Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog thinks deeper than most canines with its latest release, fate

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:: Dr. Dog ::
 :: Hi-Dive :: September 27 ::

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By Dustin Huth

Dr. Dog is the kind of band that wanders the streets with no collar.

While other creatures of the same species (i.e. other bands) are licking their butts, Dr. Dog is on the prowl — but as cerebral rockers. This beast of a band isn’t just looking for a leg to hump, it’s actually an intellectual thinker searching for answers to questions about life, connection, and as their newest release suggests, Fate.

Lead by two main songwriters, vocalist/guitarist Scott McMicken and vocalist/bassist Toby Leaman, the music that comes out of Dr. Dog is a truly unique animal: complex and layered-sounding, but at the same time approachable and catchy, with ’50s-esque “doo-wops” and “bop-bop-oohs.” Dr. Dog’s sound is antiquated and vaguely familiar in a way that makes you wonder if it’s been around for decades and you’re maybe just a little slow on the uptake.

Since the early days, Dr. Dog has had an incredibly strong identity as musicians, but after its steady barrage of tour dates following We All Belong, the band began to settle into an equally solid identity as live performers. In conceiving Fate, Dr. Dog’s sixth release since its first in 2005 (including the EP Takers and Leavers, as well as the compilation of unreleased tracks, Passed Away, Vol. 1), the band decided to focus on capturing this freshly-realized identity within the confines of the studio.

“We’ve been making albums for a long time,” said McMicken in a recent interview with The Marquee, “but it’s never really been to capture some idea of what we are as a live band, it’s been more of an impressionistic thing or, relatively speaking, experimental. We rarely approach recording as an attempt to capture what it is the five of us do when we start playing together, but with this one, with all the touring we’ve been doing and all the growing we’ve been doing as a live band, it definitely felt like there was a lot more of a sense of there being this need to capture something that already existed.”

For those familiar with Dr. Dog’s earlier work, Fate represents yet another step forward in recording gear and techniques. “Essentially, it means a more dynamic, more performance-oriented batch of recording, and that brought with it a certain set of demands … to be able to capture more of a live feel and a broader range of dynamics, like heavier heavies and mellower mellows,” said McMicken. “I think that that’s probably the main difference. It’s definitely more of a reflection of us as a live band than anything that we’ve done before. However, it’s not fully into that category because we still kept it really open and we didn’t limit ourselves to say, ‘Oh well we can’t do that live, so let’s not do it.’”

When compiling the songs for the album, Dr. Dog didn’t necessarily sit down and try to write a bunch of new material based on their album’s theme. Rather, they went through the hundreds and hundreds of songs that they have written between them, and selected those that fit in with the theme in the most interesting ways, effectively putting into practice the philosophy upon which the album is based. But it wasn’t until after they had already begun this process that they realized the tie-in.

“We have all these experiences as music listeners and witnesses of music, and then we make music, and so you just try to pull together all these elements of what’s influenced you and what’s connected with you, and what seems like it shares something about the way you look at life as well as all the places that you’ve come to on your own terms in life, and sort of package all that up in this nice little four-letter word, ‘fate,’” said McMicken. “So I mean, all this fate and all this talk is just sort of language sprinkled over the top of whatever was already naturally occurring for us as a band. And we just tried to make something more tangible about it so that we could use it as not only what was going on for us as a band, but also some subject matter for the album itself. I think that, more or less, that’s how we tied the gap between what we were naturally doing intuitively, and trying to understand it in clearer terms … You know, a way to kind of bring all of your experiences and make it all relevant so that everything about your life is just as important to the process of making music, and everything about the music that you make is just as important to the process of your life outside of that and I always liked that because it just gives you more to go on.”

:: Dr. Dog ::
:: Hi-Dive :: September 27 ::

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