There are few bands more essential to the last 20 years of the XPN-universe than indie-rockers Dr. Dog, so it was big news when Scott McMicken announced his first post-Dog solo record, SHABANG. Over twenty years and 10 records did little to dampen the creative output of McMicken and his buddies in Dr. Dog, so it should come as no surprise when I say that SHABANG is a record nearly bursting with ideas, a smorgasbord of musical flights of fancy that properly displays a songwriter who has fully honed his craft.

But however excited we as listeners may be to hear what the former Dr. Dog co-frontman’s been cooking up, McMicken seems even more invigorated by his recent creative endeavor. I’ve talked to many musicians over the years, all with varying levels of interest in discussing their work, and I can say without a shadow of doubt that McMicken was the most passionate of the bunch. Thoughtful and generous, McMicken talked to me at length about his new record, from its conception to its execution, and it’s clear that none of what you hear on the record is unconsidered. That’s not to say SHABANG is some perfectly-crafted solo opus, far from it. For a solo record, SHABANG is a decidedly collaborative effort, one that, as you’ll learn, was born out of as many happy accidents as strict structure.

Check out the full interview with McMicken below; join us next week when he and his band The EVER EXPANDING play Free At Noon, and be sure to check out their upcoming show on April 23 at The TLA. More information can be found on WXPN’s Concerts and Events page.

Scott McMicken and THE EVER-EXPANDING - "Another One" [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Sean Fennell: It seems like you had a pretty distinct, unique vision of how you wanted to do things for this record. I’m curious as to whether it was ever difficult to match that vision or if there were maybe times you had to fight an instinct to slip into the way you would have done things previously?

Scott McMicken: I think you’re right, in that I did go into the thing with a lot of vision, but in many ways that vision was defined by openness, by not really having a plan. That in and of itself is a type of vision compared to what I was used to where I would work on songs, flesh them out and explore every possibility I could think of. This was a case where I was just going in with a simple song and the essence of what it meant to me and that was all I was presenting. So from there, the “vision” was going to be made in real time as a combination of the people that were there, most of whom were strangers to me. I didn’t even know what to expect out of these people, and their energy and styles of playing. So there was a strong vision on the one hand, but on the other hand the vision was defined by no vision, you know, and just creating an environment where it felt good. There was no pressure, there was a lightness, and there was an openness to explore. I didn’t have a vision in the traditional sense. I didn’t know what the music was gonna sound like. I was leaving that up to the moment.

You can think empirically about the details and the specific nature of the thing you want to make, you can map that all well in advance, you can make your plans to ensure that goal, or on the flip side, you can leave all that off the table and focus much more on the human nature of a collaborative process and playing music with others. Having an experience like this one, which was so potent in that regard, really made the lines between making music and being alive and being a person, a son, a husband, you know, a brother, and a friend completely disappear. Because at the end of the day, what that type of musical vision requires of me is a much more internal sense of comfort, presence, sensitivity and confidence. And so that’s why I feel as though the positivity of this experience was wonderful in the sense of generating music that I really love and believe in, but has also left me feeling more fortified as a human being. And I’ve been able to carry that strength forward through numerous other collaborations and projects.

SF: So you kind of mentioned it there but, for this record, you almost intentionally wanted to work with people that you hadn’t worked with before. Where did that instinct come from? Is that just trying to create this atmosphere of something fresh and new?

SM: Well, we knew we wanted the record to have a very live studio vibe, without a ton of overdubbing, and this feeling of building the songs from scratch. So right away I had all these people in mind that I would love to have worked with, people I knew but people I had never worked with. And so I wasn’t necessarily right out of the gates thinking that the musicians needed to be strangers, but I had reached out to a number of these people that were friends of mine, and it just turned out, most of them weren’t available. Meanwhile, [producer] Nick Kinsey was suggesting all these people he’d worked with in various capacities that he thought, given the nature of what we had been discussing, would be a really great match.  I really knew and trusted Nick and therefore whatever impulses he would have, I believed we’re going to be in the service of our goal.  And man, am I glad I did. It was wild. I mean, in the end, these are all people I now love and cherish and consider close friends. To just thrust yourself into a situation with that much openness with people you don’t really know and then day after day, witnessing how rewarding that can be was really impactful. There was such a generosity and a wellspring of beauty opening up in these dynamics among these people. It was really powerful.  It’s almost like being shipwrecked, and all of a sudden being on an island with some people, and you’re just counting on him to survive. There’s this sort of family ethos that develops in service to the overall egoless goal of the thing, which was really wonderful.

Scott McMicken and THE EVER-EXPANDING - "What About Now" [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

SF: It feels like this experience really had a way of engaging you in a new way. I was wondering how that might compare to the early days with Dr. Dog when things were a little less established between all of you guys?

