This article originally appeared in the January 1999 issue of Electronic Musician.
Almost 20 years have passed since Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, and David J blasted onto the music scene. It was in 1979 that the former art students, along with singer Peter Murphy, formed Bauhaus and released their debut album, In the Flat Field. That group's literate and nihilistic vitriol, set to mood-swinging music, came during punk's heyday but always stood apart. This past summer, Bauhaus made a splashy return to the limelight with a well-received tour, quickly selling out halls to rabid fans on little more than word of mouth. But although the band has secured its members a place in history, it has hardly been their only musical outlet over the years.
Singer-guitarist Ash, drummer Haskins, and singer-bassist David J founded Love and Rockets after the dissolution of Bauhaus in 1983 and began to hone lushly produced, neopsychedelic pop songs that stood in opposition to the stark lyrics and harsh sonics typical of their former band. Other notable side projects include the lo-fi, protodance music of Ash and Haskins's Tones on Tail and David J's collaborations with fellow Briton the Jazz Butcher. All three also spin records in clubs throughout Los Angeles. But they have always come back to Love and Rockets, which provides a comfortable forum for them to express their current musical interests. The band's new album, Lift, is a pleasing mix of swirling guitar pop—a Love and Rockets mainstay—and the heady electronics that have crept into their repertoire over the past few years.
I talked with the band members and their producer, Doug DeAngelis, about what Love and Rockets is accomplishing in the '90s and how they went about recording the new album. I found that the process of making Lift is indicative of the way many bands record today, using a little of everything gear-wise and taking a "mobile studio" approach. At the same time, the careers of DeAngelis and the band are representative of how many musicians stay busy, by being as active in the clubs as they are in the studio or on stage.
How did you start working together?
DEANGELIS: I had come out from New York to Los Angeles to do the song "Resurrection Hex." Lift followed after that; we had a good connection and just kept right on going.
Kevin Haskins, David J, Daniel Ash, Doug DeAngelis, and Luscious the dog relax in the control room at Network in New York City.
What was the setup for tracking?
HASKINS: I had my own studio setup at home. All the samples and weird noises came from my Akai S1000. I'm still using C-Lab's Notatorv on the Atari to sequence, and more often than not, Doug would do the final programming on his stuff. When Doug came in, we often scrapped the original stuff but kept the feel and the tempo. Some things stayed, a guitar or a drum part here or there. Also, when we were tracking, we set up as a band, so we could record basic tracks together if we wanted.
DEANGELIS:Lift was tracked in part on my equipment, which I brought to Swinghouse, a soundstage in Los Angeles. Swinghouse is big—the size of a gymnasium. Up above, looking down into the soundstage, is a small control room that they use for 16-track recording. We basically gutted that room, taking all the gear and furniture out of it. Kevin had his setup, and I lugged all the stuff that I had brought out from New York City up a couple of flights -of stairs: my Akai DR16 hard-disk recorders, my synth racks, my Akai MPC3000, my computer. We locked that space out, and it was the best recording environment. Those guys are real night owls, Danny in particular. Once it got dark outside, with the windows and the lighting in that space, it was just one of the coolest rooms I've been in. We would generally start by taking some things off their demos, and then wind up going back and redoing the parts. I think only a guitar track or two ever stayed through to the end.
Kevin said that he would bring in his basic drum sequences, and that you would listen to and work through them, then come up with a new version of the sequence on your setup. What did you use for the drum sounds?
DEANGELIS: I'd load samples from Kevin's S1000 into my MPC. I recorded the live stuff on my Akai DR-16s, and all my synth stuff is in Logic Audio. I have those two connected, Logic and my DRs, so I can bounce the tracks in and out, edit things, and bounce them back. After I loaded a song, the band would give me a few hours to get something going, then they'd come in. They're a dream to work with, because they give you space to work on something, then they come in and work on it very aggressively with you.
Where did you get the samples for the MPC3000?
HASKINS: We took everything off vinyl. We each brought boxes of stuff from our record collections and went through them, trying different things. Doug was looking to use a lot of sounds from the '80s.
DEANGELIS: That was great because they have such terrific record collections. When we started, the Chemical Brothers' record was really big, and I wanted to get away from the breakbeat stuff. I didn't want to come out with a record a year later that had the same kind of sped-up breaks. Love and Rockets have made too many records to follow a trend. All the groove stuff on "Resurrection Hex" is based on Adam and the Ants—that's the era I wanted to go with. So we decided our goal would be to bring in records from that time period.
