Even as they celebrate past triumphs, the Doobie Brothers have new music on the horizon.
The group’s Tom Johnston tells Billboard the Doobies have been in the studio with producer John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, Goo Goo Dolls, Miley Cyrus), creating five songs for an EP the band plans to release during 2020. “We got these done and everybody’s pretty excited about them,” Johnston says. “It’s rock n’ roll, basically; There’s one that’s kind of a ballad, but the rest of them are rock, with a little modern edge to it. It’s totally different from anything we’ve ever done before, which gets me excited right away because I hate rubber-stamping something we’ve done already.
“These songs are in totally different directions, things I’ve never tried before vocally, musically. Everything is kind of different from what you expect to hear from normal Doobies, but it’s still recognizable. It’s a cross-matching of the two things — (Shanks’) input, which is strong, and ours.”
Johnston says the collaborative process of working with Shanks was also markedly different than what the Doobies have taken on before, too. “We co-wrote every song,” Johnston reports. “We might have gone in there with the idea, but it was always co-written. And it was rapid — you’d have the song pretty much squared away and done in a couple of days ’cause he has a really nice studio and people working and a staff engineer and stuff in a house in L.A. It’s a very cool environment to work in, and we got a lot done in a very short period of time.”
No title or release date has been set for the EP yet. It will be the group’s first studio release since 2014’s collaborative Southbound album and its first set of original material since 2010’s World Gone Crazy.
The Doobies, meanwhile, are on the road with Santana this summer and on their own this fall promoting Live From the Beacon Theatre, an audio and video document of the group’s 2018 shows in New York where it played 1972’s Toulouse Street and 1973’s The Captain and Me in full, pulling out several songs — “Mamaloi,” “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners,” “Ukiah” and “The Captain and Me” for the first time ever. “It was eye-opening, to say the least,” Johnston says of the performance, which the group will repeat Sept. 12 at the Masonic Auditorium in the band’s native San Francisco. “We spent a lot of time working out the songs, especially the ones we’ve never played before live. And the sequencing is completely different from how you’d normally do a show. It was a really challenge, but a lot of fun, too.”
Johnston says the group is also open to taking on some of its other albums in the future and has even had discussions about 1974’s What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. “It’s been brought up and suggested, but we haven’t gotten around to doing it yet,” Johnston says. “Doing that whole album would probably be very interesting because there’s songs on there we haven’t ever really done live and a lot we haven’t done for a long time. There’s more horn stuff on there, and musically it’s a little different than the previous albums. It’d be another challenge, but we haven’t set a date or anything yet. We’ll have to wait and see when that happens.”