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“I think that we would have become a parody of ourselves..” Dan Reed on why the Network needed a (20 year) break

Interview: Adrian Hextall

Pics: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media

Having recently completed a PledgeMusic campaign that saw 6 videos recorded for songs from ‘fight Another Day’, the album that heralded the return of funk rock supremos Dan Reed Network, the band are also about to embark on a European tour, taking in perhaps their most comprehensive tour of the UK to date. 

A lunchtime call with Dan is slightly late starting, primarily due to the fact that he’s working the night shift writing new material for the Network. As a longtime fan, I’m never going to complain when I hear the words “new music” in conversation. 

The latest ‘Champion’ video, features on the new DVD the band have released in the last few weeks and the intention is to keep the momentum going for the new album and tour by releasing additional videos to fans as the months pass. 

DR: In March when we’re touring, we’re going to make another video up in Sweden and then I go over to the States in May and we’re going to make another video on May. We’re trying to make a video for every song. I don’t know if we’ll get there, we’ll see. The Pledge campaign paid for making three videos which is fantastic…or four actually.

MGM: I was going to ask you about that. You went over the Pledge target by about a third. Did that give you the opportunity to do more?

DR: Absolutely. I’ve wrote a letter to everybody on the pledge after we finished the videos saying that you allowed us to be able to make four videos for this. The Champion video is much more expensive because we had location shoots and camera crew and everything else. Dan Pred did two of the other videos. Then the third one, the live one, we had a smaller budget for. It was great. It really worked out perfect.

MGM: What’s the feedback being from the fans that have received their packages? 

DR: Well, the feedback’s been great so far. Everybody has been writing me private letters and saying thank you for making such a good product. It’s really nice.

MGM: Now with Champion, you did explain a little bit that there’s no real story behind the video because the song itself has meant so much in different ways to different people.

What other sort of things that you’ve had coming back from people in that space then that sort of left it quite ambiguous and open?

DR: So far, people have just said–they’re really being very general, saying that the video just moved them and great work, great job. Nobody has really said anything about how they relate to the video now, which is exactly kind of what I wanted. Our goal, as I mentioned in the letter on Pledge, is that it was really important to not pigeonhole it into one story-line for people. Because like you said, I had gotten so many responses back earlier before we made the video, people saying that they were going through this and their parents from–whether it was cancer or old age, and they were their champion. Somebody had written me and said that their child was very ill at the time and the song meant so much to them to get them through this difficult time with this illness–I lost a loved one–somebody wrote me and said that their best friend from college was their champion, that kind of stuff. If I were to try to make a video that was about a specific thing, it would have kind of painted–I remember always when I was younger, I’d love a song just on the radio or from the record and then you see a video for it and it was totally the opposite of what I had in my mind of the song. It kind of ruined it for me where I didn’t want to watch the video anymore or listen to the song anymore because the video–something very pigeonholed or cheesy or something that didn’t have anything to do with what I thought of the song.

I always liked early AC/DC videos. They were just Bon Scott and the guys just rocking it out. The song still meant whatever you wanted it to mean. So I think that’s kind of why we ended up doing less concept videos and more live performance videos.

MGM: What about the other three? The Brave, Divided and Infected, why those three songs first?

DR: I think it’s because we were playing them live, so we said, why don’t we make videos to the songs that we’re playing live first so people can kind of get used to the lyrics, learn the songs and enjoy them more live as opposed to them just being shockers for people that didn’t have the new album, for example. We were playing Divided, The Brave, in fact the Champion and I think we’re going to start playing Be There With U which we really enjoy.

Now, the next video after this–and Save The World, we’re playing live as well. I think the next video we’re going to make is to possibly–Reunite, up in Sweden. It was actually co-written by these three Swedish, wonderful musicians up in the island of Gotland. It seems apropos to make the video up in Sweden as well.

MGM: You’ve got quite an affinity with Sweden these days as well, haven’t you?

