Interview with Dr. Dog bassist Toby Leaman

By | April 4th, 2011 | No Comments

Toby Leaman straining the vocals at the Masquerade in Atlanta. -- photo by Ryan Myers

Touring on their fifth studio album, Shame, Shame, Philly retro-rock quintet Dr. Dog is scheduled to play Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale on April 15. Whereas plenty of indie rock acts leave South Florida off their tours, Dr. Dog usually pencils in a Ft. Lauderdale date, having played Culture Room in 2009 on their Fate tour and Revolution in 2007 to push We All Belong.

A year after recording Shame, Shame, their first big-studio album under Anti- Records (whose roster includes the likes of Tom Waits, Wilco, and Neko Case), Dr. Dog is already working on material for their next album. I recently spoke to bassist, singer, and co-songwriter Toby Leaman about the growing pains of getting big, coming up in Philly, and why recording the last album was terrifying.

What was the Philly scene like when you guys were growing up?

TL: Well, Scott [McMicken, singer and co-songwriter] and I didn’t move to Philly until about 2000. We grew up about 45 minutes away. There was a college town called Newark that we used to go to, and they had a pretty good scene there when we were kids coming up. It was mainly punk bands in the early to mid-90s. The best band out of there was called Zen Guerillas. A bad ass band. They didn’t break up until 2002, 2003. They were heavy soul and blues with a little bit of speed metal mixed in. It was awesome.

When we moved to Philly, the scene there was pretty tight. All the bands that stuck around Philly incubated there. The old model was if you got kinda good, you moved to New York. That’s what everybody did. But everybody that stayed in Philly was just getting better and better, and there was no one style. There weren’t a million bands that sounded like The Strokes. Everybody sorta did their own thing.

And getting respect in Philly — and I think this is still true — it’s hard-won. Bands have to be pretty good. There’s not what you’d call a “buzz band” that seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s ingrained in the ethos of the city. Philly views itself as an underdog, being so close to New York. It’s definitely part of the culture of the city that nothing’s free, nothing’s cheap. Whatever respect you get, you earned. And then, once you get to that point, you’re loved forever.

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