Old Dr. Dog, new tricks
Veteran Philadelphia-based indie rockers Dr. Dog are back. Not that they really ever left. But it’s been an interesting handful of years for the Scott McMicken and Toby Leanman-led psych quintet.
After the band’s 2013 release, B-Room, the band resurfaced in 2015 with a live album, then again in 2016 with The Psychedelic Swamp, a revamped version of their unreleased debut LP, and Abandoned Mansion, a surprise (mostly) digital release initially offered for free on Bandcamp.
After a short break from making music and live dates, the band got back at it earlier this year with the announcement of a new album and tour.
The April-released Critical Equation not only found the band working with outside producer Gus Seyffert (Beck, HAIM), it found them re-evaluating their nearly 20-year career.
PACIFIC recently spoke with co-bandleader, co-vocalist, and guitarist Scott McMicken as his band heads out on the road for the first time in two years.
PACIFIC: A recent press release called the recording of the new album a “transformative period in which the band questioned their creative process.” Can you elaborate on that?
McMicken: There was no dire need to change who we were, or are, or anything like that. The main, unique aspect of the moment was the realization that in order to move forward, all of the things that we were accustomed to doing no longer seemed that compelling. It was just a matter of figuring out what we needed to do to grow. Part of that is insular and inter-personal, but also a lot of it is creative.
Our ideas about, and interest in, music haven’t shifted that radically. But to continue to get at something with a strong, palpable feel and heart, it required challenging our notions about how to get stuff done. Art itself is this concoction of equal parts craft and aesthetics. But it’s also equally the natural essence of who you are as a person. And in the context of band, it’s also how you relate to one another.
Critical Equation is not a radical departure from our own personal history. It was just made by going through a certain beginner’s mindset. We just needed to do something that felt stripped from our own history.
That sounds less transformative and more re-evaluative.
Exactly. Rather than some kind of transformation — which sort of implies moving from one thing to another — it was more of an evolutionary thing. How do we build upon what we are at this point in time? In the past, with every record and year that’s gone by, it’s felt more intuitive to know exactly what felt like the exciting step to take forward. This time, it didn’t seem as clear. And that’s when the flag went up. But the process itself of figuring that out was super-inspiring and fun. It just feels real to get into that sh-t. We care about what we do. We care about each other. And it felt really good to check in on that sort of stuff — the fundamentals.
Well, the record doesn’t feel overworked at all. It feels easy. But sometimes making things easy is a lot of work!
You hit it on the head. The goals were essentially so super simple. We just wanted to get back to a sense of simplicity and directness. It’s such a kaleidoscope making music. And there are so many billions of forms of it that are amazing, and so many different approaches. But for us, the spirit of the moment is just to try and make something that feels effortless, and it does take a lot of work to put yourself in that headspace where you’re not over-analyzing it and not allowing all of your doubts and insecurities to complicate the moment. Hence, that’s why we’re communicating more and being more honest with one another, as well as working with a producer to have that outside perspective rather than leaving it up to ourselves and trying to get all five people to agree.
Can you talk about working with Gus?
We did a lot of work on the music and a lot of work on ourselves as a band in preparation of getting to Gus’ place. We had worked it hard. And then we were presenting him with everything we had done up until that point. So it wasn’t like we were starting from scratch or anything. Our intent was to be as live as possible with this record. Then he was invited into the situation and was able to refine it and improve upon it.
And he was such a natural fit. Right away, he was really enthusiastic about putting the computer away and committing. It was very much about getting it right, right now, rather than extending the process and leaving it open to what the digital realm has to offer. It felt right and was really refreshing.
And it caused us to do something else different this time around, which was being very prepared to make an album. We typically go in with a bunch of ideas, skeletons of songs, and we use the recording process as the time to develop those ideas. But this time around, we prepared in advance and when we got into the studio it was about executing and being open to Gus’ suggestions on how to improve it. And it was a great match. He’s a brilliant person. And a brilliant engineer as well.
Sounds like you’re in a good place moving forward.
In many ways, it feels like the beginning. The end of this record was the beginning of something for us. This record not only reflects the culmination of a lot of work and thinking that we put in leading up to that point, but it was also an experiment. There are no guarantees. But we’re sitting on a lot of new information and a lot of new comfort with who we are and what we’re doing.
When: 8 p.m. June 2
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave, North Park
Cost: Sold Out
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