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PoptoneEXPAND
Poptone
Paul Rae

Poptone Are a Post-Punk Partridge Family

From the formation of Bauhaus in 1978, the various members have been determined to focus on the future and reinvention. Guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins stuck together through Tones on Tail and, later, Love and Rockets with Bauhaus bassist (and Haskins’ brother) David J.

And yeah, a Bauhaus reunion overlapped with a Love and Rockets reunion in the mid-2000s, but even then it felt like the focus was on new material and remaining artistically relevant. Ash’s solo work has certainly displayed a desire to push boundaries outside of the accepted and perhaps expected post-punk/goth/new wave territories and into brave new worlds involving fresh technologies. Like Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy, Ash has never seemed happy sitting still.

Which is why the whole Poptone project was a bit of a surprise. Again joined by Kevin Haskins, as well as Haskins’ daughter Diva Dompé on bass, Ash admits that the group is nothing more than a vehicle for retrospective.

It’s a fan’s dream: Poptone go out and perform music by the three aforementioned bands that Ash and Haskins were in together (though, admittedly, the emphasis is more on Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets, and less on Bauhaus). There are no plans for a studio album (a live album dropped last year) — Poptone are all about the past. Which, for those who have followed Ash’s career, seems counterintuitive.

“We’re trying to faithfully re-create how we played them on those albums years ago,” Ash says. “Live, people don’t want to hear updated, arty-farty versions of the songs. They want to hear them as they remember them back then. When all’s said and done, these songs are 20, 30, 35 years old. I was asked to do the Tones on Tail thing for several years, and it never felt right. I had this thing happen to me last January where I dozed off and got woken up by Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades.’ I had this little revelation in my head that I should play live again because I hadn’t played live in 10 years and I had no desire to do it anymore — I was burned out on it.”

Speaking to Ash, a charming and soft-spoken British gent based in Ojai, it’s clear that he’s having a great time dusting off some of these old tunes. He also finds artistic safety in the knowledge that he won’t be doing Poptone forever.

"It’s for a limited amount of time,” he says. “I’m not going to end up in Vegas doing this stuff indefinitely. This could be it, after July. Then move on and do something else. I’ve already done this new track to test myself. Can I still write new stuff? I put out a solo album, Freedom I Love, which is basically all the stuff I’d been doing in between being in a band. There were ideas for soundtracks, ideas for film and TV, and they were all on this one album. So it’s an ongoing process, as it has been since 1979 when Bauhaus first started. It just keeps going. So I have no idea after July — it’s all up in the air.”

Up in the air it may be, but Poptone is putting out an album, Poptone LP, this June through Cleopatra Records. Spread across two LPs, the album features 13 Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail, and Bauhaus tunes, re-recored for a "Part Time Punks" session on KXLU. In addition, and in a move to keep his creative mind sane, Ash recently released a new solo tune, "Alien Love" via his own website, danielashmusic.com. That song will be performed in forthcoming Poptone sets.

“It’s an experiment to see if there’s any interest in what I do as far as new material is concerned,” Ash says. “It’s been going good. It’s a download with a hidden track on it. Two tracks. We’re supposed to be rehearsing it today actually, to see how that works. We’ve got three, four, five different tracks that we’re toying around with. Three are written in stone that we’re gonna be playing on the next leg of the tour. We’ve got two more rehearsals, and then it starts. That’s where we’re at.”

Poptone has existed for more than a year now and, in 2017, performed 60-plus gigs. As a result, Ash says  they are nicely bedded in, well warmed up, for whatever 2018 has in store.

“It’s odd — this industry is not exactly secure,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen after July. We’ve got gigs booked up until July of this year, and then we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what the offers are. We’d like to play Europe or wherever, but it’s whether it’s financially viable. It always boils down to that.”

As mentioned, Haskins’ daughter plays with the two Bauhaus alum in Poptone, while the drummer’s other daughter, Lola Dompé, plays in the band Automatic. That band will be opening up for Poptone on this tour. So it’s a great big family affair.

“It’s great,” Ash says. “I call it the Partridge Family — that’s a running joke. A 21st-century Partridge Family. It really is. It’s hilarious to me, the idea of that. The whole lot of them are coming out on the road. Wives, girlfriends, daughters — all sorts. How surreal? I remember when Diva was a baby. I saw her when she was born. Who would have thought?”

Poptone will play the Glass House on Pomona on May 11 and the Teragram in L.A. on May 13. Ash enjoys playing shows in and around his home base.

“L.A. is probably one of our best places to play,” he says. "I don’t play gigs as such in town. I just do them when I play on this tour. It’s not like I go out and jam with other musicians. I’m not one of those guys. My other major interest is motorcycles, and I like to get out of the city and do the bike thing. That’s very much partly why I live where I live — because the weather’s so fantastic for motorcycle riding. I’m doing these first four gigs on my bike, meeting people there at soundcheck. Instead of traveling with everybody else, which I’m looking forward to because then I’m gonna turn it into a mini holiday.”

Poptone play with Automatic at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 11, at the Glass House, Pomona, and then again with Automatic at 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 13, at Teragram Ballroom.

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