erica batchelor is reliving 20 years with Dada…
For me personally, Valentine’s Day has always been a pointless holiday. It’s the same three staples every year…chocolate, flowers and jewelry. This year however, I’m changing those three staples to Michael Gurley, Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt. The members of the melodic-rock band Dada are celebrating an epic 20 year milestone.
Dada knows exactly what it takes to be in a successful band because they’ve been doing it most of their lives. With so many new bands popping up every single day, it’s nice to truly appreciate one that is still successful after so many years.
What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with classic rock and roll music that’s stood the test of time. Dada will be playing at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on the 14th where there is no doubt in my mind; love will be in the air.
I had the opportunity to talk to Phil Leavitt and catch up on what’s changed over the years. Check out my interview with drummer Phil Leavitt of Dada below…
Pop-Break: It’s been 20 years since you guys have been together, how are you celebrating?
Phil Leavitt: We’re celebrating by going out on tour. To me, that’s the best way a band can celebrate its anniversary. To go out and be able to reconnect with fans is the best. They’ve been a part of the whole thing for 20 years and that’s what we’re doing. We’re hitting some markets and cities we haven’t played in a long time and also some places we’ve played many times. Just trying to reconnect with the fan base and celebrate the milestone. No matter how famous you may be, to keep a band together for 20 years is a rare accomplishment and getting out on the road is the best way to recognize that.
PB: How do you feel your music has changed over the years?
PL: In the beginning we were obviously very young and we had a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of aggression toward what we do. In some ways it’s changed a lot and in some ways it hasn’t changed at all. As we’ve gotten a little older, we’ve become more mature as musicians, a little more in control. We have more control over what we’re doing now than when we were kids. There has always been this thing between us as a three piece that is kind of; I don’t know the right word to use, “magic.” There was kind of a connection right from the beginning, from the very first time we got together and played together and that hasn’t changed. That feels exactly the same as it did 20 years ago.
PB: Who have some of your musical influences been over the years?
PL: For me, I started with the Beatles. As a kid, they had already broken up… Wait, I really started with the Monkees. I was a big Monkees fan. I watched them on television and was all caught up in that. I had a close cousin of mine who basically popped the bubble on the Monkees for me and said “no, you gotta listen to the Beatles”. It started there and I definitely fell in love with the Beatles as a 5 year old kid. As I got older, I didn’t really get into anything else for about 10 years. Not only did I love the music, but I wanted to be the Beatles. I just always envisioned myself in a band like that. We used to put on shows. We would play Beatles music on air guitar and dance around as little kids. As I got older, I got into the rest of the music in the 60’s and 70’s. All of the guys in the band are big fans of that era of rock and roll… The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Simon and Garfunkel, the Mama’s and the Papa’s, the Beach Boys. I got really turned on by The Police when I was a teenager. That real on top, aggressive energy; which filtered its way into Dada. Also, heavily into the Ramones so it’s all that stuff kind of mixed together. Rock and pop from the 60’s and 70’s with more modern edge from the 80’s. We put all that together and that’s where our sound comes from.
PB: For you personally, you’ve done so much from drumming to singing to performing with the Blue Man Group. Where do you feel most comfortable on stage?
PL: It’s interesting, but certainly with Dada I’d say I’m most comfortable. I’ve been doing it a long time. It’s like that old pair of jeans or that jacket that you love. Every time you put it on you just feel exactly right. It just fits perfectly. You’ve worn it 100 times. We’re doing this other band right now, 7Horse which I’m singing a lot more. It’s a whole new kind of direction. While I don’t feel necessarily as comfortable, it feels really natural to do it. There’s no arguing. Dada’s a really good band where as a musician, you don’t find people you can get in a groove with like that every day and a lot of people have pointed it out. With blue man group, my experience was phenomenal. It was a great time and made for a great couple of years. I was in the Gin Blossoms for six weeks while they were trying to find another drummer and I had a good time with those guys. I’ve done a lot of different things but there’s something about Dada that is just like breathing air. I’ve been doing it for so long it’s a part of life.
PB: It’s great you’ve been together for so long; do you have any advice for new bands that are starting out?
