DR. DOG with TEETH and the OLD SOUL at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (May 2). $13.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Philly psych rockers Dr. Dog have always been one of those bands that people recommend to their friends by saying, "Yeah, the name sucks, but you really need to check out their stuff."
That's been happening a lot more often since the Bonnaroo faves began keeping trendier company on bills with the Strokes, the Raconteurs, Black Keys and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah while getting serious hype from Rolling Stone and the New York Times.
It seems to have left them impervious to the constant slagging from the arbiters of all things indie rock at Pitchfork, who have no problem with bands copping the moves of the Beatles and Beach Boys so long as they're not too obvious. Unfortunately for Dr. Dog, subtlety isn't among their strongest attributes.
Even founding guitarist/songwriter Scott McMicken concedes that they may have gone a bit overboard in making the jump from their typical eight-track basement recording concept to a full 24-track studio job for their latest album, We All Belong (Park The Van). Apparently, it took Dr. Dog a few cracks before the disc came bouncing out like a sweetly harmonized piano-pounding epic from another era.
"For $15,000 we purchased a 24-track studio and spent over a year making the album," explains McMicken from his Philadelphia home. "If anyone wanted to be at the studio on any given day to record, that was now possible. But with 24 tracks available, we got a little excessive and were somewhat disorganized, so when it came time to start mixing, it was a scramble to make sense of what we had. Eventually the analog mix proved too challenging and frustrating. We'd do 30 different mixes and still not get it sounding right; at the end of the day, you're left wondering whether you even like the song any more.
"We should have made better plans, because after four months making what we thought was the finished product we sat back and listened to the thing, and it turned out to be the wrong album. Given the keys to the candy store, we had the opportunity to do all these things we never could do before and got lost in grandiose ideas.
"We wound up with a lot of long, slow songs and ballads, while the initial idea was to make an album of shorter pop songs like we'd been playing at shows. So we started over and tried to get that punch of when we're onstage. I think we eventually got it. But the next time we go into the studio, we may move down to 16 tracks, possibly 12 or maybe even right back to eight tracks."
While some critics have cited the Beatles and Beach Boys moves in We All Belong as a possible explanation for why this record is reaching a much wider audience than any of the previous Dr. Dog releases, those reference points have been a constant in Dr. Dog's music since before they evolved into a real band. The difference here is the more overt 60s soul inspiration, which comes across most clearly in the slow-burn ballad Alaska - it sounds like an outtake from the Band's first album.
It could be that, much like Amy Winehouse, Dr. Dog have inadvertently tapped into a zeitgeist that hasn't yet occurred to anyone in the blogosphere.
"That's an interesting point," muses McMicken. "It's tough for me to get a sense of what people like about the new album, because even with the positive reviews we get, the critics seem to be unwilling to analyze what we're doing beyond the obvious. It's usually just the same old 'Beach Boys, Beatles, yadda, yadda, yadda' that people have been saying about us for years.
"I'm glad you picked up on the soul thing. Toby and Juston (bassist Toby Leaman and drummer Juston Stens) really aspire to play with the strength and confidence of a solid R&B rhythm sectio, and our keyboardist, Zach (Miller), has been developing his Hammond organ techniques. We'll often refer to certain parts of classic Motown and Stax songs in the studio when trying to express what a track should feel like.
"After we toured with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, their singer, Alec Ounsworth, asked us to play his wedding, which meant we had to learn a bunch of well-known 60s soul songs. The basic tracks were very straightforward, and we thought we had it all down, but once we started playing everything sounded so stiff - like we were playing ska or something. It was just incredibly wrong. We were like, 'Damn, how did those guys do it?'
"There's something in the rhythm and flow that isn't written into the parts - those great musicians added that themselves. It's amazing how little can be happening in those songs, yet the picture is complete. That was a good learning experience for us."
DOIN' THE DOG
Over the years, musicians stuck for a snappy band handle have gone to the dogs. Here are just a few...
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band Three Dog Night Temple of the Dog Dogs Die in Hot Cars Dogs D'Amour Slaughter & the Dogs Dogstar Devil Dogs Raw Dog Laughing Dogs
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Scott McMicken reveals that Dr. Dog is considering some intriguing changes for their next recording.
Apparently the new direction being discussed isn't in response to the less than favourable reviews Dr. Dog has received from Pitchfork.