Joshua James, Detroiter and director of the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, has been active in the city's theater and jazz scenes since 1999. David Haskins (David J/MC Nightshade), a legend in the "goth" world, pioneered the genre in the 1980s as a founding member of Bauhaus. While different in disciplines, both have a passion for the shadowy side of life, and for music. Out of these two fundamental similarities, Carpe Noctem was born.
The album, the first of its kind for the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, will debut Thursday, Oct. 13 at Third Man Records Cass Corridor. Haskins, James, and the orchestra will perform at that release party, and at both Theatre Bizarre masquerade galas at the Masonic Temple. Haskins says that fans who can't make it to any of the events (or their Oct. 20 show in Grand Rapids) may have to wait until next season, at best, to hear Carpe Noctem live.
"We'd like to do more shows with the Theatre Bizarre," Haskins says. "But it's more problematic because it's expensive to tour with something that big."
Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, the house band of the interactive, vaudevillian Halloween party, is only in its sophomore year. It came into existence partially because of Haskins, who, in 2014, DJed at the gala. He and James came together to arrange a new version of the Bauhaus classic "Bela Lugosi's Dead," and were compelled to record an entire album.
"It's a groovy new sound," Haskins says of Carpe Noctem. "It's a trip to the dark side of the carnival and what's going on behind the tents."
For Haskins, to have an influential founder of both Bauhaus and Love and Rockets working with Theatre Bizarre Orchestra was unlike anything he had ever experienced. This comes from a man who has performed with everyone from actress Fairuza Balk (The Craft) to Cuban folk singers.
"It was a challenge," Haskins says. "It was way out of my comfort zone, playing with a 12-piece orchestra. I'm used to playing with a couple of guys in a band."
The experience was so monumental to Haskins that he tattooed its name onto his wrist once they wrapped up recording. "These guys are from the jazz world, which is also a difference for me, but Joshua James was a mediator between the jazz world and my world of more alternative rock," Haskins says. " I've met jazz guys before, and they have a great sense of humor. There is a wealth of enthusiasm in that band. It was great. I just loved it."
Two years ago, James jumped at the chance to collaborate with Haskins, and this is an experience that has also touched him.
"The best part has been all of the interesting rabbit holes I've gone down without expecting to," James says. " The music we did turned out in a way I didn't expect it to. It led us down some very different, and sometimes weird, paths."
By both accounts, the effort was a true and pure collaboration. James says that the process of writing "Vaudeville Ghostlight was the example that stuck out most.
"David would send me ideas he had," James says. "Maybe it was a line of text or a little melody he had, and I would hear it and I would write parts on the piano, and then we'd figure out all of the other parts. The first time we really played it was in the recording studio."
Carpe Noctem is being manufactured and distributed by a brand-new Detroit label, Hold Fast, which moved up its launch date in order to put the record out. Part of the appeal of the album, according to both James and Haskins, was the way in which it was recorded by sound engineer Dave Feeny (White Stripes, Loretta Lynn).
"With the style that we recorded, we didn't do any overdubbing, which means that everything you hear is the band playing live, being recorded all together," James says. "And if there was a take we didn't like, we would just take it from the top. We recorded everything live, in that moment, making it happen."
The album is the embodiment of a dark sci-fi carnival, which is fitting for an album that reflects Theatre Bizarre and was inspired by Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, where Haskins took his name, MC Nightshade, from. James hopes that listeners get the eerie vibe that the duo intended.
"It's a bit like classical music played backwards," James says. "It is this carnival sound that is so frightening, but it's not seasonal. It's not just Halloween music."
In addition to new material, it also features covers of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Beck, and Bauhaus. When it comes to continuing to play Bauhaus material, particularly "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (an arrangement will be on one out of four copies of the album, and every deluxe edition), Haskins has oozed nothing but positivity.
"What keeps it alive for me is reinterpreting it," Haskins says. "It's a very original piece of music. There was nothing like it before — or after for that matter. It's a magical piece of work that conjures up so much. The moment [Bauhaus] wrote it, we knew it was something special."
James and Haskins believe Carpe Noctem is just as spooky and insane as Theatre Bizarre itself. And they hope that Detroiters get to hear their original take on the twisted, horror-spiked carnival live.
David J and the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra perform Thursday, Oct. 13 at Third Man Cass Corridor; doors at 7:30 p.m.; 441 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-209-5205; $7. They will also play at both Theatre Bizarre masquerade galas on Friday, Oct. 14 and Friday, Oct. 21 at the Masonic Temple; 500 Temple St., Detroit; theatrebizarre.com; $260.
Debbie Miszak is a Metro Times editorial intern.