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Feeling Some Heat, Love and Rockets Catches the Spark

August 26, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Love and Rockets' workplace went up in smoke, its new album literally and figuratively caught fire.

The blaze occurred last year at a studio at the home of American Recordings founder Rick Rubin. According to Daniel Ash, British-bred front man for the alternative-rock band, the near-fatal tragedy served as a catalyst, transforming the group's "Sweet F.A." album from a tentative, slow-developing project into a spirited, driven and fully realized work.

"The experience was truly horrifying," recalled Ash during a recent phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "Someone came downstairs at like 7 in the morning, screaming and shouting, and the PA console was in flames. We were literally jumping out [of] windows. A cop later said to me, 'Another 10 minutes and you would've been history.' "

Coincidentally, the band's previous album had been titled "Hot Trip to Heaven." That record, inaccessible and techno-like, was a critical and commercial disappointment. After the fire, which destroyed all of the band's equipment and some just-recorded album tracks, Love and Rockets found renewed inspiration in getting back to basics.

"The fire really made us very hungry again, and in the end I believe it actually made 'Sweet F.A.' a better record," said Ash, principal songwriter, singer and lead guitarist for the trio, which plays Wednesday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana. "We went from recording in a $1,500-a-day studio to a sweaty garage in Silver Lake. It was crazy. . . . We were running around town trying to find deals on electric guitars. But we realized that essentially, either you want to make the music or you don't."

The music that Ash, bassist David Haskins (known professionally as David J) and drummer Kevin Haskins (David's brother) created for "Sweet F.A." is a return to their more appealing form. Back are the atmospheric, guitar-driven rock textures and pretty- sounding- yet- often- dark- themed ballads found on such earlier recordings as 1987's "Earth-Sun-Moon" and their 1989 eponymous-titled release.

Ranging from the airy, acoustic title-track to the artier textures of the funkified "Sweet Lover Hangover" and disc-ending "Spike," the high point of "Sweet F.A.'s" 13 tracks is "Use Me," a nontraditional love song filled with conflicting wordplay and emotions. As Ash explained, the song's message also applies to life after the fire.

"The song basically revolves around the idea that in a relationship, you're not going to be totally happy 24 hours a day," he said. "But bad times offer balance, and in their own way, can be good by offering an opportunity in disguise, an opportunity for learning and growth. It's kind of like the Buddhist belief that through bad experience we become wiser."

Over the years, Ash and the two Haskins brothers have experienced their share of hits and misses, both separately and together.

The three musicians first teamed up, along with Peter Murphy, in the influential gothic band Bauhaus in 1979. Their first single, the dark but lovable "Bela Lugosi's Dead," won a cult-size following of gloom-and-doomers, and the band went on to release four studio albums before splitting up in 1984.

After the demise of Bauhaus, Ash and Kevin Haskins formed the short-lived Tones on Tail, while David J briefly spent time in a band called Jazz Butcher and pursued a solo career. It wasn't long before the trio joined forces once again, renaming themselves Love and Rockets, and launched a debut album in 1985 titled "Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven."

The group's commercial peak came in 1989 when its shimmering, catchy "So Alive" reached No. 3 on the singles chart. But burnout and creative differences with the band's record company began taking their toll, and in 1991, Love and Rockets went on a three-year hiatus.

The self-imposed exile, Ash said, was the key to the band's future.

"We'd been together since the early '80s, and we needed to get away from each other for a while," he said. "The plan was to have a year's break, and then regroup for a new album. Well, it turned out to be longer than that, but we needed the time and benefited from it, I firmly believe."

Having been on the road since April, Ash says he and his mates are looking forward to their last scheduled concert this weekend in Las Vegas. With the anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve, Ash shared his excitement over getting back into the studio to record new songs.

Just don't expect "Sweet F.A.--The Sequel." Inspired by the work of such postmodern bands as The Orb and Underworld, Ash is aiming at creating something very un-Love and Rockets-like for the band's next collection of material.

"Man, have you heard that song by Underworld [the electronic-based "Born Slippy"] on the 'Trainspotting' soundtrack?" asked an enthusiastic Ash. "It's truly new, modern music using essentially drums and no guitars. Right now, we're so bored with the guitar-bass-drums thing, and it's time to try new things. I really want our next CD to sound sonically very different from what we've been doing.

"It's like when Devo first emerged, I'd never heard anything like it before. But it was brilliant, stripped-down rock 'n' roll. I want people to hear our next record and say, 'What the hell is this?' but at the same time find the music and attitude behind it very appealing."

* Love and Rockets, Just Plain Big and Kinder Size perform Wednesday night at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $15. (714) 957-0600.

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