Most people wouldn’t take kindly to being awakened at 4 a.m. by heavy metal band Motörhead’s music blasting in their ears, but for former Bauhaus guitarist Daniel Ash, it was an epiphany.
“It instantly put me in a really good mood and I just thought, ‘Oh my god, I should go out and play live again.’ I can’t explain it. It was an instinctive thing,” says Ash, who was the frontman for Love and Rockets. Last December he was jolted awake by the song “Ace of Spades” after falling asleep with his headphones on while listening to play lists on YouTube.
“I thought I was done with it,” says Ash, who retired from playing live in 2008, noting that there was dust on all his guitars and foot pedals. “But obviously, I’m not.”
So, Ash recruited his friend Kevin Haskins, the drummer for Bauhaus, Love and Rockets and an early’80s band called Tones on Tail, to form a retrospective group called Poptone to play songs from their previous bands and Ash’s solo career, with a play list heavy on Tones on Tail. “I’m really proud of that,” Ash says. “It’s stood the test of time pretty well, that material.”
The group is rounded out by Haskins’ daughter, the singer and bassist Diva Dompe, 30, a solo artist who also performed in the group Blackblack with her sister, Lola. As he recalls buying Dompe her first bass guitar at age 13, Ash laughs and says they jokingly call Poptone the “21st century alternative ‘Partridge Family’” because of all the family and friends on stage and behind the scenes. Poptone played its first gig in April and performing again live made Ash, who turned 60 in July, forget his age.
“If somebody had told me back then at 25 years old that I’d be doing this at 60 years old … it’s very weird, it’s totally surreal,” he says. “To be honest, going back on the road, I feel 27 again, sometimes 25, sometimes 28. I definitely feel like somebody in their 20s, which is very strange.”
Ash says, “It’s like riding a bicycle though — you don’t ever forget as far as playing the material is concerned.” He adds that when he and Haskins started rehearsing the tracks, “It was like we had only been away for two weeks instead of, I don’t know, for 10 years or whatever.”
Born and raised in Northampton, England, about an hour’s drive north of London, Ash, Haskins, vocalist Peter Murphy and Haskins’ older brother David J. formed the band Bauhaus in late 1978. Its iconic first single, the gloomy “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” cemented its reputation as the godfathers of goth even though the musicians considered the group an experimental art-rock band. “It was irritating to us but also comical. We found it funny,” he says, noting they would get phone calls to play on Halloween.
Bauhaus was heavily influenced by the cerebral lyrics and glam-rock theatrics of David Bowie. Back then, the gender-bending Ash sported a mane of spiky hair and plucked eyebrows, along with mascara and lipstick. These days, without makeup and with the sides of his head shaved, the leather-clad motorcycle aficionado looks more like an extra from a “Mad Max” film.
Bauhaus was also impressively prolific, producing four studio albums and a live album during its original four-year stint. It produced a second live album and a fifth studio album when the band reunited for tours in 1998 and 2005.
“When you’re 22, four years is a long time,” Ash says. “That’s called youth. You get a lot done real quick. I remember when we hit 25 years old, we were thinking, ‘My god, it’s going to be over soon because we’re getting on, we’re getting old.’”
After Bauhaus broke up, Murphy went on to forge a successful solo career while Ash and the Haskins brothers formed Love and Rockets, realizing their greatest commercial success with the single “So Alive.”
“I’ll never forget the year, it was 1989,” Ash says. “Madonna was No. 1, Prince was No. 2 and we were No. 3. It was great. It would have been nice to have more hits like that. … If you’re an artist of any sort … you’re never really satisfied, you’ve never really got where you really want to go or be. That’s the whole thing that keeps you hungry for keeping on doing it.” S
Poptone performs Aug. 12 at the National, 708 E. Broad St. Tickets are $22.50 to $25 day of show. All ages. nationalrva.com.