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NIGHT LIFE / THE CLUB SCENE

Classical Pop : Dada, known for its 'Dizz Knee Land' album, describes its music as a combination of postmodern and retro sounds.

December 17, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Not mama, but dada--that's a band. Even your mama might like dada because these guys can really sing.

While Phil Leavitt hits the drums, Joie Calio (bass) and Michael Gurley (guitar) create some harmonies that approach Simon & Garfunkel sweetness.

Not at all like their name, which invokes irrationality and a negation of traditional values, dada creates classic pop songs.

Fans of Matthew Sweet and Eleven will probably enjoy these lowercase crooners. Local alternative rockers, Ariel, will open for dada at the Ventura Theatre on Dec. 23. There but for fortune--a small one, 10 bucks-- will get you in there.

The band's debut album, "Puzzle," is cruising along nicely on the alternative charts. The one getting the airplay is "Dizz Knee Land," bad spelling probably preventing bad things happening to the band from a fleet of mean ol' mouse lawyers.

The other songs touch upon the usual subjects: bad relationships, worse relationships, past tense relationships and imaginary relationships, which are at least good for quieter relationships and less alimony.

Bay Area natives and still Giant fans, Calio and Gurley moved to L. A. a dozen years ago to do the rock star thing. It worked. Signed to the cool I.R.S. (the record company) dada has been on the road for several weeks in a thinly veiled attempt to induce you to leave loudmouth Uncle Ernie off your Christmas list, and instead, buy their new release "Puzzle."

In a recent phone conversation from Eugene, Calio discussed life on the road:

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So has "Puzzle" made you guys rich rock stars yet?

You know what, I make less money than I did four years ago. We spent money to make the album and a certain amount to tour. And since the money from the first album is long gone, we're living on a pittance.

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So why "dada" and not "mama?"

I actually picked the name up from the art movement. We don't care if it's all upper case or lower case, so long as it's the same.

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It's hard to hide someone in a trio.

Michael and I had another trio, Lewis & Clark until the drummer, Louis Gutierrez joined Mary's Danish. After Lewis & Clark, Michael and I spent a year just writing songs. That was about three years ago. Dada has been together for two years now.

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How would you describe dada music?

The songs and the harmonies are our focus. The melodies have a postmodern sound and also a retro sound. We were influenced by the Beatles, the Stones and Led Zep, but also Sugar, Screaming Trees, the Pixies and R.E.M.

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What's the L. A. scene like?

I don't know what the L. A. scene is like because it's so big. There's a lot of microcosms. There's a glam-metal scene, a poser-metal scene and a hard-core scene, which is mostly in the South Bay and Orange County. I think most people in L. A. have zero clue about the scene and no one even likes it anymore.

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So how does a band get signed out of L. A.?

You have to believe this is the right band. You never know who may be out there in the audience. Someone may hear you, tell someone else--it may not happen so fast. I saw all this by working in the mail room at Geffen for 4 1/2 years.

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Why do so many bands have bad singers?

Sometimes, the thing about singing is not always the pitch, but whether or not it's believable. For example, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. may not work in any other band, but I believe him. I love him.

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What is alternative music this week?

It's, at this point, not Garth Brooks, but it's not REO Speedwagon, either. I think even R.E.M. is still alternative because they don't do the corporate rock thing.

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Are the Disney lawyers trying to sue you yet over "Dizz Knee Land?"

Nope. They haven't said a word to us. The grapevine rumor is that they're not worried about the song.

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Except for all the money you're not making, life on the road is good?

Well, I love what I'm doing, and I think, only about 1% of the people on this planet like their jobs. But road food is really bad, so it's a struggle just to stay healthy. I take a lot of vitamins.

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If not music, then what?

Oh my God, that's a nightmare I don't even want to think about. I've always wanted to be a musician ever since I was 14 years old. When I was a kid, I had three girls that used to baby-sit me, sort of like hippie go-go girls. They were cool. They gave me a lot of records.

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What's next?

Immediately next is gig after gig after gig. Lately, people have been showing up who actually know the lyrics to our songs. We're in this for the long haul. But we're three guys who don't all own the same record collection, which creates a little tension.

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