By Dan Weiss
Seminal Los Angeles '90s alt-rockers that dog. are reuniting for a couple of shows, auto-correct-defying name and all. They perform tonight, August 26, and Sunday, August 28 at the Troubadour.
Before playing with bands like the Decemberists and writing music for the (totally underrated) live-action Josie and the Pussycats film, that dog. served as a link between Liz Phair and Rilo Kiley, sidestepping grunge and challenging their friends Weezer in crunching pop consistency with great, yet failed, singles like “Never Say Never” — whose bridge Rilo went on to crib for their own “It's a Hit.”
“I remember being on the road and calling my dad, who was a major record executive,” that dog. frontwoman Anna Waronker recalls over the phone, referencing her pops, Warner Bros. producer Lenny Waronker. “I was like, 'Is [“Never Say Never”] a hit?' And he said, 'Allllllmost.'”
They stood out from their DGC Records contemporaries both visually — as they were three blonde females and one male — and sonically, as all of the women sang, and one played violin. Unlike say, Hole, they didn't try to hold their own with the boys.
“At a time when people were screaming about death, we were talking about crushes,” Waronker says.
Crushes were that dog.'s usual choice of metaphor. “By definition a crush must hurt/ And they do,” Waronker laments in “Long Island.” The theme also served as an album concept (1995's Totally Crushed Out! was designed to look like a Sweet Valley High novel) and apparent reason for being.
“I started writing even before I had a band, because a boyfriend broke up with me and I was bummed,” says Waronker.
They wrote as if for an alternate universe Clueless soundtrack; “He's Kissing Christian” and “Gagged and Tied” were sitcom-ready treatises on pansexual love triangles and BDSM, respectively. Yet, they never aimed pop.
“[Labels] are usually the big bad wolf. We were really lucky,” Waronker says. “[DGC Records] had no problem with me stepping out as like, a sexy frontperson. But they didn't say, 'Do you want to wear a push-up bra in this video?' That was all my doing,” she laughs.
Each of their three albums was better than the last, though 1997's masterfully catchy finale Retreat from the Sun was almost a solo record before the label talked Waronker into recording it with the band. “Looking back on it now, I think it would've been better for the band if it was a solo record, because I think we could've used that break,” she says.
They broke up under no special circumstances –“All bands have tension so I can't say we didn't” — and remained in touch while Waronker got married to Redd Kross' Steve Macdonald. She also co-produced a couple of excellent Imperial Teen albums and released solo records sporadically. Sisters Rachel and Petra Haden went on tour with various bands, while Tony Maxwell became a Creative VP at Vh1.
But this year felt right to try playing again, even though, these days, crushes are the least of their problems.
“I don't know what kind of touring we could really do,” admits Waronker, who never liked the road much in the first place. “And I have a child now; how would that work? He's not 8 or 10, he's 2.”