houses, it’s all different, and it keeps me very alive. And then I pick up players in each town, like, for example, I just had lunch with the host of the next gig. It turns out he’s an accomplished trumpet player, so he said he’d play with me at the gig, at my invitation. I love doing things like that, just being spontaneous. I’ve been playing some of these songs for decades now, and when I have a new injection like that, an injection of a new talent, new instrument, it’s very refreshing and rejuvenating.

In Atlanta I have a friend coming down to join me on a couple of songs. She used to be in the band Spin Drift. Her name is Sasha Vallely. She wanted to play at the last show but it didn’t work out. so I said come join me on a couple songs.

You probably build a better connection with the places you’re traveling to.

Yeah, that’s another big thing about it as well. Of course the hosts want to take me out, show me their places, their haunts, so you get to see the real side of the place. Quite often in the past, with the bigger bands I’ve been in, you never get to see the city. You see the airport and the hotel lobby and the gig, and literally that's it. You get confused, you don’t know where you are! When you’re staying in a hotel chain they’re all the same, and airports look pretty much the same, and the gigs kind of look the same too. It’s a really a weird lifestyle.

Have you started writing another book? One that delves more into your Love and Rockets years?

Yeah. It’s not the Love and Rockets story, like the last one was the Bauhaus story from my point of view. There's lots of anecdotal stuff about Love and Rockets but then it shoots off into lots of tangents. There will be lots of stories in there that are related to Love and Rockets, yes. I’m going through my journals and diaries and making notes, and I’ve written a few pages.

How daunting is the task that lies ahead — writing the book?

Not really daunting at all. I relish it, or else I wouldn’t do it, you know? I love telling stories, and I’ve got some really good stories up my sleeve. I really like the challenge of, especially with this one, tying all the stories together. Somehow you can find a link, and it’s not necessarily going to be in chronological order.

How was the first book received? 

I’m really pleased with how it's been received. I’ve met people and quite often they say they’ve read it two or three times or that they’ve read it in one sitting — they couldn’t put it down. It’s great to hear that.

The chapters in which you delve into your experiences with magick are a white-knuckle ride. It’s quite terrifying at times.

And beautiful as well. Those experiences in that realm were very beautiful and intense. That’s why I had to back off from it. Although magick still permeates my life, it’s in a much more instantaneous, spontaneous way. I’ve found that going through the intense period of being involved in ritual magick for a few years has allowed me this experience to be able to pull back from that structured, ceremonial area into the more day-to-day living through one’s intuition — responding to one’s intuition, which I’ve always done. But it’s become much more intensified. You make … luck happen, if you like. You engender opportunities to be open to it and just be psychically tuned into ... the universe, I suppose would be the word. (Laughs) There are all sorts of conversations going on that are not verbal.

It has to be a difficult topic to talk about because there are probably as many people who are fascinated by the subject as there are who want to ridicule you for talking about it.

Oh yes, I’m very aware of that. Yes.

It sounds like you made a conscious decision to step away from it.

It’s still very much in my life, but not in the way it was before. I’m not turning away from it, I don’t think you really have that choice once you’ve been exposed to that realm. But you can dive in, you can fine tune it, adopt an M.O. in which you deal with that realm and those experiences that come from it.

Do you think of yourself as a spiritual person?

Yes, that could be a way of describing it. It’s a really truly psychedelic experience, it’s got a psychedelic perspective. And that doesn’t have to involve psychedelic drugs at all — although they help. (Laughs)

You approach your experiences with magick with the same honesty that you approach everything in the book. You wrote with the kind of honesty that journalists strive for, which often leaves unhappy people in your wake.

Yes, yes, yes. Basically the band members. They don’t understand where I’m coming from because I’m certainly not doing it to make money, and I’m not doing it to be mean. I want to tell the truth. The truth is the only really interesting thing. My intention and my motivation when I was writing it was compassionate, and sympathetic, but, you know, to tell the truth.

Perception is the real issue, because, as you say, you didn’t to it to be mean, but when it’s perceived that way there can be friction.

Yeah, I know. But it doesn’t really bother me because I know in my heart where it’s coming from. And I am critical of myself in the book as well. I expose things that I’ve done that I’m not at all proud of, and that’s part of the truth as well. How could I not do that? The truth is the truth, and it’s from my perspective, it’s my story, my angle on it.

You probably thought long and hard about this approach. As you’re ramping up to write another book you’re probably going through that same mental cycle.

Yeah, but not to the same degree. The Love and Rockets ride was, on the whole, a joyous experience. It was not as conflicted and acerbic and intense as the Bauhaus experience.

