British Goth legend Wayne Hussey was on a sweeping European tour with his band The Mission in March as the coronavirus crisis started shutting down itinerary venues and international borders, giving him just 24 hours to spare before lockdown.
When he returned to his digs in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he knew that he wanted to help, but he initially just wasn’t sure how.
Certain charities had approached him, he says. “But I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with them, to be honest. I thought there was a bit of the self-serving in them, as well.” Then he hit upon the perfect concept: not only covering his group’s mystical 1988 hit “Tower of Strength,” which had been adopted as a post-pandemic anthem by frontline U.K. health service workers, but redoing it with an operatic cast of rock stars who grew up loving the song, now re-christened “TOS2020.”
Hussey, 62, would simply contact longtime friends and musical associates, invite them to participate and also designate their own favorite nonprofit organization, then record whatever parts they wanted over a skeletal drum-loop-and-acoustic-guitar guide file he sent out.
“The first batch went to people that I was assuming would want to be involved, like Gary Numan and Martin Gore, so it was going to be a good start,” he says. “But then it just kind of snowballed from there.”
The cameo list grew epic. It now includes Budgie from Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure’s Lol Tolhurst, The Cult’s Billy Duffy, Kevin Haskins from Bauhaus, and both Aston brothers from Gene Loves Jezebel, who hadn’t recorded together in years.
“There were a lot of people who I got in touch with who declined, and a lot who just didn’t reply,” he adds. “But I had no idea what I was getting into. I spent a lot of time just chasing people down, like, ‘You promised me you’d do a vocal, but that was a month ago!’ I think some of my friends may not be friends anymore. They’re still dreading the next email from me.”
Even more challenging were the submissions for the tabula rasa project, since no contributor heard what the next was recording. “One guy sent me 14 tracks of a guitar going ‘diddle-dee-yiii,’ which was great,” says Hussey, who began to feel like a mad scientist.
“It took me a long time to sift through all that and find out what worked where. It was a bit like doing a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without seeing the front of the box. I had to pick what I presumed to be the best licks for each part of the song, and in fairness, everybody rallied ‘round the cause. It just took a lot of organization and a lot of editing.”
When he first started hearing reports that “Tower of Strength” had gotten a new lease on life from English health care workers, he understood the allure in not only its sweeping crescendos, but optimism in his trademark murky-depths vocals: “You rescue me/ You are my faith, my hope, my liberty/ And when there’s darkness all around/ You shine bright for me/ You are a tower of strength to me.”
Other selected charities benefiting from the project include MusiCares, RedRover, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and San Francisco’s COVID-19 Fund.
While he hopes the scant Mission material he’s been composing post-pandemic will prove even more uplifting, Hussey can’t shake Gothic tendencies. He continues to favor a black wardrobe and his signature Ray-Bans, as he did when he helped anchor Andrew Eldritch’s classic combo Sisters of Mercy in the early 1980s before leaving to form The Mission in 1986.
But there some significant changes, too, he admits. “And I guess that has to do with getting a little older.”
The Mormon-raised rocker and his actress wife Cinthya — whom he’s also begun recording as an artist — mainly reside in the Brazilian countryside while maintaining a Sao Paulo apartment for her to use when filming in the city.
Nature has intruded on him in a couple of ways. Wild yellow-backed scorpions (whose sting could prove fatal to his five family dogs) occasionally get into the house, and he’s begun feeding and watching birds. He says, “We built a little table for them out back and we give them fruit, like banana and apple, and they love it. They’re getting braver and braver, and they let us come to the table now. You can almost feed them out of your hand.”
He laughs at the odd incongruity. “I mean, I would not have dreamt of being interested in birds 10 years ago!”
Still, Brazil takes care of its retirement-age populace, even if they are not ready to retire.
“When I hit 50, that was a tough time, but hitting 60 has actually been really good,” he says. “And you say, ‘F—- yeah! I hit 60! I survived!’ When you turn 60 in Brazil, you get a card that lets you into the cinema for half price, and I love film. And you also get a card for preferred parking, like disabled parking, so it has its benefits. Plus, I just feel a lot more comfortable with who I am now.”