How did you process the drum samples in general?
DEANGELIS: I use a Roland GP-100 guitar processor. I use it more for vocals and drums than for guitars. I apply a lot of weird flanging and delays, like the vocal effects on the track "My Drug." My turntable feeds through the GP-100 to my MPC, and it also feeds directly to the console. So, as we're working, I can put up records and then listen through the MPC, because I want to be able to hear the drums while I'm doing it. I'll take a direct line, find things that I like, and then start working through the processors. The GP-100 is great because it has a string of everything in it. There's distortion; you can use that or turn it off and just get phasing, flanging, and chorusing effects—whatever you want. A lot of the drum samples have light flanges on them.
DeAngelis brought his own Akai DR-16 hard-disk recorders into the studio, and they were essential for capturing live tracks.
I've used the Roland for about three years now, so it's filled with programs for drums. I listen to the sample, and, if the drums are dry, certain things work well; but if the samples are roomy, other things work better. At this point, I know what works.
Also, the four of us were totally committed to what we were doing. We became pretty good at knowing what to keep and what to throw out, without having to deliberate for hours. That's good because it keeps the creativity flowing.
How did you get the guitar sound?
DEANGELIS: Danny used a Fernandes guitar and a lot of EBow. He used his Gretsch guitar for rhythm parts. I usually layered that with a Les Paul or something that had a bigger bottom-end sound. On occasion, we'd use the GP-100 to layer the sound. We miked a lot with a Sennheiser 421. Often, I would put a pair of 421s out in the middle of the room, back to back, and flip them out of phase. Sometimes I would use a Shure SM57, too, or another 421 up close.
ASH: The EBow is a great bit of gear. I have shares in the company, and they're doing quite well, thank you very much. [Laughs.] My Fernandes guitar is called the Sustainer, and it works on the same principle as an EBow. You hit the strings, and they go on forever. You can sustain the primary note, or the third or fifth harmonic. It's a great invention that nobody's heard of. The other thing I used for guitar sound is a Casio DG-20, one of those plastic guitars. It's like a kiddie thing, really, with a little built-in drum machine and a built-in speaker and all kinds of corny sounds. The nylon strings on it are very floppy, so you have to hit them very gently.
When we're working stuff out in the studio, we often end up using notes or chords or even arrangements where we messed up and the song starts to wander. On "Deep Deep Down," for example, I was just searching for the chords to play, messing with the wah pedal. I'm a firm believer that that's the subconscious at work. When you're not thinking about it, that's when the really good, creative stuff comes out. The conscious part is good for arrangement, when you're going for an end product.
How about bass and vocals?
DEANGELIS: We use synth bass on the title track, "Lift," but it's mostly David's fretless through the Tech 21 SansAmp. It has a great low-end boost, and on a fretless bass, it's really nice. David's whole vibe is that dub bass thing. I would just roll down the top end, and roll up the sub bass. I also sometimes used a Roland JP-8000.
For vocals, I would get a lo-fi sound occasionally with a PZM stuck on the wall, and I'd get Danny to stand back about three feet and sing at it. Danny writes lyrics five minutes before he sings. Even if it's a demo they wrote a year ago, they rewrite it five minutes before they sing it—if not while they're singing it.
The classic Love and Rockets logo graces the cover of Lift.
Were there places in which Doug played synths or did programming collaborations? Did you come up with arrangements or structures together?
DEANGELIS: I'd usually snag things off the demo, take a loop, and use it to write with. Then, once I had a sketch of the drums, bass, and synth things, I'd lock up with Kevin, and we'd bring back the things I liked from the demo, move them around, change sounds—whatever we needed to do—and then we'd get into putting guitars and stuff back on. That was the flow of nearly every tune.
"Lift" was an interesting track. It started as an acoustic track, and I wanted to work it into an electronic piece. This was when we were back in New York. I had David on a mission to go outside and find things to bring back to the studio. He returned with not one, but several bags full of junk. We stereo-miked the live room and filled it with the stuff. He and Kevin played fetch with my dog, Luscious, throwing a ball across the room for her. She ran through the live room, which of course was knee-deep with the junk from outside. It was fall, so there were all these leaves and sticks, all kinds of stuff. Luscious was dragging stuff behind her and running in circles around the room. The original track of that is the last cut on the record. We also sent it to DJ Keoki, whom Kevin had met at a party, and he put a groove underneath it. His mix is the first cut on the record.
Tell me about the Luscious Jackson track.
ASH: Getting Luscious Jackson was Doug's idea. We wanted to get the Spice Girls, but we couldn't afford them. [Laughs.] Luscious didn't know the arrangement, and they hadn't heard the track, so we just played parts of it. We wanted to see what sort of angle they would come up with.
DEANGELIS: On "Holy Fool," Luscious Jackson came in and cut their tracks in an hour. My goal was to give them a half hour without ever hearing the lyrics of the song and let them flow out vocals and instrumental ideas. I knew them well enough to know that what they liked would click. I didn't want them to overthink it; it needed to be more of a complement. So we put up a mic and gave them a half hour. We figured that if they were tuned in to the vibe of the song, there'd be no problem. If they weren't, we'd put David's vocals on, and we'd do it the intelligent way. As it turned out, Jill [Cunniff] came in and did her vocals in one take.
Sounds like a pretty good working situation.
DEANGELIS: Actually, the eight months that they spent writing probably could have been spared altogether. They gravitate toward writing, capturing it, making it into a song, and moving on. Four months is normal for me; this recording took about six months, but we also didn't work the kind of hours I'm used to working. I usually start around noon, and I work until around four or so in the morning. We didn't work that kind of schedule in L.A. The guys deejayed at night, so we'd usually wrap up at ten or eleven o'clock in the evening. And because we were in Swinghouse, we weren't pressured with $200-per-hour studio costs. We were in a really relaxed environment.
With Love and Rockets, everything has to be a natural: whatever's flowing, that's what works. In New York, we were a little more analytical. We spent more time separating ourselves, thinking about things, and working on them until everyone was happy.
Of course, sometimes an evening would be hectic. One night while I was working on a song called "Ghost of the Multiple Feature," the guys had left, and I kept working. I'd started from scratch on the MPC, taking various things off records and working on the grooves. It was about two o'clock in the morning when one of the guys from the studio came into the room and said to my assistant engineer, C.J. Buscaglia, "Is Kevin still here?" C.J. said no, and the guy pulled the plug out; it turned off everything in the control room. I hadn't saved it, and I knew that I wouldn't remember it the next day. So I knew I had to reconstruct it right then and there. I had all the records out and knew where all the pieces came from. A friend came by to pick me up, and I had to tell her, "I'm not ready." She offered to help me, and we stayed until six in the morning finishing it.
What kind of monitors do you use for mixdown?
DEANGELIS: I prefer using Auratones. I also use two pairs of Genelecs: a pair of the 8s and a pair of 6.5s. Most of the time, I use the 6.5s. I use an Auratone in mono. I like to mix in mono for levels and balances, and then I go back and forth from there. When I work on my Genelecs, sometimes I'll make a change that's too subtle for its own good. Those speakers are so clean and the imaging so clear that you can make a change, and when you hear it on the radio, it's half of what you wanted it to be. Whereas, when you listen in mono on a little speaker, you can really tell how people are going to hear it.
Haskins''s Akai S1000 figured prominently into the recording of Lift, processing samples and generating all manner of “weird noises.”
I used to work with a mixer named Jason Corsaro when I was an assistant. Jason's theory on mixing was that if you're going to do it, do it. Make it clear what you're going for, because people aren't going to hear minor changes. If you know Jason's records, like the Power Station's, you know he's an extremist.
Tell me about the mixes you farmed out to Deep Dish.
DEANGELIS: "Resurrection Hex" was originally supposed to be an underground, white-label record; it wasn't even going to be on the album. That's why I had Deep Dish do the mixes on it, to keep it really dark. Generally, a remixer has to deliver two versions to a record company: an underground and a commercial mix. With the commercial mix, you spend a lot of time in the studio, and no one ever hears it. Then you spend two hours doing an underground dub version. The DJs will keep those and make acetates.
The DJ thing is a really tight network. They pass the acetates back and forth to each other of what, really, is the best stuff. So I told the remixers, "Look, just skip the commercial release and give me the one that you'd normally give to your friends. Save the five days of working on the other mix, I don't need it." It made for a great 12-inch.
