Friday, April 29, 2011

David Daskal - Lead Singer Of L.A. Rock Group Xyzyx

David Daskal is the lead singer of the Los Angeles rock group Xyzyx. In this interview he discusses the band's inception and songwriting.

Fans of reality television might recognize David Daskal from such shows as Average Joe: Hawaii and Fear Factor. Now he's fronting a rock band called Xyzyx.

In this section of the interview, David discusses the origins of the band, the band name, and songwriting.

Why Xyzyx? How did you choose the name of the band?

DAVID: It's funny. We're on a road trip to Vegas. It's funny because a lot of people, if they know the term Xyzyx, they'll be like, "Oh my god, is that the road on the way to Vegas?" I'm like, "Well, it's the road that's situated between California and Nevada." So it's not necessarily on the way to Vegas if you're coming from the other direction, but yeah, it's the road on the way to Vegas.

So we saw this really strange spelling of a road, like Z-z-y-z-x. And we were laughing about it. We got back and we did a search to find out what's the deal behind this road. And we find out that the pronunciation is actually "Zy-ziks" road. And I'm like, that's whacked, because anyone who looks at that is going to say "Zizziks."

And I've always wanted a band name that started with an X. Like my previous band - I had one in Virginia - started with an X, called Xenon. And then we had one called Xylem. And I'm like, "That's messed up - it should be Xyzyx, like everybody thinks, and spelled X-y-z-y-x." And that's how the band name came about.

Who was on the road trip?

DAVID: All the band members were on the road trip.

Was the band already in place at that point, without a name?

DAVID: Yeah. Actually, the band development was really funny too. John Baumgaertner is my rhythm guitarist. He was on a show called Average Joe. And I did second season of Average Joe. And they flew the runner up of my show out to come be on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. And we were going to meet at the Saddle Ranch, because I hadn't seen him since the taping of our show.

John had showed up like three or four hours later, and I had seen him on television. And I was really surprised, because the way they had portrayed him was a lot different than how he had presented himself when he showed up. And he seemed like this really vibrant character. And this was back in my goofy days, where I would just sit and burst out in random song or sing what was overhead coming out of the speakers. And it was a Christopher Cross song, "Ride Like The Wind." And he started chiming in with me, like harmonizing, as if we'd been doing this all our lives. And I said, "Wow, who does that?" No one.

So afterwards, I had just been invited to do a sketch comedy show and I said, "I think the director wouldn't mind, but would you like to partake in that? We could write some parodies together." So we did that. And he said, "Man, if I can get my brother to move out here, we should start a band."

Six months later his brother moved out here.

John had drummed in his previous band and he sang, and I drummed and I sang in my previous band, but neither of us wanted to be trapped behind the set. Because we're absolutely animated performers. So I said, "Well, I know a guy I went to acting school with at Playhouse West. He drummed a little bit in high school, but not for a band. Ever. I've seen him play, and I think if he had some practice he could totally play these songs." So I proposed it to him.

We went to the Guitar Center one day and we walked out with a massive drum set. And I taught him all these songs I had in my head. So we just needed a bass player. The funniest thing about Xyzyx is we've gone through now five bass players.

But the guy that's playing bass for us now - Adam Sears - has his own progressive rock band and an acappella group. And it just came about as a joke one day because our last bass player was moving to Florida. He said, "Yeah, you should ask Adam Sears to play bass." Because Adam would come to all the shows - he's a big Xyzyx fan. And I got the impression that he wanted to be in the band from how much energy he was putting out from the crowd. Like singing the songs, and you could hear him do the harmonies from the audience. And I'm like, "Adam doesn't play bass. He plays keyboards and he sings and that's it."

I sent Adam a message, because he's a humongous social butterfly. I'm like, "Do you know anybody who'd love to be in a fun outfit that plays bass?" And he replied, "I play bass." So I called him and said, "I haven't talked to anybody in the band, but how would you like to be the next bass player for Xyzyx?" And he joined in June.

You had two other bands before you moved here - Xenon and Xylem. When did you first desire to start a band?

DAVID: I've always wanted to be in a band since I was probably five years old. And I've always wanted to play the drums since I was ten. I don't know if they did this in your school, but when you're in grade school and you're about to go into middle school, where they start the whole band thing, the middle school instructors come by and they bring a woodwind instrument and a brass instrument and you try it out so you get a feel, and then you pick an instrument.

