The Dodos

By • Jul 23rd, 2008 • Category: Interviews

Photo courtesy of Nate Lanthrum / Soundcheck Magazine

The Dodos were bigger than the Wu Tang Clan. At least that’s how it appeared after a few tweaks to the Pitchfork Music Festival schedule.

Promoters rotated the sets and moved Ghostface and Raekwon to the supplementary Balance Stage, while the San Francisco ensemble had it’s dinner-time set moved Sunday evening to the largest, Aluminum Stage.

Vocalist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber’s fuzzy, spacey yet thumping, tones shot from the mainstage speakers with the assurance of a band who felt it belonged in that spot, not one that got rotated in during the preceding days. With an earthy but urgent sensibility, the two played songs from their recently released Visiter, as well as 2006’s Beware of the Maniacs.

Joined on stage by multi-instrumentalist Joe Haener, the band shouted its way through track after track of salt-of-the-Earth tales skewed by a psychedelic prism ¬– Long, strumming a guitar with a tambourine duct taped to his foot, Kroeber pounding away at his bassy floor toms, and Haener chiming in on anything from vibes to a beefed up garbage can.

The Pitchfork-specific set sounded bigger than it should have. But as the band will attest, not as big as it soon will.

Soundcheck: Being from San Francisco, as soon as people hear the words “psychedelic” and “folk” attached to your music, do you think there is a stereotype that comes with that? Do you worry people will hear those adjectives and assume you’re just trying to hearken back to something so associated with your city?
Meric Long: I don’t think it’s a geographic thing necessarily because I feel those two terms are being applied to a lot of bands that are popular in a lot of different cities and not just San Francisco. The psychedelic thing definitely is tied to San Francisco in the past, but nowadays, there are a lot of bands getting that label. But it’s not something that we have to fight. I’m fine with it. People here whatever they want to hear, and they have to categorize things.

Soundcheck: That wasn’t implying that those labels are bad things.
Meric Long: Good. But I think those descriptions are so vague. I don’t know what to expect when I hear “psychedelic” or when I hear “folk.” It’s all over the place. With us, there definitely are elements that you can apply to other bands. At least where we’re coming from, we definitely borrow or bring in elements of areas that aren’t [those sounds].

Soundcheck: When you say, “where you’re coming from,” where is that?
Meric Long: Basically Logan and I are a couple of suburban kids that grew up listening to heavy music. I picked up a guitar and tried to learn how to fingerpick, and basically heard all this heavier music in that line of performance and playing. That was the inspiration for the band, tying together what I heard out of that style of guitar and where I was coming from playing in rock bands and wanting to keep doing that.

Soundcheck: You referred to it as a “performance.” Do you treat it as a performance instead of just going on stage and playing your music?
Logan Kroeber: Yeah, definitely. There was a crafting involved with the set today and we try to bring that as much as we can, instead of playing the same set over and over again. We continually try to make it new.

Soundcheck: What was the crafting for today, then? What is the thought process for Pitchfork versus a club?
Meric Long: The crafting is just taking into account what the situation is. Today we’re going to play to X – this amount of people – playing after Les Savy Fav, which is like, we tour with those guys so we know what it’s like playing with them and opening for them the way it should be. But playing after them, it was like “holy shit.”

Soundcheck: And getting moved to the bigger stage.
Meric Long:
Getting moved to the bigger stage. We played a set today that we’d never played before. It was tailored to this audience. It was what we thought we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to introduce some of our more bluesy stuff first because with the Pitchfork audience there’s a notion, or an expectation there of what we do. So I wanted to introduce those songs first. And then from that, kind of keep the level of energy up.

Soundcheck: But there’s a danger with your music that it might not translate to either an open-air festival, or a smaller club, unless you’re very careful. If you play your spacey tunes too early at a fest you could lose the audience. But if you play it too late at a club, you could lose them, too.
Meric Long: There are certain things that are music relies on, as far as translating well. Some of which just has to do with pure physics – sound, and engineers, and all that shit that we don’t have control over.

