In late-2019, Daggers 86 was a band in its infancy. The initial seeds for the project were planted during a dinner Ryan Allen (Powerballs, Cedar Fire) had with John Mattos (Stewardess, Warsaw, Dreams Made Flesh). Allen was sitting on a pile of songs he couldn’t really figure out what to do with, and Mattos was game to bring in some of his own ideas and see where it would all go. “We weren’t really thinking anything,” Allen explains. “I think that’s the reason why we enjoy it so much is because there’s no rules. I’ve played in tons of bands that had sort of a preconceived idea of what they were gonna be and we didn’t have that. I was like, I don’t know, I have all this stuff I’ve written. Some of it is disjointed. Some of it doesn’t go together and it would just be nice to start something where there wasn’t any sort of, ‘Okay, we’re gonna do this. This is our lane.’”
The duo didn’t know where they were headed, but where they ended up seems to have been heavily influenced by the eighties underground. The seven song Neon Dream album (released in September 2019) feels like the independent music that was dominating MTV’s 120 Minutes before Nirvana and Seattle grunged-up the scene and ushered in what came to be known as alternative rock. It’s tough to listen to a song like “Stolen Roses” and not feel a bit of the Jesus and Mary Chain circa 1989 bubbling underneath it. “I grew up a punk, but my mom was really into new-wave and played new-wave constantly around the house,” Allen explains. “So, that influence is always there. There’s definitely a pretty strong undercurrent of new-wave and what they used to call college rock or Brit-pop. That’s all definitely in there somewhere.” For Mattos, a veteran of the more brooding Ilya, the group became an opportunity for him to create and perform some material that was more in-sync with his own musical tastes. “A lot of what I listen to, I haven’t been playing anything remotely similar in any other bands I have played with,” he says.
The duo got lucky when they discovered that local drummer Simon Leader was looking for a gig, and that bassist Alex Brewins was in the same boat. The two would become the Daggers 86 All-British rhythm section — something you don’t run across often (ever?) in a local San Diego outfit. As a result, there is “lots of soccer-talk,” according to Allen. “Our practice is basically just a Premier League commentary,” he says. Now a true four-piece, the band was ready to start gigging out around town. They played a handful of shows in in the winter of 2019/2020 including a late-February gig at Bar Pink. Little did they know at the time that they would be one of the last bands to play that venue, and that a pandemic would flip the country upside down less than a month later.
The band would get together during the lockdown in Brewins' backyard and have acoustic jams and “hammer out some ideas” according to Mattos. It was also around this time that Daggers 86 (their name inspired by the denim-vest-loving skate gang in the 1986 film Thrashin’) morphed into Leavers. “It just kind of made sense to sort of break it off and change our name,” Allen explains. “That was kind of just John and my thing and now we’re an actual band, not just two dudes in a living room.”