David J: then Bauhaus Goth, now solo punk rock cabaret
Most famous for having written “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” arguably the best song by Goth rockers Bauhaus, bassist David J has pursued a solo career for the past couple of years despite a mid-’00s Bauhaus reunion. Now, David J is touring in support of last year’s death-obsessed Not Long for This World with Adrian H and The Wounds backing him up. We spoke to him for a much shorter feature for a weekly that will only print a portion of this interview. Here’s more of that discussion.
How long have you lived in California?
I’ve been out for 12 years. I regularly go back and forth between San Diego and Los Angeles. The reason I came to live here was because Love and Rockets had a degree of success in States, and the band moved en masse. I like it here. I decided this is the place and have been in this area since then, though I’m seriously contemplating a move to Portland, Oregon, where I have a residency coming up. For the show, I can do what I want for the week and invite guests down. I met up with Adrian H and The Wounds who are based up there, and we’re going off to this jaunt.
What are the shows going to be like?
The first half is me and the guitar player. We did a show like that in Austin, Texas and it went down really well.
Bauhaus is generally considered to be the first Goth band. Do you agree with that assessment?
I suppose we were a bit proto. Not that we intended to be a Goth band. We were labeled that. We wanted to expand our horizons over time. We thought that was a limiting term, but we could understand.
The first Bauhaus album, In the Flat Field, received generally negative reviews. What did the reviewers say about it?
Uh. I have to cast my mind back. I can’t remember. I think we were ahead of our time. It wasn’t talking about what was popular with the press at the time and we were criticized for being removed from that socio-political world. We were responding to our own social situation and wanting to escape from that. We came from a mundane factory town. The song “In the Flat Field” describes that. We wanted to create our own reality and our own world . . . We were flagrantly dramatic and flamboyant and that rubbed people the wrong way. The fashion was to be humble and down to earth. We marched to our own drummer. We were stripped down, angular and odd. It wasn’t easily categorized even though we were given that label Goth. It was its own animal really. Later on, when we reformed, it was a complete reappraisal, especially by the NME and English papers who lauded us and said, “We take it back—they were ahead of their time.” You could see the influence in contemporary bands who were admired by the press. We finally got some recognition, which was quite sweet.
I remember college radio in the States embraced the band.
It started for us when the band had finished and Love and Rockets had started. College radio was great for us in America and really helped us a lot.
How did the Love and Rockets experience compare to Bauhaus?
Well, Love and Rockets was much more joyous and celebratory. It was more psychedelic because psychedelic music was loved by us three but not so much by [Bauhaus singer] Peter [Murphy] who wasn’t so into the psychedelic stuff. Because he wasn’t in the picture, we explored that. In the mid-’80s, there was a neo psychedelic revival and it fit right where we wanted to take the band. From that, we started going back to early ’60s rock ’n’ roll and then T. Rex and Bowie and there was an acoustic element. It was very rich. That band was very rich. It had many layers to it and we had great fun. We were much more amiable.
Was the band more popular in North America than in the UK?
Yeah, we really neglected Europe because it took off initially in Canada where the first album went gold. It caught fire and each album sold a lot more than the previous one. The shows were sold out and it kept accelerating. We were offered tours in Europe and Australia but we decided to focus uniquely on the States. The idea of going back and working in little clubs wasn’t appealing. Plus, the attitude we got from promoters in the states was very respectful so the idea of going to Europe to play in toilets and then really work it just wasn’t very appealing.
Why did the band end?
Our last record was called Lift and were very much behind it. But commercially, it took a plunge when we made Hot Trip to Heaven in 1989 and 1990 that was primarily electronic. We were heavily into that. We wanted to put down the guitars and get very experimental. RCA wanted us to play full-on stadium rock. It was very weird and we didn’t understand that. [Producer] Rick Rubin heard it and really liked it and wanted to sign us to American, so we went with him. The record didn’t sell and we did a couple more after that. We were always into the music, but it was an uphill struggle. It was like the wind went out of our sails. We wanted to go off and do different things. We briefly reunited in 2008 to play Coachella and Lollapalooza but we didn’t have the motivation to make more music. That spark was gone. We had two good gigs and we figured we’d quit while we felt proud of the band.
Are the Bauhaus reunions over?
Yes. The reunion shows went extremely well but, to be honest, there was some personal conflict that became too much to bear.
Are you working on writing a new album?
I am but there is an album called Not Long for This World that is out now. We’re focusing on that on this jaunt. It’s about mortality. It has a lot of covers and some originals. I’m very pleased with it. It’s a bit of a punk rock cabaret, if you will.