The Lyric Oxford

Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog

Kyle Craft

Tue, April 10, 2018

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$25.00 - $30.00

No refunds. 

All minors (17 and under) must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

A $3 underage fee will be collected at the door from all persons under 21. Cash only.

Dr. Dog
Dr. Dog
“I feel like I’m in a totally new band right now,” says Dr. Dog guitarist/singer Scott McMicken. It’s a bold declaration considering he’s been co-fronting the beloved indie
outfit for a decade-and-a-half, but it cuts straight to the heart of the intense and transformative experience behind the group’s brilliant new album, ‘Critical Equation.’

The most infectious and adventurous collection Dr. Dog has laid to tape yet, the record was born from a journey of doubt and discovery, a heavy, sometimes painful reckoning
that ultimately brought the band closer together with more strength and clarity than ever before. Call it an existential awakening, call it a dark night of the soul, whatever
it was, it fueled one of the most fertile creative periods in the group’s history and forced them to confront that timeless question: what do we really want?

“We’d been touring and making records for our entire adult lives, and I think we just needed to take a step back,” reflects bassist/singer Toby Leaman, who splits fronting and songwriting duties with McMicken. “It was important for all of us to figure out if we were actually doing what we wanted to be doing, or if we were just letting momentum carry us down this path we’d always been on.”

The path to ‘Critical Equation’ was an unusual one for the Philadelphia five-piece (McMicken, Leaman, guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, and drummer Eric Slick), and it stretches all the way back to 2014, when the band completed work on an album titled ‘Abandoned Mansion.’ Instead of releasing the record the following year as planned, they temporarily shelved it in favor of an opportunity to partner with the celebrated Pig Iron Theatre Company on a reimagining of ‘The Psychedelic Swamp,’ a long lost McMicken-Leaman collaboration that actually predated Dr. Dog’s debut album. The resulting theatrical/concert performance premiered at the Philly Fringe Festival, and the accompanying LP earned rave reviews, with NPR hailing it as “a concept album that wanders and sprawls to absorbing effect” and Under The Radar swooning for its “unmistakably sublime harmonies.” Despite representing something of a Rosetta Stone for Dr. Dog, the album also marked a major departure, with elaborate production and experimental arrangements that broke from the simpler, more emotionally direct studio sound they’d been gravitating towards over the years. Rather than the start of a new chapter, ‘The Psychedelic Swamp’ seemed to symbolize the closing of a circle, which made it an ideal catalyst for some serious soul searching.

“We were all really satisfied to close 14 years of history by finally revisiting ‘The Psychedelic Swamp’ and giving it our full attention,” says McMicken, “but I think stepping out of our natural evolution definitely taxed us. We decided we should put ‘Abandoned Mansion’ out and just go our separate ways for six or seven months.”

They released the album with little fanfare, posting it to Bandcamp as a benefit for the Southern Poverty Law Center and walking away without any touring or press for a much–needed break. That time apart proved to be invaluable, as it offered each bandmember the opportunity to reflect and reevaluate, to challenge and confront their conceptions of the group and its possibilities, to ask the hard questions of themselves and each other. They’d achieved remarkable success—multiple Top 50 albums; television performances on Letterman, Fallon, Conan, and more; critical acclaim everywhere from the NY Times to Rolling Stone; massive festival appearances around the world; major tours with the likes of My Morning Jacket, M Ward, and The Lumineers; countless sold-out headline shows—but none of it mattered if they couldn’t answer that nagging question: what do we really want?

Some band members used the break to grow their families, others to explore different artistic avenues. McMicken and Leaman each penned a mountain of songs on their own, inspired by the liberty of writing without expectation or responsibility.

When the band finally reunited to begin work on ‘Critical Equation,’ they did so with fresh perspective. The distance had ironically brought them closer together, helping them learn to communicate in more honest and open ways. As they worked through the challenges and growing pains inherent in rewiring the foundation of any relationship, they found themselves more excited and inspired than ever before.

“We had to tear it apart in order to rebuild it,” explains McMicken. “At first, we’d just tiptoe into things and gently peel back a layer, but once we’d peeled back that layer, we’d find that we’d accessed an even deeper layer, and again and again. Eventually we got to the deepest, most honest part of ourselves.”

Typically, Dr. Dog would record themselves in their own studio, but one of the revelations from their break was that that brand of insularity had begun to feel more limiting than empowering. With that in mind, they packed their bags and headed to LA to record ‘Critical Equation’ with producer/engineer Gus Seyffert (Beck, Michael Kiwanuka), who served as something of a group therapist, whether he knew it or not.

