I’ve been a big fan of David J’s work for many years now. From first hearing Bauhaus’ Swing The Heartache BBC Sessions as a teenager to discovering the perfection of Love & Rockets’ Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven and Earth Sun Moon albums through to his solo work with such intriguing titles as Crocodile Tears and The Velvet Cosh and Etiquette Of Violence, the breezy charm of I’ll Be Your Chauffeur and New Woman Is An Attitude on Songs From Another Season and the pure pop rush of Space Cowboy from 1992’s Urban Urbane. Not to mention his collaborations with comics legend Alan Moore – one of the great lost one-off singles, March Of The Sinister Ducks, and the magical workings in the 90s, The Birth Caul and The Moon & Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre Of Marvels. His recent Not Long For This World is one of the best albums of 2011 and his cover of Ed Harcourt’s The Last Cigarette is one of my favourite songs of the year. He’s also been busy producing works for the theatre – Silver For Gold, inspired by his fascination with Edie Sedgwick, and The Chaunteuse and The Devil’s Muse, “a chilling reimagining of the saga of the Black Dahlia”.
Hi David. Thanks very much for doing this. Not Long For This World is one of my albums of the year. There’s a very strong theme, though it’s almost half original compositions and half cover versions. How did the album come about? What inspired you to make this particular record?
David J: I was asked to play two nights at the Cavern Theatre in LA, this place is a great little subterranean cabaret club, usually the scene of drag shows and arty exploits. I wanted to do something special and came up with the idea of a theme. Adopting the title, ‘Bouquets, Wreaths and Laurels’ . (This was an old song of mine from the album ‘Songs From Another Season’ ) I split the performance into three sections. ‘Bouquets’ – songs of love, ‘Wreaths’ – songs of death and ‘Laurels’ – songs of glory. The band comprised of acoustic piano, stand-up bass and violin. It went down very well and we filmed the entire event. A DVD will be forthcoming next year. Anyway, I retained quite a lot of the songs from that night and eventually recorded a few of them. There were more ‘death’ songs than anything else and I realized that I had the start of a concept album.
Dagger In The Well seems to me a classic solo David J song, that laidback acoustic feel. What’s the story behind it?
DJ: I wrote that the day that they announced the death of Elliott Smith. As it says in the song, I went down to Silver Lake to the wall where he had been photographed for the ‘Figure of 8’ album as I guessed that it would become an instant shrine. The bit about the bums on the corner is exactly what I heard these two homeless guys saying as I was waiting to cross the road to light a candle and pay my respects. As soon as I got back home I wrote the song.
You made accompanying collages for each song on the album. Had you been thinking of these songs in a visual way all along?
DJ: No. That idea was suggested by my manager, Darwin Meiners as he had seen my artwork and thought that it would be a nice idea to have thirteen special albums which would include these pieces.
What brought me to realize that the new record was out is that I finally got around to listening to the cd that came with the first Dodgem Logic magazine and really loved 2000 Light Years From Gold Street. Anything you’d like to say about that song? Or reflections on the Northampton music scene over the years?
DJ: That was an old demo that I had recorded on a cassette recorder. Alan (Moore) approached me about contributing a song relating to Northampton and it immediately came to mind. I didn’t want to re-record it as I liked the quality of ‘finding the song’ that comes through. It’s a little bitter-sweet stroll down memory lane, detailing places, people and various exploits told from the point of view of having moved on and relocated.
Any plans for future collaborations with Alan Moore? Were those Moon & Serpent- related recordings musical projects for you or do you also have an interest in magic? Any thoughts on The Birth Caul or The Moon & Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels looking back on them?
DJ: That was a very intense period in the mid 90’s. I became acolyte to Alan’s Magus and explored the magickal realm with him and also, Tim Perkins. That work was a direct result of that. It is very strong and of course, Alan’s insights are just astonishing. We have no plans to collaborate at the moment as we are both very busy with our respective projects. We are still in touch via phone though it’s not the same as being able to pop round to ‘Seaview’ for a smoke and mind-blowing audience with the great man!
You’ve just finished a production of your show Silver For Gold in L.A. How did that go? Where does your fascination with Edie Sedgwick come from? Any plans to perform this work in other cities?
DJ: It went very well indeed. The REDCAT is a wonderful environment in which to stage a multi-dimensional theatrical piece like that. My fascination stems back to the time that I saw a now iconic picture of Edie, Andy and Chuck Wein appearing from a manhole in NYC. It was in a newspaper which was announcing a big Warhol exhibition in London. This would have been 1968 so I was 11. I was intrigued by their look and then got into Warhol’s art. Later on, when I was about 15, I discovered The Velvet Underground via David Bowie. I wrote the play at the encouragement of David Weisman who co-directed ‘Ciao Manhattan’. I had written a song which was sparked off when I read a movie script called ‘Girl On Fire’ about Edie, which he had written with Leonard Schrader. He loved the song and strongly suggested that I should write more and put the songs into the context of a theatrical piece. I certainly want to bring the piece to New York at some point.
