After grinding it out on the road for the past decade, the fellas in the Philadelphia psychedelic soul-pop band Dr. Dog had some well-deserved money to invest in their own fancy new studio space last year. So they built one inside a former silver mill.
Like most studios, it’s divided into two rooms. “We made the control room really nice and pretty, with a high-tech system and lots of bells and whistles,” recalled singer/bassist Toby Leaman. “But we left the B-room kind of grubby, like what we were used to.
“It turned out, we wanted what we were used to. We seemed to get more inspiration and work done in the dingy room.”
That explains the title of the sextet’s latest album, “B-Room,” as well as the low-frills, rustic charm that has made Dr. Dog a cult favorite if never quite a critics’ darling or indie buzz maker. The band has enjoyed a decent smattering of radio play — especially off its rabidly infectious 2012 masterpiece “Be the Void” — but mostly it has made its mark as a live act.
That’s fine by the band members, Leaman said by phone a week ago, just before they hit the road again. This time out, the group will play two shows Thursday and Friday at First Avenue, the venue they sold out with just a few days’ notice in 2012 after the cancellation of the SoundTown festival in Somerset, Wis.
“We always seem to have good shows there,” Leaman quite accurately remembered of the Twin Cities. “I can’t think of one bad show there where we came off stage going, ‘Oh, man, what was that?!’ And that’s not true of most cities, especially cities we’ve played as much as Minneapolis,” he added with a laugh.
One more reason he feels a kinship with the Twin Cities: “When I was becoming a baseball fan as a kid, the Phillies were beyond awful, but the Twins, of course, were in their heyday. I remember walking into the 400 Bar for the first time and seeing a big picture of Kirby Puckett, and I was like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ ”
That’s the kind of boyish enthusiasm that Leaman’s crew always shows in taking over a club. They clearly enjoy doing what they do together.
When asked for advice on how to make touring a successful endeavor, Leaman’s simple response was, “Get in a band with people you like — guys you can get in fights with without it breaking up.”
That seems like an especially important asset in Dr. Dog, given the fact that it’s led by two songwriters with equal input, a formula that can make for a strained relationship, as any Beatles fan might tell you.
Not always ‘wine and roses’
Friends since eighth grade, the huskily soulful Leaman and more wiry-voiced singer/guitarist Scott McMicken have been alternating songs on albums since the band’s 2002 debut.
They came into their own with their fifth album and first for Anti- Records, 2010’s “Shame, Shame,” which struck a balance of “White Album”-style frayed pop, Wilco-like Americana experimentation and the vague but always present influence of Philly soul.
“He and I don’t really write our songs together, for the most part,” Leaman explained of their collaboration, “but we feed off each other’s ideas after the fact, and that’s where we wind up getting a lot of great ideas.”
“I can’t say it’s always wine and roses. Sometimes we’ve had to be brutally honest with each other, and it hurts. But you have to learn it’s not coming from a place of, ‘I don’t like this because I don’t like you.’ It’s more, ‘I don’t like this because I think we can do better.’ ”
The rest of the band had more input on “B-Room.” Hard to believe, what with their being such seasoned road hounds, but this was the first album the guys made all together in the studio at one time.
“We just got better as musicians, better at things like knowing how to mike a drum right so we don’t have to overdub a cymbal part or whatever,” Leaman said.
What’s more, he made it sound like nobody in the band wanted to stray too far in the giant old silver mill the band took over for recording: “It’s kind of scary. There are all these weird vats with God knows what kind of chemicals and waste in them.”
Sounds like the makings of a great metal album.