Toby Leaman of Dr. Dog invites you to the 'best show you'll ever see'

Dr. Dog — vocalist-guitarist Scott McMicken, bassist-vocalist Toby Leaman, rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Manos

Dr. Dog — vocalist-guitarist Scott McMicken, bassist-vocalist Toby Leaman, rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Manos

The members of Dr. Dog have often described themselves as a "slow burn" — the type of band that doesn't have a flash-in-the pan big boost of popularity but rather a build up of fans and acclaim since their self-released pop-folk Toothbrush in 2002. Be the Void, their second album on Anti- Records, is out Feb. 7. From outside Philadelphia, Dr. Dog bassist and vocalist Toby Leaman spoke with Lawrence.com about its "edgier" sound and the work this "pop band but rock band at heart" puts into their live show.

Alex Garrison: How would you describe Dr. Dog’s sound?

Toby Leaman: I don’t know. It’s difficult for me because I’ve heard a song a million times before it goes out. For me, the sound changes so drastically from song to song, to my view at least. Whenever anybody asks, I’ll say it’s a rock band outfit. We’ve got pop songs with lots of harmonies — kind of a pop band but really a rock band at heart.

Past Event

Dr. Dog

  • Thursday, February 2, 2012, 8:30 p.m.
  • Granada, 1020 Mass., Lawrence
  • All ages / $15

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AG: From listening to Shame, Shame, it’s clear there’s not exactly a one-to-one ratio between instruments and members — there's a lot of you and you switch vocals and who’s doing what quite a bit. How do you determine how a song will come together like that?

TL: Whoever writes the song is gonna sing it. Scott (McMicken) sings his songs, he’s the other writer in the band, and I sing mine. With instruments, though, it’s kind of who’s there. Especially with this last record, we’re pretty quick in getting the rhythm down. But after that, we’re all capable of doing whatever. Zack (Miller), our keyboard player, is definitely the best at the keys, Scott’s definitely the best at guitar, but everybody else can get around enough to get what we want.

AG: I gather you’ve been playing as Dr. Dog for some time and have been friends, at least with Scott, for many years growing up outside Philadelphia. How do you keep that collaborative process going, and how do you keep it fresh?

TL: It’s surprisingly easy. None of us have really ever had a time when we weren’t writing. We do an album every year and a half or so and could probably do more. With two people writing, we get 15 good songs at least a year and if we’re writing plenty of songs, there’s always plenty of material for us.

We have two new members, too, and it’s pretty diplomatic a band. Anybody’s opinion is worth the same. I mean, obviously the songwriters have final say, yea or nay, but as far as instrumentation and final feel, it’s pretty much open what we do. We might have three or four different views of a song and think, ‘oh, I didn’t hear it that way’. That helps us, for sure.

AG: So what can we expect from the new album, Be the Void, out in February?

TL: It’s different in a way — we had a different method, a different drummer. It’s less precious than any of our previous records. I don’t want to say bombastic, it’s still really controlled, but it’s leaner and meaner. That’s what was working when we got into the studio — songs that were more straightforward. I hate the word edgier, but maybe that’s the best.

AG: How have things changed for you as a band being on a relatively big-name label, Anti- Records?

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"Shadow People" by Dr. Dog

TL: We’ve always been a band of slow growth — a slow burn. We’ve never been a band that released an album or a single and jumped a rung or a tier or anything like that. We’ve just slowly progressed all our years. Being on Anti- has slowly gotten us more and more people at shows and fans, but, yeah, there’s never been a drastic jump. It’s gradual growth, but never a decline.

AG: I don’t think that’s a bad way to be.

TL: Yeah. It’s hard not to see bands and think, ‘Where did that band come from?’ and they’re huge really fast, but a couple years later, they’re gone. It’s kind of a shame to see that so it’s better for us to not have that.

AG: It seems like you’re a band that’s had its success, then, through putting a lot of hard work in the creative process. Is that fair to say?

TL: It’s hard for me to judge how hard other people work but I know we work hard. I know what we do to get albums out and it’s not for the faint of heart. And when we play live, for my money, there’s not a lot of bands who can do what we do live. I think our live show is a lot more involved than most live shows. It could just be me — I know what we put into it.

AG: Anything else you’d like us to know?

TL: I’d like the people of Lawrence to know that this will probably be the best show they’ll ever see. It’ll be foolish not to come to the show no matter what else they’re doing.