This is my first ever band interview, and you've got to admire the patience of Anna and Tony from L.A.'s That Dog. There's a lot of stammering on the tape, and even more dead air: "Er...um...yeah, that reminds me of a question I was gonna ask...but I forgot what it was..." Meanwhile Anna and Tony lean in as I struggle with my stupidity in not bringing a tip sheet with me (so much for spontaneity...), half-smirks on their faces as if they're wondering if this is for real.
We're on some steps behind the Rage as Blur's road crew soundchecks "Death of a Party." Around the back door lurk about twenty hopeful Blur fans who fall into two general categories: 1) teenage Japanese girls, and 2) young white males with short hair and D.J. vests who stand around and sneer at everyone, including That Dog. (The only member of Blur actually inside is guitarist Graham Coxon, and the pathetic thing about the male groupies is that, after they've made the effort to come down here and stand in the hot sun all afternoon, if Graham were to come outside, they'd act all nonchalant about the whole thing and probably sneer at him, too.)
That Dog are actually on tour with Blur, and are promoting their new, third album, Retreat from the Sun. It's a sunny, more mature pop-type affair this time around, in comparison to the more rough-hewn, quirky, teen-angst flavour of 1995's Totally Crushed Out!
"I'd been through a phase where I was sick of 'modern music' like Bush or Soundgarden," says Anna. "Not that I'm dissing those bands, but it's just that it had been done over and over up to that point. I just wanted to challenge myself, songwriting-wise, so I took a year of just writing and not really thinking about what it would be for. Just writing, and listening to a lot of the Go-Go's, the Bangles, Blondie..."
Which would explain the influence of Charlotte Caffey (of the Go-Go's) on the new album, as well as Anna's and Charlotte's co-writing of the theme for T.V.'s Clueless?
"That happened after we'd done the album, but it still helped for me because it was free of anything... serious. It was for a T.V. show, so the network wanted it as cheesy as possible. Charlotte also taught me how to play piano, so that's me on 'Every Time I Try.' I had learned when I was little, but at that age I didn't know what I was doing."
Anna and the Haden sisters, Petra (violin) and Rachel (bass), all grew up in very musically-oriented households: Anna's father is Len Waronker, producer of such 70's chestnuts as "Midnight at the Oasis" (Says Anna, "We covered that for the Spirit of '73 compilation more as a tribute to him than anything else."), and more recently the head of Reprise records. Petra and Rachel are the daughters of veteran jazz bassist and Ornette Coleman sideman Charlie Haden.
"Oh, Charlie's a big fan," says Tony. "He always has really positive things to say, [adopting stoned jazz hipster accent] 'You really listen to each other, maaan, it's really refreshing!' He's very into it, but he never pushed Petra or Rachel to do anything they didn't want to do. He's really just happy to hear his kids making music." (And yet another member of the Haden clan is Josh, bassist of L.A. lounge-pop combo Spain.)
"Yeah, there was never any pressure for me to be a performer, but I thought I'd probably end up doing something in the industry," states Anna. "Dad never really talked business around the house, except sometimes to get our honest five-year-old opinions about something he was working on..." One shudders to think about what decisions were influenced by the opinions of the producer's pre-school children... but in the wake of the 60's, I guess anything seemed valid.
That Dog was formed after friends Anna, Petra and Rachel graduated from high school. Anna enlisted childhood friend Tony on drums, and away they went. "It was more fun than anything else," says Tony. "And it had a chemistry to it that made it stick out, with Petra on violin, not like a bunch of kids trying to do AC/DC covers."
It was when they began to play live that a minor recurring fixture in their lyrics popped up... so what is 'The Jabberjaw,' anyways? "It's the first club we ever played, small but very well-known locally. Lots of bands of all sizes like Hole would play there, and the next night it would be some unknown local band," Anna explains.
Tony continues: "It's the kind of place you'd find yourself at about once a week, just to hang out with people you knew, even though it was in a terrible, terrible part of town. Like, the place would get held up while there was a show going on! After a while we just couldn't handle going there any more." At least the worst That Dog will have to contend with tonight is an indifferent headlining act, but the crowd at the Rage will respond favourably to them, at any rate.
A few more questions to Tony about his side project Nine Iron, and our friendly label rep, who's been staring over my shoulder the entire interview, indicates that it's time to wrap things up. Anna tries to assure me that I didn't screw things up as bad as I think I did, but I'm not convinced. I wonder if this is how Nick Kent or Lester Bangs got their start?
Considering copying some of the images from this story?
Please read this first. Thanks.