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Dr. Dog Bring Reimagined Debut to The Catalyst

In Music
DOG DAYS: The Philly indie band have polished and re-recorded their very first cassette only release.

DOG DAYS: The Philly indie band have polished and re-recorded their very first cassette only release.

Considering their reputation as folksy, down home and altogether analog, some might be surprised to learn that Dr. Dog got their start composing electronic tunes.

To be clear, the very first tracks that the Philadelphia indie rockers ever recorded weren’t club bangers, or even chilly IDM. Still, the founding trio of Toby Leaman, Scott McMicken and Doug O’Donnell constructed most of the songs on Psychedelic Swamp using the lo-fi synth patches and tinny drum loops of a cheap keyboard.

With the exception of the vocals and the guitars, Leaman says that just about every tone and tom-tom on the record came from a Casio sound bank. “There’s certainly no live drums on it,” the singer and songwriter says of the 2001 album, which the fledgling group stitched together with a pair of cassette four-tracks and then dubbed to even more cassettes and some CD-Rs.

They managed to sell a few copies of the album at some of their earliest gigs, Leaman recalls. However, Dr. Dog only kept one song from the sessions in regular rotation at shows. The sour mash of chintzy keys, the odd effects created by manually synching the two four-tracks during the mixing process and many other idiosyncrasies meant that most of the collection didn’t make sense in a live setting, he explains over the phone from his home—pausing occasionally to assure his young daughter that he’ll pay attention to her very soon.

“The original thing is not what I’d call the most accessible piece of music ever recorded,” he says with a laugh.

For a little over a decade Psychedelic Swamp remained a rarity—lurking in the bootleg collections of Dr. Dog super fans. A few copies remained with the band, as well.

Then, in 2015, the Philly-based Pig Iron Theatre Company teamed with Dr. Dog on a live stage and music production for a local arts festival. Pig Iron asked the band to dig up some material that few had heard, and so Leaman and McMicken dusted off Psychedelic Swamp.

The play, titled Swamp is On, provided the impetus for the band to do what it had always intended: re-record their debut—this time in a real studio, with “a billion more pieces of gear and a billion more years of experience.” The new album is out now under the same name.

The result is something both old and new. “It felt like we were just doing cover songs,” he says, describing the experience of revisiting the old material. “It’s liberating in a way, for sure, but it’s weird too.”

Leaman says he is excited to see how audiences react to the new-old material. At their upcoming show in Santa Cruz he says the band will still very much be working it out.

“It’s going to be pretty raw still,” he says. “They’re not road tested at all. It will be interesting to see what catches and what doesn’t.”

Dr. Dog plays on Jan. 31, 7pm, $25 at The Catalyst, Santa Cruz.

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