Photo courtesy of ANTI- Records
Evolving a musical approach while still creating a feeling familiar to fans and newcomers alike is not an easy thing to do. Dr. Dog has it down.
A slice of psychedelic, a healthy dose of the Beatles, an injection of blues and a very old-school, sound-centric mindset are what characterize the Philadelphia-based band.
Their seventh album, Be the Void, released earlier this year, is an energetic follow-up to 2010’s popular release, Shame, Shame, which, at the time, brought the band much visibility in the music industry.
Be the Void is reminiscent of Dr. Dog’s previous album in its lush pop feeling, swelling backup vocals and dirty guitar riffs. The juxtaposition of vocalists is still as refreshing as ever. Bassist and co-leader Toby Leaman gives a sultrier, Motown-like vocal performance, while other co-leader and guitarist Scott McMicken provides a more rhythmic swing with constraint and considerable twang.
In an interview with The Free Weekly from Fayetteville, Ark., keyboardist Zach Miller spoke about the recording process, lending to the evidence that these guys are becoming real pros. “[Be the Void is] a bit more live sounding; we recorded a ton of songs, more than we ever did before. We worked with long time good buddy and co-conspirator Nathan Sabatino in our own studio and it was great. By far the easiest recording we’ve ever done,” Miller says.
As always, the entire band backs the two leaders up with spot-on, multipart harmonies throughout the album, which always has been a very important contributor to the band’s unique sound.
“Really, what we’re doing is American pop music,” as Leaman told Flag Live in 2010, and continues to explain their approach: “We like to think of ourselves as a pop band. We approach writing [the songs] that way. There’s no fat with them. We keep the songs real lean. We also have the harmonies and the guitar work. It’s all related to a pop sound.”
The band took off in its earlier days thanks to fan enthusiasm and hometown pride. They provided Philadelphia with their music, and Philadelphia gave back.
“The thing about Philly is that once you get established and credible, then people love you,” Leaman told Flag Live. “It’s all or nothing in that town … there is no way to make it overnight in Philly. It’s not like L.A. or New York where a band can take off overnight. Bands have to incubate [in Philadelphia] for a long time. The bands that do last and do make it are usually bands that do it for a long time and are really good at it.”
Even the solid talent propelling the group came from that support system. “Everyone else in the band ended up in our band because we were their favorite,” Leaman said. “So, it’s a band made up of guys who love the band. We didn’t have to search for these people. They were just fans and they wanted to join us and make it the best band they could be in.”
With much enthusiasm and love for the music, it’s no surprise that their live performances are a sight to behold. Black light and fluorescent colors abound, with an amazing light show very uncommon for acts playing such theaters as the Orpheum in Flagstaff. The smoke machine gets put through its paces as well. The band performs tight in all aspects; from instrument playing to vocal delivery to their physical appearance—it’s obvious they love it.
There even is an emphasis on live performance that makes its way into the songwriting process. “When I write songs, I am trying to write as poppy and upbeat as I can. That’s why I love to play live,” Leaman said. Live may be the best way to take in Dr. Dog.
What of the band’s name? It may seem silly but the explanation speaks to the true heart and direction of the band. The two parts represent the double-edged approach; “Dr.” for being surgical and meticulous and “Dog” because dogs are “carpe diem without insight, and is functional on a basic level. I like to think of these two things being what our band is about,” Leaman said.
Listening to Dr. Dog’s latest recording forays is a treat, and going back in time to their past work is fascinating, especially to observe their growth. And just as any band has to be in today’s music industry, they are absolutely impressive in a live setting. Call them rock revival or a genre blending triumph, neither would be wrong.
See Dr. Dog with Maryland-based indie folk-pop band Cotton Jones opening Tue, Oct. 2 at the Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door. For more info, see www.drdogmusic.com or call 556-1580.