How's your falsetto voice holding up these days? Because if you're like me, it's very likely that you'll be singing the chorus of Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You" as soon as you start reading this interview. And of course, the next logical step after that is to listen to "I Can Dream About You" about 80 times or so.
Here - let me help you out with that piece of things:
I picked up a huge trunk full of music magazines from the '70s and '80s last night from a friend, who is back in Cleveland, helping to clean out his old family home. Within those magazines was an issue of Modern Recording & Music from June of 1985.
Reading this interview, which was conducted by Jimmy Guterman, I decided to see if I could find a good program that would let me scan to text (which I did - it's called FreeOCR, for the interested tech heads out there.)
I found this to be a really interesting read, no matter whether you're a fan of the song or not, it's just an interesting snapshot look at one man's perspective on making records, circa 1985.
I'm jealous of Jimmy, who had the chance to use what might possibly be one of the best opening interview questions ever. "How did 'I Can Dream About You' happen?"
More recently, Jimmy wrote a book which will be of interest to fellow Bruce Springsteen nuts, called Runaway American Dream.
Here's the interview - enjoy!
Nineteen eighty four was a year of many rock n‘ roll comebacks. Tina Turner and John Fogerty got all the headlines (and rightly so), but they weren't the only artists who returned to the spotlight last year after a long absence. Of those less-celebrated, the most unlikely return may be Dan Hartman's. Hartman's public career started with the Edgar Winter Group(for whom he wrote “Free Ride") and led to a checkered solo career as an artist (the 1979 disco smash “Instant Replay"), writer (for Diana Ross), and producer (Plasmatics).
Hartman's return to the charts with “I Can Dream About You,” one of the few listenable songs from last summers Streets of Fire soundtrack, places Hartman ?rmly in the center of the pop zeitgest. With co-producer Jimmy lovine and new songwriting collaborator Charlie Midnight, Hartman's new LP has spawned two dancefloor hits (the aforementioned title track and “We Are the Young”). I Can Dream About You has its share of obvious moments, but it is still an effective show-case for this self-proclaimed “studio rat's" skills. Modern Recording and Music sat down with Hartman in late March at New York's Top Cat Studios, where he was rehearsing for his first tour in the past decade.
Modern Recording & Music: How did “I Can Dream About You” happen?
Dan Hartman: Jimmy (Iovine)and I have known each other foryears. He worked on the Edgar Winter Group’s Shock Treatment album as assistant engineer for Shelly Yakus, and we stayed in touch over the years. One time I was in California and he was producing Stevie Nicks’ Wild Heart in the same studio I was working in. I saw him in the hallway and he told me he was working on the Streets of Fire soundtrack and he’d like me to submit something. I had a tape of “I Can Dream About You” sitting around the studio as a demo. I sent it to him and he loved it. The version on the record is mostly my demo version, even though the original demo was much more electronic-sounding. The electronic drums at the beginning are there for the whole track. Jimmy added a real drummer, a real bass player, and a real guitar player. He gave it a more human rock element to complement my electronic dance element. It's got the best of both worlds.
MR&M: Why has it been ten years and why now?
DH: The ‘now’ question is easy. I'm making music I’m excited about that can be played live. I never stopped making music because I have the studio in my house, but I didn’t have the means to play them live. I was doing a lot of dance music that I couldn't play live and honor it as an art form. What I’m doing now can be played live with a rough rock n‘ roll band. The two kinds of music that are prevalent today, rock and dance music, have finally come together. That’s where I am—rhythmic dance rock n’ roll.
MR&M: What's your approach to synthesizers?
DH: I prefer synthesizers without a sequencer. I don’t like the sequencer to play the part. I like to play it live-it feels better.
MR&M: Do you think you'll be working with Jimmy Iovine in the future?
DH: I don't know. People change between albums. When it comes time for the next album, I don’t know if he'll have the time. There are so many variables. When the next album comes up, there’ll probably be more steps I want to take. It's difficult to produce yourself. You have to keep a wide enough perspective and you have to be ruthless and cut and edit. Sometimes you get confused and need an outside ear. I recognize that. Some artists don't recognize that and come out without something sounding weird because of it.
MR&M: How do you hear “Instant Replay” almost a decade down the road?
DH: I'm successful at communicating When I‘m in the studio messing around, I don't think, “This sounds commercial." I just turn the music up to 10 and have a party. My natural inclination is what lifts me off the floor. With your own studio, you can either get real lazy or become a workaholic. When I play “Instant Replay" now, I listen to something that at the time communicated in the best way I knew how. It incorporated the trend of the time with real communication. I did that song because I was in love and I was elated. I did the whole thing in one week as a gift. It reflected the times.
