San Francisco's The Dodos will be opening up the Hopscotch Festival City Plaza stage on Friday, September 9, as part of their latest tour, and they're bringing along Chris Reimer, guitarist from Women, to help out. Lead guitarist Meric Long spent a few minutes with Triangle Music to answer some questions.
TM: What can people at Hopscotch expect from a live Dodos set?
ML: This time around we’ve been a little bit louder and a little bit heavier than in the past so I would say I think people are sometimes surprised at how much of a rock band we are. When they come and see us live, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t expect you guys to be so loud and, like, straight rockin’.” Or rocktastic. I don’t know, whatever. I think people sometimes expect because of the sound of the records or some of the bit more acoustic stuff we’ve done in the past that it’s going to be a little bit more mellow.
TM: Do you like getting that surprised reaction from people?
ML: Yeah, definitely. I love going to shows and being surprised, you know? I love expecting one thing and getting another as long as it’s in the right direction. As long as I’m not surprised at how much it sucks then I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing to catch your audience off guard.
TM: What thought ran through your head when you heard you were going to be opening up for Drive By Truckers and Guided by Voices?
ML: I didn’t know! (laughs) Fuck, I didn’t know the lineup this year. That’s pretty rad. I just looked at our tour lineup today and I saw that we were playing Hopscotch night. We have a friend in Raleigh, the Megafaun dudes, so I was just stoked to see those guys, but I wasn’t expecting it to be a lineup of fucking bad ass bands. That’s like double the excitement.
TM: How do The Dodos work around the limitations of being a duo when you record?
ML: You know, with recording, it doesn’t really matter how many people are in the band. It’s just less opinions in the studio. When it comes to overdubbing and crap, there really aren’t any limits to how much you can have there. We’ve always had another person touring with us so I think that’s been sort of a survival tactic in order to keep us interested and excited in what’s happening, like a new energy around to work with, but in the studio it’s never been a struggle to or there’s never been a point where I was like, “I wish we had more people to argue with in the studio.”
TM: When you first start writing a song, are you thinking about what you’ll do with effects in the studio or does that come afterward with experimentation?
ML: All the overdubs come later in the studio. That’s kinda the moment where I get to improvise a lot and it’s usually the most fun. I mean, the way that we’ve made records in the past is we’ve basically written the song as a duo and performed it as a duo. Then we’ll go into the studio, lay that down and then just start overdubbing and whatever comes to mind. We doesn’t really plan the overdubs. Sometimes I’ll get ideas, I’ll get lines that I want to do, but I don’t know what’s going to happen until we put them down. In that sense it keeps it really fresh and really exciting. When you hear the song on tape for the first time playing back at you it’s like a way to react to that. I’m starting to write in a different way. I’m starting to record a lot more when I write which is totally different because you have a lot more time to develop ideas instead of the spontaneous “Oh! That sounds cool. Now I’m gonna try this” and then — boom — it happens. It keeps it exciting. I’m excited when I’m mixing overdubs and I think that that comes through.
TM: You like to experiment with your sound, but on your previous record (2009’s Time to Die) it wasn’t well received. Do you think fans will be more open to it in the future now that they know you’re a band willing to evolve?
ML: I hope so. That’s certainly a positive way to look at it. I feel like people’s reaction to our 2009 record was less than enthusiastic wasn’t because it was interpreted as being experimental. I felt like people interpreted it as being too conventional. For us it was experimental and for us it was fucking scary as hell to make something different. For us it felt very much out of our comfort zone, for better or worse. I think it paid off for us as a band and for us a musicians, but I don’t know what people expect. I can’t account for what people’s expectations are at all. For myself, I can say that that sort of experience sort of freed us from having to follow a certain line. I guess I agreeing with what you’re saying, but I can’t really tell whether people will be more open or not. I know that we’re more willing to try different things now because it’s like, “Well, we did this and people fucking hated it” and that’s it there’s no more expectations. It’s not like people are waiting for our every move. A lot of bands I feel like their careers are - every move they make is debated. Every move they make it very much watched by their fans. And for us, people may have been like, “Well, they fuckin’ did some shit I don’t like, but if they do some shit I like, I’ll be into it, but otherwise I’m not gonna watch every move they make.” It freed us from having to have a linear career where everything and each successive record is bigger and has a broader audience. It’s kinda like we’re in some weird gray area where we can do what we want and people are either gonna be into it or not. That pressure of having to meet people’s expectations is off of us now.
TM: There’s a lot of rhythmic and sharp, staccato sounds on your new record, No Color, and in your music in general. What is it about those sounds that appeals to you?
ML: I think it’s just the deliberate-ness of those sounds. I like stuff that pops out, you know? It’s kind of like dance music. I like ambient music as well. I like all sorts of crap, but there’s a particular sharpness of certain sounds that really can motivate you or just grab you and I kinda gravitate towards those types of sounds. I gravitate toward that sort of playing and I like people who play their instruments aggressively. As I get older, I’m starting to appreciate other stuff more, but when we started this band I was angled at those [sharper sounds]. I was very much wanting to attack things. I wanted to fix the sounds like they were being attacked. I listen to rhythm a lot more than any other aspect of music. When I listen to any band, rhythm always the first thing I notice, the first thing I critique or think about. The more sharp the tones are, the more rhythm you can hear. Sometimes if you’re playing a guitar and it’s super washy and stuff, you might be getting something super gnarly and some crazy rhythm, but if you don’t have those sharp tones popping out you’re not going to notice what’s happening. In simpler form, it’s just a way of bringing out the rhythm.