The Big 3-0 Tour gets underway in Bristol tonight as Dan Reed Network, FM and Gun join forces to celebrate three 1989 classics. Rushonrock Editor Simon Rushworth spoke exclusively to Dan Reed as the Network readies itself for a Slam reboot.
Rushonrock: Can you take us back to 1989 – how exciting a time was that?
Dan Reed: There were a lot of great bands who were our contemporaries at the time – like Extreme and Living Colour – who played hard rock with a funky groove behind it. It was exciting for all of us to see just how far we could go. It felt like we were all part of changing the music scene. It felt like there was a new wave of rock and it felt very important at the time. We were very much part of the that wave and when we started working with people like Bruce Fairbairn and Nile Rodgers it really seemed like we were onto something. When we wrote the first record it was something that people could groove to in the clubs. The lyrics and the vocals conveyed what we were going through as people and I think the fans related to that. The whole funk rock movement was borne out of musicians who were bored with the same old stuff and who were trying to do something different. All these people high up in the music industry were talking about us as the next big thing. We didn’t know whether we should believe all the bullshit or whether we should be doing something different again. There was a lot of pressure with that stuff but I guess 1989 – and the release of Slam – was the high point in terms of feeling empowered as a band.
Rushonrock: Did you feel that image was as important as art back then and was that a challenge?
DR: In the late 80s there was always that conflict between making sure your message was heard at the same time as you were fighting against the stubbornness of the industry. We were doing photo shoots and there was wardrobe and make-up and all of that when, for us, it was about the music. Having a make-up artist on a photo shoot just felt weird. The whole idea of making us ‘camera ready’ seemed very odd to the band. It had nothing to do with our music and I guess that was what ultimately persuaded me to shave my hair off. I had so much hate mail from around the world after I did that. But that was nothing compared to the backlash I faced from management and the record company. The grief I got from lawyers and accountants was unbelievable. But I was their pay cheque and by shaving off my hair I’d threatened their livelihoods.
Rushonrock: Do you stand by what turned out to be an incredibly divisive decision?
DR: I thought that I would be respected for the decision to cut my hair. In reality, I faced a tidal wave of anger from people who felt I’d been so selfish. It reinforced my belief that I’d done the right thing but it was still really sad to hear. The great thing about the grunge thing – which was starting to happen band then – was that there was a scene that did accept me and my decision. I was friends with a lot of those guys in Seattle and I loved the fact that they wore lumberjack shirts and didn’t bother about their image at all. Those guys broke out and binned all of the 80s spandex bands – they sang about real things and real pain and it wasn’t all about partying. Ultimately those demons at the heart of their lyrics would become too much for the likes of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley but in the beginning grunge was a step in the right direction as a response to 80s excess.
Rushonrock: Was Nile Rodgers the key to unlocking the true Dan Reed Network sound on 1989’s Slam?
DR: I felt like we did that with Bruce Fairbairn on the first record. Working with Nile simply solidified our sound. And I have to give great credit to Mike Fraser. I think the Dan Reed Network album for Polygram was his first as a head engineer and I always remember saying to him that we’d been ‘Frased’. Nile built on the work that Bruce and Mike had done and his production jib on Slam was outstanding. It was the perfect combination of mixing technology with guitar riffs and capturing the sound of a live band. I remember when Nile’s name was first brought up he was so busy working with Madonna, Duran Duran and David Bowie. But when we eventually sat down with him it became clear he was a big fan of rock and roll music.
Rushonrock: As Slam took shape were you confident that you were making a career-defining record or were you concerned it was too leftfield?
DR: It wasn’t really until that period that Polydor became interested in what we could do. Dianne Warren was writing stuff with Heart and Kiss at the time and Nile convinced the label he could have a similar impact working with us. I was very happy with the work we did on Slam. It sounded a little more ‘digital’ compared to what we’d done with Mike and on reflection it’s a little light on the drums. But in the last few months I’ve realised that the production and the keyboards are the best bits about Slam – coupled with the overall songwriting.
Rushonrock: Are there songs on Slam that you will be playing on the Big 3-0 tour for the first time in decades – or even for the first time?
DR: Lover was a big single in the UK but we very rarely played it live. We rehearsed it for the Rolling Stones shows, shot the video and then never played it again. We’ve rarely played Slam live and never played All My Lovin’. Then there’s a track like Make It Easy which we’ve been playing for the last five or six years but changed up a lot. We’ve added a few things to Tiger In A Dress and Come Back Baby can become a big jam session. We’re playing the entire album but how we approach the songs might surprise a few people.
Rushonrock: Although The Big 3-0 Tour is a glorious nostalgia trip all three bands on the bill continue to make new music – how important is that?
DR: That’s one of the reasons why we can do this tour. All three bands continue to work incredibly hard and play live all over the world. When our agent mentioned the idea I was initially unsure – logistically I thought it would be a nightmare with three ‘headline’ bands and all the egos involved! But these three bands get along just fine. I saw Gun about two years ago and I was blown away – no wonder people still rave about them. There’s such a depth and power to them and their singer is fantastic. I only got to see FM for the first time quite recently but I got to watch the whole set. That band and those songs! Holy shit! Those guys are amazing. When it became clear that Gun and FM would be the other two bands I remember thinking that would be an amazing three-and-a-half hours of live music. It’s going to be a night of pure celebration and strong melodies.
Catch Dan Reed Network with FM and Gun on the following UK dates in December:
9 Bristol – O2 Academy
10 Southampton – Engine Rooms
11 London – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
13 Wolverhampton – KK’s Steel Mill
14 Norwich – LCR UEA
15 Nottingham – Rock City
17 Newcastle – O2 Academy
18 Leeds – O2 Academy
20 Manchester – Academy 2
21 Glasgow – Barrowland