The Dodos: Get Busy Living

Dodos

The Dodos aren’t shuffling off this mortal coil without expressing their individuality

In retrospect, Meric Long, who just turned 34, understands the spiritual significance of being 33, and how the so-called Christ Age will either reaffirm the career path you’ve chosen or gently prod you in the right direction if you’ve gone astray. Because the Dodos singer/guitarist has learned a great deal about himself—and the ebullient music he makes with powerhouse percussionist partner Logan Kroeber—over the past 12 months.

“Things have really opened up for me in the past year, and not giving a fuck anymore has been a big part of that,” says the Berkeley, Calif., resident. “Now I have the freedom to focus, to decide what I want to become, without having any outside pressure. And for me, that really feels like a push in the right direction.”

For five albums—starting with 2006’s Beware Of The Maniacs—there was always something playful, almost ephemeral about the Dodos, as if they might simply stop recording at any moment. But the duo just issued its crowning achievement, new sixth set Individ, which sets serious subjects to galloping drumbeats, Long’s vibrato-resonant vocals and ethereal finger-picked filigrees, on thoughtful tracks like “Darkness,” “Bastard,” “Precipitation” and an ominous “Goodbyes And Endings.” Recorded at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone compound in San Francisco with co-engineers/producers Jay and Ian Pellicci, Individ, for Long, “was very cathartic, and it saved me in a lot of ways—just to be able to go into the studio and shut off for 12 hours and focus on something.”

Long, in short, spent his 33rd year growing up. Death was certainly a motivating factor; touring guitarist Christopher Reimer had passed away unexpectedly in 2012, followed by Long’s father from a protracted illness after the Individ sessions. “And there was definitely some switch that got flipped—I don’t know what it was, but something inside me changed,” says Long. “When the death is in your family, and it’s the person that you’re going to eventually become, hopefully, and you see them go through this long ordeal? It’s like, ‘This is what’s in store for me.’ You see your own future happen in front of you, which you are not prepared for in any way.”

Instinctively, the musician began upping his game. He started working out regularly. He ate much healthier. He almost completely eliminated alcohol from his diet. He studied the muscular machinations of his own singing voice in order to improve it. And, perhaps most importantly, he began every day with a lyric-writing exercise.

“I was taking things seriously, and what else is there?” he asks, rhetorically. “You can only fuck around for so long before it gets boring, you know? And I was also learning how to record, learning how to do things myself. And lyrically, I felt like I took a very serious step forward—I just wanted to make my thoughts count, to think about song ideas and then articulate them.”

One of the achievements that Long is most proud of is “Competition,” a ching-chinging charger with buzzing-hornet guitar lines darting throughout. The Dodos just filmed a video for the track, and he thinks it’s one of the most adventurous things the group has ever done.

“And the clip plays on a certain aspect of the song, which is having to compete, having to do something to get people’s attention and stand out in today’s content-saturated world,” he says. “But the song is also about how it feels having a competitive nature. It’s terrible, and I hate it. And there are also some lines about my father, how he was on his deathbed and just letting go. And me and my father were the same kind of person—we had this natural, cautious competition going on. And you don’t really pay attention to it, but it’s there. And all of that is wrapped up in this pop song.”

What conclusion has Long come to at a wizened old 34? He used to fret about keeping the Dodos cutting-edge original. Now, he no longer cares. Instead, he asks himself a series of questions before calling an album complete: “Like, ‘What is it that I want to say? What do these lyrics mean? What is the substance of what I’m trying to do?’ Because then, you’ll just know when you’re going in the right direction, without paying attention to how that’s happening.”

—Tom Lanham