Jun 2014 02

The living legend, Daniel Ash speaks with ReGen on the development of his latest album as he reinterprets his past work for the modern musical world.
Daniel Ash by Raygun

 

An InterView with Daniel Ash

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

While he’s perhaps most thought of as a pioneering guitarist in goth rock, Daniel Ash’s musical imprint has defied categorization as elements of everything from glam rock to post-punk to electronic dance have permeated throughout his 35-year-long career. Known primarily as an innovative guitarist, his skills as a vocalist, saxophonist, DJ, and producer have long been understated but undeniable as he’s carried on since the late ’70s as the main creative force behind Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets, before embarking on a varied solo career. It is here that he now makes some of the biggest and most progressive artistic strides with a PledgeMusic campaign for his upcoming new album, Stripped. Originally conceived as an acoustic covers album spanning his past oeuvre, the concept behind Stripped evolved to include reinterpretations of a more varied, more electronic nature, with the campaign affording his audience the opportunity to select which songs he would include on the album, as well as own Ash’s artwork and share in his love of motorcycles.
With the campaign now nearly complete and his funding goal nearing fruition, Daniel Ash speaks with ReGen on the development of Stripped and reflects on his career as a musician and artist, and lets us in on a few more surprises yet to come!

 

The first track you released from Stripped is the new version of ‘So Alive,’ on which you worked with John Fryer, who produced the original. How did you find working with him on this version? Was there any sort of clash of ideas on how to reinterpret the song?

Ash: Not at all. I said that I wanted to take an electronic route rather than an acoustic route, because the original idea for the whole album was to strip it down and do the songs acoustically, but then I thought that was really boring. I’ve always loved electronic music, so I discussed it with him and said that I’d love to go the electronic route with this track, and he said, ‘Well, I want to do a dubstep version,’ and I said ‘Perfect! Go for it.’ That was it. He’s in Europe, so he sent me over the backing track, which is influenced by dubstep, and I just laid down vocals and guitar over what he gave me and that was it. It took about two days; very quick.

The original is perhaps one of your best known songs; how do you feel this new version holds up?

Ash: I’m really surprised because I love the original. That was a very quick song to write – it took me literally a day to write it, and David and Kevin came in and played their parts, and we had it all finished in a day. Then we got the backing singers in on the second day and then produced it, so it was all done in two days to get it completely finished. This one was the same thing; it was instant, real quick. What he sent me, I loved it immediately; he gave me the track at about 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning, and stuff needs to be really good to sound good when you’ve just woken up, and I was really blown away by it. I called him and said right away, ‘This is fantastic, thank you!’ And then I went into the studio and put the vocals down and some guitar, and that was it.

 

 

One of the new songs featured on the campaign website, ‘Come On’ is also in a dubstep/EDM style, and many people still think of you as a guitarist.

Ash: They do completely, yeah. I think that’s all they think of me as, which is a little bit annoying sometimes because I just use the guitar as a means to an end; always have. I’m definitely not one of those guys who sits down and learns chords and practices ever. I’ve never done that. It’s just a piece of wood with strings attached to it. I loved guitars when I was a kid; I was fascinated by the look of an electric guitar. It was something from another planet to me. I remember seeing these things on TV and thinking, ‘Wow, those sounds come out of that beautiful looking thing.’ But when you’ve been playing for years, it’s just one element of a track, so if I don’t have to put guitar on a track, it’s not a problem at all for me. It’s always about the whole song. In fact, I love playing bass as much as guitar anyway. It’s just a completely different mindset, isn’t it? With guitar, most of the time, you have to have a real arrogance about you – especially when you’re doing a lead or something, because you have to cut through. I find that you have to be really arrogant; I do, anyway. You know, you have to get on top of the track and be really aggressive. But when you’re playing bass, especially a dub or reggae kind of bass line, it’s a completely different mindset. It’s completely laid back and you lock in with the drums and you’re in a completely different frame of mind. It’s very interesting because it’s so much the opposite.

It’s interesting that you mention dub, because there is a heavy dubstep element as we’ve mentioned to the new material, and there is a disparity between the old style of dub and what dubstep has come to be known as. What are your thoughts on that?

