How Motörhead Inspired 2 Former Goth Rockers To Reunite In The Form Of Poptone
Any rocker worth his or her salt has a good Lemmy story to tell.
Lemmy, of course, was the wild-living singer-bassist for the hard rocking Motörhead. A legend, a gruff but gregarious guy, a whiskey quaffer and amphetamine gobbler.
Singer-guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins — once part of Bauhaus and then Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets — have their own Lemmy stories. Haskins’ is humorous and anecdotal; Ash’s resulted in their new band, Poptone, coming to fruition.
Haskins recalls his first encounter with Lemmy in London in the late ‘70s.
“One time in the early days of Bauhaus we got off stage and Lemmy was in our dressing room,” says Haskins, on the phone from the Catskills. “He was spraying MOTORHEAD on the walls with a spray can and he’s like, ‘Hi, guys, don’t mind me, I’ll be finished in a minute.’ ”
But Ash’s experience with Lemmy — who died in 2015 — was more of a “visitation,” says Haskins. “It was not exactly talking to Lemmy directly, as in face to face,” Ash picks up, in a separate phone interview from Los Angeles. “I fell asleep with the headphones on about midnight, just watching YouTube stuff. I was listening to something like Brian Eno, something soothing. And I was woken up at 4 in the morning by ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead."
“The whole Eno package had finished while I was snoozing. I must have had it on pretty loud because ‘Ace of Spades’ completely jolted me and it put me in an instant really good mood. I’m not a massive Motorhead fan. I just knew the singles, to be honest, but I’ve met Lemmy a few times before and always gotten along with him. So, it was blasting at 4 in the morning and I had this realization. This is hilarious, that cliché about getting the band back together, it was very Spinal Tap I suppose but whatever. And I just thought ‘Am I drunk? What’s going on? I’ve not been wanting to do this for a decade.’ But this thing seemed completely right at that moment in time. Boom. Lemmy, the ‘Ace of Spades.’ Who would have thought that song would have gotten me back out on the road?”
Ash gave it a couple of days thought and still felt the same. So he rang up Haskins and broached the idea of creating Poptone. It was a go.
They needed a bassist and, after a few auditions, that turned out to be Haskins’ 30-year-old daughter, Diva Dompe. Eight weeks of rehearsal, four nights a week, and Poptone was hatched.
The band debuted in April in Los Angeles and plays the Paradise in Boston on Tuesday, Aug. 8. Their set will be weighted 70 percent toward Tones on Tail music, the rest consisting of Love and Rockets songs with one Bauhaus tune.
Bauhaus, which formed in Northampton, England, existed from 1978 to 1983. They drew from the Bowie-esque world of glam rock, but often wore a grim post-punk mask. There was a lot of torment in the music. As their name implied, Bauhaus favored starkness and cubic simplicity; the good times didn’t exactly roll. The term “goth” was attached to their sound, vision and image.
Ash hated the term then and still hates it now. “The media coined that phrase and I guess we’re inclined as human beings to pigeonhole or make categories for certain things, music and art,” he says. “It just happened we decided to wear black and our first single was about a vampire and we also drove around in a hearse for a while. So, you can understand being given that tag, but we always really felt we weren’t part of any movement, that it was placed upon us.”
Ash founded Tones on Tail as a solo project during the end of Bauhaus, with support from bassist Glenn Campling, and later brought Haskins aboard when Bauhaus folded. Back in 1984, after Tones on Tail played a Boston club gig, Ash, told me, of the split with Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy, "We got fed up with each other . . . we're not the best of friends." (Bauhaus did reunite for a tour in 1998 and then again in the mid-2000s.)
Tones on Tail meshed into Love and Rockets in 1985, with Campling exiting and Bauhaus bassist David J (Haskins brother) joining, giving them ¾ of Bauhaus lineup.
“Tones on Tails was a very otherworldly type of music,” says Haskins, “and I think if you listen to the first Love and Rockets album, ‘Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven,’ you can hear a segue-way from Tones on Tails. We evolved in our own way, and I guess it was more commercially accessible, more pop music and less underground if you like.”
Love and Rockets moved away from the harshness of Bauhaus into slightly glammy, but trippy psychedelia. Love and Rockets songs were lush and hypnotic, with a mix of long jams and shorter pop tunes. They scored a top five hit with “So Alive” in 1989.
“I remember when that came out,” Ash says, “and there was a bit of a backlash. A lot of people who liked the band thought we were selling out because it was a hit single. I love the idea of three-and-a-half-minute hit singles and I wish I had more of them. That whole elitist thing, that you’re selling out because you have commercial success, I’ve always really hated that attitude. It’s absolute nonsense.”
In forming Poptone, Ash says, he wanted to concentrate on the songs he’d written or sung. Hence, just one Bauhaus song, “Slight of Light,” is in their current lineup although they’re likely to play Love and Rockets cool cover version of the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” in Boston. As to the Love and Rockets material, he and J split the writing down the middle and he’s sticking with the ones that are his.
The primary idea, Ash says, was to bring the jagged, but bright and atmospheric dance music of Tones on Tail, which had only one brief U.S. tour, into the clubs of 2017.
Even with the restrictions Ash imposed, says Haskins, “there’s such a grand catalog of songs. When it came to the day of ‘Let’s put a set list together,’ we pretty much came up with it immediately. It takes the listener on a journey throughout all the bands and we mix it up. It has a great flow to it that works very well.”
“I want to take people to another place, spiritually, mentally, physically — the whole nine yards,” adds Ash. “David Bowie did that for me with the ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ album and him playing ‘Starman’ on [the British TV show] ‘Top of the Pops.’ It was from another place and that’s stayed with me. My original idea with Tones was I wanted music that sounded like it came from another planet.
“I’d do anything to get away from the humdrum of everyday life. I have no interest in politics. I’m interested in escapism, big time, and I don’t deny it. That’s what I feel my job is playing live, so that when you see and hear us, you’ll hopefully go somewhere else.”