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The LeeVees score Spotify hat trick with ‘Hanukkah Rocks’

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The LeeVees, featuring Dave Schneider (left) of The Zambonis and Adam Gardner (right) of Guster, crafted a classic LP of rocking and hilarious songs related to Hanukkah ("Hanukkah Rocks") for Reprise Records. The group is celebrating the season with a tour that will see them perform songs from the album, in addition to the group's collaboration with reggae rapper Matisyahu, "Outside of December."  The LeeVees, featuring Dave Schneider (left) of The Zambonis and Adam Gardner (right) of Guster, crafted a classic LP of rocking and hilarious songs related to Hanukkah ("Hanukkah Rocks") for Reprise Records. The group is celebrating the season with a tour that will see them perform songs from the album, in addition to the group's collaboration with reggae rapper Matisyahu, "Outside of December." (Photo courtesy of The LeeVees)

It’s Hanukkah time, and with it comes the lighting of the candles, the abundant food, the fun gatherings and the celebratory music.

Funny thing about those Hanukkah songs: Christmas has had a corner on the holiday music market for decades. Where are the fun, rocking Hanukkah songs? The members of The LeeVees asked that question a few years back and decided to do something about it.

The LeeVees are a Hanukkah rock supergroup (and truth be told, they would probably kvetch over the use of that noun) consisting of high-profile musicians who came together for one purpose: to give the world a body of fun, rocking songs relating to the Festival of Lights.

The LeeVees consist of Adam Gardner of indie alternative band Guster (“Adam LeeVee”), Dave Schneider (“Dave LeeVee”) of The Zambonis – the world’s foremost practitioners of the art of “hockey rock”, Shawn Fogel (“Shawn LeeVee”) of Golden Bloom, The Zambonis, and Macaroons, and Daniel Saks (“Dan LeeVee”) of bands DeLeon and Macaroons.

The word “classic” is thrown around a lot these days, but there is no denying its fittingness when used to describe “Hanukkah Rocks” – the debut record by The LeeVees, which managed to blow away both record label execs and Rabbis alike as a deeply affectionate and hilarious Hanukkah-rock album. In fact, it’s the OG of Hanukkah rock records. Nearly a decade and a half after its release, four songs from the album appear on Spotify’s coveted Hanukkah playlist. That is a huge deal.

Dave Schneider says the members of The LeeVees are stunned by the honor, but says he can’t explain it.

“Industry folk are calling to ask how we managed to secure four songs on Spotify’s playlist,” Schneider said to The Maine Edge during an interview. “Adam Sandler has two songs on there, Barenaked Ladies have two; I think the fact that we don’t really do anything to promote ourselves keeps the mystery going about The LeeVees.”

Part of The LeeVees’ success can be traced back to the origin of the group in the mid-2000s, when the bands Guster and The Zambonis toured together. The groups bonded immediately over their shared senses of humor and an obsession for music that runs deep. Schneider says he was first a friend to Guster’s drummer Brian Rosenworcel and lead singer Ryan Miller.

“It’s not that I didn’t like Adam at the time,” Schneider said of Gardner, with a deadpan delivery and tongue firmly planted in cheek. “It’s just that his good looks intimidated me, so I just slinked away. He had a jaw line that is still there. It’s crazy, I don’t think he’s really Jewish to be honest with you.”

He is. And so are the other members of The LeeVees. It was originally Gardner’s idea to write some songs about Hanukkah, Schneider says. With hours to kill on the tour bus, the duo hunkered down and started tossing around ideas. The first two – “At The Timeshare” and “Latke Clan” – arrived within an hour. Later that night, in a locker room in Wisconsin after the show, Gardner and Schneider wrote “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream,” “surrounded by size 16 sneakers,” Schneider recalls. The duo recorded three quick demos to send to Guster’s manager, who played them for a room full of Warner Bros. Records executives the very next day.

“He called us and said ‘Guess what? Warner Bros. wants to sign The LeeVees,’” Schneider recalled, setting up a joke in the process, as he’s prone to do.

“I’ve heard that Jews own the banks and Hollywood, but I guess we own the music industry too,” he said. Rim shot here.

In all seriousness, Schneider says he still has a hard time believing that his band’s album is on Warner subsidiary Reprise Records, the same American label as The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra.

“I’m an all-in, 100% music fan. Not a snob – just a fan,” said Schneider. “The Kinks were my favorite band and here we are on their label – it’s crazy.”

The other songs on “Hanukkah Rocks” came quickly in bursts of inspiration as the songwriters tossed around ideas. “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” is perhaps the group’s biggest hit to date, but there isn’t such a thing as a bad song by The LeeVees, and that has the group wondering if they should attempt a second album.

“We talk about that a lot,” Schneider admitted. “I spoke with Adam this morning before this interview. He doesn’t want to ruin a great record with an OK record, and I understand what he means, but we have six great new songs that we haven’t recorded. We try to pop out a new one each time we get together.”

Schneider says there will be another LeeVees record before too long. The group plans to record again at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with producer Peter Katis (“my best friend and brother in music,” Schneider said) if the very busy studio (Guster, Trey Anastasio, Kurt Vile, The National) ever becomes available again.

Not long ago, The LeeVees were approached by iconic Jewish alt-rock reggae rapper Matisyahu about a possible collaboration. Schneider immediately went to work and turned out four pages of lyrics.

“He took my lyrics sheets, used them to clean some marijuana and then came up with his own,” Schneider said, waiting for me to stop laughing before continuing. “He kept my chorus, though.”

The result is “Outside of December,” released in 2015. The dreamy, trippy tune led to a collaborative tour fondly remembered by The LeeVees.

Last weekend, The LeeVees played some shows in Connecticut and New Orleans, and the musicians are looking forward to some down time with family and friends, as Schneider takes another look at Spotify to make sure his band’s songs are still on that playlist.

“It’s really insane that we have four songs on there,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense, but it makes me happy. The fact that our songs keep popping up every year without any prompting from us – nothing makes us feel better.”

Last modified on Monday, 23 December 2019 17:21

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