If you’ve been living in a vacuum, you may not have heard of The Dodos (singer/songwriter/guitarist Meric Long, drummer Logan Kroeber, Joe Haener on xylophone), a powerhouse folk band out of San Francisco. Luckily, Montreal was one of the stops on their current tour across the US/Canada, where they lit fire to an otherwise insipid Tuesday night @ Le Divan Orange.
The blissfully tipsy crowd eagerly anticipated The Dodos performance while the band was setting up onstage. The first vibrations of Kroeber’s pounding drumignited the set that ended much too soon. Long skillfully strummed, plucked, and picked his guitar, bringing life to Fools, followed by Ashley, Jodi, Red and Purple, It’s That Time Again, and Paint the Rust, songs from the recently released second album Visiter. Long’s tender yet haunting melodies floated above the massive quivering wave of pulsating drums and rippling guitar into the sea of dazed ears and smiling eyes.
The crowd reciprocated the intensity of the band’s performance with whole-hearted cheers and applause. Once hungry-for-more feet started stomping, Long, Kroeber, and Haener jumped back on stage to deliver a mind-blowing encore, The Season. Take gentle sweeping lyrics, tribal yelps and screaming, light virtuosic fingerpicking and primal drumming, add a touch of xylophone delight, one potent tambourine foot, sprinkle with a few handfuls (or buckets) of sweat drops, and you’ve got yourself some fierce folk songs. Free-spirited and wild, eternal yet fleeting, the music calls out to the untamed heart.
Before the show, I chatted with Meric Long over the phone, despite being disconnected twice while he deftly maneuvered the band’s van around “vortexes” (aka characteristically Quebecois potholes) on their way to Montreal.
SoundsXP: You earned the title of Best New Music on Pitchfork. What does this mean to you?
Meric: Yeah, it’s nice. It’s good for the band. Sometimes I don’t agree with their choices, but it’s still an honour.
SoundsXP: Your music has been categorized as freak-folk, psych-folk, indie. How do you feel about people categorizing/labeling music?
Meric: There’re a lot of bands that are lumped into the folk genre, bands that sound very different from each other. I think the factors that define folk music are kind of random. I’m not denouncing categorization of music. It’s necessary for the human brain to label and categorize things.
SoundsXP: What do you think is the common thread that ties in the folk genre (besides drugs)?
Meric: Ha-ha-ha. I don’t think it’s sound, cuz some bands use acoustic instruments, others use electronic instruments, yet they all get labeled as folk music. I think the common thread is that folk musicians have a common starting point: they begin writing songs alone in their room, and make the music come alive on their own, without a big production team influencing what they do. And I don’t think that drugs play as big of a role as they did in the past…
SoundsXP: The popularity of folk musicians today (Devendra Banhart, Akron/Family, Feist, etc) got some people talking about a revival of folk music. Do you think it makes sense to talk about a ‘folk revival’ if people have always been listening to folk music?
Meric: I think younger folk musicians are referencing folk musicians from the past and this makes it seem like traditional folk music is being revived. But yeah, I agree that folk music never went away, so it doesn’t really make sense to talk of a revival.
SoundsXP: How do you feel about people downloading your music? Your entire album can be streamed on www.frenchkissrecords.com. Do you think this will deter people from buying your album?
Meric: No, I don’t think it will. I think it’s a good thing that people can download our music. If they really like it, they will go out and buy the album. People who truly enjoy the music will buy the CD cuz it’s a physical object from the band. Even though they can get the music online, owning a physical copy of the album makes a difference to someone who likes the music.”
The Dodos have garnered critical acclaim for their intense, energy-filled live shows, and excited mentions of their music certainly keep the blogosphere swiftly rotating. They are one of many folk bands erasing the line between folk and pop and reviving the popularity of the folk genre among a younger audience.
The birth of Dodobird was a period of coffeehouse tours around the Bay Area by an acoustic guitar-laden Meric Long. After serendipity brought the two together, Long and Kroeber became The Dodos, blending their respective talents to create a balanced symphony of guitar and drums, and making a name for themselves beyond the Bay Area horizon.
Prior to meeting Kroeber through his roommate, Long studied West African Ewe drumming and honed his skills in country blues fingerpicking, wishing to create a band where the sound of the acoustic guitar could be highlighted by the percussion. Kroeber’s experience in a progressive metal band infused his drumming with powerful dynamism and intensity. His roaring drums fill the sound with a vital tribal element. Combining their individual strengths allowed Long and Kroeber to create the energy-charged live shows for which the band is now known.
While Long’s vocal style has been likened to (a less-depressive version of) Elliott Smith, John Hurt, or Marc Bolan, Kroeber’s drumming is said to mirror Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker. The band has also garnered comparisons to fellow freak-folkers, Animal Collective and Akron/Family, whom they toured with during their first time on the road in 2007. Describing The Dodos sound as freak-folk-pop does not imply that their music stays between clearly defined boundaries. On the contrary, descriptions can at best loosely pinpoint the essence of their sound. The Dodos playfully stomp around the acoustic folk genre, shriek and holler themselves into more freakish territory, finally carving out a new-fangled jumble folk niche of their own.
SXSW and Noise Pop are just some of the stops they’ve made on their current tour across US/Canada. Recently, The Dodos confirmed several European tour dates, so wherever you are, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to catch one of their shows. Check out their website or myspace for more info. We’re not sure when they’re coming back to Montreal, but when they do, Le Divan Orange will gladly serve again as a very comfy couch.