Analogue Music | The Dodos

The Dodos

By Matt Conner

Meric Long found another reason to record.

In fact, if you listen to Long talk much at all about this latest season for The Dodos, he sounds like an inspired man. With Grizzly Peak just released, Long has written, recorded, mixed, and released an album that's connected him with the very reason for which he makes music in the first place.

Long hasn't always felt this way, and multiple albums from The Dodos have come and gone without completing that creative circuit. Other albums held reasons and rhymes of their own making, but Grizzly Peak, according to Long, is rooted in that youthful impulse to say something unique and to do so via the same guitar-centric vision he's had for years.

We recently sat down with Meric to hear more about the band's eighth studio album and to ask some tough questions about The Dodos' musical goals.

Analogue: I read in the bio and press around the album that you weren’t sure about making another record.

Meric Long: That happens every time I make one of these things and as I get further along and as we get older, the question becomes more pertinent. "Should I be doing another one? Why would I do another one?”

I started this before COVID, but during COVID, the inherent value of making it became really apparent, regardless of what sort of career move it served or anything beyond that.

Analogue: What specifically became apparent?

Meric: Just the inherent value of making a record and specifically becoming completely obsessed with trying to hone in on two things. What is it about this instrument and my relationship to it that keeps me interested for all these years? Also, I was really trying to encapsulate the original intention I had, the thing that brought me to the instrument, the thing that made me, ‘Oh, I’m doing this in a way that I want to be able to present to other people.’

It was such a simple idea when I came up with the idea for this band. It was literally me sitting and playing acoustic guitar. I was starting to get into this style of playing that I do, which is just finger-picking with a very aggressive approach. I really just wanted to make a band that takes what I’m hearing alone in my room next to this guitar and amplify that, whether that’s through the use of specific drums or types of rhythm.

"In trying to answer the point of ‘Why do this? Why another record?’, there’s this relationship that I have with this instrument." -Meric Long

It’s hard to articulate, but it’s a very simple idea. That was it. That was the thing that actually made me think, ‘Oh, I’m going to make a band and I have something to add to the world.’ It was something I hadn’t seen done before, so I was ready to spend time and energy trying to make this happen. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that idea. It’s never completely left. It’s always been a goal of the band, but it’s kinda come and gone with each successive record.

Two years ago, when I started getting the idea for this record, I was able to get back in touch with that. I was just playing acoustic guitar again alone and starting to hear it the way I did from 15 years ago. I realized I didn’t complete that journey or I didn’t approach it completely. It was the idea for the inception of the band, but as we went along and made more records, we’d jumped around and inherited some other sonic and musical ideas and goals. But this is it. This is the only reason why I play acoustic guitar is because I want it to sound like a drum kit.

In trying to answer the point of ‘Why do this? Why another record?’, there’s this relationship that I have with this instrument. There’s a way that I hear it. I’ve come close. But there are a few things I haven’t tried yet to really nail that down and present it the way that I want. It’s worth my time to go back in there. If this is the last Dodos record, then at least I can feel like, ‘Okay at least I tried. I recorded and mixed everything myself. I tried to figure this out completely. Now I’m done.’

Analogue: I want to come at this from the other direction. You said that you ask why you’d record another album each time and that it’s more pertinent each time. But I want to ask, ‘Why not?’

Meric: [Laughs] That’s probably what I should be asking.

You know, it probably speaks to my temperament and the way I look at things. I saw a headline yesterday of an interview with the actor Oscar Isaac and the line was like, ‘Everything for me is about impermanence.’ I didn’t read the article but that line resonated with me. Everything is about impermanence. The awareness of the temporary-ness of everything is something I’m always aware of. I’m either trying to make things last or I’m dreading things will end the moment that they start. I think that plays into that.

Also I can only do this if I’m interested. To find some line of genuine inspiration—not just the fact that we can write another record—I only want to do it if I’m genuinely inspired and if there’s something to munch on. I don’t want to say I wasn’t inspired on the last few records, but this was most obsessed—the most I had to munch on—in a long time.

Attachment Dodos Grizzly Peak
Attachment Dodos Grizzly Peak

The few people that I talked to when I started making this record thought I was crazy because I was just completely obsessed and rambling about what I wanted to accomplish. It was a lot of inspiration. I was so freaking grateful for that. I was like, ‘Oh my god, thank you. Wherever this comes from, thank you for giving my brain something to eat.’ It just saves me and it kept me mentally healthy and inspired and generally hopeful about life. So I guess if you ask why not, there has to be a reason like that.

I’ve talked to other artist my age or as I’ve gotten older and the majority of people I talk to are like, ‘I don’t even know what I have to say anymore.’ The younger generation has a lot more important things to say. I guess it’s that age thing where you wonder if you should step aside. Should I even try to add to the conversation? I think old people have very important things to say in tandem with younger people, but if you don’t feel you have anything important to say then you probably shouldn’t say anything.

Analogue: Is that really the best approach? I mean how else do we move beyond a juvenile culture unless elders continue to put themselves out there.

Meric: The only thing I have to say to that is that listening and not feeling the urge to speak or get your ideas out there has value. There is a blind confidence you have when you’re younger that comes with being so eager to make your way in the world. That’s great and that’s important. Everybody has something unique to say. But as a somewhat older person now, I really appreciate the idea of not feeling that urge.

The other thing, too, is that making this record was a long process. I started in the summer of 2019 and I didn’t let up. I got the idea in August and then took six months to figure out guitar sounds. I knew that as it progressed, if I started writing songs and started recording, every time I would move to the next phase of the process, I knew I’d move on from the phase before it.

Analogue: Every artist or band says their new album is the one they’re the most proud of. The way you talk and write about this album makes it sound like that’s really true here beyond typical promotional-speak.

Meric: Yeah, I don’t know if I’m more proud of it, but I know I’m more connected to it for sure. It’s a complete contrast from the last record we released. My approach for that record was to not trust any of my songwriting instincts, and to completely undermine that whole process by throwing a bunch of paint at the wall and then digitally constructing songs after the fact. I thought it would be really cool to see how it would turn out if I had no control.

This was the opposite of that. I’m not going to look away from the disaster that are my instincts. I’m going to completely own it and be like, ‘Okay, everything on this record I’m responsible for, including the recording and the mixing.’ It’s funny because I have no idea how it turned out in relation to other records. I don’t think it's as different as I thought it would, but the blood, sweat, and tears put in and the assumption of control—I definitely have a lot more skin in the game on this.

But at the same time, I don’t care more about this. Once it’s done, it’s done. The process of making it is the only thing I can ask for from it. I put more care into the record, but I simultaneously care the least about how it lands. Getting back to the original question of what’s the point, the point is making it. That’s the point. How it lands or what it does for my career is really, really small beans compared to that process.