Ash: Personally, I don’t associate those two at all. ’70s classic dub is ’70s classic dub – that’s a really particular sound that mostly comes from Jamaica, using those old analog setups and spacey echoes and such. The new stuff is all using keyboards, modern keyboards, and I don’t associate the two. It might have been influenced, but I don’t know. All I know is what I hear and if I like it, I like it. This wasn’t even meant to be dubstep; it just happened to suit what we were doing with ‘So Alive,’ but what I do like, the main thing I really love is the sound of drum loops and drum machines in preference to real drums. I find real drums to be very limited. Drum machines are fantastic! You just press a few buttons and you can get these incredible sounds, and with the software that’s out there, now more than ever you can get these beautiful, powerful sounds. Even the 808 kick sounds… you can’t beat that. It’s right there at your fingertips and you can make a really good record in your spare room; you don’t have to be in a studio that costs $800 a day. All that technology is really helpful, and it’s much, much easier now to get fantastic sounds and it appeals to me to have all that at your fingertips. I think sometimes it gets overwhelming because you have too many choices, and I really don’t like that about it. It’s just a matter of discipline for when you come across a sound. Often times when I work with an engineer or whatever, we’ll come across something great, and then he’ll want to go off and try to find something better, and I’ll be thinking, ‘No, there it is. We’ve got it. Stay there. It sounds great. Don’t fuck with it!’ Because there are so many choices, people will tend to spend hours wasting time because of too much choice. I remember Brian Eno had said, ‘I like a keyboard that does 10 things really well; not the keyboard that does 6,000 things.’ I really like what he said about that. One thing I’d really like to invest in is… let’s say, I really love the strings that were used in the ’90s in dance music; these beautiful romantic string arrangements – we’d call them pads. The Pet Shop Boys’ classic ‘West End Boys,’ for instance… the keyboard sounds on that are incredible. The ’90s had all those beautiful keyboards and I’d really like to bring that back… or not bring it back, but use it as an influence. I really want to get a hold of a keyboard that does strings really well. I don’t care about anything else; I just want a keyboard that specializes in great string sounds. I remember coming across this keyboard – I don’t think I had the money at the time; I think I rented it, and it was around the time of Bauhaus or Tones on Tail, around that era. It just had a great keyboard sound, and it was in this little store about 20 miles out of town. I plugged it in and played it… I don’t remember if I bought it, and it wasn’t a lot of money, but it just sounded great. That was all I wanted, so if you can find some good vintage stores, surely you can find something good.

 

 

You mentioned Brian Eno, who worked with David Bowie, who was a big influence on you…

Ash: I always seem to end up talking about them, don’t I?

…And now after 30 years of making music and you’re pursuing more electronic styles, what sorts of music are inspiring you now?

Ash: Well, my girlfriend, who is quite a bit younger than me, introduced me to this whole dubstep thing. I think Bassnectar was the first thing I heard, and I was like, ‘What the fuck is this? It sounds great!’ I don’t really look for music; it’s always just whatever I come across. So, I’ll come across all of these bands that I’ve never heard of, because she’s 17 years younger than me, so I’ll be like, ‘What’s this? This sounds great!’ And it’s all of these bands that I’ve never heard of with these great sounds coming out of the speakers, and it’s all just stuff that she finds and plays for me on YouTube.

You’ve been saying that the PledgeMusic campaign is a totally new thing for you, but with all of the incentives you’ve offered – not just the music in different formats, but also artwork and memorabilia, and one of your motorcycles – you seem to have a good handle on how to attract your audience. What are your thoughts on how it’s panned out and how do you think it’ll affect how you release music from here on out?

Ash: You know what? I am absolutely amazed with how it turned out. I’m really flattered if nothing else. I didn’t think we were going to actually get there with what we needed for the campaign. The thing about the bike is that I wouldn’t have put that price on the bike myself; that was something that was suggested to me. It’s kind of an outrageous price for it, but I don’t want to get rid of it, so anyway, they just said, ‘Okay, we’ll put this price on it, and if somebody does want it for that price, then okay, I’ll let it go.’ I’ve got a lot of sentimental value attached to it. But as far as everything else goes, there’s the artwork – a few years ago, I was in the garden and just went crazy for about eight weeks and came up with 70 paintings, and that was two summers ago. It was a combination of working with Christopher the Minister, who I’ve worked with for years, and the Pledge people; we basically sat around the table and they suggested to me what would be of value to people. I’m really thrilled at the way that it’s all come down, and I can’t wait to start working, and it looks like I’m going to have the budget to do that in about a week. I’m under the moon about it.

You also gave fans the option to pick and choose which songs you would cover on the album; so, with that in mind, were there any selections that were unexpected or that took you by surprise?

Ash: Not really, but at the same time, there is no real focus. The suggestions that have been coming forward are all over the place. What I didn’t want to do was to start recording tracks that nobody really gives a shit about. I didn’t want to waste time doing that; that was why I said, ‘Okay, you choose for me.’ But there hasn’t been any specific direction. It’s all over the place as far as the selections go. The way things are developing, I don’t want to just make it an album of all the old stuff. What I have planned at the moment – and it changes every week – is what I’m feeling at the moment, which is to do one old song and one new song. Just like I’ve done with the ‘Come On’ track, the next thing I’m going to be recording is a track called ‘There’s Only One!,’ which was by Tones on Tail because I think that is custom made for doing a really good dance remix. Listening to it now, we only had a cheap drum machine; now, with the technology we have, I feel I can really improve that song. That’s the next song on the list, which I’ll be starting next week. But after that, I’d like to do something brand new. I’m hoping that everybody out there is in for the idea of me doing an old one and then a new one. Anyway, after these songs are recorded, I’m going to be putting them out there on YouTube and the PledgeMusic campaign, so we’ll see how it goes from the reactions of the people and we’ll hopefully have a bunch of different songs to actually put on the physical CD.

