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David J: Chats from the Attic Alan Rider sits down with former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets founder David J to ask him about ritual magick, exhuming his old demos, and whether Bauhaus really is finished.

David J: Chats from the Attic

Alan Rider sits down with former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets founder David J to ask him about ritual magick, exhuming his old demos, and whether Bauhaus really is finished.

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: April, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

Some of the some of the doors that were opened, I would, in retrospect, choose to have kept closed... You are very vulnerable in a way, when you get into that area of ritual magic...

cover artDavid J Haskins, or David J as he is better known, founder member of hugely influential Goth instigators Bauhaus and (arguably more successful, in the US at least) successors Love and Rockets, serial collaborator, artist, film maker, DJ, and author, could well be described as a bit of a renaissance man. Resident in California these days, far from his native Northampton, he leads an interesting and enviable life and has just unearthed a box of demo tapes dating from early post-Bauhaus days through to more recent times, and (as you do), digitised, remastered, and issued these as a lavish 3 LP box set with all sorts of add on goodies on offer, even including some of the original cassettes themselves. The collection is called ‘Tracks from the Attic’ which makes me wonder...

OUTSIDELEFT: Do they actually have attics in California? Or is that just a bit of PR fiction?
David J: For ‘attic’ read storage unit or lock up. Do you have an attic? I used to have an attic, and things were in an attic in England at one point, but ended up in my storage unit in California. I literally had these three shoe boxes full of old cassettes and my friend Gabor out in Budapest was aware of the fact and bravely volunteered to digitise them for me, because he was a bit concerned that they were going to fall to pieces, which they certainly would have done. So, I sent them to him and he did a really nice job on them. Later on, I was contacted by Bruce and Jeff of Independent Project Records asking if I had any unreleased archival material that could possibly find a home on their label, so I was able to say to them “well, as it happens, yeah, I've got all this!”.  I sent it to them and they liked it very much, so that's how it all happened.

OL: I guess ‘Tracks from the Storage Unit’ just doesn’t sound as good! A lot of the tracks on the release are actually quite skeletal versions, just you and an acoustic guitar, riffing around ideas and recording them on a cassette.  I find quite a lot of artists tend to do this kind of thing, releasing demos and things like that. I sometimes think, do you really want to expose your unformed thoughts to the world? Isn’t that harming your legacy in terms of the more polished studio versions that will come out later, by releasing rough demo versions that may be littered with bum notes and mistakes, or are still a work in progress, but which will now be immortalised forever?
I think it depends on the nature of the artist and whether you are someone who prides himself on super-duper, deluxe, slick mixes.  If you are The Pet Shop Boys, it’s maybe not for you, but I'm not like that at all. I'm quite the opposite, so it fits in with my whole vibe, if you like.  I've always been a fan of these things. I've always collected them over the years. The last collection I got was one of Lou Reed’s really early tapes, which he sent to himself when he was still living with his parents, of songs that eventually became Velvet Underground songs, with just him playing acoustic guitar. That was like the poor man's copyright protection, which I did in the past as well.  You would mail yourself a cassette but never open it so it remained sealed and postmarked.

OL:  Yes, I remember doing that myself.  We used to think the postmark would prove it was created at the time as long as we kept the parcel unopened.  I don’t think that was ever tested in court though.  It was like a time capsule.
Very much so.  It was very interesting also to hear how much he [Lou Reed] sounded like Bob Dylan. Mentioning Dylan, I really love the Dylan Official Bootleg series that's been coming out with all of his demos, I find that really fascinating. I think it also depends where you are in your career and if you're confident enough and relaxed enough to let those things come out.  You know if it just feels right, and it felt right to me. I know my little audience, they appreciate this kind of insight, you know, looking behind the curtain, and I'm very happy to share that with them.

OL: Literally, in the case of Super Deluxe Edition, where you actually give away the original cassettes. That is quite unusual, as it's your personal property, and they'll appear no doubt on eBay at some future point at an exorbitant, inflated price.  Doesn’t it feel a bit like Picasso giving away the original sketches of his paintings or something like that?
Haha.  Thank you for that comparison! I wouldn't go that far. But, yeah, I just really love that idea. Everyone that purchases that box set, they have a unique artefact. I would always record the John Peel show in the ‘80s, so you may even get little snippets of that, where I’ve recorded over one of those tapes.  You might get a bit of a track off John Peel, then ‘klunk’, and here’s me on the acoustic guitar trying to find something!