Soundcheck: But what about the Pitchfork Music Festival specifically, here today.
Logan Kroeber: We were just talking about this yesterday. This is the first time I’ve ever been to a Pitchfork Fest. When it first began, I was kind of confused because of their nature, I was wondering how they were going to this sort of thing. But then I saw the line-up, and I really wanted to go. But the audience seems more general public, and not a narrowed down type of crowd. It’s better that way because it’s a good mix.
Meric Long: The festival is pretty eclectic. We haven’t played a lot of festivals, but we’re about to. And what we were talking about is how the audience is just people who like music, and people who are just down for whatever. I don’t feel like [judging]. Do you guys feel like that?

Soundcheck: Is the fest taking a big risk in booking you? Because this is a company whose business quite literally is in reviewing bands. When did you realize that by being asked to play here, they were vouching for you and saying that they had enough faith to stake some of its company interest in you? Their reputation is based on saying what is good.
Meric Long: Whoa, dude. We should have thought of that before our show.
Logan Kroeber: They’re definitely doomed.
Meric Long: We were invited to play this fest months ago when our record came out, and the site were supportive of it. Maybe they regretted that decision today.

Soundcheck: You mentioned the new album, Visitor. How has it been received on your end? I know how it’s been received critically. But has that been what you thought it would be, be honest. Did you think it would get the reviews that it has?
Meric Long: It’s been a lot more. We felt really good about the record when we left. I can speak for both of us, and we thought it was the best thing that we had done up to that point. But that doesn’t mean it warrants the attention of so many people out there. I’m constantly surprised and stoked that people like it. And that people seem to get it.

Soundcheck: On the album you’re still a duo, but live it’s a full three-piece. Are there plans to bulk up permanently?
Meric Long: We’re going to go into a recording session in a few weeks, and [touring multi-instrumentalist] Joe [Haener] is going to come. It took us a while to write as a duo, so we’ll see how this goes.

Soundcheck: Do you think it will accelerate things because there is a person to settle debates, or will it slow things up because there’s a third set of ideas coming into the mix?
Meric Long: It won’t necessarily speed things up. It’s just the possibility of having another person to play and bring there energy into it is huge. There’s so much more can be done.

Soundcheck: Is there any apprehension that you’re inviting another accomplished musician – with an accomplished musician’s personality – into a group that obviously works well together.
Meric Long:
No, because we have our understanding of vision and when to do things. Plus, Joe’s supportive of things.
Logan Kroeber:
The only worry is that we won’t have enough time to jam with each other, compared to how Meric and I jammed with each other as a duo. For me, that is where a lot of the energy comes from. And now, we’re touring all the time. So we need to spend more time practicing and jamming, all three of us, and getting in tune that way. Hopefully when we go into the studio we’ll work it out.

Soundcheck: Where are you headed to record in a few weeks? Is it just to get some ideas on tape or is this going to be for a release?
Meric Long: We’re going to Seattle. We don’t know what it’s for, but we’re doing a couple days with Phil Eck. It’s just going to be a demo to try out some new material. I feel like the next sound and record is this gray area. It’s kind of big and I still don’t have a total grasp on it. And when we recorded this last record, that is how I felt about the band at the time. But this is going to get big in a conceptual sense. Not like it’s going to get bigger, but there’s this whole other element I want to introduce to our music that I don’t know how it will sound just yet. I especially don’t know how it’s going to sound on record. There’s a lot of uncertainly. This session is to get a little foot-hole in predicting or getting a grasp on where our sound is going to go. Because it’s definitely going in another direction.

Logan, how do you react when you hear him saying your sound will change, but that he doesn’t know to what? Do you ever say, “Hey, I like how we sound?” Does that make you nervous?
Logan Kroeber: I’ve stopped saying the “crap” and “shit” part of worry how it will change. I just say that I don’t know what he’s thinking. But I know it will surprise me.

Soundcheck: That’s not to imply that one of you shows up having done all the work and the other just comes with drumsticks in hand to do what he’s told.
Logan Kroeber: There’s stuff we’ve come together on already like the beats. But the guitar parts, or vocal melodies and the lyrics aren’t. I have a feel for the songs a certain way, but then there’s the other pieces of the pie that are in Meric’s brain, or other instruments that I don’t worry about. There’s a place where we meet.

Soundcheck Magazine, July 2008

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