If the secret isn't out yet, it will be before the weekend's over.
Sonia Dada has been riding a wave of nationwide popularity that has consistently crested in Colorado. They've made themselves at home everywhere from the cozy acoustic confines of Boulder's Fox Theater, where the bulk of their new live album was recorded, to gala celebrations onstage at the Buell Theatre in Denver.
And now, in a gift to anyone who's ever lamented the shortfall of cutting-edge, national-caliber music acts appearing in Colorado Springs -- the final frontier -- Sonia Dada will play a Halloween weekend show at the Colorado Music Hall guaranteed to bring the house down with their blend of Chicago-based rock 'n' funk. The band features a complex mix of hippie-jam instrumentalists and subway gospel/doo-wop vocalists that have carved out a unique musical niche. If you don't have a ticket yet, put the paper down and go get one.
Sonia Dada has constantly reinvented the musical landscape with their intricately crafted studio albums and their explosive live performances. If they can think it, they can play it, and their collective musical mind has a fondness for pondering everything from psychedelic guitar riffs to French Quarter funk rhythms, from searing, soulful vocals to rollicking roadhouse keyboards, from an endless wave of irresistible grooves and African-flavored rhythms to the tight chemistry of Memphis-style horn arrangements and festive rockers that tear the roof off.
The band's creation culminated founding member, guitar player and primary songwriter Dan Pritzker's search for a voice for his music. Pritzker had been in a band called Idle Tears, and, speaking by phone from Chicago, he recalled that when that band got a record deal with MCA, the only songs not to make the record were the two songs he sang. "I haven't sung since," Pritzker laughed.
In his Idle Tears days, Pritzker was mentored by producer Chuck Plotkin, known for his work with songwriters like Springsteen and Dylan. "We'd sit together for hours and go through stuff, just talking about things, not like, 'Well, if you play a C in the chorus ... ' nothing like that," said Pritzker. "It was more like psychoanalysis. You know like, 'Well, what's this song really about?' and going there. Trying to understand what the initial inspiration to write the song was and getting focused on that."
Plotkin's tutelage prepped Pritzker for a fateful encounter with a missing piece he didn't know existed while riding the subway on his way to a Cubs game. "I got off, and I heard these guys singing. They were singing the song "Jesus on the Mainline," and I had known that song from a Ry Cooder record, Paradise and Lunch, one of my favorite records. So I stopped and I listened to them, and I stayed there for about 20 minutes," Pritzker remembered. "If you're down there singing, the trick is to try and get to the chorus before the train comes in. So these guys'd be singing a song, and they'd hear the first strains of the train coming, and then they'd break into that Curtis Mayfield song, "People Get Ready There's a Train Coming." It was just amazing showmanship down in the subway. ... I never made it to the Cubs game."
Pritzker set up a week of practicing with his Grateful Dead-ish guitar-jam bandmates and the unique gospel-soul vocals of lead singer Michael Scott, gravel-throated Sam Hogan and the deep bass tones of Paris Delane. "It's like that famous Supreme Court saying about pornography," Pritzker explained of the unlikely marriage. "I think Byron White said, 'I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.' When I heard these guys singing 'Jesus on the Mainline,' I knew."
"It's like learning to speak a foreign language," Pritzker continued, explaining the process of working out their musical relationship. "You know you really know French when you can think in French. And I can think in Michael Scott's voice. I know his range really well. I can think in Paris' voice. That's been a process of working together day in and day out for years."
Over the years, the kinetic relationships have melded to create a solid band identity that defies categorization or easy analysis but that succeeds because of the group's ability to function as one brain. "It's eight people standing on the edge of a cliff, holding hands and jumping off. Every song," said Pritzker. "In a way, each song is an opportunity for us to find another estuary in which the river can flow."
Lay I Down and Love It Live offers an alternative to the band's habit of spontaneously recording songs before they know them too well. In the studio, Pritzker goes after the musician's "initial impulse, the sort of visceral physical response to the chord changes and the melody and the lyric without it being processed a whole bunch by his brain," he said.
"We've said for years, 'When you step through the studio doors, check your brains at the door.'... I taught the band 'Planes and Satellites' at 11:30 at night ... and we recorded it the second time we ever played it. You get something from doing that, I think. Then we go out and play it 500 times, and it takes on a different life. The live record really represents how the songs have morphed into the live thing."
Among the twists and turns the band goes through on the road are the recent addition of a horn section and the loss of three founding band members. Lead guitar player David Resin left to score films and was replaced by Phil Miller. Drummer Hank Guaglianone suffered from an extreme case of tendonitis and is currently caring for his step-daughter, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Larry Beers handles the drums these days and will be joined by percussionist Winston Damen on the new tour. And singer Sam Hogan left the band due to a bad drug addiction.
"I think with Sam, we only ever got the benefit of about 30 percent of his talent," said Pritzker. "You know, he was a Broadway-caliber dancer. He's just amazing. Bad news. But we talk to him all the time. We love Sam." Hogan is featured on the album's closing song, the previously unreleased "Goodnight," an aching lullaby recorded during the final encore of the '95 New Year's Eve show in Boulder. While Hogan continues to sing gospel music around Chicago, Shawn Christopher has joined the band, offering her high-powered contribution to the tight harmonies on classics like "You Don't Treat Me No Good" and bringing a new dimension to the soft Afro-funk of "Don't Go (Giving Your Love Away)."
The bottom line for Pritzker when it comes to finding success as a songwriter and bandleader is, "You gotta make it believable. For me, if I don't believe it, it's a physical thing. You're off it, you don't buy it, I'm not listening. You gotta believe. ... I think a lot of it is that we're not afraid to fuck up with one another. You asked me if I ever sing. I never do on records, but I sing to Michael and Paris."