SM: I had not put that finer point on it, but yeah, it harkens back to the earliest days where we would just, you know, start tossing songs in the air and whoever’s around would jump in on it. I’ve been thinking about this so much, because for the first time in my life I have been having all these different kinds of experiences, and getting these affirmations. It is really giving me a much clearer, sharper perspective on the dynamic of Dr. Dog and the way in which having worked together so long I think you lose a certain freshness. When you know someone so well and you understand each other’s patterns, you start to formulate interpersonal expectations around what interacting with someone is going to be like and you sort of shut the door on a lot of more spontaneous and surprising elements. Because the reality is, we’re all different people now than when we started, and every day we’re changing. That’s only been more true creatively in these last couple years, since everybody has so much more room to experience the creative process in different ways with their own solo stuff. So overall, yeah, I think you’re right, the earliest days of Dr. Dog does embody what I’m trying to return to now, which is a less heady, less micromanaged relationship with music.

SF: I’m wondering too if your experience recording other bands has any effect on how you view your own project now?

SM: Oh, dude, big time. The takeaways have been amazing, for sure.  To just to just be able to be yourself and apply your sensibilities to someone else’s thing is amazing because I find that when I’m on the outside looking at someone else’s thing, it’s much easier for me to see the essence, and therefore try to make suggestions, or even subliminally try to create factors that will help us get closer to that goal. When it’s your own music, you can get really lost in your own doubts and questions about the quality of what you’re offering. I think that’s just the nature of my personality, this sort of insecurity and doubt and anxiety. To be able to be a fly on the wall and just help serve someone else’s goals has made clear to me how in touch I actually am with the ability to see the good in a situation. The more I do it, the more perspective I feel I’m gaining on my own thing and learning how to rewire my brain, getting rid of some doubts and fears. And so I’ve been loving it, man, it’s definitely all about collaboration and putting yourself in new situations.

Scott McMicken and THE EVER-EXPANDING - "Ever-Expanding" [Official Video]

SF: Where did the idea to name the band “The Ever Expanding” come from? Was there ever an idea to have it be your name only?

SM: When I started it, I knew I definitely wanted to get my name out in front, because this was my first really solo thing. But then after a few days, once the essence of the situation was presenting itself to me, which was so clearly a collaborative group oriented thing, I thought, well, maybe I will attach a band to it as well. So then one day we were playing the song called “Ever Expanding”, which began with me playing just one chord and saying “ever expanding” again and again. My strategy was just to show everyone that this was going to be this collaborative thing where I didn’t really have any set blueprint. So we’re just jamming on that when Nick suggests this kind of rumba rhythm, so we start on that. Then Michael Nau, the bass player, was playing this baseline that was really challenging for him. The syncopation of it required him to be really repetitive and hold on tight to that groove.

So there was one point, about maybe three quarters of the way in, where we’re grooving along and all of a sudden, the bass goes away.  And we all sort of look at Mike and he just looks like a deer in headlights. He just was frozen. And then he was trying to find his way to jump back in like a frog or something. But later on he said that while he was stuck in that space not playing, he thought that the band should be called The Ever-Expanding and everybody cracked up and loved it. And I was like, there it is, it’s perfect. I realized right away it’s the perfect name for me to just claim and move forward. Because as I continue to do things, as a solo artist, I intend to continue to explore working with a number of different processes and a number of different people. And I felt that that name would just remain relevant as I continue to make more things in different ways.

SF: I love that because it kind of keeps with everything you’ve been talking about and the ethos of the record as whole. It wasn’t you coming up with a band name and deciding it for them but something more collaborative.

SM: Yeah, totally, and it was the same thing with SHEBANG as well. This was another one of those, not to sound overly romantic, but kind of cosmic moments. I had written “Shebang,” the song, about seeing Eric Slick’s band. I saw a show in Asheville, North Carolina, where I live now, and it blew me away, there was such a perfect pop thing about it, it just felt so universally lovable. To me, it was refreshing to just see a band and be like, this is for everybody, it’s got it all. I was really inspired by that. That’s been something I’ve been valuing more and more as I separate myself from all these sort of specific aesthetic badges that I’ve been wearing for so long based on my taste and my obsessive love for making music. And so I wrote that song about Eric’s show, and I just wrote it to send to him the next day. It was more like a Hallmark card for my friend, but then a month later I listened to it with some time and distance from that moment in time, and I thought, man, I love this song. So we did the song one day and that night I was sitting around kind of kicking around the idea of what the album should be called and Michael just said, dude, you should call the album SHABANG. It’s a good title. It’s loud and proud, you know, it’s about energy. There’s no pretense. There’s no meaning other than power, a moment of energy.