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When the Dream Begins – The Awakening of D•A•D

‘We live in a parallel universe. It is our strength,’ claimed bassist Stig Pedersen to Denmark’s Diskant while discussing his long-running D•A•D, initially known to fans under the more intriguing Disneyland After Dark. First gaining the attention of international audiences with their 1987 offering D.A.D. Draws a Circle, the Copenhagen-based group enjoyed modest success during the late 1980s with their radio friendly hit Sleeping My Day Away and three decades later they have developed a loyal following.

The history of the group can be traced back to Denmark in the early 1980s when a new punk band called ADS emerged on the local music scene. Throughout its brief life they would undergo numerous line-up changes, featuring several musicians who would later form cult outfits to varied degrees of success, including Lars Top-Galia (Sort Sol) and Karsten Hjarsø (UCR). Among the musicians to perform with ADS during this time was bassist Stig Pedersen, who would be fired from the band after two years and decided that he wanted to form his own group. He soon met another high school student who had begun playing guitar called Jesper Binzer and the two began performing together, eventually recruiting Peter Lundholm Jensen to play drums.

The trio would soon become known as Disneyland After Dark, a moniker that had emerged some twenty years earlier by the Walt Disney Company when Disneyland, a theme park first opened in the mid-1950s, began running shows late into the evening that incorporated musical performances and dancers. This addition to the park’s line-up would be the brainchild of its entertainment director Tommy Walker. ‘Walker started Disneyland After Dark as an attraction for teenagers and young adults, introduced Dixieland and added fireworks to his special events,’ explained a 1986 article of Orange Coast. A 1962 episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color would also be dedicated to the popular event, featuring appearances from jazz legend Louis Armstrong and Walt Disney.

At Pedersen’s suggestion, the three-piece eventually brought in his girlfriend Lene Glumer as singer and on 3 December 1982`, Disneyland After Dark made their live debut at a small club in Copenhagen known as Sundby Algaard. The show would not go quite as the band and hoped and, agreeing that Glumer had been a disappointment, allowed Binzer to progress to frontman. Their first next few shows proved to be more successful but they still lacked real talent and so finally brought in Jacob Binzer, Jesper’s younger brother, to play the more complex parts of their songs. Excited at their new line-up, they performed their next show at Musikcaféen in Copenhagen on 3§ March 1984 and, despite Jacob’s involvement having supposedly been temporarily, the band felt that they were ready to take on the world.

‘There was a piano in the house of my grandparents. I used to sit and play. I did not take lessons until later in my life,’ recalled Jacob Binzer in an interview with Rock & Reviews. ‘I was thirteen or fourteen years old when I started playing the guitar but I never thought about being professional. I did not know it could be a way of life. It happened like this. It was a surprise for me to know that you could make money like that.’ The first business figure that they attracted was John Rosing, a local manager who agreed to help the group secure further shows around Denmark. Their first big break came when they were booked to perform at the Roskilde Festival, a major event that took place annually in the Danish city of Roskilde.

Disneyland After Dark

By mid-1984 they had begun to generate a buzz around the local scene and were approached by a small label called Mega Records, who expressed interest in signing the group. They had already recorded several demos of material that they would often perform live and now they felt confident that the time was right to enter the studio and record them professionally. Having been awarded 15,000 DKK by a government body that had vowed to help local musicians, the band relocated to Copenhagen’s Studio 39 in April 1985 for a five-day session with Mega’s regular producer Frank Marstokk, who had also worked with fellow label acts Sky High. The result would be their first 12″ single, Standin’ on the Never Never, which was released by Mega Records on 28 May 1985.

While the song would reach the low expectations of the label, they were still eager to bring the band back to the studio to record a full length album and the following autumn they teamed up once again with Marstokk to cut more material. The recording of what would become Call of the Wild would be far more ambitious than their previous sessions, with the band now feeling comfortable in the studio. Recycling only one track from their earlier release, they recorded a further ten tracks, consisting of both new material written specifically for the album and songs they had been perfected over the previous two years.

Their blend of country music and punk rock would soon earn them the label of cowpunk, a tag they now shared with American acts like the Beat Farmers and the Cramps. Call of the Wild was released on 4 February 1986, a little over eight months after Standin’ on the Never Never had debuted. Throughout the rest of the year they toured in support of their album to sold-out venues, a far cry from the lukewarm response their recordings had received. But success was looming on the horizon and a change of personnel at Mega, in which Marstokk had decided to leave the company and had been replaced by Mark Dearnley, would prove to be a blessing. Dearnley would become an important figure in late 1980s rock as he would oversee the production on albums from the likes of the Dogs D’Amour and the Quireboys.

