A Free Society is the debut album from Night Crickets, a collaboration between David J of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets, Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo, and solo artist Darwin Meiners. Bringing together post-punk, psychedelic, pop, art-rock and other styles, it maintains a very spontaneous and organic feel despite being recorded entirely long-distance. Over a Zoom interview, David J talked about the making of the album, the David Lynch inspiration behind the name, and more.
How did Night Crickets come about?
David J: Well, Darwin and I went to see Violent Femmes at the Coachella and, both being fans, we thoroughly enjoyed their set. Darwin was backstage, and he bumped into Victor and introduced himself. They kind of hit it off. So they exchanged contact info and then later Darwin was corresponding with Victor and the idea came up. I think it was Darwin who proposed it, that they should probably collaborate on some music. Victor was into it, but he suggested maybe I would be interested as well. And I certainly was. Initially, we just thought we’d try a couple of tracks, to see how it went. That went very well, so we did more and more and we just kept going. Basically, the whole thing was recorded remotely, because it was in the middle of the pandemic situation. But it felt very cohesive, and it was very spontaneous, very immediate and vital. So we knew we had something good going right from the off.
It does sound very spontaneous and organic. Did working remotely present any challenges in maintaining that spirit?
David J: It wasn’t a challenge at all. We just found that we had this flow going, from day one, and we just ran with it. It was very natural and easy.
Was there any general process that you followed, maybe in terms of who would start off a track?
David J: Usually it was Victor with a beat and he would often lay down like a few minutes of drums, just recorded live, the whole thing, no overdubs, and send that to me or Darwin, or both of us at the same time. It was whoever seized on it, who wanted to go first, went first. It was often the case that it was me with a bassline. How I worked on these tracks was that I purposely did not hear them until I was in the studio about to do a take. Even prior to recording, I didn’t hear the track. I just let it roll. I had my bass in my hands ready to go and I just played. Quite often what you hear on the album is my first take, so it’s just an immediate, improvised response to what Victor had laid down. Then I would send that to Darwin. He would add his parts, guitar, keyboard, synths, and then it would come back to Victor. He might do some keyboards or vocals, then back to me. I played some guitar on this and some little synthy parts. I had a lovely device called a Raagini, which is an electronic box that is basically a drone box. It’s based on Tanpura sound, but you can change the pitch and the tone of it. That’s actually through the whole album. If you listen, you can hear that.
Do you feel you had a general idea of the sound you are going for when you initially started it? Or if not, how do you think it evolved as you collaborated?
David J: No, we had nothing in mind. It was just really the music coming forth and evolving in its own way. It was sort of a bit of a revelatory experience, because we had no preconceived ideas as to what the sound would be or the direction or anything like that. It just blossomed; we just played.
So given that, do you feel it perhaps changed or evolved in any particular ways as you went forward and did more tracks?
David J: Yeah. We’ve actually carried on recording after we finished the album. We felt that we still have momentum with this, so we just kept going and there’s been a distinct evolution with these new tracks. It’s more psychedelic. It’s a bit it’s darker in its subject matter and probably more layered. So yeah, there’s definitely an evolution going on there.
There’s a funny story about where the name came from, but at what point did you kind of settle upon that?
David J: Instantly. We’d conduct these Zoom meetings every now and again to just check in and touch base with each other. And we were trying to think of a name, a band name. We had a list already and we were discussing that during the meeting and somehow got onto a tangent and David Lynch came up. It was because John Neff, who was Lynch’s sound designer on a few projects, “Mulholland Drive” being one of them. I worked with John on a production job and actually had just purchased a bass from him, a nice Martin vintage bass. That is the main bass that I used on the album. So John was the subject and then that reminded me of this story that John told me about when he was working on ‘Mulholland Drive’ and Lynch set him off on a field recording mission to go and record some crickets for this night scene. So John went out and recorded crickets, came back, played them to Lynch. And his response was, ‘no, I want my night crickets. These are day crickets. Get me night crickets!’ Because apparently there’s a distinction in the sound they make at a certain time. He’s got very acute hearing and sure enough, John went out and recorded these crickets at night and it was a different tonality. Anyway, as soon as I said, ‘night crickets,’ there was like a silence, pregnant pause and then we all said, ‘that’s the name’ kind of together. There was no doubt, that’s the name, night crickets.
You mentioned you had done more recording since the album, has that all been remote as well? Or have you been able to get together in the studio?
David J: We have not been all together, apart from when we made a video for the track, “The Unreliable Narrator”. That was actually the first time we met up since making the recordings. We’d like to get together [to record] at some point. It’d be interesting to see if it’s any different; it might be that there will be a different dynamic. We would, at some point, like to be in the same room at the same time with instruments.
Speaking of working with other musicians remotely, looking back on your career, is there any project that you feel it would have been particularly helpful on? If the current technology had been available?
David J: Not really. I mean, every situation presents its limitations, or lack thereof, and you just work within the environment that you find yourself in and pull from it. I think you can always take advantage of whatever situation you’re in. Be it lo-fi, hi-fi whatever. It’s just the main thing is your imagination and how you respond to that environment, and use it to your advantage.
You’ve been back involved with Bauhaus and doing other things too. How big of a focus do you see Night Crickets for you going forward? How big of a focus do you see it in terms of your time and your career?
