Daniel Ash - Biography
In a career spanning more than three decades, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Daniel Ash helped pioneer the post-punk and goth rock movements as the guitarist for Bauhaus, fronted quirky new wave outfit Tones On Tail, and helped lay the foundations for the alternative era as a member of Love and Rockets — all before embarking on a solo career.
Daniel Ash was born on July 31, 1957 in Northampton, England. In kindergarten, he met brothers Kevin and David J. Haskins, the future drummer and bassist (respectively) of both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets. Ash first picked up a guitar at age fifteen, but didn't take it seriously until he was eighteen and began playing in cover bands. In the meantime, he'd befriended Peter Murphy. They went their separate ways for a time — Ash to art school and Murphy to a job in a printing factory. Five years later, in 1978, Ash suggested to Murphy that they start a band. The two called on Ash's sibling schoolmates to form the rhythm section, and Bauhaus was born. In August of the following year, the band released their iconic debut single, Bela Lugosi (1979 Small Wonder).
A year later, Bauhaus issued their debut LP, In the Flat (1980 4AD). Ash's guitar playing here is the sound of tin shredding, as his sharp and bristling tone digs against Haskins and J's fluid grooves, while Murphy bellows manically amidst the din. Ash also contributes some saxophone squeals to the hectic "Dive." Though the record received very poor reviews when first released, it clicked with music buyers, hitting #1 on the British indie charts and #72 on the UK Albums Chart. In hindsight, the album is now viewed as a genre-defining classic. For Bauhaus' sophomore album, Mask (1981 4AD), Daniel Ash designed the cover art. His guitar playing is sparer this time around, adding shrapnel-like licks to the band's brooding tunes. With slower tempos and less cluttered arrangements, the album is more insidiously dark than its vitriolic predecessor. The LP hit #30 in the UK, while the Bowie-inspired motoric funk of "Kick in the Eye" peaked at #29 on the US Club Play Singles chart. The following year, Bauhaus' cover of "Ziggy Stardust" reached #15 in the UK.
Bauhaus paid homage to another '70s art rock luminary on album number three, The Sky's Gone Out (1982 Beggar's Banquet), with their cover of Brian Eno's "Third Uncle." On "Silent Hedges," Ashes introduces the arpeggiated guitar style that would become a key part of his repertoire in future releases, especially with Love and Rockets. Ash's acoustic guitars in, and the Renaissance flavor of, "Spirit" show Bauhaus moving in new and varied directions. The album peaked at #4 in England. This trend toward fresh styles and sounds continued on the band's fourth and (for many years) final album, Burning from the Inside (1983 Beggar's Banquet). The carnival-ish "King Volcano" is dominated by Ash's Spanish guitar. Because Peter Murphy was ill during much of the album's recording, J and Ash sang lead on several tracks. The latter's "Slice of Life" is a clear precursor for the sound of his next band. A fractured unit, Bauhaus broke up by the time Burning from the Inside was released. The album reached #13 on the UK charts, while the Murphy-sung "She's in Parties" hit #26.
A year before the band's demise, Daniel Ash and Bauhaus roadie Glenn Campling had already formed Tones on Tail as a side project. In 1983, Kevin Haskins signed on as drummer. Though it retained some of Bauhaus' gothic appeal, Tones on Tail's sound incorporated elements synth pop, new wave, and dance music. Following the band's self-titled debut EP (1983 4AD) and a handful of singles, Tones on Tail released their lone LP, Pop (1984 Beggar's Banquet). The group's only hint of commercial success was the single for "Burning Skies" (1983-Situation Two), which peaked at #11 on the UK indie chart. Tones on Tail disbanded in 1984, but remain a cult favorite. Their entire output is collected on the 2-CD set Everything! (1998 Beggar's Banquet).
