Dr. Dog aims to be as infectious as its musical influences
It's not as though they ever left, but the Beatles are suddenly on everyone's minds and ears yet again. The anniversary of their arrival in America on "The Ed Sullivan Show" is on Sunday, Feb. 9, meaning all TV and radio stations are pulling out their finest tributes and documentaries.
So, in a way, it seems only fitting that Dr. Dog – a modern rock outfit which draws heavy influence from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other similar '60s rock bands – would come to town around this time.
The old school rock band is coming to Milwaukee tonight to play a gig at Turner Hall Ballroom, with the doors opening at 7 p.m. While some of their biggest inspirations may come from across the pond, the boys of Dr. Dog hail from Philadelphia, where in the early 2000s, they started coming together, playing some music and impressing the locals.
"I met Toby (Leaman, bass and vocals) and Scott (McMicken, lead guitar and vocals) – who had gone to high school together – during college at a Dr. Dog show in the barn where they used to practice," recalled keyboard player Zach Miller, in an interview via email. "Still one of the best shows I've ever seen. It turns out I lived right around the corner from them, and we started hanging out. Eventually, they asked me to join."
The band started making a name for itself in the Philadelphia area, releasing its first album, "Toothbrush," in 2002. At the same time, Dr. Dog was still forming itself, with some members leaving and new members joining. Eventually, however, the members found a combination of musicians that made their music pop.
"We met Frank (McElroy, rhythm guitar) and Dimitri (Manos, multi-instrumentalist) through their childhood friend Bradford, who we met in college," Miller said. "We met Eric (Slick, the drummer) as a superfan at our shows. We knew he was a School of Rock alumni and had been touring with ex-Mothers and Magic band members. It seemed like he was too busy touring with them to try to recruit him. The first time we actually saw him play was at his first practice with us. It was evident from the first downbeat that he was the one."
Since coming together, Dr. Dog has slowly climbed its way into the public's eye in the highly competitive world of music. It's won over fans with hooky, old school rock sound and clear nods to beloved rock bands of the past, all with its own spirited energy.
A part of that spirit is a tradition of nicknames amongst band members. It started with nicknames all beginning with T, such as Taxi (McMicken), Teach (Slick), Tables (Leaman) and Text (Miller), but it's evolved over time.
"It started off as a silly thing to bond us together in the early days, and we just stuck with it," Miller said. "Then once we started doing interviews, everyone fixated on the T names and wondered if we call each other them all the time but we didn't really ever do that, except for [ex-members] Doug (Truck) and Jim (Tree) occasionally. But we all have our nicknames we use informally with each other and switched over to those for this record. The nightmare continues."
The nicknames weren't the only new thing Dr. Dog tried out for its latest album, "B-Room," which was released last October. Looking for a change of pace from the usual studio, Meth Beach in Philadelphia, the band decided to make its own.
"It was a great experience," Miller noted. "We knew we wanted to move out of our old studio, and we initially started looking for a secluded house to convert, but there just weren't any good options in the area. We ended up finding this old silversmith's shop and cleared out most the walls and partitions, and built a control room and a tracking room inside the space. It was cool to be working with the band in an entirely non-musical context and then switch over to recording immediately thereafter. It was just a lot of good hangtime for us after a long time being off the road."
That wasn't the end of the experimentation, however. Dr. Dog tried to capture that "hangtime" feeling and close connection it had pulling the studio together and put it in the music by tracking songs live. It was a first for the band that, according to Miller, was a success. In fact, he credits the latest album's funkier, almost Motown vibe to playing and recording the songs together live in the studio. And it seems "B-Room" is just the beginning.
"It's just so much easier to track live now," Miller said. "At least we know we can do it, that it is an option. We're exploring that side of the band more and more. Last year, we had some down time in Nashville, and we went into Easy Eye studio and tracked a totally live version of "Too Weak to Ramble." Don't know what we're going to do with it yet, but it turned out great and was a good confidence builder."
Even though the band just released "B-Room" less than half a year ago, it already has big plans ahead, namely the release of "The Psychedelic Swamp," which the band originally recorded back in 2001 but never released. Dr. Dog is currently collaborating with Pig Iron Theater Company in Philadelphia to help realize the project how the guys always wanted it, complete with a live rerecording and, the most ambitious part, a stage show.
"It's going to be challenging project, mostly because we've built it up in our own minds so much," Miller said. "It's tense now that we're on the verge of actually doing it. It was always something we were talking about doing 'someday,' but now 'someday' is here."
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