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Dogs Die in Hot Cars – Making Music for Water Cooler Conversation

It’s kind of habit for me to not read, or to read as little press as I can about a band before I get to really listen to their music, and then refer later to the stack of paper as I prepare for an interview. The same process was used for Dogs Die In Hot Cars, a band from Glasgow who was touring through the U.S. and who hooked me from just a few seconds of their release, Please Describe Yourself. This was released in the UK last summer and followed their EP Man Bites Man, which was the push that got the whole ball rolling.

I have to admit that after finally scanning through what was written about them already, there was one particular band that had come to mind when I heard them, which also appeared on those pages. But what struck me as annoying is I kept seeing the XTC reference over and over again. Yes, the lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Craig Macintosh does emanate an Andy Partridge vocal tone at times (Celebrity Sanctum), but that was just one small piece of the grander puzzle that made up their sound. Dogs Die… are far and away from a number of “me-too” bands that seem to grace the magazine covers these days, and I was very curious to find out more about these artists beyond the refurbished press release that was passing as journalism.

Dogs Die…seem to have such cornucopia of instruments at their disposal, and they use them with blazing expertise, almost in a way where world music meets a Macy’s Day Parade down 5th Avenue. The energy on their single “I Love You ‘Cause I Have To,” along with “Modern Woman,” “Celebrity Sanctum” or “Godhopping,” is blinding, giving one enough of kick in the shorts needed to cross a marathon finish line or pull off an OJ sprint through the with airport security.

Then there are the intricacies of acoustic guitar, tinkling piano, and echoed samples on songs like, “Somewhat Off The Way,” reflecting the deep contemplation that seemed to run through Macintosh’s mind, taking stock of where one’s place is in the world and all the expectations that come with life after the comforts of childhood and school are gone. Or “Paul Newman’s Eyes” and “Pastimes and Lifestyles” that takes an analytical stare at others and the functions of society.

The group, that also includes Ruth Quigley on keyboards, Laurence Davey on drums, vocalists/guitarist Gary Smith and bassist Lee Worrall, started off with some gigs at SXSW in Austin and have been making their way around our country’s heartland, including Newport, Kentucky, before they make their way to Denver where they play with Joy Zipper and Phoenix at the BlueBird on Thursday, April 14.

Macintosh was very excited about this particular show spot in Kentucky, probably more so than your average American.

Craig Macintosh: It’s a beautiful evening here. The venue is very unique…it’s famous for being the birthplace of John T. Thompson, the inventor of the Tommy Gun. It’s this “haunted house up on the hill” type of building.

Kaffeine Buzz: Maybe like the ghosts from the Winchester?

CM: Yea, bizarre, really weird. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s great.

KB: Well that could possibly add some atmosphere to your show…and speaking of shows, how did things go for you at SXSW? Was this the first time you’ve done that?

CM: Yea, it went quite well. It was kind of busy. It was like one-in-one-out when we were playing, so obviously that’s not a good thing. I actually preferred the first gig we did when we first arrived there. We played in this place called the Yard Dog, which was a really interesting gallery, and we played in the back garden there. It was a real party atmosphere with a tent and free beer.

KB: Very nice. Free beer is always a good thing.

CM: Then there was Buffalo Billiards. It was one of those things like CMJ, it’s very rushed. So you go on and make the best of the sounds (laughing), but the sound wasn’t that great. But there were loads of people there and it was a cool crowd and stuff. It’s good now to get into the swing of the tour.

KB: Where you have more than 20 minutes?

CM: (laughing): Yea.

KB: It seems like they’d probably want you to use the house drum kit, as fast as you have to move in and out of there.

CM: Exactly, that’s what we were pretty much doing. Unfortunately throughout the set the drum kit was falling to bits and rolling off the stage, so it was a bit of a nightmare. But you just gotta laugh and just get on with it and enjoy it. And people in the crowd seemed to enjoy it to.

KB: So the crowd, did people know of you or was there a mixture of people who knew of you and those that didn’t?

