dada, the rock band featuring Michael Gurley, Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt, have been tearing up guitars and drumsets for a quarter of a century. They are celebrating this milestone with new music and a new tour, which brings them Thursday, Sept. 14 to the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Other dates in the near future include gigs in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Virginia.
For Leavitt, the longtime drummer of the band, there are a lot of positive developments to welcome, including the band’s cutting of two new singles, “The Bluebird” and “Take Me to the Song.” dada plan to play these tunes plus fan favorites on each of the tour stops.
“We’ve got two new songs that are coming out,” Leavitt said in a recent phone interview. “Both of these tracks are available right now on a limited-edition collector’s vinyl 45, so we’re definitely going to be playing those two. And we always try to dig into the catalog a little bit to maybe pull out a couple deeper cuts that people maybe don’t expect and also maybe a curveball cover that nobody’s ever heard us play before, so we try to keep it fresh. There will be a lot of energy. It’s a real communal experience, a dada show. We’ve got some really devoted longtime fans that seem to be coming out on this 25th anniversary, and there’s a real celebratory aspect to getting together with the band. It’s people who have been supporting us a long time. A lot of people have kind of grown up on our music, and it’s a great time for everybody when we all get together.”
Looking back at the time that has elapsed since 1992’s album, Puzzle, Leavitt finds himself focused on one word: “weird.”
“Time seems to fly by,” he said. “A lot has happened, but it also seems like just yesterday we were getting started. And considering we just put out this new music, it takes me right back to the beginning. I don’t really look at the longevity of the band as much. For me, it’s about continuing to be creative and putting new music out.”
The band members have also ventured beyond the name dada to offer fans different musical projects. Leavitt and Calio, for example, fronted Seven Horse and released three records with the rock band.
For both groups, Leavitt likes to keep writing and being as creative as possible. “I try not to look back too much, but you can’t help it,” he said. “At a milestone anniversary, it’s pretty amazing that we’re still out here doing it, especially considering I don’t feel old at all. I feel like I’m right at my prime, so I was young when I started. But if anything we’ve gotten better. We haven’t lost anything. It’s actually gotten better.”
dada began with Calio and Gurley as a two-piece band. They would play acoustic sets around Los Angeles, especially in coffee houses. When they wanted to expand their sound, they tried out different drummers over a six-month period.
“Then I showed up via a mutual friend of Joey’s and mine,” Leavitt said. “When the three of us got together at a rehearsal room in Hollywood, which must have been in late ‘91, something like that, it was instantaneous chemistry, and we obviously had a sound that was unique. It was within six months that we were in the studio making a record after that, so it happened pretty quick. … There was a lot of bands that came out in the ‘90s; nobody sounds like us. We have a unique thing between the three of us, and I think that’s what’s created this longevity.”
The record industry has changed dramatically since those early days, and there have been pros and cons for a band like dada. For example, the trio’s sound is definitely rock, but it dabbles in experimental, prog and psychedelic. Sometimes the industry pushes for easy categorization, and dada were never that type of band.
“I think now considering we’re running the show ourselves, we can kind of capitalize on that, that unique thing we do, and we don’t have to worry as much about how to sell the band,” he said. “You just put out the music and let it do the talking.”
The cons can be numerous. Today, Leavitt and company need to take care of all the extras that a record company once took care of for them, but the sense of independence that they have is paramount to their success in 2017.
“The industry, to me, doesn’t really exist, except on a superstar level,” Leavitt said. “Look, back in the ’90s, the band was totally ignorant of what was going on around it as most bands are. You get signed; it’s a dream to get signed. That was the holy grail is getting a record deal. You didn’t even really know what that entailed, you know. You didn’t know what that meant other than the fact that you had the ability to make a record and perhaps get on the radio, and that was everybody’s dream.”
Today, the playing field is completely different. Take Seven Horse, Leavitt’s side project. They came out in 2011 and put out a self-produced record. Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for them to have a song on the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
“Twenty years ago, that leads right to a record company, and you’ve got a record deal,” Leavitt said. “You couldn’t have that situation without getting a record deal. This time, even with all that exposure, because we’re not 20 years old and already have a TV show, people aren’t really that interested. … With dada, we’re fortunate to be in a position where we can go out and play, and we have an audience that will pay to see us. But you need the same things that you always needed to promote records. You need radio promotion people. You need a booking agent. You need artwork. You need video. You need all these things that used to be all contained inside under the roof of a record company.”
Even though many hours are spent on nonmusical responsibilities, Leavitt still finds time to write songs and practice on his drums. That creativity is key for him. “In between phone calls, I’ve got a pair of drumsticks in my hand,” he said. “I’m working on my practice pad. I’m writing … whenever I can find time to do it, so it’s a different job than it used to be. It used to be your only reason to exist was to show up, and play and to write songs.”
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
dada are currently traveling across the United States on their 25th anniversary tour. They stop Thursday, Sept. 14 at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Click here for more information.