Dr. Dog: Gettin' To That Thing

 
This album feels like fate in the sense that I'm very aware that this is only a record we could have made with EXACTLY the experiences we've had in this band so far. And the lyrics are rooted in that concept, too. It's about fate but it is fate itself, too.

-Scott McMicken

 
Photo of Scott McMicken by Michael Maly from www.sonicitchmusic.com

Fate's opener, "The Breeze," begins in quietude that doesn't hint at the largess to come, a brilliant kind of seductive bait-and-switch that goes on throughout Fate. According to McMicken, "The Breeze" is "structurally a one chord cycle going through. It's only one melody. There's no hooks, no refrain or anything. So, to look at the album as a piece, in and of itself - which we did by stringing all the songs together and not having any silence [between cuts] - we saw it as one, big, long composition. Sonically, we intentionally built ['The Breeze'] with a warbly acoustic guitar on a four-track that pops into a little bass and a little percussion and then the backups come in. It sort of represents where we started to go after Toothbrush [2002] through Easy Beat [2005], a little bit of We All Belong [2007] and now here we are at this Fate record. It represents where we've come from sonically on a very logistic level, including the equipment we used. We definitely tried to be as self-referential as possible on this record. This album feels like fate in the sense that I'm very aware that this is only a record we could have made with EXACTLY the experiences we've had in this band so far. And the lyrics are rooted in that concept, too. It's about fate but it is fate itself, too."

Dr. Dog
"At some point in the process it became very overwhelming, almost frighteningly so but in a good way that swept me up. We started out just throwing shit at the wall to see what stuck to get something cooking, to see what kind of intuition we were operating on this time," observes McMicken. "Having chosen totally randomly from at least 50 or 60 songs from this giant pile, about two weeks into recording someone noticed there were glaringly obvious connections between all this stuff. It was so easy to take one song and define another with it. All of them were holding hands in a way, and it became easier to see them and add them into this larger concept. It was not challenging in the least. All the train stuff and elements of the past, antiquity, was just there."

Trickster figures and coal shovelin' men abound, archetypes animated with human breathe, that make the arrow of time flow both forwards and backwards. Even the band's new Steinbeckian Dust Bowl stage outfits reflect this visceral connection with other time periods even as they pound out a sound that could only surface in the wake of what's come before. Portions of Fate feel like limericks or nursery rhymes ("how did the fox get the raven to crow?"). There's something primal or folk art inside their latest work that taps into deeper places than rock is known for, especially today.

"The further you delve into things the more you come back to these very simple, very timeless truths. It's a complicated mess to get to these simple things though," wisely observes McMicken. "More and more, I find that catchphrases and clichés that float around and become popular forms of advice at first seem like trivializations but in truth say things better than any amount of longwinded analysis can. That pursuit of getting down to some sense of simplicity – and in essence a sense of harmony and peace or whatever it is you're going to devote your thoughts and time to – is actually a very simple and shared experience. It is very tough to get down to but it's part of what I consider to be the work of life. I really feel we were connecting to these notions, and not being afraid if they came off as overly simplified. The truth is it's a pop record. You don't need to sit down with a pad and pencil to listen to it. We put just as much effort into making something aesthetically appealing that'll make your ass shake a lil' bit."

Hang On

And what you thought was a hurricane
Was just the rustling of the wind
Why you think we need amazing grace
Just to tell it like it is?
Well, I don't need no doctor
To tear me all apart
I just need you
To mend my heart

The reason folk and pub music works so well is because it focuses on family and hearth, death and birth, feast and famine. These subjects make people throw their arms around total strangers and sing. There's an element of that universal bonhomie in Dr. Dog. Whether conscious of it or not, the collective undertow within their music helps to generate a feeling of togetherness at Dr. Dog shows. There's a great beat and plenty of stunning bridges to help the ontological nuggets go down, which is probably why most of the time you don't notice how bright and thoughtful they're being. When you're having fun there's little time to ponder the abyss or our place in the universe; we simply exist and revel in the carefree free fall being conjured around us.

Continue reading for more on Dr. Dog...


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