CM: Some people were coming because they have the album and you can tell that by their eyes being closed and singing along in this kind of sing-song, and then there were others that are seeing it for the first time. I suppose that’s what it’s like for any band, even if you’re an established band that’s been around for years, there’s always going to be new stuff that you’re doing.

KB: Well, hopefully. So is this your first U.S. tour?

CM: We toured for about 30 weeks in the October/November timeframe last year, but it was kind of a stop in all the main kind of cities, like, “Hello there America, we’re Dogs Die in Hot Cars.” (Laughing) But we did something right, because we’ve been asked back to some bigger venues. So yea, we’re going in the right direction.

KB: How has it been working with V2? They seem to have a pretty solid method for supporting their artists. What was it that impacted your decision in going with them?

CM: It’s such a difficult thing, deciding to go with a label. It’s such a difficult era where labels are kind of panicking, you know? And rightfully so. It’s a very strange time for them and for music, and how that comes across to the world, and how people get that…

KB: The whole digital distribution model…or in some cases, the lack thereof…

CM: Exactly. I think it’s a wonderful thing and I totally want to embrace it. There’s only so much you can know about a label, and the point I’m trying to make is, if you can relate to them. We wanted to go with V2 because we got to know everyone; we got to know “the team.” We know people’s faces and we can phone people up. You don’t have to go through this hierarchy. It’s an old-school label as a unit, and more as you say, looking after the artist and trying to develop something that is good and exciting, and nurturing that talent. I think the bigger corporations lose site of that.

KB: Well, one of the main things that major labels offer that the indies struggle with is distribution. But V2 already has that covered internationally, so that must be a big plus.

CM: Well yea, but I’m not sure how well our sales are doing in Afghanistan. (Laughing) But on the whole I think we got a pretty good spread.

KB (Laughing): Yea, but are you beating out Slim Whitman in Zimbabwe? ‘Cause he outsells the Beatles and Elvis combined over there.

CM: Sorry?

KB: Oh, he was just this kind of country/hillbilly artist that decided to use television as his way to distribute albums and he did really well without using a label or anything. But one of the sales pitches in the commercial was how he would outsell these major artists in these obscure places. Sorry, it just made me think of that.

CM (Laughing): Well, it’s a very busy and hectic time, but our album has picked up throughout the world in a modest kind of way. The fact about labels is, money can help, and if you have enough money you can tell people what to buy. And that does happen a lot of the time. These labels that are more like V2, with these bands they’re growing simply because they’re good and they’re being allowed to do their thing properly. And that’s the most rewarding thing anyway.

KB: Well, it’s this whole push and pull thing. Putting a lot of money into product placement, videos, advertisements, whatever, or creating a buzz with music listeners by putting the bands on the road, getting college radio airplay, and growing a fan base that way to lead to sales. It just is more credible to do the latter. Now, in looking at the various press you’ve gotten, and I can’t claim to have seen everything, but from what I found it all seems to be the same story – you sound like XTC and there was this electrocution mishap during a performance. There’s gotta be more going on than that.

CM: Well I gotta tell you something and that I know what happens: a journalist has to do something, so they just copy/paste, copy/paste . So it’s just this blob of something that doesn’t even make sense. The sad thing is it’s laziness, and I see that in music as well, taking the easy kind of option. And I know it’s your job to make a comment or a critique on music, and it’s a really weird thing to do.

KB: So what has taken place with you guys that has impacted your songwriting and led to some of the songs you’ve written, because there’s such an eclectic mix of topics and this feeling of celebration thought the actual music, even when the subject matter may not be as such. There was almost a level of defiance it turning your back on the “safe” route in life and doing your own thing, even if it is a bit harder. But you throw in a lighter side as well, there’s definitely this tongue-in-cheek wit going on too.

