INTERVIEW: Singer/Songwriter/Musician Dan Reed
I must preface this interview by stating that I am a huge Dan Reed fan and have been since the very beginning, when this song and video was released: RITUAL
The Dan Reed Network album was followed by SLAM, produced by the one and only, Nile Rodgers, and lastly, The Heat. It was during the band’s promotional tour for The Heat that I first met Dan Reed. Somehow, the Universe made it possible for me and my friends to spend an entire day with DRN when they came to NYC. I mean, we got to see them perform at HMV then got tickets to the night’s show, press and photo passes and meet and greet before and after the show! What?!!
It was one of the greatest days of my life because you have to understand, I loved this band so much, that it all felt surreal. (That look you see on my face there is disbelief!) Dan was kind and generous to us then and 20 years later, I am honored to know him and thrilled to be able to get to interview him for TWB and ask him some of the questions I’ve been wanting answers to for quite some time! And yes, he is still kind and generous and one of the brightest lights this world has ever seen . . .
(This is the performance at the Marquee that I attended. . . you can see me and my friends at 2:11 on the bottom right . . .)
Dan Reed! Always an honor getting to speak to you! I’ve been a fan of your music since your Dan Reed Network (DRN) days and I still can’t believe that after all these years, I’ve gotten to know you, you own my art and I consider you a friend. It’s a thrill! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me in the midst of touring the UK and Europe.
Thank you for taking the time and interest in sharing this time, my friend. It is not only an honor to have gotten to know you in these last years, Gene-Manuel, but also to be a part of your most inspiring blog and it’s positive intention in these chaotic times. Your work is important and insightful and I am happy to have this talk!
Thank you so much, Dan. Many know you from, as I mentioned, Dan Reed Network. You had Top 40 hits, toured the world, including opening for The Rolling Stones on their 1991 European & UK tour. Had three hit albums with a major label. You were seemingly on top of the world. Then, you seemed to have literally disappeared. Can you tell us a little bit about that time in your life and then what caused you to step away from the spotlight?
Perhaps being raised in South Dakota, essentially a farm boy for most of the formative years, brought with it a certain amount of naivety and simplicity of heart and mind, a quality I spent too many years pretending didn’t exist, or buried on purpose out of insecurity… or at times just simply beat the living daylights out of! At the pinnacle of our success I was witnessing things in the music business that if we wanted to take it to the next level, meant diving even more in to the world of fallacy, illusion, and silliness.
At the same time groups like Nirvana were coming on to the scene shattering all the pre-conceived ideas of what bands needed to do to succeed, which was sorely needed. The 80′s were about glam, over-indulgence, hair and make-up, tight clothes, shallowness in some respects, especially in the eyes of those citizens of the world who have more important things to worry about, like finding a meal or having shelter, basic rights. Seeing the writing on the wall of the shift of consciousness in the music being released, while realizing we had one foot in the grave of the 80′s, it was clear there was only one choice- Get out before becoming a parody of ourselves. Our management at the time, Q-Prime, suggested we take a break, maybe a year off or so, to re-evaluate and then perhaps come back with a new album… but for me the time off made it clear that incarnation was no longer needed.
You traveled to India back in the early ’90s to interview The Dalai Lama and I understand that the experience had a profound effect on you. Years later, you returned and spent some time there. What was it about India that touched you the first time you were there, that eventually made you return?
This is not a subject I can answer in brief, so pardon my rant, and thank you for your leave. The rich culture, history and religious paths that have blossomed from India have always been fascinating. Reading many writings of Mohandis K. Gandhi on the British occupation, how India achieved independence through non-violence, his views on diet, democracy, the meaning of ‘god’, deepened my interest in this part of the world. I felt there must be something very strong energetically in India if it was the foundation from which sprung souls like Buddha, Gandhi, and now is the home of the Dalai Lama, so I felt the compulsion to visit their old haunts and see what could be discovered. After having the opportunity to visit with the Tibetan people and speak with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1992, it was most clear then that I would benefit something positive by returning to this area and spending more time. ‘When’ that was going to happen was never clear. After a few very dark years of substance abuse at the turn of the century, and then losing my father to cancer, I felt that after a time of reflection and getting clear it would be most beneficial to return to this land of inspiration and insight.
Being raised in the US it’s hard to see, or admit to, to what comedian Louis C.K. calls ‘White People Problems’… meaning, we in the West take so much for granted. We have it so good that we invent things to be unhappy about. We complain about ordering something on the menu at a restaurant and finding out they are out of it when there are a hundred other options, or get upset the internet is too slow. This combination of arrogance and entitlement is a dangerous combination of emotions that unchecked can start wars, destroy livelihoods, and can makes the world quite volatile. The small villages, countryside and the religious sites in India really allows one to put things in to perspective. You will find no one complaining, except for some tourists from the West, about the amount,quality or variety of food, or not having hot water, air conditioning, even toilet paper. Being in India made it easier to realize that simply having the ability to take a breath of fresh air, to feel the warmth of the sun daily… finding solitude, time for introspection, true stillness, were gifts I had overlooked in the fast lane. There are lessons to be learned seeing children expressing what looked like true true joy rolling a rusted metal ring down the dirt road with a crooked stick, then realizing we in the West have fashion shows for children, dressing them up as seductive adults, teaching them to have big ego’s and teaching them to find ‘pride in winning’ and ‘shame in losing’.
Yes… there is great poverty and conflict, government corruption, class struggles in developing nations, and these are scourges that I hope can be overcome in the future, but there are countless and daily reminders in the rural areas of India and the are the Tibetan government calls home of ‘why’ we should feel blessed to have all the benefits of this technology we have grown weary of in our pledge that ‘going faster is better’. Of course, sadly, India is leaning more and more to the West and usually not toward the positive things. Often the ‘Paris Hiltion/talent show/fast food/gossip/insecure security/blind patriotism/building fences/nuclear armament’ aspects of society are adopted by these once proud cultures. However, in India and many parts of the world there still are places untouched by ‘arrogance and entitlement’, and why creativity continues to sing to me. Finding balance… this is what India allowed… at least this has been my experience.
