A year and a half ago Scott "Taxi" McMicken and the rest of Dr. Dog were crashing on the hardwood floors of my Burlington apartment. For their first time in town‚ they had a good sized crowd at Higher Ground‚ despite the fact that the onslaught of media hype was still a good six months from hitting Vermont. Then still existing in the same plane of fame as my own mediocre rock outfit‚ there was nothing out of the ordinary between our collective hordes fraternizing that night -- we drank cheap beer‚ watched My Morning Jacket's Okonokos til 4 in the morning‚ and joked at the poor output of Philadelphia sports teams. Cut to July 2008... a Beck remix‚ spots on Letterman and Conan‚ a few National Anthems sung for the Phillies‚ media proclamations of rock's new golden child‚ and 15 minutes into my phone conversation with Scott the publicist from Big Hassle cuts in - "OK -- Mr. King. We only have time for one more question today." Suffice it to say I think the boys got themselves an air-mattress or two by now.
But as Scott tells the PR woman it's all right to hang up her end of the line -- that this is an interview he is actually enjoying‚ I realize that this is very much the same guy from last year. Talking with him‚ it's obvious that this music is so much a tangible glimpse of his life and his relationships‚ especially of that with Toby Leaman‚ his co-everything in Dr. Dog. And it's this truthfulness -- the fact that despite the huge comparisons to bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys‚ this music is not an act‚ nor a scheme at capitalizing on nostalgia -- it's this reality of it that makes it so incredible. With so many bands striving for that "vintage" sound today‚ there's one thing different about Dr. Dog that allows them alone to exist outside of the transparent spectrum of contrived formulas: there really is no formula. The new album‚ Fate‚ presumably out by the time you're reading this‚ is just what you would hope for -- honest stupefaction. This band stands as a triumph to the great rock bands of the past who knew one day their ether would be passed along. Don't be afraid to root for these guys‚ they're not here to let you down.
Taxi and I got moving quick...
Scott: The one thing I always think about with Toby and writing songs and stuff is‚ despite the fact that we don't actually sit down and write together‚ we have been friends since the moment we both picked up an instrument for the first time‚ and we have kind of always been a part of each other's musical lives in that way‚ from the very start. And so we've gone through a lot together in music. Like we've gone through that very first impulse of‚ like‚ hey‚ check it out: I wrote a song‚ or something‚ you know? Up until this day. And so there's been a really strong cohesiveness about what he and I go through as songwriters in the different directions that we take. If he takes a certain step‚ I feel as though I've taken that step. And I can sort of appreciate what he's gained‚ and vice versa. So our writing is definitely hugely influenced by each other in that it's kind of undeniable at this point. I mean‚ it's impossible to remove him from my musical perspective.
Despite all that‚ he and I both write from a more personal standpoint. You know‚ like it's up to him to decide the sort of imaginary or emotional landscape of his music that he wants to write‚ and same for me. So we don't really interject in what each other is trying to say or do for themselves with a particular song; we just kind of take them on and do everything we can do to make them good.
Adam: So along the same lines‚ when you guys were first even having a vision for the band‚ how much was the sound that you guys have come to make and the songs you're writing‚ how much of that was actually a vision and an idea and a preconceived concept you had‚ as compared to something that was the natural sound that flows out of you guys?
I feel like it's conscious‚ very conscious. I think we're very conscious of what we do. I know that we're very involved. I mean‚ this is a huge… not only is it a part of our lives; it has kind of become our lives‚ you know? Everything is affected by what we're doing musically‚ and everything we're doing in life otherwise is affecting the music we're making‚ too.
And I definitely saw that for the first time in black and white with Fate. And that's kind of what the subject matter of the record is. It's sort of just like all of your experiences compiling upon themselves to bring you to a certain point‚ and finding a certain sense of peace with what has brought you to where you are right now and also how that enables you to be where you'd like to go. And so‚ you know‚ we started with‚ I guess‚ it's a little bit of both: it's natural‚ and we're also very conscious of it. Especially at this point‚ because the more the band goes on‚ the more you have to make conscious decisions about what you're actually doing‚ whereas before it was just like what you did; you didn't question it... [Now] all these options suddenly come up. And with those options‚ you have to choose‚ and I think that's when as a band we're very conscious of the kind of music we want to make and a certain process that we want to be a part of‚ and that's very much based on what naturally sort of grew out of us as a band‚ initially just these two dudes who are best friends writing songs and getting weird on a four-track‚ into developing it into a five-member collective and developing our skills as producers and engineers ourselves‚ having made four or five records now.
