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"Songs for a Voodoo Wedding": Phil Leavitt talks about the new 7Horse album

7Horse "Songs for a Voodoo Wedding"-slide0
Courtesy of 7Horse (used with permission)

How’s your stock of bat’s blood and graveyard dirt? Got enough cowrie shells to whip up a hex or two? Never mind because 7Horse has already cast the spell for you with their forthcoming album “Songs for a Voodoo Wedding.” Full of stripped-down cosmic country-tinged blues rock, the new record was inspired by a fixation on classic country music as made by men named Cash, Haggard and Jennings, a fondness for the funky musical stew of New Orleans and, you guessed it, an actual voodoo wedding.

Formerly of the band Dada, they of a successful 20-year career and hit single “Dizz Knee Land,” Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt have left their past behind to gallop on as 7Horse and so far the duo’s backing a winner. First album “Let the 7Horse Run” produced the hit “Meth Lab Zoso Sticker,” thanks in part to the song being featured in the Martin Scorsese film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Sophomore effort “Songs for a Voodoo Wedding” packs a powerful whammy too with enchantments like the “Exile on Main Street”-inspired “Carousel Bar,” the otherworldly blues of “Before the Flood," the airport paranoia of single "Flying High (With No ID)" and the self-explanatory single “A Friend in Weed.”

Leavitt called from Los Angeles to answer a few questions about the musical witchery of 7Horse’s “Songs for a Voodoo Wedding” in advance of the album’s June 10 release date.

You and Joie have stated that 7Horse is about burying your musical past. Is that basically a way to say you’re finished with Dada?

It’s about moving away from that. Even if you officially end something there’s always a chance you’re going to come back. But having said that, we’re looking to do something completely new and kind of put the past behind us. A lot of people want to talk about stuff you did a while ago; they don’t want you to move on. For us we have to put that in the rear view mirror and move into a new phase in order to keep on being creative and to keep doing something fresh. Neither one of us wants to get trapped into resurrecting something from 20-years-ago as our only musical outlet. That really isn’t why we do this. We made it a point to not even mention Dada in our new bio.

Tell me about the voodoo wedding ceremony that you attended and how it inspired “Songs for a Voodoo Wedding.”

A couple of friends of mine got married in Mexico and their marriage license was in Spanish and there was some question about whether or not that marriage license was actually legit. So they decided to get remarried in New Orleans and they booked this voodoo wedding ceremony at the home of a voodoo priestess. She had this room that had all kinds of paraphernalia in it; altars where you’d offer up certain offerings to these gods, and we had a live snake that was part of it. It was a real, traditional I guess, voodoo wedding ceremony. She happened to have a drum there and I ended up playing the drum during the ceremony; usually there’s music involved. The couple get their hands bound together and they’re presented little idols and the snake is wrapped around their necks; it’s all about binding their souls together. It’s not all super serious; you’re having fun with it. We spent several additional days hanging out in New Orleans and I just got inspired down there. It’s very easy to do. I heard some great musicians down there and I was inspired by the whole celebration of life and the ability to sort of embrace the dark side a little bit; I like to write about that. It was just a great trip and I took some things out of there and it just seemed natural to call the record “Songs for a Voodoo Wedding.”

You busted up your nose pretty good during the album’s recording sessions. What happened?

We had recorded a track that is actually not on the record but there was something about it that wasn’t making us totally happy. We couldn’t figure it out. I was sleeping on the floor of the performance room and Joie was in the other room on the couch. This studio is in a town called Forestville up in Northern California and it’s not really a live-in studio but when we go up there we just camp out there. So I’ll bring an air mattress and I’m sleeping on the floor. Sometimes it’s hard to turn your brain off; I went to bed at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning but that song was really bugging me. It dawned on me that maybe it was that the lyric needed to be tweaked. Knowing that the lyric sheet was in the control room, I got up and tore to the control room and forgot that I had closed the glass door. I walked just dead into it, flush. Right into it. What a shock! To be half asleep and run into that thing. It’s like hitting a brick wall; it’s soundproof glass two inches thick. The blood was copious and it turned out my nose was fractured. I found that out when I got back to Los Angeles. We made a change to the lyric but we still didn’t use the track.

On “Before the Flood” you sound positively scary. Do you have to be in a certain mood to sing with such an ominous tone?

You know when I’m working on a track all day long, by the time I get to the vocal it’s kind of easy. When you’re living in that vibe, you’ve been creating that vibe for 10-hours, you’re definitely in there with it. There’s definitely a mood but I’ve already been thinking for hours and hours about what the song is supposed to sound like. It comes pretty naturally.

“A Friend in Weed” is a countrified ode to marijuana that you wrote on the way to a performance at a festival in Weed, California. Tell me about that.

We were rolling down the highway. We’d been to Weed one time before; there’s a recording studio there with a great engineer. Weed is named after this guy Abner Weed, one of the city fathers and a lumber magnate. But of course all the souvenirs there have pot leaves on them; there are pot leaf coffee cups and weed bumper stickers so they’re definitely making the most of that connection. Coming into town we thought it would be so great if we could have a song that we could play specifically for these people. We had just been pounding the country music, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens. We were super into classic country on the road; there’s something about being on the road and listening to country music that totally makes sense. So we started writing the song in the van and we played it that night with a lyric sheet in our hand. People really liked it. It went over big.

Since it’s just the two of you in 7Horse, are you able to replicate your songs in a live situation, or do you need to add a couple sidemen?

We’re not doing that at all right now. We have a friend of ours who plays harmonica and he’s come out and joined us before. But right now, as far as going forward we’re just going out as a two-piece. Some songs are easier than others, the really stripped-down guitar and drums stuff, but other things that we’ve kind of expanded on a little bit, then when we go out we have to reconfigure a little bit.

If I’m at the track, why should I bet on the seven horse?

Well, this particular 7Horse, we’re kind of doing something that most people wouldn’t do. We’ve been around a long time but we still have energy for it; we’re not jaded. We’re not burned out. We have a tremendous amount of experience and we still look pretty! And we kick ass. It’s a good bet to make

Purchase album "Let the 7Horse Run" at iTunes.

Visit the official 7Horse website.

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