It’s something you might not expect, that an artist so associated with the 1980s goth movement would love country music. To David J, it’s perfectly natural.
The former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets member shows off his eclectic roots on his debut Heyday album, “Estranged” (released Sept. 9). When the British-born bassist-singer isn’t dabbling in haunting acoustic pop, he’s throwing in a steel guitar here and there.
“When I was younger, I used to love the old Sun records,” J said recently, “then I got into Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, the old school. And then things like Gram Parsons, and I even have to confess I like some of the Eagles’ stuff.
“What came along and blasted my world was punk, so country music went out the window. But I can see that those old country stars, they were the punks of their day. There was some resonance there. I kind of lost touch with country and then I rediscovered it in the mid-1990s.”
Seeing Johnny Cash perform in Los Angeles solidified his newfound appreciation.
“What stature he had, what dignity – you could hear it in his voice,” J said. “He knocked me out, and thanks to him, I rediscovered country.”
Growing up in Northampton, J says, he wasn’t teased for being a Nashville cat.
“I was in art school at the time and I used to play (country) on a tape recorder,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe half the class was pissed off with it, but I was bloody minded about my music so I played it.”
He’s so bloody minded, J came up with an ingenius way to finance the recording of “Estranged”: He auctioned off Bauhaus memorabilia on eBay.
Getting rid of guitars and gold and platinum discs, among other things, was actually liberating, he says.
“It made me happy, really,” he said. “The checks were really a buffer against any pain or sentimentality. It was just stuff that was sitting in the garage not doing anything. It was like ‘out with the old and in with the new.’ I just wanted to get on and record something, and that was a way of doing it.”
Ultimately, it gave fans a chance to be involved in the process, he says.
“What was great about it, which was something completely unpredictable, I got to know quite a few of the auction winners,” he said. “They would turn up at my gigs, so I got terrific feedback from eBay. I got letters from all over the world. It was amazing.”
When it came time to shopping “Estranged” around, J was determined to find the right fit.
“I didn’t bother with major labels; I went to top-flight indies,” he said. “I got either ‘I really love this’ or ‘My wife really loves this record, but I don’t have any idea how to market this.’ Or I got ‘Yeah, I love this, I want to do it,’ but then they wanted to own the publishing. That was the big stumbling block for me.
“For the first time in 20 years, I’m clear from a publishing deal I had signed when I was in Bauhaus, which tied up all my publishing. I’m finally free of that, and I own my own songs, and I’m not going to give them away. I held out until I got with a label that let me retain my publishing.”
Heyday got its money’s worth. “Estranged” – featuring guest appearances by Jane’s Addiction members Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins, Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek and American Music Club’s Bruce Kaphan – touches on a universal theme: losing a love and finding your way back.
“I had a vague idea of what direction I wanted the album to go in,” J said, “but then my circumstances changed. I became essentially estranged from my soul mate, and I went through a really tough time of my own making. The record was written during that time, as a way of handling that situation, of getting over it and coming back.”
Things are looking brighter for J. In addition to rave reviews for “Estranged,” he’s enjoying royalties from co-writing the title track off Jane’s Addiction’s comeback album “Strays.”
“I just got a call out of the blue from them, saying they wanted to work in the studio,” he said. “We got together at the same time, like the old days, and just jammed. We did it live, finishing it in two hours. It was like magic.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Dave and Ansil Collins’ ‘Double Barrel.’ There was a great sound on that. I loved reggae.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “At the London Palladium, I saw the Kinks in 1974. I met Ray Davies afterward. We traveled down from my hometown, Northampton, and me and my two mates stood outside like stagedoor Johnnies. We wanted to meet him. Sure enough, he came out and he was wearing a big fur coat, holding a bottle of champagne and a bunch of flowers. We followed him to his car. I’ve got a tape of this somewhere – because I bootlegged the gig – I said ‘Ray, would you say something into my tape machine?’ And he was hammered. He said, ‘Hello, hello. Happy birthday. How are you all doing? Ha! Ha!’ And he signed a poster.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “It’s a toss-up between two. I used to work in a meat factory, making these things called Scotch eggs. It would be hard-boiled eggs encased in a big ball of pork. This meat used to come down into a big vat, and it was my job to catch the meat, mold it into balls, stick an egg in the middle and put it on a conveyor belt. I lasted one morning.
“The other one, I worked at a sheet metal factory with vats of sulfuric acid. It was like being in hell. It was in the middle of winter and we’d start at like 5 in the morning. A shipment of sheet metal would come and we’d have to unload them from a truck and go inside, which was like a furnace. I lasted one day on that. (Former Bauhaus and Love and Rockets band mate) Daniel Ash ended up taking my place. They said they’d replace me with someone from the art school, and it turned out to be Daniel. He lasted a week.”
ON THE WEB: www.davidjonline.com.
BWF (before we forget): The David J album discography – “Etiquette of Violence” (Situation Two, 1983); “Crocodile Tears & the Velvet Cosh” (Glass, 1985); “Songs From Another Season” (RCA, 1990); “Urban Urbane” (MCA, 1992); “The Moon and the Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels” (Cleopatra, 1996); “Estranged” (Heyday, 2003).