Kick in the Eye: David J on the visual art of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets
Undead. Undead. Undead.
A refrain that would launch a new genre. Formed around David J. Haskin's plunging, dub-inspired bass line, Peter Murphy's sepulchral vocals and Daniel Ash's jagged guitar, upon its debut in 1979, Bauhaus's landmark single, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" earned the band mythic status as the "Godfathers of Goth." If early fans might have dismissed them as a novelty act, the band quickly disabused them of that notion. Using similar imagery to underpin a theatrical, and often danceable catalog of songs, Bauhaus's ensuing singles and albums were all, stylistically speaking, considerably different from one another.
Although counterparts like Joy Division and The Cure were simultaneously exploring the gloomy corners of the post-punk landscape, it was Bauhaus's striking and perfectly conceived visual aesthetic that set the standard for the look of the goth movement and inspired a multitude of imitators. Much of the focus landed on the band's provocative frontman, Peter Murphy, and the familiar Bowie-Ronson-style interplay between him and guitarist Daniel Ash. But it was bassist David J – remote and often obscured by a pair of dark glasses - who, from the moment he penned the lyrics to "Bela," acted as a guiding force for the band's musical style and image.
As recollected in his 2014 memoir, Who Killed Mister Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction, Haskins was a trained graphic designer with an affinity for underground music and the paranormal. Behind the scenes, he pulled inspiration from an enormous range of obscure influences: Dada, noir, and fantasy fiction were among the many references Haskins sought to incorporate into the look of the band for its graphics, live performances, and music videos. Along with Ash, he designed a number of evocative single sleeves and album covers, all of which reflected the evolution of the group's output.
After the dissolution of the band, Haskins went on to form Love and Rockets with Ash and his brother, drummer Kevin Haskins. Love and Rockets again demonstrated the trio's instincts for taking alternative music into fresh and unexpected territory. The group's early pop-leaning, neo-psychedelic sound and bold, clean graphics resonated with both the Bauhaus fanbase and a new, mostly American audience, leading to broader commercial success in the States.
Over the last thirty-five years, Haskins has also racked up an astonishing number of other releases, both as a solo act and via several collaborations. Much to the delight of his fans, he has recently reinvented himself as a traveling troubadour, routinely playing intimate gatherings known as Living Room shows in a select group of cities across the country. Tales from these adventures appear in his latest solo album, the mesmerizing Vagabond Songs.
Just before his recent visit to Atlanta, Haskins was kind enough to help me trace the history behind some of the Bauhaus and Love and Rockets visual art.
LK: Let’s first talk about the fact that you are from a tradition in which many musicians attended art school, so you have that background. Was that a backup plan, or did you see yourself as potentially becoming a commercial artist? Or fine artist, even?
DJH: It was a bit of both because I really did want to be a professional musician, but I also wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be a visual artist before I wanted to be a musician, so that was always there. In England at that time in the seventies, we had what they call a careers officer. You would have this appointment with him and your parents and they would discuss the possibility of gainful employment. I was asked what, ideally, I would want to be. I said, “I want to be a rock musician.” This was kind of sniffed at by everyone in the room, my parents included. They were just being realistic and looking after me. The chances of making it in that area were quite remote. I was always very good at art, so it seemed like a sensible suggestion to send me on to art school with the rest of the misfits. I was very happy to go there, I loved it.
LK: Did you graduate? Or did your musical career take off before you were able to finish?
DJH: I did graduate. I did three years there. And in the moment, depending on your perception - either due to complete insanity or inspired rebellion - I set fire to my diploma upon receiving it because I thought it was actually bullshit.
LK: Was that your first ritual?
DJH: You know what, it was not consciously a magical ritual, but in retrospect I believe it was.
LK: You worked as a graphic artist, altering registered sports logos as a way to subvert trademark regulations for the merchandise your employer sold. Did that in any way spark the idea to later appropriate the Weimar school’s Bauhaus logo?
DJH: No, it did not. Although I was employed as a bootlegger graphic artist. The company specialized in promotional merchandise for football teams - or soccer, as you would say in America - which was really big in England at that time in the seventies. I was designing logos for pennants, scarves and t-shirts. Things like that. I would be given the logo from the official merchandise and would slightly change it so that it was not exactly the same. This was a way of avoiding lawsuits. It was plagiarized, but in a subtle way. At a glance it looked like the official thing. It was a bit dodgy, to tell you the truth.
