The Dodos are poster boys for the Bay Area’s independent music scene. Guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber met in 2005, and seem to have been touring ever since. On their brand new album, Individ, Long’s densely poetic lyrics float over his finger-picked guitar riffs and the Kroeber’s pounding polyrhythmic beats.
The band turns ten years old this year, a lifetime in indie music, but Long says the two still find it a pleasure to work together. Long came into the KQED studios this week to talk about the new album and upcoming tour.
You and drummer Logan Kroeber on going to be on the road for pretty much the next four months in the U.S. and Europe. How do you survive a tour like that, how do you keep mentally fresh?
There’ve been all kinds of tricks that you develop. I tried to teach myself Spanish, to have something to focus on. I mean musically, it can get pretty brutal.
What are you going to do different on this tour, what are you going to learn?
As we said earlier, there's just the two of us and we can play a lot more songs. Usually when we bring someone on the road we have to teach them the songs, so we're kinda limited on what we can play because it's only what we teach them. So now, we've realized we have lots of songs because we've been a band for 10 years. We have a good 60-70 songs.
And the album title, Individ, what does that mean?
Well, if you look it up in the dictionary, I believe it means indivisible, but I came up with the record title before I looked it up. I was trying to think of a word that encompassed this idea of resilience. So phonetically, it sounds like a very strong word that has been sitting there for a long time.
You guys have dealt with some adversity. Your guitarist Chris Reimer died a few years ago. And then I’m sorry to ask, but I believe your dad died last year.
Yeah, my dad passed away last year, actually, right when we were recording the record. It was this really weird thing, where I was in the studio, and then I would come out and see him. And the idea of resilience was definitely drawn from the experience of watching my dad prolong his life. He had this type of resilience that was kind of non-protesting. By just existing, you’re sort of defying the odds and sort of protesting in your own way. That was the idea that fed the record title and the theme I went back to a lot.
Is there something of your dad in this new album?
It's a big question. There were a lot of things that I went through in watching him pass away and spending time with him at the end of his life. It just felt like there were a lot of components that I tucked away. When it came time to write the lyrics and piece the songs together, I just had some things to draw on. I tried not to keep it in the front of my mind.
Can we take apart one of the songs? Let's do "Competition." You refer to people you know as "my friend, my foe and if I help you, is it helping me." It's a "with me or against me kind of attitude." Where does that come from?
You know, it comes from the feeling of competitiveness and the witch from Snow White that looks in the mirror and asks, "Who's the fairest of them all?" If I can't be the most beautiful, then no one else can be beautiful.
That's sorta the idea, and that's something in my psyche that I certainly don't like to feel, but that song is sort of acknowledging that that exists and trying to embrace it in hopes of defeating it.
It sounds like you're thinking it's not a good quality in yourself or other people?
It's not my favorite.
The music for that, there are these blazing guitars and amazing drum rhythms. How did you compose “Competition”?
Well, the song was composed at home. It's funny, I was in an Aerosmith cover band for a really quick second and I had to learn a few songs. One of them was “Love in an Elevator,” and learning the guitar parts made me appreciate [Aerosmith lead guitarist] Joe Perry's approach and attack on the guitar. He has all these little scratches between the notes that sort of give the song a lot more groove and funkiness than maybe it seems. That sort of weird off-setting scratch was the thing that drove the song [“Competition”].
Drummer Logan Kroeber has all these polyrhythms going all the time, where does that come from?
You know, we spend a lot of time working on the rhythmic aspect of this band. There's always this push to try and make things as complicated as possible but not in a way that it's noticeable. It's really like something we just do. I think it's from him playing technical metal when he was younger, and me trying to play that music. We're always trying to push that. When we first started playing together, part of it was to never step on each other, rhythmically—your part and my part are going to come together and create something, but alone they are completely different. We've tried to carry that on into the later years.
So you’ve been together 10 years. How do you feel about being a 10 year old rock band?
At the moment, it feels pretty good, I’ve gotta say. We’ve stopped and appreciated what we’ve put into it. I feel pretty old, pretty boring (laughs) for being in a rock band.
Are you like an old married couple?
I don’t know, you’d have to spend time with us. There’s not a lot of bickering. We’ve always kind of had our eyes on the same goal. So we just turn ourselves toward that, and don’t spend a lot of time like analyzing our relationship. It’s been a long time. That in itself feels like an accomplishment.
And after 10 years, how do you keep the relationship and the music fresh?
Well personally, definitely laughter is key. Logan can crack me up. And I feel like I can still make him laugh. So that’s always the release.
And musically I feel we always challenge each other a lot. He still surprises me—like today, I just came from rehearsal, and we were playing something, and I was just like ‘Man I can’t believe you’re pulling this off.’ Like, this is pretty nuts. And as long as there’s more of a challenge we’ll keep doing it. That’s the key.
You’re at Harlow’s in Sacramento on Tuesday (Feb. 10) and the Great American Music Hall on Wednesday (Feb. 11). What's it like playing for the home fans?
It's great you know, it's funny, we haven't done a lot of home shows recently, so we're trying to do more of that. It's always a surprise. It's weird. I never know what to expect, we play in San Francisco once or twice a year and it's always different. I am going to keep my expectations low and my hopes high for this one.
When you said you never know what to expect with local shows—who are those people who show up?
The scariest are friends who show up, because they're the ones who are going to, you know, yell out something or embarrass us. Although friends don't typically come to shows anymore because we've already exhausted that reservoir of favors. The scary ones are people that are going to scream out stuff. I'm always afraid someone is going to yell something (laughs). It's all about looking down and, to be honest, not looking at the audience, because something will make me laugh or something will throw me off.
You have to stay in the performance head?
With this band, yeah, unfortunately. We just played Amoeba the other day, I was so nervous, I couldn't believe it. It never goes away. It just feels like anytime we get up there, there's just a potential disaster that is going to happen. It might not happen, it hasn't happened, at least not catastrophic, but it always feels like it's right there waiting to happen.