When did Love and Rockets become interested in making more dance-oriented music?
ASH: In about '89 or '90. We were listening to the Happy Mondays, the Orb, and Spiritualized. Also, Kevin's been using drum machines for quite a while now, and I used one in Tones on Tail. It was an extremely crude, $35 drum machine. From about '85 to '89, we worked in the normal way of bringing songs in and working them out with bass, drums, and guitar. Then, after a two-year break, we started working on Hot Trip to Heaven, and we deliberately went in without any guitars so that it would be something new and novel for us.
What other projects have you done recently, aside from Love and Rockets?
HASKINS: I've done some remixing on a Gene Loves Jezebel track for Cleopatra Records. I just did one for Bow Wow Wow, "C30, C60, C90 Go," and before that, I worked with Jane's Addiction, sampling and sequencing for their last album, Kettle Whistle.
DEANGELIS: I do quite a bit of producing and mixing. I've done a lot of remixes, some on my own, some with different remixers in New York. I've worked with Roger S., Danny DeNaglia, and the guys from Deep Dish. When I first arrived in New York in the early '90s, I met people like Roger, who had just done some underground stuff with a band called Strictly Rhythm. On occasion, he'll get records like a Michael Jackson single, where it's a dance mix but it needs to be a radio crossover. Another good example is a single I did for Ultra Nate, called "Free," that came out this year. Mood II Swing brought me in to do a mix, and the idea was to make it into a club record that sounds like a pop record. That's what those guys call me for now. I also did remixes for the Pet Shop Boys and New Order with Daniel.
DAVID J: I did the music for a performance piece called the Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvel, narrated by Alan Moore, who wrote the Watchmen graphic novels.
It's interesting that Love and Rockets' working style parallels the DJ work that they've been doing lately.
DEANGELIS: Which is really good. Plus, I'm a huge early-'80s fanatic. That's the music I grew up on. It's fun for me to work with a band whose record collections are all vinyl, all of that era. And those guys are very bohemian in their approach to things. It's earthy. If it feels good, we keep it; if it doesn't, we immediately move in a different direction. These guys each have something that they're great at; it takes a few songs to figure out what that is, and then it becomes a pattern.
For instance, David's always the guy who comes in, does his bass tracks, and spends most of his time writing lyrics and thinking about the big picture. He gets very into the message of the song. At the end, he'll always walk in and deliver some beautiful synthesizer or guitar line, some melody line on top that you can't live without once it's there.
Daniel is the voice. He's a complicated one to explain. He's constantly pouring out ideas, mostly guitar or vocal work. When you're working on hybrid records like this, you have electronic parts, which takes time. You do a lot of programming, a lot of sampling, and stuff that must feel—to somebody who isn't doing it—like the most tedious work. So, with Daniel, who is a fountain of vocal ideas, backing vocal ideas, and guitar stuff, you always have to keep mics up and have things ready for him. At any point, you might have to stop what you are doing, turn the focus to him, and get the ideas on tape quickly; then you can go back to what you were doing and have his idea on tape for later on.
Kevin has an introverted demeanor in the studio. He's there from the minute the switch goes on to the minute it goes off. He also has a good sense of whether something's working or not. He spends most of the time with a pair of headphones on, and you have no idea what he's doing; then, at the end of the day, he has six or seven things that are complete genius. It's great, because he listens to what you're doing all day while he's doing his thing, so he has something that complements what you've done all day.
Like on "Deep Deep Down," where Kevin produced a slightly woozy orchestral break.
DEANGELIS: That's a string sample, a little slowed down. That's an example of what happens when he puts headphones on for the day. At the end of the day, you go, "What have you been doing, Kevin?" and he plays it for you, and it fits right into the break. That's a perfect example of Kevin at work.
DAVID J: You know the Mekon? It was a comic-strip character in '50s and early '60s in England. He was a little green alien with an atrophied body, and he had a big head and little beady eyes. His brain was huge, but he had no use for his body, really. He couldn't move physically, so he got around with a sort of scooter and just used his brain. Well, that's Kevin when he's in the studio.
EMEditorial Assistant Rick Weldon is a member of anywhere from 15 to 20 barely -existent bands, all of which are really, -really good.