When we were doing Bauhaus we were in our early twenties. Really like twenty, twenty-one, my brother was nineteen. We were in a completely different mindset. Also it’s just chemistry between individuals. One person leaves the room and the whole atmosphere changes. That person comes back in and it changes again. And it’s much more easygoing without the person who left the room. (Laughs) But also that person who left the room, when he was in the room, it might not have been comfortable, but God was it exciting and intense and wildly creative. There was friction in Love and Rockets but not anywhere near the degree that there was in Bauhaus.

Now, when you play live, you’re looking back at all of these records — Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and your solo albums. Do you find threads that tie them together?

It’s very clear to me what the links are; sometimes it’s a feeling, sometimes it’s style. I enjoy that part of it, putting thought into the construction of a setlist. Of course I can completely throw it out the window, like last night when I abandoned the setlist because, as I say, I was riffing off the audience and they were shouting out. That was a really raucous crowd you know respectful, but raucous. So I would start to play a song then go off and play something else, and somebody shouted out they wanted to hear the song that references ‘the girl who works in Tesco’s.’ That’s “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.” And then we had a conversation about how there are no Tesco’s in the States, so we talked about Walgreens or Whole Foods. So I changed it to “Everybody Wants to Go to Whole Foods.” I wasn’t planning on doing that song at all, which is actually a good example. I usually stick to the setlist and it is premeditated and it has got a flow to it, and a kind of subtle story going on there if you care to take it on board.

Do you take requests?

It’s really rare. Maybe someone will request something and it might vibe with me, but it is very rare.

You have covered songs by everyone from Clock DVA to Miley Cyrus which is a really intense spread. When you hear a song, is there something that clicks in your brain and you hear a melody and think ‘I can run with this,’ or is there more to it?

Yeah, or I could take this and give it a whole new slant. Or wouldn’t it be fun to do that because it would be ironic for someone like me to do something like that. Like a Spice Girls song, which I have done. Having said that, I’m not demeaning the songs because the songs are very good. When you strip them down that becomes evident. Like when you play a really produced song, like “Toxic,” on acoustic guitar, you realize what a good song it is. I’ve done a cover of Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For A Girl.” There’s some irony there on many levels. But it’s a bloody good song.

Sometimes it takes a good cover to expose that a song is actually good.

I’m doing a special cover in North Carolina ... It’s an act of civil disobedience against the bathroom laws — the discriminatory laws against the transgender community. I’m doing David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” in drag in the ladies’ toilet. We did it in Charlotte on the stage, not in the toilet, just on the stage. We’re gonna do that tomorrow maybe. [[https://www.facebook.com/davidj.haskins.7/posts/1095860130473909?pnref=story|Read about how it went down]].

And your latest release, “The Day That David Bowie Died” 10-inch is out now. The B-side is nice, too.

Thank you, that’s an older song that I did in 2001 that’s just been sitting on the shelf. It seems so appropriate for the B-side. And then I have this friend Tim Newman — a brilliant musician in England — who did his own interpretation. It’s an instrumental meditation, and I merged the two. It’s really nice, the song’s called “Ascension.”

Do you have a stock of songs that you’re just kind of waiting for the right moment to release?

Yes. In a word. And I’ve got loads and loads, boxes and boxes of hundreds of cassettes of when I was writing songs. I’ve got plans ... For years I’ve been carting these boxes around, and lots of these songs were never released. And I’ve been going back and listening to them and there’s some pretty damn good stuff on some of these cassettes. I have a very ambitious plan for this: I’m working with a guy in Hungary. He’s an archivist in Budapest and a great supporter. He’s currently digitizing all of these cassettes, which is an enormous job. These cassettes go all the way back to 1976. What I want to do is release a digitized collection — just the cream of it, I want to be very selective — possibly four CDs. Everybody who buys this set will get one of the original tapes. It will be a real collectible, each one will be different. For each piece I want to do a painting, and I’m going to take one of these cassettes, pull out the tape and spray paint over that so you have the shape, the snaking tape coming out of the cassette, and I’m going to do multimedia over that. And I’m going to do a different one for every edition.

It’s a big undertaking. I have to ship everything to Budapest. He volunteered to do this crazy job. So I mailed everything out, and I thought now he has to mail it all back. But then I thought what if he just kept it there, and we could finish this crazy project, he can mail them out. He’s going to manufacture them as well. That’s the plan.

That’s 40 years worth of material. Do you have a time frame for when you want to see it released?

Not yet.

David J's Atlanta show is sold out. But tickets for his Tues., June 14 performance at ATHICA are still available. RSVP for tickets. $25. Doors open at 7 p.m. 160 Tracy St., Athens, GA. 706-389-5450.