BY JONATHAN VALANIA There are few greater pleasures in this American life than watching a young, gifted rock band in the prime of its youth burn through its set before an adoring hometown crowd with the confidence of five young men who’ve come to realize that — after all the blood, the sweat and the tears that got them to this point — they are making their mark on the world. It’s even better when the young, gifted band is local, as will be the case when Dr. Dog takes the stage at the Electric Factory tonite in support of Shame, Shame, their sixth album and first for major indie Anti. Recently Phawker caught up with singer-songwriter-bassist Toby Leaman, on phone and lying on his bunk, as the band’s tour bus motored through the warm, narcotic American night, slowly but surely bringing the boys back home.
PHAWKER: So you guys are in the middle of a tour. Where are you now?
TOBY LEAMAN: We’re in Louisville, actually.
PHAWKER: And how has the tour been so far?
TOBY LEAMAN: It’s great. It’s the best tour we’ve ever been on, and I can say that without a hint of sarcasm or irony.
PHAWKER: Are you guys traveling in a bus?
TOBY LEAMAN: Yeah we are. I’m in my bunk right now.
PHAWKER: Kind of like living on a submarine, isn’t it?
TOBY LEAMAN: It is. Everyone’s pictures are together and it stinks probably just like a submarine does.
PHAWKER: Excellent. Let’s talk about the new record, which I think is very good. I realize Shame Shame is the title of a song, but I was curious why you guys decided to go with that for the album title.
TOBY LEAMAN: That seemed like the theme of a lot of the songs, like knowing yourself, knowing who you are
PHAWKER: Tell me about the photo on the cover. Who took it and why did you guys choose that?
TOBY LEAMAN: I’m assuming it’s somebody’s ex, but our keyboard player’s family took it. I think it’s just a cool looking photo, the composition is kind of cool looking, it kind of makes it a story about what’s going on in the picture. I always liked that you could look at album covers and it’s a picture of some kind of action going on. It makes you wonder “what happened”? I think that’s what we wanted to do with this one.
PHAWKER: Tell me, how’s life on Anti? How is life for Dr. Dog now compared to prior?
TOBY LEAMAN: Well, we get paid now. It actually doesn’t feel that different. They’re really good. Not the biggest but they operate kind of like a very small major label. There’s about 30 people working there, and everyone’s really genuine.
PHAWKER: Reading the bio for this record, you guys are talking about how the last record felt like it was closing out a chapter and this one feels like you’re starting something new. Can you clarify that? What was then and where are you guys now?
TOBY LEAMAN: When we finished our last record, we were done with our studio. We didn’t want to make another record there because there wasn’t hardly anywhere for us to go. We thought we had kind of mastered this studio as well as we could. We wanted to all grow as a band, and I don’t think we could do that anymore in that studio. We didn’t know enough, and if we wanted to learn, we had to go someplace else.
PHAWKER: Why did you guys end up choosing Rob Schnapf, who is best-known for his work with Beck and Elliott Smith?
TOBY LEAMAN: Well, we hit it off with him immediately on a personal level. We met with about six or seven guys, all varying degrees of cool. We actually liked every one of them, but something about Rob, he’s a quiet guy who’s funny. He’s not the kind of producer who will come in and re-arrange your songs, and that’s what we wanted. We just wanted a competent engineer who would make sure that our performances were as good as could be, and that’s pretty much what he did. We worked with him for about a month up in Dreamland, which was a beautiful studio. We didn’t quite finish the record, which was actually kind of nice because we brought it back to our old studio to sort of play it out, so we sort of worked for a month in our studio by ourselves.
PHAWKER: Dreamland, where’s that studio?
TOBY LEAMAN: It’s in West Hurley in New York, right next to Woodstock.
PHAWKER: Where did you guys end up mixing it?
TOBY LEAMAN: We mixed it at the studio in Philly. Larry Gold had this place called “The Studio”. Cool place, awesome place to mix.
PHAWKER: Get any good Elliot Smith stories from Rob Schnapf?
TOBY LEAMAN: No, not that I can recall
PHAWKER: Any good Beck stories?
TOBY LEAMAN: He was just talking when we met him about how Beck was broke and poor, emaciated and dumpster diving. Just a complete mess. We didn’t really talk about that stuff too much.
PHAWKER: You are living in Wilmington, Delaware? You bought a home, is that correct?
TOBY LEAMAN: Yes, bought a home about three years ago.
PHAWKER: I’m curious why you guys chose there.
TOBY LEAMAN: The answer is simple. She can walk to her mom’s house. With me being gone a half a year, that makes a huge difference. It makes my life better, as well as hers, having family around. It’s tough that I’m gone half the year, but she still works up in Philly.
PHAWKER: I’m curious, why, to the extent that you even bother following this, it seems like Pitchfork is always gunning for you guys?
TOBY LEAMAN: I love that review, it’s so begrudging. I like that kind of stuff. Places like Pitchfork and Vice Magazine, that kind of hipster bullshit, all “I’m cool because I don’t like something” attitude, that stuff is a total waste of time. They don’t even write about the music. They have these referential ways of why it’s bad, they don’t give you any information. I guess that’s what people like. It kind of bums me out, but I don’t give a shit if those guys don’t like us. They’ll hate us, one way or another.
PHAWKER: What are you listening to these days that you’re excited about?
TOBY LEAMAN: I just got into this dude, Sir Warrior. He’s of the 70’s and 80’s, maybe even into the early 90’s. He’s a Nigerian guitar player. It’s not as funky as a lot of that stuff. You know, they usually do more funky, African stuff. The heavy Western influence is great.
PHAWKER: Kind of a philosophical question here: Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to Dr. Dog in 1999, what would you tell them?
TOBY LEAMAN: I don’t think I would say anything. We got to the point where we are now, and I feel very fortunate. We’ve been working hard for a while, and It feels good to be here now. Maybe say something about a couple vocal performances on a couple songs on a couple albums, but other than the real small details, I’d just leave me alone.