Sunday, April 01, 2007

Dr. Dog: MAGNET Spring '07

In an age when studio magicians manipulate pubescent voices into platinum-selling sex purrs, sometimes the Luddites prosper. And sometimes they need just a little more juice. That’s why Philadelphia five-piece Dr. Dog traded in its trusty eight-track—used to record the group’s three previous albums—for a relatively fancier 24-track, two-inch tape machine. As should be the case with any Beach Boys-influenced band, more tracks equal more harmonies, and We All Belong has them in droves. But Brian Wilson isn’t the only force at work here, as the record’s opening piano glissando shoots straight from Big Pink. Songwriting duo Scott McMicken (guitar, vocals) and Toby Leaman (bass, vocals) have been friends since childhood, and We All Belong’s feel-good design makes it easy to imagine joint ventures into parents’ liquor cabinets and record collections. “Don’t Pretend” exhibits a slow-dance Motown sensuality, “Ain’t It Strange” recalls Neil Young’s plight-of-man attitude (“Ain’t it strange how a man who lives for nothing can change/’Cause if he stays the same, he’ll die a million days”), while the title track’s guitars conjure an octopus’ garden in the shade.
Dr. Dog met with MAGNET a few days before the band played Clap Your Hands Say Yeah frontman Alec Ounsworth’s wedding.

How often are you asked about your band name?
McMicken: Just about any time anyone asks us anything about the band. All the time.
The first two tracks on We All Belong are called “Old News” and “My Old Ways.” Would you consider yourself nostalgic?
Leaman: We’re definitely nostalgic. We’re not aspiring to be people we respect, but we’re definitely nostalgic for music. We listen to all that shit: doo wop, Motown, old rock ‘n’ roll, old country blues. We listen to everything.
McMicken: It’s just so much easier to find that good feeling for whatever reason. When I first got into listening to music and finding good songwriters, they all seemed to be 30 years older than me, and I was fine with that.
Did your earlier bands have a similar sound?
Leaman: We were both in punk bands, bluegrass bands. We were in a rock band called Raccoon until a few years ago. We’ve never really sounded like Dr. Dog. We’ve always aspired to get to the point we’re at, but it just didn’t happen for a while. We just weren’t good enough.
My Morning Jacket asked you to open for them after Scott handed Jim James a copy of (2002’s) Toothbrush.
Leaman: We owe that dude a billion dollars. If we ever have a billion dollars, we’re gonna give it to Jim.
McMicken: I bought him breakfast at Denny’s. I was like, “Listen man, we don’t owe you anything. The omelette’s on me.”
Speaking of touring, what is your typical audience like?
Leaman: There are a lot of guys our age that come to the show and say, “My dad told me to come see you.” It’s great when you’re in some town where you don’t know anyone and some guy who’s as old as your dad comes up and says, “Great job, man. I love you guys!”

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