Inviting us onto their tour bus, Michael Gurley, Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt were candid with their answers, not holding back and often expanding on the topic at hand. The interplay between the band members was wonderful to see, and it’s very apparent that they hold affection for each other.
The following interview is transcribed from exactly what was said on the bus, with no edits by the author.
What are your thoughts on this being the 25th Anniversary Tour for the band?
Phil – “I don’t think you’re ever thinking down the road like that. When you start out, you’re just kids, anyway… you’re just trying to find a way to break through and get a record deal, get your music out there. The dream of getting on the road and getting your music out there… you can’t look much farther past that. Things start happening, the record comes out, things start happening… the next thing you know, you’re on the road and not thinking past what’s the next show date. Maybe we should have (thought long-term).”
Joie – “At one point, I was thinking let’s try and get this thing last ten years, you know?”
Michael – “At the time we got signed, it was such an exciting thing. We got signed to a “real record company”, where the Go-Go’s came from, where R.E.M. was from, Concrete Blonde… and Miles Copeland was the head of it. The first thing was ‘Wow! We’re going to record in November. My God!’ And then all of a sudden, we’re going on the road in February, or whatever. So, it is pretty incredible that it’s twenty-five years later. I think that’s a tribute to the three of us having a really good chemistry. I think that’s what it is. We always split everything pretty evenly, so there weren’t big money issues, or who’s got this and who’s got that.”
Phil – “There’s the chemistry of the band, but there’s also the hard work every day of trying to keep something alive. There’s been a parade of agents, managers, idiots, lunatics, creeps and weirdos come through, business people who are trying to rip you off. They say they can do everything, but can’t do anything… you have to weed through all of that. Those types of people are constantly coming. Most people don’t do what they say they’re going to do. To finally hook-up with some people who can actually deliver on what they say, it’s a one out of ten shot in the music business. Trying to navigate that minefield of the business is very difficult. It takes a lot of effort to keep a project alive and going.”
What has been the biggest change for the band since the advent of the internet?
Joie – “People started stealing music immediately. They stopped paying for it. That was the first big shift. Record sales became less and less important. The younger generation, it was like a faucet, like water… when you’re a kid, you don’t know that you pay for water, too. It seems like it’s free… I will tell you, I know from my perspective on the inside of record companies, they ignored it (internet), at first. Their attitude (at the time) was like ‘Ah… this is not what’s going to happen’, and they missed it. They made some bad errors in judgement, and guys like the Napster dude (Shawn Fanning) kind of prevailed, for better or for worse. No one, at that point, was looking out for the musician. Not that they ever did, but they did even less.”
Phil – “They should have looked out for themselves, because they had that thing locked so tight (music business). It was never constructed to support guys like us. It was always constructed to take from people like us. They gave us just enough rope to give the appearance that we’re living our dreams. Meanwhile, they’re sucking-out every dime that they can… they gave us just enough to make us believe that we were successful. They gave us the opportunity to do a lot of great things, but unless you catch a huge break, making a living at it is a one in a million shot. Even if you’re successful, by the time the end of the record cycle comes around, they’re standing there with the bill.”
Joie – “It’s the only job where when you get your paycheck, here’s how much money you get paid (holds up paper to demonstrate). And here’s the byline where you’re paying us back (record company) for the job you just did. What other job is like that?!”
Phil – “The music industry had that thing (internet) all scoped-out, and then they let it all go. They lost control of it. That’s on them that they fucked that thing up royally.”
Michael – “With all that said, I did enjoy being on a record label.”
Phil – “Of course!”
Michael – “I miss the record business.”
Joie – “You just have to show up…
Michael – “and you can concentrate on music. I like that. Most bands have to be self-promoters in this day and age. So, it’s changed a lot.”
Phil – “The downfall of the record industry… it was better before. The fact that there were gatekeepers made it better. At least in those days, someone had to give you permission to do it. Whether they had good taste or not, they did have some kind of taste. And I’m sure a lot of talented people didn’t get their shot. But, it’s so different now than it was then. Having said all that, we’re finding a way to do it.
“So, we’ve managed to hold an audience for twenty-five years and we haven’t put a record out since 2007. We’re out here playing an anniversary tour and it’s better for us than it has been in years. People seem more enthused about having us back. The upside is that we have total control over what we’re doing; complete control. We’re selling tickets out here and our fan base is really fired-up. So, we can’t really ask for more than that.”
What are your thoughts on the newer, younger fans that have found dada?
Phil – “We have a lot of first-timers coming to see us. They grew up on the music and their parents played it for them in the car when they were eight. And now, they’re finally getting to come to a show for the first time. So, that’s pretty cool.”