Well, I'm like, "I'm going to play the drums." I went home, like, "Mom I want to play the drums." And Mom was like, "David, you're playing the trumpet or nothing at all." And I'm like, "Hmm, nothing at all." So that was that. For like my whole childhood, I played no instrument. And I couldn't sing to save anybody's life.

It wasn't until about 2001. I ended up picking up a drum set and self-teaching myself and wrote a bunch of songs. And had a couple of roommates at the time, who also just picked up instruments from scratch. And it was actually the same band. It was Xenon, and we changed it to Xylem when we had another person come into the band, because he thought that Xenon was a bad name. We were living together, working together, but we never practiced together. So we just had all these instruments and just sat around and didn't do anything with it.

And then I decided to move to California to do extra work as a joke.

So did you begin writing songs in 2001? And are any of those songs that you started then part of the lineup now?

DAVID: I wrote a couple songs in '99 and then I wrote a ton in 2001. And two of the songs from 01, from that previous band - "For You" and "Get High" - are the only ones that are now in the Xyzyx repertoire.

When you take a song to the band, how formed is it in your head?

DAVID: Well, when we first started, I wanted like a foundation because I had all these songs in my head, and I don't know music theory. And I don't know chords or anything. I just know humming. Like, "Can you play do do-do-do-do on the bass? And like I'll break it down for you, we'll go slow, but can we find these exact notes?" And I always thought it would be the hardest thing to come up with music and the easiest thing to come up with lyrics.

But now I think it has reversed. Coming up with the music for me is the easiest thing in the world and the lyrics to fit it are the work. So when we first started, we had a bunch of songs that were in my head, and Pauly just pulled them all out on guitar. And we called what they did - the Baumgaertners - Xyzyxify the songs. So they take the basic root, which is catchy and infectious, in my opinion, and then they complicate chords and make it more progressive so it's not boring for them to play.

Now we write differently. One of our latest songs, "Expendable," was an idea from the bass player as a joke. And he sent an email off with like a funny techno beat behind it, and I said I love this beat and I can write lyrics to it. And in an hour and a half I wrote lyrics to it. We went in, we modified it, we completed a structure. And then the band members came in one by one before practice and added their parts. And then we polished it. We recorded it the next day in twelve hours. We had it mixed the day after, remixed the next day, mastered the day after and then ready to send off to Lionsgate the next day after that.

So we now write in a fashion where everybody contributes.

So the other members contribute lyrics too now? Or mostly it's you?

DAVID: It's mostly me. And John has written one song. Actually, Eric has written a song called "Our Lives," which we also do in concert. When we first started, I really wanted to encourage everybody to write. Paul was just like, "I don't write. I just don't do it. I do the guitar and that's it." And then Eric was like, "I don't write." And I'm like, "Well, you could write." And he fleshed out a couple of songs, and we polished one of them up.

I want to create the forum with Xyzyx that everybody has the opportunity to contribute. And I want it to be like an all star team. I want it to be like The Eagles, without the egos. Because I think that was the issue with them, is that it turned into like a who's doing more, who's doing less. And I don't want that environment at all. I want everybody to be able to create if they feel it. And it saves me too, because I get a break in concert and get to thrash out when somebody's completely singing a song and I'm just doing backups.

You said you sent "Expendable" to Lionsgate. What was that about?

DAVID: Well, that was the joke. I got a hold of the head of music of Lionsgate. We had found out the movie "The Expendables" was coming out last year. And I'm like, "Oh my god, we have to write a song for the movie and try to get it in." Because like these are our heroes. And I got a hold of him and I said we had a song. And he's like, "Oh, really? Cool. Send it to me." And I'm like, "Oh shit, we don't have a song."

So that's why we created it. My bass player had sent a joking line, like a bass line with some backbeats with some Schwarzenegger quotes over it, machine guns, and we just took those out and actually created a song from it, and sent it off to Lionsgate. And they liked the song, but they were going in a classic rock direction at the time. So it's not actually in the movie. We're okay with the fact that it's not in there, but we love the song. I think sometimes if you're inspired by anything, write. Because we got an awesome song out of it.

(In the second section of this interview, David Daskal discusses the band's performances, including the upcoming show at the Key Club, opening for Steel Panther. Xyzyx is also performing September 16th at the Terrace in Pasadena, and October 1st at The Viper Room.)

(Note: I originally posted this on August 30, 2010.)

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