INTERVIEW: Falling Doves' Chris Leyva Shares His Love for Rock n' Roll

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Falling Doves (from left: Mike Dorsey and Chris Leyva). Photo by Kelli Hayden.

Falling Doves (from left: Mike Dorsey and Chris Leyva). Photo by Kelli Hayden.

Falling Doves never play it safe.

Chris Leyva (guitars, vocals) and Mike Dorsey (lead guitarist) create an unpredictable mix of garage rock with jazz, metal, Latin, and pop infusions. Known for their deep lyrical confessionals and aggressive playing, this band combines the classics with the new. Every Falling Doves show is a total surprise. Leyva and Dorsey bring onstage professional musicians from all different musical genres. In their latest album, Doves of War, they have revived the classic rock spirit with today’s modern pop. Currently, Falling Doves are on a world tour with plans to release a new single later in the year.

We got to chat with Chris Leyva about his musical influences, international touring, and the new upcoming Falling Doves album.

Which musical element pulls you into a song? (Lyrics, Melody, or Composition?)

Chris: That’s a really hard question…I’m going to be cheap right off the bat and say melody (laughs). With composition, for me, melody has to be key. If the melody is not there then you just can’t connect. My ear is trained on pop music.

Is that your approach with your own songwriting?

Chris: Yes, when I’m composing it always starts in a melody or a hook. Most songwriters I know will have a melody or a creative theme. I have friends that will work with a melody if it’s still in their head a few weeks later, but for me, I have literally walked out of a shower dripping wet on a notebook writing the thing out or singing it into my phone before I forget it. Think of it like giving birth to an idea. It’s like, fuck it!, the water broke, the idea is coming! You can choose to ignore it but then you’ll feel terrible about it later.

What is it like performing live for international audiences?

Chris: When we tour we have a set list but depending on the audience we may need to cut some songs. I think what a great performer does is play for the crowd and not play for himself. My goal has always been if you’re going to come out to hear my music, I’m going to make sure you’ll have a good fuckin time! I’ll tell you each tour has made us a completely different band.

The Asian markets are receptive to the point where they want to become one with the song. They may not speak the same language but they are trying hard to identify. Touring in Japan gave us the confidence that every song works.

Germans, man they love a beat! They want it fast and heavy. When we first went to Germany they didn’t give a fuck what we were playing. They were just sitting there. We started to not care and play stuff like Ram Jam or The Doors covers. Well, we ended up playing a five hour show. We went on at midnight and ended at 5am and those people were still dancing!

The English people are lyrical but also very melodic. They love little hooks. Listen to the guitar hooks of Johnny Marr, The Beatles, and The Cure. Those hooks are so melodic you can hum any of those melodies and most people will recognize the song. In England it’s about the composition, and I mean, they have some of the best music so they are going to be pickier.

Mexico is more captured by the spectacle of it. They like the lifestyle. They are more enamored with the image.

We are always excited to learn from other countries. Playing for these other countries has made us better performers and taught us how to work a room.

Which song off your most recent album, Doves Of War is your absolute favorite?

Chris: “Rolling slow” is my favorite because it really blends my purpose of songwriter and musician; not too hard, not too heavy, but introspectively creative, which is why I love The Doors. You put on one of those songs and it takes you to a different world. Listen to “Riders on a Storm,” it’s like where the fuck am I? That’s what’s beautiful about music—it grabs you and takes you to a new land! That’s what I hope the new Falling Doves record will do.

Which out of your entire discography is your favorite song to perform live?

Chris: “Glass of Wine.” What’s cool about that one is it has been able to resonate with the harder crowd. I have these beautiful friends who always want to help me but they don’t always understand the concept of genre sometimes (laughs). I flew out to this gig they booked me. I look around and it’s a sea of beards, bald heads, tattoos, rings, and chicks in Goth makeup, and there I come out with this guitar, mind you, I had this pretty badass looking strap but that’s it. I think I had a mop top in that era with long shaggy hair. I looked like something that fell out of a Strokes music video!

I come out with a fucking acoustic among this sea of metalheads. I was like I’m fucked, but you know, I’m doing this gig because I have to. I’m not going to cower to any gig but at the same time, I’m not going to drag my band out if it does not make any sense. So there I went out and I performed “Glass of Wine.” I think at the time I was playing a bunch of poppy singer-songwriter songs. At the time that song was not for the Falling Doves. I played that song, and holy shit, the chicks were all about it! The dudes were like ‘yeah man’! I opened up with that and I captured them.  It doesn’t matter what genre, if it’s a good song, it’s a good song. That song has been able to stand the test of genres.

Did you take a different recording approach with Doves of War then you did with your first album, Ready to Go?

Chris: Oh entirely! I was working on a singer-songwriter album at the time of Ready to Go.  My friend was trying to get me signed to this label. The label said they could not sell me as an artist because that’s a real hard market unless you’re doing boy band or Justin Timberlake like stuff. I didn’t feel comfortable with that so the label goes, “Ok, go back into the studio, grab a collection of your songs and record them and we will release you as a band even though there is no band.”

I chose a few songs from my solo catalog and went into the studio with these session musicians. We wrote a few new songs and Ready to Go was just the first album with a gritty feeling with no overdubs. I wanted a lavish feel and that’s when Mike Dorsey joined the band, but at the time there was no band. Having no official band was the original concept.

