Pennsylvania might be the land Dr. Dog hails from, but seldom does the longstanding psychedelic pop-and-more troupe stay away long from Louisville. Bassist, guitarist and co-vocalist Toby Leaman, in fact, figures that the band plays the Derby City once every 16 months or so. The relationship was cemented in 2007 with a visit to Louisville Slugger Field.
“I remember that show,” Leaman said. “I think we sang the national anthem that night. The impetus for that was that the Phillies had asked us to sing the national anthem back home the next week. So, we were like, ‘Let’s practice. Nobody ever gets to practice the national anthem at a baseball field.’ And we just happened to be at a baseball field.”
The band’s fondness for Louisville will be displayed twice this weekend, courtesy of the Forecastle Festival. Dr. Dog performs a midnight show Friday night at Headliners Music Hall, then heads to the main Forecastle digs in Waterfront Park on Saturday as part of a hearty daylong bill that includes Alabama Shakes, The Arcs, Sarah Jarosz and Pokey LaFarge, among others.
For Leaman and his bandmates — guitarists Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, drummer Eric Slick and percussionist Dimitri Manos — the Forecastle engagement isn’t just a way of deepening an already solid Louisville fan base. It will also help introduce Dr. Dog’s refreshingly animated pop to prospective fans, especially those on Saturday who journeyed to the festival to hear other acts.
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We’ve never been cool on any level whatsoever.
Dr. Dog bassist, guitarist and co-vocalist Toby Leaman
“We’ve always been kind of a slow burn of a band,” Leaman said. “The good thing is we’ve never really taken a step back. Not a lot of bands can say that. For the past 12 years of being on the road, we’ve just gotten bigger. But we’ve never gotten big, so there’s that. If I knew how to crack into the next bracket without feeling like we were losing a piece of ourselves, that would be valuable information to have. But we’ve always had a pretty humble mentality about our band. We’ve never really chased trends or anything like that. We’ve never been cool on any level whatsoever.
“That probably speaks to the fact that we’ve never had a hit single, a big video, placement in a movie or something that really pushes the ball forward really quickly. But when you’ve been doing it for as long as we have, you’re just happy you’re still around and that you’re still growing. That, in and off itself, is a minor miracle.”
The charm of Dr. Dog’s music is on display throughout The Psychedelic Swamp, the band’s newest album — a record comprised, oddly enough, of some of its oldest songs.
The first version of the sci-fi friendly concept album was cut with demo-like sensibility in 2001. But when Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company inquired about creating a stage project with Dr. Dog, the album was recut and essentially reborn with sounds that recall everyone from The Beach Boys to My Morning Jacket.
“They almost felt like cover songs in a lot of ways,” Leaman said of retooling the music from The Psychedelic Swamp. “The idea was, ‘OK, this is what the song sounded like then, but it doesn’t have to sound anything like that now.’ I don’t think any of the lyrics really changed, but some of the songs changed completely along with the instrumentation.”
“The original recordings were just done on a little keyboard, a drum machine, a delay pedal and an acoustic guitar. They didn’t have a full band or anything like that. So that part was kind of fun. We’re just covering ourselves with songs we’ve been detached from for so long that they felt more or less like other people’s songs.”
Summing up all the sounds and details that go into those songs is another matter. A preview story by Donna Cope on the Sloss Festival in Birmingham, Ala., which Dr. Dog will play after Forecastle on Sunday, tagged the band as a “label-defying, multi-hyphenated, indie-psychedelic-rock-folk-basement-Americana-touring band.” Just trying looking for that bin at Wal-Mart.
“We don’t really think about labels too much. I mean, sometimes they can be helpful, like when you look at a band and think, ‘Okay, here’s a band that plays ska music.’ That’s helpful. But when I read a little descriptor of what a band is in a handbill at festival and it’s all a bunch of hyphens, well, ... If that’s actually helpful, I’m all for it. But if it’s just laziness, a way of thinking about something that isn’t necessarily accurate, it’s not helping at all.”
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