By Ray Routhier
Join an indie rock band, see the world.
"We'd always wanted to come to Alaska, so when we finally got an offer, we said yes," said Toby Leaman, bass player for rock band Dr. Dog, via phone from Fairbanks on Saturday. "It wasn't an obvious addition to our tour route, but it worked for us."
Dr. Dog has been touring and recording for more than a decade, so Leaman enjoys opportunities to take the tour bus off the beaten path once in a while. On the way to Fairbanks, he and his bandmates drove through Denali National Park and a few other scenic locations.
"Tomorrow, we're going to see some hot springs," said Leaman, 33, a native of West Grove, Pa. "We only have two shows in five days here, so it's nice."
Leaman has learned to appreciate time on the road. He needed to, as he and the other members of Dr. Dog spend a lot of time there.
The band has had a "slow burn" career path, as Leaman puts it. It's been steadily building up a fan base with energetic live shows and word of mouth -- its latest release, "Be the Void," hit No. 6 and No. 8 on Billboard's independent and alternative charts, respectively -- but Dr. Dog is certainly not yet a household name.
And that's just fine with the band, which will headline a show at Portland's State Theatre on Tuesday. The concert will open with Portland's own Spencer Albee and the California-based rock/soul band Delta Spirit.
"The way I look at it, we're lucky to be doing what we're doing," said Leaman. "We've never had massive airplay or anything. But in the time we've been doing this, we've seen a ton of bands come and go. And we're still here."
Dr. Dog began with Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken playing together as teens in West Grove. When they started recording, the band was basically just the two of them, so there was lots of overdubbing and layering of sounds in the recording studio. Partly because of that, the band got an early reputation as sounding like a '60s hard-rock outfit.
Leaman admits that he and McMicken were influenced heavily by Jimi Hendrix. But the artist who really made him want to be a professional musician was Tom Waits -- a musical legend with a devoted fan base, but an artist who has never had a hit single and whose albums rarely crack the mainstream Top 20. Kind of like Dr. Dog.
"I was about 12 when my uncle bought me my first (Tom Waits album), and it sort of freaked me out," Leaman said. "It took me about two years to figure it out. I couldn't process it. It must have been the way it was for Native Americans when they saw the first Europeans and their ships."
Leaman says that people who come to a Dr. Dog show should expect most of the songs to sound different than on record. The earliest recordings consisted of just himself and McMicken, but the band is usually a five- or six-person outfit nowadays.
"I'm not a big fan of bands who sound exactly the same live as on the record," said Leaman. "We usually look at playing live and recording as two very different things."
These days, Leaman is a big fan of Floating Action, a North Carolina-based rock outfit that has been described as "lo-fi Carolina funk, and of Americana singer-songwriter Gillian Welch.
"There's so many good bands out there, I can always find someone to listen to," he said.
Which helps make the long hours on the road go a little quicker.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
Portland’s Spencer Albee opens for Dr. Dog on Tuesday.