DR: Absolutely. It’s been–I’d say the U.K. and Sweden were our top places to play back when we first came here. We did the–It was 1988, we played at the Marquee in London and the Melody Club in Stockholm. Both of those shows were the beginning of our whole career over here on this side of the ocean.

MGM: Closing that chapter as well, you finished, around ’93. Given the feedback that you have received since you returned, do you regret stopping when you did or was it necessary?

DR: No. First off, I don’t know if–it was necessary for me, personally, to take a break. I probably would have lost my mind there for awhile. I think being a farm boy, growing up in South Dakota, I had this very simplistic dream of touring the world and being a musician and it ended up being more about selling the rock star aspect of it. And that to me kind of sucked the life out of the whole experience for me whereas I wanted to be more about music, and composing, and writing. I realised when they started getting me together with Desmond Child, Holly Knight and these big writers that it was like, ‘hey, you’re a commodity, we want to have you have a big hit song like everybody else, or we’re going to get you together with other big writers that have written hit songs for other contemporary artists‘. And I started going, wait a minute, if I’m going to be famous and a rock star, I want it to be because I deserved it, because I’ve written the material with the band that I’m working with. If we’re not writing strong enough material in your eyes, then why don’t you focus on other artists that do write strong enough material? Why are we getting together with the hit makers, so to speak?

That seemed to me kind of like propping things up. I know Elvis did it, I know Frank Sinatra did it, they had their song writers and all that stuff, but for me, a rock band was about, you know, Led Zeppelin. Did Led Zeppelin have a ghost writer that came in and helped them with their songs? Did Queen have people come in and help them with their song–you know, the bands that I grew up listening to and we’re a big fan of didn’t have that; Aerosmith, AC/DC, Van Halen. The list goes on and on.

I just felt like it was becoming this machine that I couldn’t control anymore. So personally, I needed to stop. I don’t have any regrets because–I have regrets of how I treated the situation, how I walked away from everybody and didn’t really–and left everybody hanging. That was not fair to the band and crew, and people that worked with us. But I don’t have any regrets because I think that we may have become a parody of ourselves back then if we would have continued on, especially during the grunge scene and all that coming on really strong. So I’m glad we took a break. I guess my only regret was it should have been a shorter break[laughter].

MGM: I’ll agree with that.

DR: Maybe like five years off or something, not 15, not 20 [laughter].

MGM: The forthcoming tour you’ve got lined up, the number of dates you’re taking in as well, just goes to prove it is the right time. 

DR: Yeah. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s the biggest, most extensive tour DRN has ever done in the U.K. So we’re quite excited about travelling to other people’s towns. Usually it forces people to travel too far when we’re only doing three dates or something. So this is great.

MGM: Even when you were playing in support of Slam or The Heat or something like that, you were still only really playing, say–you were playing the Forum, you were playing Rock City in Nottingham, maybe somewhere in  Manchester in Scotland and that would be it, wouldn’t it?

DR: Yeah, exactly. This time I think it’s 11 shows. 

Details about the upcoming DRN Tour can be found on the Noble PR site: 

MGM: Eleven shows. And reasonable size venues. You’re also returning to the 100 Club. That was great last time [for the album launch show], wasn’t it?

DR: We played the 100 Club and we had the best time that evening, even though with the technical problems with the base, amp and stuff, we tried to make fun of that. But yeah, I think we had an epiphany there. Why play 5, 600 and 700 seat rooms and play three or four dates in those places? Why don’t we play these smaller clubs, do the tour on our own, promote it on our own, hire Peter Noble, ( Link to Peter’s DRN page) do this stuff and just kind of make them really hot sweaty, fun experiences for the audience. And do it in kind of more unique venues instead of just going through the O2 clubs and stuff, let’s try to–and that’s what the 100 Club taught us, let’s try to do the next tour this way, 300 seaters tops and see what happens. So it’s an experiment.

