Transcription by Katrina King. Katrina is hip to the vibe, y’all!
I first met Dan Reed around 20 years ago, when he was the lead singer for Dan Reed Network. Since that time, Dan has gone from nightclub owner, singer in the New York based band Adrenaline Sky to, briefly, a solo electronica artist. He seemed to step away from the music industry spotlight and all but disappeared from the public eye for nearly a decade. Now, the very thoughtful musician is back with a new album of music and a new perspective on life. I caught up with Dan at his latest show in Portland, OR to talk about his new music, where he’s been and what life has taught him.
POP CULTURE ZOO: First of all, how are you?
DAN REED: I’m good, I’m doing really well.
PCZ: Welcome back to Portland.
DR: Thank you.
PCZ: It’s gotta be kind of exciting, coming back to Portland and you get a sold out show right off the bat!
DR: Yeah it’s nice. It’s exciting in the sense that, I haven’t put a record out for 17 years almost. I put an EP out, back in 2000, but it’s been a long, long time. So to see the support is good.
PCZ: Can you tell me a little bit about this new record, and how it came about and a little about the songs on it?
DR: Yeah, well, I was the co-owner of a night club here in Portland. And, I had kind of lost my way, in a lot of different aspects. I got lost in drinking, and doing drugs, and just kind of living that lifestyle, which I never did when I was actually in a rock and roll band, which is odd! But once my father became ill, and he passed away, I decided to kind of clean my act up, and figure out what I want to do with my life. So I went back to India, where I had been in 1992 to interview the Dalai Lama. I thought if I went back there, this would be a place to kind of just calm my mind down, be away from these addictive friendships that I had developed over the last 5 or 6 years. And I was lucky enough to be invited by a couple of Tibetan monks to live at the monastery with them, after having many conversations about religion, whether it be Buddhism, Christianity, Ghandhi’s philosophies… and the more we talked, the more they said, you know you should come study with us, and come learn what Buddhism is all about. Because there is no god figure, it’s really what’s inside of you.
I’d been interested in Buddhism for a number of years. So, I spent about 6 months there, and I started writing music at the monastery. I bought a little guitar for $60 up in Dharamsala, India. And, the first song is called ‘On Your Side’, which is on this new album. So that was kind of the beginning of it. And then I decided I was going to try to at least attempt to write songs that had some kind of positive effect, whatever that is. Just to give some kind of hope for the day, or if people are having a tough time with stuff that’s going on in their life, that these songs can be a form of comfort in some way. And I think that stems from being in the midst of all of this religious study. ‘Cause right after India, I went to Jerusalem and I spent a year there at a Jewish yeshiva, studying Judaism. And when you’re living in Jerusalem, you’re surrounded by Muslims and Christians and Jews and they’re all getting together in relative peace, and they’re all talking about the same destination, but they’re arguing over the path to get there. So it’s that conflict of, as a human race, we’re all hoping to survive the environmental calamity that we’re creating on the Earth, we’re hoping to survive the economic crises, we’ve got a big oil spill now in the Gulf. All these kind of things we do as a human race that are very short-sighted. We want to go fast, but we also want to save the world. So it’s this conflict that really interested me, at least for this album, that I wanted to sing about.
PCZ: I noticed that these are much more positive and uplifting songs. A lot of songs that you did with Dan Reed Network were very political and sort of angry. Do you feel that travelling the world and seeing and living in other cultures kind of tempered that a little bit?
DR: Absolutely. I think it’s also the humbling of going through a very dark period in my life. Losing both my parents over the last 6 years I realized that anger has its place, for sure, but often anger is just all it takes to tip a situation over the scale. So it can cause a war, it can cause divorce, it can cause a lot of misunderstandings between any two people. Any kind of peace or any kind of camaraderie or any kind of compromise between two people that are conflicted, it really stems from the two individuals. Two countries can go to war because the two leaders of these countries don’t get along. Where does anger play a role in that? It doesn’t have a purpose. I think anger might be good if you’re running out on a battlefield with a sword, and you’re gonna go chop someone’s head off. [laughter] Anger there is great! Maybe different sporting events, to channel your anger and stuff. I think there’s great angry music out there, for sure, but for me, and where I’m at in my life, I just thought the music scene in general was lacking something that sang about compassion.
