With their forthcoming album, Psychedelic Swamp, Philadelphia band Dr. Dog is forging a new aesthetic steeped in redefining reality. For Scott McMicken, lead singer, guitarist and co-founder of Dr. Dog, the new album is an affirmation of the belief that nothing is ordinary when you look at it close enough.
“The essence of the swamp is taking your personal experience with the world around you, whether it is watching the TV, reading the paper [or] driving down the highway,” he says. “It’s taking any kind of personal experience and flipping it, shifting the context around so that you can see things a little bit differently.”
By viewing life through the metaphorical lens of “the swamp,” McMicken says, the comfortable atmosphere induced by one’s perception of everyday experience is twisted and turned to the point that one begins to question basic notions, tackling big questions in the process.
“Essentially, the swamp is our world. We live in the swamp, this is the swamp, and what makes it the swamp is the ability to see the absurdity behind things, or the potency and depth behind things.”
For McMicken, who also goes by the moniker “Taxi” — every Dr. Dog member has a nickname beginning with the letter “T” — the psychedelic nature of the swamp is innate. This way of looking at experience through a brand-new pair of metaphorical glasses, he says, “is essentially, in its purest form, what most of us would consider to be the broadest defining of psychedelia.”
While the term “psychedelia” may conjure up images of drug use, McMicken believes that a more expansive notion of psychedelia is in order — albeit one that acknowledges the creative power of “psychedelics.”
“It’s not exclusively a drug-induced experience,” he says, “it’s also just the malleability of your own perspective and your ability to see things differently.”
If the album’s title rings a bell, it’s likely because you’ve seen it before: Swamp was the group’s very first tape, self-recorded in 2001. Inspired by a friend of the band, old songs have undergone re-writing with the addition of a decade and a half of experience.
“This is working on stuff that we began working on over a decade ago, so it’s familiar terrain for us,” McMicken says. “It’s just a really enjoyable context for making music.”
Along with the reviewed material, fans have another treat to expect from the new album: former guitarist Doug O’Donnell has returned to shape multiple tracks with major songwriting contributions, taking Dr. Dog back to an original lineup unheard since 2004.
Even so, Swamp represents not only a departure from the classic sound associated with the band, as the clean harmonies and sweeping melodies, reminiscent of the Beach Boys and the Beatles, are combined with heavily-distorted, Hendrix-style guitars and pounding drums on tracks like “Bring My Baby Back” and “Engineer Says.”
The story of creating the album is also one of remaking the band’s entire aesthetic, which only begins with the music.
“It all works together when you’re in a band,” McMicken says, “the look of things, the artwork of an album, the general aesthetic, the vibe that you’re putting forth visually in combination with the music that you make — it all goes together.”
In a four-month tour with dates across the U.S. and Europe, Dr. Dog will take the fresh material of Psychedelic Swamp to audiences with zeal. Dr. Dog aims to do what it does best: put on a great show. However, that doesn’t mean that the cat’s in the bag: the act of taking new music to live audiences can be problematic.
“[A great show] is an ever-changing, amorphous thing,” he says. “And the pursuit of that is the thing I value the most, because it makes it really exciting, and implicit in it is this feeling of risk, that there are no guarantees.”
And while McMicken affirms that “everything is new, it’s a whole new production,” fans need not worry about the prospects of an unrecognizable band; needless to say, Dr. Dog is still performing for the old reasons.
“To create that feeling [of inclusion] in the room is why people come,” McMicken says. “To be a part of it, and enjoy it. It’s definitely very important to create an experience for the audience.”
On the Bill: Dr. Dog. 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.