CM: The whole thing lyrically has nothing to do with music. The best way for me to find ideas for lyrics is being in a pub with my dad; it’s the most inspiring thing to me because we just sit and we rant about life and what’s pissing us off. We talk about the world and society, it’s about reading the papers and watching the crap TV and going to the supermarket and going to clubs and watching people…just listening to people. I don’t know; it’s so complicated. It’s about comedy you know, it’s all about humor. Do you know “The Office?”

KB: Yea, that’s a great show. They’ve come out with a U.S. version recently, which is pretty funny.

CM: That is the greatest television program ever made, in my opinion, right? I don’t think it can be labeled as a comedy program. It’s just a beautiful observation of life; it’s just as painful as it is hilarious. I like to think that when we were trying to write music, we were doing an equivalent of that.

KB: Well it’s interesting that you say that because just from a writer’s perspective, you’re in a constant state of watching and analyzing, absorbing a given situation, that’s just how your mind works. You take in all these things around you, and some things make you so angry, and they’re so absurd, so the only way you can relieve yourself of that desire to put your head through a wall is to laugh and make fun of the whole fucking thing.

CM: Totally! We were having this very conversation last night after a gig and we were talking about how there’s such a fine line between that negative attitude and a positive one. Last time my dad was over at my flat we were sitting by the fireplace having a bottle of wine talking about my Gran, and how she just moved into a [retirement] house and this was the last place she was going to live before she dies. She says that as well, “This is me. I’m never moving now.” And we were just talking about it and sat silent for a while, sitting back on the settee and looking at the ceiling for a couple of minutes, and I KNEW my dad was thinking the same thing as me. It was the fucking bullshit of what we have to look forward to, and it was very depressing. And he just sat there and then finished his wine and said, “It’s one big fucking joke,” like that, yea? That was the true meaning of the word “joke.”

KB: That’s awesome that you have that with your dad though. I do the same thing with my dad. We’ll go grab a beer somewhere or have a Scotch at his place and just talk about everything that’s going on in our lives. And even though we’re pretty different when it comes to how and what we believe politically we always find a common ground and can respect each other’s opinions. And always make each other laugh too. Those moments are priceless. Even if you think about, “Oh god, where am I going to be when I’m old” or thinking about a retirement home, it’s all those moments that lead up to that, the whole journey so to speak.

CM: The greatest thing in the world is the pastime of conversations. I don’t know if you do this or not, but I like to argue a case even if I don’t believe in it JUST to make the other person see another point of view. (Laughing) I may even believe in their point of view…

KB: Playing devil’s advocate…

CM: Yea, exactly. It’s so important to try to see the other perspective of things. I think that’s the whole mission to me with lyric writing. If there is any kind of rule for what I do, I would like to think that I’m writing lyrics that start a conversation. They’re not going to influence somebody into thinking this way or that way about something, they’re just starting the conversation about the subject matter. I think that’s the greatest thing you can do.

KB: And that’s what makes the music a lot more fulfilling. It’s not that dribble that you see on MTV or the mainstream where they need the visuals in order to sell this song, whereas at your shows they’re standing in the crowds with their eyes closed singing your words and connecting to it in their own way. Speaking of the music, when I first listened to your album it took me by surprise because there was such a difference from one song to the other.

CM: Well, that’s the greatest compliment you could pay.

KB: It was brilliant. That solo intro by Ruth on “Goddhopping” is off the hook. It seems like you have so many different elements going on, from pop and rock to maybe even some folk music from Scotland?

CM: Cool! You’re completely right.

KB: Well, I’m so looking forward to your show coming up. I have to get all my friends to go.

CM: You have to come over and say “hello” okay? Give me a ring when you’re there and we’ll have a Scotch.

KB: Absolutely.

Join us for a glimpse at the good life when Dogs Die In Hot Cars play their heart outs along with other music stars in their own right, Phoenix and Joy Zipper Thursday, April 14 at the BlueBird. And bring some extra dineros for Please Describe Yourself while you’re at it. You’ll need to listen to it again as you sign off that check to Uncle Sam the next day.


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