Band: 7HORSE
Exclusive Track Premiere: “Swagger

M Music magazine Exclusive Track Premiere and interview with dada/7Horse drummer/singer, Phil Leavitt

Rock band dada confirms first new recordings in over a decade and sets 25th anniversary dadaforever U.S. Tour, with 7Horse performing at each show

7Horse is a rock/blues duo featuring guitarist/singer Joie Calio and singer/drummer Phil Leavitt. The band broke through to mainstream success when Martin Scorsese chose their grinding, menacing track “Meth Lab Zoso Sticker” for The Wolf of Wall Street. 7Horse’s song was featured in both the film as well as in the second trailer.

Calio and Levitt make up two thirds of the seminal rock band Dada, which is currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary with a U.S. tour and its first new singles in over a decade. On the upcoming dada tour, 7Horse will perform a mini-set mid-show each night.

As Leavitt clearly articulates, “dada is the light. Peace and love. For the audience, seeing the three of us together is something hopeful and happy in an increasingly pessimistic world. The music is elevated, smart—with beautiful harmonies.” He continues,”7Horse is the street: the greasy underbelly, the blues, the riffs—the hard truth.”
We talked with Phil Leavitt about his amazing 25-year journey with Dada, this wonderful, exciting new chapter with 7Horse, and their new track premiere, “Swagger.”

PHIL LEAVITT OF 7HORSE / DADA Web-Exclusive Interview
with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David

Tell us how 7Horse evolved.
It evolved out of a need for Joie and me to be creative and to explore a different direction—and a timely suggestion from our engineer Scott Gordon. In late 2010, we had some studio time lined up for Dada but when guitarist Michael Gurley couldn’t make the session, due to other commitments, Scott suggested we come in anyway and “see what happens.” Joie and I had been talking about doing something different together—rock ’n’ roll, blues, something down and dirty, with him on slide guitar. To make it something different, I needed to sing lead. I called it our “art project”—no pressure that way. The first song we cut was “Meth Lab” and 7Horse was born.

How did the idea of ‘Swagger’ come to you?
The word seems to be everywhere these days—swag, swagger. Everybody seems to need to project a tough guy attitude—athletes, actors, even politicians. I’m not immune. I’m sure it’s an attempt at covering insecurity. (Laughs) I’m not sure if this song is touting it or skewering it. Depends how you’re feeling when you wake up in the morning. It’s a fun track—not taking itself too seriously. Joie, as usual, came up with a great opening riff. Then we were off and running.

Who inspired you to write songs?
While inspired by many great writers from different genres and eras—I love a good song no matter when it was written. Not sure I needed much inspiration, but like many others—Lennon-McCartney and George Harrison first inspired me to write a song. At 8 or 9, I wrote lyrics to “The Girl From Ipanema” tune. Who knows where I heard it, but it was a very personal account of my life as a 3rd grader in Las Vegas. Performed it for the class accompanying myself on bongos—went over big. (Laughs) But the Beatles were, and are, one of the keystones of my musical approach.

What made you want to write songs professionally?
I never thought about it like that. I just like making things up—being creative, doing my own thing. It’s the only thing I want to do with my life. Getting money for that, sometimes, is the icing on the cake.

7Horse-2 - 6997Tell me a little about your creative process.
It can happen in many different ways: writing alone, lyrics or guitar riff, singing melodies and improvising lyrics. Sending that to Joie to see where he takes it, and adding to his idea—or just jamming as a band from scratch. For the latest Dada stuff, Joie brought in a song and Mike had an idea for another. He is an incredible writer and guitarist. We worked as a group to bring it all together. Ultimately, everything we do is a collaboration—everybody brings something unique to the table. Joie and Michael bring a lot, as does our current co-producer/engineer/mixer Dave Way.

Tell us one experience where something unique inspired you to write a song.
I write from my life experience. A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to New Orleans. Some friends were having a voodoo wedding. I decided to make the trip a little more enjoyable by consuming a cannabis lollipop that I started on the way to the airport. When I got to the security check point and opened my wallet to show my driver’s license—it wasn’t there. I didn’t have it. At about this time, the sucker was kicking in. Panic time? No. I was cool. They asked me a series of identifying questions, and I got on the flight. Later we wrote a song called “Flying High (with No ID).” It’s on the second 7Horse record Songs for a Voodoo Wedding.

