Last year, the Philadelphia-based retro-rock band Dr. Dog released its 10th album, "Critical Equation," which delivered its soothing tone and maturing style as a kind of antidote to our finicky zeitgeist.
Admired by indie rock and jam band audiences alike, the band writes songs that resonate as existentially facetious. Playful vocal harmonies hover over punctuating guitar lines, melded together with warm bass tone and unobtrusive drumming. Comparisons with The Beatles, The Band, or Blitzen Trapper are easy made, but not entirely trite.
Scott McMicken, a founding member and guitarist in Dr. Dog, recently spoke about the songwriting process, learning how to play live, and the "postmodern nightmare" that is describing the band's sound. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
CITY: Would you say there is a core of the group that's mainly involved with songwriting?
Scott McMicken: Me and Toby [ Leaman, bassist ] are the songwriters. We both write separately--he writes his tunes and I write my tunes, and we don't really write songs together. If it's me singing, I wrote it, if it's him singing, he wrote it. Rarely does it break from the formula. I definitely feel we're a very collaborative band on the whole. The bulk of that comes into play when coming up with your parts, experimenting with sounds, or the arrangement.
It feels like you're a band that enjoys catching its stride playing live. How much does the live setting inform your songwriting and studio process?
Playing live has influenced and affected the way we write and record immensely over the years. I think the primary point of interest in the band right now has to do with our feel, you know, in the way a song can feel when a bunch of people are playing together sensitively. When we record more and more, we think about that. Going all the way back, we didn't know shit about playing live. We just enjoyed the process of recording so much.
And then eventually, we need to acknowledge what we've become as a live band when we come into the studio, rather than put it all away and starting from scratch. Because that's how we used to do a lot of things. There's always been a sort of divide between what we do in the studio and what we do live, but over the years, that divide definitely shrank quite a bit.
There feels like a through-line with your sound, going back to your first releases. How much do more modern bands and sounds influence your current projects? Is there a major influence in terms of aesthetic or genre that has informed your sound since your inception?
I'd say it's definitely still like, old music that is the more consistent source of inspiration for our band. The influence aspect of things is pretty amorphous, especially when talking about old versus modern. I think the more influential aspect of what is modern is more technological. World music has been creeping its influence into our band in more of a way, like dance music and African music and reggae music, and more kind of world vibe music.
Is there any pressure to retain the Dr. Dog aesthetic after so many years and albums and bandmates?
Zero. None, whatsoever. That's kind of the nice thing about, like, just sort of developing a band around the idea that anything is possible. Because then you never feel like you have something to preserve or something to protect, you know? You can just keep on trying, just keep on acting naturally, just doing whatever feels cool.
What do you think you sound like?
It's a whole postmodern nightmare. I can't even imagine what we sound like to someone. I think about that when I hear other new music.