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dada and 7Horse

dada Rides Again

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The 1990’s may be remembered as the last golden decade of “alternative” music. Many of the stars of that decade are long gone and forgotten, but their music pops up on those ubiquitous 90’s weekend radio shows, classic MTV video rewinds or in your favorite 90’s films. One of those hidden 90’s gems that have been recently dusted off is the LA trio dada. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because their infectious, melodic sound yielded their 1992 hit “Dizz Nee Land,” opening slots for mega stars like Sting, and a gold album for their 1992 release Puzzle. Well, 25 years later and in celebration of the release of their debut, dada has regrouped and are bringing their music back to the people. Lead vocalist and guitarist, Michael Gurley is a part of the Kiefer Sutherland band and writing and producing music for major films, TV shows, and commercials. The other two-thirds of the trio, bassist/guitarist Joie Calio, and drummer/vocalist Phi Leavitt have started their project, 7Horse, a band that has found success with their three albums and single “Meth Lab ZOSO Sticker” that was heard in Scorsese’s’ hit movie, Wolf of Wall Street.

I caught up with the affable dada and 7Horse drummer and vocalist, Phil Leavitt, on a rainy LA day. We discussed dada’s anniversary, the ups and downs of the music business, and his popular project, 7Horse.

I recently saw a dada video on an MTV flashback segment that aired late. I hope you get a nickel or more every time that gets played.

{Laughs} No, nothing because we don’t own the masters for dada. The good news is I do own the publishing on 7Horse.

I guess you benefitted from Scorsese’s inclusion of “Meth Lab ZOSO Sticker” in the movie Wolf of Wall Street

Yes, we did. That was a great pay day that enabled us to get on the road and do more recording and hone the project on its own back. That song has had 5.5 million streams and 100,000 downloads. We’ve also had a few nice TV placements that have expanded our reach.  That exposure helped us build a fan base on a global basis. Now, we’re kind of looking for a partner in Europe that can help us break out over there.

A lot of your new 7Horse material reminds me of the Rolling Stones during their “Tattoo You” era.

Well, we (Leavitt and guitarist Joie Calio) look at ourselves as the two-man Rolling Stones, so that’s not a bad comparison. {laughs}

Did you deliberately set out to keep 7Horse a duo like the White Stripes or The Black Keys?

Well, it all came to happen back in 2010 when we were making some new dada recordings, and Mike Gurley had some other work and had to leave the studio. We ran into a bit of a roadblock. We had some time left over, and we didn’t know what we were going to do, but we figured we’d use the time to record some material. On the first day, we cut “Meth Lab (ZOSO Sticker)” We realized we had an interesting sound with everything flipped on its head. We found we enjoyed playing as a two-piece and I had never fronted a band ever, so it was fun. I grew up in Vegas and kind of always had an affinity for old school show business. I looked at it like: ‘What if Dean Martin fronted the Rolling Stones?’

Was Michael (Gurley, dada) cool with you doing the whole 7Horse thing?

Yeah, he was so busy writing and producing some other projects, I don’t think he was really that concerned. He came out and saw us when we first gigged at the Viper Room. We want to keep the project alive and expose it to the dada audience. At the same time, we have this milestone, and we want to tour because the fan demand is big. After our last dada tour in 2013 may have assumed they’d never see us again. Social media has helped a lot. When we went out in 2013, I guess they assumed that dada was through. It’s a 25-year milestone. 7Horse has been touring in a van and hitting everywhere on the map. We’ve been grinding it and building an audience for 7Horse. It’s kind of nice to get back to nicer venues and know the Dada audience will be there

After this dada tour will you be in dada still or is it back to 7Horse?

Hopefully, dada will always be there. We kind of renamed and rebranded our website as dada forever. That’s our message to the fans, and there’s demand for new tunes from dada. I intend for it to continue, but that’s up to the other two guys, too. I tell our fans on Facebook that we’ll make a group decision. As for 7Horse, I can get on the phone and make it happen fast. We can get back out on the road and maybe get some good support dates. I actually talked to our agent today about some support dates with another bigger band. 7Horse is really a “young” band even if we’re 25 years into our professional careers. 7Horse is considered new. It’s not often that you’re in two bands and one is considered up and coming. It’s exciting, energizing and great to try and make an impact.

What’s it like being a drummer and the front man? It’s rare that you see a band with a drummer vocalist.