LK: Had Bauhaus started by that time? DJH: No. The group that was going at the time was a punk band called The Submerged 10th. In that band was my brother, Kevin, on drums. Daniel came in as the guitarist later. He never actually played with that lineup, but it was one of many bands where that nucleus was there: myself, Daniel and Kevin.
Oskar Schlemmer, Bauhaus Logo, 1922 and cover art for Bauhaus - 1979-83 Volumes One and Two (Beggars Banquet, 1986)
LK: Can you tell me specifically what drew you to the Bauhaus name and the logo? Was it simply the name and design itself, or the larger ideas of the art school and its philosophies?
DJH: The music we were doing when we first started was very stripped down. It was very stark and minimalist. I thought there was some resonance with the Bauhaus ideology, with respect to form and minimalism. It’s ironic because it’s the opposite of what is considered Gothic in architecture! But it just felt right. I had this book, Bauhaus 1919, referring to the year that the Bauhaus started in Weimar, so that was the original name of the band: Bauhaus 1919. When I suggested it, everybody instantly said, “Yeah! That’s great.” Then we appropriated the Bauhaus face insignia. We just took it.
LK: Didn’t you get a cease and desist letter?
DJH: We got a letter just after the Berlin wall coming down and it was pretty scary. It had four very long German-Jewish names at the top of it and contained all this very serious language. It was like they were coming after us. And yeah, we had no right to the name, or especially the image of the face logo, so we thought, “Well, let’s ignore it. Hopefully it will go away.” Fortunately, it did. I think they were just chancing it in the wake of perestroika really.
LK: Could you ever have envisioned years later that both would have a double meaning? To a certain group of people, the name and logo will always bring to mind the school and the movement, to another it will always represent the band.
DJH: Yes, because I always had a strong belief that the band would make a mark, but it’s funny how the larger group is now the latter group.
Front and back cover art for Bauhaus – "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (Small Wonder, 1979). Design by David J.
LK: True. You designed the artwork for the debut single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” The cover image comes from the 1926 silent film, D.W. Griffith’s The Sorrows of Satan. I think it’s the scene in which the main character, Tempest, is backing away from Satan, but you see a shadow surround him.
DJH: Yeah, the shadow of Satan’s wings on the wall.
LK: Was using an image of Bela Lugosi himself too obvious?
DJH: Yes, I wanted it to be more oblique. I designed the front and back cover of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” I’ll give you a little inside information on the front cover of “Bela.” It wasn’t just photograph. I had a book on German Expressionist cinema and I took that image from it and photocopied it. Then I sprayed the Xerox copy with fixative so if you look at it, it looks distressed. It gave it an interesting texture. It’s not like just taking a photograph, it’s treating it. Where the fixative intensifies the image, it makes it more dense. It was intentionally splattered a bit, so part of the image is a little more opaque.
The back is an image taken from the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I was really into German Expressionist cinema at the time. It was something I brought to the band that we tapped into with our own imagery and lighting when we played live.
Inspiration: Stills from D.W. Griffith’s The Sorrows of Satan (1926) and Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
LK: You see the Caligari reference often, especially in a video like “Telegram Sam.” Maybe even a touch later when you did the “Candy on the Cross” video, you see a that starkness and shadowplay again.
DJH: “Candy on the Cross” is influenced by film noir. Directed by the brilliant Mitch Jenkins. But a lot of those German Expressionist directors were fleeing from Germany when the Nazis came in, and they became the seminal directors of film noir. The video for “Mask” was very much influenced by German Expressionism.
LK: Where did you film “Mask”? It’s an unsettling video. The part where you turn, and you’ve made up your face to look distorted…
DJH: It was a derelict warehouse that was due for demolition and it was really dangerous. It was also situated directly opposite the police station in Northampton. We broke in at night. We powered all the lights with car batteries. We were charging them up while we were sleeping on the floor of a friend’s flat.
LK: Was that set up by Graham Bentley, the guy who designed and ran the lighting for your live shows?
