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Meet David LaViola of Romance & Rebellion in Art’s District

Today we’d like to introduce you to David LaViola.

Thanks for sharing your story with us David. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m a songwriter and lead singer of the Los Angeles based pop band Romance & Rebellion. Though I currently reside in sunny California, make no mistake…I’m a true blue New Yorker through and through. Born in ’85 in Queens, NY, I had the distinct pleasure of growing my musical palette in the 90’s during the hay day of some of the finest pop acts in modern history. Now I wouldn’t say that my family is particularly musically inclined…nor would I say that I was a natural in any capacity. My journey into music began as you would come to expect most peoples to…I had friends that wanted to play music, and since I wanted to do everything my friends liked, I decided that I wanted to play music too. I begged my parents for a drum kit (that being the first instrument that I touched which made any sort of sense to me). We were poor, so you can imagine it took some convincing, but eventually the sad puppy eyes worked and they agreed to buy a second-hand drum kit off of a fellow classmate for a few hundred dollars. It wasn’t anything fancy by any stretch of the imagination. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a life long journey I’m still on today.

You know when people say “music saves lives” and you kind of roll your eyes a little. Well, it does…and I should be like the poster child for that because it was right about the time that I began playing music when my parents decided to go through a disastrously public divorce, and had it not been for my decision to pursue music I definitely would have made a series of terrible emotionally charged decisions (because I make every bad decision when I’m emotional) which would have inevitably led to my demise either literally or metaphorically. I digress though. Music became my religion, the basement where I rehearsed became my sanctuary, and I studied the teachings with all the fanaticism of a zealot. Maybe I have an obsessive personality because it seems to be that once I have my mindset on something, I rarely quit until I’ve sufficiently gone too far. Needless to say, I was super into playing the drums…and it really served as a distraction to help tune out the discordance of my turbulent home life. I practiced everyday for about 6 hours, leaving only enough time to do the bare necessities of schoolwork so that I could pass my classes because at this point I had every intention of being a full-time rock star, and for the remainder of my academic experience, I really put everything nonmusic related on the back burner… friends…girls…family….everything.

When I finally graduated the first chance I got, I joined a band. This was the only band that wasn’t MY band that I’ve ever been in. It lasted all of four months before I was “kicked out” for being too controlling. Knowing myself pretty well now, I’m sure this was 100% accurate. At that time, my mother convinced me to attend a community college, which I did for a semester. I’m glad I did as well. It only further cemented the idea that a scholastic path in music was not what I was looking for. What I really wanted was a platform for expressing myself. I decided to put together a project of my own design. It was a super lofty outfit loosely inspired by socio-political narratives I had been compiling. I was heavily influenced by early 70’s Genesis/Peter Gabriel at the time. That project lasted for a little over a year before exploding like the Hindenburg, though it did offer me some valuable insights into the psychology required to maintain a healthy working team. Subsequently, I also kept a couple of the players on board for my next project, which was to be a much simpler concept by design. I knew that I had to create something that required less of a cerebral approach. One that people didn’t have to work to like or understand. That project came to be dubbed “The Rhodes”.

The idea was an easily digestible four piece nod to the 50’s and 60’s bands I’d come to love…namely “The Beatles”…which is arguably my greatest musical influence. In retrospect, I guess in a way it was a self-proclamation of independence and a formal renunciation of all of the years of tight-lipped musical education that I had gone through. A shattering of one’s own beliefs in order to pave the way for new ones. Now I just wanted to play music that I knew people would love…like who doesn’t love The Beatles. It was at that time that I also became painfully aware of the limitations of my instrument. I had fallen out of love with playing the drums and had learned that I could no longer express the musical ideas that I wanted by just vocalizing them. If I was ever going to be able to fully convey my vision, I was going to have to build my skill set beyond what I currently knew. My thirst for musical knowledge pushed me to take vocal lessons. I also picked up both the piano and guitar which became powerful tools for my writing. Most importantly, I began learning other people’s songs…and eventually dabbling in writing my own. I had truly entered into a time of growth and prosperity in my journey.

