Things Can Only Get Better, sang D:Ream in their mid-90s heyday – but things couldn’t have got much better at the time, so frequently did they bother the charts. And they’re back with a brand new album, Open Hearts Open Minds. Carl Marsh chats to Peter Cunnah and Al Mackenzie, and it turns out has some catching up to do…
Before we start, Pete, I don’t know if you know that I’ve known Al for about 20 years?
Peter Cunnah: I’m amazed, because you’re still speaking to him, right? [Laughter, then Al proceeds to show us both a mug which says “Fuck off, I’m not interested” on it]
It’s been 10 years since you released your last album. What got in the way between then and this new one?
Al Mackenzie: Women! [Laughter]
Peter: It took us a couple of years to promote that last album. And then life kind of took over – I was getting divorced. And that really took me up to 2015 when Alan and I started working again. We don’t really knock [music] out – [new single] Meet Me At Midnight took a long time for us to get it working. And once we did, the other songs started to fit into place.
And then the lockdown happened, and we used it as an opportunity to just get into the studio. It was actually for our sanity more than anything, because you could be sitting here going, “is it the end of the world?” And certainly, it is the end of the world – at the minute, from where I’m sitting, about live music – but we were thinking, “well, what is it we do that makes the world make sense?” and that just was the real impetus to get the album done. I’ve heard this from a lot of artists who’ve written three or four albums in lockdown. So I think it’s pretty common.
Have you got three or four albums worth of material too?
Peter: Yeah – I’m always keen for Al to like everything I do, but the reality is very different to that. So that’s how we work, Alan tempers my pop sensibilities and I trounce all over his cool!
Al: But you do write a lot, that’s the thing. You write a lot.
Peter: I write every day – but we’ve been writing together more on this album. Al was here for a week and we were sitting one night watching TV… I don’t know what it was, but it was something he said: “We’ve got to make love cool again.”
I don’t know why he came out with it, but I just told him, “that’s a song!” So we went straight down in the studio, and we just wrote it.
Al: I think his wife was just sitting there going, “where the fuck’s Peter?” [Laughs]
Peter: We also did Emperors Of The Night together from the ground up, working in the same room at the same time. I’ve found it a real joy, and Alan and I even have done a duet on Emperors Of The Night, which is exercising our Walker Brothers muscles.
If people are reading this interview and think that Alan doesn’t really speak much, I can personally attest that he never shuts up…
Al: Pete does like to chat. But sometimes I try and be a little bit quiet just so that I can give him a mowing, so he can’t say to me I’ve been hogging the microphone too long. [Laughs]
Peter: Janice Long interviewed us once, and she went to me, “That’s enough for you. Can I have a word with Alan, please?” [Laughter]
I think maturity plays a big part in this connection you’ve got now, compared to the Al and Pete of the 90s…
Peter: We didn’t know what we were back then. And that’s partly why we fell out, I think. When I first met up with Al after nearly 15 years [of not seeing him; D:Ream split in 1997 and released a comeback album in 2011], I said, “I’ll have to apologise. I thought I was the talent”. He said, “Let me stop you here. I thought I was the talent.”
And he continued: “Well, you shouldn’t have done that second album, because it was shit!” I said, “Well, with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t that good,” and he said, “Do you want to do another album?” “Of course I do!”I didn’t do another album with anyone else and call it D:Ream, because I knew it wasn’t, and I didn’t play live as D:Ream as I knew it was Al and me. It took me 15 years to realise what we had, and how good that was, because I’ve worked with lots of different people since then, and nobody fires it up with me as Al does. That dynamic really works. They call it chemistry in the industry – I used to hate that, but that’s precisely what it is.
It’s like if you think of Morrissey without Johnny Marr, or The Police without Sting. If you could just hear the bare bones of the difference in these people, somehow, the tension or the divide that they have together gives them that end product.
I spent years playing people demos after D:Ream, and they just gave me a pat on the head. But when I do them with Alan, they go a bit mad for it. They think, “wow, what is this?” We are definitely greater than the sum of our parts.
D:Ream’s Open Hearts Open Minds album is out now. Info: here
words CARL MARSH
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