Blogs, NPR, The New York Times have all been singing the praises of Philly’s Dr. Dog and now they have some hard evidence. We All Belong is one of the 2007’s strongest releases, combining tight arraignments with picturesque vocals and a lazy fall afternoon BBQ vibe; Dr. Dog has crafted a winner to go along with their energetic live show.
Having already toured with heavyweights on the live scene like My Morning Jacket, the Raconteurs, and Clap Hands Say Yeah! the Philadelphia group have had to grow up quickly and have done so with staggering success.
While they were heading from Philly to the tour opener in Asheville, North Carolina Glide chatted with the Guitarist/Singer/Song Writer Scott McMicken for an extended time and could have continued for the whole trip. Easy going, passionate about the music and open, Scott discussed his song’s meanings, touring and of course Boys II Men. It was a joy, as Dr. Dog are ready to embrace their future head shaking and tail wagging.
2006 was a huge year for you guys with both recording and touring, since you are on the road now, was there a tour last year that stood out?
2006 was huge, I look back on 2006 as a year of recording because we spent so much time in the studio, so much more time then we ever spent before, but I forget we spent months on the road. The First tour of 2006 was with Clap Hands Say Yeah! in Europe and that was our first time getting to know those guys and they have since become really close friends of ours. It is interesting with that tour because logistically speaking we probably shouldn’t have done that tour. It is so expensive to go over and tour that most bands don’t attempt it until they know what they will be in store for but our Record Label over there Rough Trade was so supportive of us opening for Clap Hands Say Yeah! that it was a surefire way to help yourself along.
That must have been great exposure at that time.
Yeah yeah, they sold out every show of the entire tour and they had never been to Europe. They were so supportive of us to. Beyond that it was great to go to Europe, seeing things, I don’t think any of us had been to Europe before, Zack had been to Russia, but it was new for all of us.
Also on the Architecture in Helsinki tour we always had nothing but the best of times, it was just like taking your extended family on a road trip or something. They all feel like your brothers or sisters and are real, kind people. After that is back to the studio for the album in summer and then it was Raconteurs in September and Magic Numbers in October and Black Keys in December and every single one of them was awesome in its own way and helpful to us.
This year was nice because we worked so closely at home on the record that when we went on tour it was a little breather from the studio, we got some sunlight.
You mentioned the family aspect with the Architecture in Helsinki tour, I caught a show of yours in with Cold War Kids and Elvis Perkins, and I couldn’t believe the real family atmosphere on stage, it seemed you all just moved in and out of each others sets seamlessly.
I can’t believe I didn’t bring up that tour! That was only a week long touring with Cold War Kids and Elvis Perkins, man that was a triumph. After a week hanging out with these three bands people were like crying having to say goodbye. It worked so well with the personalities and mutual respect people were giving and recieveing, and the playing together just came natural. Man, everybody loves both those bands.
Yeah the emotion looked genuinely heartfelt on stage. Dr. Dog plays with so much energy while performing, do you feel this is a benefit or does it hamper you when you move from playing live to in the studio, is there a focus on the song structure or is recording mainly feeding off your energy?
That’s a really interesting question, because I am just learning about that myself in regards to our recording and our shows because we have always been really active in the studio, in fact long before we were a functioning live band we cultivated an identity in the studio which had absolutely nothing to do in any sense with what goes on onstage. There’s no live aesthetic making it into the early recordings at all because we didn’t have that experience or reference point. Then we segued from that to getting offered a tour and getting the band together and then we toured so much and recorded less that now it’s subconscious, cause with the new record, I was, well all of us were trying to figure out this great new equipment that we had and (how to) operate in that context and mindset that we use to. Using the studio as a surreal place that had nothing to do with reality, not just like, learn a song as a band, track the drums, do the guitar live…just let the process be whatever the hell you want it to be and not get tied down at all by what you are as a live band.
How did that work?
I think we successfully did that, looking back on how the songs all came together there’s a real kind of exhilaration, nothing came to the point of “You do this when playing live, so you have to do this…” In fact most of the songs we had never even played as a band before.
One thing I realized, after we finished the album, it really does have a much stronger dynamic and live energy to it then anything else we have ever done before, and when I realized that I was really happy because I felt what we learned by being a band on the road was definitely making it’s way into the studio more and more and I can only see that continuing in the future. The great thing about that relationship is that we have raised our own standards about recording with the energy that we have built for ourselves on the stage, we also have to do the reverse which is to take the things we learn about and get into in the studio and bring them to the stage so it is a symbiotic relationship. I feel we have a healthy balance of that right now.
