Interview: Dr. Dog’s dueling songwriters trade indie rock anthems

Dr. Dog brings its scrappy, gimmick-free rock to The Jefferson Theater on Wednesday November 6. “You don’t have to pander and whip your dick out or anything,” said Toby Leaman (third from left) about treating the audience to a good time. Dr. Dog brings its scrappy, gimmick-free rock to The Jefferson Theater on Wednesday November 6. “You don’t have to pander and whip your dick out or anything,” said Toby Leaman (third from left) about treating the audience to a good time.

A lot of married couples could learn a thing or two from Dr. Dog’s Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken. The singer-songwriters have been making music together since eighth grade more than 20 years ago.

The secret to staying together as long as they have? It’s the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of never going to bed angry, according to Leaman, who recently spoke with C-VILLE Weekly to preview the band’s November 6 show at The Jefferson Theater.

On top of providing some dynamite marriage counseling in the phone interview, Leaman talked about Dr. Dog’s new record B-Room, band members lost and gained, and staying relevant.

C-VILLE Weekly: Dr. Dog has always hit on a lot of different styles, but the latest record seems to break new ground, like the doo-wop elements I hear in the opening track.

Toby Leaman: It’s usually not a conscious effort on our part to say this is the style we’re going to do. It’s usually a song-by-song thing, and as we get better at making records and better at playing, we’re better able to execute when a song needs to work a certain way.

The band’s music has always seemed divided between you and Scott. Is that a reality?

It’s pretty much whoever is singing wrote the song, but this record was a little different. We had more help from the rest of the band. And that was a conscious decision. The bulk of the songs are usually done before we bring them to the studio or anyone hears them—either Scott or I have done a demo and it is pretty well fleshed out. Then Scott in particular wanted to try to write more with the band for this record. And it worked great. We have always been really collaborative in the recording process. Scott and I aren’t like tyrants or anything. If people have an idea, we’ll try it out.

You guys have always sequenced your tracks back and forth between your songs and Scott’s songs. Why do you do it that way?

We did that on the first record because we really wanted to establish two lead singers. We have talked about all this shit so much. We talked about it again on this record, asking “is this the right move?” I don’t know. Maybe we’re just old fuddy-duddies, but I feel like the sequencing of our records has always been good. So until we hit a wall where that is impossible, that’s the way we’ll do it.

You and Scott have been together since eighth grade. How do you keep things fresh?

It’s never really been problem. He and I write similarly—and dissimilarly—enough to where we just feed off one another. We don’t write together, but we’ve been writing beside each other for 21 years. I guess it is just a game of one-upmanship. I hear something he’s done and think, “I need to up my game,” and the same goes with him. It has certainly made it so we are never in a rut. We both just enjoy songwriting, too.

So there are never any moments where you think about breaking up or going on to do solo stuff?

Yeah, of course. There has been a lot of that. It is always like mid-record, too, where I am just like, “I don’t even like this band. This is horrible.” But it’s just a day. There has never been any prolonged period of that kind of stuff. We don’t let bullshit simmer in this band. If anyone has a problem, it gets dealt with.

So what happened with former band member Juston Stens, who’s gone on to have some success as a front man himself?

It was a long time coming. He was unhappy, and if somebody is unhappy and they start emanating unhappiness, nobody is happy. And then when you don’t show up for a whole tour, that’s a big no-no. I don’t know what his motivations were. I really don’t.

So how is the current lineup of the band getting on together?

This tour is going great. We’re doing an open tour for the first time in four or five years. It’s cool going back in that world where you are only playing 45 minutes and dealing with a crowd that by and large has no idea who you are. The name of the game is to go out there and blow these people’s minds. That attitude I really like. There are also all the luxuries of a really cush tour. We are going to start our headlining tour in November.

What does Dimitri Manos, who joined the band in 2010, bring to the lineup?

We called him in as a last minute tour replacement for Juston Stens. After that, we got Eric Slick, who is a better fit as a drummer, but we loved having Dimitri in the band so much we created this sixth man role where he is doing acoustic and percussion and he has this whole noise generator thing that he’s created.

You don’t have a bunch of guys in pink bunny suits at your live shows, so what do you do to make sure people have a good time?

If you’re up there and you’re a good solid rock band doing your thing and people are there to see rock music, the deal is sealed. You don’t have to pander and whip your dick out or anything.

I feel like whenever I hear something about Dr. Dog, your hometown of Philadelphia gets attached to it. Why do you think that is?

I don’t know, but that is a reality and I like it. It is an old working class town, so maybe it’s sort of like, “Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog: Unhip band from unhip city.”

Seems like lots of people think you’re hip these days. What do you do to make sure it stays that way?

Our fans are really good, and we are a good live band, so that helps. Staying relevant is definitely important. There is nothing worse than being a completely irrelevant band. We’re not the most adventurous band, we’re not trying to chase down the newest sound. We just try to do what we do.

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