Variety Can Go A Long Way
By Tamara Vallejos
Dr. Dog has evolved as music has and it’s not looking to slow down
It’s been 13 years and seven albums for retro rockers Dr. Dog, and the Philadelphia-based six-piece isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, the band’s most recent record, Be the Void, dropped earlier this year and frontman Scott McMicken says the guys are already looking forward to getting back in the studio.
Before that happens, though, the band will have to wrap up a string of dates that includes a gig at Pappy and Harriet’s on Sunday night and continues their trend of relentless touring. But fans don’t mind—Dr. Dog has cultivated a reputation for an energetic performance—and neither does the band, which has lately been drawing more and more inspiration from its cohesive live experience.
“Historically, [bassist Toby Leaman] and I have always just written the songs on our own, alone at home, and then have brought the songs to the band,” says McMicken. After the two childhood buddies headed off to college together, they formed Dr. Dog, born of a mutual interest in the good ol‘ days of 1960s pop.
“We wear our love of older music on our sleeves. We were into old-style drum recordings, vocal harmonies, and all those things more attuned to ’60s pop structures,” he explains, contrasting Dr. Dog’s sound with the “heavy, grungy, emo-ish” late ’90s vibes that surrounded him and Leaman at the start.
Listen to the Dr. Dog catalogue and you can pick up the influence of heavy-hitters of the era, like the Beach Boys and Neil Young. But McMicken is quick to point out that the band’s sound has evolved as modern music has, and that one of the biggest tips the group took from the old-timers is that variety can go a long way.
Back in those early days of the rock band, “people genuinely didn’t know what they were going to do next as far as their sound and what they brought to the table,” says McMicken, which means that Dr. Dog is up for anything. Lately that includes opening up the songwriting process to include the entire band.
“We did more of that on Be the Void than we ever have before, and when it comes time to work on the next record, I hope we pick right up where we left off.”
Two of the record’s tracks—“How Long Must I Wait,” which manages to be both yearning and hopeful, and “Warrior Man,” which oozes salutes to David Bowie—came together from start to finish in the studio as part of a team effort. McMicken says Dr. Dog’s current lineup, which features new drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dmitri Manos, has helped the group gel in a new way.
“Now I feel we are fully capable of starting from scratch, as a band, and coming up with something together.”
That’s a natural extension of Dr. Dog’s live performance, which takes on what McMicken calls a “structured” jam band feel.
“What makes something really live, really happening in front of you, is when you allow for there to be spontaneity,” he says. “We don’t do that jam band thing of having 10-minute guitar solos, but there are going to be those sixteen bars every night where you don’t know what the hell is going to happen.”
But whatever does end up happening, odds are it’ll be worth the price of admission.
Dr. Dog at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com. Sun, Oct. 7. 7pm. $20.