OL: As somebody who creates things as an artist, we're in a world which seems to be getting pretty grim at the moment, so what place does art have in that? I mean, is it just an escape? How important is art really, when there's all these really scary and important things happening to people that artists can do nothing about?
I think it's vitally important, and it's much more than an escape. It can be that, but it's also a vital outlet where the artists can voice their feelings and opinions about the stuff that's going on in the world. That can resonate with the audience, you know, and in that resonance the audience can find succour and some sort of kind of relief. I think, just on that level, it's very important. Also, as a voice of protest, to get that out there, and on a sort of vibrational level, to put out the positive in the context of all the negative that's going around.  I think art does that very powerfully.

OL: Music used to be such a powerful force, driving political change in the 60’s against the Vietnam War, and defining styles, such as Bauhaus did with Goth style and culture.  It mattered a lot to people. I’m really not seeing that much now though.
Yes, and no. I suppose I do exist in a bit of a bubble, but my group of friends, which is quite big, are very invested in music and the sensibility that comes with the music that they're involved in and they love.  The way they appear, their personal appearance, is reflective of that, so it hasn't completely gone away, but I agree that it's not as pervasive as it used to be.

OL: Talking of Bauhaus, I have to ask. After all the reunion tours over the years, is Bauhaus done now, or is another reunion on the cards?
It’s done. Yes.

David J in a maskOL: It’s been ‘done’ before though, and has then come back again.  Have the bats really left the bell tower for good now? And what about Love and Rockets?
Yes, Bauhaus is dead and buried. There's a mound of earth and there's daisies growing on it! My brother [Kevin] is here in LA and Daniel [Ash] lives just north of LA, so that [Love and Rockets] is an ongoing concern.  We had such a great time on the last recent tour of the States and we are getting some nice offers coming in at the moment, so we are fielding those and there is a very good chance we will go back out on tour again later on this year. I’d love to do that.  I was talking to John Robb, the writer, and he was saying we should play The Roundhouse in London, which was, as he described it, the cauldron of British psychedelia.

OL: That was one of the places they held the UFO club at in the 60’s, wasn’t it? The Move, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and all those sorts of bands played there.  It’s been done up quite a bit since then of course.
I haven't seen it since they've done that, but I hear it's great. With the history of the place, I think that would be great, especially with the ultra-psychedelic presentation we are putting on at the moment. I saw many gigs there as well. I saw the Ramones play there in ’76. You know, that was so inspiring. I went down to see the Sex Pistols and The Clash at the 100 Club in ’76, the same year I saw the Ramones, and it was so simplistic, it was inspiring. Up until that point, it was daunting, the idea of being in a successful rock band, because it all got very musical. Punk was so refreshing, because you just needed these three chords, and a cheap guitar, and something to sing about to do with the life that you were actually living, rather than mythology. That really had a huge impact on me.  Bauhaus wouldn’t have existed without it.

OL: You're responsible for playing one of the best known three or four bass notes in rock on ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, which was also one of the first things Bauhaus recorded, and has inspired prospective bass players ever since as it showed you could do a lot with just a few notes. It’s an instantly recognisable intro, but has that overshadowed everything else that you've done since?  Do people know where ‘David J, ex-Bauhaus’ stops and David J as an independent artist starts?
I think that was the case for a while, but I think I have personally outgrown it. I’ve put out so many records, and been involved in bands that have put out so many records, that I think there are other stars in the stratosphere other than that very bright star that is ‘Bela Lugosi’. I'm really glad it exists, of course, because it has served me and the other three guys very well, and I'm proud of it. There's never been a time when we played it live when I didn't thoroughly enjoy playing it. Part of that was to do with the fact we wouldn't really rehearse it and it would always be different every time we played it.   There was an agreement that we would improvise to a degree.  It has a format, but then there are parts in it where we can go out there a bit, like a jazz thing, and then come back to the theme.  As a musician it is great to have that freedom to stretch, and the song allows one to do that.  It’s not just single notes in there either.  There is an octave involved too!

