Eric Slick could not help but laugh over the phone when he started to compare himself and his band members to the Scooby-Doo gang.
Even through the phone, his laugh was contagious.
The comparison would’ve made anyone want to go on tour with the band, play great rock music and act like a bunch of meddling kids while doing it.
On Valentine’s Day, I had the pleasure of chatting on the phone with Slick, drummer of the Philadelphia-born band, Dr. Dog. Other members of the band are Toby Leaman (bass guitar), Scott McMicken (lead guitar), Frank McElroy (rhythm guitar), and Zach Miller (keyboard) all contribute to their classic, nostalgic rock sound. Slick talked about his beginnings as a drummer, meditation practices, the importance of a sense of humor on tour and other things.
You can catch Dr. Dog coming through San Luis Obispo at their show on Monday, February 24, 2020 at the Fremont Theater.
PT: Hi Eric!
ES: You got it. Is this Phoebe?
PT: Yes, this is Phoebe.
ES: Hi Phoebe, how you doing?
PT: I’m good. How are you?
ES:: Oh, just waking up. good morning.
PT: I know, I know. Thank you for agreeing to meet especially this early in the morning.
ES: Oh, it’s fine. I wake up at like 8. I’m fine.
PT: Okay, wonderful!
ES: Yeah, I’m very anti rock-and-roll.
PT: I like it. You’re getting your day started.
ES: Exactly, I’m having a Yerba Mate — well, actually, I’m having a can of Mate, let’s be real. So, you know, waking up.
PT: Yes! Let’s go ahead and start with the questions. It’s been a decade since you joined Dr. Dog and I was just wondering if you could go back in time what would you tell a 2010 version of yourself when you originally joined the band?
ES: Don’t stress out so much. It’s not a big deal. You’re just a drummer. That’s what I would tell my 22-year-old brain because I was so nervous when I joined the band, and there was so much pressure because our album Fate had just come out. And I think there was just a lot of attention on the band in general, and I put so much pressure on myself to be great. And I think it, like, probably gave me a few gray hairs. So, yeah I would just tell him to relax, chill out. Everyone’s going to love it. It’s fine. Totally fine.
PT: When you look back, what was it like for you joining the band originally and then versus now?
PT: How do you feel?
ES: Well, I mean it was a dream come true back then because I used to go see Dr. Dog all of the time, and they were my friends. And I always remember watching them and being like, “Man, I wish I could be in a band like this.” And I think maybe I just manifested it or something. But, just by watching them so many times and wishing I could be in the band, I got in the band. And I remember my first show with Dr. Dog, it was like I was so happy and so sad. Because I was like “Man, I’m in Dr. Dog! This is awesome,” and then I was like, “Aw, I’m never going to get to see Dr. Dog again.” Because I used to love being in the audience, you know. And I would sing along to every song so it was just a shift in being like, “Wow now this is a lot of responsibility.”
Now I just see it as one of the great honors of my life. I mean I have been able to be in the band for so long, and make great music with the guys, actually make decisions about where the band should go and they’ve been really good to me, and I feel really lucky. I mean that’s the difference is that now I just have eons of gratitude instead of just being nervous all the time.
PT: Yeah, that’s awesome.
PT: When did you have your aha moment where you were like, “OK I’m going to be in music,” or “I’m going to be a drummer”? When do you think that was?
ES: Ooh. Youth for sure. I mean, I think it was probably the first time I saw the Beatles. I mean, I know that’s cliché. And every musician at some point sees a band and they’re like, “Oh my god, that’s it.” But I think I remember being in math class and just being like, “I hate math so much.” I remember fantasizing about being on stage and just being like this is my way out, you know. I don’t quite have the social skills or the mental capacity to be– and I went to a very competitive, I went to an extremely competitive high school like academically, so I think being a musician was just my way out of academia, you know.
So, I think math class when I decided. I think at the time I wanted to be in the band Tool. But yeah I think also just my parents both have nine-to-five desk jobs and I think they were just like you have to find a way out. You know, find a way to be a musician because it’s your dream and don’t be like us. So yeah that was my aha moment I think. Math class.
PT: Math class.
ES: There ya go. I mean I have an appreciation for math now, but at the time I did not.
PT: I mean, I think I relate. I’ve had a few aha moments in math class where I realized it’s not for me.
ES: Yeah, yeah. And look, hey. We need math people in the world. I just have a social studies, English brain. Left side of the brain kind of person.
PT: How does where you’re from — Philadelphia and also your time in North Carolina — influence your sound?