The following year, Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins reunited with David J to form Love and Rockets. The new band's music hinted at the goth rock of Bauhaus, while embracing psychedelia and pop. Their first release was a non-LP single cover of The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion." Their full-length debut, Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven (1985 Beggar's Banquet), is replete with Ash's strummed acoustic guitars, synths, and J and Ash's perfectly entwining vocal harmonies. A year later, Love and Rockets issued their second album, Express (1986 Beggar's Banquet). It begins with the return of Ash on saxophone, offering a Middle Eastern-tinged intro to the schizophrenic "It Could Be Sunshine." Ash's thick and fuzzed-out guitar tone here seems to anticipate the heavy strains of grunge and the swirling, effects-laden sounds of shoegaze. Tracks like the glammy "Kundalini Express," "All in My Mind," and "Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man)" reflect Love and Rockets' interest in Eastern philosophies. Express reached #72 on the US Billboard charts, marking Ash and company's greatest success in America to date.
On the band's third album, Earth Sun Moon (1987 Beggar's Banquet), they branched out further with harmonica on "The Light," the T. Rex-y acoustic glam of "Welcome Tomorrow," a Jethro Tull-esque flute solo on "No New Tale to Tell," and the Codeine-coated folk of "Rain Bird." The LP reached #64 in America. Love and Rockets would soar to even greater commercial heights with their self-titled fourth album (1989 Beggar's Banquet). Here, the band returned to their darkest, hardest sound since early Bauhaus. On Love and Rockets, however, the style is glam- and rockabilly-fueled alternative rock, as Ash's thick and fuzzy guitar churns out dense blues-based melodies on songs like "No Big Deal" and "Motorcycle." Still, it was the slinky and rather tame single "So Alive" that vaulted Love and Rockets to temporary stardom. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, carrying the album to #14 on the US album chart.
Rather than ride the wave of success and crank out another Love and Rockets album, the band went on hiatus to work on solo material. Daniel Ash released two records during this early '90s break. Coming Down (1991 Beggar's Banquet) finds Ash broadening his palette, with the Afro-Cuban grooves of "Walk This Way," (which is co-credited to Mambo master Tito Puente), the standard "Me and My Shadow," and many shared vocals with Euro-Arabian alt-pop singer Natacha Atlas. However, it was the Love and Rockets-like "This Love" which climbed to #2 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart. Overall, the tone of the record is moody and muted. Ash's sophomore solo effort, Foolish Thing Desire (1992 Beggar's Banquet), hews more closely to Love and Rockets' usual modus operandi, but isn't quite as distinctive as the band's work to that point.
Two years later, the group reunited for their fifth album, Hot Trip to Heaven (1994 American). Instead of returning to the alt-rock sound they'd helped foster, Love and Rockets instead embraced the electronica explosion of the time. Appropriating elements of trip-hop and trance, the band seemingly eschewed songwriting for moody ambience. The record bombed with critics and fans alike. Fortunately, Love and Rockets returned to their strengths for their next album, Sweet F.A. (1996 American). However, the guitars don't come roaring back quite enough, resulting in a tepid album that, while enjoyable enough, doesn't live up to the band's '80s material. It peaked at #172 on Billboard. For their seventh and, thus far, final studio album, Love and Rockets ping-ponged back to electronica on Lift (1998 Red Ant). The sound is a harder mix of techno and dabs of jungle, and Ash gets in more guitar work than on Hot Trip to Heaven, but Lift still sounds like a band that's out of their element. Reception for the album was generally poor, and, in 1999, Love and Rockets broke up.
Three years later, Daniel Ash issued his self-titled third album (2002 Psychobaby). Stylistically, the record is a continuation of the rock-tinged electronica of the final Love and Rockets album and is perhaps even more bereft of good songs, with a faraway sample of "Christian Says" during "Mastermind" offering the disc's most musical moment. Another three years later, Ash released Come Alive (2005 Psychobaby), which was recorded in concert on the Daniel Ash tour. Mercifully, the album features a live rock band, working its way through Ash's catalog, from Bauhaus on.
In 1998, Bauhaus had reunited for a tour and one song, "The Dog's a Vapour." Seven years later, the band got back together again and hit the road. This time, Murphy, Ash, J, and Haskins stuck together long enough to write and record a new album, their first in a quarter-century. Go Away White (2008 Bauhaus Music) rekindles the feel of late-era Bauhaus, as filtered through bigger and fuller modern production values. Though not a spectacular success, the album received positive reviews and charted just outside the Top 100 in both the US and the UK. Nonetheless, the band's chemistry proved too volatile, and Bauhaus broke up once more.
Today, Daniel Ash lives in Ojai, California, and is rumored to be working on a new studio album.