For a band whose name references an extinct bird, the Dodos just keep on going. In only six years together, the band has released four albums and an EP, the most recent being this year's lovely No Color, which features a more refined approach to the manic acoustic-guitar-and-drum combo singer/guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber offered on their breakthrough album Visiter, but with more vibrancy than on its 2009 follow-up, Time to Die.
Long sat with us to talk a bit before their performance with the Luyas on Sunday at Detroit Bar.
Heard Mentality: You guys seem to write, record and tour at a breakneck pace. Don't you ever get tired?
Meric Long: Yeah, definitely. The past few years have been pretty busy. Lately it's been the summertime, where we've had a few months off. I already feel like I haven't done anything in a long time musically. I have to remind myself that we just put out a record in March. I don't know what it is, I think time just moves differently if I'm not doing something, I feel like I blew it and am wasting time. I do get tired, but it doesn't feel as busy as it may be perceived, I suppose. I think when we started touring, I got used to having something every week. When it lets up at all, I feel like nothing's going on.
No Color saw you guys returning to a two-piece. How do you feel about the band's progression across the three albums?
I feel good. For us, I feel like each record has its differences, but as far as where we're coming from, I feel like we're making the same record. We've had to come at it from different angles; there's a certain sound we're aiming for. (car alarm goes off) That's the sound actually. But it's been really hard to capture that on record. So with each successive record, we try something different. I think with the latest record, we got as close to it as we have.
You guys keep things decently spare live and on record. Do you guys think you'll ever add more members again to your full-time lineup?
Full-time members, probably not. As we make more records, we sort of figure out what makes the band the band, and really it just boils down to what happens when Logan and I get in a room and play. I don't think we're ever going to stray away from that. I think as time has passed and we've made more records, we've come to appreciate that. In terms of adding more people, it seems like we add a different person every record -- at least different guest members. We did a show, I guess that was a year ago, we did a couple shows with the Magic Music Orchestra, they're like an S.F. student orchestra that changes members, but they basically use the conservatory as a pool of members. ... It was really rad and definitely different. I don't know if we'd add a full orchestra [full-time], but we'd definitely do more with those guys in the future.
Now we have an electric guitarist who tours with us, he plays all the extra guitar parts that are on the record. We might even in the future boil down to just a two-piece again [live]. I've been seeing a lot of bands that are two pieces and ... weird technology that allows you to use your feet and whatever other apendages to play other instruments. I could see Logan and I putting together some weird contraption where we're playing multiple instruments at the same time.
I seem to recall you playing a Fender Jazzmaster at SXSW. Are you playing more on electric guitar these days, or is the acoustic guitar still your base for live shows and records?
I had two Jazzmasters. Since then, I've been seeing a lot of people playing with them. I saw Ty Segall the other day, and he was playing with one.
I'm kind of like at a point right now where I'm really unsure of that. After touring and playing electric guitar, all the touring we've done for the record since March has only been on electric. After playing it a bunch, initially I was super excited to just dive into the electric and get a lot of wacky pedals and maybe write songs that way. But since I've been home from touring, I've played the acoustic a little bit. There's still something about the acoustic that I can't get over. I'm starting to do some recording and I think a lot of the stuff I'm liking right now is acoustic and electric together, sort of, I've learned now that I've had the experience with the electric, there's a way to write the same sort of thing but ... have that percussive jangliness and still have some noisy, leady, electricy type shit.
Even on record you guys maintain this sort of live, intimate feel. Do you record live, and how do the songs that end up on record come about -- improvisation, pre-written, or some sort of combination?
All the bass parts of the songs, like the drums and acoustic guitar, are prewritten. All the overdubs get written in the studio pretty much on the spot once we've laid down all the basics. ... Recording has been super fun that way because if feels like it's split between trying to nail the stuff we've been playing for a long time but also goof off and make weird noises and see what comes about. I think a lot of the best stuff we've come up with has been mistakes in the studio, and we sort of allow for that to happen. We try not to be too rigid in the studio, but we realize we have to perform well, so we practice the hell out of them.
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What are you guys working on now? Are you writing while touring or does that happen separately?
Right now I'm trying to just record. I'm just trying to learn how to record really. We've always gone into the studio with an engineer, so I haven't had much time to learn that stuff. And also, whenever we make a record, nothing's really been recorded until we record the final product, if that makes sense. I'm basically trying to learn how to record so I can learn how to write songs in a different way. I want to write stuff while listening back to it instead of planning it all out in my head and hoping it's good.