“One of the big conclusions we came to was that we’ve got to blow this whole scene open,” explains Leaman. “We needed somebody to be the boss, somebody to be in charge of us in the studio. It’s not the way we’ve ever worked before, but we really trusted Gus.” One listen to ‘Critical Equation’ and it’s clear that the decision paid off in spades.

Recorded to 16-track analog tape, the album opens with the equally lilting and ominous “Listening In,” a track which pairs Dr. Dog’s signature blend of quirky 60’s pop and fuzzy 70’s rock with Seyffert’s willingness to tear their songs wide open. On “Go Out Fighting,” a vintage Hammond organ gives way to blistering electric guitar as McMicken sings a mantra of perseverance, while the dreamy “Buzzing In The Light” finds Leaman contemplating the mysteries of universe with gorgeously layered harmonies, and the slow-burning title track strips away everything but the vitality of the band’s live show in its rawest form.

“The take on the record was our first take in the studio,” says McMicken. “When we finished playing the song, everybody could feel that something special just happened.”

Despite the weighty self-reflection that led to its creation, ‘Critical Equation’ is perhaps the most playful entry in the Dr. Dog catalog. Even tracks that grapple with heartbreak—like the utterly contagious “True Love” and insanely catchy “Heart Killer”—are full of joy and humor, while the shuffling “Under The Wheels” finds a freedom and a lightness in surrendering to forces outside of your control. The record closes on a note of pure optimism with “Coming Out Of The Darkness,” a song McMicken wrote at the end of the band’s break, just as they were first beginning to discuss the future.

“It’s singular among all the songs I’ve ever written because it’s completely functional,” he explains. “It exists to take you from wherever you are and leave you somewhere better, and that felt poetically perfect for this phase of the band.”

In the end, it turns out that what the group really wanted was fairly simple: to make music that they loved with their friends, and to have fun doing it. Sometimes the simplest things can become more complicated than we ever imagined, but the band’s journey here proves that they’re always worth fighting for. It’s a rare thing to be able to say in this life, but with ‘Critical Equation,’ Dr. Dog got exactly what they wanted and a whole lot more.
Kyle Craft
Kyle Craft
Fate was smiling upon Sub Pop the day Kyle Craft arrived at the Seattle offices. Fate was smiling upon Sub Pop, not Kyle Craft. Kyle Craft just happened to be there. Now at the age of 28, the Louisiana-originating troubadour is a little wiser to things, but back then he only knew Sub Pop for its links with Nirvana and as the home of Beach House and Fleet Foxes. He's really not sure that he ever thought of a so-called 'career in music'. “The whole music thing has been a really strange cinematic sort of journey for me,” he laughs affably. “None of it really makes sense on paper.”

On paper, he was the grandson of a bluegrass player who spent a childhood in Louisiana going to Baptist church and sneaking into the choir room to play with the piano. “The piano was this little weird magic box,” he says. “It was a toy for me at the time.” His mother bought him a guitar on the sworn oath by Craft that he'd get lessons. He soon broke his promise. One lesson in and he hated learning, but he made a pact with his mom that he would teach himself. So he did. He would learn all his inspirations' catalogues: David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Beatles. He discovered Bowie by “pure luck” while watching 'Labyrinth' on TV and falling head over heels for the soundtrack. Getting to Dylan was when everything changed for him, though. “When I was 14 I was into Aerosmith. Steven Tyler was into John Lennon. So I heard Lennon before I heard The Beatles. I read that Lennon was into this Bob Dylan guy and when I heard him I thought: 'Oh that's my guy.'” And just like that, he started writing his own material.

Eventually Craft grew restless in Louisiana and as the wind changed he upped sticks and went to Austin, Texas. “I wouldn't have the wanderlust mentality if it weren't for music. The music taught me how to travel, you know?” he says. He formed a band with his then girlfriend and his best friend. “‘We decided to go on tour! However, It was way more of a road trip than a tour. We were pretty ambitious with it even though we didn't know what we were doing. We went all the way to Seattle.” The girlfriend suggested bringing a demo into Sub Pop. Craft was very against that idea. With his thick Louisiana accent, and having read Sub Pop's extremely harsh online demo policy (“it was something like: you can send your trash here but we probably won't listen to it',” recalls Craft), he refused to do it. His bandmates, however, twisted his arm. They'd come all this way, after all.

