Golden ticket

With a firm line-up now in place, The Golden Dogs are ready for their impending stardom. Ian Gormely catches them in a state of undress.

Bow wow These young pups aren’t telling you a shaggy dog story. They’re singing it.

"Hey!" Dave Azzolini shouts to someone in the room. Azzolini, on the phone from Toronto, is trying to spend the afternoon relaxing. "My brother's in town," he explains. "He's filming me, making me feel uncomfortable...and I'm only in my underwear so it's even more embarrassing. Leave me alone!"

That evening, Azzolini is attending a friend's wedding, where he'll take off his hat as lead singer of The Golden Dogs and sing Dean Martin's "You Belong to Me" for the bride and groom. It's a song he's never sung before. "It might be that I'm Italian that he's asking me to do it," he quips.

The Golden Dogs, Azzolini's regular gig, is the culmination of the last 40 years of rock and pop music filtered to perfection. Even the most casual listener could pick up the Brian Wilson harmonies that compliment many of the songs on the band's latest, Big Eye Little Eye, but Azzolini's ability to acknowledge his heroes while remaining true to his own voice as a songwriter is reminiscent of early Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson.

"I think the first album was more about the influences," he says of Everything in 3 Parts. "For this album, it was written in a phase where we were just playing live a lot. The band formed them as they went along."

The record was produced and recorded over the course of 21 days last year by Paul Aucoin who, says Azzolini, essentially became part of the band. Aucoin is well-known in Canada for producing bands like Cuff the Duke and the Fembots, as well as his own group the Hylozoists. (Some Haligonians might be more familiar with his Grinch-loving younger brother Rich). The Golden Dogs' Nova Scotian connection doesn't end there —with the help of Chris Murphy, Sloan's US record label Yep Roc just released Big Eye Little Eye in the US.

The group is the brainchild of Azzolini and it wasn't until the Big Eye recording sessions that he was able to solidify a lineup of musicians. Throughout the tumultuous early years, Azzolini continued to operate under The Golden Dogs moniker because, he says, The Golden Dogs isn't actually the name of the band. The way he sees it, The Golden Dogs are the collection of songs that the band plays.

"There was a dream I had about this invisible dog and every time I'd pet it, it would make this amazing sound. I woke up and wrote a story about it," he says. "I always kind of pictured that the golden dogs were the songs that we did. We brought them alive when we played live and on record, we kind of created these little beasts."

Six months after the dream, Azzolini needed a name for his fledgling musical project. Jessica Grassia, his then-girlfriend, now-wife and bandmate, suggested using something from the story he had written. The story's title, "The See-Through Yellow Dog," was briefly considered but, as Azzolini notes, that name had a lot of "piss connotations," and so The Golden Dogs was chosen.

The group's biggest exposure so far came when they licensed the track "Birdsong" to the same Zellers ad campaign as Joel Plaskett's "Nowhere with You." Azzolini thinks licensing songs for commercials is a natural reaction to the musical landscape of the moment. People don't look to the radio to find new music the way they used to and music channels like MuchMusic are no longer focused on actually playing music videos.

"It's the necessary evil at this point until something gets figured out on the other side," he says. "For me, it's like this means we can get a van and things that let us be a band."

Azzolini admits that it's a bit of a strange time to be in the music business, but he'll do whatever it takes so that he can continue to write and record songs in whatever form they may appear.

"I just kind of decided a long time ago that this is what I want to do," he says. "If I have to dig trenches to make music, I'll do that for now."

The Golden Dogs w/Shotgun Jimmie, The First Aid Kit and Rich Aucoin, September 6 at The Attic, 1741 Grafton, 10:30pm, $12 door, $9 adv,

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