If you're looking for an effective way to halt a band's career, 70 years of rock 'n' roll history has laid out countless examples of how to stop a good group in its tracks. Drugs and excess, greed, feuds between band members—or a third-party scapegoat for all of the above, otherwise known as the Yoko factor. But there's a far more common, and less spectacular, motivation behind most band splits: burnout.
The San Francisco duo of guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber, aka The Dodos, were starting to feel exhausted from recording and performing toward the end of 2011, after finishing a lengthy touring cycle in support of their fourth album, No Color. After six years together, Long and Kroeber needed a break and began 2012 intending to give themselves some breathing room before starting up again.
However, in February 2012, tragedy struck the band when touring guitarist and friend Chris Reimer died unexpectedly of complications from a heart condition. Not every band could have endured through the grief. But Long tells CityBeat that Reimer's death had an unintended consequence: It inspired the band to keep going.
"After coming off of touring for No Color we definitely had a little burnout moment," he says. "I was going to just work on material and it wasn't even necessarily going to be a Dodos record. I was just going to work on a record and see where it led me. Then Chris Reimer, who toured with us that year, passed away. He was someone I was excited to collaborate with, to sort of help me get away from the habitual drudgery that Dodos had put me in. He was a little point of inspiration.
"When he passed away, it sort of forced me and Logan back into it. Not in a bad way—it brought us together," Long adds. "We felt like we had to do something. It would have been weird to dissolve at that point or take a really long break."
The record that resulted after Long and Kroeber reconvened in 2012 is Carrier, which was released last August via Polyvinyl Records. It's a natural extension of their previous two albums, rich in multi-tracked guitar textures, deceptively complex rhythms and soaring dream-pop melodies. There's a density to a track like "Stranger" that suggests shoegaze, while "Relief" has folky, finger-picked guitar that's gentler yet still boasts a big sound.
Carrier was partially inspired by Reimer, though it wasn't intended as a memorial. Long says that when he and Kroeber were writing and recording the album, they used ideas and techniques that they'd learned while working with Reimer on tour the year before.
"The record really wasn't inspired by his death; it was inspired by him," Long says. "A lot of the sounds were sounds that I was able to figure out or try and achieve just based on what I had learned touring with him and his take on guitar playing. There are moments in certain songs that are synonymous with Chris. When I wrote them I thought of him."
The Dodos—who'll play at The Loft at UCSD on Friday, April 11—changed a lot about their approach with Carrier. They recorded in a new studio (Tiny Telephone) with a new set of collaborators, including The Magik Magik Orchestra. Additionally, Long says he added "intentional diversions" to his songwriting in hopes of ending up with different results than what he was used to.
Yet while he notes that there was more of a learning curve than usual when it came to recording and writing Carrier, what he and Kroeber learned in the process rekindled their excitement for playing.
"I wanted to record a new album while all this information was fresh in my mind," he says. "I booked the dates before the songs were even written. The songs are really loose. It was really about the sounds that were achieved in the studio while making Carrier that inspired the next record. It was kind of a godsend, because, as a band that's been playing together since 2006, you look for that thing that keeps you excited."
The Dodos recently wrapped up the recording sessions for their as-of-now untitled sixth album and are currently in the mixing phase; release is tentatively set for late 2014 or early 2015. And the band has undergone a lot of growth— both personally and artistically—in that time. However, as Long reflects on the band's career, he realizes that in the grand scheme of things, not that much has really changed. The Dodos, to him, are the same band they've always been.
"I've pushed myself really hard to grow as a writer, and hopefully some of that is real and noteworthy, but I also have a feeling that I haven't changed as much," he says. "But you know what? That's OK. One thing I really came to appreciate is, where you can get out of the cycle of the creative process, you can also get back into it.
"That's what I'm here for, so might as well keep doing it."