It's been nearly three years since Dr. Dog last visited Charleston, headlining a night of silly madness at the Pour House. The band imbibed as well, but bassist Toby Leaman says that the intricacies of their music preclude getting too liquored up.
That's even more the case today, as the six-piece with three vocalists hones their barrage of sound with their evolving pop sensibilities.
"We're growing in a way where people are hanging back more and concentrating on the groove and feel and less on constant playing," explains Leaman. "Sometimes simple is better."
The group recently released a four-song addendum to 2010's Shame, Shame as a stand-alone 7" EP and download. All of the text in the album's artwork is in a new alphabet created by guitarist/singer Scott McMicken and new member Dmitri Manos (electronics/percussion/guitar). The only writing in English throughout the entire album, including label ANTI-'s logo, is a tattoo of Leaman's wife Sarah's name on his arm.
This peculiar effort is a prime indicator of the band's constantly creative output since 2002's debut, Toothbrush. Songs like "Black-Red" on the new EP (simply called Seven Inch 7") don't necessarily sound like "classic" Dr. Dog, but Leaman says that's kind of the point.
"I feel like we're capable of playing any kind of song we really want to, if we're into it," he says. "To say something is 'un-Dr. Dog,' I feel like that sort of defines what Dr. Dog is."
Leaman and McMicken share songwriting duties, and each averages about a tune a month. That has allowed them to release full-length LPs nearly every year. The pair played together in Philadelphia area bands for years before deciding to put together one primary group to focus their collective energy on. Each of their albums, including 2007's critically acclaimed We All Belong, was recorded in their home studio in Philly, where most of the band still lives within four blocks of each other. Upon signing with ANTI-, recording for 2010's Shame, Shame was moved to New York, prompting the biggest obstacle yet to the band's inner workings.
"It was a pretty rough beginning to that record, but eventually we found some middle ground with the guys we were working with," says Leaman. "You just have to put the band before yourself. There's no use holding onto negativity or grudges. It doesn't really matter who writes the part or is playing the part as long as it's good and it gets done. Whoever does it fastest and whoever does it best can do it."
As the bassist, Leaman says that adding drummer Eric Slick last year has been transformative for the rhythm section. "He's ridiculously awesome," says Leaman.
The group is rounded out by rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy and keyboard player Zach Miller. For the Seven Inch sessions, the group decided a return home to Philly was in their best interest. They worked at a friend's studio and determined that in the future they'd stay close to home for recording. After their spring tour, they're right back to the studio for a 2011 release.
Dr. Dog's rise in popularity earned bigger venues, and their return finds them at the Music Farm, along with two other bands of note. Buried Beds may be Dr. Dog's indie-pop heir apparent in Philadelphia, with their Feist-esque lead singer and groovy hooks. Seattle-based act the Head and the Heart, with their fiddle, harmonies, and full-band instrumentation, could be the most beautifully soaring group to call themselves "folk" on the scene (download track "Down in the Valley" for free at their website).
For those on the fence, the three-fold lineup is worth a little before-the-show research.
Wrapping up, it wouldn't be a proper Dr. Dog article to not include a requisite lazy comparison to the Beach Boys or the Beatles.
Leaman doesn't let that bother him. "They're talking about two of the best bands ever, so that's an upshot," he says, adding, "We play in service of the song."