MGM: Returning to ‘Fight Another Day’, when we spoke last, we were talking about the guy who’d done the artwork and I got in touch with him and he was telling me that there is artwork ready to go for the LP. Is that going to happen? Because it looks fabulous.

DR: Well, what happened was that Frontiers came back to us in the–I don’t know what you call it, the 9th hour? Why do we say that? The 9th hour, what does that mean? And they wanted to charge the band 12…I think it was 12 and a half Euros per album, for us. We had to buy it from the label. We were like, wait a minute, if it’s costing you five Euros to make it, why are we being charged 12.50 to buy our own music? It didn’t really make any sense to me. So we just put the kibosh on it and said, no, let’s cancel that, because we’d have had to charge the people that like DRN too much money to buy it after we paid for not only the LP’s but the shipping.

Because they’re very heavy, so we would have had–for 500 LP’s it would have cost anywhere between 4 or 500 euros just to get it to us. So then you stack that on top. So we would have to charge people like 25 euros just to make a euro a piece for the band on it. We were like, this is insane. So I hope that they can bring the cost down. The other things is that there was a rumour that somebody out there is making bootlegs of it on vinyl. So I don’t know if we’re going to get around to that. That was my dream from day one when we were recording this album, was to have it on vinyl even more so than CD. Unfortunately, its just cost-prohibitive at this point.

MGM: Because that artwork, the gate-fold of the album cover just looks stunning.

DR: Well, that was–another reason why we designed the art that way for the CD was I was more excited about how that was going to look on an LP art, the inside and outside of the cover. 

Hopefully we’ll get around to it. I heard somebody’s making some bootlegs out there. Just let Graeme [Bell] know and he’ll send you the artwork[laughter].

MGM: Even pressing on bootlegs these days can’t be a cheap and easy thing because there are so few pressing plants in the world.

DR: Well, that was the other thing, that we got way behind the 8-ball time-wise because we were getting the word back it takes four to five months lead time because they’re so backed up, all the different pressing plants. There’s only a few left in the world because they all closed down. I even checked with one here in Prague and they said the same thing, it’s about four and a half months. By the time it was supposed to be delivered to us and we got this accounting of what the bill would be, we were like, wow. Even if we wanted to do this, it was going to be four months from then and it was supposed to be released in a week, for example. So we got the heads up about the cost about a week before they were supposed to be delivered. It didn’t really make any sense to me. The whole thing was a little fishy so we’ll revisit that later on. I hope we can get around to making some vinyl of it. I’m going to try to twist Frontiers arm a little more [laughter].

As Vinyl talk continues we discuss the recent 180g reissues of the 4 KISS solo albums from 1978. The label has even reproduced the original inserts to make up the poster of the four members of KISS. For those people that only have those albums on CD, it’s a collector’s dream. 

DR: You know, I was a huge KISS fan when I was a kid, and I remember when those solo albums came out, I bought every one of them. But I think I had them on vinyl and eight track.

I don’t have any of that stuff anymore. And then I got into–I remember I got into different bands after KISS, more technical bands like Rush. Then KISS became like, nah I’m not into KISS anymore, that kind of silly stuff. And I got rid of them and that was a big mistake. Of course, I fell back in love with KISS again after a decade passed. It was like, oh yeah, I remember why I liked these guys, they’re fun!

MGM: Exactly. You just need to give it a bit of time and you always come back to it, don’t you?

DR: Yeah. Music doesn’t have to be all intellectual [laughter].

MGM: You said you were up until 6:30 this morning working on new material, is that solo stuff or for the band?

DR: The way I work when I have time off like this – I don’t start playing shows again until the 20th – I work on a multitude of songs throughout the evening. I just keep notching up different tracks. I’m working on a new DRN song called Harvest Season. It’s a pretty cool song. Then I’m working on a new solo track. I’m working on 15 new solo tracks but last night, I was working on one new one. Then I’m also co-producing, or producing rather, an artist friend of mine from Portland, Oregon called Tracy Class, so I worked on her song a bit last night too. Over the course of six and a half hours or seven hours, I try to notch three different songs up. I’ll do the same thing again tonight or try to finish them up.