Michael – “And that means a lot to us. When someone is there for the first time, we don’t take that lightly. There are people out there that have never seen us, and we want to try and blow their minds. We take pride in that.”
After twenty-five years, does it still feel good to go on the road?
Phil – “I started on the road when I was eighteen, before this band. I was in a show-band, wearing a tuxedo, playing in hotel lounges and traveling around in a Suburban with a bunch of people. I got a taste of that at such an early age, that it’s just kind of in my DNA; in my blood. I love it out here. For me, this is the way I like to live.”
Michael – “I like the hours. (Everyone laughed at this statement) I mean, you can get up at three in the afternoon and you’re still on-time.”
Phil – “If you can stay healthy, that is the key. If you get sick out here, everything changes.”
Joie – “Our 20th Anniversary tour was just a calamity of sickness. On the road, sleep is currency.”
What have been some of the best times of your career?
Joie – “I think there’s a group of those. I mean, the best thing was to get signed. That was awesome. One of the other best things was making the first record with a real producer. One of the other best things was going on tour with Sting and playing some fucking incredible venues. Another best thing was singing with Ringo Starr on a solo record.”
Michael – “I remember an important one among those… we were on our way to Portland from the Bay Area and for the first time ever, we heard our song on the radio. We were like squeezed in between the Stones and Zeppelin. Then our stuff came on, and it never sounds better than when you hear it on the radio. As corny as this sounds, we pulled over and got like a four-dollar bottle of champagne, some plastic cups and had a drink. It was a very exciting moment.
“I mean, Joie’s right. As corny as this sounds, this tour, right now is great. We’re doing twice as much business from this tour as we did the last time. It’s very exciting.”
Joie – “We got totally bitch-slapped by the snow a few days ago (after show in Salt Lake City). Here we are, we’re super-stoked, we’re on the bus… the bus gets stopped in the snow. So, we’ve got to turn around, go back, get flights, rent gear (taking a total loss on that), fly out to Denver to play this show that we would have missed if we would’ve just stayed there in the snow. That show was just phenomenal! I mean, it was just so worth it. We got rewarded by the show. People were really there for us. It was great.”
Phil – “We woke up and we were only 90 miles out of Salt Lake City and the bus was stopped cold. It was like… we’re going to blow the show tonight if we don’t go to the airport right now! Seven people, eighteen pieces of luggage, got the flights, went directly to the venue and right up onstage to do the show. We just made it and the audience loved it.”
What has been the secret to your longevity?
Joie – “We’re still alive. (laughter ensued) We’re all the original members and it’s the love of the music.”
Phil – “We really believe in each other. We really believe in what each brings to the band. It’s beyond just the songs; it’s the experience of doing it together. I’m an only child, so this really is a family thing for me. When you can go up there and create something that moves a bunch of people and really has made an impact on people’s lives, you can’t take that lightly. Nothing else I do in life has this kind of effect, even in our small world. But, we do have an effect on certain people. That’s a contribution we can make to other people.
“I’ve played with a lot of people over the years. The Blue Man Group in Vegas for a couple of years, I sat-in with the Gin Blossoms for six weeks before they fired me (laughter). It’s been sometimes great, sometimes not so great and sometimes cool. But never like it is with this (motioning to Joie and Michael).”
Michael – “Playing together, the three of us, from the very first time in a rehearsal studio in Hollywood after Joie gave Phil a call… we’d gone through seven or eight drummers… we didn’t know what to expect. But from the very first jam, an eight-minute jam in ‘E’, it just felt right. It’s the excitement of playing with these two guys and the fact that we have a really good musical chemistry, that I’ve never found in another band. It’s fun to play music with these guys.”
What’s next for dada?
Phil – “We’re planning on doing, before the year is over, a swing on the East Coast. And there’s always talk about… our fans want something new. I know for myself, I’d like to see us get in the studio and record something. If I had to put money on it, I would say that we’ll find a way to put some new music out. It’s important for the band going forward. It keeps us alive and sounding fresh. It makes everything better, I think.”
Joie – “I’m in! I mean we have some old stuff we should sift-through, some recordings that are half-done, maybe look at those and record some new stuff. I don’t know if we’ll make a CD. We were talking about doing a digital-only package and vinyl.”
Phil – “It’s not only about making money. It’s about keeping people happy and keeping your fans motivated to keep buying tickets to come out and see you.
“I don’t think we’re done. It’s been a while, for sure. It’s always a challenge to go back in (studio), especially when you have records that people have really put up on a pedestal and think are the greatest things ever. It’s impossible to go back to where you were in 1992 and do a record again that is like the most popular record you ever made.”