Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
There's a branch of vitality that has everything to do with death, with mortality and the absolute end of a simple existence. Without the understanding that there's no escape hatch when the lights start to dim and where the embalmer makes his bread, one is unfortunately disillusioned and cannot successfully live it up. Without embracing the fragility of life, the capacity to experience richness in life is lessened. Death legitimizes life, to some extent, and some of the most interesting thoughts come when death is broached and really examined with a fine-toothed comb. The thought of death is so suggestive of tragedy and such a languid supposition that it never really feels like it's breathing our air, but when it's put into the right contexts and those carpe diem birds start chirping as if they've just bathed in the mystic prowess of promised daybreak, death is as lovely and invigorating a concept as anything. It can be the same as a crisp autumn morning, maybe with exhalations coming out white, but still toasty only because thinking of death and one's eminent demise can force a person to truly get to living, as flowery as that may sound.
Philadelphia's Dr. Dog, five men with a healthy stake in both polarities -- life and death, show an exorbitance of life in their songs of throwback musicality and irreproachable three-part harmonies, but there are just as many instances of what's to come some day. Death is a valuable tool for making living sweeter, just as salt is used on tequila and limes are used with Coronas, and Dr. Dog - though they aren't real doctors - prescribe both ideas in large doses on We All Belong, the group's full-length follow-up to Easy Beat, a hazy snack of impeccable, sundried offerings that are rarely timorous, but instead exhibit so much hot-bloodedness that it's easy to discern that they choose life over lingering on what will be. There's a lot of old soul feeling to what they do, as if they were young men filled to the lashes with the spirits of thousands of mild-mannered grandfathers, who'd experienced all of the 50s and 60s as young men, with fires in the pits of their stomachs and unwrinkled skins. It's as if they're on both the front and back ends of lives - with the youthful swagger and exploratory gene as well as the realization that days are numbered and the time's ripe for reflection and kicking and screaming before kicking the bucket. Going by Taxi and Tables, Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, who met each other in eighth grade, write songs of different bents that still meld together to form the identity for a group that comes off as one that's wonderfully wise, rebellious and seasoned, but still keeping a jagged edge that they never want to smooth over. McMicken's show off some good ol' soft heartedness.
He's a man in song who is after the tender parts that life can offer in its vulnerable times. He proceeds with the task of getting to the bare bones of a love, to find the hidden wires and the energy source - what makes it tick and survive, what makes it crumble. There's always this hope in his songs that makes true love seem attainable, that makes a better life seem likely to unravel right before the eyes - for if the heart is noble, good things will come. The redhead likely lives by that credo. Leaman's songs are the ones that sprout after a couple packs of smokes, a six-pack and a long week. They always have steam to blow off, gripes to gladly work through and, well, some of that life and death to ruminate over. Those long nights blow through his songs and when they've been wound up and then wound back down, you yourself start to feel better, even without having been anxious about anything.
Dr. Dog is irrationally good and We All Belong is just another notch in its belt. Its rawness deserves commendation. The trapset playing of Juston Stens, the on-point keyboard work of Zach Miller and the dexterous guitar lines, plus invaluable vocals of Frank McElroy complement McMicken and Leaman's songs, which are the best forms of escapism that we've come across in quite some time. These songs permit us moments that are imperative to not getting swarmed at by cynicism and the belief that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. These songs remind us that pureness in life and love is still something that should be sought out. Life can be overwhelming and difficult, but this band will always be there to open the shutters, lift the curtains and let in some fresh air.
*The Daytrotter Interview:*
*On Park The Van, there's you guys and The Teeth and on The Muppets, there was Dr. Teeth of Electric Mayhem. Tell me this is NOT a coincidence. Do you each have a favorite Muppet?*
Scott McMicken: Excellent detective skills my good man. Maybe you're aware that Park the Van's founder goes by the name of Watson and to that end you shall be Sherlock. My question is: What decent self-respecting record label dosen't owe two arms and two legs and one beak and two pinchers and four flippers and 1,000 feathers and 50 shades of blue to The Electric Mayhem? I've yet to see a rocker with more heart than Animal. A band ought to be a family and a family ought to be of love and love ought to be absurd!
*Who's making up this 12-piece CD release party band (for a CD release party Feb. 16)? How excited are you for this? Was it an idea you were thinking about for a while?*
SM: The Horny Toads and the String Bikinis are made up of a cross section of Philly's hardest working gypsys and carpenters and late night alley cats and whiskey slugging transposers, as well as the sweet-talking angels of the balcony. Excitement itself, prior to these grand arrangements, seemes sleepy compared to the fork we jammed in the socket with this engagement. Very excited! We thought about it just long enough to procrastinate and that was exactly too long.
*Have any of you ever thought you'd seen a ghost?*
SM: Everything I've ever looked at is as much itself as it is the death of things ive already seen. In that sense, I've only seen ghosts, except on my birthday.
*Are you guys willing to offer explanations for your band handles: Tables, Taxi, etc.? They're mysteriously tasty.*
SM: Are YOU willing to offer any explanation about your term "band handles"? talk about tasty! Why do those words roll so effortlessly? I'm positive that your term alone explains our little monikers better than i ever could! "BAND HANDLES!" Front page headline!
