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Former student leads That Dog to national fame

A student here for four years, Anna Waronker now fronts That Dog

Judy Coleman

While Kara's Flowers breaks into the mainstream, another band fronted by a Brentwood alumnus just released their third album, Retreat from the Sun, to critical praise and popularity. Anna Waronker ('90), after four years here and two years at Crossroads, formed That Dog, a band famous for its unlikely cross of Andrews sisters harmonies and punk sensibilities.

"I think I could be locked in a room anywhere and freak out and [still] write songs," said Waronker. "[After high school] I was living with a friend of mine, and we just started writing lyrics. We didn't play any instruments at the time, but we started writing lyrics, and we already had the name of the band at the time."

About six months later, Waronker decided to get serious about the band, so she called former classmate bassist Rachel Haden, Rachel's twin sister, violinist Petra, and drummer Tony Maxwell. Five years and three albums later, That Dog has toured the world and climbed the charts.

Originally written for a solo project of Waronker's, the songs from Retreat represent a breakthrough in the maturity of her writing. Waronker attributes her musical "revelation" to boyfriend Steve McDonald of Redd Kross. She said, "He was the inspiration for changing my style, because his songs are really well-crafted... and I kinda felt like, 'Oh wow, I'm not doing that, and I should be...'"

Because of her work with producer Brad Wood and her thin but frank vocals, Waronker has garnered countless comparisons to Liz Phair."It's a little bit insulting because [critics will] do that with anybody... They will compare you to any other women...But I'd prefer [the Liz Phair analogy] to other comparisons, like Veruca Salt, which never made any sense."

The daughter of Warner Bros. Music exec. Lenny Waronker, Anna grew up with an appreciation for music. "I was exposed to a lot of music in an artistic way...[My dad] would take us to concerts all the time and we would meet bands on his label all the time."

After three-and-a-half years of USC, Anna dropped out to pursue That Dog, which was "taking over her life." The band made its first album in 1992, and the recording process helped Anna find her calling as a musician. She said, "Being involved in that..., made me realize that I shouldn't be in school because... I knew I was being given a big opportunity..."

After playing to packed L.A. clubs and opening for several larger acts, That Dog returned to the studio to make Totally Crushed Out!, a concept album about crushes and break-ups. Between this second album and Retreat, Anna made a conscious effort change her musical focus. She explained, "Part of my musical revelation was that we were playing grunge music,...and then all of a sudden I realized... that's what everybody was doing, and that it wasn't important to me anymore."

"I wanted to do something different and also write without anybody in mind, whereas... I would think 'Okay, Rachel will do this, and Petra will do this, and there'll be a violin solo here'... [With] these songs I... just thought about the song..."

Musical maturity aside, Anna has changed That Dog's entire attitude towards performing and recording. "We're going to ditch [the casual attitude]...I want to be playing something I'm really proud of.... Being [in] an actual rock band instead of a silly kiddy."