DJH: No, but it was similar sort of aesthetic. It was the director and his assistants. And we brought in our own ideas. It was all white lighting. We had to charge those lights for a few hours and then we would film as long as the lights stayed on. They were breaking down continually. It was freezing cold, and it was always dripping from the ceiling. The building was also literally crumbling. That was the first location and then we wanted to find a forest and film in the woods. We went outside of town into the countryside and climbed over this wall. We didn’t realize that it was the Spencer Estate. I think Diana was home at the time, so not only were we trespassing, but we were also a threat the security of the monarchy!
Video for Bauhaus "Mask" single (1981)
LK: And Bauhaus was coming up right at the beginning of the music video era.
DJH: We were very familiar with it because of the aforementioned Mr. Bentley. Graham was one of the first people in England to have video camera, which was this huge piece of gear back then.
LK: How did you make that connection? Was he following the band, or did you know him before?
DJH: He was Daniel’s dad’s accountant. He was very in tune with what was happening on the forefront of underground music, and he had a really good ear. He was interested to learn that Daniel had a band, so he came to see us. I think we were rehearsing. He thought it was very visually arresting and he got this camera and said, “Can I film you?” And we said, “Yeah, sure!”
This was 1979. He followed us around to gigs, so he’s got all this footage. We would very much like to one day get ahold of it and put something together, whether it’s a film, a documentary or just some representation. But he holds his footage to him for dear life, so it’s a bit of a tricky situation. He claims to own the footage, but he doesn’t own the content and it’s a bit of a standoff. I hope one day we can come to an agreement. He’s got some incredible footage.
LK: I’m sure! How would you typically come up with the concept for a video and plan it out? Were you able to do this pretty economically? You’ve mentioned filming the “Spirit” video was an ordeal.
DJH: We’d have a meeting with the director, start pitching ideas and keep playing the track. The director would go away and put a storyboard together and present it to us. Then we’d tweak it, but we’d always leave room for improvisation and the spontaneity on the day of the shoot.
But, yeah. Next to nothing, on a shoestring budget. I think the best things come from that. You have to stretch your imagination. Now see, you mentioned “Spirit.” By that time, we had some money and our label kicked in some money as well. It was the same directorial team from “Mask,” which we loved. And yet, when you throw money at these guys, they start to get slick ideas. Our original idea for the “Spirit” video was that it would basically be a performance video. We’d be on a stage and then this entity…the idea of the spirit was that it was a spirit of inspiration that is summoned collectively by the band. We wanted to depict that as a sort of athletic Nijinsky-like figure. He was invisible to us but was with us. And he would lift Peter up, and then the stage would become engulfed in flames. We would also have other magical elements, so all of the elements were included referentially: fire, water, air, earth.
Video for Bauhaus - "Spirit" single (1982)
LK: So, what happened?
DJH: What happened is the guys had their own idea and they said, “Please trust us on this.” We were touring a lot, so we didn’t have much time. We were there for a day. When we turned up there were all these clowns and jugglers and circus people, and it was like, “What’s going on?”
LK: Were they trying to lighten up your image or something?
DJH: No, they just had their own concept, which was about spirits who haunt a theater, you know? It’s not a bad idea but wasn’t our idea. We had left them to it and went off on tour. Then we saw the end result and really didn’t like it. Beggar’s Banquet had blown their budget on it. So, we said, “Okay, then we’re going to pitch in our own money to re-edit it. Somehow, we’re going to change this and make it more to our liking.” That’s what we did, and so there were two versions. When it was released, there was this whole thing with the video jukeboxes that were in all the pubs in England. We went into a pub and put on our own video for “Spirit” and it’s the wrong one! They used the wrong one! Not the one that we had edited and was, in our opinion, better. It was really frustrating.
LK: Before you used the references in the artwork and music videos, how were you accessing classic horror and German Expressionist films? Were you watching them on late night television, or going to revival houses? Do you recall?
DJH: They were hard to see back then. I was in a film club in art school and they would screen 16 mm films. Pretty obscure films. That’s how I discovered them. You could also go to see them in these art-house cum porno cinemas in Soho. This was a deliciously seedy part of town where they sold illicit pornography. But they also sold stuff like William Burroughs novels and that kind of thing.
LK: That must have been heaven for you at that age.
DJH: Yeah. There was also this kind of edgy experience of entering into these dens of iniquity.
LK: Did Daniel or Peter ever go with you? You talked in the book about how, due to attending Catholic school, they could be a bit superstitious or apprehensive about watching horror films. It sounded like you were always intrigued by this sort of thing and had a bit more freedom.
