Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog 's "B-Room" tour comes to Austin

After spending this past summer opening for The Lumineers, Dr. Dog is on the road for the second leg of their tour with their new album, B-Room, released in October of 2013. 

From his current home in suburban Groton, Connecticut, guitarist and vocalist Scott McMicken said that when the band isn’t together, it makes sense to be wherever is most convenient.

“After being on the road a long time I would have to come back to the city,” McMicken said. “But I kept craving a quieter more remote existence.”

The six-member outfit made their stop in Austin on Friday, February 21st at Stubb’s outdoor stage. With more than 20 tour stops planned throughout the U.S., McMicken said Austin was a bright spot on the band’s map.

“We may have performed more times in Austin than any other city,” McMicken said. “Stubbs is just one of the finest places to play. I think that outdoor at night is the best environment to play in, the sound is incredible. Austin is just a great place to play music.”

Dr. Dog’s sphere of influence has certainly grown much wider since the last time they came to Austin, with their 2012 album release, Be The Void, ranking in the Billboard 200 chart at number 45 in 2012.

With the release of B-Room, however, McMicken explained that gauging their popularity as a band continually proves to be less about the industry and more about the fans.

“I feel like it’s an interesting window in the commerce of the music business,” McMicken said. “On the charts, our current record has sold less than any album we’ve ever made. But on Spotify there’s all these plays. Clearly people are listening to it, but in the business sense it would appear far less are.”

In terms of how this change is shaping Dr. Dog’s live tours, McMicken said despite the hum-drum reactions from critics like Pitchfork, the amount of people coming out to shows is at an all-time high.

“It’s always kind of served us well,” McMicken said. “We don’t give a shit what people think really. We appreciate support, it’s not like we’re indifferent to support. We do what we do for the merits of what it brings us. At the end of the day, the only benchmark of quality is how we feel about what we play.”

“B-Room” drifts aesthetically in a simpler direction from Dr. Dog’s previous albums, in an attempt to produce a record with a heavy emphasis on live shows.  According to McMicken, the best moments spent on stage are these raw, sparse songs that make “B-Room” so rewarding to play live.

McMicken, along with vocalist-guitarist Toby Leaman, play together on "Too Weak To Ramble," one of the album’s less accompanied tracks.

“There’s no groundbreaking going on – it’s just two guys with a guitar. But you realize that it’s in that more central context that the true challenge is expression. To make something feel complete with so few tools at your disposal is a really inspiring direction for the band.”

After more than a decade spent playing together, McMicken said it’s important to keep things fresh and new while building off of previous experience – in the case of Dr. Dog, that means spending less time consistently re-recording a track in the studio and more time on stage.

“It’s an interesting paradox, the more you try to dial your experience in and stay consistent, you also want to be creative and confident,” McMicken said. “There’s a much stronger emphasis on the gear, equipment, and crew – but we need the tension of the fact that things can train wreck at any moment. It has to feel new every night. The more you foster the environment of consistency the more you play with ultimately keeping the show inspired and spontaneous.”


Utopiafest Press Art

In the western hills outside San Antonio is Utopia, Texas, a small town with a population of 227, according to the 2010 census. In addition to being known as an idyllic rural community, it has recently been put on the map as the home of Utopiafest, an annual music festival that started in 2009. This year’s festival will take place Friday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Sept. 30 and features psychedelic/indie rock band Dr. Dog, Texas singer/songwriter Ben Kweller, bass virtuoso Victor Wooten, Widespread Panic’s Jimmy Herring and, coming all the way from Mexico City, electronica act Mexican Institute of Sound.

Utopiafest reflects the size of the town by embodying the saying “less is more,” aspiring to be a smaller scale alternative to bigger festivals like Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun Fest. The producers have capped the maximum amount of tickets to be sold at 2,000. Just like Utopia’s tightly knit community, the small audience of Utopiafest makes it easier for people to recognize each other and turn strangers into friends.

“We want to maintain a feel of comfort and intimacy first and foremost,” said Travis Sutherland, founder and producer of Utopiafest. “Sometimes people get sick of being in massive crowds.”

