How Poptone Synthesize 40 Years of Music

Photo by Paul-Rae
“Let’s be honest, Tones on Tail is very obscure. It’s not exactly Britney Spears."
Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets.

Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins were in all three bands, with Ash on guitar, vocals, and sometimes saxophone, and Haskins on drums and the occasional loops. As a performing entity, the two longtime bandmates parted ways after Love and Rockets played Coachella in 2008. And if not for an early-morning epiphany Ash had in January, they still might be doing their own things separately.

“I woke up about 4 a.m. with my headphones around my neck, and I had this revelation that, ‘Oh my god, I need to go out on the road.’ It is a complete contradiction and turnaround from what I’ve been saying for years. I never thought I would play live again,” Ash says over the phone from his home north of Los Angeles.

Now, we have Poptone, the latest incarnation from two of the primal forces in ’80s and ’90s alternative rock.
Since Ash didn’t have a band to take out on the road, the first person he thought of reaching out to was Haskins. It’s hard to imagine one without the other, as they share a musical history that’s rare and stretches back to 1978.

It’s not so surprising then that Poptone mines the duo’s four decades of collaborations, plucking songs from Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and the Love and Rockets catalog, along with a few choice covers. As of yet, they haven’t begun writing new material, but there’s really no rush as fans haven’t heard these classics live in almost a decade — if not longer in some cases.

For Bauhaus, Ash and Haskins were joined by singer Peter Murphy and David “David J” Haskins (elder brother to Kevin) on bass, forming one of the all-time great bands. For some, Bauhaus’ music is the epitome of goth, and the quartet are some of the true founding fathers of the darker side of post-punk music. Regardless of how you slice it or define their genre, their influence, talent, and musical output is nothing short of amazing.

Songs like “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Terror Couple Kill Colonel” will be played by brooding teens well into the 22nd century — and for good reason. Those songs, along with several others from the Bauhaus discography, absolutely slay, and the band’s discography stands up to the test of time incredibly well. In fact, each of the projects Ash and Haskins have collaborated on still sound fresh and vibrant in 2017.

Before Bauhaus originally broke up in 1983, Ash and Haskins formed Tones on Tail in 1982, which functioned as a side project for the bandmates and their Bauhaus roadie, Glenn Campling, on bass. Tones on Tail released one full-length record, a half-dozen singles, and three EPs in their short two-year career. Though that band played less than 30 shows, it is this project that Ash is most excited to share on the Poptone tour.

“Let’s be honest, Tones on Tail is very obscure. It’s not exactly Britney Spears. It’s still cool,” Ash says. “It’s still underground. [A lot of] people don’t know who Tones are. They’re going to find out on this tour.”

While there were obvious similarities between Bauhaus and Tones on Tail, the Tones’ stuff is a bit more lush at times — and definitely more experimental. Ash is an excellent vocalist, and songs like “Go,” which has made it onto several movie soundtracks, including being featured in the background of a great transitional scene from Grosse Pointe Blank, and “Real Life” are well worth a listen and highly recommended for those unfamiliar with the band.

It’s likely that fans will be better acquainted with Love and Rockets, which saw David J back with Ash and Haskins for what was basically a 16-year run. “No New Tale to Tell” and “So Alive” are songs many alternative rock fans will know very well, and the band saw a level of popularity neither Bauhaus or Tones on Tail enjoyed. Love and Rockets had several memorable Phoenix shows during their tenure, and were always entertaining.

Which brings us to May 11 and Poptone’s show at the Marquee Theatre with a brand-new collaborator on bass. Haskins’ daughter and David J’s niece, Diva Dompe, will play bass for Poptone on the band’s five-month tour schedule. According to Ash, she earned the gig.

“It’s in her DNA. She got it. She’s playing those bass lines really favorably. The big test for any bass player who is going to play on this stuff is to play ‘Go,’” he says. “That’s the tough one. The sound, the inflections, the whole thing … she nailed it.”

Poptone are scheduled to perform at Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Thursday, May 11.