David J. Haskins is primarily known to music fans as the former bassist for Bauhaus and Love and Rockets. In the past few years, he has made his mark in Los Angeles with a series of innovative cabaret-style theater productions. These have included such darkly glamorous subject matter as the Black Dahlia murders, and the life and tragic death of Warhol star Edie Sedgwick.
David’s new album Not Long for This World is a haunting collection of eulogies inspired in part by his recent theatrical work. The songs strike a perfect balance between humor and sadness, and include unique takes on compositions by Tom Waits, Bill Callahan, and Dennis Wilson. We spoke with David about the album and his upcoming revival of Silver for Gold: The Odyssey of Edie Sedgwick.
How long have you been working on the new album?
It goes back a few years. I didn’t go in, do one session, and focus on the record. Although I did do that towards the end when I realized I was making an album. The oldest track is this song for Elliot Smith, “Dagger in the Well,” which I wrote the day it was announced that he was dead. I recorded a basic version, with just acoustic guitar and vocal, the day after that. It just sat on the shelf. It was one of the last things that was finished for the album, because we added all the other instruments on top of that.
In the interim, how it started was a couple of years ago I did a gig at the Cavern Club Theater in L.A. They gave me two nights there, so I thought I’d do something different and have a theme. I came up with this idea to split each set into three sections: Bouquets, Wreaths, and Laurels, the title of an old song of mine. Bouquets were love songs, rotten wreaths were death songs, and laurels were glory. I recorded some of the wreath songs, and I kept them in my regular set. Having recorded them, I thought, “What can I do with these?” There was a theme there of mortality, so I thought I could explore this a bit more and search out other songs that fit in. The Elliot Smith song, recorded previously, fit well into this concept. It was all kind of intrinsic.
Once I’d decided to record the songs, we did it quite quickly. Most of the songs on the record are first takes, with everyone playing at the same time, including vocals – no overdubs. I wanted to get the vitality that comes from that.
It seems like you split the track listing between original songs and covers. Is this something you’ve done before?
No, not to this extent. I have included the odd cover, but this is much more of a mix. When I came up with the original concept of this live show, I thought I could draw on a whole range of songs that fit into the subjects. Whatever came to mind – songs that I liked that I thought were in my range, that I could make work within the context of the theme.
The songs are often quite moving. Did you know any of the subjects personally?
No. There’s Elliot Smith, who I never met but saw many times and loved. Spalding Gray, I never met. Same thing, I saw him on film and loved him. Then there’s Jeff Buckley. Again, never met but saw him once, as it says in the song. I have personal reference points for some of the songs, so I’m thinking of a friend who died and projecting that, but they’re not specifically about personal friends.
How far back does your interest in cabaret music go?
Pre-Bauhaus, really. My first exposure was the film Cabaret. When that came out I was pretty young. It struck a chord. I didn’t really understand the political context until I got older. I delved into it a lot more when I was in art school. Berlin, Weimar, that whole scene. It was in line with the art movements of the 20s and 30s which I was very interested in, like Surrealism and Dada. Those influences came to bear in Bauhaus to a degree.
It’s always been around. What’s good about getting older is you can deliver the essence of cabaret with more conviction, simply by living. It’s not like being a pop star where you have your short moment of glory. The older you get, the better it gets in a way.
This is your first album since 2003. Is that because you’ve been busy with other projects?
Yes, I was busy writing for the theater, and I’ve been writing screenplays as well. The big production I have coming up is at the Redcat, 3oth of November through December 4th. It’s called Silver For Gold: The Odyssey of Edie Sedgwick. It was originally performed at the Met Theatre, but this is a much more evolved version with a different cast. It’s the same music, although the music has evolved as well, as we’ve been rehearsing. It’s coming along nicely.
Were you involved in theater before you played in bands?
I’ve always had an affinity for it, and used to go and see kind of “punk rock theater” in London: avant-garde, on the edge theater. My friend Neil Bartlett was a big influence, when he started doing impromptu performances. We used to go and see the Donmar Warehouse productions.
I never thought of doing it myself until about five years ago. My publicist suggested that I submit a play to this company called Dad’s Garage in Atlanta, Georgia. They were asking for submissions to present a program of 12-minute plays on the subject of punk rock. I thought I could write a play around that. I knew the subject because I was immersed in it when I was in my late teens in England. I would go and see The Clash and The Sex Pistols. I knew what that subject was about, so I tried it. I wrote this piece and sent it off to them, and it was accepted. It was great, because they had some Tony award-winning playwrights on the bill. When I saw really good actors interpreting the words that I’d put on the page, it was magical to me. I got it, and carried on writing.
The second one I did was the Edie Sedgwick play, and that’s the one that’s being revived.
And now you’re also doing screenplays?
Yeah, I’m writing with a guy called Don C. Tyler, and we have a good chemistry going. We’ve got a couple things in pre-production, I suppose you could say. Quite a lot of interest in them, so that’s very encouraging.
Since this is for The Vinyl District, do you have any thoughts on vinyl?
I love vinyl. You can’t beat it. It’s a waveform; it envelops you in its warmth. I played the test pressing for the vinyl of my new album the other day. It was like I’d heard it for the first time. I was brought up at the age where I first discovered music on vinyl, so we have that association. I think it’s great that it has come back to a degree, and the quality of the vinyl now is better than ever. I DJ when I can with vinyl.
Do you have any DJ sets coming up?
Not really. I just do it when I get offers out of the blue. I love doing it though, it’s a joyous thing.
Photos: Circle23 | Silver for Gold Image: Sarah Morrison