As Dan Reed Network prepare to join Extreme on their UK tour, the band’s frontman opens up about their next album, his first gig experience, the passing of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young, recording new songs in front of fans, learning to be more collaborative, and why he loves ‘More Than Words’.
Let’s put you on the spot. Favourite Extreme song?
The song that made me fall in love with them was ‘Get The Funk Out’. But as a songwriter, I think ‘More Than Words’ is always going to be the quintessential ballad. Whenever its 3 in the morning at the afterparty at one of my shows, undoubtedly another musician there will play that song, or people ask me to play that song.
And the chord changes in that are genius. As a listener who doesn’t know music you could say it’s quite a simple song, but it’s actually not. It’s quite intricate with how they did the voicings and the chord changes – it’s like a classic song from the ‘40s that was written by gershwin or someone. It’s got some really beautiful changes in it. So I respect that track a lot.
But the guitar solo in ‘Get The Funk Out’ is ungodly. I don’t even know how Nuno Bettencourt came up with that stuff. I don’t even know if he’s from this planet. I worked with him on a remake of ‘Long Way To Go’ and ‘Get To You’ back in about 1992 at a studio up in Boston, and I remember he was just trying to get a guitar sound. Him just goofing off, twisting knobs on his amps and playing riffs, you would hear five or six songs that you could write if you took the time to do it. So he’s very prolific and he’s got a lot of great ideas – I don’t even know he’s aware of quite how many. When he’s just riffing, making noise, it’s not noise; it’s always musical when he’s playing.
Now that you’re going out on the road with him and the rest of Extreme, are you having to approach the shows differently to your own headline tours?
We know we’re playing to between 11 000 and 13 000 people over the course of six days and we know that 80% of those people never heard of us, and another 10% heard the band name but don’t us that well, and 10% of the audience knows us. So we’re playing the songs that etched our band into the minds of the people who believe in us. We’re going to play two or three songs off each album, so we’re representing our whole catalogue, and we’re picking the strongest songs that work for an Extreme show. We’re not getting any mellower than ‘Rainbow Child’, but we’ll play ‘Champion’ and ‘Divided’ off the new album, and then ‘Get To You’, ‘Cruise Together’, ‘Resurrect’, ‘Tiger In A Dress’. So people can either like us or not like us, but they can get a sample of what we’ve been doing since day one.
And with playing bigger stages, I’ve been going to the gym, getting my cardio up because I know they can tire me out. You can just stand there at the mic, the Network’s music really isn’t suited to planting your feet and perform that way. We’re much more rambunctious than that so I’m definitely going to take advantage of those bigger stages. We have a great time with that because Melvin and Brion like working out as well.
You mentioned that this will be the first time for a lot of people seeing Dan Reed Network live. What was the first gig you saw?
It was Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash when they were still together. They played in Aberdeen, South Dakota at the community centre that held about 1500 people. I’ll never forget that show, seeing the adoration people gave somebody who wrote music that touched their lives. I think I was 10 or 11, and I was just blown away by the whole experience, so I entered the talent show at school the next year singing a song from ‘Grease’ maybe, and I loved doing that. Then I got a guitar when I was 14, so the interest in music kept growing and it all started with that first concert.
My first rock concert was ted nugent with AC/DC opening up in Minneapolis, and that was a mind boggler on a whole other level. Just the raw power of it, the volume, the masculinity of it. AC/DC’s music and Ted Nugent’s music is really, really raw and when Malcolm Young passed away it affected me in the same way as when Prince passed away: you feel like there’s a vacuum that just got sucked out of the world. Tom Petty as well, but there was something about AC/DC being the first rock band I ever saw, so they always had a very special place in my heart.
I wrote four rock songs immediately after his passing, one a day for four days in a row, that I think Malcolm would be happy to hear. I haven’t written all the lyrics yet but I’ve got the melodies, I did a drum beat, I played all the guitars and bass guitar, and there’s no keyboards. So I’m thinking about doing a rock record in 2019 with a drummer and a bassist, just for fun, and say it’s in honour of Malcolm. Regrettably and thankfully I don’t sing like either Brian Johnson or Bon Scott so it won’t sound like AC/DC once I get my vocals on, but the guitar riffs and the feel of it definitely has that balls to the wall intention.
When Malcolm passed away, I went back and listened to a bunch of their stuff and I realised some of their songs, like ‘Back In Black’, are pretty funky too, they’re just sped up.
Apart from AC/DC then, what other influences went into early Dan Reed Network music?
Led Zeppelin, Prince, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Sly And The Family Stone, and I was also just getting into Earth Wind And Fire at the time. Brion and Melvin were already super fans, so I learned a lot from them about bands like The Brothers Johnson and just funk in general. Melvin was actually a funk bass player straight out of the box. He’d never played any rock that I knew of at the time. So when we were in band rehearsals I was so impressed with his playing, I started writing songs that would be fun for him to play. So that influenced the writing a lot as well, trying to write parts that everybody would be happy with. Dan Pred, on the other hand, was into Rush, prog rock, so I was always thinking about him as a drummer – if you listen to a lot of the early Network stuff all the drum fills were quite polished and worked out because I wanted to make sure Dan had challenges on him as well.
That’s a really eclectic list, so were there actually any influences you?
We recently talked about this because we’re co-writing a lot more now, on ‘Fight Another Day’ and on the new songs we’re working on. In the early days my ego probably didn’t allow a lot of stuff through the gate because I was writing a lot and I put this band together to showcase stuff I was writing. And so when other people would bring stuff to the table, often times I probably wasn’t listening to it with the most open mind. If I was listening to a demo it didn’t sound like a Dan Reed Network song, I’d reject it, when I could have considered slowing it down, speeding it up, changing the key, or changing the rhythm. So I couldn’t say that people brought stuff to the table that didn’t fit the Network, I’d say people brought stuff that didn’t fit my ego.
So how are the new songs coming along?
We’ve got one called ‘Fade The Light’ which Brion started off. He sent me a piece of music that was about 90 seconds long and then he came to Prague about three months ago and we hashed it out. I chopped it up into pieces and made a song out of it as far as an arrangement, and then I wrote a vocal melody over the top of it. It’s the same process as we used on ‘Champion’, my favourite song off ‘Fight Another Day’.
Now it’s finished, we have about 140 people coming to the studio today in Manchester. Instead of going to a concert they’ve come to see the band record the song. So they’ll spend the whole day with the band tracking the song, we’ll get them to sing some background vocals on it, and then we’re going to surprise them with an old Network song that we’ve already pre-recorded and have them do background vocals on that too. Then we’ll have dinner together and later we’ll do an unplugged concert for the audience.
So it’s a new way to record. In May we’re going to do one in New York and in Portland, Oregon, which is a co-write with Melvin, and then we’re going to do one in Stockholm in July. Hopefully by the end of next year we’ll have a whole album that’s been recorded with 10 different audiences in 10 different cities around the world. It’s like doing a gig but you get to spend the whole day with everybody and instead of charging people a shitload of money for a meet and greet, they get to come and hang out with the band for the whole day.
But the main thing about this new approach is me understanding that I should take advantage of everybody’s talents more. They’ve all got a lot to bring to the table. So I’m just involving them all more. It’s a great learning moment for me.
Newcastle O2 Academy Wednesday 13 December
Glasgow O2 Academy Thursday 14 December
Leeds O2 Academy Saturday 16 December
Birmingham O2 Academy Sunday 17 December
Bristol O2 Academy Monday 18 December (SOLD OUT)
London O2 Academy Brixton Wednesday 20 December