Dr. Dog seeks out surprises on latest album
Generally speaking, when it comes time for a band to make an album, they have an idea of what they want it to sound like. They might noodle around in the studio a bit, but for the most part, there is little doubt about the direction they plan to go in. Rockers Dr. Dog, however, took a totally different approach with their most recent album, B Room.
“Normally, we have a stack of demos that everyone sifts through and a lot of times those demos are pretty fleshed out with full arrangements,” says Scott McMicken, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist. “But this time, we didn’t put any songs on the table. We played, we wrote, and we hung out. We played, we wrote, and we hung out some more, and we recorded pretty much all of it that way.”
Within that laidback environment, the bandmates felt like anything was possible and nothing was off limits—almost like being a kid in a candy store.
“With B Room, on so many fronts, it was like we were stepping into a world where we really did want to be surprised, and because of that, we approached everything differently: writing, playing, recording,” McMicken explains. “And the surprises just kept on coming.”
In addition to the full AM radio-era rock and roll sound which fills up tracks like “Distant Light” and “Broken Heart,” B Room also contains elements of Motown (“The Truth”), soul (“Nellie”), and a delightful mishmash of country, Americana and folk (“Phenomenon”). McMicken says he is proud of the album’s overall sonic diversity, but admits that the experience of making one song in particular—“Too Weak to Ramble”—stands out in his memory.
“[That] was by far the most stripped-down tune we’ve ever put on an album,” McMicken says. “Doing that tune was a real challenge and a real pleasant surprise. That was just me and [bassist] Toby [Leaman] playing, but actually putting ourselves in that situation was really stressful.
“We both told each other afterward, ‘Man, I was nervous,’” he goes on. “‘What if that [song] just doesn’t work and we have to face the fact that sure, we’re musicians, but we can’t just pick up a guitar and make a song out of it? Are we really any good?’”
Moments of self-doubt aside, the process of making the album was largely characterized by a feeling of creative invigoration, according to McMicken. For that, he gives a lot of credit to drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dmitri Manos, who entered the fold four years ago.
“When they joined, things changed,” he says. “We were excited to have them playing with us and being with them is such a joy. And what they brought about in particular definitely informed the process of how we set [the album] up. Those guys just brought a much more well-rounded sense of live performance to the band.”
Dr. Dog has come a long way since forming in 1999, but McMicken describes the band’s journey with humility.
“It’s not like this is some new, bold frontier of music-making,” he says. “If anything, it’s the most timeless, classic truth of what music is, which is just putting an instrument in someone’s hands and having them create something palpable that can translate a certain feeling. We’ve been trying to find that within ourselves, and these two new members jump-started that.”
Dr. Dog performs at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20/adv, $22/door. For more information, call 423-1338. photo: Nicky Devine