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Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

Dr. Dog’s Misconceived Album

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Dr. Dog bassist Toby Leaman readily admits that in many ways the band’s latest album, Shame, Shame, is not the record the group intended to make when it started on the project.

“We thought we were all going to be able to sit down, and we’ve got five guys, one guy on drums, one guy on bass, one guy on keys and two guys on guitar, and we thought everybody would be able to do their thing and it would all mesh and everybody would be happy with it,” Leaman explains.

The idea, of course, was that Dr. Dog would be able to capture more of its live sound by recording essentially live in the studio. Though the band had relied heavily on overdubs in the past, the band assumed that after self-recording five albums, they would be capable of pulling off the more streamlined approach.

But it didn’t work out that way.

Shame, Shame
represented a major break in Dr. Dog’s standard operating procedure for making an album. After completing its 2008 album Fate, the group realized it was hitting a plateau with its do-it-yourself approach in its own studio in Philadelphia, so the group decided to work for the first time with an outside producer, Rob Schnapf.

It turned out to be a less-than-smooth transition from the outset, as the group discovered it wasn’t rehearsed enough to record live in the studio.

“I think we have a little ways to go before we can make an album like we thought we were going to make this time,” Leaman says. “It was just so drastically different from the way we normally record that I think we bit off a little more than we could chew … We struggled a lot and we were butting heads a lot, just because we went in thinking we were going to be good enough to play all together.”

With the plan to record live out the window, Schnapf then opted to have the band record songs instrument by instrument, beginning with the drums and bass tracks, a common method for recording. Although this was closer to a familiar method of recording for Dr. Dog, this process wasn’t entirely smooth, as Schnapf pushed the band to tighten up its songwriting and arrangements before recording began, a process that demanded more work and discipline than the group had required of itself in producing its earlier records.

Yet for the difficulties encountered, Leaman says the band is extremely pleased with the final product.

“We’re really happy with the record,” Leaman says. “So in light of that, it was all good that we had that struggle sort of at the beginning of the record, which sort of helped us define more of what we wanted to do.”

The group deserves to be happy with Shame, Shame. Leaman notes that with every album, Dr. Dog has wanted simply to make a good pop album, and the new album certainly qualifies on that score. Songs like “Stranger,” with its descending guitar line, “Later,” with its punchy tempo and hooky piano and guitar lines, and the dreamy “Unbearable Why” are addictive. “Mirror, Mirror” provides a good example of the band’s ability to weave creative instrumental parts into a short and otherwise straightforward pop song.

Ironically, the band managed to make a record that came closer to capturing its live sound and energy, even though it wasn’t created in any way that resembled live-off-the-floor recording.

“As far as the instrumentation on the record, that is probably the thing that came closest to what we do live,” Leaman says. “So many of the other records, we’d have to figure out what we could afford to lose in a song (when playing it live), with the strings and three different backup (vocal) lines going on. With this record, there really is none of that.”

Dr. Dog plays a 9 p.m. concert at the Turner Hall Ballroom with openers Here We Go Magic on Friday, Oct. 22.