It all starts with a Bossa Nova beat. Then three descending bass notes hum menacingly as they usher in swirling and strafing guitars that skitter like spiders, white on white translucent. A cult is born. Undead.
The man behind those iconic bass notes was none other than David J Haskins. Along with his brother Kevin and the mercurial duo of Daniel Ash and Peter Murphy, he would go on to create some of the most unique, oblique and enduring music of the 20th century in Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and The Jazz Butcher.
From the pubs and clubs of London town to the dizzying expanse of Dodgers stadium and all fixtures in between, David’s bass has remained a constant anchor. Angular, funky, sloping, seductive. He teases myriad shapes out of his strings and gives form to the frisson. And now he’s told his tale.
Who Killed Mister Moonlight? - Bauhaus, Black Majick and Benediction gives the first-hand scoop on not only Bauhaus’ gestation, disintegration and reformation (repeat), but also David’s dabbling with the dark arts and all things spooked and symbolic. Set to be re-pressed for a second edition, David took time out of his current touring schedule to guide us through the many corridors of a life extraordinarily lived.
The book covers such a large span of time and such a litany of achievements and adventures. As you were writing it did you find that certain times, incidents or feelings were difficult to recall, whereas others leapt out at you with a certain clarity?
I have always kept journals and a diary, and have these going back to 1980. These entries served as mnemonic stepping stones when piecing together the puzzle of the memoir. I was surprised by how clearly I was able to recall little details once my memory was jogged by what was sometimes just a single line in my day book.
You discuss your experiments with magick at some length in the book. I was wondering where your interest in this was first piqued? What first signposted your jaunt down the left hand path, so-to-speak?
As a kid I was fascinated with the occult and, being raised in a fairly non-religious home, it was something which was not repressed by my parents - although my dad would often describe me as “most peculiar”.
From an early age I loved to read the works of Edgar Allan Poe and, a little later, H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen. In my early twenties I got into Aleister Crowley, Bryon Gysin and William S. Burroughs which led to further investigations - then I met with Genesis P-Orridge and the genie was out of the bottle.
When Alan Moore invited me into his cabal of magicians, my interest and practice deepened considerably. At one point it started to take me over, and I think I became a bit unhinged to tell you the truth. It’s the nature of the beast. These other dimensional forces that are at play are very wild and powerful and one can be completely consumed if one is not careful. I knew that I needed some spiritual grounding and was blessed to have found this through my discovery of Paramahnasa Yogananda, my true guru; although I still maintain a profound relationship with the goddess of the underworld and find nothing contradictory in that.
As a teenager I was obsessed with Bauhaus. The mystery surrounding the band was intoxicating, perhaps due in part to your excellent use of oblique imagery. Do you think you were tapping into and siphoning from something universal?
In retrospect, I would say it was universal. So many outsiders were able to identify with what we were putting out there. They no longer felt alienated, but rather connected directly with us and all the other fellow weirdos who were in on it.
The oblique imagery was very conscious as mystery can be so potent. It is something that is sorely lacking in these days of rampant internet over exposure. When you look at the individual photographs of each band member on the inner sleeve of our first album, In The Flatfield, the images are very oblique. Considering how goddamn pretty we were, there is a potency to that. It was something we were very aware of. We did all the art work ourselves (Mainly Daniel and myself) and it was an aspect that we considered to be just as important as the music - as was the lighting for our live presentation. A true ‘gesamkuntswerk’ if you will.
I nearly jumped out of my pants when, at around the age of 17, I discovered a book by Ian Shirley called Dark Entries: Bauhaus and Beyond in a local specialist bookstore. It wasn’t cheap and I was as skint as only a busker can be, but I returned weeks later with heavier pockets where I was relieved to see it still sitting there waiting for me. Are you familiar with this rendition of the story, and what did you think about his telling of the tale?
Yes, I read it a long time ago. My recollection is that it was a bit superficial. Very much an outsider’s take. With my book it’s like ‘now for the inside dope!’.
I loved the scene in the book where you recall the ecstatic rush that accompanied the first playback of ‘Mask’ as it spirals into its crescendo. It’s a feeling I still get when I listen to it, let alone the first time it spilled into my ears where it just about knocked me flat and made me levitate at the same time. What are some of the other most ecstatic moments you can recall throughout the Bauhaus years - either in the studio or onstage?
Well, certainly the recording of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. It was the first track that we recorded as part of five song session, all completed in eight hours including the finished mixes. It was the very first time that Peter had sung into a studio mic and we nailed it first take. We knew that we had something very special in the can.
