Dr. Dog has been a model of consistency since the band formed in the early 2000s. While gaining national exposure from tours with My Morning Jacket and The Lumineers, the psychedelic pop and indie folk rock band from West Grove, Pa., is beloved by fans that constantly wait for the opportunity to cram into a small venue and hear some of their favorite songs.
Having released two albums in the past two years, Be the Void and B-Room, Dr. Dog has picked up more momentum than ever before. With a recently built studio at their fingertips and a busy touring schedule, slowing down doesn’t seem to be in the band’s imminent future. We caught up with guitarist Scott McMicken to talk about touring with the Lumineers, building the band’s studio and keys to longevity and camaraderie within the band.
Dr. Dog plays at the Warfield Theater on March 1 as part of the Noise Pop Festival.
You’re no stranger to San Francisco, having played at the Independent, Bottom of the Hill, America’s Cup—and now Noise Pop.
It’s always cool when we reach a point in a city where we play a certain venue a bunch and build steam before we play somewhere else. We played the Warfield last year; we were part of this Last Waltz Revisited that was at the Warfield.
That’s right! How awesome was that show?
That was amazing, Erick, our drummer, and me got tapped for that. I played the roll of Bob Dylan. It was like the legendary cast of the Band’s last concert with Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, etc., They recreated that concert. It was humbling and in all my years of playing music it was still really inspiring.
My soul window is playing with Dr. Dog, so I rarely get to play with others. Marco Benevento was on keys, Joe Russo was the drummer, Nels Cline (Wilco) played guitar, Sam Cohen and Scott Metzger were there, and Dave Dreiwitz, who was the bass player with Ween—super awesome dude. It was a whole crop of musicians who have been playing forever in a lot of different capacities and are so seasoned and professional. It was a bit intimidating for me but in the end it was an easily shared camaraderie. They had such awesome attitudes, their priorities were in check and it was very inspiring.
Cass McCombs might have stolen the show when he sang “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down.” I had listened to him before and loved his voice, but it really showed his range. It was impressive.
You have been touring consistently for a while now and have opened for some big names including My Morning Jacket. How was your experience opening for the Lumineers?
Incredible. It’s been many years since we’ve done a tour as an opening band, but that one was totally worthy. When we started we were fortunate to get a lot of opening spots, then we shifted over to headlining. On the most basic level, it was cool getting into that mode; your workday is so reduced. You basically stay out of the way until their production is complete, then you hastily slap your gear on, play your set and get your shit off the stage. We played for huge audiences that we felt were by and large oblivious to our band but actually responded well to us. At first, we kind of played our classic set and it was clear our mellower shit was resonating more, so we stacked our set with our laid back songs.
The Lumineers blew our minds, seeing into a band that had that fast track kind of success and how they handled it. They’re one of those bands that are easy to criticize and take for granted what they do, but they are the titans of being invested in what they do. On a personal level and a music level it was very inspiring.
On your current tour, The Phillies mascot, Phanatic, joined you on stage at a show in Philly. What was that moment like for you?
That was huge. That solidifies us as the champions of Philly. When that crowd saw the Phanatic on stage they went ape shit. He came and brought hot dogs and threw them at the crowd. We’re good friends with him. Probably about five years ago the Phillies asked us to sing the national anthem, so we worked out this a cappella version and sang it on the field. He’s been the mascot for 25 years and he’s only the second one in history. He’s this amazing dude, super energetic and has a real knack for performance art.
After 12 years of being a band it seems that you still have a lot of fun together. How do you maintain that camaraderie?
I don’t know, that’s tough to say. I often stop and pull back and look at the situation. It doesn’t feel any less exciting and weird, and I’m thankful for that. I’d have to attribute that to the nature of our relationships. They’re super solid. The chemistry is really good, we enjoy each other’s company and quirks, and enjoy each other enough not trample on each other along the way during the stressful aspects like being away form home.
You just released B-Room a year after Into the Void. Typically it takes bands at least two to three years to release a new album. What’s different with Dr. Dog?
We’ve always kind of maintained that pace. We’ve fallen into a nice healthy schedule for ourselves with touring and recording to be able to make a record in a couple months and have that come out a couple months later. We’ve been rolling like that since we’ve started, and of course there’s time in between to make EP’s and work on unfinished songs and put them on an album. The whole two years between an album thing, if that’s the bands preference that’s fine, but if you look at the history of our band, we’ve never really blown up, we just keep going, and things keep growing which enables us to work at our pace. Every record, there’s a bit of growth and we never feel stagnant.
A band like the Lumineers exploded and they have to really strike when the iron is hot. It’s bands in those situations that can go two or three years just touring. That’s one of the trappings of that kind of success, you have to tour a few years on the same batch of tunes before you can put out another record. We’ve been able to stay at our own pace. I know we have the general consensus that it’s pretty prolific how much stuff we put out, but if it were up to us we’d put out more shit.
Didn’t you guys just build your own studio, too?
Yeah. It’s in Philly at an old mill building. It’s just a big box, built in the late 1700s and like 5,000 square feet, it’s like a roller rink. We just cleared it out and separated it into two rooms, the mixing room and the recording room, and then put in some offices and showers and a shop. We turned it into the greatest studio we could imagine.
Dr. Dog performs March 1 at the Warfield. More info.