Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken

Since 2001, Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog have been making music in the classic mold of groups like The Beatles and The Band, fleshed out with beautiful harmonies contributed at times by every member of the quintet. Principal songwriters Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman lead the way, trading off between McMickens soft-spoken tenor and Leaman’s McCartney-esque howl (think “Oh Darlin”). Their new album, Shame, Shame, is out April 6th on ANTI- records. Scott talked to REAX at the Harvest of Hope festival in St Augustine.

REAX: Do you say “an-TIE” or “an-TEE” records?
McMicken: I kind of bounce back and forth. I’m not really sure of that word.

REAX: When I see it, I freeze up because I’m scared I’m going to say it the wrong way and someone is going to judge me for it.

REAX: You put out a lot of material for how often you’re touring. How long ago did Fate come out?
McMicken: I think that was July of…2008?

REAX: Is there any influence that has changed in your songwriting as far as the material on Shame, Shame goes?
McMicken: Yeah, I think so. I think in one way I feel like it’s more about the influence of ourselves these days, rather than drawing as closely to all of our external influences over the years. It felt like this album was about – I mean, granted, everything about the way we sound has been arrived at through our influences, of course. But, we’ve been playing live so much over the past five or six years, that I feel we’ve really started to gain a much clearer sense of what that meant, what we sounded like, what we enjoyed, and what worked for us. So we went into the studio thinking more consciously about that, the live show. In the past every time we’ve gone to record, we kind of shut off that idea of the live show and try to do something different.

REAX: To focus on a studio creation? You feel this is more spontaneous?
McMicken: Yeah, and more gut-based. Going off the feel of things rather than the sonic texture.

REAX: When you record a song, do you do a lot of variations on it, experimenting with different instrumentation?
McMicken: There’s a LOT of that. It feels like we don’t allow ourselves to feel all that confident about what we’ve arrived at unless we’ve tried it several different ways. With this record, for sure. We didn’t start recording until August, but June, July and most of May, too, we were just getting together everyday and playing these songs different ways. In the end, you wind up with these Frankenstein creations of THIS aspect of THAT version, combined with THIS thing that worked from THAT version. You arrive at conclusions that are, for us, not the most immediate ones, but by far the most exciting.

REAX: Does that mean you have a lot of recordings of alternate versions of songs that have never seen the light of day?
McMicken: Yeah. Lots of that.

REAX: Do you have plans to ever make any of that stuff available?
McMicken: I guess to us those things serve a purpose, but they’re rendered useless once we’ve pulled from them what about them works.

REAX: Relegated to Draft status?
McMicken: Yeah, and I don’t think many of us feel super confident about listening to those, and that’s the nature of what they were there for. But, there are always so many other songs that maybe only enter that phase, but never get finished. Those tend to have more legs than the ones that we actually finish. We’re always trying to figure out ways of putting out stuff like that, songs that weren’t released. Then you don’t have this frame of reference on what it’s supposed to sound like. It just is what it is.

REAX: You know what was awesome, is the two songs on Fate that had live performance videos included with the iTunes download, “From” and “Hang On”. Have you done anything like that for this album?
McMicken: No, not yet, but we’ve talked about it, and a few other things that include some of that documentary-style window on the process.

REAX: You guys have gotten more attention with every album that you’ve put out over the past few years. Have you been seeing that whenever you head out on a new tour? Are you getting a more enthusiastic response and bigger crowds?
McMicken: Yeah. Yeah, without a doubt. It’s really exciting. It feels good, ‘cause we’ve been doing this a long time, you know? It’s never been this explosive overnight thing for us, yet there’s always , every six months or so, this kind of change in climate when we go out on tour. It feels really good, because it feels like there are a lot of people there who have been coming for years. The way I figure it is it’s mostly people talking to their friends, word of mouth getting around. That’s why it’s taken us 6 years of touring to get to this point. So it really feels like arriving somewhere tangible, rather than getting a whole lot of attention all of a sudden.