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Dr. Dog on staying true to 'the process'

By Stephanie Gallman, CNN
updated 1:17 PM EDT, Tue April 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Dog has recorded six albums and performed on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and "Conan"
  • "I feel like everything we've done has been this slow burn," says founding member Toby Leaman
  • "We've been doing it for a long time," band co-founder Scott McMicken says

(CNN) -- To an outsider, Dr. Dog has all the makings for the stereotypical "eighth-graders start making scrappy recordings in their home and become overnight sensations" "Behind the Music" special.

Only nothing about the band's success -- which includes six albums, performances on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and "Conan," among others, and touring as an opening act for My Morning Jacket -- has come overnight.

"We've been doing it for a long time," said Scott McMicken, one of the band's founding members and lead vocalists.

Co-founder Toby Leaman, the band's bass player who shares lead vocal responsibilities with McMicken, agrees.

"I feel like everything we've done has been this slow burn," Leaman said.

True, despite the guys knowing each other for 20 years, Dr. Dog isn't exactly living the large, rock-star life that fans might think.

"It's kind of disappointing," McMicken said with a laugh, "Twenty years and this is it?

"If I was not me and I saw me -- I would assume, 'This guy's got like a million bucks. He's a superstar. He's been on "David Letterman." His life is insane.' But (that life) has nothing to do with mine," he said.

In almost two decades of existence, Dr. Dog has been able to make a living with its music, currently headlining a tour to promote the album "Be the Void."

"We worked hard for it," McMicken said of the band's accomplishments.

McMicken and Leaman met in suburban Philadelphia in the 1990s when they were in the eighth grade, and the duo began a creative relationship that involved writing and recording songs onto tapes.

Unlike bands that develop a following on the road, Dr. Dog evolved in the opposite direction.

They made an impression on fans in the Philadelphia area and enjoyed creating songs at their home studio. Not until McMIcken's then-girlfriend slipped a copy of an album to My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James did the possibility of Dr. Dog becoming a touring band ever come up.

Liking what he heard on the album, James sent the members of Dr. Dog a "really nice letter," McMicken recalled, asking if they'd like to come on tour. The letter also asked a lot of questions and sought details about Dr. Dog to which McMicken didn't have the answers.

He finally had to say to James, "This band is just some dudes in a basement."

Joining My Morning Jacket on tour proved to be a valuable experience, and group members credit that band with giving them their "first step into working" as a touring act.

But both McMicken and Leaman remain the most passionate about writing and recording a song.

Leaman said, "The process is the important part. ... It's the only thing with real meaning."

There is a vulnerability involved in writing a song and bringing to the band to play for the first time, he said. The results can be and have been "devastating," he said.

But for the most part, "(The song) becomes everybody's and that's my favorite part," he said.

McMicken agreed.

"Sometimes it's terrifying," he said of the band connecting to a song and playing it together for the first time. "As soon as you realize you have something, you are aware that it can fall apart."

That same feeling of fragility doesn't apply to the band, McMicken said.

During a long career, Dr. Dog has signed with different labels, seen members come and go and brought new ones aboard. And yet the band has remained true to the process, allowing members a level of success with "more opportunities and more time to play with," McMicken said.

And if the ability to make a living touring and selling records went away, he said he'd be just fine.

"We did this to no reward for so long and were completely unconscious of that fact for so long. And we still got so much out of it," he said.

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