Utopiafest takes the good parts of a bigger festival while trying to eliminate the negatives. There are no long lines or overwhelming crowds, and, perhaps most importantly, seeing a famous band doesn’t require staking out a spot hours in advance. None of the set times overlap, making it possible to see all 28 acts, 17 of which are local to Texas. 

The two stages are strategically placed between two large hills, creating an amphitheater that resembles a natural venue. The festival encourages interaction with the environment by allowing attendees to camp out on a plot of land only 150 yards away from the stage.

The Four Sisters Ranch is a 1,000-acre plot that Sutherland’s family has owned and lived on for five generations. Having become an Eagle Scout at age 13, Sutherland wandered the West Texas hills as a youth and has since sought to combine his passion for music with his love for the environment.

“I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to experience this land that we’re so blessed with,” Sutherland said.

New additions to this year’s festival include a second stage, an opportunity to pre-camp Thursday, three times the parking space, additional food vendors, upgraded lights, a laser show and more Porta-Potties.

“After last year I kept hearing ‘I had the best weekend of my life!’ from people, so that’s set the bar for me,” Sutherland said. 

Since its inception the festival has steadily grown in attendance and size every year, but Sutherland and his co-producers Aaron and Jamie Brown of Onion Creek Productions have expressed their intent to limit that growth.

“My only goal is to make the land self-sustainable while minimizing destructive tendencies,” Sutherland said.

In addition to the music, there will be a disc golf course with workshops led by professionals. Black Swan Yoga, an Austin studio located on Fifth Street, will offer yoga classes.

“I’m really looking forward to hearing great music and doing yoga out in nature,” said Joshua Whisenhunt, a Black Swan instructor and UT alumnus.

Utopiafest offers a diverse music lineup in a scenic environment.

“This is as close to a perfect festival as it gets,” Sutherland said. “It would really suck for you to miss it.”

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Utopian hills come alive with indie music

Dr. Dog’s new album is rough, boisterous and built for performance. In Be The Void, the contained, artful fun of albums like Shame Shame and Fate is lost in an energetic ruckus that emulates the Dr. Dog live experience. Barroom shouts and low-fi drums underlie jangly, electric riffs and playful nonsense lyrics. Even the existential questioning in “That Old Black Hole” and the wail of slide guitar in “Lonesome” sound reckless, almost gleeful.

After ten years and six studio albums, the band decided to simplify their recording method for this record in search of a more raw and unpolished sound. Band leaders Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman set studio rules and restrictions on recording time to stimulate creativity and keep the band honest to their vision for a novel and uninhibited record.

At first, you’d think they were destined for success. It takes just seconds to find the living pulse of the first track, “Lonesome,” with its rowdy stomps, slide guitar and wailing chorus: “What does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all.” And the group doesn’t skip a beat into their catchy single, “That Old Black Hole,” with its joyous, synth-backed refrain. Next, they pick up the pace with the infectious pop-rock of “These Days.” This song is classic Dr. Dog — nothing new, but great all the same.

Despite its energy and good intentions, however, the album slips into mediocrity with the painfully dull fifth track, “Get Away,” and never completely recovers. The slow song, with its bongos, has a jarringly generic world music-like chorus and falls miles short of previous Dr. Dog rock ballads like “Someday” and “Hang On.” Things recover a bit with the organ-lead “Will you do the Trick” and “Big Girl,” a pop-punk tune — something new. But the second half of this album is marred by merely okay tracks and a particular dud in “Warrior Man,” which sounds like standard 70’s heavy metal.

Fans may appreciate Dr. Dog’s return to a rougher sound after the more polished Shame Shame, but Be The Void is uneven and, in many ways, less interesting than that record. The enthusiasm and raw energy that bursts forth from tracks like “These Days,” and “Lonesome,” are the saving grace for Be The Void.

“Everybody was kind of excited about the fact that it was like the old days,” bassist Toby Leaman told the North County Times in San Diego, Calif. “You come in and feel really good about the material and really good about where you are as a band, and you just bang it out.”

“Be The Void” is invigorating, reckless fun, but it lacks some of the subtlety of past albums. Maybe Dr. Dog “banged it out” a little too quickly on this one.