Dr. Dog singer/guitarist Scott McMicken describes the band's newly released seventh album, Be the Void, as "rawer and more powerful" than its polished predecessors.
We chatted with McMicken about the album, the band's recent lineup additions, and why he deems Texas crowds among the world's best.
Rocks Off: Tell us about Dr. Dog's new record, Be The Void.
Scott McMicken: While we have self-produced our own albums, there's still a great deal of variety between one album and the next, like our general goals for each album. And with each album, we get to apply more and more things that we're learning along the way.
Like a lot of things in life, one can seek out growth or evolution by physically rearranging the elements of your life, or you can do that internally and start changing your perspective. On the new album, we were playing around with a lot of perspective.
RO: So, a "rearrangement" of both perspective and of your band itself; Be The Void has introduced to two new members to Dr. Dog, correct?
SM: Yes - changes to perspective and to the actual band; we've added two members (drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Manos) since our last album, and that's been extremely influential to the band.
Be the Void was created on the same gear, and in the same studio that we've recorded in for seven, yet still sounds brand new--I think that's always the goal: To allow your evolved perspective help make each album you're writing sound like it's the first. Figuring how to execute ideas in the studio became the fun of it all.
RO: Are you referring to your studio, "Meth Beach"?
SM: Yeah, Meth Beach. (Laughs) We nicknamed it years ago because it's located in a rough neighborhood. Right before we moved in, a whole row of houses burned down because a meth lab exploded, leaving a vacant lot across the street from our studio. In that lot, there was a boat, and for some reason, there were always seagulls hanging around, giving it that weird look of a beach. So, we call it "Meth Beach."
RO: Tell us more about Eric and Dimitri, and how they've affected the band's sound.
SM: Slick has a super-power brain. He's so gifted, and was a big fan of the band before joining, which is important for us in terms of musicianship, creativity, and collaboration; the foundation and spirit of the band mean a lot, and he's like a brother to us all. He's a refreshing addition to the band, and he's a far better musician than any of us, technically speaking.
Dimitri has been a friend of ours forever; he played on Easy Beat, and he's always been an honorary member of the band. When he joined us, he joined with no clear role. For the first few months, he was the tambourine player. Since then, he's created a role for himself, and we're all very open to whatever he wants to do. He's an abstract thinker--a sonic Brian Eno-type musician, so it's a perfect format for him.
RO: Earlier, you mentioned each Dr. Dog album sets out to achieve a different sort of goal. What were you aiming to attain with Be the Void?
SM: We're finally doing what we've been inching toward for so long, which is to capture more energy and more spontaneity on the record, and therefore a more "live" feeling.
And Dimitri and Eric have brought clear, focused roles in the band--which by no means closes doors, but it has focused everyone, allowing us to work more quickly, keeping us honest and spontaneous, instead of overworking and doubting, which can suck the joy out of recording. It keeps the results fresh, and Eric and Dimitri have enhanced that for us.
RO: It sounds like you guys have quite a healthy band dynamic.
SM: We're a group of dudes proud to know each other and work together. These days, I don't think we've ever been so confident in what we're doing, because we're not reaching for anything specific. Rather, we're expressing something that makes us all feel good. It's not about "the search" or "the try"--it's already there.
RO: I've seen Dr. Dog several times in the past few years, and you're always wearing sunglasses and beanies onstage. Is that still your live shtick?
SM: Yes, they're well in tact! I almost feel like we're traveling hat salesmen now. Like, "Yeah, we'll just play some music over here in the corner while you all buy hats!" We've been selling so many hats -- we can barely keep them in stock! (laughs)
RO: What was the last great concert you saw?
SM: We've been on tour with this band Purling Hiss, and seeing them live has been great. But the last non Dr. Dog-related show I went to see was... hmm... I don't know. What was the last great show you saw?
RO: Well, I saw Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks last week, so that's an easy answer for me.
SM: Oh! How was it?
RO: It was perfect. Like night and day to the times I'd seen Pavement; Malkmus seemed happy.
SM: Yeah, I'd seen Pavement a few times back in the '90s, but the shows always left something to be desired. It's hard to recreate the spirit captured on those albums. I saw the Jicks on their first tour, and I agree -- it was really good.
Oh yeah! I did see Ariel Pink play in Philly, and that was an incredible show. He's like listening to an old A.M. radio, hearing the Beach Boys somewhere 1,000 miles away, and fine-tuning the knob trying to bring it into full view.
RO: You're sounding more like the music critic in this conversation.
SM (laughing): Thanks!
RO: How do you like playing in Texas?
SM: We always love playing in Texas -- actually, we love playing anywhere in the South; it has always been more responsive to our sound than other places. A certain kind of pressure is lifted playing in Texas.
RO: Why is that? The crowds differ?
SM: Yeah. The crowds down South are always more exuberant, fun and rowdy. It's nice because it breaks that bubble around everything, like a wonderful nap.
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RO: I hear you have another Texas tie?
SM: I do! I lived in Houston for a bit, as a kid. My dad was born and raised in Houston, and my grandmother and step-grandfather lived in Livingston. I was only in the 4th and 5th grades when I lived there, so I don't recognize a lot now, but the city does have a certain connection for me.
I guess you could say Houston is my "home away from home," away from home.
With Givers, 8 p.m. Saturday at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak.