For their second Anti-album, the members of Dr. Dog had as clear a vision as they did its predecessor "Shame, Shame," the only project the band recorded in a studio outside its Philadelphia base. Having used an outside producer for "Shame, Shame," the band returned to self-producing at its own Meth Beach studio in Philly.
The result is Dr. Dog's seventh album, "Be the Void" (Feb. 7), a passionate rock'n'roll collection that emphasizes guitars, easily remembered refrains and a punchiness more in line with the band's live shows than "Shame, Shame." Some of that owes to the group's new members, drummer Eric Slick and percussionist/guitarist Dimitri Manos (who also handles electronics), and some of it owes to lessons learned.
Guitarist/vocalist Scott McMicken says that he and bassist Toby Leaman "write really complete demos, but this time, more than ever, everything was more collaborative. We had run out of ideas [before "Shame, Shame"]... [Once] we were writing together instead of letting one person guide things, it was wide open."
McMicken pinpoints the catchy "How Long Must I Wait," with a plinky seven-note motif, over-miced drums and the steadfast pleas of a wooer, and the T. Rex-derived "Warrior Man" as two songs that erupted from bare-bones riffs and chords.
Having passed the decade mark as a band, Dr. Dog has built its reputation on a rustic, almost unfinished raw sound that takes classic pop melodies and concepts from the '60s and filters them through an indie-rock perspective. An opening slot on a 2004 My Morning Jacket tour opened doors for the band, and Dr. Dog made its Billboard 200 debut in 2008 with "Fate," which peaked at No. 86 and has sold 70,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Shame, Shame," which Rob Schnadf produced, hit No. 44 and has sold 48,000 copies.
Prior to recording "Be the Void," Dr. Dog updated a fair amount of the equipment in its studio, from compressors to installing a new 24-track recorder. Working with Schnadf, McMicken says, gave him new insights on recording that the band implemented at sessions last summer. And throughout the recording process, McMicken says, the band was keenly aware of how the songs would sound live. A tour for the new album began Feb. 1 and wraps in the band's hometown with shows at the Electric Factory on March 24 and 25.
"I appreciate when a song takes on its own life," McMicken says of the changes that invariably occur after an album is finished, noting "I Only Wear Blue" and "Shadow People" as songs that have separate lives in concert than on record. "Seeing how malleable a song can be has always been a big part of this band.
"One trick in our bag is to start a song slow and end it on a high note with no sudden shift," he adds. "It's an ascension so the dynamics are not just soft and then loud. You find something happening that's compelling in the midtempo and when you travel through all of those [tempo shifts] it really feels great when you hit that bombastic end. It's a really cool journey."