A shrink-wrapped copy of Concentration sits on the table in the kitchen rented by Nancy Urich and Seth Smith, one half of Dog Day, the record's author. Its release is in a few days and not all of the band, all of whom are here, have seen it. Urich banters with Smith, her husband, about the whereabouts of "the open one," the copy they've already checked out. He gave it to someone. Urich gestures to the fresh CD on the table.
"Can I have it so I can show my mother?" she asks Smith. He replies in the affirmative, rations out the beer and leaves the room with drummer KC Spidle.
A docked iPod set to random is the soundtrack for the next two hours. The first song is "Let It Be." Keyboardist Crystal Thili reveals that she just found a vinyl version of The White Album for a dollar. The theme of Tim and Eric: Awesome Show! Great Job! comes in, ironically canned, and Urich stops herself mid-sentence to announce, "We are blessed with Tim and Eric's presence! Sports!" The Davids---Cross and Sedaris---are skipped for drowning out the room's conversation---though "Nance does a pretty good David Sedaris," Smith will report---and twice Dog Day songs are quickly passed by. "That can't happen," Spidle will say.
Urich, the bassist, and Thili take seats at the table. Thili unwraps the CD. The artwork was created by Smith, a noted illustrator and half of Yo Rodeo!. He's done all of Dog Day's graphics, from Thank You's diamond ring pop to Night Group's antique frame to this new Aztec-tinged darkness, brightened with tiny rainbow drops and diamonds.
"He wrote most of the songs so I guess it kinda comes from that," says Urich, "sort of dark, yet colourful."
(For Smith inspiration rose from a combination of a childhood trip to Mexico and his love of drawing patterns: "It's pretty addictive. It's a way to ease your nervous tics, to do something. It's my cigarettes.")
The quartet's second album, Night Group, took longer to release than the band would've liked---they recorded across six months after-hours at Common Ground Studios with Andrew Watt ("We were partying a lot, to be honest," says Urich. "We'd get there after work, we might do a part of one song, but mostly we were just hanging out"), then had to wait for their German label, Tomlab, to settle on a mixer, which took another season.
For Concentration, they engineered the record themselves at home and in their north end rehearsal space, with the mixer picked out ahead of time. And since it was John Agnello (you might remember him from albums such as Dinosaur Jr.'s Where You Been?, The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America or Sonic Youth's Rather Ripped), and Agnello only had two free weeks, Dog Day was given an official deadline for its third LP.
"He was really stoked right away. That was obviously a bonus," says Urich. "When you call him and he's done all these records that you've loved and he likes what you're sending him. He was like, 'And the time frame would be this' and it was perfect for us."
"We just had to make sure instead of dicking around we got it done," adds Thili.
Urich and Smith departed for Hoboken, NJ, in October of last year for two weeks at Water Music Recording, on the heels of a-ha (yes, the "Take on Me" people. "We drank a-ha's whiskey," reports Urich). They were put up at the studio's loft.
"You could fit my entire apartment in the living room. It had a kitchen and two bedrooms and four double beds. A whole band could go there and live. And there were dogs there; we could've taken Woofy," says Urich of the pair's dog, currently staring in from behind a closed glass door. "We were trying to think, 'Should we concentrate on the record, or should we take Woofy? Should Woofy have a good time in New York, or should we do our job?'"
"I find it hard being a backseat mixer and having some guy turning knobs and your voice is doing crazy things, and it's up or down and reverb's happening," says Smith later, picking out some gourmet jellybeans from a depleted glass jar and washing them down with lemon water in a measuring cup. "I kind of grit my teeth. But with this guy, I don't know, that didn't happen. I trusted what he was doing."
Concentration feels like a natural yet notable progression in the Dog Day sound, pulling it away from the early-'90s tag of previous efforts and into a new sonic space that lightens up the music without removing any of its emotional heft. (Urich and Spidle independently refer to the record's sound as "dreamy" and "wet.") There's considerably more keyboard work---"It might be a natural evolution, considering I don't really actually know how to play keyboards," says Thili, who handles bass duties in The Hold. "As I'm doing more and more, things get easier to add in."
Urich's vocal contributions, while always present, appear on almost every song, taking the lead on "Neighbour."
"She requested to sing that one," says Smith. "I said, 'Actually I think that would work better. Because the lyrics I wrote were really creepy, about my schizophrenic neighbour, and I think it'll sound better coming from you.' How did you put it, a low-singing ghoul?" he asks Spidle, then sings in a low, Nick Caveian voice, "I walk the streets behiiind you." He laughs. "I'm not as worried about Nance walking the streets behind me."
Though some songs date back to the Night Group era in 2007, the bulk of them came together during the band's extensive tours through Canada and overseas for the past year-and-a-half. Smith and Spidle split writing duties.
"You get influenced on the road, just touring and seeing other bands, being other places," says Smith.
"Just being insane," adds Spidle. "You're more insane on tour, because you're never in a bed that's your own, you're never in a place that's your home so you just play shows every night and you wanna be creative but sometimes you're just not."
"You lose motivation staying in the same environment for a long time," says Smith. "You get a fresh perspective outside."
"The thing with touring is there's a lot of waiting time, you know? There's only that 45 minutes a night you're actually busy," says Spidle. "All the other time you're trying to find things to do---you're either writing dirty hip-hop on the road, or finding things to do like making skits in hotel rooms or writing riffs before shows.
"You're always dying to do something creative. You're sitting in a van all the time." (Dog Day has much more sitting in a van on the books for this year---the band heads across Canada on May 8, not to return until mid-June.)
Concentration touches on themes familiar to veteran Dog Day listeners---titles include "Don't Worry About the Future," "Youth of Destruction" and "Wait it Out"---but the band refuses to expound on what it all means, which is almost sweetly ironic, considering how much Dog Day means to this city.
"I don't like it when a song has a specific meaning and that's what it's about, and if you don't like it then it doesn't apply to you," says Smith.
"People interpret things in all sorts of different ways," says Spidle, "and that's when you know you did what you were supposed to do."
Dog Day Concentration release w/The Memories Attack and The Got to Get Got, Friday, May 1 at Reflections, 5184 Sackville, 9pm, $10.