Dr. Dog: B-Room and the First City Festival
Photo by Nicky Devine
On August 24th and 25th, the inaugural First City Festival will take over the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the site of the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Among the over 30 bands that will be performing on three stages at the two day fest are Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, MGMT, Neko Case and Dr. Dog.
At the First City Festival, Dr. Dog will be giving concertgoers a taste of their upcoming album B-Room, which is set to be released on October 1st. Its first single, “The Truth,” is a gorgeous piece of straightforward, throwback soul music. From his current home in Connecticut, Dr. Dog vocalist and guitarist Scott McMicken explains that the band usually lets songs evolve in the studio, but with that particular song, they knew they had something special after recording it. “I think the one thing about ‘The Truth’ is that it was never really allowed to take another direction,” he says. “Right after we got the take, that’s pretty much the piece of music we had. We intentionally put up these blinders like let’s not try to add more or change this or see what it is like if this happens.”
But don’t expect all of B-Room to have the same sound and feel of “The Truth.” “While others were born out of very similar scenarios, they wound up taking some other directions,” McMicken says. “To me as a listener, there is a lot of variety, but it does somehow all stay in the same wheelhouse.”
The musician believes that B-Room is the most realized reflection of how Dr. Dog sounds in a live setting. “After [2005’s] Easy Beat is when we began touring and that’s when we began being a live band,” McMicken says. “We weren’t really functioning as a live thing prior to that. Then we just started to gain those experiences playing live a lot, and of course that came full circle to inform how we wanted our songs to be put together. So each record since then has enabled another step towards that more live approach.”
B-Room also finds more contributions by Dr. Dog’s newest members Dmitri Manos and Eric Slick who joined the band while making 2012’s Be the Void. “In many ways, we are still caught up in the newness of things, so it is really exciting ever since they joined since they bring so much of that [collaborative strength] to the table, which is that kind of immediacy,” McMicken says.
The core of Dr. Dog has always been McMicken and bassist and vocalist Toby Leaman who started playing together in eighth grade shortly after bonding on a class field trip to Ellis Island. “Back then and to this day, with a gun to his head, Toby can write you an incredible song on the spot,” McMicken says. “He would do that, and I would be cracking up and amazed that it was happening. I would slap together some open chords, while he was going off about whatever.”
McMicken thinks that both he and his longtime musical collaborator bring different strengths to Dr. Dog. “I think in the most fundamental sense Toby works from a point of more visceral writing,” McMicken says. “More writing from the gut of his feeling. I think for him that has amounted to a very impressionistic lyrical style that maybe in one way isn’t that easy to understand in terms of what it means to him, but it is still well crafted enough to offer an entry point for whatever it might mean to anybody.”
McMicken continues by describing his own contributions to the band. “I think for me my efforts are often more motivated by a more direct and I think more cerebral attempt at explaining something that may actually be understood for exactly what I mean it to be,” he says. “To share a feeling that is very specific to me.”
While Dr. Dog has performed at Central California venues including Big Sur’s Fernwood Resort and the Brookdale Lodge within the Santa Cruz Mountains, the group has never played within the iconic fairgrounds. McMicken says Dr. Dog will definitely do some material from the upcoming B-Room in the space. “We should have three or four [songs],” he says, “at least good to go by then.”
Dr. Dog will be performing on the First City Festival’s Redwood Stage on Sunday, August 25th at 4pm. Tickets are still available at www.firstcityfestival.com.