Although there would be conflict with Dearnley in the studio, he managed to capture the essence of the band on tape during their thirty-day session, something that Marstokk had never truly managed to achieve. Their second album, D.A.D. Draws a Circle was released on 16 June 1987 and finally brought the band minor success and acclaim. The record not only featured a reworking of the America classic A Horse With No Name but also several tracks that would become fan favourites, such as Mighty Highty High and I Won’t Cut My Hair. Despite this, they had yet to break out of their own country and it was decided that they needed to take a major leap forward if they were to succeed. D.A.D. Draws a Circle had marked the end of their contract with Mega Records and now they were considering their future, eager to escape the shadow of independent labels and jump headfirst into the mainstream.

This new success would not come overnight, however and they were still forced to struggle through the Danish music scene. With the help of their manager, the group began discussions with Medley Records and, following a short tour of the United States, they recorded a set of three songs with producer Nikolaj Foss as an audition for Medley. The label had been formed in 1978 by Poul Bruun, a former promoter at CBS Records who had launched Medley and had soon attracted artists like Billy Joel and One Two, of whom Foss would also work with on a regular basis. Bruun was finally convinced that the band belonged on his label and commenced work on their third album in the autumn of 1988.

Stig Pedersen, Jesper Binzer, Peter Lundholm Jensen and Jacob Binzer

Foss would be assisted during the sessions by his mixer and co-producer Lars Overgaard, a respected member of the Danish music community who sadly passed away in 2010 at the age of just fifty-two. While D.A.D. Draws a Circle had shown the band maturing, its successor, No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims, saw the band at their artistic peak, producing an album of strong melodies and commercial tunes. Among the tracks included were Jihad, Ill Will and their most famous song, Sleeping My Day Away. Disneyland After Dark finally began to achieve international success when the latter was released as a single, allowing their manager to travel to the United States to showcase the band to major studios. To their surprise, they soon found themselves signed to a two-album deal with Warner Bros. Records for a reported $1m, allowing their latest album to be given an international release.

‘They flew over to Denmark to watch us play a festival and some other shows outside Copenhagan and then there was kind of a bidding war going on,’ explained Jesper Binzer to Legendary Rock Interviews. ‘There were some of the top, top, top players at Warner Brothers which was fantastic, it was guys like Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker who were the big guys there at the time. We treated them to a stupid, stupid party at our rehearsal space where they had to compete riding tricyles while we were mixing them drinks. They didn’t know what was in the drinks because D•A•D were the bartenders; we were basically giving them the D•A•D treatment and then after that we signed with Warner Brothers.’

Finally the band were able to break out of their home country and achieve success in America and across Europe. But their newfound fame would come with a price. Signing with Warner Bros. had brought the band to the attention of Disney, who took issue with the name Disneyland After Dark and threatened legal action. This would not be the only occasion that the studio would cause problems for a rock band that had referenced their name as London-formed Bomb Disneyland would suffer a similar scandal a few years later, while Ugly Kid Joe would threaten a law suit due to their 1991 song Madman, which featured the line ‘Madman is loose in Disneyland.’ When Michael Eisner of Disney heard of the song he decided to fire the band from their next project, contributing a song to the upcoming comedy Encino Man, released overseas as California Man.

Warner Bros. would only sign with Disneyland After Dark if they agreed to change their name and so, reluctantly, they were rechristened D•A•D. While the label re-designed the artwork for No Fuel for the Pilgrim, removing the band’s old name and replacing it with their new moniker, they continued to promote the album on the road, performing around the United States, Asia and Europe. This longwinded tour would result in a live EP entitled Osaka After Dark, which consisted solely of material taken from their breakthrough album. Recorded in Osaka, the EP was released exclusively in Japan on 23 January 1990, although it would remain unavailable in Europe and America. But before the band were able to take a break following months of touring Warner Bros. were demanding a follow-up to No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims.

Once again D•A•D reunited with Foss and Overgaard, both of whom had been integral to the success of their last album. Heading to Copenhagen’s Medley Studios, the recording for what the band hoped to call Bone Hard in Soft Surroundings would take place in spring 1991, two years after the original release of No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims. Re-titled Riskin’ It All, the album was released by Warner Bros. on 10 October 1991 and was accompanied by an extensive eight-month tour. Despite the single Grow or Pay giving the band a minor hit, the album had fallen below the label’s expectations, particularly in comparison to the surprise success that No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims had enjoyed and eventually the band were dropped, effectively leaving them without a home in the United States.

