Those of us old enough to have gotten our hair done or bought clothes back in the '80s lived to regret it. Most, though, are thankful those unfortunate choices aren't immortalized online—unlike the ultra-permed, acid-washed image of Dan Reed inhabiting videos by his old band, the Dan Reed Network.
Reed led the multi-ethnic, funk-rocking DRN from its humble home at Old Town's Key Largo nightclub to gigs opening for the Stones and Jovi. When the band lost momentum, he retrenched to PDX and underwent a musical conversion to electronica, buying Key Largo and refashioning it as Ohm. But before long, he was ready for another change. Traveling to India, then settling in Israel, Reed experienced a spiritual transformation to match his musical one.
Our recent phone conversation found him in NYC, gearing up to launch a new album of conscious, electro-acoustic music titled Coming Up For Air
. With that '80s mane tamed to a close shave, Reed revisits Portland this week to share his new songs.
WW: Have you checked out your old videos lately? How do those images make you feel?
Dan Reed: Maybe six or seven months ago, somebody told me, “Hey, your videos are on YouTube,” so I sat down and watched a couple...well, little pieces of a couple of them, that's about all I could take. That whole period seems like some dream I had when I was in my 20s. I think that was an era where music was coming more from the groin, whereas now I'm trying to come more from the heart zone. Maybe next record I'll work up to the crown chakra. [Laughs]
It sounds like you've been through a lot of changes since you left town
After Portland, after Ohm, I decided to go to India for a year and clear my head from the nightclub experience—I got into drinking and substance abuse pretty heavily, lost my head, lost my direction. After my father passed away, I sold my shares in the club and did construction work in Portland, which I loved. I went to India [after that], spent 4 1/2 months in a Tibetan monastery and seriously considered becoming a monk. But in meditation, and learning throat singing, I felt myself drawn back to music.
How long were you in Israel? Why did you go?
I was there for 2 1/2 years. I met a lot of Israelis traveling through India, and I'd always been curious about the Palestinian-Israeli situation, so I decided to see for myself. I studied in a yeshiva for nine months, making the connection between Judaism and Buddhism, and just started writing. I'd take my notebook to the Old City, the Kotel [Western Wall] or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and write lyrics.They all came to be about the same [spiritual] thing.
Do you have any sort of a Jewish background?
My mother's adopted, she doesn't really know her roots. Several rabbis seemed to think I must have Jewish roots that had called me back there. When I got to Tel Aviv, I cried, and the guy sitting next to me asked me what was wrong. I said, after a lifetime reading about, learning, seeing films about the suffering of Jews throughout the centuries, to come to this land that's supposed to be a safe haven for them, yet is surrounded by so much animosity and hatred.... It felt like the dream was not yet fully realized.
What did your spiritual experiences in India and Israel bring about in your new songs?
When I was in India, in the monastery, I made a kind of mission statement to myself about this album. I wanted it to be full of love songs, to my parents, to my friends, my acquaintances, and to God, or that energy in the universe, whatever you want to call it. But mostly, I wanted them to be love songs to myself, forgiving myself for mistakes I'd made, and looking forward. So I kept that in my head, recorded five or six songs, and this record company in Florida got really excited about them. And now I find myself working with Derek Schulman again, who signed me to my first deal on Polygram, back in New York 20 years later, full circle.
Will the new album be ready in time for your Aladdin show?
No, the record won't be released until early July, but I was coming to Portland anyway, and my friends Blake Sakamoto, Dan Reed Network's keyboardist, and Terry Finley, our old road manager, suggested I play, and I said, “Yes!” I'm doing three Network tunes I've acoustically revamped, for the people who still love that music and got to know me through it, but it'll mostly be the new songs...I've never done a show like this before, just me, naked, strumming.
Reed plays with Stephanie Schneiderman Saturday, May 24, at the Aladdin Theater. 8 pm. $15. All ages. Read the extended Q&A here