MGM: Is that work load handled by you on your own or is a lot of it with Rob [Daiker]? A lot of the material we’ve heard over the last few years has always been a combination of you and Rob. 

DR: Yeah, well Rob and–as far as my solo work, what Rob and I do is–I demo stuff over here in Prague. Before that I was demoing it in Jerusalem and then I’d send Rob stuff and he would give me comments about; ‘Hey man, that verse section is–actually I think is a better chorus than the chorus’, for example or ‘Why don’t you use the chorus for the bridge’. And Derek Shulman, I had a relationship with like that too, as well. It’s having a really good A&R guy, a person that I trust their opinion about songs. Rob is that for me. We don’t do a lot of co-writing recently. We did in the past but I think with the next Network album, we’ve had a lot of conversations between Brian, Melvin and Rob and I about how we’re going to approach doing another DRN album and we’re going to definitely do a lot more co-writing together, try to push it better.

MGM: Is that how it used to be back in the day or was it usually mostly you?

DR: Gosh man, back in the old DRN days, I would write almost 100% of the lyrics. The arrangements were definitely done by the band and I’d say I wrote about 75% of the music. Brian and Melvin contributed a lot to solo sections, and bridges and outros. And the sound of DRN was definitely Dan Pred’s drumming, Melvin thumping on the bass and Brian. So when I have to demo stuff, I would just do bare bones architecture to these songs where it’s just like the idea, and then Brian, Melvin and Dan would all bring in their different influences. A lot of the keyboard stuff, I composed in the studio when I was doing the demos, as well as John Webster up in Canada was–he played on Bon Jovi’s records and Aerosmith records as keyboardist, so  he had a lot of ideas as well. Blake would always come in and do all the high background vocals, on the DRN albums, that’s all Blake. I couldn’t sing up that high but thankfully Rob can do all that stuff, too. He can get up there with his vocals. 

It’s going to change a little bit, I think, with the next DRN record. When I was younger, I was more egomaniacal when it came to control of the compositions. And so I was like, ‘Look, I put this band together because I write music. I’m a writer, and yes I Iove your guys’ ideas, and oh, that would be a great song, but I already have 20 songs. So I’d have to get rid of some of my songs to put in your song that you composed.’ And that was very short-sighted and kind of selfish. So I think this time around, Fight Another Day was composed from such a far distance, but I think with the next album, we’re actually talking about trying to get together and living in the same place for a couple, three weeks, just get together in Portland and start getting together in a rehearsal space and say, hey I got an idea, let’s flesh this out.

MGM: Presumably you can feed off each other as well then?

DR: Yeah. And I remember I read a story about INXS when they wrote their biggest song which is I Need You Tonight, remember that track?

DR: They were in the studio, they had finished that album, I think it was called Kick. And they were sitting there going, ‘You know what, I think we have another song in us, something that this record’s missing, a groove.’ And they just sat and just jammed the song out, wrote it and recorded it in the course of a day. And it was their biggest song ever. When you listen to that song, you will realise it’s not that complicated lyrically, melodically, musically but it’s got a vibe to it. It’s got that spontaneity sound to it that just like got a lot of positive energy to it.

MGM: It captures the moment.

DR: Yeah, something about that. I always remember that story when I think about composing and I always hope to do that with DRN. It’d be great to just sit in the studio and go, let’s write a song today, write a song today for 12 days and see what happens.

MGM: Music aside, America and more importantly the President-elect has been in the news a lot. Both sides of the fence have very strong opinions in terms of what is going to be good and what is going to be bad about the next four years. It’s all speculation and hearsay but there seems to be little or no proof associated with any of it.

