Ogden Theatre- February 19
By Jeremy Becker
Back in the late-1990s when a group of eighth-graders from Delaware began to bond over original songs inspired by and set within the industrial, irreverent punk scene of the area, the seeds were planted that would one day grow into Dr. Dog. The now-Philadelphia-based group of six multi-instrumentalists began making music as a collective in 1999, but years prior bassist Toby Leaman and lead guitarist Scott McMicken had paved the way writing songs together when they were still in middle school. The punk shows they attended early on informs their musical ethics to this day. “It was a college town. It was the scene. It was what you did. If you were in a band, you were in a punk band. It was just the kind of shows you could go to,” Leaman said in a recent interview with The Marquee.
Through early house concerts and VFW shows Leaman and McMicken’s songwriting eventually blossomed into an indie-folk psychedelic niche that gathers equally from The Beatles, The Band and The Beach Boys, as much as it does from those early punk days.
Their 2013 release B-Room, which the band recorded in a self-built studio, takes their punk and indie D.I.Y. sensibilities and drapes them in everything from lush soul to trippy psychedelia. “I think people’s idea of evolution of a band is kind of a flawed concept. How have you evolved in your life? I feel like people respond to stuff they have done earlier, and some people try to do something completely different. I dont think [evolution]is a necessity to making something quality,” Leaman said.
Since the band’s first album Toothbrush in 2002, McMicken and Leaman’s songwriting abilities have flourished, but Leaman said the band’s decision to build their own studio had more of an impact on their current work than anything they’d done so far in their career. The building, they found, re-energized the band after seven years in their old studio and allowed them to pursue a new angle on music while also changing their formula and giving them the opportunity to record the album live. “We have been trying to move that direction for a while. I think it gives it a better feel, and we haven’t done much of it. We wanted to give ourselves a challenge. You don’t want to keep doing the same thing. We have been working off the same methodology for a long time. It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Leaman said.
The change to live recording allowed the band to showcase their talent as performers and multi-instrumentalists while adding a wonderful authenticity to the album that their previous studio records lacked.
While the band feels that they created a work of originality with B-Room, and media outlets like Spin and Paste agreed, Leaman and his cohorts did take a knock from the infamously cynical Pitchfork which said that the album found the group “scraping the bottom of the barrel of older influences.” “It bums me out when people make assumptions about us, negative or positive,” he said. “You’ve got to just do what you do,” he said. “You can’t let other people hang you up. That stuff will just drive me out of my mind.”
There is a long-standing “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” aspect to music evolution. Bands that change risk alienating early fans. On the other hand, if a group remains true to their roots, they’ll be accused of being stagnant. But Leaman said that for Dr. Dog, their approach is to look at the big picture with a simple question in mind. “Take the thing in the context it is in,” he said. “Do you like it? It doesn’t matter what came before it, or after it. Do you like it?”
In early January, Dr. Dog released their first live album Live At A Flamingo Hotel. Leaman said that the band had been eyeing a live release since they recorded B-Room and finally things fell into place. “We had been moving in this direction for a while,” he said. “A live recording has an authenticity that studio albums cannot quite reach.” Live At A Flamingo Hotel was recorded over a 20-show tour last year, and features 19 tracks from each of their seven studio albums.
Both Leaman and McMicken have referred to Dr. Dog as a “weird” band on multiple occasions, and they’ve both felt a kinship in being outsiders. But weird or not, the band has survived more than 15 years and released eight albums throughout their career and continue to make music in their own world. “We are weird,” Leaman said. “There are not any other bands doing what we do. We are a different animal.”
Ogden Theatre- February 19
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