Dr. Dog: From a Void to a Wild Race
Is it true you first met Slick in artist camping at Bonnaroo?
Yeah, that is the first time we actually met. He knew us, and we had a lot of mutual friends. We may have met briefly in Philly—I’d heard a lot of the groups he was playing in. But Bonnaroo was definitely the first time we really met and got to hang out. He was there with a gypsy group or whatever.
Then we hung out at his birthday that year. I remember we saw the Black Keys on his 21st birthday at the Electric Factory, and he came over to my house before that with his girlfriend. He hung out with Zach a bunch because Zach was living at the time in a house with a bunch of musicians that were more Slick’s camp—avant-garde guys. That was their world. Zach was the main tie for many of us to Slick, and it was Zach who, when Justin left the band, thought of Slick thankfully. Zach was definitely our entry point for Slick.
The band’s stage setup has definitely evolved over the years. When I saw you at New York’s Terminal 5 earlier in the year, you made the entire stage look like a house. How do you get the ball rolling on your stage designs and how involved is the band in that process?
Well, it’s something that we just enjoy. I think early on for the band, we just kind of covered every aspect of the band in some sort of aesthetic fingerprint. That’s just something we’ve always done because it’s just one of the many fun things about being in a band. So early on when we had shows, we’d go all out because you know you weren’t going on tours you were going across town or Delaware or whatever, so we’d fill up everybody’s car with tarps and couches and TVs and all this crap and just try to make it cool.
I think that the context can very much enhance the experience of seeing a show, and within an aesthetic context it’s also a reflection of that band. It just sort of pushes it further. As the performer or musician, it feels more in your own element. That’s the most important part of performing well, is feeling like you’re in your element and that you’re there. It’s something that has always been a part of the band, and then, of course, touring so much, you have to forgo a lot of that stuff for the sheer efficiency of travelling in a van with a lot of people, and being an opening band and all that great stuff, it just doesn’t make sense to travel with everything.
As soon as it started making sense, as we started to segue into headlining our own shows and stuff, we immediately got back into it. It’s been interesting. We’ve taken a lot of routes with it, most of them have been very homemade, and things anybody could do. At this point we’ve made three or four traditional backdrops. But it’s like anything; once you get into it you know where to get the right stuff. These companies that will sell you a backdrop of whatever size you want that’s already fireproofed and pre-approved by clubs. So we just find a big place to stretch them out and paint them.
We’ve done kind of a weave, checker thing with the colors. You know, you pick one simple theme and you try to expand it has much as you can into the set. We’ve done the woven stripes, and pushed that all over the stage, and we’ve done circles, and that was more corresponding to a goal where we were trying to work with a real rock show LD, light designer and travel with big, huge ass boxes of lights and stuff. That had some coolness about it, but I think that was us seeing how far we can go, in order to come back from that. That wasn’t really our deal. That was kind of cool, and that was inspiring in some ways, but the light show wound up being a real trap. It was so choreographed, so intricate, that it almost forced the songs to sound the same every night.
I think we all found, that while it was kind of exciting to be in that majestic rock n’ roll atmosphere, it was stiffening the songs. Every night, the bridge of this song is going to turn into these pounding, blinking lights, and what if that’s not really the feel we arrive at, at that particular night, you know what I mean? If the light show is influencing the audio, it is too much for our comfort. We would never would have known that until we tried it, and since then we’ve kind of backed off it and looked more for lighting designer who are more subtle and just kind of create an atmosphere and a tone to things. It’s less about moving lights and choreographed lights and all that. It’s more about coming up with a cool set and lighting it well; more about seeing the band and what’s going on and you know, throw in some tricks here and there for dramatic effect with a much more limited palette. Sometimes just turning all the lights off can be the most dramatic move in the world, if they’ve been on for forty-five minutes or whatever. Just kind of toning down that side of the show.
When it comes time to come up with a concept for tour, it’s always a fun process. There’s never a shortage of idea and it’s always a fun challenge to figure out how you can execute them in a way that’s cheap and easy to take down and setup every day. It’s cool because it always seems to work out for us. I think we’re always surprised by how cool things end up looking when you start out with some dumb idea. Like on the tour, you saw us at Terminal 5 with the peg-board that was just wallpapered with posters that Dmitri and I painted in my kitchen.
There were definitely various steps along the way where it seems very ragtag, but you put it up there on the glory of a rock show stage, with the certain lights hitting it and with the atmosphere of what a show is, things take on a larger than life feel to them. It’s just really fun to be a part of that, and I think it’s just an extension of how we work of a band in many ways we just enjoy. Sometimes it’s harder to muster the energy or find the time for sure, when other aspects of being in a band are really at a fever pitch, but all in all we always jump at the opportunity to get involved in some aspect of the band, be it T-shirts or artwork or handmade stuff or merchandise. Whatever it is, we have a lot of fun with it.