The Dodos’ career could serve as a textbook for young indie bands. Meric Long and Logan Kroeber paid their dues and recorded a little-heard debut, Beware of the Maniacs in 2006. After criss-crossing the country and building a fan base, the Dodos returned with Visiter. Critics heaped glowing reviews on the album, and big business came calling. “Fools” was used in an ad for Miller Chill, and the sky seemed to be the limit. The follow-up, 2009’s Time to Die, met with apathy and some tepid reviews. With No Color, it’s hard to deny that the band is at a crossroads. With a little luck, this record will be seen as a return to form. The alternative doesn’t need to be mentioned. The Dodos have tried to stack the deck, refocusing on its original drum and guitar line-up and recruiting indie darling Neko Case to appear on more than half the album’s tracks. As he prepared for the release of No Color, Meric Long offered his thoughts on the record, his expectations, and intense effects of the vibraphone.
People talk about avoiding the sophomore slump. Is there any anxiety going in to the fourth album?
I guess you would call that the senior slump. Really, though our last album was considered our second, because Beware of the Maniacs was self-released and had no publicity. We went through the anxiety last time of trying to reproduce something that was well received. Since Time to Die wasn’t received as well as we had hoped, there was a freeing aspect to that. You feel like you can do what you want. That’s how it felt doing this record; we knew what we wanted to get across, so that’s what we focused on, rather than meeting an expectation we’d previously set for ourselves.
Tell me about No Color.
The sound of the record is based around acoustic guitar and heavy drums. Basically, it’s two dudes trying to play really aggressive music with these two instruments. There are some embellishments in terms of other sounds and a few other instruments, but the phrase I used during recording was that we wanted to use those two instruments as a hammer to your head.
Would you say you decided to take a stripped down approach to this record?
I guess the sound is a little deceiving. Even though we’re focusing on only two instruments, No Color is our most complex album. There are more guitar tracks on these songs than on anything else that I’ve ever done. We brought in a string section for some of the album, and Neko Case is on about half the tracks. It’s still spare compared to a lot of other bands, but it’s by far the most complex instrumentation that we’ve ever done. We didn’t want it to sound affected, but we wanted to have all of these sounds naturally incorporated into the record.
How did the opportunity to work with Neko Case come about?
We were on tour with the New Pornographers over the summer, and she would come out during the shows and do a couple of songs with us. I asked her at the end of the tour if she was free to come and record, and she said yes.
Did you write anything with her in mind specifically?
I didn’t, but once the prospect of her coming and recording with us began to be realized, I started identifying songs where she would thrive. Most of the songs were done by the time she got there, but we did pick songs to feature her.
Did you make a conscious decision to leave vibes off this record?
The decision not to have the vibraphone on this record was made during recording. When we went in to make the record, we had two months, which was the longest time we’ve ever had to record anything, So we decided to just try everything, but the thing that happened was that as we added more things, we noticed that it didn’t necessarily make the song better. We had put vibraphone on every single song, but when we went to mixing, we just slowly took things off. Every time we took the vibraphone off, we realized that it sounded a little bit better. We arrived there after trying everything. It’s reassuring to know that even after we had everything at our disposal, we still went back to guitar and drums.
How do you break this to the guy who played vibraphone on the album?
Keaton’s a great dude. He’s super professional. When he came in to the band, he was just coming out of music school; he understands what it means to be a working musician. He plays in an orchestra, so he understands that sometimes, for the song to be better, there has to be less. It wasn’t about him as a person; it was about the instrument that he plays. The vibraphone has a very intense, blanketing effect on things; it really needs to be treated as something for special occasions.
How are you going to play the album live?
We’re actually touring with another guitarist. The line-up will be two electric guitars and drums. We wanted to make the live shows more about the electric. It’s going to sound very different. We’ve been rehearsing with this guy for the past week, and it’s definitely going to sound more like a rock band. I’m excited to see what people think; our fans might be super pissed.
How did you hire the new guy?
We got word of him through our publicist. He actually used to play in another band that is no longer. Unfortunately, I can’t say who he is right now, because there are visa issues that need to be worked out. We pretty excited to have him in the band, though; he comes from a band that I’m a really big fan of.
That will get some people doing Internet searches.
There is nothing out there. If you cross borders for work, they sometimes to do Google searches to see if you’re telling the truth.
Are you excited to go out on tour?
Oh yeah. Fuck yeah. I’m ready to get out and play new songs with a new band. I’m actually kind of scared, though. I’ve had the closest thing that I ever had to a settled life the past few months, and here comes all this chaos back into it.
As you have the album coming out and prepare to go out on tour, are you happy? Is this what you saw for yourself as a musician.
I don’t know. I’m not really feeling anything right now. The minute you get comfortable, things drop out from under you. I’m happy at the moment, but there’s a lot riding on this record with our careers. If people like it, our touring season is going to be great. If people don’t like it, our touring season is going to suck. I’m super happy with what we did with the record. Nothing’s going to change. My only concern is that if it’s not well received, we’re not going to be making money and playing to empty rooms. That’s really disheartening. I want to at least maintain the success that we’ve had thus far. If we can do that, then I guess I would say that I’ll be happy.