Dog Day’s not over yet

Local faves return with surprise shows and new music in progress.


Dog Day w/Jon Samuel
Saturday, August 25, 8pm
The Seahorse Tavern, 2037 Gottingen Street

When Dog Day makes its return to the Seahorse this Saturday, expect it to feel like "slipping into an old pair of shoes."

The lauded Halifax group has been making waves with tuneful, gloomy rock 'n' roll since its debut over a decade ago. Seth Smith and Nancy Urich, the husband-and-wife duo who've been Dog Day's consistent creative presences, have carved out a sound that references decades of history but remains singular, immediately recognizable. Their songs are concise and catchy; Urich and Smith have distinct voices and precise, close harmonies. A perfect band, really.

For the past five years, Smith and Urich have been focusing their energies in different places: They've started a family; they've worked on a handful of acclaimed films including art-horror romp The Crescent, now playing at Park Lane; and last year Urich debuted a new band, Not You.

With production wrapping on The Crescent and the promise of a Nova Scotian summer on the horizon, however, the pair found themselves pining for a different, more comfortable project—something to "fill in the gaps," says Urich.

And so they got the old band back together to make a new record and play a handful of summer shows. Now joined by Meg Yoshida on keyboards and founding drummer KC Spidle, Dog Day is feeling more comfortable than ever.

As Smith puts it, "We both kind of see making movies as making a record, but it's more like making 25 records at once."

"Maybe 60 records!" adds Urich.

In other words: aAfter being immersed in the precise world of filmmaking, reanimating one of the best Halifax bands of the new millennium is, comparatively, a piece of cake.

Returning to this project after a period of dormancy, Urich says that their sense of timing has been heightened and their feeling of independence sharpened. When Urich and Smith talk about their band, they regularly circle back to ideas of time and timing; they describe their creative maturation as a process of becoming aware of the time they do have and making the most of its potential.

"Now we do time differently," says Urich. "It feels like there's way less time overall, and I also feel like that comes with having a kid. So we really just want to do it, to be very mindful of the time you have to spend."

Given their band's history, this focus makes sense—for years, they've made music with a steadfast, do-it-yourself mindset. Whether it's with time or space or money, the pair has consistently approached their work with a mind for making do with whatever is available. As Urich puts it, "It's the Maritimes, it's the summer. You just have to get 'er done."

And in a way, Dog Day has only grown scrappier as it's grown older, making increasingly idiosyncratic music as they've distanced themselves from the corporate churn of the music business. For its first two albums—2007's Night Group and 2009's Concentration, both excellent—the band was signed to the German label Tomlab and seemed set to explode into international cultural consciousness. That shifted in 2011: Urich and Smith downsized the band to a duo, moved to the seaside and began recording and releasing records themselves from their home in West Pennant.

The albums they put out in the following years—2011's Deformer and 2013's Fade Out—were just as hooky as their predecessors, but felt somehow sharper, more jagged and more immediate.

"Doing it yourself, you don't have to wait for permission," says Smith. "It might not have crazy money behind it, but it is what you want it to be and it's more personal that way."

"And it can be more comfortable," adds Urich. "We spent a lot of time in our younger Dog Day days waiting for records to come out and waiting to be able to record because we didn't have money or a place to do it, things like that. We were always kind of in need of someone's help. Now it's nice to detach and just do it."

For awhile, it felt like Fade Out may have been Dog Day's last hurrah. Around the time of its release, Urich and Smith had their first child and began focusing their energies on the projects that would occupy them in the years to come. But five years later, it seems that album's closing song, the gorgeous "Before Us," may have held a hint for what would come next: "as we lay here to rot," sang Urich and Smith in gentle harmony, "it's not over yet."

Now, with Urich and Smith on the heels of a Canadian release of The Crescent and the impending release of the film's soundtrack (through Label Obscura on September 7), they've got the time and energy to bring Dog Day back to life—a moment that, for many music fans in the city, couldn't have come any sooner.

Earlier this month, Dog Day returned to the stage with a performance at Sappyfest and a surprise headlining set at $Rockin' 4 Dollar$. Ahead of these appearances, Smith says he was nervous that people might not respond to their music with the same enthusiasm that they did back when the band was beginning—after all, " a lot of people stay at home now and watch Netflix so you never know who you're going to get out there."

Of course, that couldn't be further from the truth: Both sets were met with an excitement that approached reverence, with audience members singing along to songs from across the band's decade-spanning catalogue. After seeing the $Rockin' 4 Dollar$ show, Moon's Andrew Neville tweeted "Dog Day are better than the Pixies"; nobody disagreed.

"It was surprising, I was prepared to really mess up," admits Smith. "I'm a really sloppy musician, I'm probably the weak link in our band"—Urich chimes in: "Seth! Come on"—"but at the same time I was very surprised, I feel like we're a tighter band than we used to be. You just get wiser I guess, and more conscious of yourself and your playing."

And as the band continues to record its next album, Smith and Urich say they're interested in taking their time, finding pleasure in the details of recording and releasing new material when the timing feels right.

"I think when we were younger, we were almost in a race to do everything: get a record out, play shows, we were very eager," says Smith. "But we've learned a lot from making records—which songs we liked, which ones we didn't. So I'd like to think it could be one of our better records...I think it's maybe a little bit more mature and thoughtful, maybe a little less spontaneous."

"But it's also spontaneous at the same time!" Urich says, laughing. "I feel like we say 'mature' every record. But yeah, this time feels good."

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