MUSIC: The Dodos ditch the acoustic and amp upTry as they might, even San Francisco-based duo the Dodos are hard-pressed to describe their sound. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Meric Long has a background in West African drumming, percussionist Logan Kroeber comes from metal, and together they’ve created a unique twist on indie-rock: a prominent percussive rhythm driven by both the guitar and drums. It’s a narrative that the Dodos’ pick up again with their newest album, No Color, their fourth full-length since 2005, which features supporting vocals from former honorary Vancouverite Neko Case. While driving between gigs on the Dodos’ North American tour, Long spoke with WE about spirit journeys, electric guitars, and Case’s new tattoos.
WE: Is the album title supposed to set a tone for the whole record?
Meric Long: Well, it comes from Logan. He kind of goes on these mystical spirit journeys in his mind when we’re playing the songs and sees these visions and stuff. Usually they’re associated with certain colours or images, and with the new batch of songs, he didn’t see anything really. Just kinda grey, ashy colours, and I think he was a little concerned when it first came to him, that it seemed kinda bleak. I think he said that it started changing recently, and just with playing the songs a little bit longer, some colour has started to appear.
I didn’t get anything bleak in listening to the album.
Nor should you.
There’s a driving pulse to the record, a lot of momentum.
That’s why he was kinda concerned. He was really digging the record, and me, too. We both really liked where it was going, and it was kind of a little strange that something we were both excited about had this other flip side that seemed bleak. We were like, ‘What? This doesn’t match up!’ You’re on the right track.
How did drums become so vital to the Dodo’s sound?
I have this very percussive style I play with. I like to use the drums to accentuate what I’m doing with the finger picking on the guitar. There’s a lot of crazy rhythms going on in there. It’s something that a lot of people lose maybe, or don’t notice, so we use big drums to accentuate the rhythms we use on the guitar and play off of them. It’s really fun and works really well, I think.
If people hadn’t heard your music and were just having it described to them, they wouldn’t understand how the influences gel together.
Yeah, we have a pretty hard time telling people what kind of music we play. Like if we’re in a restaurant or at a hotel and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re in a band! What kind of music do you play?’ it’s kind of hard to just rattle it off.
You’ve gone electric. Is there any going back?
It’s so much more fun for me to play. The acoustic guitar sounds amazing, but on stage it’s always having to compete for volume. The new record has a lot of electric guitar as well... There’s probably no going back, unless I break a string.
We take a lot of pride in Vancouver, trying to claim Neko Case as one of our own. What does having her around for some of the songs bring to the album?
It was amazing. I understand wanting to claim her as your own. You should go ahead and do that. We got to share some studio time with her for a little while and it was just super fun. She came to town when we were recording in Portland and she was going to get a tattoo, her first tattoo, and then she did. She totally got these huge tattoos on her arms. And then also stopped in and sang on some tracks. She’s really something in the studio. She’s at her best when she’s doing her own thing. If we’d had all the parts figured out that we’d wanted her to sing on and tried to teach it to her, I don’t think it would have turned out half as good. She’s able to just knock it out when she’s improvising and making stuff up on her own and that’s exactly what she did for a lot of the songs. I mean, obviously I told her what the lyrics were, but after that it was just roll tape and let her see what she could do.
I’m glad you ponied up and gave her lyrics at least.
She was funny, so much so does she do her own thing, she was kind of like, changing the lyrics on a few of the songs. She would get in her zone and do her own thing and do a couple of takes and the lyrics would start mutating and I’d have to remind her, ‘Umm, Neko? Could you actually change that back to the lyric that I sing? Sounds great though!’ (Laughs).
The Dodos play Thursday, Mar. 31 at Rickshaw, 8pm. Tickets $16 from Red Cat Records, Zulu Records and Ticketmaster.