DJH: No, these were solo ventures. Yeah, they did have that indoctrination. They were made to feel like it was very dark and dangerous stuff. The most innocuous horror films were perceived to be very naughty and going against God, you know? It goes way, way back. I was just a curious little weirdo kid and fascinated by the supernatural. One the first books I read was Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe, and I also read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. That was another early literary love of mine. I was intrigued by the occult and the supernatural. As far as religious background was concerned, my mum was a lapsed Catholic. She was indoctrinated, and she would sometimes be possessed by the fear of God, but she wasn’t a practicing Catholic. My dad was pretty much Agnostic and later on Atheist. So, I didn’t have that guilt trip laid on me, eh, thank God!
LK: Talking about it now, this is interesting, because you were the more subdued, mysterious member of Bauhaus, while Daniel and Peter were more vampy and theatrical. But it was more your interest in phantasmagoria that influenced on the dark visual aspects of Bauhaus. Would you say that’s accurate?
DJH: (Adopts sonorous dramatic voice) Yes, I led into them into darkness! They tentatively followed. And a lot of the music I brought to the band was also more avant-garde and obscure. Things like Can, Krautrock and the Velvet Underground. I brought in the John Cale cover we did of “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores” and things like early Scott Walker…
LK: I can see the Walker influence in your work a lot, even outside of Bauhaus.
DJH: We once tried to do, or we were attempting – again, another idea I brought to the band - to do a cover of the Walker Brothers “The Electrician.” It’s an incredible track about a torturer. We tried to do a version of that, but it mutated into “Swing the Heartache.”
LK: I know that Walker Brothers song. You’re kidding me?!
DJH: That was the seed of that song. It just kind of became something else. It became our own thing.
Bauhaus – "Ziggy Stardust" single (Beggars Banquet, 1982). Cover design by David J.
LK: Speaking of cover songs, you created the “Ziggy Stardust” single sleeve. You weren’t sure whether the single would be a commercial success until you merged the Bauhaus logo with the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt graphic.
DJH: It was an epiphany when I put those two elements together. It was like, “Oh my god, this is so great and it’s such a simple idea.” Seeing it, I thought, “This is going to be a hit.” Listening to it, I wasn’t at all sure. Daniel thought so, but when I saw the image I thought, “This aligns with the track, this is going to be a hit!”
LK: Did you enjoy making those covers? Single sleeves from that era were really exciting and inventive.
DJH: Absolutely, yeah. That was something that came out of the whole DIY punk scene, making your own fliers and Xeroxes with lettreset. Cut and paste. It was all part of it.
Three Bauhaus singles: "Dark Entries" (4AD, 1980), "She's in Parties" (Beggars Banquet, 1983) and "Lagartija Nick" (Beggars Banquet, 1982)
LK: A lot of bands during that period were using both the chaotic DIY design style you talk about, but then also incorporating fine art into the some of the sleeves. Paul Delvaux’s Sleeping Venus on the front of the “Dark Entries” single is a good example of that.
DJH: Dada came into play a lot. That kind of aesthetic resonated with punk and post-punk.
LK: Let’s talk about some albums. You and Daniel basically designed the Bauhaus album covers.
DJH: It was an equal opportunity situation. Anybody could have come up with a design for them, and anybody was welcome to. It’s just that we were compelled more than the other two. Kevin went to art school and Peter is a pretty accomplished artist, although he didn’t go to art school. But he didn’t need to. But yeah, Daniel and I were the ones who happened to come up with the covers.
LK: Was there something in your mind from the beginning, or did you wait until you were pretty much wrapping up the album before you even start to consider it?
DJH: With all of the Bauhaus albums, the designs came together while we were making the music. I think that’s pretty important because it’s coming from the same time and inspiration. You know, what’s going into the music, so it’s all part and parcel of it.
LK: Are there any album covers from your youth you can point to as influential?
DJH: Yeah, the first Velvet Underground with Warhol’s banana on the white background is iconic, for sure. The Aladdin Sane cover with the lighting flash graphic that was to be appropriated was a big one. I love the Beatle’s Revolver. That’s my favorite Beatles album and I love that cover. Klaus Vormann’s line drawing with the collage elements. I discovered Krautrock when I went into a secondhand record store and I saw a copy of The Faust Tapes, which has an Op Art cover. It sort of makes your eyeballs turn somersaults looking at it. It’s like this shimmery black and white. I didn’t know who Faust were, and hadn’t yet discovered Can, but that was my entrée into that whole genre.
