THE PV Q&A: DREAMCAR's Tony Kanal Talks the Band's Present and Potential Future

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By Tom Lanham

No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal could barely believe just how fast the date snuck up on him. But this last March 14, he actually celebrated three triumphant decades of membership in the multi-platinum, Gwen Stefani-fronted band. Or rather the first evening he was dragged to see the fledgling group play a concert at Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach by his friend Chris Webb.

“And the funny thing is, I remember that day vividly,” he rhapsodizes. “I remember Chris coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey – we just started a band, we’ve got our first club show, and the bass player that we have? We’re thinking about replacing him. Would you be interested in coming by, checking out the show, and then maybe trying out for us?’ So then a week later I tried out, and I was accepted, and I got to play my first show with No Doubt in April of 1987. And of course, that changed my life.”

To mark the special occasion, he taped an online video of himself reminiscing, then hastily posted it just before midnight. But that was all the time he could spare. For three years, most of his waking hours have been spent on DREAMCAR – an ‘80s-evocative outfit he formed with fellow No Doubt members, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young, plus spectral AFI wraith Davey Havok on vocals (sans Gwen Stefani, who is currently pursuing a solo recording an TV career).

And it might grow beyond its initial side-project confines – its eponymous debut is rock solid, and giddily jumps from Thompson Twins-inspired dance-funk (“The Preferred,” “On the Charts”) to Human League-friendly synth-pop (“”Do Nothing,” “Slip on the Moon”), dark Cure-bassed thumpers (“Kill For Candy”), and a decidedly sinister Bauhaus/Mission/Sisters of Mercy pallor ("Show Me Mercy,” “All of the Dead Girls”). Not only does the quartet tap into the New Wave vibes its members grew up with, it lets Havok off his leash to run the full gamut of his own Gothic influences. DREAMCAR could be around for quite a while, as Kanal elaborates to PureVolume.

PUREVOLUME: You, your wife, and two daughters are all vegan. What do you do when the kids catch a whiff of KFC and ask about it?
TONY KANAL: They wouldn’t say that because we don’t go to KFC. They also know the truth behind what happens to those animals, because we have those conversations. And those were the conversations I had with my parents, but it took me 35 years to understand how much suffering goes into the food we eat and the clothes we wear. So for me and a lot of my friends who are raising vegan kids, those discussions of compassion are a very important component. We don’t limit our compassion. We extend our compassion to all species. There’s no, “Oh, we love our dogs and cats, but yet we eat these other animals.” That makes no sense, especially when you have a choice not to do so. And if you have the choices available to you – which we do, fortunately – it would be horrible if we contributed to that suffering.
PV: Thy say everything happens for a reason. If your ardent love of animals and your pets didn’t turn you into a vegan, you probably never would have met Davey Havok, who you began to bump into at the same vegan restaurants in L.A.
TK: That’s actually a really, really interesting point. Davey and I would see each other at all these same eateries in Los Angeles quite often, and it did lead to us having more conversations, and then the spark of an idea, like, “Wait – why don’t we ask Davey if he wants to work on this music with us?” o I don’t know if we can ever figure the universe out – we only get glimpses of clarity every once in a while.
PV: Did you nick the DREAMCAR name from Dalis Car, that great spinoff experiment from Peter Murphy and the late Mick Karn?
TK: No. Davey named the band. And I always joke about this – in the almost three years that we’ve been working on music together, the music came easy, the camaraderie came naturally. And the most difficult thing was coming up with a name for the band. Getting in a room and playing music together was very organic, unforced, and beautiful. But coming up with a name was the most challenging thing, because every name was taken. That’s why bands are coming up with names that aren’t even real words anymore. So you come up with something cool, and you think, “Oh! That’s awesome!” And then you live with it for a week, and somebody either has a change of heart, or you mention it to your significant other, and they’re like, “That is the worst thing I have ever heard.” And then you think, “Whoa. I’ve got to live with this for the rest of my life.” So coming up with a name was not the easiest thing. But we finally settled on DREAMCAR.
PV: And the names you nixed?
TK: (Sigh) We have never mentioned them. Never. Because so many of them were already taken. So I won’t even mention them now.
PV: So what were your original conversations with Havok about?
TK: Actually, we never talked about working on music – we were always just talking about music in general. It was more about me mentioning the idea of writing with Davey to Tom and Adrian, and them being very receptive to that idea, and then us setting up a dinner with Davey. So we sat down with him and that was the first time we’d actually spoken with him about it, like, “Hey – we’re thinking about writing some new music, and would you be interested in working on some stuff with us?” And he was like, “Yep. Let’s do it.” And that night, we sent him the first four initial ideas, and in a couple of days, he sent us his ideas back. And the rest is history – we got in a room and started working on stuff, and all four of those songs actually made the album. Then we went on to write another 25 ideas, so we had close to 30 songs. And these are the 12 that made the album. So that was it. And we didn’t know in the early stages what this was going to be. We were just writing in secret, for the most part, and nobody really new what we were doing. And we didn’t really want to talk about it, because it could have ended up something like, “Oh, this is fine, but it doesn’t make sense.” So we really held back on telling anyone. So at some point, about a year or so ago, we were like, “You know, there’s something really great happening here.” And we started playing it for people and letting people know. Then we were starting to put together a team around us, and going from there.
PV: Didn’t any outsider ever figure it out?
TK: It’s funny – Davey jokes about that Not last year, but the year before, we were at our rehearsal studios in downtown Los Angeles, and we did pretty good getting in and out of that studio without anybody really seeing us. Or they did, but they didn’t really put two and two together back then. But there was one point where we went to a coffee shop, and the four of us were ordering, and the kid who was working there kind of put it together. But we were like, “Oh, yeah – we’re just hanging out.” But he suspected something more. But for the most part, we were able to keep it secret for a really long time.

PV: But it’s your bass playing – which sounds like you’re paying homage to Simon Gallup and Peter Hook – that anchors the record.
TK: Right. That’s surely true when it comes to that type of bass playing, because I’ve taken a huge inspiration from those guys. But we never set out to make something that people would refer to as ‘80s-sounding. It was made more like, “Let’s just see what happens.” But I think inevitably, because we grew up during that movement, that time was so much a part of the fabric of our lives, it was inspiring and influential. Because those are the years when you’re a teenager, and that stuff is just deeply embedded in us, and it’s going to come out. So it’s good to acknowledge that, and that was just the natural direction that we started going in. So there was never some overriding concept of what the band was going to be – it’s only now that we can look back on it and see that that was the direction it took. We never intended it. It just happened naturally.
PV: What are your retro reference points?
TK: That’s always the hardest thing, because whenever you answer those kinds of questions, you always regret it later and go, “Fuck it! I should have said this one or that one!” But Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Flaunt It is one of my favorite records of all time – it was so forward thinking And I always have my Prince references, which may not find themselves on the DREAMCAR album. But he was a massive influence on my life. And I’ve been on a real Thompson Twins bender lately, and all of that stuff is very comforting.
PV: And what’s the status of No Doubt right now? A sort of ‘It is what is’ mindset?
TK: Yeah. That’s exactly what it is. We just celebrated 30 years together, and there’s a tremendous amount of history and a sense of accomplishment together. And we have had experiences that no other people in the world will ever be able to relate to, because we shared them together, the four of us. And if there’s anything that all this time and history has afforded us, it’s the opportunity to be able to go off and do other things. And if there’s ever a desire to creative and play, that’s always there. So you never know what’s going to happen. But I just feel like we’re in such a great place with our new band, and the freshness of this new creativity is really fulfilling.

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