DR: Right. That’s an interesting era that we’re going into as a human race, where the internet has connected everybody – which is fantastic- but at the same time it just let people’s opinions, false narratives flourish. You have somebody like Donald Trump who’s a master at manipulating the media and maybe–the jury’s still out for me on what’s going to happen.

My whole point, what I post on Facebook about this presidency and the future, is just to keep–remain vigilant, to make sure he doesn’t stray too far from any kind of norms you would expect with holding the highest office in the land. I think unchecked, he could just run amok with–this kind of reality TV show mentality is that it’s all marketing, you know, marketing and drama. Drama plays well, it gets the press, so you can say and do things just to kind of shock people and get all the press that you need. You can threaten companies and say publicly, if you do this, you should be ashamed of yourself. I know it’s just off of certain tweets that he does, that he has dropped the market price of companies like that [finger snap]. Their worth as a company drops because he’s bad-mouthed them on Twitter. That’s not fair to shareholders, that’s not fair to people that work at that company, that’s very dangerous and you can start wars that way as well. I just want him to be a President and not the Tweeter-in-chief [laughter].

MGM: When he did his acceptance speech, I actually thought it was very measured, very thoughtful…

DR: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I felt the exact same thing. I was like, wow, this acceptance speech was a complete 180 compared to his campaign. I actually liked some of the things he said about Syria and our involvement over there. I liked that he said there’s lots of Obama–parts of Obama Care or the Affordable Care Act that he was wanting to keep. I thought that was fantastic. Now they’re just running roughshod over Congress this week and trying to rush through the confirmations of every one of his cabinet members without doing the due diligence of their background checks which–that is criminal. They wouldn’t allow Obama to do something like that. In fact, if Obama said and did any of the stuff that the Democrats find offensive from Trump, if Obama said any of those things, he would not be President. That should say a lot, the fact that we accept that behaviour from one person but from the other person, it would be totally unacceptable. What does that say? It’s saying that he’s a great marketer. He’s a brilliant marketer.

MGM: Very true. Maybe it’s just because he’s got this grace period until the 20th when he takes the job officially?

DR: We’re going to find out soon enough. We’re going to see what kind of President we have. If we have a President that goes online and says Meryl Streep is the most overrated actress in Hollywood, then it’s like, dude don’t you have a lot of other things you should be doing right now?

MGM: Yeah, there’s got to be something slightly more important than that, hasn’t there [laughter]?

DR: Yeah, just a little bit.

MGM: There’s got to be some positives, I would think, though. You don’t get to be in charge of 350 million plus people without bringing some positives to the table, I would have thought.

DR: Well, I definitely hope–a lot of people, I think on the right say, they supported him because he’s a successful businessman and America needs to bring jobs back to the country. If he is this great deal maker like he claims to be, and I hope that he is, then that would be fantastic. I think the trade deals that we’ve done, I think those things can be–if they can be negotiated to be more fair for American workers and bring manufacturing jobs back to America, then I have nothing but love for that. I think if he can get along with Russia, get along with China and make everything cohesive as far as our working relationship together over the next four years or eight years, if he becomes President again, would be fantastic. Those things are all great. That’s what I liked about his acceptance speech, he did talk about those things, making friends with our enemies I think is great.

His rhetoric about Muslims, his rhetoric about immigrants, that stuff is concerning but hopefully he’ll back off on most of that stuff. Now this whole thing of building a wall, now he’s saying that American taxpayers are going to pay for it first and then he’s going to go and get money from Mexico through taxing them and terrorist and those other stuff, I don’t see that happening at all. I think that was a major, I want to say lie–but he was very deceitful about how he presented that in public over 18 months.

MGM: Absolutely. It was all bombast and as you say, good marketing again.

DR: Yeah. He was brilliant. He really outshone everybody else on the field including Hilary Clinton with that kind of talk.

“It will be an entertaining four years, that’s for sure as shit.”

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