David J: It’s not a careerist thing. It never was. It’s just a pure artistic musical venture. As long as we feel compelled to make music together, we will. And wherever it leads, that’s where it leads. I mean, we were kind of pleasantly surprised and delighted by the response that the album has gained. As we didn’t have any commercial hopes for it. We were kind of doing it for ourselves. We didn’t even envisage it being for an audience out there, but fortunately, it’s found a very appreciative audience.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add about the album?
I mentioned that we were trying to come up with the name of the band and we had a list of possible names. I was in the studio on one occasion and I had that list on a table and I was working on a track, which became actually the title track, ‘A Free Society.’ ‘Free Society’ being one of the proposed possible names that was on the list. So it was basically at this point in time, an instrumental track and I looked at that list and I just used it as a lyric, as a kind of surrealist poem, if you like. I thought, if I just add a word here and a word there, I can make this into some kind of a story. So that’s what I did. Then immediately I just went in and recorded a vocal without overthinking it, you know, which is kind of MO for this whole project. That’s what came out, ‘A Free Society.’
Have you been working on any other projects?
David J: Well, I’ve got a lot in the pipeline. I mean, the pandemic was very productive for me because I just worked and worked. Music and also visual art. I went back into painting, and I did eight big canvases. Again, without having any idea of what the subject matter was going to be. But of course, what was very urgently in everyone’s mind, mine included, was the situation we were in, this bizarre situation. So the paintings speak to that. I want to have a show of that art. I’ve actually got a couple of galleries interested in putting it on here in LA, but aside from that, a lot of music. I tied up a lot of loose ends with various collaborative projects and I’ll be releasing these albums over the next couple of years because, basically, there are like 12 albums.
Some of it is just archival material that’s never been released before and it’s just putting all that together and contextualizing it. But some of it is brand new music. Some of it is solo, but a lot of it, in fact most of it, is collaborative, with different collaborators.
You’ve done a lot of collaborations over the years. What do you tend to look like to look for in a potential collaboration?
David J: What I look for in a collaborator is somebody who is open-minded. And can enter into this state of flow, which is what we had with Night Crickets big time. It’s hard to describe really, but I think that describes it. A state of flow, just an openness to letting the music breathe. To me what’s really appealing about collaboration. It’s like the William Burroughs / Brion Gysin notion of the third mind. We bring two disparate elements together and it creates a third that is a product of the individuals involved and it’s unique and it can only be conjured through that collaborative process. Obviously, you cannot produce the same music on your own as you can working with somebody else. It’s very exciting. It’s very stimulating and it’s just the idea of not having really preconceived ideas of what’s going to come out, just letting it emerge, you know, and letting it come, in a way, as a revelation. You become the audience as much as the creator.
Bauhaus has gotten back together several times, starting with the “Resurrection Tour” in 1998. What has it been like returning to the music, compared to both the original time you were together and the previous reunions? As an artist, is it a struggle at all to keep it interesting for yourself?
David J: No, it’s not. As soon as we get together, we start playing the music, something comes up, it’s like an evocation. It’s very powerful. As I just described, working on a collaborative project, we behold it as much as we are creating it. We are receiving it, if that makes any sense. We describe it as the spirit of the band, as something unique about us four when we get together and it produces a particular kind of energy.
I know the music stood up really well over the years. And what is great, what’s really gratifying about playing it now is that we are much better players. We can play that music in a very accomplished way. But not losing sight of the naivety that went into its conception because that’s really important. And there’s a freshness to that. We haven’t lost most of that. We remember what the feeling was when we created those songs and we’re still very close to that, but we can just play it better.
Are there any particular songs that you feel differently about now? Maybe because you’re better players now, or perhaps because of other things you’ve done over the years. For you as a musician, have any songs taken on a new life?
David J: All of them. Although we’re faithful to the recordings, you bring to the performance your life experience. So the songs are enriched by that. When you’re in the moment of the creation, you’re not really looking at those songs from an objective point of view, but having had the distance of decades now you see them from a different point of view and from an outsider point of view. We are very pleased with how solid they are; the structures of the songs are very sound. The instrumentation is very… it’s not that the instruments are original, but the way they’re used is original.
I think Daniel [Ash] is one of the most innovative guitarists of all time. He’s never looked at the guitar like a muso, he looks at it as this construction and there are no limits, there’s no wrong way of playing it or getting sounds out of it. It’s whatever works, and I love that he has that attitude.
I mean also like a song like, ‘The Spy in the Cab’, I was struck by this while rehearsing for the tour, how original that song is. The space within it and the dynamics and the syncopation and the fact that I’m just playing one note all the way through and Daniel’s playing this very sort of repetitive cycle and it all intertwines. There’s something special about Bauhaus and we still love playing that music. The audience has grown exponentially and what is also great is a lot of the audience is really young. We have fans in their early twenties. All over the world, that’s the case.
The younger element, they are more likely to be down the front. It’s very odd because now we look at the front, and because our lights are very strong, you can only really see the first few [rows]. It looks like the audience back in the early eighties. They’re the same age. The old guard are at the back, and bless him, we love them as well.
A Free Society can be purchased from omnivorerecordings.com.