For the past decade and a half, the Philadelphia rock band Dr. Dog has made fuzzed-out, psychedelic-tinged noises. But now, in an effort to master subtle dynamics, they're easing into a softer, slower sound that allows more room for their instruments and voices.
That's why guitarist and co-frontman Scott McMicken feels apprehensive about Dr. Dog's upcoming tour: He doesn't know how the mellower material will go over with longtime fans.
"Our shows are about to feel a lot less sweaty," he says. "And it's still posing a challenge for us live. Our shows have always essentially been amped-up versions of our records — there's that visceral, palpable anxiety that always leads things to get louder and more expressive and stuff. But we're very committed to learning how to become more powerful while playing more chilled-out tunes."
Not that they're unprepared for the set at Culture Room April 14. Before recording their new album, Critical Equation (due out April 27 on Thirty Tigers), they rehearsed for weeks and came ready to lay the songs down almost note-for-note. That's a different approach for a group that has, historically, allowed music to shape itself in the studio.
"We'd start with a skeleton of a song — the chords, the melody, and the lyrics — and discover the arrangement in the process of recording it," McMicken says. "In many cases, we'd play live versions of the song for the first time after we recorded it. So in the past, tour preparation has been a bit more harrowing, because it's still a fundamentally creative act to figure out how to take these recordings and turn them into something you can play as a five-piece band."
This time around, the bandmates have had time to perfect almost everything about their set. "We've been getting more into the minutiae instead of figuring out the broad strokes," he says. "That's been cool to mess with the live elements, the articulation and the tones, and the gear."
The live energy of Critical Equation is due in part to working with producer/engineer Gus Seyffert in Los Angeles. Previously, the members of Dr. Dog had always recorded themselves in their own studio in Philadelphia.
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"We wanted to experience being less hands-on in the recording process and try to be more of just like a band," McMicken says. "That's driving our interest in music right now, the elemental side of it — less of the experimental aspects and more of just playing as an ensemble."
Seyffert lent Critical Equation a pre-rock 'n' roll aesthetic, McMicken says. "It elicits this warmth and grandeur to my ears that makes me think more of [Frank] Sinatra and cinematic soundscapes. There's this classic richness to the way he captures sound."
For example, the third track on the album, "Buzzing in the Light," is a gorgeously rendered dreamscape over which co-vocalist Toby Leamandr waxes poetic on the mysterious depths of the universe. It's slow and spacious, and a good indication of Dr. Dog's new sound. Now they'll find out whether their fans dig it.
Dr. Dog. 8 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-564-1074. Tickets cost $25 via ticketmaster.com.