Music never really disappeared… after the DRN days I went immediately in to attempting to run a small record label based out of Portland, Oregon and had co-produced a few different projects over a two year period, while at the same time studying acting, so yes, creativity never really wanes, or should never wane if that is the driving force. It changes shapes, sometimes goes dormant to hopefully allow a burst of new ideas… like any exhalation requires inhalation, such is the creative process it seems. It is important to constantly remind myself why putting paint to canvas, or strumming a guitar, singing, dancing, whatever it is that is the passion of the moment, is so important to exercise for it is easy to stagnate and rest on past accomplishments, become lazy.
I was fascinated with creating electronic music in the late 90′s, early 2000′s… about a hundred tracks that most folks have not heard, but because it was done without too many commercial aspirations, it felt as if it was a path that eventually paved the way back to singing again. But this time around not be pulled in to the drive for big success, or rather not be consumed by appealing to the consumer mentality of our soul, but to simply search for unifying themes that are important in this age of environmental decay, religious/political strife, and economic crisis.
I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason. Your new music, the music that appears in your stellar Coming Up for Air cd, is quite different from your Dan Reed Network days. How much of that can be attributed to your time in India? Was your stay a major influence in the music that you now are writing?
I hope the music on ‘Coming up for Air’ stems from both going through a very dark period in my life prior to my long stay in India and Jerusalem, and then having the time to reflect on those challenging days, sometimes in solitude, and often being surrounded by many positive souls who were experiencing the same struggles. So many people I had the pleasure to meet, befriend, commune with, all searching for a deeper connection to life, god, energy, spirit… whatever we wish to call that which resonates within, outside and beyond ourselves and our limited time on this planet. Without the dark it is often very difficult to not only see the light, but to appreciate it once you do. A Rabbi in Jerusalem taught that often times it is the blank page behind the letters of the printed words of the Torah/Old Testament that are important, for written words would have no boundaries without the empty space on the pages. This lesson resonated deeply, for is it not true that some of the greatest works of art stem from the artist’s contemplation before he or she put their insights, pains and joys in to the physical realm? Which is more important… the thought or the creation? Are they not equal?
Meditation played a major role in reflecting experience in to lyric… looking back with humility, embracing the present with vigor, and looking forward with the intention to not repeat past mistakes or negative actions that hurt others, and indeed myself. This was the impetus behind all the songs on the latest release – to reflect, forgive, sincerely apologize to those wronged, and to make an internal promise to try not to fall victim to over the top substance abuse, wrong actions, and insincerity. India was the bridge and the time away from the noise and chaos of the Western world needed to embrace that journey. I have strayed from that path many times since leaving India and Jerusalem, and most likely will many times more in the future… but there is now an internal compass that is more defined and gently pulls me back from the cliff’s edge, and this I owe to great friends, insightful writings of others, and realizing that life is too short to throw away, blindly, without regard to the future.
Even in you DRN days and especially now with your new music, there has always been an underlying current of spirituality in most of your songs. And what I mean by spirituality is the message of hope, oneness, peace . . . a real humanity in your songs. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person or have a certain practice or sets of beliefs that you adhere to?
To consider oneself ‘spiritual’ is dangerous and in all actuality can cancel out one’s intention to follow a path of education, compassion and gratitude. A Tibetan Lama once professed to me when asked the same question, “I will never find enlightenment, and this is ok, for it is the journey, the search where peace lives, not in the destination. I know that on the day of my death I will still be searching for answers, like a small child.” His humility and view I agree with, and one day hope to achieve, but is extremely difficult to in the noise and busyness of our current culture.
Since I was a child I have always questioned why we as a human race are at odds, in conflict, building walls and burning bridges instead of being able to appreciate each other’s religious/spiritual beliefs, respect each other’s racial and cultural differences and be joyful that we are all not the same for how mundane would the world be if we all followed the same path. In music it has always been important to try and reach for the higher aspects of our human existence, even when not attaining it in a personal fashion for it seems obvious that there is plenty of focus on what divides us. This is not interesting. Expounding on what makes us blessed as a human being is much more fascinating and something we could use a lot more of in modern culture. With regards to a ‘set of beliefs’… I think that all religions, even science, is reaching for the same mountain top, we are all just arguing over which path up the hill to take. Religion describes science in a very poetic way, while science describes ‘god’ in technical terms. Monotheistic religions claim god created the heavens and earth from ‘nothingness’, while science describes the solar systems being born from the vacuum of a ‘black hole’. I feel these are two different descriptions of the same occurrence and until we accept all paths as equally important and valid we may continue to find ourselves split at the seams as a society.
For this I am truly honored, Gene-Manuel, for this is what any artist can hope for, that their music is able to be a source of comfort, insight, or just a friend during times of celebration or conflict. So I thank you for expressing that again! Regarding the next album it is titled ‘Signal Fire’ and will be released sometime this next fall. We are currently recording here in Prague and in Portland, Oregon, and will be a bit harder edged than ‘Coming Up for Air’, but still keeping with the same themes of introspection, forgiveness, and embracing the future… dare I say, fighting peacefully for the future. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the new music, my friend.
Thanks again Dan for your generosity and kindness. Continued success and many, many blessings to you.
It was a joy speaking with you on these subjects and sorry for the long winded answers! May insight and inspiration keep bringing you good fortune and thank you for sharing so much love and positive energy with all you reach, brother.
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