Strange Phenomena

Some bands prefer a fiery atmosphere in the studio -- staying up nights on end, pitting players against one another in a sort of creative caldron of competition. But last April, when the members of Love and Rockets were recording tracks for Sweet F.A., the situation was even more explosive. Sparks flew all right -- of the kind that sent Rockets bassist David J. Haskins tumbling out of a second-floor window of producer Rick Rubin's Los Angeles house. Haskins says he hit the ground with a thud shortly before flames started by a short circuit engulfed the home's rehearsal space.

That story is a juicy one for a record label looking to promote a new CD. When the PR machine at American (which released Sweet F.A. a little more than a week ago) really gets rolling, though, it's unlikely there will be any mention of the other strange occurrences that marked the recording session. Discussions of voodoo dolls, psychic resonance, shaman lore and animal spirits might get in the way of moving product. But it's those very things that end up dominating a recent phone conversation with Haskins.

"There is a very strange aspect to all of this," he says, with distinct understatement.

It started in Los Angeles with Genesis P. Orridge, often called the father of industrial music and someone who happens to share with Haskins a keen interest in the supernatural. During production of Sweet F.A., Orridge fell ill, and Haskins brought him to Rubin's home to rest. There, Orridge woke up one night to find that a voodoo doll had been stuffed into the crotch of his pants. Orridge, says Haskins, performed a banishing ritual on the doll and placed it outside the door of Rubin's home studio. The next time Orridge and Haskins awoke it was 7 a.m., and the studio was on fire.

"It was this very, very old doll with a face made of dried skin," Haskins recalls. "The word was put out on the Internet, and voodoo practitioners confirmed from its description that it was a traditional love doll that had been altered slightly. It had a ribbon sewn into its hair, which we were told was put there to generate fire. All I know is that the doll was placed outside the rehearsal room door."

Suffice to say, the story is bizarre enough without even getting into the question of how the doll got into Orridge's pants to begin with. But the results of the fire have nothing to do with myth: Orridge jumped from one window and ended up in the hospital with cracked ribs and other injuries; Haskins jumped from another window, but somehow managed to avoid any injuries. Much of Rubin's Spanish-style mansion was gutted. All of the band's gear was destroyed, along with hours of taped work. The only things salvaged were one of Daniel Ash's guitars and an 18-minute opus titled "Ritual Radio" that Love and Rockets drummer Kevin Haskins (David's brother) had taken home before disaster struck.

"You can imagine that the fire became almost a symbolic motif; kind of like a purge, in a cathartic sort of way," Haskins says. "We had our backs against the wall, with no money, and we had to get the record done. Rick found us a new rehearsal space, and we started from scratch."

It wasn't the first time this British trio was faced with renewal -- forced or otherwise. Ash and the Haskins brothers formed Love and Rockets in 1984 following the dissolution of their earlier band, semi-legendary Goth-rockers Bauhaus. The occasionally pretentious folkie-techno group is best known in America for the late '80s singles "Ball of Confusion," "No New Tale to Tell" and "So Alive," the last of which was a Top Five smash. After that kind of success, Love and Rockets' first instinct was, surprisingly enough, to break up before going stale. So in 1989, they called it quits.

"We had some simply amazing offers for a stadium tour, with an obscene amount of money," Haskins remembers. "But we knew we were just going through the motions and felt pretty horrible about it. You just can't compromise the essence of what you're all about."

Haskins says the ensuing five-year hiatus, which ended with the 1994 release of Hot Trip to Heaven, helped bring the band back in step with the rest of the music world. "We feel a lot more comfortable coming back to play again in the 1990s. It's hard to describe, but in the '80s, we felt more like outsiders," he says. "In America, I don't like what happened with grunge; Nirvana was good, but what it spawned was boring. Thankfully, that's passing now, and what's being done is more glamorous. You're seeing that it's swinging back, with some of the English bands becoming big again."

Because of the long break, and then having to re-record their new album in frenetic fashion after the fire, Haskins says the group is charged up.

"Everything we've done this month in rehearsals just seems better than the recorded versions," says Haskins. "They're taut and heavier."

These days Haskins -- the final member of the Rockets' trio to relocate from Britain to California -- is working on a book of his artwork, which displays his fetish for otherworldly sculpture imbued with the energy of animal spirits. In a matter-of-fact tone, Haskins says simply that he was impelled to create them.

"My perception is that everything is magical," he says. "I used to hallucinate when I was a kid. In particular, I saw this beetle -- a giant, footlong stag beetle -- that was right there, and very real. One day, it just stopped appearing. But now that I've learned about this, I look back and understand it in the terms that the beetle was a shamanic ally."

Only in L.A.E
Love and Rockets perform Thursday, March 28, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Dandy Warhols open. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 8 p.m. For info, call 526-6551.

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr