While drawing heavily on 1960s' bands like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Dr. Dog has managed to refer to rock music's past while also forging a sound all its own. "One of the most challenging tasks for any modern band must be the ability to facilitate a balance between their own musical creativity and the influence of past artists that have inspired them," wrote Stylus Magazine. The band accomplished this task with aplomb, practicing its do-it-yourself approach to rock by combining lo-fi aesthetics with psychedelic touches in the studio. Despite the band's firm foundation in classic and alternative rock, the band's moniker has led some observers to mistake Dr. Dog for both a hip-hop and a punk rock group. "We're not basement punk rockers, living on ramen," drummer Juston Stens told Peter Van Allen in the Philadelphia Business Journal.
When the New York Times music critic John Pareles reviewed Easy Beat, Dr. Dog's third album, the band's reputation spread beyond its Philadelphia base. "By the time Dr. Dog released the critically lauded Easy Beat," wrote Hannah Levin in Seattle Weekly, "they had earned their road-warrior stripes and were well-poised for broader success."
Dr. Dog was formed in 1999 by bassist Toby Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken in Philadelphia as a part-time offshoot to Indie band Raccoon. As a duo, McMicken and Leaman recorded 35 tracks over a long period of time, tracks that eventually surfaced as Psychedelic Swamp in 2001. "It was just like an amalgamation of stuff we had done on the eight-track," Leaman told Kevin Doran in the Daily Collegian. "It wasn't a proper album or anything." When Raccoon disbanded, Leaman and McMicken eventually augmented the line-up with guitarist Doug O'Donnell, drummer Juston Stens, and keyboardist Zach Miller. The tighter Toothbrush followed in 2002 and, like Psychedelic Swamp, was released independently. Like the previous album, the tracks were recorded over a lengthy period of time and were never destined for release. "It was never meant to be an album," Leaman told Doug Wallen in the Philadelphia Weekly.
Toothbrush, however, would play a pivotal role in the band's evolution. Through 2004, Dr. Dog had retained a strictly local following, but after a copy of Toothbrush was passed along to Jim James of the band My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog was invited to perform as the opening act for My Morning Jacket's upcoming tour. Besides offering Dr. Dog exposure, the tour aided the band's financial situation. "We came back from that first tour [with My Morning Jacket] with more money than we ever considered having, to spend just on the band," McMicken told Wallen. The money allowed the band to buy new equipment and work toward releasing its first official recording.
Before recording its next album, O'Donnell left Dr. Dog and was replaced by guitarist Andrew Jones. Easy Beat gained wide attention after a review in the New York Times, considerably helping the band grow from a local to a national act. "Easy Beat is the kind of album that goes into your player and doesn't come out for a good week or so, and portions of it will make you remember just how great and how fun rock music can be," wrote Sean Westergaard in All Music Guide. Other critics concurred. "In an era of creative saturation, we need more records like Easybeat," wrote Cian Traynor in BC Music, "not only because it proves that there is a quality of life to be found in aesthetic recycling, but just simply because they're damn good."
Despite Dr. Dog's growing fan base, members continued to work part-time jobs. "They're getting a lot of exposure, but much less money [than the top act]," the band's publicist David Lewis told Allen. "They might be getting $100 a night. For five dudes, that's not a lot. That's eating at Taco Bell every day. That's bean and burrito." Dr. Dog followed Easy Beat with the EP Takers and Leavers in 2006. Bobby Tanzilo in On Milwaukee wrote that Takers and Leavers has a "warm, pillowy analog sound and a garage band vibe." Two cuts, "Ain't It Strange" and "Die, Die, Die," would appear again on the group's next album.
Dr. Dog issued We All Belong in 2007, an album that captured the band's continued growth. We All Belong "is a little bit cleaner and dressed a little bit nicer than Easy Beat, but the rustic appeal of the music still comes through loud and clear," wrote Westergaard. For recording the album, Dr. Dog expanded its sound capabilities by trading its eight-track tape recorder for a 24-track model. "It's always sort of fun to work with limitations," Leaman told Levin, "but sometimes it can bring you down. We needed more space." Dr. Dog's music nonetheless continued to be marked by rich harmonies that recalled the Beach Boys. We All Belong was the band's first album to chart, reaching number 30 on the Top Heatseekers chart, and "Worst Trip" appeared on the soundtrack for Fast Food Nation.
Dr. Dog has toured extensively and built a solid reputation as a live band. In 2006 the group toured with the Strokes, the Raconteurs, and the Black Keys. On March 12, 2007, Dr. Dog performed on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, and on May 23, 2007, they appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman. "This band is certainly no dog," wrote Craig Rosen in Hollywood Reporter of one live performance. "In fact, if the name weren't already taken, it would be completely appropriate to call it Dr. Feelgood." Beginning in July of 2007, Dr. Dog issued one unreleased recording per week at the band's website and planned to follow these issues with an official release at the beginning of 2008.
While Dr. Dog appears to have a promising future, detractors worry that the band relies too heavily on earlier rock bands and styles. "Dr. Dog has come under criticism for the influences obviously identifiable in their music," noted Al Cottrill in Wireless Bollinger. Dr. Dog's influences, however, frequently expand beyond 1960s' era groups to embrace newer performers like Pavement, the Palace Brothers, and Roy Wood. Furthermore, the choice to add recording equipment and expand the band's sound after the successful Easy Beat has revealed a group interested in growth. "The nice thing about this band is we can pretty much write whatever kind of song we want and find a way to make it work," Leaman told Doran. "I don't feel like we're too bound up or tied up in a certain genre or anything like that."
For the Record …
Members include: Andrew Jones , guitar; Toby Leaman , bass, vocals; Scott McMicken , guitar, vocals; Zach Miller , keyboards; Juston Stens , drums.
Formed by Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, 1999; recorded and self-released Psychedelic Swamp, 2001, and Toothbrush, 2002; issued Easy Beat on Park the Van, 2004; released the EP Takers and Leavers, 2006, and We All Belong, 2007.
Psychedelic Swamp, Self-Released, 2001.
Toothbrush, Self-Released, 2002.
Easy Beat, Park the Van, 2004.
Takers and Leavers, Park the Van, 2006.
We All Belong, Park the Van, 2007.
Hollywood Reporter, September 12, 2006.
Philadelphia Business Journal, May 9, 2005.
"Canine Teeth," Philadelphia Weekly,www.philadelphiaweekly.com (July 17, 2007).
"CD Review: Dr. Dog Easy Beat," Blog Critics,http://www.blogcritics.org (August 11, 2007).
"Dr. Dog," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 17, 2007).
"Dr. Dog: Easy Beat," Wireless Bollinger,http://www.wirelessbollinger.com (August 11, 2007).
"Dr. Dog Joins Black Keys at the Rave," On Milwaukee,http://www.onmilwaukee.com (August 11, 2007).
"Dr. Dog," Stylus,http://www.stylusmagazine.com (August 11, 2007).
"Q & A: Dr. Dog," Daily Collegian Online,http://www.collegian.psi.edu (August 11, 2007).
"Sunshine Fix," Seattle Weekly,http://www.seattleweekly.com (August 11, 2007).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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