Another event that comes readily to mind was the Halloween show that we played at The Fillmore in San Francisco in 2005. We opened with an extended improvised version of ‘Bela’ which featured three female string players, violin, viola and cello. They appeared on their own at first and vamped (no pun intended!) on the theme. We then joined them one by one; Kevin, then myself, then Daniel and finally Peter. It was such an atmospheric, dramatic build.
Your book ends abruptly on a kind of sad and sudden note, which I guess is fitting given the circumstances of the dissolution of the band. It appears that Peter has the classic Lead Singer Syndrome, whereby he vacillates between extreme narcissism and extreme introspection and self-doubt. As what could possibly be construed as the backbone and ballast of the band, what was your overriding emotion as those final refrains of ‘oh to be the cream’ rang out in the Portuguese air?
It was overwhelmingly emotional and poignant as we felt without a shadow of a doubt that this would be the very last time that we played these songs and the last time that we would ever be together as a band.
Love and Rockets was obviously a very different dynamic and that lightening of mood is clearly reflected in a lot of the music. Even the introspective and weary songs like ‘The Dog End of a Day Gone By’ and the acoustic rendition of ‘All in my Mind’ are swirling and psychedelic, as if exhaustion is about to break through into a kind of delirious hope.
Yes, the whole experience was so different form Bauhaus. Very buoyant. It was as if a great heavy funeral pall had been lifted and we had been set free to explore another world. Like artists or little kids in art class at school suddenly given a whole new palette of colours, when previously all that they had to work with was black, white, grey and maybe a drop of red.
Though nominally a three piece, I always thought of Love & Rockets as a four piece - with the studio acting as the fourth member. There are so many layers and effects being applied that it gives the music a totally different texture and tonal quality.
By the time we set out to make our debut recording, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, we had learned a lot from making those four Bauhaus albums. There was indeed a fourth member of the band (or a fifth if we count the studio) - John Rivers, the engineer and co-producer on the first two albums. He brought so much to the sound of Love and Rockets. He also played a lot of the keyboard parts and did the synth string arrangements, which reached its zenith on the instrumental ‘Saudade’. The Flaming Lips said that they were extremely inspired by that track in particular, and that their whole approach to strings on their recordings came from it.
Following in the footsteps of John came our original engineer from back in the ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ days, Derek Tompkins, and he was very much involved in the evolution that can be heard on Love and Rockets’ third album, Earth, Sun, Moon. We actually decided not to continue with John as he detested the first Violent Femmes album which we, as a band, loved. Music can be divisive that way.
Do forgive me but I have to ask this, in your recollections of a particular ceremony you describe imbibing from an impromptu golden fountain, I did wonder if you ever also partook of Crowley’s curious ‘Cakes of Light’?
No and were they to appear on the menu, I think I would pass and go for the crème brulee (laughs).
Finally, as someone with such a huge and varied catalogue of work under your belt, which gems shine and best refract the light of David J Haskins in retrospect? Which best fill your heart, fires your mind in recollection, and if an alien was to land tomorrow and seek to untangle it all, what would you play for them?
For the alien listener, I would probably play the first and the last - the alpha and the omega, as it were. Namely Bela Lugosi’s Dead, which remains as my favorite Bauhaus record, and then my latest double album Vagabond Songs, which contains quite a broad array of styles and is really quite reflective of every solo album I have made thus far.
As far as those other shining gems go, I’ll respond by not trying too hard to think about it. Off the top of my head and bubbling fast to the surface of consciousness: ‘I Hear Only Silence Now’ from my solo debut, Etiquette of Violence. ‘Ritual Radio’, which I think is the very definition of a ‘deep cut’ in that it’s very obscure - but deep cuts often draw the most blood. As you may recall I describe the creation of this epic in the book. We were definitely channeling some strong forces on that one.
Speaking of which, there is this track on my album Not Long For This World entitled ‘Eulogy For Jeff Buckley’, where again I felt like the conduit for some kind of divine energy or inspiration. The title track of that album (which is all to do with mortality) also came as a beautiful spontaneous gift. When we arrived at the studio, Michael Berg sat at the baby grand and started to play the most haunting melancholic melody. When I asked him what it was, he said that it had just come to him. I immediately went into the vocal booth told the engineer to roll tape - the recording you hear is our first run through. It was shivery! And I think I’ll end there, with a shiver.
Thanks for the Shivers.
Who Killed Mister Moonlight? is available now.