Obviously along the way, my parents had split up. My mother remarried and life at home became just background noise that was going on while I was working on “important things”. The band was everything to me, and I was fully immersed in building my world. Now I may have never gone to college for music, but I sure did get an education. We started by learning songs. Tons of songs. This was important because learning someone else’s song is like studying a blueprint for when the time comes to create your own. Then we incorporated original songs that sonically fit in our set of other people’s songs. Suddenly we could play for hours. I was able to start calling around local venues and getting us paying gigs. Things began to snowball and we were able to save up enough money to buy a van which meant that we could travel further and reach places we’d never gone before. Eventually, we started playing in parks during the summertime and sleeping in our van… which eventually we upgraded to a short bus. We saved even more money and did our first recording. Through playing in the park, we caught the eye of a manager who took us on as clients and eventually, we were invited to fly to Los Angeles to perform some private dates whereupon our return we were to immediately fly out to Jamaica to open the Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival.

All good things eventually have to come to an end. The beginning of the end for The Rhodes came upon our arrival back in NY after our short trip to Los Angeles. During that time, I had a girlfriend I was quite fond of, and when we were invited to travel to Los Angeles, I brought her with. Unfortunately, she was not to accompany me to Jamaica for the gigs we had post LA so, for the one day we were back in NY she begged me to go out and enjoy a day together. I obliged and we went to a museum and lunch before heading home. Keep in mind that this is January in NY and the weather is terrible. It was on our way back to her parents to grab my bags before heading to the airport when a tow truck traveling in the oncoming lane lost control on the icy road and T-boned the car I was driving, as a result of which I was rushed to the emergency room where doctors treated my broken arm and dislocated elbow. Jamaica was canceled. Any dates moving forward were canceled because of a pending lawsuit I had filed with the driver of the tow truck. It was like someone gave me a six months time out just when things were beginning to get good. Something else happened during that time. I began a secretively abusive relationship with alcohol that would eventually lead into full-blown self-medicated alcoholism.

Anyway, getting back on topic…after six or so months, and tons of physical therapy, the lawsuit had been settled…and I was back to playing the drums. Things were different though. Somehow the momentum was gone. Our manager secured us a closed audition for some record executives at Disney. We blew them away, but it was bittersweet. The executives loved the talent and the songs but felt that people weren’t going to buy music that sounded like it was written circa 1965. The decision was made to put us into writing sessions with some producers on staff to move us into a more modern pop direction. I relished the idea of learning new skills for my craft and becoming a professional songwriter, though my bandmates were less than enthusiastic. Things quickly degraded. It was like suddenly the spirit of creating magic together was gone, and it was me alone in a room learning how to write pop songs. Shortly thereafter two of the longterm members of the group left the project siting “creative differences”.

The Rhodes lasted another two years by limping along with temporary members living off of settlement money that I was awarded from my lawsuit with the tow truck company. It was truly a long and drawn out break up that was like losing your first love. When it all ended I was 26 years old, and I had given six years of my life to the band. During this time, the emotional stresses my failing band was causing me, combined with the freedom of having money affords allowed my alcoholism to go absolutely unchecked. I had blown through 150,000$ in just over three years and had nothing to show for it. My relationships suffered. The people that I loved that once believed in my talent and drive now knew me as a spiraling alcoholic. After one last devastating break up with my then girlfriend my alcoholism had reached rock bottom. For the next seven months, I tried to forget my failures by drowning them in alcohol. As summer turned into fall in late 2014, I was bouncing from sublet to sublet living paycheck to paycheck working as a waiter on the upper west side of Manhattan. I hadn’t played music in over half a year and was living in a cycle of perpetual hangover. It was my day off and I was on my way to my storage unit to pick up some winter clothes. “What’s the point?” I thought. I didn’t see one. I was definitely drinking on the train because I always had some whisky with me in those days. I used to ride the subway and listen to the music I had written over and over again…like I was the soundtrack to my own movie.

