There's something refreshing about Dr. Dog. One can sense a down-home honesty in everything this sunny, retro-soul rock band cooks up. From the three-part harmonies that recall the Beach Boys to the heavy Beatles vibe, this Philly five-piece refuses to shy away from their influences and instead embrace their roots. "With the Beatles, I honestly think they are underrated" says co-founder, guitarist and singer Scott McMicken. "They've been established as great so firmly that people don't think about them enough. I'm nowhere near done being mystified by how incredible their songwriting was. I think any songwriter interested in the craft ought to be just flipping their lid about the Beatles every minute of every day."
Just as the Beatles were defined by two alpha dog songwriters (Lennon and McCartney), Dr. Dog is anchored by McMicken and childhood friend, bass player and singer Toby Leaman. Although the name Dr. Dog - loosely adapted from the Captain Beefheart song "Doctor Dark" and a short story Leaman had written - has only been around since the two were at Pennsylvania's West Chester University in 1998, the story of this band goes back much further.
"Toby and I met when we were really young and we went to middle school and high school, and we were hatching the initial plans and ideas for what we now have in Dr. Dog" says McMicken. "[The band] was going to be an ideal place, and reliant upon nothing but maximum enthusiasm and love for what we were doing."
Leaman & McMicken - Dr. Dog by Joshua Wildman
McMicken and Leaman would go on to participate in a number of bands through high school and college. The two were always writing material, but they would hide the best, most compelling songs for their future band together. Meanwhile, they would bring "the scrap yard material" to bands they played in like Raccoon while figuring out what did and didn't work, honing their chops in preparation for what would become Dr. Dog.
The big break came in 2004 courtesy of My Morning Jacket's Jim James. After a MMJ show in Philadelphia, McMicken gave James a CD of Dr. Dog's tape-recorder experiment Toothbrush. The CD was decorated with rainbow sprinkles that caught James's eye so he gave it a shot and loved it. A few months later Dr. Dog was opening for one of the hottest bands in America. Before hitting the road with My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog was playing four or five shows a year. They were barely a band, but they got their shit together fast, and with the money earned opening for MMJ, bought some gear and recorded 2005's Easy Beat to give fans something more in-line with their sound than Toothbrush.
Although Toothbrush had shards of what the band is capable of, it was never meant to represent Dr. Dog. That's what Easy Beat was for. The band's proper debut was still warm, intimate, and for lack of a better term, lo-fi, but it was professional, something they could sling out the back of the van with pride. The stellar songwriting, intricate harmonies, and passionate, old-timey vocals on Easy Beat lit the hipster world on fire. Between their captivating live shows and this new record, Dr. Dog began showing up in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Fader, and landed a spot at 2005's Bonnaroo festival.