Dr. Dog - Biography
Dr. Dog is a rock and roll quintet specializing in a unique blend of Beatlesesque pop and Pavement-inspired lo-fi indie rock. The group began as the basement project of guitarist Toby Leaman and drummer Scott McMicken’s, with the two trading off on vocals. After two self-released albums heard by practically no one outside of the group’s native Philadelphia, Dr. Dog was signed to Park the Van Records, through which they released their most enjoyable effort to date, 2005’s Easy Beat (2005 Park the Van). However, it wasn’t until their fourth album, We All Belong (2007 Park the Van), was released in 2007 that they achieved the kind of indie clout comparable to that of their friends the My Morning Jacket. The increased exposure might be the main reason for the much-improved production values of 2008’s Fate (2008 Park the Van). Dr. Dog may have lost the tape hiss, but their obvious simple joy of playing music hasn’t gone anywhere.
Both Leaman and McMicken were members of Philly indie band Raccoon when they began to tinker in a basement practice space on a project that would soon become Dr. Dog. The duo spent years crafting the 35-song album, The Psychedelic Swamp. In 2001, they self-released the album and made Dr. Dog their main focus. Leaman and McMicken acquired other band members, and decided that each member would have a nickname beginning with the letter T. For example, Leaman’s nickname was Tables. McMicken, or Taxi, relinquished his drum seat to Ted “Today” Mark and moved to the bass. To fill out the band’s sound, keyboardist Zach “Text” Miller and guitarist Doug “Truck” O’Donnell were also brought onboard.
The newly-augmented group recorded Toothbrush (2002 Self-released/Park the Van), which turned out to be more concise and focused than its meandering predecessor. Unfortunately, as good as the songs are, the album’s sound quality suffers from the band’s financial adversity. For the next couple of years, Dr. Dog remained in Philadelphia, content with the small fanbase they had built. When drummer Mark departed, he was replaced with Juston “Trouble” Stens. Dr. Dog began a website in November of 2002, which remained inactive for about two years. In 2004, Jim James (a friend of McMicken and Leaman’s) of My Morning Jacket gave the group something to blog about. He invited Dr. Dog to open for MMJ on their East Coast tour. Finally at a point where they could afford to play instruments they actually owned after years of eluding success, the band was now on the verge of nation-wide notoriety.
During the tour, O’Donnell left the group and was replaced by Andrew “Trial” Jones, the one-time bassist of Raccoon who now switched to guitar. Dr. Dog set about recording a new album and invited many of their fellow Philly musicians to make guest appearances. The resulting release, Easy Beat (2005 Park the Van), was the band’s most fully realized effort up to that point. As it was the first of their albums to find distribution and also the first that wasn’t recorded in a basement, Easy Beat was looked at as Dr. Dog’s official debut. By this time, Jones had moved on and the group recruited Frank “Thanks” McElroy as his replacement.
Once the band had finally become a fixture in record stores throughout the country, Dr. Dog hit the road with Ambulance LTD and Autolux. Dr. Dog was a hit during its six-show stint at the 2006 South by Southwest Festival. From there, they went on tour with the group Architecture in Helsinki, stopping off in Nashville to play the Bonnaroo Music Festival. That September, the band issued the EP Takers and Leavers (2006 Park the Van) on Park the Van. As their music was now being distributed on a wider scale, the band had to deal with more criticism than ever before. Every band has its haters, and Dr. Dog is no exception. Many have called them unoriginal, citing that they use their rabid Beatles fandom as a crutch more than a launching-off point. Easy Beat’s detractors continued to criticize the 2007 full-length release, We All Belong (2007 Park the Van). However, for every detractor, the band had twice as many critics singing their praises. Corporate publications like Entertainment Weekly and lesser known indie webzines such as Delusions of Adequacy applauded the band’s classic rock values and DIY aesthetic. Following the February release of We All Belong, the band played Late Night with Conan O’Brien in March.
In March of 2008, Dr. Dog released Passed Away, Vol. 1 (2008 Park the Van), a collection of songs that they had been posting on their website since the release of We All Belong. Their next full-length album, Fate (2008 Park the Van), was issued by Park the Van on July 22, 2008. It was clear that the band had no intention of shaking up its sound and The Beatles influence is heard loud and clear. Changes did occur, however, with production values; Fate is the most professional-sounding record the band has released to date, complete with a cleaner, sleeker sound and more attention to horn arrangements. The added flourishes could have potentially taken away from the actual songs, but thankfully Dr. Dog continues to put an emphasis on spirited performances and well-written tunes above all else.