Poptone is a musical touring group formed in early 2017 by Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and Diva Dompé (Haskins’ daughter). Ash and Haskins were both formerly of Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets, and the Bubblemen. Daniel and Kevin are revisiting their wealthy catalog and presenting some of their songs in a fresh, new direction. They plan to continue touring, lifting songs from their catalog and mixing their setlists for each subsequent tour. There is an underlying possibility of some new music from them down the road.
Poptone recently brought their tour up through Canada, performing in London, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. These shows lifted heavily from the Tones On Tail back-catalog but did include a wealth of Love And Rockets tracks along with “Slice Of Life” by Bauhaus. Before their performance in London, I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with Daniel Ash and Diva Dompé. We touched on the relevance of bands like Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets along with some dialog around David Bowie and the current state of the music industry.
First things first. Thanks for doing these live dates. I’ve been watching Poptone unfold with keep interest as you have put this all together. I have been eagerly awaiting these Ontario shows.
Daniel Ash: OK. Good.
Tell me how Poptone came about. Was this something that you and Kevin and had been playing with for a while?
Daniel: Well, I personally had no intention of playing live again. But I had a bit of a revelation in January or February of this year where I’d fallen asleep in front of my computer and I was woken up. I still had my headphones on. I was woken up at about four in the morning by Motörhead’s “Ace Of Spades”. And I had a bit of a revelation that I should go back out on the road again. That’s the very short version of it. I contacted Kevin because he’s wanted to do this for quite a while, doing the Tones on Tail thing. So I let a few days go past and then I called him up and said “Ok. I’m up for this. Who’s playing bass.” and he suggested Diva. And cutting that long story short, she got the job because she could play “Go!” Once you can play “Go!”, then you can be in the band. That’s what happened at the beginning of this year.
Diva, I know that you would be familiar with this material, given that your dad is Kevin Haskins and all, but how much of these songs had you tinkered around with before? Had you ever thought about doing any of this material in earnest like you are doing now?
Diva Dompé: Um, not really. I did it once because I used to do a monthly goth club thing in LA with a friend of mine, my friend Megan. One month we decided to do like a covers band, and we each picked a few songs by all different bands, and I picked “Lions” as one of my songs. So I did “Lions” for that evening, and my dad actually played the autoharp on it. So that was fun. I think that is the only time that I’ve covered one of his songs.
I’m curious about the relevance of this music to someone of your age. If you removed the fact that Kevin is your dad, would you still be listening to this stuff? Do you feel like these songs are something that you would be into, and that you might club to?
Diva: Yeah, definitely. And you know, a lot of my friends are very inspired by this music. My dad shared a lot of his passion for music growing up. I had music around me the whole time I was growing up, and so I share a lot of the same interests. I listened to a lot of his music as a teenager. Yeah. There’s a lot of people in my age group who are into it as well. Especially creative people, people making their own music that are inspired by all of these bands.
Poptone “GO!” London, Ontario, Canada Sept 28th 2017
Daniel, do you still communicate with Glenn Campling at all? Do you know where he is?
Daniel: Glenn actually lives two streets away from my mum in England in North Hampton. But no, I haven’t seen Glenn in years. It’s been a long time. I’ve been living in the States now for 26 years. I’ve not been back very often. I have to go back for legal reasons, some Visas and stuff like that. But no, we’re not in contact, to be honest.
Tones On Tail, as you mentioned earlier, did very little touring originally. How has it been taking this material back on the road? Have you found some enjoyment from doing these songs again?
Daniel: Well I hope so. If I didn’t find it enjoyable, I couldn’t do it. But in a word, yes. I think we are doing it a lot more professional this time around because listening to some of the live footage that I have have heard from the eighties; I don’t think it was great. I don’t like listening to live stuff. That’s really just a personal thing. The live stuff is always full of imperfections. It sort of sends me a bit nuts. Not just us, but any band. I don’t really like live stuff. I don’t know. It must be the Virgo in me. There are so many mistakes live. There’s a couple of bands that can actually sound better live than on album, but Tones definitely wasn’t one of them. (laughs) It sounds very amateur night back then. It was a bit of a mess. The thing is we only played one small tour of the US and one small tour of the UK. The band only existed for probably about 18 months – two years tops. So this time it’s quite different. It’s much more professional. Only because the reason for that is we’ve been doing this for so long now that we aren’t as naive as we were back then. It’s much more dialed-in this time around.
Has there been any dialog over possibly recording new material together? Has that sparked at all doing these dates?
