By Mark Guarino
If the Scottish band Dogs Die in Hot Cars thinks America is as tangible as celluloid, there’s a reason: we market ourselves that way.
“There’s an advert for America that shows you the most amazing landscapes you’ve ever seen,” said Dogs Die lead singer Craig Macintosh, laughing. “And then it says, ‘you’ve seen the set, now be a part of the movie’.”
Until recently, Dogs Die only saw the set. Their debut album, “Please Describe Yourself” (V2), is the result of that fantasy filter, with songs obsessed with celebrity. Lucy Liu, Catherine Zeta Jones and Angelina Jolie are characters. One narrator wishes he had Paul Newman’s eyes. The album’s opening lyrics — “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you” — sounds like it was lifted from a stalker’s diary. (The chorus answers with a reason: “I have to”)
Macintosh is sitting at a table at Buffalo Billiards in Austin, Tex., where the band will later play a crammed showcase at the South By Southwest Music Conference. “I really have a problem with a lot of lyrics people write,” he said. “To me, they’ve got to be the moment, what’s happening around us in our lives. The whole celebrity thing is a massive part of our existence. It had to be written about.”
Perhaps it’s ironic then that Dogs Die is playing a conference where Tobey Maguire, Jessica Simpson and Elijah Wood are spotted checking out nightly showcases. Macintosh said although his lyrics are meant to comment on celebrity hysteria, he is not immune to the affliction, either. “A journalist said to me that I am affected by it … I must be because I’m writing about it,” he said before letting loose a comic sigh. “It’s complicated.”
South By Southwest became the band’s second arrival in the U.S. in under a year. Their music is not unlike many new bands these days in that there’s a definite fascination with the frisky, adrenaline-pumped pop of the New Wave era. Dogs Die, inflecting their songs with jerky ska rhythms, seem to take themselves less seriously than their peers even with songs that go deeper than they appear. Like XTC, the British group they are most compared to, Dogs Die lyrics often wink with double meanings. Their album was co-produced by Live Langer, whose resume includes another ‘80s band, Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Macintosh said that while there are certain similarities to bands like XTC, the real connection is that “during that period, there were a lot of innovative pop songs.
“Britain seems to making its mark on America right now I think for a long time in Britain, it was bland and dour and also, American had 10,000 of those bands anyway. Now, everyone’s doing innovative music and it’s exciting and accessible and poppy, so why not?”
The majority of members of Dogs Die are 25 and knew each other growing up in a small village outside Glasgow. They started playing together in secondary school when they were 14 and living in Wormit, a fishing town home to St. Andrews University (where future king Prince Williams is a senior) and the historic St. Andrews Links golf course, where the game has been placed since 1400. “For such a small place, it has this really unique mix of people and it’s quite liberal minded,” said Macintosh. As an incubator to start a band, “it was perfect.”
Not surprisingly, the band’s name became an asset to get noticed. Bassist Lee Worrall said his father saw the phrase on a bumper sticker, rushed to the band and said “I have five good words for you.” Since then, NME called it the worst band name ever and Rolling Stone’s Australia edition called it one of the best.
No matter since it worked to help get the attention of a manager and then, a label. After Macintosh’s father sent a bogus email to a London management office asking if they ever heard of this great new band named Dogs Die In Hot Cars, he received a reply calling his bluff, but saying the band name was interesting enough to listen to a demo. Demos were sent and soon, they were signed.
Macintosh said he chose the album title “Please Describe Yourself” after watching a television dating show where contestants were forced to sell themselves. “They always say the same thing. They say ‘happy, fun-loving, shoulder to lean on, good sense of humor, I like to travel’. The reality is there’s a lot more to that. We’re happy-go-lucky. But we’re also probably a bit depressed from time to time.”