Dr. Dog opens up its heart

By By Justin Jacobs

Dr. Dog, with Drink Up Buttercup and Da Comrade

Wednesday, April 29, 9 p.m.

Mr. Smalls,… Dr. Dog, with Drink Up Buttercup and Da Comrade

Wednesday, April 29, 9 p.m.

Mr. Smalls, Millvale


The best music is the music that really makes you feel something — whether it’s happy or sad, dirty or sexy, in love or totally full of intense dislike.

Dr. Dog do that. The band’s music is so full of motion, of emotion and of the richest imagery in rock right now.

Forget about the haters that say Dr. Dog sounds like the Beach Boys or the Beatles. Because, well, they do — but that’s not a bad thing. The band takes the restless, swaying positivity of classic sunshine bands like the Boys or Beatles and puts a distinctly modern twist on it.

It’s impossible, at least for bleeding hearts like me, not to be moved by tunes like ‘We All Belong.’ Call me a sap or not, but singing a phrase like that, with such a lilting and catchy melody, makes me nod and say, ‘Yeah, man. We sure do.’

The Dog’s singer and bassist Toby Leaman took some time while cruising around Seattle’s fish market on his day off to talk. Here’s what the doc had to say:

The Pitt News: What was the first record to blow you away?

Toby Leaman: I was a kid. It woulda had to be Out of Time by REM. I liked music before that but it was the kind of music you like before you decide that you like music. I was really into DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince — the one with ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ ‘- but as far as that having any musical affect on me’hellip;maybe not.

TPN: What about (Dr. Dog hometown) Philly inspires you?

TL: The people. The more people you meet and all the interesting things people are into — because its not extremely expensive or at the cutting edge, it affords people to just do what they want to do without sacrificing too much. If they want to do something really weird that’ll never make them any money — you can do that in Philly. There are outlets for it — little house punk shows, art shows.

TPN: The band has said that FATE is the record that the you guys were destined to make. How do you interpret that?

TL: You could say that about any album we’ve made. They’ve all been a product of what we had available to us at that time. And certainly for FATE we had more available to us. Still, we don’t really feel limited whether we were recording on’ 4-track or reel-to-reel 8-track or even when we moved to 24-track.

TPN: Is Dr. Dog’s best record still to come?

TL: Absolutely.’ The next one will be the best one to date. Without a doubt. We’ve been talking about it a lot. We wanted to release something this summer — it’ll be like a mini album. I’m trying to avoid calling it an EP. We’re going back to 8-track on that one just for the hell of it. But the next full album, we’re talking about not doing it ourselves — maybe in partnership with somebody else. We agree that for us to get to the next level artistically, as lofty as that sounds, we need to get out of our own studio. Mainly it’s an engineering issue. But also it might be fun to let another head in.

TPN: How would you describe your approach to songwriting. Does it come naturally or do you set aside time?

TL: Both. Sometimes you’re not trying to write anything and something just comes up and its easy as pie. I try to play at least a couple hours in my head when I’m at home. It’s my favorite thing to do, so it’s not a hassle. I would write all day every day if I could. Like 90 percent of what I write never becomes a song. It’s hard to say when you’re actually writing and when are you just dicking around, though.

TPN: My favorite Dr. Dog line is ‘What blows us hear today will blow us all away’ from ‘The Breeze.’ How does that mentality factor into being a traveling band?

TL: I never thought about it in that light. Obviously the term ‘blow us all away’ has multiple meanings. Essentially, I would imagine that what Scott (McMicken, guitar and vocals) was trying to say that the things that have brought you to a place are the same things that’ll get you beyond it. All your history and experience, up to whatever the present is, those are the things that’ll push you further. He might’ve meant it the other way — when you reflect upon your life, it’ll blow your mind. But you can take it anyway you want. Once the lyrics are out of our hands and recorded, they’re no longer ours.

TPN: I recently spent some time working with the poor in Guatemala. The only band I listened to was Dr. Dog because of the music’s infectious positivity and hopefulness. What music makes you feel like I did in Guatemala?

TL: Oh, boy. It’s so hard listening to music to separate yourself from what you know about the band. I never like to read band biographies. Listening to the Beach Boys right before Pet Sounds, as clich’eacute; as it sounds, I listen to that and the innocence and things they’re singing about just make me feel good. And its different then just loving a song. M. Ward’s Post-War too, can put you in a mood that just makes you feel better. He’s not trying to bring you down to some deep dark place where you have to mire. It’s just beautiful.

TPN: When’s the last time you felt really lucky?

TL: In one sense, I feel glad to be doing what we love to be doing. I’m happily married, I have a dog and a house and shit. But as far as actual things that’ve made me feel lucky. Well, I play cards and it’s always beautiful when you get lucky. I haven’t found money recently, but whenever that happens’hellip; Honestly, we’re lucky to have a day off today.

Check out Dr. Dog’s latest record, last year’s FATE, on Park the Van and let the happiness in.