With Doves of War, Mike and I started to work with other musicians to try to start a band and we realized it ended up being counterproductive. When you join a band in your twenties you have more time to be creative. You don’t have marriages or many responsibilities. You just worry about making music and getting drunk with your buddies. When you get older your responsibilities change and you have to pay more for experienced musicians. So I was like, “let’s use this to our advantage. Let’s get a metal drummer in for this song, or a jazz drummer for this song, so now we don’t have to sacrifice our art.”

I think that album (Doves of War) has five different drummers. We worked with a lot of guitarists too. We got Greg Douglass, the lead guitarist for the Steve Miller Band to play in there. We got the guitarist from The Rembrandts to play in there. We just got to be way more flexible with who we brought in.

How do you go about creating compositions for Falling Doves?

Chris: The theme of the Falling doves is the theme of The Ramones--everything has got to be accessible for any musician that hops on stage to play live with us.

We don’t get weird with the compositions. You know with four or five part songs that go into overture. Creatively with this band we keep the three to four chord structures. It gives us more freedom with lyrics and melody. The king of melody for me in life is Brian Wilson. There are about sixty melodies or hooks in a Beach Boys song of the same three chords. We try to follow that same formula. No charts. Just real simple hooks.

We are going to use a lot more compositions on this new record. We’ll be using a lot of classical players and we will be using a lot of charts. I’ll be able to exercise my composer brain more. We’ll use horns and strings more so than Ready to Go and Doves of War.

Falling Doves photo by Kelli Hayden.

Falling Doves photo by Kelli Hayden.

What is your major struggle to deal with off the tour?

Chris: There are a lot of different struggles as an artist when you’re not touring. You’re basically fucked if you don’t take the shitty gigs. I think the main problem is not taking gigs even if the money is good. You can’t just take any dive bar gig because it fucks with your band career.

Unfortunately, since I’m kind of an agent for my band, agents can’t let their bands play dive bars if they are playing venues. I could make really good money just playing these gigs but I can’t take them because it counter fucks with the brand you are supporting. It sucks! Trust me, I love playing dive bars! However, if I play solo I can go anywhere but then the promoters get mad if I don’t bring the Falling Doves.

Do you have any special preparations or rituals before a Falling Doves concert?

Chris: I used to. The day of the show I would never go out. I’d stay home all day and I would not involve myself in anything. I would not even go to the fucking bank; it was that type of dedication! I would just sit at my computer and work on leads all day or rhythm parts or the musicianship part or the endings. I would invite the band to come over and I’d have my own personal rehearsal for an hour and a half. This was when I was playing lead and I had more responsibility with the overhaul of the band.

Now I’m just the guitarist and singer. I do a lead here and there but the band is just not dependent on me for lead. Falling Doves has had only three rehearsals total. I feel like if you overprepare you take away the magic of chaos. Music is not supposed to be so predictable, you learn that in jazz. The best jazz is a blend of improvisation. I love jazz because you don’t get the same song twice.

That’s how we are! We never play the same show twice. We never know who is going to come up on stage with us. The band is me and my guitarist and a lot of times it’s a different bass player or a different drummer.

I’ll say the European version of the Falling Doves is the most cohesive band because it’s the same people that tour over there, but over here in the states it’s always different. Sometimes we have horns sometimes we have horns and keyboards or horns and back up singers. We even had one gig where we ended up on stage with a mariachi band performing The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”

What can fans expect from your upcoming world tour?

Chris: We will introduce new songs in the middle of the tour. We should have the new single out sometime in August or September when we tour Japan.

The Falling Doves World Tour 2017-2018. Photo by Kelli Hayden.

The Falling Doves World Tour 2017-2018. Photo by Kelli Hayden.

Can you tell us more about the new upcoming album?

Chris: The new album is called Rise to the Surface and the theme of it is the balance of what’s going on in the world today. I’m not going to get all political on it. I just want to take from the best of what seventy years of rock has had to offer.  I want to take what Tom Petty has to say, the electricity from Chuck Berry, and the English arrogance and confidence of Oasis. I want to blend all of those influences with what I grew up with and create an album that pays homage to where I’ve been and gone through into a great rock n’ roll album. Just think if The Doors’ L.A. Woman met the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet.

We will have a variety of classical and metal musicians. I’m trying to get Tom Petty’s keyboard player and bass guitarist to play with us on it. We got the original drummer for The Beatles, who is probably going to play a few songs for us.  We are bringing the old with the new. We are very excited! It’s going to have a lot of dark undertones.

Most of your music pays homage to classic rock. What was the decision to hone in on this particular genre?

Chris: Hey man, you gotta respect the roots of where you came from! My publicist told me one time, “Christopher, what are you going to do? A lot of the best rock tunes have already been created so where do you take it now?” And I go, “Well, Ok, I’ll replicate.”

I’m blessed that I’m able to do that sort of thing. I can do the Beach Boys harmony, I can do George Harrison licks, Lennon and McCartney composition styles, I can do Rolling Stones undertones, I can give you soundscapes and lyrical blends like Jim Morrison, and I can bring all of that into a song. All these great rock legends are dying off. We have to keep that sort of music alive.

The most beautiful compliment I ever got was from these twenty year old kids at one of our shows. I went out to the parking lot to smoke a cigarette and I overheard, “Wow, they play music just like those old records we have at home! They do it like that! They’re for real! They get it!”

I just got chills. I almost wanted to cry because this is what I have been trying to do my whole life. You get to that point where you’re not replicating or recreating stuff but you’re playing a lot of styles not just in musicianship but in performance. We’re not trying to recreate something that’s already been done. We are just trying to continue the legacy.