It’s funny when I talk about a physical CD because it’s almost like it isn’t relevant anymore. I mean, who buys CDs anymore? I’ll buy a CD if I’m DJing, because I still DJ with CD, but generally, the format has gotten pretty obsolete now. It’s strange.

It is true that a lot of people now are using the digital formats.

Ash: It’s so convenient, and I hated it for a long time; I felt, ‘God, it makes everything seem so worthless if you haven’t physically got it in your hand.’ But now I get it. It took me years to come around to it, but I really get the new way that all of this works. I resisted it for a long time. For me, in the past, when everyone can have a go, then nothing is special anymore. But I’ve switched now, because when I started, if you didn’t have the record deal, then you were screwed. That was it! You weren’t going to be able to make music, and you’d be stuck playing in the local pub. Now, you can and anybody can put their music on YouTube and the whole world can hear it. The downside is that there’s a lot junk out there, but the great side of that is everybody really can have a go for little or no money. That’s great because it’s opened it up and you don’t have to have a record deal. The idea of a record deal is for the most part gone. If you’re not a huge commercial artist, you can really have a go and that’s great! That’s amazing!

And now the determining factor is not if the record label signs you, but if the people actually listen and like you.

Ash: Well, yeah! You can do anything and you can put it on YouTube. That’s amazing! You can make a video now for a few bucks, and you can make a video with your iPhone, and it costs you nothing. It’s incredible! I did a photo shoot the other day – a so-called photo shoot, and I just did some shots in my office using my girlfriend’s… she took the shots on her iPhone. And then we have some things where she tweaks them and puts effects on them, and that costs nothing. In the old days, you had to go to a studio, get all of the makeup going, and all this bullshit… what a drag! Now, it’s instant and I love it! It’s great; it’s very convenient and it gives me more time to ride my bikes rather than be stuck in an office all day.

Are there plans to do a music video for any of the songs on Stripped?

Ash: You know, at this point in time, I haven’t actually thought about it much. When I get into a sort of creative mode as far as recordings go, I have a one-track mind – it’s always about the song, song, song. But thinking about it, there are a couple of tracks for which I’d love to do a video; there’s one track on the Pledge page called ‘Where’s My Leather Catsuit.’ Well, I think we could make a hilarious video for that; a really fun video with lots of imagery of different things like motorcycles and cars and that sort of thing. That actually crossed my mind earlier this morning. I’m not even sure if it’s going to be on the album, but I’d like to do it anyway. A guy I’m working with, Dustin Byerley, that’s what he does – he does commercial art and a lot of visuals, as well as music, so he would be the guy to do it with me. To answer your question, absolutely! Even if it’s just simple performance videos of us performing on the stage or something, I think that would be the next level because that does help to promote the tracks anyway; it’s much better and much more powerful if you’ve got a visual to go with the audio, so I think we’ll definitely be doing some videos.

On the subject of your bikes, you mentioned that the bike being offered as a reward on the campaign has some sentimental value.

Ash: Well, Christopher the Minister has been working with me and for me for about 16 years and I’ve never been able to pay him. So after all this time, one day I just phoned him up and said, ‘Look, Chris… I’ve never been able to pay you, and I’m feeling really bad about it. So this bike is yours.’ The one with 130,000 miles on it, the red and black one, which I’ve called the Christmas Tree… that’s the one for sale on the campaign.

You’ve been riding since you were 12 and you’ve said that you consider bikes and guitars both as symbols of freedom and escapism.

Ash: Yeah – the interest was around exactly the same time when I was a kid; it was all about motorcycles and guitars. I remember the first time I saw pictures of Hell’s Angels in the desert in Arizona, sitting on these beautiful V-twin engine bikes. That engine just had a connection with me. I’ve always loved English and American bikes – never been into the Japanese thing at all, but something about Triumphs, Nortons, BFAs, and Harleys… I’m obsessed with them, downright addicted. Riding is an addiction. If you ride, nothing really takes the place. Some people climb mountains, or they go surfing or swimming… for me, it’s bikes.

Is there anything you’d like to say to close out?

Ash: I’d just like to say a huge thank you to everybody out there that backed me on this because I can move forward now. I’m really happy at the moment; I feel great about stuff again, and I can really have the finances now to make this record and I’m excited. It’s the first time I’ve been excited in a really long time. I feel like a teenager again!

 

Daniel Ash Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Daniel-Ash/125497964157036
Stripped Campaign http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/stripped

 

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