PL: What makes a band real is not the recording studio, especially not these days. Anybody can make a decent sounding record right now. You hear it all the time. You hear the auto tune, the vocals are pitch perfect. The person might not really be able to sing a note but it can all be fixed. That is no place to judge an artist because there are so many tricks available now. To me, particularly a rock and roll band earns its credibility on the road because it’s not easy to do it night after night and to maintain a level of consistency. For example, flying across the country in the middle of winter… you’re going to get sick. It’s great to be able to do it when everyone feels 100% and you’re strong and well rested and you’re about to play a great show in your hometown. Then you get out on the road and you have to play six days a week in a different city every night and now you don’t feel your best every night. Now you feel run down. How do you do it under those circumstances? That’s really what makes a band come together. That’s what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls; whatever it is. To me that’s what it’s about. You’re supposed to be rolling down the highway in a van or a bus. That’s what it’s all about. That’s rock and roll.
PB: Can we expect anything special for your Valentine’s Day show in Asbury Park?
PL: Yeah, I think so. Love will be in the air. That will be a fun night. We’ve been coming to Asbury Park for a long time. This is the first time playing at the Wonder Bar but we’ve had a lot of success out there. We’ve got a devoted group of people that are probably going to be out and I’m sure they will be in a good mood for Valentine’s Day. I always look forward to coming back there because there is so much rock and roll history. Whether you’re a big fan of Bruce Springsteen or not, you can’t help but recognize that’s one of the single greatest artists of American rock music that came out of that area so when you go in there as a rock and roll musician you feel that tradition that exists. It’s really fun to play up there. We’re looking forward to it. It’s fun for me because my wife is out here on tour with us. She’s a merchandise manager so we’ll be able to be together on Valentine’s Day.
PB: Anything special planned for her?
PL: I should probably work on that, that’s a good point. We had her birthday out here when we first got on the road so we did something special that night but spending Valentine’s Day together… Thanks for the tip.
PB: Do you have any fun tour stories that you want to share?
PL: The really interesting tour stories I can’t tell you about. Every day is interesting. On this run we’ve been working so hard that nothing remarkable has happened other than the shows. After the shows, everyone is back on the bus trying to wind down and go to bed. Back in the old days when we were out with Sting in the early 90’s, I was a big Police fan. One day at sound check, we were at this big outdoor amphitheater in St. Louis. His drummer didn’t show up for sound check so the band is on stage and I used to come out and watch them. Sting sees me down there and he goes, “do you want to come up and play” so I jump up. His drum tech says, “yo if you break anything I’m going to kill you.” I said, “no, no problem. I’m good” so I get on stage and he goes, “what do you want to play” so I said “how about driven to tears.” It starts with this beat… I know the song upside down, sideways, backwards and I start playing it. Sting keeps looking over his shoulder and says, “I haven’t heard this kind of stuff in 10 years.” That was just really cool for me to get to play with him. There have been a lot of fun moments like that and cool things that have happened.
PB: What is your favorite song to play live?
PL: I like “Posters” which opens up with a drum solo as soon as you kick off the show because how many bands open up with a drum solo so it’s kind of unusual. There’s a lot of songs that I like but even though we’ve played it a thousand times and it’s the song we’re known for; I like “Dizz Knee Land” because it’s our hit. We’re lucky enough to have a hit single and that song really put us on the map. I always get a bit nostalgic when we play that song because it takes me back to the first time I ever heard it on the radio out in California. We were driving in our van in the early 90’s and we were listening to the rock radio station and they’re playing Led Zeppelin. Next up, comes “Dizz Knee Land” and we had to pull the van over at that point because we were going to run it off the road. We were so excited. We were just kids. Whenever we play that song it just takes me back to that. The last song of the night, we always close with is “Dorina” which is way back in the very beginning of the band so that kind of brings it full circle. By that point I’m pretty exhausted and I’m ready to go. It has that nostalgic aspect for me and at the end of the night we know we came out we did our job and we get to relax a little bit so those are my favorites.
PB: Finally, name three things you absolutely cannot live without.
PL: Number one is my wife. I don’t want to go out for 6 weeks without her and she does such a fantastic job out here. She’s incredible. My dog would be two. He’s not out here unfortunately but I miss him. He’s got a lot of personality and number three I guess it’s my ‘67 Ludwig super classic drums. I can’t live without those drums. Those are my favorite set of drums I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, wait we have an espresso machine on the bus. I cannot live without that. As a matter of fact, forget the drums. Put the espresso machine in for number three. We make some high end coffee on the bus. We don’t even bother getting off to go to Starbucks. That is key to life on the road.