So who do you think the music is for first‚ when you're writing it now? Is it still something that is primarily‚ "I'm doing this because of the love I get out of writing this song and playing this song and being with my friends?" Is there a new sense of‚ Oh wait‚ maybe first I need to think not so much about what it feels like for me and possibly think of what it feels like for these other people who have started to enjoy my music? You know what I'm saying?
Oh‚ I know exactly what you're saying. It's a little bit of both‚ because‚ you know‚ on the one hand‚ I feel like songwriting over the last few years‚ my feelings towards it have changed a lot. And what I've seen come out of that is‚ I've become even more dependent upon it in my own life. So in a way‚ it's more for me than it's ever been‚ for better or for worse. In fact‚ I feel like I'm having to sort of learn filters and censors for the kind of things I need to get out of songs now because a lot of times it's -- what I'm saying‚ it's come to a point where songwriting can kind of make or break me. If I'm able to do it‚ if I'm able to sort of make sense out of what feelings I'm putting into a song‚ there's no greater feeling of relief; and on the flip side‚ if I don't succeed in doing that‚ I get a lot of anxiety out of it. So I've become really dependent on it‚ so there's no doubt that at this point in time it's more a function of my life than it's ever been before.
But at the same time‚ one thing I noticed making Fate was that having had all this experience out on the road playing shows‚ which is a situation where we are very sensitive to those who are there -- that's not a situation where we're just trying to have fun for ourselves. We all are‚ obviously‚ and we hope that every night we have a good time‚ but most of that is motivated by the fact that there are these people standing there watching you‚ who devoted their time and their money to be there‚ and you really want them to walk away feeling like they had a good time. And so that being the case‚ that put this whole other element into the band‚ which is the live show‚ and that aspect‚ which has developed over the years -- like our attitudes towards playing live and the kind of growth we've experienced as a live band -- is now informing the kind of records we make. Like Fate was definitely‚ we thought a lot more about what it was going to be like to play these songs live than we ever did before. And we also wanted them to have some of the feeling and vibe and connectedness that we all experienced onstage and have never experienced studio recording before. So in that way‚ sort of through the back door‚ there's an element which is very much more sensitive towards our audience. But ultimately‚ at the end of the day‚ it's sort of for us‚ as well‚ because we just want to have songs that are well-built to play onstage‚ and songs that give you that arc and that dynamic and that nuance and that aspect of performance that make a show good. But the songwriting is still the same as it's always been; it just sort of comes from late nights alone in a bedroom‚ or you know just juggling your feelings about life‚ trying to come up with something that makes you feel a bit better about things. So that's the crux of it.
Do you find it easier to talk about love in a sad song‚ rather than in a joyous way?
Oh‚ absolutely‚ man. Absolutely. Obviously‚ that's very much dependent upon where you're at in life at any given moment... but the general disposition that I think I've maintained through everything in life is‚ no matter what any given day offers you -- you know‚ maybe you feel awful about something‚ and the next day maybe you feel great -- in general‚ a certain level of acceptance of that is sort of the pattern of life‚ what leads you to like‚ OK‚ this is how I am today; this isn't how I'm going to be for the rest of my life‚ so I can deal with this subject in a reasonable and rational way that isn't so overly dramatic and isn't so finite. Like this is not the end. This is where I am right now‚ and let's check it out for a little bit and see what's happening and then leave it sort of open-ended‚ leave a way out of it. I feel like that's fine. As a music listener‚ for me‚ sad music is my favorite. I love sad music.
I think that's what people are starting to get…
[Publicity girl: "Hey‚ guys‚ sorry to interrupt. One more question‚ OK? Thank you.]