With eight studio albums under their belt, including their most recent full-length effort, B-Room, Philadelphia’s extravagant psychedelic-based indie rock outlet, Dr. Dog, recently announced that they will be embarking on a newly experimental, yet rewarding chapter in their musical careers by recording a live full-length album.
Since their humble beginnings dating back as early as 1999, lead vocalist and guitarist Scott McMicken conveyed that the band’s inception has been rooted in home recordings and DIY techniques. Not only do these grassroots ethics truly reflect their sincere instrumental approach in the studio, it goes without saying that the band’s graceful and eccentric spontaneity can also thrive beautifully in the setting of a live concert environment.
Ringing in the New Year with their first ever live recorded album, Live At A Flamingo Hotel, Dr. Dog will be executing a uniquely lavish tour in support of this new record by bringing to life a wondrous fictional concept that celebrates the overall experience of their live show. A month prior to the release of Live At A Flamingo Hotel, I spoke with McMicken about the guiding light of inspiration that motivated the band into finally crafting together this live album, while getting into full detail about the artistic symbolism revolving around the concept of “A Flamingo Hotel.”
Next month, you’ll be releasing a live album entitled, Live At A Flamingo Hotel. Was this something that you and the rest of the band have wanted to do for quite a while? What was the main inspiration that ultimately led to deciding that you want to release a live album?
Yeah, we’ve talked about it for years, you know, but I think it was mostly the thought and the talks surrounding it in the past were always kind of a broader notion of like… well, we see ourselves very much so as a “live band,” and the live show has a huge part of really what we are doing. You know, we make a lot of records and we love recording and all that, but over the years—due to the sheer amount of touring that’s gone down—the live show has actually just become a unique festival for us to experience the music that we make, so it’s been kind of percolating for a while. And I think we finally just decided to pull the trigger because I think we got to a point where we really felt confident, more so than we did in the past.
There was just a lot involved in a way like, while the live show it’s always been a part of our experience being in the band, it was always much more of a vitriol thing, and it wasn’t necessarily so focused or concentrated on actually being so removed on the music and trying to create something as six people. So, it was a lot more just like, to experience that energy through the charge of these songs, but for an audience.
Because of the fact that you have eight studio records under your belt, including your most recent effort, B-Room, what are some things that you’ve learned from putting out a live record that are different in comparison to crafting together a studio album?
Oh man, I think you kind of talked right into what we did the most by setting to do this, which is having to be in the studio. So, we multi-tracked a bunch of shows earlier in the year—like, our live record is pulled together from about 20 shows and we picked the best version of each song over the course of these 20 shows. Like, every mic lined on the stage had its own track being recorded into a computer from each of those 20 shows and we came into the studio to mix it.
Mixing this live record and dealing with that kind of “raw” tracks of the live mix of the band showed us that you don’t need that kind of isolation to create a satisfying sound, especially with what modern technology offers you. So since that point, that game has entirely changed. I [worked] on about five or six studio records in studio since when we mixed that album and every one of them now has been a “live, washed out” big sound, with the whole band in the room, no one on headphones—basically just doing the tracks, hearing them on stage, and realizing after having mixing that live record, knowing that, “It’s still okay. You’re going to have enough control over the sound” to be able to then rent wrangle it into a nice, clean presentation of the speakers, and that came directly from mixing the live record.
I would like to assume when most bands decide to put out a live record, there’s some sort of special connotation that weighs in on choosing a venue for the occasion. With that in mind, would you care to elaborate on the significance of “Flamingo Hotel?” We definitely are not talking about THE Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel, are we?
Yeah, yeah, that was a real conscious move because we were trying to figure out, like, “Okay, what is this?” You know, it’s like what I said, those songs… each track on the record comes from a bunch of different venues and we had to make that choice like, “What is the experience with this record when you put it on? Is the idea that you’re suddenly in a concert and there’s this continuity and like, you’re supposed to listen to it in your speakers and believe that you’re in this moment where all of this shit is happening chronologically, or are we going to faultily that notion?”
In the end, we wind up just being comfortable seeing it more as just an album that happens to be recorded live. So, we just let the audience kind of fade out and let the audience fade back in. There’s a lot of Neil Young live records that reflect this type of thing where it’s like, “Yeah, it’s a live show, but it’s not a 60-minute or whatever experience in time,” you know? We just kind of started playing with that idea and try for our own purposes to figure out what is was we were presenting.
So Flamingo Hotel ended up being the title and that’s just pretty arbitrary because one time, I pulled this sample off of an iTunes sample bank thing. It was like, you can buy these collections of sounds that are like… you can pay 10 bucks and get 200 little sound effects. Amongst that collection, there’s like a whole grouping of soul singers just singing a single line—and a lot of it just kind of comically.
There was this guy in there called “Leroy,” and he does this one line in that sample collection where he goes, “Flamingo Hotel!” And he just has this hilarious vibe, so we put Dimitri [Manos] in our band, and his role is pretty important amongst the many things he has, and his world over in that back corner is in a sampler keyboard, so we drop that guy into there because he wound up on a bunch of recordings that we were doing and so, during the live show, he’ll drop that all of the time.
And the choice to make it A Flamingo Hotel was kind of creating this fictional concept—we’re actually rolling with this for a whole tour where we designed a whole set on the production side to make it look like this shitty, late ’50s hotel… you know, some tropical Cuban vibe or something. And the theme of the idea is that everywhere you play is the Flamingo Hotel and we’re bringing the Flamingo Hotel to every venue you play.
So it’s kind of like a franchised thing—you go out and tour the Flamingo Hotel and the whole thing is just this fictional concept, and that was the inevitable fun and playful nature of the way we kind of approached touring and concepts within records, but it was basically born out of the idea of, “How do we present this live record?” Like I said, “Are we trying to trick people into thinking that this is one concert?” In the end, we decided that it wasn’t worthy, but then the concept got more playful as in, “Every place we played in fact was a Flamingo Hotel.”
In honor of Live At A Flamingo’s release, you’ll be gearing up for an upcoming leg of tour dates for the next four months. What are you looking forward to about these dates the most?
Yeah, it’s really cool. We worked really hard on getting the production together and there’s a lot of cool elements, especially kind of going big with the New York run of shows, and you know, getting a shitty 1970s limousine and stuff, and showing up to the show in that thing. We’re hiring actors to be like the concierges walking around with cocktails and stuff. We have this whole lineup of merch, which is like, matchbooks and coasters and stationary pads… like all of these hotel themes, you know—concepts. So, yeah, it’s just a nice, general pallet to then apply like all your choices about going out on the road and presenting your production.
What do you think future has in store for Dr. Dog for the rest of the year?
Umm… yeah, I’m sure we’ll be hitting up a bunch of festivals in the summer. We got a new record that we finished a couple weeks ago that we’ll put out… probably on the heels of the Flamingo tour and we got plans to get on another album as soon as we put out the one we just made. That’s going to be a big one; that’s going to be a concept record that’s going to involve theatrical elements. And we’re going to be collaborating with a theater group to put together almost like a… I hate to say it, but kind of a “musical.” You know, those tend to be a little corny, but we’ve got a grasp on something with that, which feels like it’s pretty interesting. The whole year… yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun stuff to work on.
Dr. Dog will be playing at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg in Brooklyn from Jan. 9 through Jan. 12 and at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan from Jan. 14 through Jan. 17. Dr. Dog’s first live album, Live At A Flamingo Hotel, will be available on Jan. 13 on ANTI- Records. For more information, go to drdogmusic.com.