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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

Dr. Dog Goes With the Flow

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2009 proved to be a big year for psychedelic chamber-pop darlings Dr. Dog. That summer, the band stepped out of their comfort zone and into the relative big leagues, leaving their hometown label Park the Van Records for Anti- Records and setting north from their beloved Philadelphia to Woodstock, N.Y., to record an album that would most accurately capture the sound and feel of their live shows.

And thus 2010’s Shame, Shame was born, a record that, compared to the scruffy charm of their previous lo-fi albums, tightened the metaphorical production screws, all without sacrificing the symphonic hooks and melodies fans had come to expect from the band. Leaving home, however, proved more problematic than Toby Leaman, bassist and one of the band’s two songwriters, had anticipated.

“We went to this completely foreign studio that we didn’t really have any control over, which we thought we’d be fine with, but we were not fine with it,” Leaman explains. “It was kind of a low point; I would say it was the lowest point in the band.”

The band, not used to working in a different studio under others’ direction, returned home after a frustratingly unproductive month with very little to show for their distress and eventually finished the album back in Philadelphia.

“We’ve always been a band that self-produced and pretty much self-engineered to some degree,” Leaman says, “and then also worked our own hours, and had our own way of working. We just couldn’t work together [with someone else], and I think that it was probably mostly our fault. I don’t think we were ready to go work with someone else.”

A great deal of Dr. Dog’s appeal is their enthusiastic and invigorative approach to songwriting, evident in their prolific discography, relatively quick album turnaround and rigorous tour schedule. This dynamism is mirrored in their rambling guitar energies and riotous, foot-stomping live shows. This may explain why Dr. Dog seems to do best on their own, cranking out music without the members second-guessing themselves at their home base, affectionately named “Meth Beach.” Another explanation could be the band’s expansive history. Lead singers Leaman and Scott McMicken started playing music together almost 20 years ago, in the eighth grade.

“We never really played anything but our own songs. For the most part we were writing our own stuff,” Leaman explains.

Later, the band began as an offshoot of Leaman and McMicken's earlier music project named Raccoon. Dr. Dog formed with the addition of keyboardist Zach Miller, drummer Ted Mark and guitarist Doug O'Donnell. The band's early years were spent laboring endlessly in and around Philadelphia, where they developed a small, devoted fan base by touring with other local bands. Their earliest recordings were done on tape with a Tascam 388 eight-track machine, which they continued to use for a few of their subsequent albums and which gave their songs a homespun and friendly atmosphere. They self-recorded and self-released their first album, The Psychedelic Swamp, in 2001, and released Toothbrush quickly after, in 2002.

In 2004 they caught their first big break, getting to tour with My Morning Jacket after McMicken’s girlfriend gave My Morning Jacket lead singer Jim James a copy of Toothbrush. They signed with Park the Van Records in 2005 and released the album Easy Beat.

“Everyone who is in the band now, Dr. Dog was their favorite band before they joined. And because everyone is so excited about the band, everyone is fully ready to work their hardest,” Leaman says.

Last February’s Be the Void, the group’s newest rip-roaring sonic jaunt, sees the band again hard at work, channeling their motivation into a series of tight, guitar-driven folk-rock songs with a modern and more punk-rock sound, a change that, like most of Dr. Dog’s whims, came about naturally.

“The record wasn’t this sort of goal that we sort of sought out and tried to get to,” Leaman says. “It was more just kind of, ‘You know, this feels really good, we’ll just keep doing more of this.’”

Dr. Dog plays the Turner Hall Ballroom on Thursday, Oct. 11, with opener Cotton Jones. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
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