In The Know...Interview w/ The Dodos

>> Wednesday, 23 March 2011

It's safe to say there’ve been some significant changes in The Dodos’ camp since they played the Winnipeg Folk Festival last summer.

Their touring vibraphonist has been replaced with a guitarist; they’ve reunited with erstwhile producer John Askew (who appeared on their first two releases, Beware of the Maniacs and Visiter); and, most notably, they’ve recently released their fourth offering, No Color.

No Color is the ramshackle-pop pair at their best. The thunderous, West-African-influenced percussion of drummer Logan Kroeber and the technically proficient finger-picking / furious strumming of Meric Long weave together into a product that's rhythmically loose and playful, melodically bright, and sonically undeniable.

I caught up with lead singer/guitarist Meric Long recently over the phone, and asked him about the band’s lineup changes, the influence of 90s guitar riffs on the record, and how indie superwoman Neko Case came to contribute backing vocals on the new release.

Painting over Silence: How did the band’s approach to writing and recording No Color differ from the previous three releases?

Meric Long: The only way in which it changed is that we sat with the songs a little longer and played the material live a lot more, before recording, than we’ve had in the past. The songs probably went through more changes. We gave ourselves a lot more time to figure things out and not rush things, like we had in the past.

PoS: How long did the album take to complete from conception to finished product?

ML: We starting writing songs in February, maybe March (of last year) and then we recorded in August and finished that in October. So, two months of recording and six months of writing, touring, and performing the songs in their early form.

PoS: For No Color you reverted back to a duo and reunited with producer John Askew for this album. What did you decided to pare down the lineup as well as continue working with John? 

ML: I talked to John awhile ago about doing some recording. At that point, we weren’t talking about doing another record, we were just talking about getting into the studio and having fun. We’ve done two records with him and he’s really fun to record with. The more we talked about it, the more it became apparent that both of us were on the same page with what we wanted to do with these recordings, so we booked as much studio time with him as possible.

Paring down to a duo happened while we were recording. We went in, actually, to make this record as a trio, and we recorded vibraphone parts because we had been performing the songs as a trio with the vibraphone. Over the process of recording, we just sort of started taking stuff off and the more we took off the vibraphone, the more we liked the way it sounded without it. By the time the record was done we didn’t have any vibraphone on it, so it didn’t make sense to have a vibraphone player anymore. *laughs*

We wanted the record to have an aggressive sound and the vibraphone was contrary to that. It’s just the nature of the instrument, really – it blankets everything in all these weird overtones and makes everything seem softer.

PoS: Indie diva Neko Case provides some judiciously used backing vocals on No Color. How did this collaboration come about?

ML: We toured with the New Pornographer over the summer – we did two months with them – and we sorta became friends that way. She came out and song on a couple songs while we performed, so it seemed natural to see if she wanted to come record. Luckily she had some free time and wanted to do it. She was real generous with her time.

PoS: It’s funny because when I originally read about the album’s release date on the Internet, I kept reading “featuring Neko Case.” But when I listen to the album, I sometimes forget she’s even on it.

ML: Yeah, we tried to downplay her appearance as much as possible when the record came out. She was in the studio for two days, doing mostly backup stuff, and we didn’t want to mislead people; but, I guess when Pitchfork or whoever got wind that she was on the record that sort of became the headline.

PoS: I also read somewhere that the guitar on this album was heavily influenced by 90s riffs, specifically the handiwork of head Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan. What is it about 90s riffs and Corgan’s playing that intrigued you?

It was sort of reverting back to my childhood, to a place I had forgotten about. I actually started out on the electric guitar and the first songs I learned were by 90s bands like Nirvana. I’d learn all their records, rip out all the tablatures, and read all the books. I’d learn the solos to Pearl Jam songs and all that stuff. I’d forgotten about this because once I started playing acoustic, I really got into that and focused just on that.

When we were recording and it came time to do some overdubbing, I knew I wanted to try a lot of electric guitar on this record. And the more I tried it, the more I sort of stumbled upon Billy Corgan’s guitar tone. It wasn’t intentional – I was just sort of messing around with the pedals and started laughing because it reminded me of his playing. We sort of used that as a reference for the rest of the recording time. When we ran out of ideas, we said “ok, time to get out the Billy Corgan guitar.” Part of it was funny, part of it was nostalgic, but a lot of it was really exciting because we thought it sounded really good over what we were doing.

PoS: Finally, after the current tour, which I believe caps off in Glasgow, what’s the next move for The Dodos?

We have one more tour right after that – we’re going to be hitting the east coast for two, three weeks, and then probably take a break. Do a little more touring. Maybe start recording more.

We have a new guitarist in the band that’s really sparked my interest in messing around with more electronic sounds and nerdy guitar stuff. We’re probably going to dive into that. I feel like it’s time for us to go and do our homework, so when it comes time to do another record, we’ll come back with something new. I feel like we’ve maxed out what we’re doing, and there’s definitely a feeling that we accomplished something that we really wanted to on this record sound-wise.

Catch the Dodos live at the West End Cultural Centre this Friday w/ Reading Rainbow.


Davve 24 March 2011 at 08:22  

Great interview, I'm so stoked for this show.

P. Little 27 March 2011 at 01:50  

Great interview. I talked to them at Folk Fest and they were both such nice guys who clearly just loved making music.

And the show last night at WECC was awesome!

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