OL: Talking of stretching your mind, I wanted to ask you about your collaboration with Alan Moore, who is also from Northampton, in The Moon and The Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels. That was very ritualistic, and you talk also in your book ‘Who Killed Mr Moonlight’ about ritual magic and how that opened up some doors in your mind.
Absolutely. It was very expanding and expansive. Some of the doors that were opened, I would, in retrospect, choose to have kept closed, because you're never quite sure what's going to come through those portals, as I found out, and you put yourself into a very receptive mindset. You are very vulnerable in a way, when you get into that area of ritual magic. It's the ‘Chapel Perilous’ as Robert Anton Wilson said, and that is a real thing where you're very much teetering on the edge of a terrifying abyss at times, even though you might just be sitting in a living room with your mates. You are conjuring forth certain entities and you are inducing states of mind that can be can be quite dangerous. That's why I eventually pulled back from it.  I had to, because it's all too intense. It was getting very, very, intense and wild and you're a fool if you think you can rein those forces in. I think it's a very common mistake that a lot of magicians and would-be magicians make, [Aleister] Crowley being very much of that ilk, where they think that they can control the realms that they're dealing with and the forces that are in play, as they are the masters of that realm. Their ego comes into play, and the mistake they make is that they assume that they are the one who's whose power is being brought into play, but they're not, they're just a conduit. They should be very respectful of that fact. Alan and I only came to ritual magic with the intention of exploring and furthering our artistic output, and I think in that it was successful. We didn't want to become all-powerful high priests. That wasn't the intention. We were quite humble about it, and remain so.

OL: I guess in some ways, it's no different to people experimenting with drugs and psychedelics in order to gain inspiration, but some take it too far, and end up frying their brains or becoming addicted.
They're all tools, you know, and psychedelic drugs are certainly a tool. We did use psychedelic drugs when we were doing rituals. Magic mushrooms intensify the experience a thousandfold and also open up those doors that you were talking about, definitely. I've certainly always approached drugs with a degree of respect and as a sacrament. It's not like ‘party time!’. You respect it and if you come to it with that mindset, then what you get out of it is positive. There's always, especially with mushrooms, experiences where it gets very dark. I find death always comes into the picture, and again, that's that ‘Chapel Perilous’ thing where you have to go through and face this intense wave of darkness. If you see something that horrifies you don't push it away, and if you see something that is beautiful, you don't cling to it. You have to find this middle ground. In that, it's a great teacher. If you can learn to get into a Zen mindset, it facilitates that.

OL: If felt like your book had further to go, with a lot more stories to tell.  Is a second book planned?
There's a back burner with a little pot with some simmering activity going on! it's definitely percolating, and it's gonna go into the post-Bauhaus and, to a degree, Love and Rockets times, but also outside of that. The early ‘90s was an interesting time for me, and one where I kept journals, so there's a lot of diary entries and day book entries that I can draw on. You know, you're convinced that your memory is as it was, but then it can often be revealed that it was not. I'll give you an example. In my book, I mentioned about going to see The Clash. We actually went see the Sex Pistols. We didn't know The Clash were on because it was only their third gig, they were just the opening band. They came on and blew our minds, me, my brother, and everybody else who was there. Originally there were five members in The Clash, Keith Levine being one of them. When I wrote about it in my book, I could swear that Keith Levine was on that stage, but I found out later on he left just before. In my memory, Keith Levine was there, but now I realise that it's simply not true. That’s why keeping journals is important.

OL: You’ve been living in LA for a few years now.  Would you ever see yourself returning to the post Brexit gloom and depression of the UK to live?  I’m really not selling it here, am I?
Not really! I came back to London at Christmas for a holiday and had a wonderful time, I must say, and I did visit Northampton, primarily to go to the museum to see their ‘Punk in Northampton’ exhibition as I had some exhibits in there. I really enjoyed dipping in. I don't want to sound offensive, you know, like having a “cheap holiday in somebody else's misery”, to quote that line, but Brexit has done so much damage, as I knew it would. I can imagine living in Ireland though. Not that I've spent that much time there, but the time I have spent there I felt a connection with it. I'm part Irish on my mum's side and I think Ireland's always been a receptive place for artists.  I've got some friends out there, Gavin Friday being one of them in Dublin, so that's a possibility, and if Trump gets back in again, that becomes even more of a temptation.

