From the start, dada has exhibited all the ingredients for a successful one-hit-wonder experience: huge-selling debut album with signature single; really good follow-ups derailed by label difficulties and subsequent waning sales; and ultimately the decision to take a break. And yet, somehow, dada’s three determined members — guitarist/vocalist Michael Gurley, bassist/vocalist Joie Calio and drummer Phil Leavitt — managed to regroup and remain together as a working band as well as friends, perhaps an even bigger accomplishment.
The seeds of dada were planted in the late ’80s when Gurley and Calio played as an acoustic duo, writing and performing with the same harmonic unity as their major influence, Simon & Garfunkel. In the ’90s, they plugged in and enlisted Leavitt to keep time, joining the ranks of power trios like Cream while maintaining a delicate harmonic sensibility.
With 1992’s Puzzle and its ubiquitous first single, “Dizz Knee Land” (misspelled to avoid legal trouble from The Mouse), dada became an overnight sensation. Unfortunately, I.R.S. Records was beginning to unravel and the more moderate success of 1994’s American Highway Flower and its hit “All I Am” and 1995’s El Subliminoso were insufficient to right the ship. The trio released its eponymous 1998 album on MCA Records, after which the label was sold, leaving the album’s promotion high and dry. In 1999, dada announced its hiatus with a string of farewell shows. Gurley and Leavitt formed the short-lived Butterfly Jones, Calio released albums under the project name X Levitation Cult (as well as his own name) and Leavitt and Calio formed the band 7Horse and released three albums (7Horse’s song “Meth Lab Zoso Sticker” was used by director Martin Scorsese in The Wolf of Wall Street).
In 2003, dada returned with the concert album Live: Official Bootleg (Vol. 1) and followed it up with 2004’s How to Be Found, a collection of outtakes not included on its 1998 major-label release. The band’s first new material in eight years appeared on its 2006 self-released EP, A Friend of Pat Robertson. Four years later, dada announced it was recording a new album, but the sessions stalled and nothing was ever released.
Since then, dada has played sporadically, embarking on a comprehensive 20th-anniversary tour in 2013 (with 7Horse as the opening act), and following it up this year with an equally extensive 25th-anniversary tour. The band still plays marathon two-to-three-hour shows and continues to inspire old fans while attracting new ones. Regardless of age or geography, dada is going to Dizz Knee Land. Take that, Mouse.