It’s so much fun to get the drums down in the front of the stage, and the audience can see what you’re really doing. At that level, we fell into it out of necessity because we couldn’t get all three of us in the studio at the same time. Most of the time, drums are way in the back. We’ve played a lot of shows as a duo and people seem to really like it and not miss other players.  We’re so raw and keeping it as a duo is more fun. The dynamics and chemistry between us run so deep. We’ve been a rhythm section for 25 years. He still has that bass element to his guitar playing. At the same time, I’m looking forward to playing with dada and playing that material.

I suspect some that some of your newer fans may not even realize that you and Joie were in dada? Does that happen?

Absolutely. We’ve garnered a whole group of fans that don’t even know about dada. It’s pretty interesting.  It was before their time, so they haven’t heard of that band. 7Horse has received so much attention from the Scorsese film, and that’s given us an audience in eastern Europe. That’s a whole new thing for us.

Did you watch the Grammys last night?

We got back from rehearsal too late to watch it, but I never like it. It’s better for me if I don’t watch. I just get angry, so it’s better sometimes if I don’t watch it (laughs). Someone said that a few of the people butchered the Bee Gees tribute. It’s funny, too, because we do a kick ass cover of “Stayin’ Alive.”

Do you think there’s a movement in music back to a raw thing?

Honestly, I don’t know. It seems like the new stuff is all auto-tuned and has to have some kind of hip-hop thing to be successful. We go back to the past. That’s the kind of music we want to emulate. We’re happy to be in the classic rock genre. There’s a lot of rock music out there.  Like Keith Richards said: ‘There’s a lot of rock out there, but not a lot of roll.’  And, the roll is very specific, and it’s a big band jazz thing. That swing element is missing because it came out of the 40’s. If you haven’t been exposed to it, you can’t access it.

Is rock dead?

No, I don’t think so. I think people still want real music based in the blues and country—real music. I’m still into it. Every few years people say rock is dead, but I’m not so sure.

Do you still live in LA and were you part of any of the musical movements that took place in LA?

I came to LA when I was 13, so I feel like I really grew up here. My cousin was five years older than me, and he turned me onto a lot of great music. And, it started with the best—The Beatles. I spent about ten years so in love with the Beatles. I missed the 70’s and people like Zeppelin because I was that focused on the Beatles. It wasn’t just the music either; it was what the band was about and the relationship of the guys. I wanted that group feel, the love and the camaraderie they shared. I really wanted that in my life.

The next group that really made me take notice was the Police.  I would go to school, come home, and play some Police on the drums. Stewart Copeland was my guy. I wasn’t interested in the LA punk scene because I was coming from more of a rock thing.  The Police and The Beatles were so powerful. I wanted melody and that level of musicianship, and I just didn’t hear that in the punk scene.

Was dada on IRS Records during the heyday of REM, The Go-Go’s, The English Beat, Wall of Voodoo and those type of bands?

Actually, by that time, REM had left for Warner Brothers and were breaking in a big way. We actually got there as the label wasn’t quite as hot as they had been in the 80’s, but we still had a good run there. I think dada was hard to market and we were a bit too eclectic.

Did you and Joie deliberately pursue a different direction for 7Horse?

When we started 7Horse, we decided to place parameters on the sound. The Beatles could play anything—they went from “When I’m 64” to “Helter Skelter.” They had a never-ending palette, but I think that’s hard to sell now. It’s pretty tough for bands to stretch out and experiment too much. With 7Horse, we stay inside our box, but we try to stretch within those parameters and evolve. We kind of want people to know what to expect.

What is Michael doing these days when 7Horse is touring?

He’s actually got a thing going on with Kiefer Sutherland’s band. He’s playing guitar for Kiefer. It’s a great gig for him, and we try to make it work around his scheduling and ours.

Are you playing 7Horse songs on this dada show in St Louis?

Yes, we’re going to do a full dada set, and then we’ll play a few 7Horse tunes. Michael is going to exit. He has to deal with a hand issue that’s been dogging him for years. Then, after about 10 minutes, we’ll go back into doing more dada material.

We’ve been coming to St. Louis for a long time. dada used to play Mississippi Nights, so it’s always been a good stop for us.

How many dates are on this tour?

Sixteen dates now. We couldn’t get out to the east coast this time, but we have a lot of fans on the east coast. We’re going to do an east coast tour later in the year.

We have opened for Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the Turners from Canada. We’ve been up for tours with Go-Go Bordello, and Deep Purple and Alice Cooper. We were hoping for it, but they took Edgar Winters on that tour instead. Oh, well. We’ve even opened up for some bands that are a bit more in the country space. One band I’d love to tour with is Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. That would be great | DOUG TULL

 




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