Dr. Dog aren't the same band they used to be. Gone are the days of the gritty, ramshackle group of Philadelphia drifters who firmly planted themselves in the world of indie rock. Now, for a band that has seen all the successes you could ask for after more than a decade, the six-piece is steadily doing their thing in much tighter fashion than ever before.
They're not changing the world, or even striving to, but Dr. Dog is focused on making a dent with consistently solid recorded efforts and equally as substantial live performances. With another album, 2013's B-Room, in the books, they're now focusing on bringing those new songs and the endless amount of gems from records past to fans, city to city.
It's hard to have lived in Houston and not heard of Dr. Dog. They've played more gigs in this town than any other bigger national touring act I can think of and have always treated Houston very well -- never skipping over us for the state's bigger music markets.
With a week off from the road, bassist, co-vocalist and songwriter Toby Leaman took a few moments from his Saturday afternoon to eagerly talk about his band, the new album and their time on the road.
"Austin is obviously a music city, I'm sure everyone in Houston knows that," he says. "That's just sort of how it is. I don't particularly think Houston is very small, though. There's definitely those bands that [seem to] fill their time in between the major markets, but I don't really feel that way,"
"The Houston crowds are good," he adds. "We used to play in this weird place -- it was in this odd house called "happy fun land" or something like that. [Indeed, Super Happy Fun Land - Ed.] There were some weird things going on there. It was kind of scary. Little kids' toys and stuff. Very frightening."
Having the chance to play the city so much, Leaman added his disdain for the area surrounding the venue Dr. Dog plays Thursday, Warehouse Live: "the one thing about where the venue is you're just stuck," he says. "There's not really much going on around there.
"We used to play Walter's -- that was a cool drag," Leaman continues. "That place was kind of a shithole, but there's something endearing about shitholes." He's reminiscing about the group's nearly ill-fated performance at Walter's On Washington with Delta Spirit the night before Hurricane Ike came and beat down our city.
"We got out just in time," he says.
Thankfully, unlike most other bands, Dr. Dog stuck with the show and gave their all to the few who stuck around before the storm, just one of the many reasons Houston has so much love for the indie-rockers.
With so much time away from Philadelphia, the road warriors have learned to find something positive about every city they play, not just New York City or Chicago. "There were towns that I couldn't really stand and now I love them, and sort of the other way around," Leaman says.
"Well, not really the other way around," he continues. "But you just fall more and more in love with different cities. I used to have a problem with St Louis, Salt Lake and Seattle, but I love those places now. We're a city-by-city band."
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As for what they're bringing on the road with them, Leaman is most excited about the new material from B-Room he says has been getting a lot of love on the road. "I wasn't sure how the audiences would react, because the album only received moderate reviews from the critical standpoint, but it's been really great so far," Leaman notes. "Every city we've played has been singing along to the new songs, but we get that a lot. We have really good fans."
But sometimes the older material can be new to the band as well, Leaman argues. Asked about his favorite Dr. Dog record thus far, he says, "you can't really give an album a perspective until three or four years after making it.
"You spend too much time with it, then you tour it for so long and it's not until you realize that, OK, there's only one song from that album in the set," he adds. "Then you're like, I don't even really know what that record sounds like anymore."
But recently, "the one that's sort of been doing it for me is [2007's] We All Belong," chuckles Leaman. "It's so ambitious. There's something about it that's trying to be something bigger, but on a fundamental level it will never ever get there. It can't. It can't. It's not like we failed or anything, It's like we started from the wrong point. I love it. I'm not knocking it all, I love it a lot."
To me, B-Room is the long-awaited companion album to We All Belong. It's almost like what they were striving for several years ago, but it just wasn't the right time for them to make it. As albums go, it's much more polished than past albums, part of a noticeable shift over the past several years.
Dr. Dog doesn't sound as carefree as they used to, and you can tell they are much more practiced and mature. And while their live show can still get quite rowdy, their more recent work has certainly shown off a much more reserved group of guys, happy to have a quiet night at home rather than a night on the town.
Don't take that as a bad thing, though. Their music certainly hasn't suffered during their growing-up phase, and with such a tight-knit group of guys at the helm, Dr. Dog's future as a band has never been brighter. And having developed such a die-hard fanbase over their 15 years, they're not going anywhere for a while, either.
Dr. Dog performs Thursday night with openers St. Rich at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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