*How did you become so passionate about what you do? I think, moreso than anything else, it's what comes out to me in your wonderful songs.*
SM: A source of passion is, I think, beyond my comprehension. Is it the totallity of a set of arbitrary circumstances leading up to any given moment in your life? Is it given to us by what is generally known of as G-d? Is it fake? Is it any diferent from what dirties-up our wall, where we perpetually turn the lights on and off? Is it the same as a finger print? Does it come from love, either recieved or not recieved? (Is it chaos, is it devine, is it natural, is it science, is it social?) How it became, I am not sure, but a day without it is no day at all.
*Outside of music, what are you passionate about?*
SM: Outside of music, I am passionate about people, probably to a fault. People like Sean Daytrotter, with whom I'm always late, whom I always love. People like Toby Leaman, who is effortlessly one neck ahead, people like us who will answer the telephone, people like Ellen Zeppieri, who speak to me like a mirror, people like my old man who are always on the run, people like Sharon, who draw big black lines around my existance and people like Curly who color it in. People like Fatboy Hocking, who provided couches for Iron Maiden in the past, people like K. T. Tungston, whose arms are busted not to speak of other things.
*Are you all generally very positive? There seems to be a real feeling of positive energy coursing through your records and definitely in your live shows.*
SM: No one wants to be an asshole, except the assholes (of which I am definatly one.) That belief alone is what keeps it sensitive. Once when I was in preschool, my older brother showed me this snail he found out back. Though it was a rare gigantic snail, I immediatly kabobbed it with my barely walking stick. It is instances like that which I will fight to not repeat.
*Speaking of the live show, the shades really add something. Are they crutches for nerves that you don't let us in on?*
SM: If a nerve had my body, and that body fit between a shattered piano and the concrete of an unlucky man's last living step, than that nerve could only look good in either a casket or a pear of bad shades.
*What's your greatest gambling story?*
SM: (tangent- dealines, the world is bi-polar, moms sleping upstairs, bum f***, welcome, you and me ought to be friends)
All ass-kissing aside, the only good gambling story I got takes place right outside Daytrotter studios, where, after kicking a Ping Pong ball-sized soccer ball down Rock Island's streets Dr. Dog, realized riverboat casinos weren't just a thing of the pages and Taxi commited (only after convincing a stuffed animal that his expired drivers lisence was most definatly worth less than $1,200) his 10 dollar food ration to the blackjack table and met his risks with a $30 reward! Taxi walked out a champion, especially amongst the company of Tables an Thanks, who played thier cool watching football in the riverboat casino's leisure lounge.
*I remember in St. Louis Juston was talking about how he got his mom tickets to a My Morning Jacket show. Are all your parents that rad?*
SM: Yes and yes! Who couldn't consider thier own parents rad? How would we even consider at all without first having parents. Zach's parents are as undeniable as the Amish and Juston's parents might as well be in the band. Toby's parents are The Beatles and Frank's parents sit quiet like thunder where lighting never strikes. my parents wrote this.
*Scott, do you draw the interiors of people's homes often?*
SM: It is a way for me to say, "I was here, and I am grateful." Just like graffitti.
*I've decided to annoint you all honorary uncles to my two-month-old daughter, Dylan. How would you try to out-do the others in the band so she saw you as her favorite uncle?*
SM: By now, you are aware that only one uncle is present, Uncle Scott (uncle of eight -- Max, Tank, Andy, Jack, Jonny, Jake, Micheal, Ryan). Dylan must know that five uncles are better than one. However, I can make coins disappear and turn up in Dylan's ear. I can sled through the tiniest slopes with Dylan while dad laughs from kitchen window. I can, with the most sincere enthusiasm, admire the littlest touch of Crayola to paper and most importantly, I can convince Dylan that anything is constantly possible. (And I believe that tickling is torture.) Plus, I have uncles which I revere, to this day, as Gods on earth!
*What do you want people to get out of "We All Belong"?*
SM: Very strange question. (Not for you to ask, but for me to consider.) There is really only one intended listener for this album: Dr. Dog. Beyond that, I really hope for good times in an increasingly complicated set of circumstances. I intend to learn a lot about this album in the near future, as soon as WE ALL hear it.
*How do you all deal with being away from home so much?*
SM: Dear Sean,
Our time apart has offered me many things. Good, bad, mostly good, almost entirly good although seemingly bad. Today, Juston bought new shoes that he is not so sure Katie will like. I have total confidence that any girl of Juston's (Katie being the only one of any importance) will love them. We visited my uncle and he told me not to be scared. Me and Toby got these new hats in Lawerence, Kansas that are known as Swedese army surpluss hats. Jack White. Jack shit. Jack and Sarah's dad's girls were there at the Magic Numbers big gig at the London Hammersmith deal. There were no String Bikinis. She had a Dr. Dog button on and the pictures were 3D. Only cause someone made dicks out of poster putty and put them on photos of classic sculptures. Nick Meyhew is a gentleman and a scholar and a friend and a great tour guide only he won't get us on a ferry on-time, which is a very small price to pay for unlimited time on the sex line (we all broke our own hearts just trying not to talk about sex.). While visiting the home of The Black Angels, I realized that no matter how much Coach loved us, he could not stay happy despite Frank's more than impressive rendition of "Alone Again Natually." So, despite Frank's efforts and my tears, Coach slept as I did in the living room of that van. Any hoo Sean, the tales go on and on and you might as well tell them!
(then make a fart sound)
*What do you love about Philly?*
SML Philly has not lost its teeth yet.
*What are you all reading and listening to these days?*
SM: Joanna Newsom.
Dr. Dog's Fate Available For Stupid Cheap For A Limited Time -- Two Days Only!