Daniel: You know, I’ve been thinking about that whole thing. There’s two ways of looking at this. My plan from the get-go was Poptone was going to be a name of a band that would cover all three bands plus whatever fun cover versions we wanted to do. And then at the end of this year when everything was all fluffy and rosy, we’d carry on and have the money and the time to go in and record new material. But I don’t know. At this point in time, there is so much in the back catalog from the three bands to pick from. This is my personal view anyway in the band. I’m thinking that when you go out, it’s hard enough going out with a new name that nobody has heard of yet and for me, it’s to play stuff that everybody recognizes. Where if you play brand new material it just throws everybody and we need all of the favours that we can get at the moment. But there is so much material from the three bands that we can pick from where we can go “Ok. Let’s do this track that hasn’t been done before.” And people out there have actually heard this track, and will recognize it. So I don’t think we are at the stage at all where we can do new stuff because there is so much in the catalog – it’s so rich that we can pick from it. And we need to be as commercially accessible as possible. I’m captain commercial here, and that’s just the way I think. The last thing we need is to give the audience a brand new thing that nobody has heard of when there is all that back catalog available. So my angle from it is that it’s way premature to do that. I want to get us established as an entity that can actually recreate everything that we have recorded. Everything from 1982 to 2000 or whatever it was for those three bands. That is my business plan on this thing if you like.
I’m glad that you said that. I mentioned in passing to a friend yesterday that I was coming to this show and that I was going to the show in Toronto tomorrow – and that all of this Tones On Tail material was going to be played, along with some Love and Rockets and Bauhaus. He lost his mind. He had no clue that it was happening. He’s bought tickets and is going now. Um…
Daniel: Yeah. This is the problem that we are having. We are trying on a daily basis to get it out there – exactly what we are doing and the fact that we are not a tribute band. Because a lot of people are thinking Poptone is a Tones On Tail tribute band. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to get across. I don’t know why but somehow it’s not fully realized that we are the real thing and that we are not a cover band. It’s something that we are working to fix on a daily basis to rectify that.
I like that you are utilizing Pledge Music for your live album. And Daniel, you did your acoustic project using Pledge as well, did you not?
Daniel: Yeah. It wasn’t acoustic though. It was supposed to be acoustic because it was a Stripped CD. But I tried for about seven minutes to do acoustic versions of the tracks and it was really really boring to me. So I went the complete opposite and delved into electronica. And I did electronic version of, again, songs from over the last thirty years if you’d like.
Poptone, London, Ontario, Canada Sept 28th 2017 – photo by Mike Bax
How involved are you with Pledge then? is someone running that for you, or are you all keeping an eye on what is happening on that site?
Diva: Um, with the cycle it’s kind of a long Campaign. The live album is going to come out in October and we started it a while ago. We update it every once in awhile. We add new items, especially from being on the road, we will put up drumsticks that Kevin has been using or things like that. So yes, it’s getting updated.
Daniel: There’s a live album we are in the process of mixing. We recorded a couple of gigs in the beginning of the year. In April. Two sort of semi-private gigs in Los Angeles. They were recorded. It will be coming out the end of October. It’s a fully mixed live album that was recorded over two days in April in L.A. So that’s something that will be on offer on the Pledge site.
Diva: Yeah, combined with bundles.
Daniel: There’s lots of little goodies there as well. Like Kevin’s drumsticks. And picks. And scribbly bits on bits of paper. Things like that.
Diva, you must have a different perspective on the music business (The marketing and touring) than David and Kevin would have, given their tenure in the industry. Do you find those conversations are happening? You know, one party saying “back in the day it was like this.” And you saying “Come on, get with the times. This is what happens now.”
Diva: Um, kind of. I think there’s learning from each other. The way they will talk about how things went then and how things are now. You know, it’s very different. So it’s been interesting to learn about that. I don’t necessarily feel like I have a great grasp on how to define success in the music industry in the present day. I think that’s a bit up in the air. I don’t think many people know how to do that, or grasp what is going on. All of the projects I have been involved with before this and my own solo stuff have been very DIY. My husband runs a record lable, but it’s kind of like it’s own unique thing where it’s got it’s own audience. It sustains itself. I kind of think the music industry that you (to David) came up in is completely different. You were still getting screwed over and stuff by your labels. But there was more of a formula, maybe, on how you could be successful. In the 1990s there seemed to be more money available.
Daniel: It was completely different. Before you would go out live to promote the sale of the CD. But now the CD, not even the CD, but the streaming of music is relatively free, and it promotes the live gig. So it’s completely opposite to how it was. These days you make your money to survive by merchandising and playing live. In the old days, you made your money by the record company giving you 12% on every CD – which was a really bad deal. But you know, both ways have their pros and cons. The pros these days is that anybody can make a great video on their iPhone and put it on YouTube. They can put all of their money and time into their best songs and put it on YouTube and then they’ve got a fighting chance of getting their foot in the door. Whereas in the old days you couldn’t even get a foot in the door if you didn’t have a record deal. But there again, you got that record deal by playing in some little bar somewhere and somebody would spot you. So both ways have their pros and cons. But I would say now that things are just different. I’m hoping that the good stuff will always be the good stuff and that it will always be recognized as such.
