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Dr. Dog takes a more collaborative approach on their latest album

Saturday, November 9, 2013
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Dr. Dog’s latest album, “B-Room,” is more in line than previous albums with the psychedelic band’s live shows.
Dr. Dog’s latest album, “B-Room,” is more in line than previous albums with the psychedelic band’s live shows.

From its first home-recorded album, 2001’s “The Psychedelic Swamp,” through last year’s “Be the Void,” Dr. Dog has focused exclusively on guitarist Scott McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman’s songs.

That dichotomy has been ditched on “B-Room,” the West Grove, Pa., psychedelic group’s third album for ANTI- records and eighth overall. The album, along with being the first to be recorded in the band’s new self-constructed studio, is the first to feature collaboration among all six band members — including guitarist Frank McElroy, multi-instrumentalist Zach Miller, drummer Eric Slick and percussionist Dimitri Manos.

The resulting 12 songs rely less on the heavily overdubbed soundscapes that the band has become known for on its recordings and instead more closely resemble the hard-driving, high-energy approach of the band’s much-lauded live show.

Dr. Dog

WITH: Diamond Doves

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Upstate Concert Hall, 1208 Route 146, Clifton Park

HOW MUCH: $20 (doors); $17 (advance)

MORE INFO: 371-0012, www.upstateconcerthall.com

“We’ve been a live band for a really long time, and that carries with it a whole host of inspiration and information from over the years,” McMicken said recently from a tour stop in Richmond, Va. The band will return to Upstate Concert Hall on Wednesday.

“With each passing year, the live show becomes more and more the focal point, the lens through which we understand the music we make. Whereas early on it was recording-based and then live was whatever we could adapt and sacrifice from what the recording was to make it feel like something.

“It’s a really normal thing, in truth,” McMicken continued. “It’s weird to describe. It’s essentially what the vast majority of bands do; it was just a sort of roundabout, back-door way for us to arrive at a more conventional way of working.”

“B-Room” continues the band’s quick recording pace, coming out less than two years after “Into the Void,” which itself arrived less than two years after 2010’s ANTI- debut “Shame, Shame.” It’s also only the second album to fully feature Slick, a veteran of Adrian Belew’s Power Trio, and Manos, who both came on board during the “Shame, Shame” sessions.

The change in studios had a big influence on the collaborative nature of the recording sessions. After eight years at their former studio, Meth Beach in Philadelphia, the band ended its lease on the building and moved into an old silversmith mill just outside of West Grove.

In February the band began renovation and construction on the space, building the studio space from the ground up. The project ended up fostering band unity and opened the door for the collaborative writing sessions that would follow.

Working together

“That shared experience, the collaborative aspect of that, was something we locked into in a construction sense,” McMicken said. “So we went into the music-making already with our relationships and egos very much in check due to the work we succeeded in doing just on building and designing the place.

“It put us in a great spot for making music. But beyond that, the whole thing — the manifestation of a world that suits our needs, which tailors exactly to the kind of atmosphere we work in — we customized it to our needs, and then we were able to really enjoy that.”

The band was also working on a tight deadline to finish the record, so construction had to proceed quickly.

“We were working seven days a week; half of us were living there, so the work never stopped,” McMicken said. “We also had a deadline to finish the record, so we couldn’t just sprawl out — we had six weeks tops [for construction], in order to get the record done, turn it in on time and stay on schedule.”

Recording began almost immediately after the construction was finished, with the band once again producing itself — to date, only “Shame, Shame” featured an outside producer, Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck). After the unifying experience of building the studio, both Leaman and McMicken decided to bring fewer completed songs in to the band.

“We came in much more interested in writing together as a band, either at the piano singing or jamming as a band, teaching each other cool moments and experimenting with some technology to create a song,” McMicken said. “For Toby and I, as songwriters, it was another avenue to explore. I’ve approached songwriting from so many different angles, but one I haven’t done much is collaboration. To be able to be just the lyricist to a song and let the rest of the band exercise their kind of brilliant knowledge of chord progressions — to take a piece of music someone’s written and provide the singer, write a whole track in that way — it was another exciting aspect of songwriting for Toby and I to get involved with.”

‘A new era for us’

The album’s songs retain the ’60s psychedelic vibe and strong Beach Boys-influenced harmonies that have marked each of Dr. Dog’s previous recordings, while streamlining the sound. Most of the material was recorded live in the studio with few overdubs, adding to the soulful feel of many of the tracks.

“Speaking for myself, I took more of a cue from [Leaman] in terms of leaning toward or trying to find more of a deeper soul element to my own voice and music,” McMicken said. “In my mind, he’s always been more guttural and visceral, and I’ve kind of been the sweeter, more melodic side of the band. But my personal taste has shifted in the last couple years, where I want to make music that is in line with what he’s already been doing.”

For McMicken, this album isn’t just a one-time experiment in cooperative songwriting.

“This whole experience points out how much farther there is to go,” McMicken said. “Once you open the door to have six people fully contributing, it feels like an endless maze of options and ways of getting things done. This is more than just some big, bold statement made by this record — it feels like a new era for us.”

 
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