Suddenly I had a flash of an idea that grew and grew as I sat there. “I can go anywhere. I don’t have to be here. I can be whomever I want!”. What I had realized is that there are so few times in our lives where we don’t have some anchor weighing us down…a job, a girlfriend, children, an apartment….and I had none of those things. As soon as I got off the subway, I found myself giddy with excitement because I had found some hope. I knew that my path was in music, and so I should go to the entertainment capital of the world. If you’ve ever had a drunk idea then you know that they’re not to be trusted so, I called a few close friends and asked them how they felt about me moving to California. Absolutely no one thought it was a bad idea. So I started the planning process. It took me a few months to save up the money to go. I figured I needed about 3,500$ to get me off the ground in LA after I paid for my sublet for a month. I sold some gear that I had and knew I wouldn’t use and bought the ticket. I wasn’t out of the woods yet though. My flight was in December and I had to work like a madman to save up as much as possible. I also had to stay out of trouble…which I failed at. On December 4th, 2014 I boarded a flight from NYC to LA.

Right so…now I’m here in LA and now what? Well, before I left NYC, I found a sublet in what was described as “the Brooklyn of Los Angeles”, which is Echo Park. I’ve always fallen back on restaurant jobs when I needed money so, I quickly got myself a job at a small bar and grill in order to get a revenue stream going, and after purchasing a crummy used car, I had all the bare necessities. Something was still holding me back. I was here in a new place. The feeling of opportunity was palpable wherever I went. Yet something was still weighing me down. After two months of being in LA, I took a look in the mirror and said goodbye to alcohol for good. I’m proud to say that at this moment, I’m 5.25 years sober. Anyway, I got right to work. At the tail end of my time in NYC, I had written and recorded some of my favorite songs I had written in recent history. I took those songs and started going to open mic nights here in LA.

Soon I had met people who were interested in helping me. I pitched the songs to the old manager the band had back in NYC and he was interested in investing in the project. Things were moving. Soon I had found a producer I like to record with. First, I went and wrote more songs. We chose from 10 or so song 1 to record. After it was recorded, I showed it to management who loved it. They wanted to market me as a singer-songwriter, but I’ve always been a band guy…and so we clashed. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was going to do what I wanted, and I wanted to build a band around solely my songwriting. So I parted ways with management and worked for the next six months writing and recording songs I believed in. Along the way, I would come to bring on members of Romance & Rebellion.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Wow. The road has been everything but smooth. Obviously some of the issues I’ve had I touched on in the previous question, but here’s a bullet point list of things that have been major hang-ups along the way:

– Family issues
– Death of my stepfather
– Alcoholism
– Creative clashing
– Car Accident
– Self-funding art
– Management vs. Artist
– Money vs. Art
– Commercialism vs. Artistic Integrity

Please tell us about Romance & Rebellion.
Romance & Rebellion is a band, it is a brand, it is a physical representation of all of the qualities and values that we hope to embody in everyday life, and ones that we hope to impart onto a younger generation of listeners through our music. We’re approximately 4.5 years old. The music is very indicative of the name…it’s supposed to evoke a duality…a sense of youthful rebelliousness as well as an authentic emotional sensitivity and awareness. The thing we take pride in is also what sets us apart from other bands…our fans. Since starting we’ve quickly grown a loyal following that have evolved from being just casual fans and listeners into a community of young individuals that interact and support each other through our platform.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Nothing. To fail is to learn. There is no success without failure. Anyone who says any different is lying or missing the point.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Nick Mastrolia (insta – @eyeofnickphoto), Leslie-Anne Snipes (insta – @lmkphotofilm), Warren Silveira , Meghan Cummings – (insta – @meghancummings), Max Baker (insta – @maxbakerphoto)

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