Front cover of Bauhaus - In the Flat Field (4AD, 1980) designed by David J. and Homage to Puvis de Chavannes, 1949 by Duane Michals.
LK: Your debut, In the Flat Field, features Duane Michals’s Homage to Puvis de Chavannes. When you picked up that postcard in Brussels, were you already aware of him as a photographer? He’s American and I don’t know how well-known he was in Europe.
DJH: No, I wasn’t. I just liked the image.
LK: What was it about the image that struck you? You were taken by surprise later by the controversy over the cover art.
DJH: It was mysterious. There was something sort of mythic about it. And it was beautiful. It just connected with me and with my concept of where the band was at the time. I just went with it. I suppose it’s strange, but I didn’t think that, “This is a photograph of…” like, it’s pretty much a full-frontal male nude!
Gatefold cover art for Bauhaus - Mask (Beggars Banquet, 1981). Illustration by Daniel Ash.
LK: But it looks like a classical sculpture. The cover art for the second album Mask is such a departure. Daniel created the illustration for the Mask gatefold. Do you recall when you first saw it? Was it in a sketchbook?
DJH: He was always drawing weird characters. It was in a big sketchbook. He didn’t do it intending for it to be the cover. He was making drawings like that all the time. I think he just did that one, and it was at the time when we were near to completion on the album. He said, “What about this for the cover?” and we just all went, “Yeah!” Because there’s four characters, and people could associate each character with a member of the band. In an abstract way. The music was very different, as well, compared to the first album. Much more rhythmic. There was an evolution there that was very extreme.
LK: Over the years some of these characters popped up again and again. People say the first depiction of a Bubbleman was on the inner sleeve of Burning from the Inside. But the little figure with the antennae that’s kind of peeking over the main figure on the Mask cover - that might be the first Bubbleman.
DJH: It was!
Cover art for The Bubblemen - "The Bubblemen Are Coming!" single (Beggars Banquet, 1988)
and excerpt from comic created by Hunt Emerson.
LK: Can you give me any insight into The Bubblemen characters? They endured through Love and Rockets and you still see them show up in different variations in Daniel’s artwork.
DJH: These are all the result of Daniel’s fevered imagination. They are plucked from the depths of his subconscious. That’s how he is when he’s drawing. He doesn’t set out with an idea or anything. He starts drawing and the characters emerge, and that was one particular character that stayed around and evolved to a degree. Then he came up with that whole kind of mythology and ideology about them. They are these enlightened beings from outer space, or from a parallel dimension, and they are very sort of Zen-like. They are using humor to enlighten. They’re kind of holy clowns.
When were on tour once in Arizona and I stopped by this store that was selling Native American art. A lot of Hopi artifacts, including these Kachina dolls that represent different spirits. And there was one that looked like an elongated Bubbleman with black and white stripes, and even the antennae and the big round eyes. I was intrigued by this and I did some research on it. I found out that this one is actually the oldest, most ancient of the deities and it is exactly Daniel’s perception of the Bubbleman, which is a holy fool.
LK: No way. What did he say?
DJH: He was kind of blown away by it. He wasn’t aware of it, so I think we were tapping into some kind of universal archetype there. That’s exactly how he had perceived these characters, and they go back thousands of years in this other culture. I started collecting them. That was really interesting.
Front cover and inner sleeve for Bauhaus - The Sky's Gone Out (Beggars Banquet, 1982). Painting by Daniel Ash. Photos by Fin Costello.
LK: For The Sky’s Gone Out, did he intend to create something that reflected the title? You described it as a “Cyclopean eye of a nihilistic god staring down at a doomed human race.”
DJH: That was Daniel painting from his subconscious again. It looks like a solar eclipse. It suggested something apocalyptic to me.
LK: For the inner sleeve, was that the first time the band had been shot by Fin Costello?
DJH: Yes, I think it was. We loved those photographs because they are very film noir. That was his interpretation of the aesthetic of the band and he got it spot on.
LK: Love and Rockets brought him back to shoot the cover for Earth, Sun, Moon. Before that, was it a conscious decision never to use an image of the band on the front cover?
