Give Dr. Dog a dingy room, and the band is ready to record

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)February 6, 2014 

cc2011067 - Dr. Dog for Band Publicity photographed in Philadelp

Dr. Dog consists of Frank McElroy, left, Eric Slick, Scott McMicken, Toby Leaman, Dimitri Manos and Zach Miller. Its latest album, B-Room, was released in the fall.


MINNEAPOLIS — After grinding it out on the road for the past decade, the fellas in the Philadelphia psychedelic soul-pop band Dr. Dog had some well-deserved money to invest in a new studio space last year. So they built one inside a former silver mill.

Like most studios, it's divided into two rooms.

"We made the control room really nice and pretty, with a high-tech system and lots of bells and whistles," said singer/bassist Toby Leaman. "But we left the B-room kind of grubby, like what we were used to.

"It turned out, we wanted what we were used to. We seemed to get more inspiration and work done in the dingy room."

That explains the title of the sextet's latest album, B-Room, and the low-frills, rustic charm that has made Dr. Dog a cult favorite if never quite a critics' darling or indie buzz maker. The band has enjoyed a decent smattering of radio play — especially off its rabidly infectious 2012 masterpiece Be the Void — but mostly it has made its mark as a live act.

That's fine by the band members, Leaman said by phone, just before the band hit the road again. Dr. Dog played the Madison Theater in Covington on Monday.

When asked for advice on how to make touring a successful endeavor, Leaman's response was, "Get in a band with people you like — guys you can get in fights with without it breaking up."

That seems like an important asset in Dr. Dog, given that it's led by two songwriters with equal input, a formula that can make for a strained relationship, as any Beatles fan might tell you.

Friends since eighth grade, the huskily soulful Leaman and more wiry-voiced singer/guitarist Scott McMicken have been alternating songs on albums since the band's 2002 debut.

They came into their own with their fifth album and first for Anti- Records, 2010's Shame, Shame, which struck a balance of White Album-style frayed pop, Wilco-like Americana experimentation and the vague but always present influence of Philly soul.

"He and I don't really write our songs together, for the most part," Leaman explained of their collaboration, "but we feed off each other's ideas after the fact, and that's where we wind up getting a lot of great ideas."

"I can't say it's always wine and roses. Sometimes we've had to be brutally honest with each other, and it hurts. But you have to learn it's not coming from a place of, 'I don't like this because I don't like you.' It's more, 'I don't like this because I think we can do better.'"

The rest of the band had more input on B-Room. This was the first album the guys made all together in the studio at one time.

"We just got better as musicians, better at things like knowing how to mike a drum right so we don't have to overdub a cymbal part or whatever," Leaman said.

What's more, he made it sound as if nobody in the band wanted to stray too far in the giant old silver mill the band took over for recording: "It's kind of scary. There are all these weird vats with God knows what kind of chemicals and waste in them."

Sounds like the makings of a great metal album.

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