It's rare to find a group that can go from being a cassette-recorded basement pastime to a full band that's able to translate dazzling musicianship from the album to the stage. Such an evolution is rarely seamless, however. Dr. Dog -- whose brand of psychedelic-tinged, harmony-driven pop was once the outlier and is now an influencer -- is no exception.
The Philadelphia-based six-piece has gone through a series of incarnations since their inception in 1999. Developing a cohesive, communicative lineup is hard enough for any band, but personnel changes have served as the highest and lowest moments in Dr. Dog's tenure, says guitarist/vocalist Scott McMicken. The departure of drummer Juston Stens allowed for the addition of multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Manos and drummer Eric Slick. It's now long behind them, but some of those darker moments allow a band to be seen in a new light.
"During Shame, Shame, which was our first on ANTI- Records, there were a lot of sea changes going on within the band and externally as well, being on a new label," McMicken says. "Internally, the band was at its weakest at that point, on account of where we were at with our drummer. He left the band as a result of all that, right after that record was done. I definitely mark that as the toughest point in the band's history, but within that there was never a question of would we stop -- it was more of how we fill this gap and get back to work."
Bringing Manos into the fold proved fortuitous for the band while affording them a unique connection to Arizona. Manos, a Philadelphia native and now a Tucson resident, is one-half of the band Golden Boots in addition to his roles in Dr. Dog. According to McMicken, Manos' move to Arizona is part of a bigger migration than some southern Arizona natives might be aware of.
"There's a weird kind of Philadelphia-Tucson pipeline going on, where a lot of people in Philly decided to move to Tucson, [and] as a result, Arizona has always stood out on the map for that reason, as a home away from home," McMicken says. "Whenever we play there, it's like a secondary homecoming show, after Philly."
Even with multiple home bases scattered across the country, Dr. Dog's at an odd crossroads in its timeline. Last year's release of B-Room, named after a portion of their newly minted recording facility in Philadelphia, saw lukewarm critical reception. So-so reviews aren't lost on McMicken, leaving him with a slight chip on his shoulder, as to be expected.
"We haven't been completely bashed in the press, but I feel like the acclaim aspect for us, critically, and it seems to be more and more so this way as time goes on, is very gray," he says. "A lot of places that wrote about [B-Room] were like 'Yeah, these guys are pretty cool, they do this thing that they do and they're still doing it and it's still pretty cool. They make some decent shit, end of story.' And of course, there are certain media outlets that have their suspicions of us and dislike us on a lot of levels, what we represent and our aesthetic tastes."
Animosity aside, McMicken knows that continuing to cater to Dr. Dog's followers is what's best for the band's growth. It's taken 15 years, but such time has allowed Dr. Dog to carve out a niche while moving full circle from bedroom project to touring tour de force to seasoned studio act, all while picking up loyal fans in the process.
"As far as the reaction and our presence within the industry, it's always felt very insular and it still feels that way," McMicken says. "There's been seemingly a equal amount of curse and praise going on in the press, but I think for us, the reality of what our band is and what it's come to be has a much more direct [connection] between ourselves and our fans."
Dr. Dog is scheduled to perform today and Tuesday, February 25, at Crescent Ballroom. The shows are sold out.
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