DJH: Yeah. It’s too obvious. I mean, on the first album I liked the idea of those photos we used. They are kind of obscure, but mysterious. Bauhaus was a pretty amazing looking group. Very photogenic. And to have those photos that are just sort of blurred and out of focus and kind of ugly was appealing to us. To have that kind of imagery while making music that was pretty angular and avant-garde, and looking like we looked, it’s very perverse. We were imps of the perverse.
Front cover of Bauhaus - Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape (Beggars Banquet, 1982) and additional live shots by Eugene Merinov.
LK: Eugene Merinov shot the image of Peter that appears on Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape. Was that at The Ritz in New York?
DJH: No, it was at a tiny club called Tier 3.
LK: Had that been planned in advance? That’s the closest you guys came to having a band member on the cover.
DJH: Peter looking through the eye of the cymbal, so he’s completely obscured. Yeah, we knew he was shooting and he sent us a bunch of test sheets. He put a ring around the ones he thought were good and we agreed with his choices.
Front cover of Bauhaus - Burning from the Inside (Beggars Banquet, 1983) designed by David J.
Inner sleeve collage designed by Bauhaus.
LK: The artwork for Burning from the Inside is credited to the entire band, so I’m not clear on the origin of that image. I know it’s a cut-up from an original image.
DJH: I did the front cover. It was a photograph taken out of a magazine, I just cut it up with a razor. It’s sort of a volcanic scene like from a natural history book. It’s attributed to the whole band because of the collage on the inside with all the lyrics and sketches. We had that pinned up in the studio and every day would add little bits to it. Then we realized, “Oh this should be part of the artwork.” It was massive. It had to be photographed from a distance with a special camera. Each one of those lyric sheets is like full scale so it practically took up a whole wall in the studio.
Front cover art for Love And Rockets – Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven (Beggars Banquet, 1985) and Express (Beggars Banquet, 1986).
Design by Love and Rockets.
LK: When you guys moved on to Love and Rockets, you simplified things, in a way.
DJH: All we simplified was that the front cover would feature our logo. We purposely designed a logo… the idea was to come up with something that was as memorable as something like Volkswagen or the BMW car logo. We wanted it to look sort of industrial, sort of corporate. Very graphic and immediately representative of the name.
LK: I was thinking more in terms of like The Who or the Stones. Not the bands themselves, but that tradition of a group having an identifiable logo. But that makes more sense. Did you design it?
DJH: We all designed it. All three of us putting our heads together.
LK: It’s brilliant in its simplicity. You had two immensely successful, recognizable logos.
DJH: Those three years at art school paid off! There were variations. It was a great basic design you could toy with and tweak. Change the colors, or change it in a subtle way, but it was still always basically the same thing. It’s that stamp. A brand. Yeah, we simplified the front covers, but then the rest of the artwork was more elaborate and rather psychedelic, and more complex than Bauhaus, actually. Think of that collage we all made for the gatefold for Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven.
Interior gatefold artwork for Love And Rockets - Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven (Beggars Banquet, 1985). Design by Love and Rockets.
LK: It’s surrealist…a little disorienting. How did you collaborate?
DJH: We started it in the studio and we all added little bits. I did most of that, to be honest. We finished it round Daniel’s house when I was tripping on LSD and put the finishing touches on it. The monkey pouring the elixir into the cup held by the hand that’s coming out of the box and inside the box is outer space. I mean, yeah…I thought that was the meaning of life when I did that. And maybe it is… ha!
LK: I was looking at the history of Earth, Sun, Moon and wondering if, due to the distro deal with BMG/Bigtime, was there pressure from the record company to feature the band’s image on the cover? You guys were on the cusp of MTV darling status then. Did they want to capitalize on it?
DJH: No, we never had any pressure in as far as the visual content. There was a little bit of a lean when it came to the music, but only from RCA. When we signed to RCA in the States and we made the Hot Trip to Heaven album, they just could not get their heads around that. Because they wanted us to be the next big stadium band and to make a big rock record with loads of guitars. And there’s hardly any guitars on there at all.
Cover art for Love and Rockets - Earth Sun Moon (Beggars Banquet/Big Time, 1987). Photo by Fin Costello and
Hot Trip To Heaven (Beggars Banquet/American Recordings, 1994). Design by Love and Rockets.
LK: It doesn’t seem like they’d look at the band’s roots and trajectory and think “stadium band” was going to be your next move.
