Dr. Dog: Road-worn but not weary

I’ll let you in on a little secret: The DePaulia is run out of a dungeon. It’s not actually a secret, nor is our office in the basement of U-Hall really a dungeon, but I say it only to illustrate how bad cell phone reception can get. Because of this, my conversation with Scott McMicken, frontman of the roadwarrior rock group Dr. Dog, was cut short numerous times due to dropped calls. He stuck with me, though, and told at least part of the story of how the blues-tinged outfit began, as well as where they are going from here.

The DePaulia: In eighth grade, you and Toby (Leaman) started a band, and you and him are still together as Dr. Dog today. What was that initial experience like for you, and what’s it been like sticking with him for the rest of your career?

Scott McMicken: We sounded really weird. I feel like when you’re young musicians, you prioritize virtuosity, so your music is all about how many weird chords you know and stuff. We saw it as a more progressive thing, because when you’re 12 and in a band you get that idea about yourselves. We did listen to everything from punk rock to jazz and classic rock, but we were just two dudes and a drum machine. It was really janky-sounding and kinda all over the place, since we were basically writing songs as vehicles to exercise some notion of musicianship. But then, songwriting started to take on a life of its own. In terms of sticking with (Toby), we haven’t missed a beat. We have remained good friends who are mutually a part of one shared vision of music making. I wouldn’t say there’s even any memorable low points for us.

DP: So even early on in your music career, you seemed to have a diverse range of influences. What are some other musical influences you guys incorporate now that people might not expect?

SM: Between the six of us, the tastes range from everything, country music to avant garde. Like most musicians, your palette kinda widens as you get older and you start to recognize quality in everything. So we like everything from folk music to Norwegian black metal.

DP: Your latest album, “B-Room,” was recorded in a studio that you guys designed and built yourselves. What made you want to build your own studio, and what was the experience like making it and then recording in it?

SM: We’ve actually had our own studio since 2004 and even before that was in (keyboardist) Zach (Miller)’s basement. Sometimes we would also just take our budget and rent a place that wasn’t someone’s house. But for this album, we wanted to kind of upgrade, get more space and retool things in a couple ways. We wanted someplace bigger and in a location that was more remote. We found this awesome old mill building for rent in Philadelphia and renovated it into a studio. It’s a 5,000 square foot building, it’s really awesome. We were all really excited to have a new space, and the process of getting it ready, designing and building it, flowed seamlessly into the recording, right into the musical side of it. By the time we had it ready, we had spent a month and a half in this great bonding experience, and we felt really inspired by the time it was finished. I highly recommend that for any musician – recording can be a stressful process, and it’s been awesome to kinda take matters into our own hands.

DP: Dr. Dog began in the middle of the last decade, when the music industry was in a bit of a transitional period and album sales began to drop off. Did this affect your development in any way?

SM: Viewing the situation as passive cultural observers, it’s never exactly influenced us, or been a defining aspect of us as a band. In 2004 there were no expectations that we went into the thing with. You can view it as sort of a disadvantage or a kind of mixed bag, for sure, and it’s interesting to see our culture in this new situation. But we were a functioning band before anything really changed.

DP: Some would say this has put a greater emphasis on touring for bands, where in the past albums may have been more of the focus. Would you consider Dr. Dog’s emphasis to be on recording or performing?

SM: We’re equal on both. As more time goes by those two things become more linked – we’ve been a touring band for 10 years but a recording band for 20. it used to be separate, but over the years they’ve kinda merged into one universal understanding. We used to start out with wanting to get one certain sound without thinking about playing it live. Now we record in more of a “live” fashion, and it just so happens that those things feel a lot more similar.

DP: What would you say was your favorite show you remember playing recently?

SM: Certain spots have become very reliable as guaranteed great shows. San Francisco has always been where some of our best shows happen, it seems. Now in touring with The Lumineers, we always play pretty big rooms, so that’s required some practice to get used to. Recently, we had gone night after night playing huge rooms, and then we played The Troubadour in L.A. with only 400 people, and we were hell-bent on bringing the walls down. That show was really special for us. It was so refreshing to play a smaller room after playing all these huge rooms with The Lumineers. They’re a real commercial deal, so when you start playing for a Top 40 audience, you realize your s– -‘s a lot weirder than you thought (laughs).

Dr. Dog will be playing the Riviera Theatre with Saint Rich Feb. 8.