PCZ: A lot of what you’ve said, and seeing you earlier in your career and seeing you now, you remind me a lot of Curt Smith [from Tears for Fears].
DR: Yes, he’s a good singer…
PCZ: He’s sort of in the same place. He’s at the point in his life where he’s like, “Let’s do what I want” as opposed to fighting the system.
DR: Yes. Right. And I think, every one of these songs has a hopeful meaning behind it, and intention. But it’s rooted in having one foot in a very dark space. I think every song is definitely talking about, whether it’s chopping off the head of the last sacred cow, or using a gun to bring peace. The songs at least try to broach the subject of… we have the ability to destroy ourselves, or a relationship, or ourselves individually, but if we can find solace in the day that allows us to find that balance, then we will make it as a human race. And that’s what’s important to me. I mean, I don’t even have any children, I just see that what were all these centuries and thousands of years of development of art, and politics and commerce, what was it all for if we’re just supposed to blow our wad and disappear?
Personally I have a hope to meet other beings in our galaxy. I think there’s other intelligent life out there and if we can, as a human race, survive just our own problems, we might be fortunate enough to be invited into the galactic brotherhood. That’s my personal goal. A lot of people think I’m crazy but…
PCZ: No, that’s very valid.
DR: It’d be nice to be invited over for dinner to another planet, but the way we’re acting now, we would be terrible house guests!
PCZ: I’ve thought for many, many years that a starship of other beings from another planet showing up and saying hello would make everything on our planet and the conflicts we have insignificant and kind of meaningless at that point.
DR: Well, I think what would happen was is that we would become a purposely peaceful race knowing that there’s this other level of reality out there, but it would be akin to a preacher going into the jungle of an indigenous culture and telling them that if they don’t believe in Jesus they’re gonna burn in hell. They would go to church, they would follow the bible, but do they have Jesus in their hearts, so to speak? I think an alien culture, if they were silly enough to try to land on earth, it would be the wrong thing to do for us. I think we have to figure out our shit on our own, first, before we get to meet them.
PCZ: Going to a little bit lighter…
DR: Yeah! [laughter]
PCZ: Also, being a fan of your career and listening to your music all these years, I find it interesting that Dan Reed Network, and even the New York band you had, Adrenaline Sky, that was all full band music. Then you went for a while into electronica, even the EP Sharp Turn was a little more electronica. Now you seem to have come back to the full band.
DR: Even more rootsy now that I’m playing acoustic guitar all the time. Yeah, I think it’s like a bow and arrow. You pull back the string and then you gotta go the other way and let the tension release. So right now I’m really just fascinated by piano and guitar. That’s everything I’m writing right now is on the piano and the guitar. The synth parts, and the other electric guitars and that kind of stuff, we just add on to the tracks as we’re recording them. But, I wrote the songs to be something that you could play it on a mountain top if you want to or under a tree. That’s hard to do with a synth song.
PCZ: That’s true! [laughter] You can sort of hum along to them, but not quite.
PCZ: And recently, you’ve not only played with Melvin [Brannon II] but you’ve also done some gigs with…
PCZ: …Blake Sakamoto. How’s that been?
DR: It’s nice. It’s really nice. It’s kind of been like a homecoming, y’know. It’d be great to play with all the guys individually or as a group, but for me to… I’ve been asked to do kind of reunion tours, and stuff like that, and whether the band would do it or not, I have no idea, but I have a strong feeling that any kind of reunion tour, that you go back and try to create what you did 20 years ago – you’re parodying yourself and so I don’t have any desire to do it, because of that reason. We did that as best as we could, back then. To try to do it just reeks of trying to make money.
PCZ: Sure. Absolutely. That’s kind of what it seems like the bands that break up years ago and..
DR: Get back together, yeah…
PCZ: …can’t really make much of anything else – they’re like, okay well, let’s just get back together.
PCZ: And a lot of them it seems they just do tour after tour just playing their old songs.
DR: And everybody [from Dan Reed Network] is successful doing their own thing separately, and so it’s great.
PCZ: Well, that’s what I have for now. It was great seeing you again.
DR: Okay! It was good to see you. Thank you!
Thank you to Dan Reed for taking the time to speak to me. You can find out where he is playing next, his latest thoughts on life and order his new album, “Coming Up For Air” at his official website!