by Craig Young


In Ian Shirley's Bauhaus biography, Dark Entries, David J is quoted as saying, "It's the old hierarchy that's imposed by the press; the first person they'll go to is the singer, next is the guitarist, the bass player, then the drummer." Problem is, for David J these days he is the singer, and the guitarist, and the bass player -- as well as a number of other roles. In fact, it's been that way for quite some time. Since the demise of Bauhaus in the early '80s, and continuing through Love and Rockets, David J has recorded and released five albums of solo material, been a member of The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy, collaborated with original Weimar Bauhaus member Rene Halkett, and partnered with graphic novel legend Alan Moore on several projects -- to name but a few.

His most recent solo work is Estranged, an intimate meditation on infidelity and love released through the small but honorable Heyday Records. Without a recording contract, and insistent upon keeping ownership of both the masters and the publishing rights to the album, David J auctioned off all of his Bauhaus and Love and Rockets memorabilia on eBay in an unorthodox but brilliant move that allowed him to self-finance Estranged in its entirety. Not content with letting his eBay experience end here, he recently put up for auction original artwork of his from the newly released Bauhaus book, The Glittering Darkness, available through Pie Books in Japan. He's also been busying himself with Cabaret Oscuro, an avant-garde performance that mixes '20s Berlin cabaret with contemporary influences. "I equate it with punk rock," he says. On top of singer, guitarist, bassist, auctioneer, performance artist, and collaborator, David J's other credentials include DJ, playwright, visual artist, and current mentor to the young and talented singer Renata Youngblood.

Following his return from the gallery opening for The Glittering Darkness in Japan, I was able to catch up with David for a very memorable, very wide ranging interview. Thanks to Versa and Rachel at Gorgeous PR for all their help and patience, and kind thanks to David for... well, everything.


[ david j ]

I think last time we tried to set up this interview you were away in Japan doing promotion for your Bauhaus art book, The Glittering Darkness.

David J: It was a gallery show. They were showing the original artwork for the book, and I did an acoustic set in the gallery. Pie Books sold copies of the book there. It's a limited edition of 2,000, and we're hoping to get some into the States soon to sell.

I've got an auction coming up on eBay where all the artwork is going to be for sale. Well, a lot of it, at least. And whoever is the winning bidder gets a free copy of the book. The auction starts on the 16th of January and will run for ten days.

[Following the close of the first auction, David J announced that ten items from The Glittering Darkness will be auctioned again on eBay in a second round that is scheduled to run from 01-07 February. Check David's website for more information.]

eBay is something that you're not unfamiliar with.

David J: No! [Laughs]

David J the auctioneer is a topic I want to discuss, but by way of introduction to it I'd first like to back up a little and talk about your latest release, Estranged. When did you first start work on that?

David J: Well, a long time ago. 1999, I believe. I finished it in 2000, and it's taken this long for it to come out because I was shopping it around. There was interest in it and I almost signed a couple of times, but the crunch came when the labels wanted to own the masters. For the first time ever I'm in a position where I own my masters and my publishing, and I didn't want to give that up. So I just held out until I found a label that was willing to let me retain that.

And that was Heyday Records, correct?

David J: Correct.

How did you find Heyday?

David J: They approached me. They were just interested in doing something with me. I say "they" but it's really "he" -- a one man shoestring operation run by Robert Walker. But Robert's got a lot of heart; he really loves music and he's in it for that reason. That really impressed me. I have a very nice deal with him, but it swings roundabout because the downside is that they're small, so you don't have the clout of a big label, or even a good sized indie.

I was reading through the various writings on your website and there's a piece entitled "Manifesto" in which you sound very frustrated with the music business in regards to getting Estranged the due it deserved.

David J: Sure, yeah. But it's not only personal, it's also universal. That's the way I felt -- and still feel -- about the way the industry has gone. It's become very corporate, and as a result it squeezes out the life's blood and talent.

