Phil Leavitt has been in the music industry for three decades, first banging the drums for the band dada for over 25 years and since 2011 as the lead singer and drummer for its offshoot sister band 7Horse. He’s seen the heights of stardom as dada scored the worldwide hit “Dizz Knee Land” with its debut album and attendant world tours, and revealed a tenacious ability to survive the turbulent music industry as the band continued to maintain a successful cult following all the way until 2017.
Now, however, Leavitt and his 7Horse bandmate Joie Calio (who also played in dada and shares vocal duties and plays lead guitar) have decided to turn their careers upside down and beat the record business machine at their own game. They have already achieved some impressive successes, with their 2012 song “Meth Lab Zoso Sticker” having been chosen as the de facto theme song of “The Wolf of Wall Street” by director Martin Scorsese himself in addition to having their songs used in 55 other TV shows and films.
With their current album “Superfecta” and a string of standalone singles they are releasing throughout this summer, they have doubled down on the DIY approach and expanded the album’s release with the surprisingly ever-growing fan demand. They will also kick off the start of a planned tour next Thursday, June 27, at the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard, in a show that also employs their new approach of taking full control.
“In the past, we played clubs and had a booking agent call the promoter, the promoter made a deal with a lowball guarantee that covers our expenses and then they promote the show,” explains Leavitt. “They have an email list of everyone who comes through the ticketing site, and then they hit ticket buyers with a $15 price for the promoter, and another $15 in fees that we as a band don’t even see.
“Then they hit their email list to push the show, which could be everyone who bought a ticket for bands from Pantera to Mariah Carey, so they’re casting a wide net, which often doesn’t work,” adds Leavitt. “The fans are paying inflated ticket prices and it’s tough to get word out about the gigs. So we’ve changed the whole approach. We rented the Viper Room out and we’re running the tickets through our web site with no fees added. It’s $25 and we hope our audiences will support that, and we’re looking to change the paradigm of how these work. We basically said no, we’re not doing that.”
The key to all the changes is social media, which has placed power in the hands of bands and other performers worldwide to take charge of their own destiny, rather than relying on major corporate and media gatekeepers to give them attention. Despite the fact that they’ve received regular airplay on more than 50 radio stations nationwide, 7Horse isn’t counting on radio to advance their careers anymore. They are banking nearly everything on the Viper Room show, believing that “If we can prove it in Los Angeles, we’ll do it elsewhere for everybody else who wants to see us.”
“Do you still want to see live rock and roll?” asks Leavitt. “We need an answer on that. We have everything riding on this one, so it’s a big one for us.”
Despite the fact that 7Horse has two of the three members of dada in it, Leavitt notes that their sonic stylings are different. He regards dada as “a very cerebral band, with music that hits you from the neck up, while 7Horse was created to hit you from the waist down, the belt down.”
As such, 7Horse is intended as a rock band with a heavy blues edge, while mixing 1960s British Invasion influences with some modern rock touches. They’ve broadened their sound on “Superfecta” by adding Brian Whelan as a multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist.
“It was a necessity to change our sound from dada,” says Leavitt. “We were trying to make a dada record in 2010 and were in the middle of it and were scheduled in studio and the guitar player told us he wasn’t available and had another project that would take up all his time. Out of that frustration, we already had the time set aside and our engineer at the time said why don’t you guys just come in?
“Joie and had been talking about it, we’d been listening to a lot of blues, early rock and roll, and figured it’ll give us something to do,” he adds. “And out of that session came the ‘Zoso’ song. Sometimes the best songs come from creativity borne out of frustration. You gotta get it out rather than keep it pent up.”
Since then, 7Horse has toured both on its own and occasionally along with playing sets of dada songs in a 25th anniversary tour in 2017 when former member Mike Gurley was able to join them for a run of shows. There’s been “a lot of van rides over thousands of miles,” with Leavitt’s wife along for the ride as their tour manager and merchandise salesperson, but Leavitt is happy to have Glendale as his home base.
“I like living here, on this side of LA, where it’s a little more open and less congested,” says Leavitt. “I’m near the 2 Freeway, which is the access to everything. I’m close to Dodger Stadium and love that. Joie’s in Seattle, but he lives in my house when he’s down here. We get together as much as we can.”
7Horse will play with Killer Country opening at 8 p.m. June 27 at the Viper Room, 8852 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Visit 7horsemusic.com.