Throughout the last decade that cemented the role of the talent show, as the crooked road into a music career. In West Philadelphia, a jaunty, often lyrically simplistic, but dusty, mysterious and genuine old school indie epitomising act Dr Dog, carried on producing ranging album after ranging album. Taking recognition when it came and not grumbling or changing their ways when it didn’t. Driven by founding members Scott McMicken, and Toby Leaman, Dr. Dog have found the right balance between repetition for impact and, repetition that is not grating and irritating. If only they’d have taught that skill to The Subways then the world would be a better place?
2008’s horn fuelled and piano tinkered sojourn of ‘Fate’, is probably the album that people with a little more than a passing interest in Dr. Dog would tell you to purchase if you only purchased one album of their albums. However, there is an argument for proclaiming that the best introduction to this ranging band would be ‘Easy Beat’. The full range McMicken and company is on offer here, from longing and bluesy to carefree, fuzzy and poppy. Keyboardist, Zach Miller agrees to uncover the veil on their, at times, mysterious ways and approach.
1. Is it an internet myth, half-truth or fact to say that it was My Morning Jacket who helped you achieve recognition, when in 2003 their front man, Jim James got hold of a copy of one of your demos? Do you still have much to do with them?
Zach: Fact. We haven’t had anything to do with them “professionally” since that tour until Jim came to sing on our new record. We still see them around the country and remain good pals but we hope someday to do another tour together.
2. Arguably your most popular of your six albums is, ‘Fate’. Do you agree with this? Describe your moods whilst compiling it, what were your aims with this one?
Zach: I’m pretty sure if we haven’t sold more of “Shame, Shame” we definitely will by the end so not by that measure. But sure up until the new one, most people knew “Fate.” Anyway we wanted to make a more musically direct album this time with less ornamentation.
3. You’ve been around as a band since the turn of the last decade. How do you think that this last decade will be remembered (talent shows aside of course)?
Zach: Digital democracy decade. Nobody had webpages or cellphones or emails when we started. All that stuff was just beginning. It’s a lot different now. Now you have a webpage before you have a band.
4. How representative is your new album ‘Shame Shame’, to the sound/vibe of your back catalogue? Before penning this album did you take time to reflect on your previous material?
Zach: No. We were just focusing on the songs and responding to the mood of the lyrics. We don’t really look back to make sure we’re in line with our sound or anything like that. We know who we are and we know what kind of music we like and, we know we can make music that we love to listen to and that’s really our only mind-frame at the time.
5. Describe the Philadelphia scene that you expanded out of, how well did you fit in with it?
Zach: The scene at the time we were coming up was amazing. There were so many great bands who unfortunately didn’t really make it out with us. There are some who are still active but in the beginning I thought “wow, all of these bands are going to be huge” but it didn’t really work out like that.
6. Which of your songs sum up your current mood and why?
Zach: I’ve had “I Only Wear Blue” in my head for a while now. I don’t know if it’s speaking to anything though.
7. A topical question; are festivals a good or bad thing for music?
Zach: I think they’re at best a good showcase, but they can be special. You’re really working against the odds in a lot of those situations. You have to completely set up and soundcheck in 20 or 30 minutes and pray that nothing goes haywire. Then thousands of people show up and you have to play 45 minutes in the sun and wind while trying to get your monitors right. It’s a good test for a band and it’s a good chance for people to see a lot of different music. I’ve seen a lot of bands I never would have seen otherwise so sure I think they’re a good experience but for most bands it’s far from a definitive experience.
8. For me, the album that covers your full range is the understated ‘Easy Beat’. From the delightfully reflective, yet upbeat, key tinkled pop out of ‘The World May Never Know’, through the maudlin blues acoustic led ballad of ‘Dutchman Falls’, to the crooked jaunty acid indie folk trip of ‘Fools Life’. You display depth emotion and heart skipping through genres with abandon. How do you remember this album? And do you agree that it represents Dr Dog at your most varied?
Zach: I guess that’s probably true, at least stylistically. We recorded that in our home recording style in the basement of my house where we practiced. There was still a lot of trial and error and we didn’t really know how to do a lot of stuff so we had to come up with workarounds, like recording drums and cymbals separately. On top of that the songs were from all different times so there were a lot of different perspectives on display there.
9. How do you want leave people feeling after they have witnessed one of your live shows?