Dr. Dog adds new pups to the litter and releases new songs in a new way
By Jonathan S. Gang
Dr. Dog makes the old new. Whether it’s the sweet sounding harmonies of The Beach Boys, the rootsy rock and roll porch jam aesthetic of The Band, or the tuneful psychedelia of late-era Beatles, the Philly-based road warriors have forged a sound that recasts the music of their ’60s predecessors through the lens of modern indie-rockers like Pavement and Built to Spill.
Now, in addition to their sound, the way the band distributes its music can be seen as an example of their uncanny ability to straddle the line between classicism and innovation. Their newest output, a batch of four songs recorded at Philadelphia’s Minor Street Studios by their friend Brian McTear, is set to be released concurrently as a tour-exclusive double seven-inch single and an online download.
According to guitarist/vocalist Scott McMicken, the inspiration for this small batch of tunes was a seismic shift in the group’s lineup. “Since finishing our last record, a lot has changed in the band,” McMicken said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “We lost one member [drummer Juston Stens]and got two new ones [drummer Eric Slick and electronics/percussion/ guitarist Dmitri Manos]. We’ve done a lot of touring together and spent a lot of time together, but we hadn’t had a chance to record anything. Right when we got off our last tour we wanted to jump into that, just to capture all of the excitement about the new lineup.”
The first tune of the new set, the bluesy rocker “Take Me Into Town,” is currently available for download on the band’s Facebook page for the pittance of advertising their most recent LP, 2010’s Shame, Shame, on your own page. The rest of the tunes will be released in the coming weeks by similarly non-traditional methods. In this way, the band seems to have found a happy medium between old-school distribution channels and the creative (and free) on-line distribution methods pioneered by bands like Radiohead (who, if you don’t recall, gave away their last album online through a name-your-own-price system).
“There seems to be this general air in the music industry that nobody really knows what’s going on,” McMicken said. “Everybody’s trying to rearrange how to run a business around music with the internet and everything. The interesting part is it does start to draw a lot of parallels to the sixties and even the fifties, when the single was the primary medium and people bought songs one at a time.”
New members in tow, the band was able to come closer to their ultimate ambition of recreating their live sound in the studio, a goal that’s been on their minds since their 2008 album, Fate. “We’ve been playing live so much over these years and learning a lot about ourselves as live musicians,” McMicken says. “It’s been a real exciting challenge trying to translate that in the studio, and our new members have really pushed us down the line towards accomplishing this, as far as the confidence in our live playing.”
Manager Brian Winton elaborated in a separate conversation, “Dmitri and Eric are so musical, they’ve really opened up limitless possibilities for the band.”
The Dog’s desire to bring elements of their live show into the studio is not without good reason: these guys are one of the hottest draws on the modern indie scene, and have seen a great deal of crossover success. They’ve steadily built their reputation over the past decade with a relentless touring schedule and, more recently, a good deal of big-time festival dates, including stops at this year’s Bonnaroo, All Good, and High Sierra festivals. Their music reaches a strikingly diverse crowd. Any one Dr. Dog show generally draws a potpourri of everyone from hipsters to hippies.
While much of their recorded output has had a distinctly lo-fi vibe — a testament to their indie-rock roots — everything about a Dr. Dog show seems about ten times louder and more, well, rocking. McMicken’s sing-songy vocal delivery contrasts with bassist and co-lead vocalist Toby Leaman’s primal yet tuneful howl. The lead vocals are often supported by lush harmonies, courtesy of all of the members, which has become one of the band’s trademarks, rightly earning them constant comparisons to The Beach Boys. Meanwhile, lead guitarist Frank McHeney, keyboardist Zach Miller, and the aforementioned drums and ephemera of Slick and Manos, create a psychedelic din that wouldn’t seem out of place at a ’60s San Fransisco acid test, that is, if it wasn’t so tight and well orchestrated. In a live setting, what might have sounded like a breezy pop song on a Dr. Dog record can easily be recast as a fist pumping, sing-along anthem.
Dr. Dog has had a lot of derogatory genre labels thrown at them over the years. They’ve often been cast as simple ’60s pop fetishists or classic rock revivalists. However, one only needs to see them in their element, on the stage, to understand the truth: they are a rock and roll band, pure, simple, and timeless.
:: Dr. Dog ::
:: Boulder Theater :: October 26 ::