For several albums now, San Francisco’s the Dodos have managed to keep themselves beyond relevant in the hearts of those inclined to their token percussive tendencies, their pep and clatter embellished with vigorous spirit. However, vocalist Meric Long, in tandem with Logan Kroeber on skins, have, simply put, gone through a lot. Their experiences, wholly mirrored in their latest and fifth studio release, Carrier, is their most ruminating and pensive grasp to date.
Prior to the record’s nascency, the duo found a befitting third in Chris Reimer as a touring guitarist, until his untimely and deeply felt death in February of last year. Despite their time together made brief, Reimer’s influence was profound and therefore subsumed by both Kroeber and Long, resonating within the very crux of both Dodos. Reimer, their ghostly third, haunts both the sentiments and musical propensities borne by the songs and embraced as a record, perhaps making Carrier the most fitting of names. As Kroeber explains, this in particular was an album that was an endeavour, but ultimately a truly gratifying one.
He begins by describing the instinctual nature of their relationship, cultivated over years of playing together. “We have a certain way of doing things and I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, where it seems like there’s this very obvious ‘right’ answer when we’re in the studio. We’re usually kind of thinking the same things,” he says. “Now, it sort of feels like I can anticipate the sorts of things that mesh well with Meric’s playing. Often, at times, he’ll play me something and that guitar riff will already be fairly rhythmic. And it’s funny, because we totally hear things differently, like certain elements or phrasing of the rhythm, but we end up combining our perspectives, almost intuitively.”
Kroeber is quick to say that their same mindedness and intricate rhythms weren’t always so obvious, not in the earliest years at least. “I think there were definitely some growing pains. I’m remembering the first record we ever did together. I just think back to the kind of supporting rhythms I was doing back then. They were so basic at the time. As we made more records, I was able to have so much more fun because I learned I could do all sorts of crazy stuff with his guitar parts. That first record seems so simple compared to how frantically the way Meric and I function now.”
I comment on the subtlety of Carrier in comparison to previous albums. Kroeber is wistful, saying, “I still always want to put that energy as much as possible into the music we make. But, I just think we’ve gotten a little more precise from playing together.” He continues, “We’re able to perceive the smallest little changes in rhythm or feel. We now only accept a recording if it feels on point, which is so out there in terms of it, I think. It’s crazy how ‘feeling’ is a contributing and limiting factor and something that maybe we weren’t so concerned with in our earliest days, but it’s really incredible.”
It was before the conception of Carrier that Chris Reimer began to collaborate with the Dodos for their live shows. It was after their tour and during a rehearsal between Long and Kroeber when they received news of his passing. Kroeber elaborates upon their relationship, explaining that both Reimer’s guitar and his halcyon disposition settled naturally into the band. He speaks specifically about the curious calming effect that Reimer beamed, subduing any tempers and precarious situations.
“It was so cool to have him blowing through. The thing that I take away from my time with Chris the most is how he was very even-tempered when it came down to real life,” begins Kroeber. “He was a very fun loving goofy guy, but when real life situations would rear their head as anything even slightly stressful, he was very calm and, furthermore, had a calming effect on others.
“He’s a few years younger than me and I didn’t really know where that came from. It didn’t seem like a light thing. I couldn’t put my finger on its origins, but it was a very heavy and centred quality – the ability to be calm and instil calm in others.”
Kroeber pauses for a moment and recalls, “I suppose after we went to his memorial in Calgary and spoke with his family, I found out that he actually cared for his ailing grandmother during her last years. He was in high school during this time and took on a lot of responsibility of, joyfully, being with and taking care of a person who required a lot of medical attention.
“I mean, maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but after taking to his family and hearing these stories of how he took all that on when a lot of other high school aged kids might be wary of such work, whether that part of his personality existed before then or happened through that, it helped me understand how he had that effect on myself and on others.”
I ask if it was difficult having to write an album after the death of a loved one. “I think starting from scratch song-wise, there was that difficulty. We had been on a bit of a break anyways and going through a change in our lives,” he says. “Meric had also just gotten married and I think we were probably both thinking if we were even going to do another record since so much had happened. The question of how we were going to overcome this was definitely there. But, we just made the decision to keep going and persevere, then it just started to snowball as far as writing material goes.
“Then I think when we got into the studio, we had to have a few days after we record we would call each other checking in about the new sound and if we were okay. I think we were just being a little cautious,” he laughs.
Carrier in its contemplativeness is not a lament for the death of Chris Reimer, but rather a kind of sanctuary in which his presence is contained, marked by Long and Kroeber’s absorption of his influence and furthered by their devotion to immaculacy. It is a translation of weighty feeling.
“I’m really looking forward to people hearing what we’ve created and deciphering it for themselves. It’s been a long journey emotionally of what this album means and what it sounds like. It was just really about continuing forward in a positive mindset and not giving up.”
Catch the Dodos on tour at the Palomino (Calgary) on September 11 and 12, at the Kaledio Festival (Edmonton) on September 13 and at Park Theatre (Winnipeg) on September 15.
By Nivedita Iyer
Photo: Chloe Aftel