Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog has steadily moved from strength to strength over an especially fruitful nine-album career, all the while touring almost constantly. But even rock bands need vacations from time to time. So after touring behind 2016’s “The Psychedelic Swamp,” the band members did something they haven’t done in nearly 20 years: they took a much-needed break.
During the down time, guitarist Scott McMicken moved to Tuscon, Arizona. Drummer Eric Slick put out a solo album. Bassist Toby Leaman spent time with his young family. But the pull of the band remained.
Reinvigorated and emboldened by the rest, the group decided to blow up their tried and true recording process when they returned to work on their new album, “Critical Equation.” They brought in producer Gus Seyffert to helm the project, and according to Leaman, “We gave him complete and utter control.”
That wasn’t some insignificant change. Up until that point, Dr. Dog had either self-produced or co-produced (along with longtime collaborator and friend Nathan Sabatino) all of their previous records. But the band says they desperately needed a new look.
“When you’ve been doing something for so long you become beholden to your own patterns and ways of being,” McMicken explained in an interview with opbmusic. “I think we generally all felt as a band that there was a way to grow and in order to do that we had to look at the thing free from our own experiences with it in the past in order to change.”
McMicken, Leaman, Slick, Zach Miller and Frank McElroy joined opbmusic for a session at Revolver Studios in SE Portland. They performed three songs from the new album. The band’s principal songwriters, Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, also sat down with opbmusic for an interview, which you can hear in its entirety or read text excerpts below.
Jerad Walker: One of the songs you played today, “Go Out Fighting,” was that one that was heavily influenced by the new direction?
Scott McMicken: That one was atypical in the songwriting sense just because it was more of a jam that we had going on. And then I would sit at home with the groove and sing over the top of a jam. Normally I write songs in a more songwriterly fashion. But that was just kind of singing and making stuff up and trying out these various different lyrics I was kicking around over the top of an already existing musical backdrop.
Jerad Walker: “Heart Killer,” another song that you played today, almost didn’t make the final cut for the record. Why? It’s an incredible track.
Scott McMicken: Thanks. [bashful laughter] You could probably understand it felt like sort of a novelty tune. I love it and stuff, and it’s fun. But when you’re making a record you’ve only got so much time. And so to give space on a record to a tune like “Heart Killer,” which, as much as I love it, felt a little bit more like a genre piece or in my mind it felt like kind of a novelty thing. It was all about just the feel of it. It’s a rock n roll song…
Jerad Walker: So what changed your mind?
Scott McMicken: The other band members being like ‘We have to put this on the album’ and me being like “Okay.” And I’m not bummed about it or anything like that. It was more— it’s competing with several other songs that I would really someday love to have on a record
Jerad Walker: You played “Buzzing In The Light” which is a beautiful song. And it’s got kind of undertones of maybe country rock. I hear a little bit of The Byrds or maybe The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Toby Leaman: I love the Burritos.
Jerad Walker: Yeah, so I was going to ask you about that. This is total hearsay, so you can shoot it down if it’s untrue. But I have some friends who saw you play in a very small club in St. Augustine. Florida like a decade ago.
Toby Leaman: Ok.
Jerad Walker: And they hung out with you after the show.
Scott McMicken: Café Eleven.
Jerad Walker: You got it! And they were shocked that you guys were huge fans of [classic] country music and country rock. Is that true?
Toby Leaman: We’re as much fans of that as anything else that’s good. We listen to all kinds of music, and the stuff we like out of that [genre]— we’re as passionate about that stuff as we are passionate about the stuff we like in, say, jazz or pop. The stuff you like, you really like.
Jerad Walker: Do you find it soaks into your music occasionally, because when I heard that it made me look at your sound in a completely different way.
Toby Leaman: I feel like everything soaks into our music. That’s sort of the nice thing about this band. It’s just really song-based. This is what the song is trying to go for. It doesn’t really matter what genre it is. This is how it feels right.
Audio producer: Steven Kray
Recordings: Nalin Silva
Editor: Jarratt Taylor
Videographers: Jarratt Taylor, Nate Sjol, Steven Tonthat
Interviewer: Jerad Walker
Executive Producer: David Christensen