Listening back on the album it also rocked more then I ever thought it would and learning how to play these songs live presented a whole new set of challenges but I am real happy about the state we are in now. This record was really educational for us and challenging, cause you know once you stop being challenged it becomes weak…
I agree, one thing that stands out, especially compared to Easy Beat is the production on We All Belong, it isn’t over produced, but it is more polished with less of an earthy vibe, did you balance losing that gritty sound with enhanced production?
Definitely, it was really hard because this was our first proper attempt at making a record; it just wasn’t an accumulation of individual songs and being at a point of putting them together.
As opposed to patchwork there was a theme.
Yeah and that in and of itself really changed things along with the new equipment. The last 6 or 8 years have been spent recording on a 4 track or this one 8 track that we have and we got really comfortable with it and good at recording exactly what we wanted and avoiding challenges. This experience was kinda scary, we made a decision to make a proper album and then we didn’t know our environment.
You chose to leave your comfort zone.
Yeah that is why the album took longer to make then we ever thought because we needed to reach that level of comfort with this album and it almost took creating the whole album once…and then starting over to develop the kind of insights that we now have on how to work in our studio. Assuming we make our next record in the same situation as this one, and I don’t see why we wouldn’t, it would be a lot easier because we got that grunt work out of the way, by making every possible mistake…(laughs)
It is great to hear that it was a long tough process but as you said earlier you are happy with the album, and I think the joy shines through. Most tracks are awash in harmonies, hurrying up to relax and get comfortable, are there any songs that you say “Wow, we really nailed it on this one!” Or do you look at the album as a whole?
Oh I have a very strong relationship with each of those songs individually and with the album as a whole, we always take a song one at a time and let it become whatever it may want to become. Songs just start to grow and take on their own feel, I don’t see any 2 songs on the album in the same…well it’s all like they are these little kids and develop their own personalities.
I think about “Worst Trip” and how that song was just a pleasure to record. On the basic level it worked right away from step 1 to step 100, there were never any setbacks. On the flipside if you spend 3 months working on a song you have heard it tons of times and naturally get tired of it but with “Worst Trip” I never had to get tired of it because it just smoothed right out, and that song above all the others has a real freshness too it, because it’s like I don’t even remember how it was made. You always hope for that, that’s the goal. Most of the other songs on the album were done 2 or three different times and reworked, but not “Worst Trip”.
It is funny you brought that one up, I was going to mention it had such a great, almost Jackson 5 beat to it, and the first time I heard it, it was stuck in my head for days. On maybe the other end of simple is the title track, “We All Belong” it feels a bit more pieced together and anthemic then the rest of the songs on the album, was it always intended this way?
We always knew we wanted that to be the closer and we wanted it to achieve that epic feel. I had recorded that song years ago on an 8 track and was like, “One Day…”
You were waiting for your chance to record with the Boston Pops…
Yeah, it would be great if it came out that way. There is a straight narrative in that song that I always kind of tried to keep consistent with the music. The underlying message being despite all everything is as it should be. A positive message more or less and then in the middle of the song he dies, moving to the afterworld with the creaking piano like the grim reaper and the sobbing singing and yet the same message is there too. That is what contributes to that picture or patchwork feel of that song.
In another new song on We All Belong, “Alaska” you mention Philly and it seems all Philly bands give a shout out to the city of brotherly love, so I was wondering if the Boys II Men or G. Love collaboration was coming up soon?
Man you keep nailing on these questions! (Laughter) We were asked to, unfortunately this didn’t pan out, but we got asked to do a song on a compilation called “Guilty Pleasures” which was put out by Domino Records. More or less what the compilation has kinda become is geeky rock white guys covering rap or R&B…and it…well it seems a little hokey. The one song, however that we came up with was “Motown Philly” by Boys II Men. Toby and Justin really wanted to tackle the drum and bass section of that song.
That would be great; it’s not coming out though?
They nixed us, at first we wanted to do Gilbert O’Sullivan “Alone Again Naturally”, I mean guilty pleasures is a tough thing, I don’t really have any guilty pleasures so I find the whole compilation a bit weird. It turned out a bit more modern too; I think Devendra Banhart is covering Mariah Carey.
Back to your songs to finish up, it seems like animals keep popping up in the lyrics, is it conscious or is it more “the animal in all of us” kind of thing?
Definitely, in trying to understand anything about life it is very common for Toby and I, and maybe people in general, to look for simpler things, because I think a lot of the problems come when we try to over complicate things, even something as awesome as being in love and turn it into this burden on our soul. I find a lot of value in (simplicity), even with our music…it shouldn’t be rocket science and animals are a very capable metaphor for that. I mean they just seem predisposed to behave in these certain ways…and within the context of writing lyrics, you kinda look for nice images and I love animals for me they are instant guaranteed image. I love having them be a part of any of my songs.