Dr. Dog: Gettin' To That Thing

 
The most dangerous thing is getting lost and locked up in your own experiences. I find these moments of shared experience to be so beneficial.

-Scott McMicken

 

And they are a little better each time out, their new evolution obvious from record to record, tour to tour, and even in the cheek of their band listing on their MySpace page, which only lists their nicknames (real names added for your informational pleasure) and poetic gloss on their role, befitting a group that took their name from a mishearing of Captain Beefheart's "Doctor Dark":

Taxi (Scott McMicken): lead woof+mud distortion guitar, vocals
Tables (Toby Leaman): finger bass, vocals, rhythm stomp
Text (Zach Miller): keyboardings, some guitar/singing
Trouble (Juston Stens): hammer hands of a surgeon, harmonies, embellishments
Thanks (Sukey Jumps): multi-string guitar, full-grip chords, vocal nuances

Scott McMicken by Sam Seager
Dr. Dog gets that music is mathematics and poetry, a sway between organization and free flight, and always with an understanding that they stand on the shoulders of giants that they borrow inspiration from constantly.

"The craft is just as fulfilling as the poetry or philosophy behind it. It's like a dummy you can dress up," says McMicken. "Originality is such a relative word. For me, to be honest is to be as original as you can be. You're given certain faculties, and you live with them and operate clearly through this sort of looking glass that's undistorted. That's originality at its core. It shows up in the most formatted, traditional, structured thing to the most wildly unrecognizable thing. People often seek out originality for its own sake, as if it existed outside of them so that they have to catch it in the wind."

The new album is a distillation of a lot of things Dr. Dog has been working on for a while, not least, a role for the studio that functions like another band member and truly serves the songs. All the elements on Fate work in a very empathetic way, rarely drawing too much attention to any one part since the whole is suffused in such an organic, dandy way. To wit, one doesn't sit around thinking about Ringo's drumming or George's searing guitar work while listening to "Back In The U.S.S.R." It's the cumulative a-wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo that seizes you. And this is how the Dog's version of Fate operates. This is pop rock but the band is standing up on their hind legs today and yowling, "This is OUR voice."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. As is to be expected as you remain a band and explore the root of the process and grow with it, at what ever pace you're comfortable moving at. We definitely feel we had a more informed, Technicolor view of what we are as a band and where we'd come from this time," says McMicken. "There's so many threads to this 'fate' notion that apply in a purely logistical sense to where we are as a band, as well as in a more philosophical sense."

"From all the live playing, we've gained such a different relationship to the music we're playing. For years and years, the music we made was almost pure fantasy. The writing of it has sort of always been the same, though the intensity and need for that has grown. We'd always been kind of a blank slate each time we went into the studio before. For the first time, this record felt really, really informed by all these elements that exceeded our imagination in the studio and are just the natural byproducts of us being in a band. We wanted to distil that," continues McMicken. "It was very intuitive but now that it's over I can see it's a whole new vocabulary and a whole new set of needs that I know has everything to do with our observations about music nowadays, as well our own observations about where we are as a band. There's been a certain dynamic and growth as engineers and producers. We've now made a handful of records, and I've had the luxury of working on other people's records. My experience of just making records has opened up more, and all of these things felt like very, very necessary aspects of what we were going to do, in so far as you go into a project and take stock to say, 'This is where the bar is right now and we have to hit it.' You open up this forum of problems and go about solving them as best you can."

Army of Ancients

Dr. Dog
In 2008, we are all inheritors of this huge ocean of cultural influences. Each of us, particularly artists, must figure out how to keep their head above the waterline, dog paddling furiously while humming The Police's "Too Much Information" under our breath. If a band slows down it's incredibly easy to be submerged by the hot rivers of ancient vinyl and fire hose fast bit streams coming at them. Further, it's easier to recreate and nuance than dig out one's own identity. Finding a way to inherit history while making some of your own ain't easy. For Dr. Dog, "pop" isn't a dirty word. They appreciate catchy, sing-able ditties but somehow reconcile that with being dedicatedly experimental, too. For them, these are not two separate strains.

"Certainly not. At its core, we really just make music we enjoy the most, and have always had faith that if we reach that point with something then we're doing the best we can. Our sole responsibility, even to any sense of an audience, is ultimately based on a personal responsibility to do what makes us happy. I think that's really all people want. At least I would hope so," McMicken says. "[Fate] is by no means a thesis or anything; it was a forum for us to look at these things, think about them and breathe them into our lives. It can definitely be 'caveman.' It was exhilarating while making it to not only think about sound but also these larger concepts that are perhaps even more relevant to our lives than the fact we make music."

Continue reading for more on Dr. Dog...


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