Diva: Even the so-called successful people in the industry now, they don’t make much money. Unless you are like Beyoncé, you know?
There is some discussion here between Diva and Daniel on younger fans, and whether they even go to gigs anymore, and whether they will even spend the $30 to see a band whose music they like. The ending consensus being that it’s a tougher time to be making music.
Diva: It’s kind of like this with a lot of industries right now. A lot of established industries are kind of just falling apart. I’m hoping that something new will kind of blossom out of all that.
Daniel: Well I think what will blossom out of it, to be honest, is that there are going to be two extremes. There is going to be the ‘haves,’ and the ‘have-nots.’ I think there is going to be an amount of people who are going to have an absolute fortune and then the rest of us are going to be really struggling. That’s what it’s looking like to me.
Diva: I think it’s all going to crumble and then we will see a restructuring.
Daniel: Yeah, I think you might have a point. What’s going on in the world now more than ever is so crazy. This is a make-or-break time for humanity. Everything from the environment and the weather changes we see now to the politics that are going around. All of the issues with North Korea right now is just very scary. I think the shit is hitting the fan, put it that way. We are at the birth of a new transformation. It’s right on the edge at the moment. I feel like this is the Age of Aquarius right now. There will be a great change and great turmoil. Then when we come out of it, there is supposed to be about a thousand years of bliss. I’d like that. That’s what I’ve heard. I heard that back in the 1980s.
I have one more for you. I’m fifty. I was exposed to Bauhaus after it was all over.
Daniel:Sorry about that man.
Poptone “An American Dream” London, Ontario Sept 28th 2017
I know. So am I actually. I remember watching The Hunger as a youngster, and not realizing that the band that was in that movie was a real band. I just thought it was propped for the film and put in there for atmosphere.
Daniel: Well it sort of was. What happened was that someone attached to the film had gone to see us at a live gig and thought that that song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” would be perfect for the film. And I remember when Tony Scott, the director, came around to see us in the studio and we went through the process of recording a new version of the song and nothing really touched the live version that he’d seen. So he ended up using that. It was for the nightclub scene, basically. So it was there for atmosphere.
are there any particular memories you can share about being there for that shoot? Was it a day shoot?
Daniel: Yes. I’ve got a real fond memory of that. I was, as were we all, a huge David Bowie fan. And we got there for a dress rehearsal at 7:30 in the morning and I was just standing there with Glenn actually, and a few other people and then this voice from behind me goes “Oi. You’ve got my shoes on!” And I turned around and it was Bowie. And I just froze and was star-struck. My mouth went dry and I couldn’t talk. And I looked at him and just went “uhn.” I grunted or something. I couldn’t talk. He was talking at me and I looked down and we were both wearing the same patterned leather shoes. I had mine on with a tight leather pair of pants. And he had on his with a pair of really classy looking trousers. I was in the usual black leather rock n roll thing, you know? So yeah, we had on the same shoes. I was totally star struck. And I will never forget that moment because Bowie was my childhood hero from when I was about 15 and first saw him on TV and then got into his albums. It knocked me for a loop all day long. I never really recovered for the rest of the day.
Diva: My dad has a great story from that day too. He was in this sort of alcove and was on a break or something and he was trying to smoke a cigarette and he didn’t have a light, so he found a woman there who I think was Bowie’s assistant…
Daniel: Yes. Coco I think her name was.
Diva: So my dad asked her for a light and she said “Oh I don’t think I do but David might.” And he was right around the corner leaning against the wall just out of sight. My dad didn’t know he was there, and then David Bowie just appeared from around the corner with this lighter and my dad was so nervous that his hand started shaking and they couldn’t get his cigarette to light. And then he said that Bowie came out at one point and started playing songs on the jukebox for everyone.
Daniel: Yes. I heard that. I wasn’t there for that.
Diva: Yeah. There were all the extras there were actual regulars of that club. They were all actual club kids, you know? And they were all waiting around at one point and Bowie came out started playing songs on the jukebox there and talking a bit about some of them because they were songs that he had covered. So he was playing these originals and was talking about why these songs were important to him. So the extras all got to enjoy that. There were a lot of good Bowie moments from that day. I think that story is going to be in my dad’s book that is coming out later this year. The Bauhaus Book. It’s got a bunch of great stories like that in it. There’s a little plug (laughs).
I thought that book was out already. I remember looking at that website a while ago. There was a ‘coming soon’ message attached to it.
Daniel: It’s coming on Halloween I think Through Cleopatra Records.
Diva: Yeah. He tried to publish it himself. And that didn’t really work out. So now it’s being published properly and coming out later this year.
Oh wonderful. I didn’t know that. That’s great. I will look into that. I wanted to buy it.