Even once outside the building, Craft wanted to turn back but then – a divine intervention. “As we were turning around this little old man walked up to the door, didn't look at us, and put a code in to unlock it, then turned around and made the hand motion of 'come on in'.” They took the elevator to Sub Pop's floor, the woman at the reception gave them a “who the hell are you?” look. “We walked up and said, 'Hey we're in a band from Louisiana, here's our CD. Bye!' and took off. They called us a month later and I've been in touch with them since.” The band broke up, Craft went solo, and it's the best thing he ever did.

Kyle Craft released Dolls of Highland, his acclaimed debut album for Sub Pop, in 2016. Based in Portland, he serves up all the observational, storytelling talent with none of the attitude that so often comes with male singer-songwriter territory. His pursuits always originate with fun. “I’m really just into that '60s folk rock stuff. That’s where my heart is.” Even when asked about his latest ambitious project Girl Crazy– a covers compilation of female artists he loves, including Cher, TLC, Sharon Van Etten and Patsy Cline– Craft says, “It was absolutely for kicks, initially.”

He was hanging around his practice space in Portland and wanted to record a Jenny Lewis song. He did it in a day. Then he did another, this time by Patti Smith. He’d spend the next month recording a full album of covers of female artists for fun. “I've never challenged myself like that before.” Sub Pop released the 10-track set in late 2017.

It's this same attitude that Craft takes into his proper songwriting. He has the advantage of being very self-assured. “I know what I am,” he says. “I've found my place. I'm not one of those people that approaches music for anyone else other than myself. It's a very selfish thing but that means a lot to people because they apply that delivery to their own life. My favorite part about music is when it's just me and a notebook.”

Speaking of, his second forthcoming album Full Circle Nightmare (due in 2018) is entirely autobiographical. Sonically, thematically, lyrically, it's a huge leap forward from his 2016 release.

The title Full Circle Nightmare refers to a moment where Craft saw his life for what it is and told himself to be satisfied. He describes his debut record as: “like walking down this long hall of bizarre characters and surreal experiences, moving through the spider web of love and loss.” This album is when you get to the end of that hallway, turn around and see all the stuff you've been through, then walk through the door, close it and start a new chapter in an even crazier hallway. “It feels like closure to me in a lot of ways,” he says.

A straight-up rollicking rock'n'roll album, it traverses all the different nuances of the genre; from the bluegrass twang of 'Exile Rag,’ to the gothic style of 'Gold Calf Moan,’ it's a timeless piece that could exist in any of the past five decades. All the songs were written over a year, and eventually Craft went into a studio with Chris Funk (The Decemberists). It was the first time he worked with a proper set-up. He was used to making all his music in his room with the aid of a laptop. “I always wanted to go to a legitimate studio and do what my all my old heroes did,” he says. “We did it live with the band.” The joy of the experience smacks you round the head when you listen through. It evokes a never-ending night out in a sweaty saloon bar: bottomless rounds, endless packs of cigarettes and hours dancing to the jukebox.

“I wanted to get to the raw part of what I dig about old music,” he says. “It's real and it's not overdone. I seldom listen to things that are super polished. I like to hear things bleed. I wanna hear the heart in it. I think I achieved that with this record more than anything I've done.” His personal favorite song on this collection is 'Fever Dream Girl,’ which blasts the album open. It's definitely the hardest of all the tracks. “I like the idea of just kicking the door down from the front,” he says. His proudest moment, however, is 'The Rager.’ That's a far more mellow tune, one that captured a picture he'd painted perfectly in his head.

In terms of contemporary peers, Craft likes to stay in his own lane. He sticks to his tried and tested guns when it comes to his influences. He's not fussed about preaching his politics or discussing the status quo either. “I'm a very off-the-grid sort of person. As much as I am traveling across this giant place sometimes I just feel so outside of it. Also, I'm not necessarily a stand-up citizen so it's hard for me to say: here's Kyle Craft's America, ladies and gentlemen. I don't wanna do that.”

The ironic thing is, Full Circle Nightmare sounds exactly like Kyle Craft's America. That is what he's built for us: the story of one man's trials and tribulations to find his passion and voice for art and creativity in this vast opportunist country. Where did he find it? Among the historic riches of America's most honest sounds.
Venue Information:
The Lyric Oxford
1006 Van Buren Ave.
Oxford, MS, 38655