Decadence is a hothouse flower that bears the richest blooms at night. Shadows mask the lurid and yet, heighten and enhance the atmosphere of the lush and the languid. Faces and dark acts that few whisper and even less shout. This is my purple prose talk for one of the most atmospheric and sweetly macabre releases this year. One of my personal favorite musicians and writers ever, David J (the man behind the musical juggernaut triad of Bauhaus, Love & Rockets, and The Jazz Butcher, as well as a fine solo career) has shape-shifted into M.C. Nightshade for his newest release. A true master of ceremonies and bandleader for the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, their new album “Carpe Noctem” is music for swinging ghouls and carnies alike and really, what is not to love about that combination? Inspired by the infamous annual Detroit based event that is a masquerade ball intertwined with a chimerical tinged art bacchanal, “Carpe Noctem” is a fun musical dark ride both for lovers of the event and for those who have never heard of the Theatre Bizarre. Recently, I was lucky enough to get to interview the one and only M.C. Nightshade himself, David J, about this and other creative sundries.
Diabolique: How did you first get introduced to The Theatre Bizarre? What were your initial impressions of this event, especially regarding the musical side of things?
David J: Back in 2014 I was booked to DJ Theatre Bizarre on the Saturday night and was invited to attend the Gala the night before. The local big band, Planet D Nonet were playing. I suggested that I perform a number with them and they were quite enthusiastically up for it and we ended up playing three songs, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, ‘St. James Infirmary’ and a cover of Beck’s ‘Cloaks’. When I came off the stage, three band members, including Joshua James ran over to me saying: “That was so great! It can’t end here! We have to do more!” I wholeheartedly agreed! The event itself was the most fantastic phantasmagorical Bacchanal! Like an opiated waking fever dream. The music was eclectic and wonderful! Ranging from eccentric dark cabaret to full-on Cramps style rock n’ roll to the aforementioned glory of the big jazz band. I loved it!
Diabolique: Fronting a 12 piece jazz band, all in the form of the incredible Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, has got to be one helluva of a fun experience. Is this something that has always been on your creative checklist or an exciting chance that kind of fumbled its way to your path?
David J: Well, as described in the answer to the previous question it was certainly the latter. Yes, it is an incredible experience to have such a big band blasting away behind me and they are all such great players. I feel honored to be in their august company and to work with them. Initially I was somewhat out of my comfort zone but that is something which I actually relish. However, the more I have worked with the band the more confident I have become so that now I feel that I have wings and the band is the wind beneath them. Together we shall fly!
Diabolique: Is there a persona difference between your solo efforts and your role as “MC Nightshade?”
David J: Absolutely! Whenever I perform with the band, be it in the studio or on the stage, I feel that I am seized by an alternative persona. It feels like a kind of benign possession that teeters on the edge of divine madness! It is a very welcome creative intoxication. The name, M. C. Nightshade alludes to the character of Jim Nightshade in Ray Bradbury’s beautiful novel, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ and could be that young boy all grown up and shadowed but illuminated by the riches of deep life experience. He’s a rather rakish fellow. Sort of a cross between the MC in the movie, ‘Cabaret’ and a somewhat nefarious fairground barker. He is also the archetypal Trickster.
Diabolique: There is always a change of energy between live performance and recording in the studio. How would you describe the process of creating and recording the “Carpe Noctem” LP?
David J: All of the tracks were recorded in one take with no overdubs like in the old days. In David Feeny we had a most excellent engineer and accomplice in beautiful crime. He is a master of the almost lost art of mic placement, knowing exactly where to position the right microphone in order to capture the best tone and sound quality. We recorded at his famed Tempermill Studio in Detroit which aside from being extremely well equipped also has a very warm and relaxed vibe. It was such a pleasure to arrive there with the band getting assembled and being confidant in the knowledge that Feeny would be there at the controls and at the end of each night we would have lightening in a jar. One of the things that I love about the recording is that there is a degree of ‘bleed’ where one instrument’s mic is picking up the sound of another instrument at a slight distance. This all makes for a kind of magic glue that holds the whole thing together and is something that is often missing from a lot of modern recordings that employ too much separation so that the whole thing becomes too sterile. Another great joy for me was collaborating with Joshua James who is such a brilliant composer and arranger and it never ceased to amaze me that he could write all of those parts, hand out sheet music to ‘the cats’ and then they would play a tune that they had never heard before and it would be a form of alchemy as, after one run through, the tape would roll and they would nail it first take. I did most of the vocals live as they played which gives the recording a certain elan that you could never get by layering.
