'We're playing the long game': D:Ream are back with new music and, according to Pete Cunnah, they're staying

'We're playing the long game': D:Ream are back with new music and, according to Pete Cunnah, they're staying

“We’re brothers in song, aren’t we Alan?” laughs Pete Cunnah from 90s house-pop band D:Ream as we begin the zoom chat.

Pete is sitting against a massive room of vinyls and gold discs in frames lying atop the desk behind him.

There are guitars everywhere and it looks like he’s only just put down a pen, scribbling the last few words in a lyric on a scrap of whatever paper he can find.

Fellow band member Al Mackenzie is also on the call.

The pair, who hail from Derry, chat like old friends meeting for a drink after having not seen each other for a while.

That’s almost literally the case - after a rough split, the band lost contact with each other before meeting up again, in a moment when their fates collided in a park in the early hours of the morning, after a rave.

Things couldn’t have been more perfect, and the duo knew that they had unfinished business to attend to.

Their past is all water under the bridge now, and as we all sit on zoom together, this band feels more like family than a working partnership.

They’re happy-go-lucky when discussing the pandemic as well; “we just struggle a lot and hope that something sort of hits,” they both grin at each other, with conviction that something good is just around the corner.

“We’ve still got three shows! The rest have been cancelled, but we’ve still got three…”

It’s a fitting attitude, really, for the pair who penned the mammoth 90s hit, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, which soundtracked New Labour’s leap to victory after years of austerity rule.

Did they know they were writing a hit?

“No, no. You can never know that.” says Pete.

“It took about three years to form things with that song. When I was working at a newspaper agency, some girl I didn’t like said something nasty to me, wound me up the wrong way. It really hurt me, I had tears in my eyes, that sort of thing.

“And the girl I was sitting in front of said to me, “things are gonna get better”.

“And I’d never heard that phrase before - being Irish, we just don’t use it. But I ran straight into the bathroom and started singing something into my walkman.”

Al chimes in. “We were working on a different remix at the time. Lots of brass and sax. Pete studied his vocals and gradually added them up, but the song still wasn’t working, it just wasn’t.”

“For about a year, it wasn’t working,” says Pete.

“‘U R The Best Thing’ was flying up the charts, and we’ve gone into several studios by this point, just working on it again and again.

“Eventually we had about 10-15 different voices all singing the song - different singers, double tracked. One day, our producer pulled up all the faders from the different sessions, maybe three or four different sessions, and he put them in the panoramic - and it was just massive.

“It was like a massive choir. I didn’t know we wanted a gospel choir, but that’s what it ended up sounding like.

“That’s why it has that almost-religious undertone. And now, when the chorus hits, it grabs you by the scruff of your neck. It’s a record that leans forward.”

D:Ream’s career keeps peaking during difficult times.

“Are you saying D:Ream is the antidote?” Pete laughs, and Al adds, “or the cause?!”

They might laugh, but the similarities cannot be avoided.

In 1994, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ peaked at number one, a song about hitting rock bottom and looking forwards towards a future where things are brighter, not because you have proof that they will, but because hope is the one thing that can drive you forwards.

Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, the same remains true.

“Actually, no one’s pointed that out to us before,” but as Pete thinks, it seems to dawn on him.

“I guess we have terrible timing! But ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, that’s a song that we call an evergreen. It goes out and it has a life of its own really. Not what you intended.

“We wrote it for all the lovers and the dancers in clubland in the 90s. It just took on a life of its own after the Labour party used it, and then Jack Whitehall used it…”

There was a resurgence of that song in particular during ‘Clap For Carers’ in Nottingham, where DJs were blasting it from the roofs and projecting D:Ream’s name onto the side of a hospital.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” says Pete. “That was that song really growing up and leaving the house, you know?”

Al’s expertise is, as it always was, in music.

“It doesn’t really sit right for me to say we have a ‘sound’, as it were.”

Musing on the band’s beginnings, he continues.

“Even when we started out, yes, we were involved in the dance scene but even with [debut track] ‘You’re the Best’ - it was really different from other things.

“Our first album wasn’t just straight up ‘dance’ music, and I don’t think we’ve ever really been that easy to classify.

“Pete doesn’t like me describing the band as ‘pop’, but for me, pop encompasses a lot of things. I would call Oasis pop.

“I can put a lot of things in the ‘pop’ bracket.

“So you do get some elements of pop, I think, on this album. You can see dance elements for certain songs and then you can see pop music for others.

“We don’t like to plan ahead; we go into the studio and see what’s working at that time, on that day.”

Pete, seemingly shaking off his disgruntlement at the ‘pop’ comment, chimes in.

“And we’re also definitely doing a lot more together as we’ve built up trust together. Having fallen out, literally, and then getting back together again - it was actually the best thing that could have happened. “Because we’re making records at a level that I think we’re both happy with now.”

Being fourteen years since their last original music came out, D:Ream are now veterans of the UK music scene.

“I’m not comparing myself to Eric Clapton, but he has said that he only started to really like his voice once he got into his fifties.

“Because of all the bluesmen he listened to - he was more able to hit those lower notes, that bass rather than baritone.

“I sing every day. I write every day. And I’m already excited to get back in the studio again.”

Obviously, times have changed massively since the days of ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ - the music industry would be unrecognisable to an artist transported in time from then to now.

So much has changed in such a short space of time, but one of the biggest changes is streaming. The boys are famously, or perhaps infamously, boycotting Spotify on this release.

Their album is available only to buy, through bandcamp or on physical releases.

“We don’t agree with the whole streaming thing,” says Al.

“It’s like theft. And we appreciate that it works for some people, like it can help you get noticed, but if a song gets 225,000 streams you could just get about £21.

“I spoke to Pete, and we both just agreed, ‘let’s not do this’.”

“The other thing that we realised is that we wanted our music to go straight out to the fans,” says Pete. “We have our website, we have our fans - we’ll just build it up like that. We’ll do it organically. We’re playing the long game now.”

D:Ream’s new album Open Hearts, Open Minds is out now.