What songwriting tip would you like to offer?
There’s inspiration everywhere. Keep your eyes open. If you get an idea in the middle of the night, you’d better get it down. Don’t wait till morning—you won’t remember it.

7Horse-1 - ted red wall6807

How does 7Horse differ from Dada?
For me, they’re almost opposite sides of the same coin. I guess the coin is human experience. Dada is the light: the pop sensibility, the harmonies, the jams, the poetic imagery in the lyrics, the epic solos—the love. 7Horse is the street: the greasy underbelly, the blues, the riffs, the hard truth—sex, drugs and … well, you know the rest.

How do you plan to celebrate Dada’s 25th anniversary?
It’s a big year for us. We’ve already done a series of tour dates, and we’re getting ready for another full swing around the country. We’ve been in the studio, and recorded our first new songs since 2007—releasing them this summer and getting back out on the road. The shows have a joyous quality. It’s great to celebrate with our audience—who’ve been with us for so long, and also with people who are seeing us for the first time.

Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
I’ll never forget it. Dada was on the road. It was just the three of us in our minivan. We were somewhere in Central California driving between gigs. I remember hearing Led Zeppelin and then … “Dizz Knee Land.” We were so excited. I remember trying to climb over the back seat to get closer to the radio up front. We were hooting and hollering—and had to pull over. It was the realization of something we had envisioned since we were kids. I hesitate to call it a dream because in a way I had always expected it to happen. It was thrilling. What I didn’t envision was the rocky road that we were to experience in the years ahead.

7Horse-3 - DadaDo you remember how the idea of “Dizz Knee Land” came to you for 1992’s Puzzle?
That one was Joie’s. He tells a story of a dream—seeing a bus with the word “DizzKneeLand” on the side and hearing the opening riff. It’s one of those times it pays to wake up and get it down.

Tell us about Dada’s early I.R.S. years.
It was exciting. Everything was happening for the first time. Nobody knew it yet, but it was the last great days of the old-school record business—when you were getting ripped off but you didn’t know or care because you were in a big-time studio, with a big-time producer.

Tell us about working with one of those big-time producers.
We worked with Ken Scott on Puzzle. He started as a tape op at Abbey Road, and ended up engineering the Beatles’ White Album. That alone was a mind blower for me—not to mention his other credits: Bowie, Supertramp, etc. Label president Miles Copeland was a trip. Big and brash—like a record exec should be—and Stewart Copeland’s brother, crazy. (Laughs) It was the whole thing—getting shuttled around to photo shoots and interviews, big celebratory dinners with promo guys (on our tab, of course). TV shows and bigger and bigger gigs—climbing the charts. It was a blast—until it wasn’t. Everybody loves you when you’re hot. When you’re not, you lose a lot of friends in a hurry—and then the bill comes.

What instrument/equipment can you not live without?
I’ve been playing Paiste cymbals since 1993. They’re really a key part of my sound. I’ve had to play a lot of different drums on the road. When renting, you can’t always get what you want. But if I have those cymbals—I sound like me. I don’t have a drum endorsement at the moment but I’ve been playing a 1967 Ludwig Super Classic in Burgundy Sparkle—for about 15 years. One day I walked into Pro Drum in Hollywood, and they were sitting there on consignment. As soon as I saw them, I knew—those are mine. Classic sound, and Ringo of course plays Ludwig, so it was obvious. Wherever I go, I use Vater drumsticks—been with them for almost as long as Paiste. For songwriting, my iPhone. Everything is on there. Joie and I work a lot of 7Horse ideas back and forth over iPhone. That’s how we wrote “Meth Lab Zoso Sticker.”

Tell us how “Meth Lab Zoso Sticker” got into Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
I really don’t have an answer. One day an email showed up in Joie’s inbox. It was from some lawyer saying she represented Martin Scorsese, and he wanted to use MLZS in his new film. Joie thought it was a hoax—a phishing scam. We ran it down—no hoax. Where they heard it—we had no idea and never found out. Perhaps on satellite radio—because it did get some play there. We had no representation, so I negotiated the deal—a first. It took months to finally learn we had made the final cut. We found out from Joie’s brother—who heard us in the trailer and sent us a text message. It was a great day.

