by Marcie Garcia
When looking at Dr. Dog's album cover from their recently released LP Shame, Shame (Anti Records), you're left to imagine your own conclusion about the couple of dudes standing on a sidewalk apparently having a conversation, or about the car parked curbside a few feet away. Perhaps they're waiting for a ride? Or have just returned from something life changing... Whatever is happening, is up to you. And now six records deep, Dr. Dog stands behind that theory as their '60s pop-rock, deep bluesy soul and swirling harmonies backdrop their most personal record to date. As their retro sparks scatter smartly and sparingly throughout these 14-tracks - it's enough to imagine their thrilling turns into psychedelia. Catch Dr. Dog on Friday, April 16, 2010 at the Metro and read below as vocalist and bassist Toby Leaman lets us in on the making of their latest:
Marcie Garcia: I hear some disparity and sorrow on this record – its overall essence is much darker than your previous records. What gives?
Toby Leaman: Shame, Shame seemed to fit the most with the theme of this record because a lot of this record is about knowing yourself and your situation – like shame shame – you should make yourself better. And well, we’ve always been a little darker in our lyrics, and after starting this record with about 30 songs and whittling them down to about 15 that everybody liked, it turned out the darker ones were the ones that everyone gravitated towards.
MG: I know you guys tried to recreate the live show atmosphere on this record. When most bands are shaving down in the studio, you tried to do the opposite – how did it go?
TL: We tried, it wasn’t a great success as far as trying to make everything sound live, but we tried it for about a week and realized that certainly wasn’t what we’re good at. We’re good at building songs in the studio. It just didn't work out.
MG: Shame, Shame has a couple of songs that are almost a decade old – like the self reflective, “Where'd All the Time Go”, and steel pedal country-tinged love song, “Station”. Why did you hold on to these for so long?
TL: There are songs that don't work on a record and get put in the vault and then there are some songs that never really work, but we try them out whenever we make a record. But it is unusual that a song like like “Where'd All the Time Go” that’s 8 years old, just worked this time around. Maybe it's because where we are today, from where we were 8 years ago, that made it work. I'd like to say we've grown considerably in that time, and maybe that's why it fit on Shame. And we have such a back catalog of songs we really haven't tackled yet. Who knows what we'll find.
MG: Tell me how a track comes together and how you and Scott McMicken ultimately agree on songs, both being music writers and lyricists. How difficult is it to end up on the same page?
TL: Usually we’ll start with demos and demo the songs and it'll just be chords and the changes and the vocals and everyone will hear that – usually it’s very sparse - just piano and guitar, but when the recording starts is when the mood of the whole song starts and that's when we get the instrumentation and that's when we figure out all the parts of me doing what and what instrument goes there and what's the beat and what's the rhythm, and what everybody is doing. That's a band process. But with Scott, being diplomatic is key, but we know each other really well, so if I have a part that he may not be into so much, then I'll already know that beforehand – like man, I don’t think he’s going to be into this – and same with him. But it's not like anybody puts up much of a fight. If I said I don’t like something it won't be a problem.
MG: Some lyrics on this album reflect the life of a musician – like “Station”- you wrote this song about being away from close ones and feeling a disconnect from ordinary life. Is writing cathartic for you?
TL: Well, you want to make stuff that's relatable across the board and that anyone can relate to, but we talk about our experiences a lot, mostly about the five of us being away and having to leave over and over again. Good or bad, it certainly comes across in our lyrics. If you're not traveling as much as us, than you may not understand, but even though, there's something in every one of our songs that people can grab hold of, because this is just life. This is the shit we all go through.
MG: This is the first time Dr. Dog has hired a producer – Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith) – so why the need get out of the DIY comfort zone? Are you happy with the end results?
TL: Well, we're really happy with the way it turned out. We were with Rob for about a month and then we came home and worked for about another month at our studio, putting on the whistles and bells. Definitely for the first couple of weeks we had to figure out how we can work together. I didn't realize how particular we are and how involved we are in every track we record. We've engineered and produced everything that we've ever done and with Rob it was pretty hard to give some of that up, especially the engineering aspect. You're trying to get a tone and it's hard to communicate that tone. Everybody in the band knows what the song comes out to, it's a different language. As much as we record, as much as anybody does, there's a language that everybody understands but an outsider might not get it at all and he's got his own language. If I say that I want to sound foggy or hazy, that may mean something different to him.
MG: You're about to head out on your first leg of touring Shame, Shame - what's the worst and best part of debuting new music?
TL: There's no worst, it's all good. The only bad thing is if the music isn't clicking as fast as you want it to. Sometimes some songs take a little more effort than others when we play them live. But each time we tour a new record is always the best tour and we haven't toured a new record in almost two years now, so we're excited to go on tour right now. It's always the most exciting part of touring, when you have new material.