Chicago Drive-In

Dr. Dog interview

| April 1, 2010 | 0 Comments

No Shame In Trying

Scott McMicken possesses a long-windedness normally associated with blathering history professors and parents gushing over week-old bundles of joy. It’s a wonder the Dr. Dog guitarist/vocalist can pare his thoughts enough to squeeze them into the Philly-based band’s four-minute-or-less compositions on Shame, Shame — let alone sharing songwriting duties with bassist/vocalist Toby Leaman on the album’s 11 tracks. Fortunately, the subject matter at hand deserves a breathless touting — even if it’s coming from the man responsible for creating said aural candy.

Appearing: Friday, April 16th at Metro in Chicago.

Set for release this month on Anti, the band’s sixth studio album finds the harmonizing quintet at a satisfying crossroads. Instead of ensconcing itself in a personal studio to construct this latest outpouring, the band stepped out of its comfort zone by hiring a producer and setting up camp in upstate New York to record. The change in scenery and routine stemmed from an interest in melding the two distinct and separate personalities driving Dr. Dog: the studio version and the live entity.

This endeavor focuses on how “Dr. Dog is making an album about how Dr. Dog is a rock band rather than Dr. Dog goes in the studio and builds these songs up and let’s them unfold in whichever way seems appropriate,” McMicken explains over the phone from his new, Philadelphia apartment. “This was more like, what would we do to this song if we were on a stage? ‘Cause we’ve always separated making albums from playing shows. Like it’s two completely different attempts at making music.”

He says, “The band existed for years without any notion of what it was as a live band and it was purely this impressionistic recording process in response to the fact that Toby and I write these songs. It used to be, ‘Let’s invent a band for this song; let’s invent a sound for this song,’ and that had really been our studio process. Of course, doing a record or two has put us on the road and now it’s been five or six years on the road and far less time recording, and also over the time developing an identity or becoming closer to understanding what it is we’ve become as five people who play together,” McMicken says without stopping to pause for a breath. “It no longer became something we could ignore as a major reference point when it came time to record.”

After sitting through bullshit-detector-triggering meetings, the band finally settled on producer Rob Schnapf (“You’re looking for obviously somebody with some brilliance and you’re looking for somebody with some spark and energy and enthusiasm . . . but you’re also looking for somebody who seems like your friend”) and McMicken readily admits the making of Shame, Shame took a lot of “blood, sweat, and tears,” though ultimately the experience yielded a product that reflected all Dr. Dog had hoped to express.

The album feels more cohesive and reins in the studio trickery, yet doesn’t merely provide a documentarian view of Dr. Dog’s stage presence. The title track percolates with an air of resignation — bittersweet, but with a groove — while “Shadow People” bounces with a verve last seen on Wilco’s “Walken.” Taken as a whole, the album trends toward themes of road-weary loneliness (“Station”) and depression, albeit with a light at the end of the tunnel (“Jackie Wants A Black Eye”), but McMicken stresses the common threads between songs should be taken with a grain of salt.

“It’s not a conscious move. It’s not like a reactionary thing. Like neither [Toby nor I] have the confidence to look at ourselves and go, ‘This is who I am right now, this is everything that’s got me here, and this is what I value, so this is what I’m going to express,'” McMicken explains. “It’s way more the songwriting process itself offers an insight into that very information about yourself. None of the songs are ever written in any sort of response to each other. They’re just written for what they are, so you can stand back from a collection of them and see trends and therefore learn things about yourself.”

— Janine Schaults

For the full story, grab the April issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

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