OL: OK, let’s circle back to the new box set. You’ve got a few US dates coming up to promote that, including an ‘Audience with...’ event. Are you going to play any tracks from the demos?
I'm going to start the set with just myself solo with an acoustic guitar, playing three or four songs from that, and then I'll be joined by a bassist and a keyboard player, and we will go on to explore the rest of the back catalogue history.

OL: Won’t it feel weird though, playing songs all these years later that you last played as a demo at home?
It will, because all those songs, I only played them that one time. I didn't pursue those songs, not because they weren't good enough (although in some instances, that was the case!), but because I got distracted with other songs.  I tend to be prolific and I sort of forgot them and they just sat there. A lot of them I cannot relate to now, as I don't really have a memory of doing them and I don't know what those songs are about. I mean, some of them are pretty damned abstract! I was very into keeping a dream journal, and I was into surrealism, so some of those lyrics, they're very, very out there and I don't relate to them now. They're cute though, and they are interesting as curiosity pieces. Others I do relate to, and actually I'm planning, once this tour is done, to go into the studio and record six of those songs with a full band, and have them fully realised. I'm looking forward to doing that and then bringing out an EP of those tracks. Some of the first ones are from 1984 when Bauhaus had just ended and they go all the way up to 2004, which is when I switched to recording all my demos on my phone. It's a fantastic tool, because I can then just send the demo to wherever in the world, and have somebody in Germany or somebody in London listen, and come up with ideas, and we collaborate in that way.  The way I respond to losing friends, or someone who's impacted on my life, is that I will write a song. I wrote a song for Pat [Fish, the Jazz Butcher], the day after he passed. My idea was to have musicians who had collaborated with Pat in the past play on this song. I went to a studio, recorded a very basic track with just me and acoustic guitar, sent that to them, and they recorded their bit and then sent it back to me. It became this wonderful present for Pat.  Dave Barker [Glass Records supremo] put it out as a single on Glass Records and all the money went to Pat’s favourite charity, Cat Rescue.  That's just an example of using that technology, and it all happened very quickly.

OL: I always ask about the rapid pace of technology and the impact of artificial intelligence. Technology has always driven musical innovation, but how do you feel about AI? Do you think it's going to drive innovation? Or is it going to potentially harm creativity?
I think it's very double edged.  It's like any tool, it's how you use it, but it's double edged in the extreme because it can be potentially so impacting.   It's gonna be really interesting to see where it leads.  I find it very exciting, as the potential of it, if used in the right way, could be a wonderful thing.  However, I'm aware also of the negative side of it, and the kind of dystopian sci-fi that could become a reality, the Black Mirror side of the coin. I'm just watching it with fascination and a degree of concern, but also a degree of excitement. I'm definitely leaning towards embracing it, and trying not to be freaked out by it. I have used AI to create some images on my Patreon site.  I have been doing these pieces of late that are dream transcriptions. I write them down and put music to them, possibly just by myself, or with other collaborators. They're quite effective, but for the images to go with these pieces, I use some AI tech and describe the dream in detail, and the style of the of the image I want. Wood cuts, I find are effective. I've been really delighted by what comes back. A lot of the AI film clips that I see online, they're very descriptive of the subconscious. To me, they're the closest thing to having a real window into the dream state, more than anything I've ever seen. They're quite disturbing, some of these clips, and I've also found that since this has come onto the scene, my dreams have been influenced by AI. The imagery, the tone, and the atmosphere of my dreams are very influenced by AI. I'm sure I'm not alone. I'm sure this is happening on a universal level. That's really intriguing.

OL: As AI has no filter of what it regards as musical or not, or any particular musical tastes, potentially it will come up with completely new sounds and new musical styles we have never heard before.  That’ll be fascinating.  On that note, lets wrap this up.  Thanks for all your time today and good luck with the tour and new release.
Thanks. Good to talk.

Essential Information:
Main image by Julia Sinelnikova
Tracks From The Attic is available May 3rd on Independent Project Records from all the usual online and physical record stores, streaming services, and at Independent Projects Records shop, here→

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.

about Alan Rider »»

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