7Horse-5Dada-1Top 5 Musicians who inspired you to become a musician?
We start with the Fab Four. Ringo in particular was a driving force in my drumming from an early age—his approach to a song—the simplicity, swinging feel, interplay with the vocals. I once read: the drummer is the catcher the songwriter is pitching to. Don’t remember who said it, but I don’t think anyone ever caught it better than Ringo. I didn’t get any of that when I was 10. It was just magic. As a child, I remember playing along with Abbey Road on a rag tag set of pillows and pots and pans with wooden spoons—and getting lost in it. I desperately wanted to be in the Beatles. It’s really all I listened to for years.

At the same time, I remember seeing Buddy Rich on television and not only being blown away by his masterful technique—but being highly entertained by his interview segments with Johnny Carson. A drummer, as a leader—the big personality. It made quite an impression.

Then, Stewart Copeland and the Police—they were really the next band that broke through into my conscientious. I had already been playing for years, but it turned my head inside out. I started playing differently. OK—I was ripping off Stewart Copeland. (Laughs) But slowly I developed my own thing. Combining all that I had heard from those guys—and adding to it over the years.

I never met Buddy, but studied with a guy who was very close to him. I spent time with Ringo, Stewart Copeland and George Harrison. Almost makes you believe that if you think about something hard enough—and I thought about all of them long and hard—you can bring it right to you.

It’s Buddy’s 100th Anniversary celebration. How did he influence you?
I think about Buddy Rich a lot. I love watching the old clips of him with Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas. He’s funny as hell—so sure of himself, even when he’s wrong. Talk about swagger. (Laughs) As a drummer and band leader myself, who dabbles in the martial arts (boxing), he’s a huge inspiration. I even named my dog Buddy.
What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?

Abbey Road (1969) – The Beatles
Revolver (1966) – The Beatles
Meet the Beatles! (1964) – The Beatles
Outlandos d’Amour (1978) – The Police
Regatta de Blanc (1979) – The Police

I have to add one more. It was my folks’ album, but I wore it out:

Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) – Original Cast Recording

7Horse-6 - 6855Tell us about a “pinch me” moment—a time you recorded or played live on stage with a musical idol/hero.
In 1997, we got invited by our friend and engineer Scott Gordon (he figures in this one too) to come down to the Village recording studio in West Los Angeles to take part in a session he was working on. Ringo Starr was making a record called Vertical Man, and they were doing a big gang vocal overdub in the big room. It was an all-star cast of rock stars, luminaries, family friends … and Dada. The producer organized the group for the vocal first pass by having all the professional singers come to the front. I remember Ringo saying, “Well, I guess I’ll go to the back then.” Next time around we mixed it up, and I found myself shoulder to shoulder with the man himself. We sang it down. It’s a tune called “La De Da”—we’re on the out-chorus. As we finished, I realized this was my moment to tell Ringo how much he meant to me—which I did, profusely. He took it all in—fully focused on me, while I gushed. He actually tried to calm me down a little. “Yeah cool, it’s alright yeah, take it easy.” We had been warned not to take any photos. Don’t even bring a camera. Everyone brought a camera but us. (Laughs) We panicked. Will someone please take a picture of us with Ringo Starr. We got the shot. Then he was gone—moved on to the next person who wanted their moment. I turned and saw his wife, Barbara Bach, sitting alone in the control room. Now I’m feeling strong. I march in there to meet her. I told her I really unloaded on her husband. She said, “Oh, he loves hearing from guys like you who were inspired by him and the Beatles. When Bono came to the house, he did the very same thing—so don’t feel bad, you’re in good company.” (Laughs)

Best advice someone has given you.
In the early days of Dada, we used to cover “Sweet Caroline.” We did a pretty cool version. Rocked it up and added some of our signature harmonies. Our manager knew Neil Diamond’s road manager—he had seen us play it—and we got an invite to Neil’s show in Dallas. We went backstage, but Neil wouldn’t see us. Too close to show time, maybe, I don’t know. He sent a note out: “keep writing songs.” Seems obvious, but it’s good advice. You never know what the next one will bring. Or maybe he was telling us to stop messing with his stuff—and do our own. (Laughs) Either way, it’s good.

What PRO are you with?
I’ve been with BMI for my whole career. How do they help? Quarterly! (Laughs)

What’s next?
Get back in the studio later this month and make new 7Horse music. Then, head out on the road with Dada (featuring a mini-set of 7H), and release the new Dada stuff. We’ll be back on the road in September. If we could make a new Dada album after that, I’d be pretty satisfied with the year. And then, we can get started on the next 25.
Where can your new fans get more info and stay updated?

 Phil Leavitt

Phil Leavitt

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