Meric Long has been making music alongside Logan Kroeber for quite some time. The San Francisco- based duo The Dodos rock hard for a two-piece, with Long’s guitar arpeggios scattering around and through Kroeber’s pulsating and aggressively nuanced drum rhythms. Underneath the sound though, is Long’s songwriting, often ruminative, sometimes confessional, but always evocative and willing to take the listener on a narrative journey worthy of the musical muscle. The release of their latest album, Carrier, comes at a time of tragedy and reassessment, as they’ve coped with the sudden and unexpected passing of additional guitarist and touring mate Chris Reimer. Chris’ memory served as a guiding spirit for both Long’s songwriting focus and guitar playing over the course of the recording sessions, and the result is an exciting and meaningful work, one that stands as a testament and tribute to both memory and resolve in the face of crisis.
We caught up with Meric on the road from Canada as the band’s van ferried them across the miles of yet another hectic touring schedule.
So, you guys seem to be road warriors on this tour? You really don’t have many days off.
Yeah, we’re doing it all at once and getting things over with.
Was that by design? Did you want to go out behind the new album and knock out a bunch of dates?
Yeah, pretty much. We’d had some time off for quite a while and we wanted to just get it all done, then maybe go home and work on our next record, which we’ve already actually started. It wasn’t necessarily by design, but I’m kind of glad it worked out like this. Touring, once you get going, is pretty easy to do. You get the gears going and then it keeps rolling on.
Yeah, I imagine a touring schedule can be pretty daunting at first, but once you get going it just flows.
Yeah, it does. We have a new guy touring with us, Joe Haege, and it took a little while to get this material down, but now it feels pretty good and we’re happy with it.
Tell me a little more about this new guitar player.
He’s great! He’s played in a couple bands, 31 Knots and Tu Fawning. With us, he’s playing guitar and singing harmonies, and also doing some keyboard stuff while reproducing some of the sounds that are in the new record. It’s really something to have the harmonies, because we’ve never really had that aspect before, and have never showcased that live. There’s a lot of harmony on all of our records, but usually I just write the pattern for myself or make some stuff up, so having Joe has been a good dynamic.
You and Logan have been doing this a while now, so any particular tour spots that stand out as favorites?
There’s been a lot of good places, but what stands out are our trips to Europe, particularly Spain, where I feel like we always have really good shows and the fans are always really great. You know, my answer to this question just seems really boring. There are a few places that I’d like to avoid just because I don’t have good memories of them, but there’s usually always something good about every place and I feel like we’ve had that attitude since we first started touring. At first, we were playing really random places where nobody would even come to the show, but we still really had a good time because we got to see places that we normally wouldn’t have had a chance to go to. And I feel like that’s still our attitude.
Do you find that there are certain areas of the country or the world, for that matter, that seem to have larger pockets of fans, as opposed to crowds checking you out for the first time?
You know, I’m always shocked. You can never guess where people are going to gravitate towards your music. You could say: “Oh, the West Coast is better”, because we had a really good show in Portland or a really good show in Seattle, but then the same thing happens on the other side, as evidenced by the really good show we had last night in Toronto. But then, you’ll get a show in a really small town that works, too. Like a few nights ago, we played Waterloo, and that show was great and we’d never been there before. It’s just a small town in Ontario, but the crowd was great, and that always happens. Ferndale, which is just outside of Detroit, was an amazing show and I’d never even heard of Ferndale. So, you just never know.
Yeah, that seems to me part of the beauty and allure of touring, finding these places that before you may not have thought of, and then making it a point to return there for future dates.
For this tour I told our booking agent that we wanted to play some towns that we hadn’t played before or that we normally don’t play just because you can end up playing the same club in the same city and it gets redundant not only for the band but for the audience, as well. They can get a bit resigned: “Oh, you know, here comes this band again, playing the same songs, in the same place again.” It’s good to try and prevent that attitude.
So, you talked earlier about getting home to work on a new record after this leg of the tour. However, with Carrier being so new itself, why the quick turnaround?
Well, we finished Carrier in January and it came out in August, and because we joined a new label, I’d never had that much time between finishing a record and having it released. So, my thinking was that it’s just too much time and really the best time to make a record is once you finish making a record. You learn all these things in the studio that often take a record’s worth of work to figure out. After finishing Carrier, I felt like there were certain things I wanted to get back in the studio and do, and to be honest, the songs weren’t there. I had some ideas, some riffs, and ideas in my head but I just knew that if we quickly got back in the studio and worked in a pressure-free environment it would be close to an ideal situation for us to make headway and finish. In the end it turned out good. We’re not totally done but I’m just really excited about how seamless the process was.
It’s great to capitalize on those ideas when you have them.
Yeah, it’s really great to be touring and to be exploring sounds and playing songs from Carrier with Logan and Joe, but in the backs of our minds we’ve got this other project of new songs that’s waiting for us once we get back.
Do you feel good about the way Carrier has been received?
Yeah I do. It’s a different record for us and my expectations for how it was going to go were mixed. I didn’t know if people were going to be into it because it’s a little bit of a turn for us. Fans don’t always follow their bands when the bands make sharp turns, but so far I’ve been happy with the reviews. There haven’t been any stinkers out there, but more importantly my feeling is, and I kind of figured that not everyone was going to like it, but those that did like were really going to. It would mean something to them because it meant something to us. And I feel like that’s exactly like it played out. The people who are coming to our shows are really stoked on the new stuff, as opposed to like, “Well, it’s just okay.” When the reactions and the expectations match, it feels good.
Yeah, I feel like the album really sounds good as a whole. I’m not sure if it was intended this way, but it’s almost like a complete cycle of songs. It’s also very cinematic, where each song has a lot of different parts, and each song flows naturally into the next. It’s a great album to listen to all the way through uninterrupted.
That’s good to hear. It’s a big sandwich, you know. And we do play almost every song from it in our live set, too.
You guys have been through a lot recently with Chris’ passing. A lot of the reviews and writing about The Dodos and this new record, has centered on his influence. It never gets easier, but do you find that the critical reception Carrier has served as sort of a tribute to Chris’ memory and contribution? Do you find yourself thinking of him when you’re playing these new songs?
When you tour, you play the songs, but you sometimes start thinking about other things that you have to do while you’re up on stage. This is never a good thing, but it sometimes happens. Brian Eno has a famous quote that says he quit Roxy Music when he realized that he was thinking about his laundry when they were playing live. Well, I know I’ve thought about my laundry plenty of times while playing live (laughs).That does happen and you sort of have to disconnect with the song while playing, and every once in a while (voice trails off) you know, I think about Chris all the time, but I think about him probably even more outside of the confluence of the songs probably just because (long pause), I don’t know.
The record has certain things attributed to him and a lot of the material comes from our relationship with Chris. He definitely had a huge influence. I don’t feel that Chris is encompassed in these songs, you know, I don’t know, Chris as a person and his memories are just way bigger than those songs. Not to put down the songs or anything, because I value them but you’re playing shit every night and it’s really just a performance. Chris is way bigger than that. We played two nights in Calgary on this tour, which is where Chris is from. There were a lot of people there who knew him and there was a lot of press surrounding him and the record. I was really kind of worried about all that because I didn’t want to sully his memory and I didn’t know how it all was going to play out, but it all turned out really positive. The people who knew Chris are really appreciative that we did this record and that’s huge. People who knew him a lot longer than we did have all been very supportive, and to me, regardless of whatever I think about when I play these songs, they seem to mean something to people who were close to Chris. That makes me feel like we did our job. If nothing else, mission accomplished.