A duo once again, the San Fran band aims to shake
things up – for themselves.
BY MAX BLAU
As The Dodos entered the studio
to make their latest record No Color (Frenchkiss), guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan
Kroeber concerned themselves with one thing and one thing only – making a great
sounding record regardless of their ability to replicate it live. To fulfill
that vision, The Dodos underwent some pretty drastic changes including
downsizing from a trio to a duo, incorporating electric guitar for the first
time ever and collaborating with alt-country statewoman Neko Case.
BLURT spoke with Long
recently about the making of No Color,
how Metallica’s Ride The Lightning influenced him as a younger guitarist and the experience fo working with Case.
BLURT: After adding a third member for their last
record, why did The Dodos choose to go back to being a duo on No Color?
MERIC LONG: We went into the
studio with the mindset that we were just going to focus on the sound of the
record and not think about how we were actually going to produce it live. We
knew that we were going to have probably an orchestra – our friends in Magik
Magik work on it–and hopefully Neko Case was going to sing on it. So we knew
it was going to be something we probably couldn’t reproduce live. So we [took
the approach of] ‘whatever happens, happens.’
When we got to mixing we started taking
stuff out and changing stuff around. The more we listened to vibraphone… we
would take it off and play it back and were like “it kind of sounds better
without it.” And it kept happening. It wasn’t even on purpose and it wasn’t
even the nature of Keaton [Snyder’s] playing. The sound of that instrument has
this tendency to blanket everything and make it softer. When we took it off, it
sounded better–so we just ended up doing that. By the time we left Portland, we basically had
an entire record with no vibraphone on it. It just made sense to go back to
being a duo at that point.
In regards to the way your approached No Color – worrying about the record
first before determining how to recreate it live – was that something new for
this record or have The Dodos approached all their albums that way?
We approached Visiter the same way. We went in there
thinking we were just going to not worry about playing the stuff live, hence
all the extra stuff that was on that record like piano. There’s a lot of sounds
we just made on the record. When we made Time
To Die one of the goals I wanted to do was not make the record exactly
reproducible, but focus on the band more, as opposed to making a record that
just had a lot of bells and whistles. Time
To Die, for me, was trying to write songs–good songs–that could be
performed within the group. It was more about the group, more about the three
instruments and having there be a good band dynamic.
On this record, it was going back to
the way that Visiter was done – we’re
just going to go wild and try and make a cool sounding record with weird stuff
that would never be reproduced live ever. That also plays into the way the
songs are written too. We had skeletons on the road of the songs and would
perform them. The songs kind of changed the more and more we worked on them.
With Time To Die, it was more like
“I’m gonna write songs. They’re all gonna be done. We’re going to go record
them exactly how they are written.”
Do you prefer one approach to the other?
I don’t prefer [either].
They’re really different. As a practice, it was really great for me to sit down
and write Time To Die because it was
really studious, the way I approached it. With this last record, it was more of
a free thing. It was good, too. It just depends; they’re really different ways
to approach writing. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. It’s more
about the process. If I have a couple months of nothing to do, then sitting
down and writing songs is really good for me personally. If I don’t have that
time, it’s better to just do it this way–which was to go out, play shows, play
some songs and see what happens even if the [songs] aren’t finished.
Is there a
vibes replacement or will Keaton’s departure will cause songs like “Troll
Nacht” or “Time to Die” take on a new form live?
in the process of figuring that out. We’re going to be playing old
material–there’s no material that we will avoid because of the no-vibraphone
aspect. The vibraphone was always kind of like… you bring up a song like “Troll
Nacht” – the song is based around the vibraphone part. But we’ll just produce
it another way. We’re going to have a touring member, which they’re going to
play electric guitar. The setup is going to be kind of different–two electric
guitars now and drums, as opposed to what it was before. What I’m figuring out
right now is that you can produce a lot sounds on an electric guitar. It’ll
just be a matter of figuring out how to play those older songs.
On a positive note, I’m really excited
to rework the material. We’ve been rehearsing with another guitarist and it
sounds like… it may have a more conventional sound, but it has a more driven,
heavier sound. We were just rehearsing yesterday, me and Logan [Kroeber], and
we were laughing about how we’ve basically turned into a conventional band,
drums and two electric guitars–which is nothing exciting or different. For us,
it’s taken all this time to come around to that. But we come to it with such a
fresh perspective because it’s like “oh my god, two electric guitars sounds
amazing!” And it does. No shit, people have been doing it forever.
When I first
read about No Color upon the initial
details coming out, you talked about Billy Corgan and ‘90s riffs. That really
caught me offguard at first.
[laughs] I have a lot of that… when I started playing guitar it was
in the early 90’s. I would go home after school and learn how to play all of Siamese Dream or all of Ride The Lightning. That was when I
started playing guitar and I forget about that for a while because I switched
over to the acoustic and really focused on this particular style of playing.
But then in the studio, we had all these instruments lying around and a lot of
electrics. I just started playing stuff over the songs and it was super fun. It
was definitely at the point of the day in recording that I looked forward to
the most. Everyone else got a kick out of me playing electric guitar [since
they don’t] usually associate that with me.
Why did you wait this long to incorporate electric
It’s just taken that long to
have it make sense in my head – to incorporate the electric. There’s a certain
thing about the acoustic, and that particular style of playing: really
percussive, heavily picked, fingerpicked acoustic that I just latched on to
whenever that was, 10 years ago or whatever. I could not let go of it. I’m
starting to understand how to reproduce that sound on an electric, but also
reproduce that style of playing in a way that’s a little bit different. There’s
so many more types of sounds that you can make on an electric and I’m starting
to discover that.
For whatever happened, something
happened in my brain and now it makes sense to me. I didn’t want to start
playing electric and lose what I found so particular about an acoustic being fingerpicked.
I hope I’m not ditching that completely, it doesn’t feel like it. It’s
definitely a weird transition.
Let’s talk about Neko Case. She contributes to several
of the tracks on No Color. Did that
collaboration arise from your tour with the New Pornographers last year?
It came from that tour. She
came out and sang with us a couple times, which was rad [laughs]. It was sort of terrifying. A lot of it was her idea–I was
really shy about asking her to do anything. But she was really happy to and she
came out and sang for a couple shows. The last show we did at Lollapalooza in Chicago, she came out and
sang. After the show we were parting ways after two months together.
We were just talking about what was
going to happen, what we were up to. We were like “yeah we we’re going into the
studio to record for two year.” [Case replied] “Oh, well I’m off for two
months.” I asked her to come sing and she [responded] “I’d love to.” She flew
out to Portland and sang on the record for two days.
What was it like working with Neko Case? Did you have
parts already in mind for her or did she just contribute where she saw fit?
It was a mixture of both.
There were certain parts that I had in mind. But I learned quickly that with
her–it’s better to just let her do her thing. It was amazing that she was
there… [so it was] her territory to stomp around on and take a shit all over
our music. Do whatever you want.