ES: Well, I guess Philly just has a natural grit to the city. Like Philly is a very dirty city. Something I appreciate about musicians from Philadelphia is that they all have some sense of like reality. It’s not like an overly polished sound, it’s a very raw sound. So, especially drummers who come from Philly have a very aggressive way of playing. And I think that’s cool. I think that’s like I hope that players from Philly will always have that sort of aggression because I think that’s really cool. Then, as far as North Carolina goes, that might be the place where I learned how to be calm and learned how to be a chill person. It helped me become an adult basically. You know, I moved there when I was 26, and that’s kind of the prime age where you’re like, “Alright, my early 20s are over, and now it’s time to like grow up a little bit.” Maybe not be so bull-headed about everything. So I think that’s necessary. I think everyone should go through that.
You know, even if you’re a city kid, spending some time in nature is a good thing. I didn’t go like full Bon Iver or anything, you know. I didn’t live in a cabin or anything. Yeah, I lived in a very modest house in Asheville, North Carolina, and it was a very – and this is also going to sound cliché, but – it was restorative, you know. That time gave me confidence to write my own music outside of the band which was very freeing as well. I mean it was such a, such a good time.
PT: Yeah, actually in an interview — or show-like session I think you did with Paste Studios awhile back — I saw you were talking about meditation.
PT: You wrote a song about it. Could you elaborate on that? How do you think meditation helps you through the process of making music?
ES: Well, I meditated right before this call, so I could tell you all about it. No, I mean it just helps me stay focused because my brain, because I have an ADHD kind of brain. So, it just helps my brain zero in on a couple of things at a time, and it really clears my mind. And it’s still the driving force behind, like, everything that I do and every decision that I make. I don’t meditate as regiment. I decided not to do it as regimented as I was doing it because I was doing it like two times a day, and it was, like, really intense. And it was really intense on my schedule. So, now I just do a morning meditation, and it’s a really great way to start your day and also just helps me stay creative and helps me not get into my spirals.
PT: Totally. Do you, just by curiosity, do you use an app or do you just have your own drill?
ES: Yeah, I have my own drill.
ES: I don’t use an app because I think I have a phone problem. Bing on the phone in general is a problem for me. So, I try to do my meditations away from the phone. But I just do a mantra-based meditation where I repeat a phrase for 20 minutes, and it really clears your mind. You could try it. You could say like, “Clorox,” or something to yourself over and over again. Or maybe not “Clorox,” but it’s really just a word that means nothing to you. I mean, you could look up different mantras on the internet, and having a word that doesn’t have any associative meaning or any like definition to you is what will help you get rid of your associative mind. My problem is if you told me ice cream right now, I would be thinking about ice cream and then the boardwalk and then seagulls and you’d still be talking to me and I’d be thinking about seagulls. You know what I mean? So not having any kind of associative language is what helps me meditate.
ES: Yeah, Phoebe. Yeah, we’re getting into it.
PT: Yeah, we’re getting into it. Okay, so what’s been the most rewarding moment for you as a member of Dr. Dog?
ES: I guess just getting to work on the material with the band and make those choices. I mean that’s all you could ever hope for, right? You know? Like having a say in the process and contributing in some way has been an honor. But then of course there’s, like, the obvious things which is, like getting to play shows with Wilco and getting to play Austin City Limits. And you kind of check all these life boxes, you know. Got to play Madison Square Garden with Dr. Dog. That was a huge day. My dad took the train from Philadelphia to New York to come see us. It’s just stuff like that.
But, honestly, it’s just getting to be friends with everybody and getting to contribute has been so great.
PT: Yeah. Where do you think Dr. Dog’s biggest influences come from?
ES: Hmm. Well, hmm.
ES: I have to burp hold on.
Okay, I burped.
Well, I think the biggest influences are probably the early days in Philadelphia and — actually, what’s so weird is that I’m a little younger than the rest of the guys. When I was in eighth grade, they were performing at a bar that was at the end of my street, which is also just so weird. So really cosmic, but they used to play every Monday night and do a bluegrass jam at this local restaurant in my neighborhood, and I didn’t even know that they were there. But, I think that playing bluegrass had a really profound effect on them and also music from the’ 60s. They were like Beach Boys, Beatles obsessives. Which I could also totally relate to.
I think that’s why I gravitated towards them as people. Just a huge ’60s influence. It was that sweet spot. So that’s probably it, and then, yeah. Living in Philadelphia will definitely influence how you make music. I think that’s why there’s a certain era of Philadelphia music that Dr. Dog gets lumped in with because a lot of people were drawing from the same group of artists.
PT: Totally. So, you have both a solo career and are in a band; what do you think are the pros and cons to both especially when touring?
ES: Well the solo thing is — I have complete control over every detail of it, and that’s really rewarding. Touring as a solo artist is extremely stressful because all of the decisions are on your back so like if you make a mistake like you gotta own up to it.
