An Interview with Poptone: On Touring, Nostalgia, and the Future of the Band
Photography: Bryan Yalta
Poptone, the retrospective project of Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and his daughter Diva Dompe, played their last show of 2017 on Sunday, December 10th at Trees. Ash and Haskins are known as members of Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets, from which they selected certain songs to perform. Opening for them was avant-garde act Geneva Jacuzzi, who put on a performance mixing interpretative body movement and heavy synthpop. She started out onstage sitting on the floor, holding a circular flashlight inside an uninflated ball, creating the image of a plastic monster slowly growing as the ball inflated with menacing music.
It wasn't soon until she fought her way outside the ball in a dramatic fashion and made her way towards the crowd, creeping through the floor and flashing her light at random audience members. At one point, she made the crowd create a hall-shaped space in the middle of the venue so she could dance her way to and fro the ends. Eventually making her way back onstage, she continued to dance in an evocative manner, fitting the music like the light fit the mood. Involving the audience with her performance made her set seem more like an interactive art piece than a live music show--a different way to take the audience away into a surreal environment.
Poptone's set started with "I Feel Speed," a Love and Rockets song that slowly built the pace of the show like a ride that was just beginning. The thunder-colored neon lights directed face-up at the band resembled the lighting of an 80s arcade onstage. Mixed with the fog, however, the stage felt more theatrical--and theatrical it was. Ash donned white glasses that glowed purple along with the lighting. Diva Dompe had on a large, white Poptone shirt that did the same. Haskins looked slightly hidden in the back of the drums but nonetheless kept that cloak-and-dagger aura that held the band together. Playing songs mostly from Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets, the sounds Poptone translated live sounded very close to how they are on record. It seemed like a reminder that those songs still sound contemporary and could pass as modern songs.
In between songs, Ash would engage the audience by doing things like playing a Spanish riff he had just learned to play and talking about the California fires that recently occurred, which hit close to where they currently reside. Near the end of the set, he said it was someone's birthday, which prompted the band to look for them in the audience. Apparently, there were multiple birthday celebrations happening, so Ash asked one of the birthday persons if they were a Sagittarius or a Capricorn. When they responded, Ash merely said, "Sag, nice. Free spirit," and then went on to play the Bauhaus song "Slice of Life," and end after with the Love and Rockets song "Sweet F.A." Perhaps the show ended soon, if only because there was so much more to cover. It seemed like part one in what could be a two-part tour that might fully include the main material from Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets. Of course, that'd be asking for too much, but a person can dream. After waving their goodbyes to the crowd, after all the drumsticks were given to audience members and all the thank you's were said, the curtains closed and marked the end of Poptone's tour until next year. We phoned the band days before the show for an interview looking back at how the project has been received, how revisiting these songs has changed their view on them, and what we can look forward to next year. Below is the transcribed interview:
Uncanny Valley: Dallas marks the last date of Poptone's tour for 2017, so I was wondering if you guys feel worn out. How do you guys feel about the overall reception the band has received since starting of?
Kevin Haskins: It’s really been, I think, way beyond our expectations. I’m not sure if it’s because they didn’t expect us to tour again and are very grateful or that we haven’t toured for a long time. One piece of feedback we’re getting a lot is, ‘cause we’re playing a lot of Tones on Tail material, people definitely didn’t expect to hear that live again. A lot of people missed out, because we only did one short tour back in the ‘80s. So, people have really responded to that.
U: Most of the setlist is made up of songs from Tones on Tail, so I was wondering if there was a conscious decision about adding more songs from that project than, say, other projects like Love and Rockets?
K: Well, there’s one song called “Burning Skies” that is a big favorite. We’re going to add that sometime next year. There’s a Love and Rockets song called “All in My Mind” that we’re thinking would be a great asset to the set. You know, there’s still quite a lot of material to draw from, and that’s a really wonderful thing. A lot of the material has stood the test of time, so that’s really beneficial for us, obviously.
U: I’ve noticed that you guys haven’t played most of the “hits”. Was there a reason why?
K: Well, Daniel [Ash] only wants to perform songs that he wrote or sang on primarily, and I can understand that. So, that’s kind of put a certain restriction on what we do. But, even so, we’re finding that even with that restriction there’s a lot of great material.
U: I was wondering if there is a certain effect that the setlist structure is supposed to cause. Did you think about structuring the setlist chronologically or maybe dividing it into individual sections of songs from each project?
K: No, we’re very weary that it’s important to structure the set in a certain way. I can always remember—I think it was Ian Dury from Ian Dury and the Blockheads—he was talking about set structure in an interview and he said that you always need to put a big hit in the middle of the set. Anyway, we kind of knew this from experience; how to pace the set, fast or slow. So, we go more with feel and impact, taking people on a rollercoaster—there’s a peak and then a valley and then a peak and then a big ending. It actually didn’t take us too long to put the set together back in April. We’ve pretty much stuck to the same format, because it just worked really, really well from the get-go. I think that’s part of the success—the way we’ve structured the set.
U: Has revisiting these songs made you seen them in a new light, like maybe thinking about different ways they could be musically arranged whether through sound, structure or lyrics?
K: Certain songs, yes. I’m a big believer, especially, with what we’re doing. For other people, there’s a nostalgia element to it. When I go and see a band whose material I’m very familiar with, I prefer to hear it very close to what it’s like on the records. That’s primarily what we’re doing. I’m even triggering lots of samples off the records or I’ve remade sounds that are close to what was on the record, so people can identify with the songs as they have been used to hearing them. Having said that, there’s a song by Tones on Tail called “Happiness,” for example, where we have—there’s an organ part in there, and instead of using an organ sound we started to do it with vocals, and it really works well. So that’s different from how it is on the record, but primarily we’re close to the recordings.
U: You said you guys worked off of mood earlier on, so how do you feel about the mood the band currently has in terms of performance?
K: I’m not sure how to answer that [laughs].
U: In other words, how would you judge the chemistry between all of you?
K: Oh, ok. It’s great—on and offstage. Offstage, obviously I get on with my daughter—or maybe that’s not obvious—but I get on with her really well. Daniel and her have bonded and formed a really good friendship. We really have a lot of fun most of the time. We really enjoy each other’s company, so that’s great. Onstage: same thing. Diva—I didn’t realize how good a bass player and musician she is [laughs]. I was actually playing a band with her, you know? And I recognized it when I would go and see her, but it’s really brought it home to me that she’s a really great bass player. We locked in as a rhythm section really well and that might not be a surprise, because we’re, you know, related. It’s working incredibly well, and it’s also great to have—Daniel and I, we’ve never had a female element as a band member before and also someone younger than ourselves. Also, Diva’s got a very beautiful spirit and she brings all this—it’s all kind of a new thing for us and it’s working really well. It works on so many levels that I’m really so very blessed to be having her in the band and be able to tour with her.
U: Would you say that this positive chemistry you guys have is possibly able to create new material in the future?
Diva Dompe: Hello?
K: That’s really weird, Diva. I was just talking about you, and just as I finished, I heard the ding and then you joined the conversation. U: Oh, is that Diva? K & D: Yeah. U: How are you doing Diva?
D: I’m pretty good.
U: We were talking about the chemistry between all of you guys and I was wondering if this positive chemistry that Kevin was talking about could possibly create new material? D: Um, I don’t know. Dad, were you about to answer that? K: It’s something we’ve been discussing on and off, and we haven’t grudged that yet. We just don’t want to force it or rush into it. I think we want it to happen organically, when it shows like it’s the right time, but I’m hoping. It’s something I’d want to do, and I’m hoping that that happens next year. So we’ll just see what happens really.