DJH: Well, no, it was because we had just had a big hit with “So Alive.” But “So Alive” is not representative of that album.
LK: “No Big Deal” did pretty well, right?
DJH: Yeah, but not as well as “So Alive.” It’s a more rock sound. They wanted more of that: guitars and melodies and singles. And we’d come up with thirteen-minute expanded, proto-electronica… and it was like, “What is this?” But Rick Rubin got it. He loved it, and so we signed to his American Recordings label. This is interesting. He wanted to put Hot Trip out as a white label, in a white sleeve with no information whatsoever. Just give it to DJs and get a buzz going. The idea being that there would be a buzz, and nobody would know who it was. But then they would find out. And “Surprise, surprise. It’s Love and Rockets!” But we were so proud of that record. We thought that if that worked, great, but if it doesn’t, people wouldn’t even know we’d made this giant leap into the unknown. We were proud of doing that. It took some guts, because we knew it was pretty much potential commercial suicide. It was making a stance and we wanted it to be known. It was a clever idea of Rick’s, though.
Front and back cover art for Love and Rockets - Sweet F.A. (Beggars Banquet/American Recordings, 1996). Design by Love and Rockets.
LK: Sweet FA has a really interesting story behind the cover. You were staying at Rick Rubin’s house with Genesis P-Orridge and some others when it caught fire. And Daniel’s burnt guitar is featured on the front and back cover. There were some stories in the book about a voodoo doll in the house that Genesis performed a ritual with or had a dream about or both. I can’t quite describe it…readers will have to check the out the book. I don’t want to say you were dabbling in black magick then. How would you describe….
DJH: Exploring. And never ‘black magick’, ‘off-white’ maybe!
LK: Exploring, okay. Did you have any reservations about putting that image on the album cover? The idea that it could in any way bring bad…
LK: Yes! Bad juju to the record.
DJH: That image / object was totemic to us. It symbolized a phoenix-like ascension. Coming through that experience really did toughen up the band. I’ve seen films of our live gigs after that and we’ve got such an edge to us that we didn’t have before. It was coming through all of that intense experience and surviving. That burnt guitar was symbolic for us. To just carry on and be stronger.
LK: One last bit on the Love and Rockets cover art. The “Lazy” single features that picture of engineer Derek Tompkins, who very important to both bands. Given your history with him, that was a nice tribute to him.
DJH: Yeah, it was an absolute tribute to Derek. We loved that photograph, which was taken in the 1930’s when he was a young man. He was about the age that we were we made the record. He’s in his twenties and looking rather foppish and dandy. Very whimsical, so we thought it was apropos.
LK: Was he happy to see it? He sounded like the most darling man.
DJH: He was very touched. He was. He was a wonderful man. I loved him.
Cover of Love and Rockets – "Lazy" single (Beggars Banquet, 1988). Photo of Derek Tompkins by Mavis Tompkins.
LK: You’re set to perform one of your Living Room shows in Atlanta on March 1st. Is this your fourth visit to Atlanta? How did this whole thing start?
DJH: I believe it is. I really was on the verge of packing it in as far as playing live in clubs was concerned because it was just really kind of soul destroying. You know you have to play real late and just the smell of those places – the whole damn tired business. I was over it. The first Living Room show was through a Kickstarter campaign, it was one of the prizes and then it presented itself as a beautiful alternative way of going about things. I’ve maintained it and built up a circuit, and one of the main ports of call, I would say, has become Atlanta.
LK: You’ve described some of the Love and Rockets touring as a grind, because you were going from hotel to soundcheck, to hotel to gig, and to the hotel again. When you put it in those terms, it takes all the glamour out of it.
DJH: It’s very ironic because you’re getting this adulation. You get this kind of intense love, and then you go back to a room that’s just like the room you were in the night before, and the night before, and the night before, on your own. Then you have to get up and go to an airport that’s like the last airport and then get in a car. You don’t have much time off to go out and explore places. So now what I’m doing…now I love it.
LK: It’s got to be special for people in different cities to see you collaborate with local musicians they know. In Atlanta you’ll play with James Hall, who’s been a beloved figure in the community for years, but every city has its own unique artists.
DJH: Yeah, I love doing that and it makes it a one-off. It keeps the music fresh for me because it has a different context when you bring on another player. They bring their own characteristics and it keeps it all alive. That’s another part of this whole joy of doing these kind of spontaneous, troubadour-type shows.