A lot of my rock friends said at the time, “That‘s a hip record." If you listen to the disco records of that time, “Instant Replay" had more of a rock edge. I just put together a new version that we'll be doing on this tour. It will reflect the sounds of the Eighties now, instead of sounding like 1978 disco. I‘m still proud of the original. The vocal performance is great and it achieves a feeling. That's the most important thing. The song communicates.
MR&M: With “Instant Replay," you were a rarity, a white man with a disco hit in the midst of the racist ‘Disco Su--s’ movement." With the new album. you seem to be making a conscious effort to integrate stereotypical “black” and “white” styles.
DH: That's right. It's not so much a conscious effort as the consciousness of my focus. On “I Can Dream About You," the idea was to establish myself as a vocalist. I want to make mainstream records—I don’t want people to miss my message. I don't want to be too weird. I want to be heard—I want to communicate. I'm a rock n’ roller, but I also love rhythm n’ blues and soul. I love the spirit, the passion, and the sexuality of R&B much more than headbanger rock n’ roll—even though some of my favorite albums are Pyromania and For Those About To Rock. They’re headbanger albums,but they also have soul.
Two years ago. I fired everybody around me. I fired my manager, my lawyer, everybody. I got away from everything. I wanted to carry forth a concept of dance rock n‘ roll and the people around me wanted to do the same stuff again. I wanted to do a Big Bam Boom. They weren’t behind me. so I quit and disappeared for eighteen months. I lived my life. Along theway, I was writing. “I Can Dream About You" is what I was trying for. It’s crossover, black, white, rock,dance, and has a great vocal. It’s everything. Remember, it looks like black people do “I Can Dream About You" in the video. People saw the picture sleeve and said “Huh? He's white. This can't be Dan Hartman.” If they like the music, that's all that matters.
MR&M: How is getting ready for a tour different from preparing to record?
DH: I don’t actually get ready for records. I just do ‘em. It’s day to day; I live in it. For the tour. it's been easy and fun for the band to master tracks that are mostly just me on the album.
MR&M: How has producing or engineering other peoples work affected your own records?
DH: When I do somebody else's record, I'm a totally different person. I feel more of a responsibility to make sure nothing's messed up. Like my own work, I try to go for the magic, the essence of that artist. But I am more careful.
MR&M: You've said you want to play mostly small venues on this tour. Can you make money doing that?
DH: No. I'm not going out to lose money—who wants to bleed?—but I don't think it's all about money. I don't necessarily want to make money on the road. I've been lucky to make money from my records. When I go out on the road, I pay my band all the money. I don't make any money. My manager gets his cut, the expenses get paid. and I come back with the same amount I left with.
MR&M: But you do get to play in front of people.
DH: Yeah. that's it. The thing is to translate the studio excitement onstage. You've got to live what you're doing onstage. It's got to be raw energy. It doesn't have to be perfect. If it was. it would be boring.
MR&M: What inspires you?
MR&M: That's a great motivator, but anything else?
DH: I'm inspired because people are starting to hear me. I want to be heard. When no one's listening, I'm not real motivated. I'm motivated by listening to Chaka Khan. She's the Jimi Hendrix of our age. She'll sing and sometimes it sounds like Hendrix's guitar. It's the same essence of freedom he had in his solos. She's a major vocal influence and inspiration. I love Foreigner, Vangelis,Robert Palmer. Lotsa stuff.
MR&M: “I Can Dream About You" became a hit mostly because it fit snugly in the current dance/rock sound that's all over CHR. Was that calculated or accidental?
DH: It was luck. I do not consider these things when I'm recording. I just do what I want to do.
MR&M: Do you and Charlie have a writing method?
DH: I met Charlie eighteen months ago when I cut myself loose of the corporate leeches. I met him through some people at CBS and tried some songs together. Those songs had a real uniqueness. When we write a song, we have a reason. I like songs that have no reason at all, but they don't wear very well. If you want to say something and mean something you'd better have something strong to say that'll reach people. We usually start with a title. discuss it. He'll go off somewhere and come up with the lyric and I can read his lyric and hear the music. I don't fight it—I just get it down on tape.
MR&M: What kind of music canwe expect from you and Charlie next?
DH: We're discussing topics. We want to get strange, but still communicate. It'll be weird.
MR&M: What do you consider weird?
DH: When you get into the areas of eroticism, politics, and belligerency, you have to be careful. Some of it will get out. Both Charlie and I have slanted minds. If “Relax” or “Sugar Walls" can be hits, there is a place for that kind of stuff, too. It's fun and interesting to write about that. Or with politics: Third World people own the bomb. That's probably where the nuclear war will start. They have nothing to lose. You can write about that. It'll be just another record from a romantic cynic.