INTERVIEW: Al Mackenzie & Peter Cunnah of D:ream

In the 90s D:ream topped the charts with their dance classic ‘Things can only get better’. After a long time away they are back with a new album and UK tour. Jake Street spoke to Al Mackenzie and Peter Cunnah ahead of their O2 Academy gig (Jun 3)

Hi Al and Peter. How are you both?

Al: Very well, thank you!

Pete: Fine and Dandy. Ta

It’s great to see you guys back making music and performing together. What were the reasons and ambitions for doing this?

Al: The reason is simple. We met in a park, one morning, about 3 years ago, totally by chance, and decided to have a play around again in the studio and see what happened. We had no preconceived ideas as to what would happen or how it would sound. As we finished one track and like it we did another, then another and so on. Next thing we had an album. We’d love it to be successful but, ultimately, as long as we’re happy with it then we’re happy.

Pete: Like he says by complete fluke a real chance meeting.

What have you both been up to in the time you have been away?

Al: I made a few records, remixed a bit, bought a bar/club and dj’ed a lot, each with differing levels of success! Suffice to say. I won’t be running a nightclub again.

Pete: I settled down in 1997, got married, started a family while writing and producing records for various acts. I kept gigging under pseudo names and a few other friends’ bands like Chicane which was great.

‘In Memory Of…’ is your latest album, who or what is it in memory of?

Al: When we met in the park, I was sitting on a bench with some people I’d been out with for the evening. It was in Peter’s local park. It had a plaque on it saying “in memory of Ethel Fraser’. When thinking of names for the album Peter phoned me with said info. It seemed like a great name for the album. Initially, we were going to use it all but opted for the shortened version which we thought may be a talking point. We were right!

Pete: I like the implication that its a touch retrospective.

The album obviously still has the electro pop framework, however it seems a more mature, thought-out process with the album having a storyline running through it. How has your sound evolved since you first began playing music together?

Al: I just think we’re older and had more time to do this album. We were able to take our time and use the sounds/instruments we wanted. Not having a record company hassling you for something the next day really helps.

Pete: He’s bang on. When you listen to all the new bands, album 1 is 10 years of ideas to choose from. Album two has 8 weeks and tends to be by the numbers. Labels lean on bands for the next album a year later and it shows. IMO… had another 14 years of ideas behind it.

Track 9, ‘U Make Me… is one of my favourites, what’s your pick off the album?

Al:’All Things To All Men’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Dog’ really do it for me but I like al the album. I can say that honestly

Pete: “Drop Beatz Not Bombs” which is my belated response to them taking us into Iraq and “I’ll be your Dog” both play great live.

Where was the album made and how long did it take for you to pull it together?

Al: Peter had a studio at Hugh Padgham’s (The Police/Genesis etc) place, Stanley House in West London. We did it there. Some of the songs we’re old tracks Peter had stared years ago and we reworked them. I think we started working together around March/April 2008 and finished at the beginning of this year. I was in birmingham for the first year though so we were doing a day or two each week. It wasn’t an intense experience.

Pete: It wasn’t rushed

Who have been your influences in making this album?

Al: I’m influenced by so many people. Some may not come across immediately but they’re there. Prince is a huge influence but I listen to such varied music from rock, jazz to techno

Pete: Al played me the M.A.N.D.Y remix of Ben Watt and that blew me away. But I listen to everything from Prefab Sprout to  Jhonny Cash. But crucially I said to Al, ‘Lets use the guitar more as the driving sound as this is where the songs originate’ and that shaped it considerably.

Are you looking forward to getting back on the road? And coming to Liverpool again?

Al: I really am.

Pete:  Liverpool was always very good to us from Cream right through to the “Hope” tour in 1995. Great times.

Any crazy stories to tell or do you try to keep things calm?

Al: We’ll see what happens. I may be older but am prone to the odd bit of silliness

Pete:  Plenty, Always start out with the best of intentions but we’re still fond of a dram two so the madness inevitably follows us.

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Will there be a mixture of old and new material in the show?  Which do you prefer to play?

Al: We play both. The old material has been slightly reworked but we’d be foolish not to play some of the tracks that we’re known for. I prefer the new sounds as have heard to old tracks a million times but have found a new love for the older tunes having performed them again

Pete: I love it all, I play guitar on the new stuff but not on the older stuff as its mainly piano and keyboards. The thing about live is that anything can happen, We rehearse a lot but still things can go wrong, that’s whats cool about it, you can change it in real time to go with the mood on the nite or move things up a gear.

Is there a particular D:Ream song which is your favourite?

Al: ‘All Things To All Men’ for me

Pete: I have a soft spot for “U R The Best Thing”. Something about it. I still get the shivers when we strike it up.

How do people respond to ‘Things can only get better’?

Al: Everybody loves it! I think it’s cool to hate it and blame it for the Iraq war etc but it always goes down well when we perform it.

Pete: We genuinely have fun with it and you gotta join in on the chorus.

That song was used as the 1997 Labour Election campaign song. Can you tell us how that came about?

Pete: John Prescot approached me through our management and took us on a tour around the houses of parliament. Alan had left the band in ’94 so it was entirely my decision. Can I be clear here people if we all remember it was the sea change we all hoped for at that time. I was happy to lend a hand to end 18 years of the Tories. Now I cant see the difference in any party in UK politics, they’re all scrambling for the centre ground. They’d all probably take us to war since Maggie proved with the Falklands it is a done deal for getting re-elected. All I got out of it was two great photos one which Graham Norton displayed on national telly.

Would you release one of your songs to the current government?!!? Perhaps ‘I’ll Be Your Dog’ for Nick Clegg!!

Al: I think it would be foolhardy but never say never!

Pete: I’ll never lend a song of mine again to people who have no sense of rhythm 😉

It is just you two in the band now; do you ever stay in touch with the old members of the band?

Al: We do. Mark, TJ and Derek still perform with us

Pete: We’ve also got Dave marks, Darren Asford and Sharleene Hector (Basement Jaxx)

Obviously Brian Cox is doing extremely well since D:REAM, has he been in contact with you since you got back together?

Al: Brian played on three tracks on the album. We’re still friends but he is a busy man

Pete: I love Brian, he’s really genuinely that talented and a thoroughly decent bloke too. He’s’ just really busy.

Can you see a D:REAM doing one more gig with Brian on the keyboards?

Al: Watch this space

Pete: There’s always a chance

What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?

Al: Don’t give up your day job.

Pete: You gotta be batting at virtuoso level. Now apparently that takes 10,000 hours (Liverpools’ greatest got that time done in Hamburg up to ’63) then you’ve got to find the Zeitgeist and wring the neck out of it while finding the epicentre of the next “Scene” be pretty but not too pretty or you’ll be marketed as a boy/girl band. Thank God and your family on your first self released E.P. and and pray for luck.

What lies in wait for D:Ream after the tour?

Al: Who knows. I want to get another album done and do more gigs but you never know what’s round the corner.

Pete: We’ve got some new songs that need finishing and we’re headlining Bug Jam in July.

Thanks Gentlemen

D:ream’s album ‘In Memory of’ is out now and their UK tour starts 25th May and comes to Liverpool’s O2 Academy on Fri June 3rd

 

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