LK: It feels like these experiences inspired your new record, Vagabond Songs.
DJH: Yeah, rolling through towns and having experiences and encounters and meeting different characters. And then rolling on and writing a song. All these songs are usually written immediately after having had an experience, and usually recorded pretty quickly after that, and if I can work it in, I record on the road.
LK: It doesn’t sound like it was recorded on the road. It’s quiet, but lush. Is that mixing?
DJH: It’s being fortunate enough to have really good musicians available at the drop of a hat. And then it’s mixing and using your ears. They’re recorded with a certain spontaneity. And also, because the musicians are so good. It’s usually the first or second take. Sometimes they don’t even hear the song until they turn up, but they’re that good. Sometimes it’s just me. Whatever the song suggests it needs.
LK: It’s a special treat to listen to this album and recognize songs that I’ve heard before at one of these gigs. I’ve seen you tell stories around each song as you go through the setlist. You make it very memorable.
DJH: When I put that together, I try to base it around some little narrative. There are links between the songs, and so it is like a little journey.
LK: I subscribe to your Patreon account. It’s almost a virtual version of what you do on the Living Room tours. You are able to post stories or thoughts along with whatever rare or new track you make available to the members. It’s a cool platform.
DJH: It’s also a very good outlet for me because I’ve been stockpiling songs for years and years and these have never been released to the public. I only release them exclusively to the members of Patreon right now. Eventually, I’m going to put together a compilation of some of these tracks. They’re from cassettes that have been in storage for years.
LK: Is the guy in Budapest still working with you on your archives?
DJH: That’s right! Gabor in Budapest, yes. He volunteered to do this. I said, “Do you realize what you’re taking on? Do you realize the crazy endeavor that you’re about to embark on?” And he wholeheartedly dived into the abyss, bless him! There’s like hundreds of hours of tapes I sent him. They were all in boxes in my storage unit for decades. Boxes and boxes and I shipped them all to him in Hungary.
LK: From as far back as when?
DJH: 1979. And then he sends me these files.
LK: How is it coming along?
DJH: Great, but it is kind of overwhelming to get it sent back to me. I’m intrigued by these tracks. I can’t even remember writing some of these songs!
LK: What is the current state of the Peter Murphy’s San Francisco residency? You were going to play a few dates with Peter in January and then he had some problems with his visa.
DJH: The dates have been moved to June and July. The Bauhaus dates will be the first dates at the end of June, and I’m playing all three nights. We’re getting offers to play big festivals, especially in Europe that we’re seriously considering, so there might be more dates. But at the moment it’s just the three nights. He’s very frustrated because it really was completely out of his hands. He applied for the visa months ago so he’s particularly distraught but also somewhat fatalistic about it. But the band is really great. I was rehearsing with them for a couple days in LA.
LK: How did he feel about how he was portrayed in your book? Did you guys have to mend your relationship? I was surprised that you were joining him.
DJH: So was I! He approached me. And it was really out of the blue. He wanted me to play the whole run and all the albums, you know, his solo albums, too. Anyway, he tells me he hasn’t read the book. Reconnecting with him has been very reconciliatory. These conversations that we’ve had have been very frank and his attitude is very different from how he’s been in the past. Very humble, balanced, dignified. It’s been great. Even if I was never to play any gigs with him, just having had these conversations has been very good thing. In my first conversation with him we were being very genial with each other and I said, “Peter there’s an elephant in the room here.” And he said, “What elephant?” and I said, “We have to talk about how we ended, which was bitter and acrimonious.” He said, “Well, you tell me why.” And I told him, and he took it. He was somewhat astonished and horrified by my descriptions of events, like I was taking about somebody else. He took it on the chin and with a good heart. He really seemed like he has gone through some big positive change.
LK: So many times, bands reunite, without discussing what broke them up in the first place.
DJH: And it festers. I am all for bringing things out into the light as evident in the book. I’ve upset Daniel, and I’ve offended my brother over what I think are really innocuous things but different people have different buttons, but my relationship with Kevin and Daniel also seems to be getting much better as well. I have recently been exchanging a pretty hilarious stream of text messages with Daniel. Many little emojies crying tears of laughter! They should make a Bubbleman emoji! That would be good!