Is this one of the reasons for wanting to keep your publishing rights, or did you just feel that you'd reached a point where you didn't want to give it away any longer?

David J: I didn't want to give it away any longer. Since I started in the late '70s, my publishing has always been owned by somebody else. All the Love and Rockets, all the Bauhaus, all my solo stuff up until this album has been owned by someone else.

[ estranged ]
[ give a listen! ] "Mess Up" MP3
96kbs/39sec/479kb

I don't think the average music fan knows that and understands just how screwed an artist gets.

David J: Yeah, especially when the deal today is pretty much the same percentages we had back in the '80s. It isn't much, and I don't see much in the way of royalties. Also, Love and Rockets are very much in debt from spending a lot of time crafting albums in very expensive residential studios around the world. It was a very nice time we had, and we like those records, but it cost a lot of money and you end up paying for that for years.

So bringing this all back around to the subject of eBay, what inspired you to use that as a means to finance Estranged?

David J: I was just wracking my mind trying to think how I could get the album to float, and it just popped into my head. I thought that if I put all this stuff that I've got in my garage on eBay, maybe I'll make some money to fund it. And I did.

Was this the first time you'd sold anything on eBay, personal, professional or otherwise?

David J: Yeah.

Was it hard for you to go about it? Estranged is very personal album. Writing that kind of subject matter, then going through what you had to in order to release it by selling off your musical past to finance it could not have been easy, emotionally or otherwise.

David J: The most pressing emotion for me was to make a new record. That's always been the case. So that makes it a lot easier to part with the past; and I think it's healthy, actually. It was a healthy exercise for me to do that. I do tend to horde things and archive them, and cling to all that stuff. It was very cathartic to let it go, and I got such a great response from the people who were the auction winners. It obviously meant a lot to them. I got a lot of personal e-mails that were really, really great. I've met a lot of the auction winners and some of them have become very good friends.

Were you surprised by the reaction and level of personal interest that you got from this?

David J: Yeah.

What were you expecting when first decided to do it?

David J: I didn't know! I just thought I'd chance it, you know? I didn't think I'd make as much as I did. I didn't think I'd have enough there to make a record, but I thought it would help. Anything helps. But this actually funded the whole thing.

[ photo by mitch jenkins ]
photo by mitch jenkins

So now you're doing it again with artwork from The Glittering Darkness.

David J: No. I just need that to survive, because that's how it is at the moment. I'm not making much money. I've got things in the pipeline, but nothing's paying at the moment.

Looking over what you've been involved with recently, and what you're currently involved with, you seem so incredibly busy involving yourself with music, film, art, theater, and your DJing stuff. How do you find what you do, or how does it find you? And how do you find time for yourself?

David J: [Laughs] Well, that is myself. That is me. There's still time outside of all that. But that's my life, and I still feel incredibly privileged to be able to do it. It's nowhere near as easy as it used to be, and I certainly, really took things for granted in the past. In the '80s I was really quite blasť about it. We all were in the band. But now it's a very different ballgame where you have to fight to survive. But that does give it all a certain kind of guts and energy with whatever you produce. It's like being hungry again.

Literally.

David J: Yeah.

With what you've been through with Bauhaus, Love and Rockets and your solo work, over the years has it changed your definition of what success is, or should be?

David J: There's different levels of success. There's the deep satisfactions that come from realizing an idea -- a musical idea or recording. To get that right, that's successful in and of itself. Then there's success that comes from that product being popular, and I don't sell very many records. In fact, Love and Rockets didn't sell many records in the '90s, although we think that we did some of our best work then.

It would be nice to have some monetary success! [Laughs]

Beggars recently released a Love and Rockets Best Of called Sorted! How involved were you, Daniel Ash, and Kevin Haskins with it?

David J: Oh, very much. Intrinsically. At least we have that relationship. The royalties could be higher, but we do have a lot of say in what's put out there, which is really great. We were really hands on with that.

[ love and rockets - kevin haskins, daniel ash, david j ]

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