Interview: Philly band brings 60s-loving rock to the Jefferson

Philadelphia-based band Dr. Dog has won much praise during it's 10-plus year career for fusing rock's tie-dyed era– the Beatles, Cream, the Band– with 90s and 2000s indie pop sensibilities. The band will bring its energy-driven live show to Charlottesville in support of their most recent release, Be The Void (ANTI). Singer and guitarist Scott McMicken spoke with the Hook recently about the band's most recent lineup changes and how being in an indie-rock band has changed between 2001 to 2012.

What is the relationship between your live shows and your studio recordings?
When we started out there was no playing live and only recording. Then we started playing shows, but we were basing our live arrangements off of these weird recordings. Now we’ve played live for so long that the whole pursuit has been one of making the studio and the live setting one mind-train.

You have had some lineup changes over the past few years. How does this affect the live dynamic?
New people are great. Dmitri [Manos, multi-instrumentalist] is our sixth man. He plays anything and has an idea for everything. He’ll do acoustic guitar, shakers, weird percussion. Or he has cassette tapes with different things recorded on them– motivational speeches, whale sounds, mariachi music. He’ll manipulate them live to create walls of noises that glue together spacious moments in our set. It’s kind of like having a producer in the band. Then there’s Eric [Slick, drums]– he’s by far the best musician in the band. He’s also a very sweet person, works really fast, and is always excited. 

What is your songwriting process?
Toby [Leaman, co-founder and bassist] and I come up with songs on our own time in a personalized context. Then we bring it to the band and leave it pretty wide open from that stage. On Be The Void there were two songs that basically didn’t exist before we went into the studio— “How Long Must I Wait” and “Warrior Man.” It was really rewarding– any deviation from the norm that feels satisfying is really exciting. Recently, I’ve been recording songs before I’ve actually written the song. The idea is to just set out and react to each step of the writing process. This door to collaborative writing was opened wide when Eric and Dmitri joined.

What are the most striking differences between being an independent rock band in the early 2000s and in the 2010s?
I guess it is weird that we’ve been around long enough to notice these types of changes. When we started, people were doing Myspace, and it was kind of a hot novelty. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was the first band of this modern era that exploded so fast without being on a label, via the Internet. That set a new paradigm. As modern as today’s music industry elements are, there are aspects that are old school. It’s going towards a pre-album era where singles are the huge thing.

What do you listen to in the van?
We don’t really listen to things as a group. Sometimes we listen to books on tape.

Who are some of your current favorite musicians?
Cotton Jones is one of my favorite bands right now, as well as Floating Action, Peppy Ginsberg, and Blake Mills. I love Mill’s song “Wintersong.”

Does the band have any secret weapons, vintage or unique instruments?
I play a guitar amp that a guy in New Jersey made for me based on vintage, point-to-point designs. One secret weapon we’ve been using lately is 60s and 70s Peavey PA systems. It has that right kind of grit, without being too blown out. It’s less of an aesthetic choice and instead just lends energy.


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