Diabolique: Speaking of creating, what are some of your current art muses? (This could be anything ranging from sonic matters to writing to culinary arts and cocktails and beyond.)
David J: I am currently binge viewing the fourth season of ‘American Horror Story’ ‘Freak Show’, which has very much the flavor of Theatre Bizarre and the ‘Carpe Noctem’ album. They used the original ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ in the last season. I haven’t seen that yet but I’m catching up! One of my chief inspirations while making the record was the astonishing art of John Dunivant who is the artist behind all of the Theatre Bizarre imagery and also the designer of our beautiful album cover. Other influences as far as the creation of this album goes were Tom Waits, Nick Cave, the surrealist / jazz singer, novelist, George Melly, Cab Calloway, Berlin style cabaret of the 1920’s, the aforementioned novel, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ and ‘Journey To The End Of The Night’ by Celine. As you mention cocktails, good old Mister Jameson saw me right in the studio and on the stage!
Diabolique: Are there any artists that you adore that may surprise some of your fans and followers?
David J: How about Frank Sinatra? I especially love the recordings that he made at Capital in the ’50s and early ’60s. I was once mastering an album with Love and Rockets at the famous Capital Tower in Hollywood and asked if I could take a peak at the studio where those classic recording were made. I was granted a solo visit and it was something of a religious experience to stand in that massive room and tune into the still present vibes. The room is just as it was back in the day. Same old acoustic tiles and everything. In my mind’s eye I could see Frank, looking elegant as ever in a fedora with his suit jacket draped over a chair and singing in front of a huge orchestra with Nelson Riddle conducting while smiling at the magic of it all.
Diabolique: Having made an absolutely indelible and consistently great thumbprint in music, as well as writing (with your memoir, Who Killed Mister Moonlight?: Bauhaus, Black Magick & Benediction? and your theater work), is the world of cinema a possibility or a wish for you, either as a composer, writer and/or director?
David J: I have actually co-written several screen plays with my friend, Don C. Tyler. There is some serious interest in two of the scripts. We’re just waiting for that lovey green light. It is a field of writing which I really enjoy and one which, to a degree informed the style of my memoir as I would imagine real life events enfolding like scenes in a movie.
Diabolique: Speaking of cinema, someone truly needs to give the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra and yourself unlimited funds and full creative control and make a short film using some, or better yet, all of this music. It pops so beautifully. Did you build any stories or specific imagery in your head to the music while working together?
David J: Well, we have a great film maker, Reggie Tiessen on board. It was he who made the film of us performing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ that first time at Theatre Bizarre and also a short documentary about the project. He is currently working on a full length documentary about the whole Theatre Bizarre story which I may possibly be narrating. I agree that the music evokes a lot of imagery and I had a vivid little magic lantern show running through my head when writing the lyrics.
Diabolique: One could describe parts of the “Carpe Noctem” album as “Sinister Satanic Swank.” (That “one” being myself in a moment of feverish and shameless alliteration.) Songs like “When Zombo Comes to Town” and the title track beautifully illustrate this. There’s also the wonderfully eerie cemetery-horns-poetry of “A Shudder of Clowns,” which is a really perfect track. There is something enchanting and whimsically macabre about this album. How would you personally describe it?
David J: Well, I like your description here I must say! For me the album evokes the intriguing mystique of the mysterious and possibly sinister old time traveling carnival. It is the nightside of circus!
Diabolique: Thank you so much for your time. Are there any other current and upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?
David J: I am currently putting the finishing touches to an album of new songs that I have written on the road. They are all associated with places and people that I have encountered while playing my ‘living room shows’ which are not always in an actual living rooms but are put on by ordinary folks who are into my music. It is a wonderful way to tour. Cutting out the middle man i.e. agent, promoter and dealing directly with ‘the fans’. The record will be released in the Spring of 2017 on the Last Hurrah label. The recordings were made possible through my Patreon site which has proved to be another great boon and once again, one that is generated by the music lovers and operated outside of the industry. It’s the way to go!