Peter Lundholm Jensen, Stig Pedersen and Jesper Binzer and Jacob Binzer

Unsure on what direction to take next, D•A•D seemed to slip into obscurity along with many other 1980s rock acts as musical tastes once again began to change. It wouldn’t be the only business aspect of the band that they would find difficulty with, as now disillusioned by the product they had become under a major label, writing new material had become increasingly difficult. But they refused to be defeated and instead approached other companies to represent them, with EMI-Medley being the most promising option, despite them feeling that the group’s new material lacked any kind of commercial appeal. Teaming up with English producer Paul Northfield, whose résumé as an engineer had included Queensrÿche‘s Operation: Mindcrime and Empire and Alice Cooper’s Hey Stoopid, D•A•D headed to Canada to record material for a new album, before moving back to mix the sessions in Copenhagen.

Their fifth album, Helpyourselfish, finally surfaced on 1 March 1995 but, despite a positive critical response to the maturity they had displayed, it was not enough to rescue the band from obscurity. Throughout the summer D•A•D were on the road again, performing across Europe in an effort to showcase the new material and win back their old fan base. Returning home to escape the pressures of the industry and rejuvenate themselves, in June 1996 D•A•D appeared at the Roskilde Festival, sharing the bill alongside such an array of acts that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Moby and Paradise Lost. Following almost a year of rest, they reunited with Foss and entered Copenhagen’s Granny Studios to record their sixth album Simpatico, by which point they had become disillusioned with the direction they had taken in recent years.

‘At some point after Helpyourselfish, we had the feeling that the ‘hard’ rock of D•A•D was not ourselves anymore and maybe not what our fans expected from us,’ confessed Jesper Binzer to Aux Portes du Metal. ‘So we naturally changed into something else with Simpatico, including new elements in our music, sometimes softer, but with the basic of never forgetting the punk spirit.’ The new album was released on 6 November 1997 and was soon followed by an extensive tour the following spring in support of its release, with the band once again feeling excited and enthusiastic about their material. Despite this, however, D•A•D would undergo a line-up change for the first time in fifteen years with the departure of Jensen.

His replacement would come in the form of Laust Sonne who, born in 1974, was barely into his teens when D•A•D first began enjoying success. With Foss once again behind the producer’s desk they commenced work on their long-awaited follow-up to Simpatico titled Everything Glows, a melodic pop rock record that would still flirt with the tonguer-in-cheek country rock of their earlier style with tracks like The Road Below Me. 2005’s Scare Yourself would be considered by many to be a true return-to-form for D•A•D following a decade of uncertainty and the reaction from many critics would reflect this opinion. ‘Leading Danish rock act D•A•D returned to its roots for its ninth studio album Scary Yourself,’ claimed Billboard in a June 2005 article. ‘EMI Music Denmark says release commitments from other countries are pending for the eleven-track album, D•A•D‘s first since Soft Dogs in 2002.’

‘Some albums are more stubborn than other albums,’ Pedersen told Denmark’s Power Metal while promoting their follow-up, Monster Philosophy. ‘This album was very easy for us…This is a damn lot of material. I think we had put together twenty-six songs. Afterwards, we flew to the USA to record the songs together with a Danish producer, who produced a famous Danish band called KID. We had been in contact with him for some time but he had never produced an album with him. He has turned out to be a stroke of luck.’ By the release of DIC·NII·LAN·DAFT·ERD·ARK in 2011 D•A•D had been performing and recording together for almost three decades and while many rock bands that had emerged during the mid-1980s had struggled after the rise of grunge, D•A•D had continued to survive through perseverance and a willingness to adapt.

Jesper Binzer, Laust Sonne and Stig Pedersen

‘You get a way of how blessed you are that you are able to chip away at the same stone, you are allowed to keep on doing what you love the most,’ admitted Jesper Benzer to TV Rock Live at the same. ‘Because at the moment I’m thinking about football players. They can have a career and then when they’re thirty…I feel so happy and blessed that we are allowed to bring what we learned, to keep on learning and keep on being creative.’ In April 2016 Jesper Binzer revealed in an interview with Sonic Shocks that D•A•D would be returning to the studio once again to record what will be their twelfth album and the successor to DIC·NII·LAN·DAFT·ERD·ARK. While no title or production infomation was given, the frontman revealed that the band were then working on demo material and that ‘it’s still us fighting in the rehearsal space. No one really brings a full song; everybody works together on each song. And, of course, sometimes it’s very tedious, sometimes it’s very quick.’

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