Dr. Dog: Interview with Scott McMicken

Dr. DogThere comes a time when everything makes sense. The stars align. Clocks freeze. The universe is trying to tell you something. At least that’s what Dr. Dog discovered while recording Fate, the follow-up to the band’s critically acclaimed album, We All Belong.

When “fate” surfaced as a possible album title, the Philadelphia band stopped in its tracks. And after a few days of “swooning, and freaking out,” as singer/guitarist Scott McMicken tells it, they realized something greater than themselves was weighing in. Songs they’d written over the last six years suddenly had similarities. And “fate” tied them together conceptually. So members Frank McElroy (multi-string guitar, full-grip chords, harmonies), Juston Stens (trapset and harmonies), Toby Leaman (finger bass, vocals), Zach Miller (organ), and McMicken (woof and mud distortion, solo guitar and voice) stepped aside to let a process of observation take over. Instead of finding ways to put ideas into their material, they looked for ways in which they already existed. The result was an album McMicken describes as a subjective experience.

“I’ve never felt as detached from my own songs,” says McMicken. “And I mean that in a good way. This is probably as close as I can get to hearing them as though I didn’t write them and didn’t have anything to do with them. That way of thinking was so important to making the album. Just separating everything you put into them. So that you can re-interpret them and try to put them into this greater story.”

Scott McMicken talks to The Aquarian about recording Fate.

Fate wasn’t the intention for the record. How did it evolve?

It was a very natural thing. It just unfolded very slowly from very tiny little seeds—like Toby saying, ‘What about Fate as a possible name for the album?’ And that was chosen at that point in time just as the word—I liked it immediately aesthetically as a big powerful four-letter word. I don’t know if I liked Fate or didn’t like Fate. I didn’t know what I thought it even was. It was just this big romantic thing in my head. That being said, right away I did realize that it was an interesting title just in the fact that it causes me to question. It’s a word taken for granted. And obviously everyone is so familiar with it. But I really had nothing to say about it. It’s one of those interesting things. What the hell is fate?

What themes emerged as you questioned fate?

The interesting thing is all the songs were written well before we started talking about this idea of fate. So it had less to do with how we were going to go about writing and manipulating our songs to suit this idea and more to do with just re-interpreting these songs—I’d say the only way we got manipulative of material, in order to represent what it was we were slowly starting to think about, was that it helped us choose which songs fit and which didn’t.

The metaphor of trains runs through the record. Why does that work so well?

Basically it was just like, ‘What can we do to point out what we are starting to notice about these consistencies between the songs?’ There’s enough of it in the songs themselves. But we wanted to take it up one notch and tie them all together. So Frank came up with the idea of the train—it suits everything about the album because it’s such a musical sound. It’s got a nice constant, flowing rhythm—and the dynamics. I really like that the passage of time has a lot to do with this album. And I think the passage of time has a lot to do with the train. Its presence is always somewhere in the abstract. It’s like it’s always far from you, but on its way. There’s just this romance around the train.