Interview: Dr. Dog

O&B Best of 2008-ers Dr. Dog get more popular by the day, thanks to a solid discography and some of the best harmonies around. Despite their ever-expanding acclaim, the band wasn’t too busy to talk with us at this year’s Bonnaroo festival. We sat down with bandmates Toby Leaman and Zach Miller to discuss their latest release, Shame, Shame, and they even dropped some juicy details about new material that they have planned.

Owl and Bear: So how has your Bonnaroo experience been so far?

Toby Leaman: I think this is my favorite festival, so far as the big ones go.

Owl and Bear: What sets it apart for you guys?

Toby Leaman: The past two times we have been here, we’ve been in artist camping. A bunch of our friends come, and our family, and my wife. Everybody just hangs out — it’s awesome, its just like a vacation. You just wander around and watch music. It’s nice like that.

Owl and Bear: Are you excited for any sets in particular?

Toby Leaman: I’m excited to see Dawes. We have a bunch of mutual friends, but I’ve never actually seen them. I’ve heard like three or four songs of theirs, and they’re pretty good.

Zach Miller: I want to see Ween and The Melvins, but I don’t think I’ll be able to see either of them. We saw Ween for the first time last week, and they were so good.

Owl and Bear: I just want to hear “Ocean Man.”

Toby Leaman: [Singing] “Ocean man take me by the hand…” They played that last week. We played Sasquatch, and were on the same flight together.

Owl and Bear: You just finished a tour.

Zach Miller: We have been off tour for a couple weeks, so we’re just kind of here for the weekend, then we go home. We don’t have anything else for a little bit.

Owl and Bear: Are you going to hit the studio soon?

Toby Leaman: We are going to record four songs in July and release it in the fall as two seven-inches.

Owl and Bear: Shame, Shame seems like your most polished album to date. How do you feel it differs from your previous works?

Toby Leaman: We didn’t go into it looking for a particular sound, but we went in knowing that it was going to sound different. We weren’t at our studio, and we were working with a producer for the first time. So we knew it was going to sound different — and that we were going to like it. [Laughs] I mean, obviously, we are not going to work our asses off on something we aren’t going to like. We are happy with it. I feel like our band is different from most bands because there might be musical progress that most bands go through, but our progress is not only musical. Production-wise, every album [of ours] sounds different.

Owl and Bear: Do you go into each album and intentionally limit yourself? Do you put parameters on what you want to do as far as the recording process and song structures?

Zach Miller: We just have what we have — I mean, we have our own studio. So for every album except for Shame, Shame, we were limited by our equipment.

Toby Leaman: Yeah, it was just whatever we had — you can only spend so much money. It’s always been a big part of our band. This is the gear that is available to you; make it sound as awesome as you can.

Zach Miller: Embracing your limitations.

Toby Leaman: And we would never go into a huge studio. That’s not really for us, going into a real sterile environment.

Owl and Bear: How do you record? Do you get together and jam out, or do you record separately?

Toby Leaman: No, it’s all overdubs. We tried to jam for this record, but it felt like everybody was just playing and not listening to other people — just trying to figure out their own chords. It felt like we were just playing on top of each other. I don’t need to be doing this while you’re doing that, and you shouldn’t be doing this while you’re doing that.

Zach Miller: That’s why our songs end up with hyper arrangements.

Toby Leaman: They are extremely arranged.

Zach Miller: There is so much attention to detail going into every instrument or voice. There are never really two people playing at the same time on a recording. With the exception of Shame, Shame where we started doing bass and drums together, Scott or Toby would always write a song, and it would be completely done structurally. It’ll hold up just to voice and a guitar or voice and piano. Then, we record that foundation and just put piles and piles of stuff on it. We take out what we don’t like and leave what we do, and maybe keep half of one part.

Toby Leaman: And the thing is, everybody is writing everybody’s parts. If Zach is there doing piano, Scott and I are there, or Frank is there — who ever is tracking the piano is helping them write the part. Same with harmonies and stuff: it’s a process where everybody writes everything.

Zach Miller: Even to the point where our drummer might not be playing drums on a part, he might be playing guitar.

Owl and Bear: Are you surprised by the reaction you have received from Shame, Shame? It’s definitely your most popular album to date.

Toby Leaman: I think a huge piece of it is because we are on a bigger label. I mean, I think Shame, Shame is our best album to date. I don’t think it’s so markedly better than our other records — I don’t think we’ve finally figured it out and people are starting to realize that. I just think we’ve been afforded more exposure. But no, I’m not surprised. We work our asses off. We try hard and are committed to it, and we love it.

Owl and Bear: You’re still living in Philadelphia. How is that city treating you?

Toby Leaman: Great. Philly gets us, man. It didn’t take us that long for Philly to get us. It’s a tough music town — its not a town bands like to go to; it’s not a touring band town because people don’t go to shows unless they love the band. They don’t go to shows because there is buzz around them or hype or anything. But once you’re loved in Philly, that’s it. You are always loved in Philly, and the people don’t forget. Same with, you know, like the ’75 Flyers. Those dudes are still getting mad love, and people still love The Dead Milkmen. It’s just like you do right in Philly and you’re golden.

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