The Dodos have earned the loyalty of indie critics everywhere for their vigorous, high-energy folk songs and vocals that alternate between bedroom whispers and yelping yodels. Visiter, their second album and debut release from Frenchkiss, garnered wide-ranging comparisons to early T-Rex, late Led Zeppelin, and Animal Collective. But lead singer Meric Long shirks both categorization and rock star egoism, and instead is earnest, self-effacing, and hesitant to identify with either a musical tag or a kindred band. Along with drummer Logan Kroeber, The Dodos will be playing both the Siren Festival on July 19th in New York and the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago the following evening. Long spoke to Clubplanet during a short respite before the busy weekend ahead.
Clubplanet: The Dodos are frequently herded into the psychedelic fok or freak-folk subgenre. Do you align yourself with that category?
Meric Long: Not really. We’re basically just a pop band. People lump us into the psych-folk category because we use the same aspects, like acoustic guitar and unique vocals. But I write pop songs, and [Logan Kroeber and I] are both into heavy music, and we use a medium of acoustic instruments.
CP: You’re also frequently compared to new folk artists like Sean Hayes and, less frequently, to Devendra Banhart, and all three of you picked up steam in San Francisco.
Meric Long: I listen to both of their music, and I enjoy it, but they’re much more folksy. I don’t know, though. Every time I start talking about genres, I just feel retarded. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. It’s a weird thing to categorize an artist, especially when we’re just making music in whatever capacity that feels right. I know it makes sense: you have to categorize things to understand them. I don’t have anything against people who label us. People should be able to hear whatever they want to hear out of our songs, but it doesn’t mean I necessarily understand where they’re coming from.
CP: Is there any particular artist or group you wouldn’t mind being compared to?
Meric Long: It depends on who it is. We’ve gotten all sorts of weird comparisons, but none have seemed to fit. But we never take offense.
CP: You guys span a lot of genres, so it’s hard to believe you’ve never gotten a really off-the-mark, insulting comparison.
Meric Long: Maybe if someone said, “You guys sound just like Dave Matthews.” I would take a little offense at that. But maybe I’d be curious to know what they heard that made them think that.
CP: We read that you’re a bit of a connoisseur of West African Ewe drumming. How did that happen?
Meric Long: I was in school, writing a paper for a class in world music that required a forty-page research paper. It was totally impossible and very naïve on my part, but I was trying to research the roots of popular music, specifically the music that came out of Africa. I had a friend who studied in Ghana, and he had another friend who played the drums, so he hooked us up. We played together for about a year, and it ended up being a much bigger thing than I thought it would be. It wound up recalculating how I understood rhythm. I started hearing things in a different way. That was a really intellectual time for me, musically-speaking. I try to bring some of the philosophy I learned to my current songwriting.
CP: Do you feel comfortable handing over the drumming duties to Logan?
Meric Long: Logan is a much better drummer than I am.
CP: What drew you to the fingerpicking style that you play now?
Meric Long: I love the percussive aspect of fingerpicking, which grew directly out of my drumming experience. We found that fingerpicking was like a way for me to play drums on the guitar.
CP: At what point did you decide to quit playing solo and link up with Logan Kroeber?
Meric Long: I was doing solo stuff in San Francisco, opening for other bands, playing a lot of shitty restaurant gigs, and I recorded an EP [Dodo Bird] with Aquarius Records. The song “Couples” is on there, and it jumped out at me: it had the kind of percussion that I was looking for. And then I met Logan through my roommate’s cousin. We eventually met at my roommate’s bongo show, weirdly enough. I asked him to come play a couple songs, and they we started rehearsing a little bit. And then one weekend I was coming back from a show, drunk, and I was getting ready to record Beware of the Maniacs, and it just dawned on me how great it would be to have Logan record with me. It also dawned on me how different it is to play alone versus having someone else around to play various instruments and bounce ideas off of. I wanted the sort of energy coming out of that—I never wanted to do the whole solo singer/songwriter thing. So I drunkenly called Logan and was like, “Dude, you come up to and do this EP with me. I’ll totally pay for your ticket.” He saved that on his phone for a long time before acting on it. He showed up halfway through the recording and we finished the album together.
CP: At what point did you realize The Dodos were taking off (har har) ?
Meric Long: I’d say around the time Visiter came out, in March, and we’d just done South By Southwest. We were driving through Austin when we started getting a ton of calls from different people who were like, “You’re invited to come play Siren,” or “You’re invited to come play the Pitchfork Festival.” I remember just driving the car around, answering all these phone calls. Our manager kept calling our phone, and every time I saw her name light up I wondered, “What next?” It was a really exciting time, and there was a profound moment where I realized that we were not going to be home much for the rest of the year.
CP: And you’ve been on tour pretty much since then, which is no small feat considering how physically demanding Visiter's songs are. How do you and Logan and keep up the energy?
Meric Long: We try and get out, exercise, jump rope, play dice, but I don’t know how much that does to keep our energy up. Everything is pretty much centered around the show. We also eat a shit load of food. Logan is going to be pissed that I told you this, but I woke up this morning and the first thing Logan said to me was, “The top button of my pants fell off before I went to bed.”
CP: Who are you most excited about seeing at the Siren and Pitchfork Festival?
Meric Long: I’m most excited about seeing Stephen Malkmus at the Siren Festival. I’ve seen him before, but I just got his new record and it’s very good. I’m also excited about seeing Times New Viking. As for Pitchfork, we’re kind of getting there late, so we’re missing a lot. We’ll definitely see Spoon.
CP: What’s been your favorite show that you’ve played so far?
Meric Long: Boise. Boise doesn’t have a big music “scene.” We played during this festival, and pretty much every other band on the roster was a cover band or a blues band. Somebody from the local record store was a fan of ours and asked us to come play. We thought that since it was downtown, there would just be people eating hot dogs and walking by, not really caring. It actually ended up being awesome: people were really getting down, and the age diversity of the audience was so cool. It was so much fun playing for little kids and old hippies. Everyone w