How did the recentThe Chanteuse And The Devil’s Muse show go? You’ve been involved in a lot of theatre work lately. Do you approach it differently than you do music or do you see similarities between bringing both types of works from an idea out into the world?
DJ: The show was pretty well received critically although it was hard to make that translate into ticket sales. I am hoping to stage another production of the piece possibly towards the end of next year or early 2013. The music is usually the starting point for these works. Once I have a couple of songs as part of a song cycle that suggests where the text / imagery should go, then this in turn, informs the music that is to come. The whole thing evolves and unfolds in an organic manner. The best thing is when I surprise myself!
Can you tell us about your first play Anarchy In The Gold Street Wimpy? Sounds interesting though I can’t find much information about it.
DJ: That was the thing that I wrote for the stage back in 2004. My publicist at the time, Versa Manos, suggested that I should submit a piece to the Dad’s Garage Theater company in Atlanta, as they were looking for submissions based on the subject, ‘Punk Rock Will Never Die’. The plays had to be 11 minutes long max. I simply wrote about being a nineteen year old punk rocker in England in 1976. It was accepted and staged with some aplomb by the company. Here is some more info about it, including my own narrative recording which I made in my car using a dictaphone and the car stereo –http://davidjonline.com/tang/anarchy.html .
Seeing this come to life is what really gave me the bug to write more for the theatre.
What projects do you have coming up? You’re a very busy man, what do you enjoy doing when you’re not creating?
DJ: There are a number of collaborations in the works including a re-recording of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ which features the neo-classical piano stylings of the lovely Jill Tracy. It’s quite a different take than the original and includes a smidgeon of Lord Byron thrown in for good measure. Then, on a similar vampiric theme, an EP of tracks recorded with Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde and Shok. The lead track is called, ‘Take You Deep’. We have shot a sumptuous little video for this which we are hoping to premier in San Francisco on January 21 when I play a gig with Johnette at Bimbo’s in San Francisco. I am also working with a great band out of Portland called Adrian H and The Wounds. We have recorded a killer cover of a song that shall remain nameless for now. We are also going to be shooting a video for this which will feature an uber-sexy guest star! All will be revealed next year!
I still like to read a lot.
Any chance of more Love & Rockets reunion gigs?
DJ: In a word, ‘no’!
What are you listening to these days?
DJ: A lot of jazz on the radio ( Favorite period 1957 – 1965 ). There’s also a wonderful record which Jill Tracy turned me onto, ‘Ethiopiques’ vol 4, which is this weird hybrid jazz coming out of Africa in the late ‘60’s. Then there’s the brilliant Damien Youth. One of the greatest and most underrated songwriters of all time. Ditto Liam Dulligan, who appears on that Dodgem Logic Northampton compilation. Then there’s a bunch of great rock n’ roll bands including The Black Angels, 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Black Mountain. Also the following albums helped to float my boat this past year:
- ‘Keep On Creepin’ On’ – Timber Timbre
- ‘This Train’ – Chrysta Bell
- ‘Wits End’ – Cas Mccombs
- ‘Cat’s Eyes’ – Cat’s Eyes
- ‘Burst Apart’ – Antlers
- ‘Crazy Clown Time’ – David Lynch
- ‘Apocalypse’ – Bill Callahan
- ‘Bad As Me’ – Tom Waits
- ‘Bon Iver’ – Bon Iver
- ‘The Harrow & The Harvest’ – Gillian Welch
- ‘El Radio’ – Chris Garneau
- ‘My Name Is Trouble’ – Karen Ann
- ’Rome’ – Daniele Luppi & Danger Mouse
I’ve always said that there’s something about a really great song that’s akin to the feeling you have after you’ve first kissed someone you’ve really fancied for a long time. What do you think is inherent in all great music? Any similar comparisons?
DJ: Mmm, I like that! Although for me, there’s also something in a great song that transcends sex. It is truly transporting and allows the listener to inhabit a total world of pleasure for a few minutes which actually takes you outside of time.
My standard last question – say you’ve stolen a space shuttle and are flying it directly into the sun, for whatever reason. What would the soundtrack be?
DJ: Probably ‘Astral Weeks’ by Van Morrison. I think that he was flying directly into his own ‘sun’ when he made that!