I want to do more solo touring. I have a record that I’m just sitting on right now that I’m really, really, really happy with. And then as far being in a band, I mean it’s a lot easier because you know the decisions that are made are group decisions. There’s not as much pressure or weight on your back, and you can have a band dynamic where you guys can like have fun. When you’re a solo artist… I understand why so many solo artists can be in their head a little bit. I’ve done a couple solo tours where I was totally in my head. And I think by the end of the tour, my nails were painted gold and I had a bandana around my neck. And I was like, “Wait a second what’s happening?” I was like, “Did I lose my mind on this tour?” I was like, “No, no, no.” I was just deprived and had to play at South by Southwest, so I’m just exhausted.
They are just two very different things, but I think like rewarding in completely different ways. You know the solo thing is, like, the personal dream, but you know, I guess you asked what the pros and cons were. I mean there’s so many pros and cons. I guess like the biggest con to any kind of touring life is being away from home, being away from people you care about.
That’s the hardest thing. I’m constantly battling with that and saying no to things so I could spend more time at home. But the pros are that it frickin’ rocks, you get to like live a fuckin’ rock life. Sorry pardon my French.
PT: No, it’s okay.
ES: You can bleep that out.
PT: Okay, kind of a more quirky question, if you could have dinner with any person dead or alive, who would it be?
ES: Ooh. Wow. Who would be a good dinner hang? I mean, I think, Captain Beefheart would have to be my answer.
ES: It’s just because he’s my all-time favorite musician. I know that it wouldn’t be the most comfortable dinner, but it would be a fun dinner, and I would learn a lot. Yeah ,someone like Captain Beefheart. Or, I want to have dinner with Bjork, too. I think that would rule. I want Bjork to take me to a weird, Icelandic dinner. That would rule pretty hard. I mean I also just love Bjork. So, yeah, those two. Two genuine weirdos.
PT: An eye-opening dinner.
PT: You were talking a lot about band dynamic and Dr. Dog and how that makes touring more fun and stuff. How do you guys break up the work and also balance having fun as a band?
ES: Well, we — everyone in the band is hilarious, so we make each other laugh a lot. I mean it’s constant. The other night we were singing “Day-O” by Harry Belafonte backstage after we were done playing. I think that’s the perfect distillation of how we operate as a band. Like we just finished a show, and then we were just singing stupid songs, you know.
So there’s that, and then we would play Wiffle ball on tour a lot. That’s really fun. You know, especially on a day-off. You get like a big open field in the middle of nowhere and play Wiffle ball with your friends. That’s a really good way to break it up.
But, we all also love going to music stores together and going to art museums and going to bookstores and just seeing the world a little bit. That’s how you break up the monotony of touring, because it is a lot of like hurry up and wait. There’s a lot of [days] like today, you got to wake up early, but then our other radio session isn’t until like 1 o’clock. And you know what I mean? We’re just kind of sitting around for four hours eating granola bars. It can get a little maddening, so you do just have to keep a sense of humor. Yeah, that’s how we do it. Humor.
PT: Nice. That’s a great answer. If you could compare your band to a fictional group, which would it be?
ES: Oh my god, that’s a good question. A fictional group. Well, definitely not Spinal Tap. Although we’ve had a Spinal Tap moment. For some reason, my brain gravitated towards, like, Scooby-Doo, and I don’t know why. So I’m just going to say Scooby-Doo. Like the TV show.
And not any particular group on the show, it’s just like, the teenagers. I don’t know. There’s just something about like a prototypical or archetypical group of, like, teenagers that sometimes I think we act like. But…
PT: The meddling kids.
ES: Yeah, we’re the meddling kids of Scooby-Doo. We drive around the mystery machine. I mean that might be… I mean, who knows if anyone else has answered like that before, but I don’t know why, but I just, like, saw myself as Scooby-Doo just because I’m just, like, kind of an idiot, so yeah. You can blame that on the meditation by the way. I have no idea why I gravitated towards that.
PT: You got it. Well that’s actually all the questions I have for you today.
PT: Do you have anything else to add?
ES: No, I mean just happy Valentine’s Day to everybody!
PT: Yeah, thank you.
ES: I don’t know when this is going to air, but happy Valentine’s Day to everyone.
PT: Thank you. Yeah, it’ll air next week.
ES: Well, yeah. You can still wish people a happy Valentine’s Day, you know.
PT: Yeah, everyday.
ES: Everyday is Valentine’s Day. That’s right.
Phoebe Townsend is a Cal Poly Communications Studies junior and a KCPR staff member. She wrote the article. Featured image credit to Dr. Dog.