Q&A: Dr. Dog's Toby Leaman on Meeting Jim Jarmusch, Loving Gnarls Barkley, and Writing Happier Songs
Toby is the bearded fellow in the middle.
The exuberant men of Dr. Dog have a decade's worth of boisterous shows, belt-busting sing-alongs, and retro psychedelia in their breast pockets. With the band's first album via Anti-, Shame, Shame, this lovely music is reaching its largest audience yet.
As the Dog visits Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room this evening, it's an appropriate time to share some extra material from our chat with bassist-vocalist Toby Leaman. Excerpts appeared in this week's music section, and you can read that right here. Leaman's a pretty strong conversationalist, and so we discussed why he doesn't want to meet Tom Waits, and then he probably went and regrouted his bathroom. More intrigue follows below.
New Times: Where are you at right now?
Toby Leaman: I'm at home. I live in Wilmington, Delaware, which is about a half hour south of Philly. My wife and I bought a place down here about three years ago.
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Have you been working on a lot of writing while you've been back?
I'm constantly working on all kinds of crap. I just put up a fence last week. I put up a swing. I cut a hole in the ceiling to get to the pipes because there was a leak. I fixed the leak, and then I patched up the ceiling. I put up the gate. I got all kinds of crap, but it's nice. When you own your own place it's nice. I used to work for different contractors back when I wasn't in the band and needed to make other money. It's good work. I like the work, but it felt like work. Now that I own my place and I can do it on my own time, and my own projects, I like it. I've been writing a ton too, which is great. I feel like we're in a pretty good stride here. The past few months I feel like we're cranking them out. Played poker last night. I did pretty good -- I won 17 bucks. It gets kind of rowdy, especially toward the end.
You guys carry that workingman's image to the stage. It'd be hard to imagine you in formal suits.
We've talked about that. Once the new record comes out, we talked about maybe going straight to suits or something like that. I feel like that would be pretty nice. It would make for an interesting contrast from what we're doing and what we're wearing. I feel like if we're all wearing the same suit, we'll look really sharp.
Are there any other kind of aesthetic adjustments that you guys have decided already for the new record?
I think definitely for the new record, the songs are going to be more upbeat and I made a conscious decision to stop writing "why am I here and what am I doing?" songs. I mean there are still some of those, but we're real happy right now as a band. They're more fun to play too. When you're touring so much, you start to see songs, you watch them die slowly. You go, "oh shit, I thought this was going to be a go to song in a set, and now look at it it's just a little old bastard and nobody wants to play it anymore." And I know what type of songs those are. I'm just determined not to write those kinds of songs. I want songs on the record everybody is going to be psyched to play all the time. Even though I'm making a conscious decision to write different types of songs, those songs are still going to get written. There's a million songs I've written over the years that didn't make it to record or anything like that.
With the situation in Anti-, does that give you guys more flexibility to do non-Dr. Dog type projects?
No. I'm not saying they're hindering it at all, but we spend so much time doing Dr. Dog. I love it. The only hindrance is time. Every once in a while we'll produce a record for somebody, or somebody will ask us to do something on a record and we'll do it, but there really isn't room for other projects. And, I feel like as a band, we can write any kind of song and we'll make it work as a band. It's just a matter of whether or not the person really wants to do it. When I decide which songs don't make the record, it's not because I don't think we can make a good recording, it's because I just don't want to put those songs out. There are certain songs that just aren't going to work live.
Dr. Dog fans are rabid people. Do you think you guys are equally rabid fans of specific bands yourselves or is this a totally kind of surprising thing for you?
When we started the band, the point was for me and Scott to make it a good time band. That's how we wanted to feel. We wanted the audience to feel that way and it's sort of what we always tried to do. That's fun. There's an artistic part to it obviously, and that's a huge part of it, but it could be the dumbest thing in the world and we'll do it if it's fun. That's why the band started, and I feel like that's why we still love it. The second part of that is, I love a lot of bands but I have a hard time letting go. I used to when I was a kid, but anymore I can't stop thinking about everything. I get into it, but I can't stop thinking about everything that goes into it musically. I don't go to shows and do the kind of stuff people do at our shows.
Have you guys gotten to meet your Anti- labelmates like Tom Waits or anybody that you admire?
No, never met Waits. I don't know if I would want to. They're some people I like so much that like, what is he going to get out of that? What am I going to get out of that? I will say this. One dude that was actually awesome to meet was Jim Jarmusch. I met him while we were playing and you know what? He seemed like a pretty cool guy, so I went up and introduced myself and then we ended up talking about his films for like an hour. Mainly talked about jazz, but that was cool.
Are there any other details about the new record you guys have kind of settled on?
I'm 99 percent sure that the producer we're working with is this dude Ben Allen. He sort of reached out to us again, and I looked at what he did and realized I really like the sound he gets and he's a really cool producer. We've already done two songs with him and it was a mutual awesome time for everybody. This is the strongest most realized stuff we've ever done. And everybody felt really good about it. We're trying to make this record happen with him.
What was it about his production work that got you excited?
He did that Gnarls Barkley song, "Crazy," which was the first thing. The bass tone in that song is so good. When that song came out it blew my lid. That bass tone, I loved it so much. He's done stuff with Cee Lo and Christina Aguilera, but he's all over the place. He likes our band, and we love what he does, so we're really excited to start this record.
Dr. Dog, with Floating Action. 8 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Culture Room,
3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $18. Click here.
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