The folks in Dr. Dog are not in any rush. Lead singers Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman have been making music together since they were kids, and as the band Dr. Dog for over a decade, but only recently decided that it was the right time to put out a live album.
“We’ve been very conscious of what the live aspect of our band is for a really long time now and I think somewhere over the last few years, it started to kind of evolve into a shape that was starting to feel more like something it would be worth capturing,” says McMicken. He pointed to an increased awareness of musicianship as part of the reason the group decided now was the time for a live album. While earlier performances were “a more visceral kind of energy-based thing, even at the expense of sounding sonically tight or clean,” the group has lately become “more nuanced, and a little more aware of the finer points and intricacies of creating a great live sound,” as McMicken puts it.
The result, “Live At a Flamingo Hotel,” came out Jan. 13 and was the culmination of the band members listening to recordings of 20 different live shows. As to what went on the album, McMicken says it came out of an organic process of listening to those shows and deciding what worked best.
“We just recorded a lot and then listened to it all and picked what was best. We didn’t really have an agenda.”
Listening to your own performance that many times might seem like it could get a bit grueling, but McMicken says it was a pretty valuable experience, overall. “I feel like for me as a guitar player, I learned that there’s a lot of times where what it is I’m doing and what I think I need to be doing is actually counterproductive.” From onstage, McMicken says he can only hear what’s happening closest to him, but after listening to recordings, he had a better sense of the band’s whole sound.
“It’s just one of those things where a lot of times I realized things are best served if you leave some space rather than feeling like you have to play the whole time.”
In other words, he’s now playing slightly less onstage. “This s— is recorded live and you’re so overcome by a bigger and sort of chaotic notion of moments where it all seems to be flying by, but when you can just lay down and put headphones on, I realized there’s a lot more control and a lot more sensitivity that’s going down.”
The biggest upside? “It made me more psyched about what our band is,” says McMicken.
New York state of mind
The band is currently in the midst of an eight date stand in New York, which is a mix of nights at the Bowery Ballroom and the Music Hall of Williamsburg. McMicken says there’s a good reason for that. “We tried to figure out ways to play some of the smaller clubs that we’ve kind of outgrown.”
While more recent visits to the city have involved big venues like Terminal 5, McMicken says the band was excited about the prospect of the eight day visit. “In the end, we can play for as many people as we could hope to grab in a New York crowd, but also be in a smaller venue, which we haven’t been able to do in a while in New York. It has this sensationalism about it, which sort of suits the message of Dr. Dog.”
McMicken and bandmate Toby Leaman have been playing together for decades now, but don’t expect any Lennon/McCartney style fighting. “I feel like there are definitely times where we’re not on the same path, but I feel like due to our history and just the general chemistry between us that was there upon the earliest days of us hanging out and making music together, if we wind up on different pages, we either quickly scurry to figure out what the other person’s page is all about, or we just say f— it and let each other be on different pages.”
He says this is mainly due to “a very healthy amount of mutual respect,” but that also the adventurousness of the band suits experimentation. “The band’s concept and the band’s offering is a very broad thing and no matter how far out you go with your ideas or interests, there’s always a place for it in the context of what Dr. Dog is.”