All Dogs go to pop-punk heaven

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From the October 31, 2013 edition

It’s rare for opening bands to generate genuine enthusiasm in an audience.

Generally, warm-up acts are met with indifference, playing to sparse crowds simply biding time until the headliner hits the stage. On occasion, opening musicians are even met with outright hostility. In a 1976 Rolling Stone interview, Tom Waits recounted a stretch he spent opening for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention where he was greeted by audiences that spat at him and hurled insults.

“I’d stand there and say, ‘Well, thank you. Glad you enjoyed that one,’” he told the magazine. “It’s amusing in retrospect, but there were some nights when, Jesus Christ, does this type of work look interesting to you?”

All Dogs had a markedly different experience when it opened for Waxahatchee and Screaming Females at Ace of Cups in late September, taking the stage to hearty applause from a large, appreciative audience that greeted the local trio like conquering heroes. It’s a response that appeared to catch the band off-guard. “We’re humbled,” singer/guitarist Maryn Jones said near the midpoint of the 25-minute set, “And very stoked.”

The crowd’s reaction shouldn’t have come totally out of left field; the buzz around the melodic pop-punk crew has been building steadily since it released a split cassette tape with fellow Ohioans Slouch this past July.

In August, the indie tastemakers at Pitchfork highlighted All Dogs, writing its debut “is pierced with a strong sense of yearning.” Then in early September the national website Stereogum named the trio a Band to Watch, writing the group’s six-song cassette contains “more perfect anxiousness and earnestness than some bands can get out in a whole album.” Furthermore, Waxahatchee singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield praised the trio in a series of Twitter posts the night of the Ace of Cups concert, writing, “all my favorite bands are from ohio,” and, more pointedly, “all dogs made me cry.”

To say the attention has come as a surprise to the musicians would be putting it mildly.

“I thought people were joking about [All Dogs being on Pitchfork] and then it was like, ‘Oh my God. We're actually on there,’” said bassist Amanda Bartley, 26, who joined drummer Jesse Withers, 28, for a mid-October interview at a coffee shop in Olde Towne East. “I noticed those types of media have been picking up on some of our friends’ bands (Pitchfork recently heaped praise on the latest LP from fellow Columbus rockers Connections, and Saintseneca signed with Anti Records earlier this year and has a new album coming out on the major label next March), but I never thought they were going to pick up on our band.”

It’s a point later echoed by Jones, who also plays in Saintseneca and was reached via telephone while on an October tour with the local art-folkies.

“I still am a little … baffled by the attention,” she said. “It’s like, ‘OK, I guess if you like it that's cool.’ But it's pretty strange and surprising, for sure.”

The handful of songs All Dogs has released thus far (five originals and a Muffs cover on the cassette and another new tune, “Buddy,” that surfaced more recently on 7-inch vinyl) are certainly worthy of the attention. They’re simple and earnest and catchy and shot through with a youthful exuberance that suggests they were roped and corralled rather than simply recorded to tape over the course of two days in a converted garage in Bloomington, Indiana.

But while the music itself sometimes sounds as though it could come undone at the seams — Withers rumbles with his drum kit throughout and Jones’ guitar alternately spits, claws and snarls — everything is held together by the earworm vocal melodies laid down by the sweet-voiced singer.

“I feel like I could teach any one of our friends to play our songs if they wanted,” said Bartley, who first played with Jones in the short-lived and comparatively mellow Wolfs. “It's Maryn's vocal melodies that bring it all together. It's, like, ‘How do you do that? How do you write vocal melodies like that?’”

Waxahatchee’s Crutchfield expressed similar sentiments during a recent email interview, writing, “Maryn's voice is so emotional and strong. I think that's my favorite part of the band. Her performance is so hyper-sincere that you can't help but feel something when you see them.”

Though Jones’ voice tends to ring out with utmost clarity, however, her words are often born of confusion, and at Ace of Cups the songs appeared to be driven almost wholly by some combination of bewilderment, yearning and physical-slash-emotional abandonment.

“That's pretty much what I always write about,” said Jones, 25, who was born in Colorado and spent time living in California, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, New Hampshire and Massachusetts before settling in Columbus five years ago. “I am incredibly nostalgic and very emotionally invested in things. I think it has a lot to do with — not to get too Freudian or anything — but I think it has a lot to do with how much I moved when I was younger.

“I used to embrace change, and it was really not a big deal to me. It was like, ‘We're going? Cool.’ As I've gotten older change has gotten really hard for me, but I still have that inclination to keep moving on, and it's confusing sometimes.”

All Dogs first formed a little over a year ago when Wolfs dissolved and Jones expressed a desire to continue making music with Bartley, whose soft-spoken nature falls perfectly in-line with her part-time gig as an employee at the main library. Soon after the two recruited longtime Delay drummer Withers, whom they both knew from years of attending shows at the same venues — particularly the Monster House, a now-defunct South Campus home that once hosted DIY concerts by local and national acts.

At the onset, the three musicians had fairly modest goals for the band.

“Initially it was something I just needed to do and wanted to do for fun,” said Jones, who grew up in a family she described as a modern version of the Von Trapps (“Everyone had to sing [and] everyone had to play an instrument”). “I didn't expect to do anything besides play for our friends, pretty much, which has mostly been the case. I really wasn't trying to be serious.”

Both of Jones’ bandmates expressed similar sentiments. All three, in turn, agreed the increased attention placed on All Dogs, most of which arrived in the wake of a Salinas Records showcase the trio played in Brooklyn over the summer (thus far its lone show outside city lines), had altered these modest initial expectations.

“It's not like I didn't take it seriously before,” Withers said. “But as opposed to playing shows when our friends from out of town come in it has turned into, ‘Maybe we should take it a little more seriously. Maybe we should plan tours.’”

So this December the trio will launch its first tour, a short, Midwest jaunt that will take the band through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Then late next January the group is slated to open a week of shows for Waxahatchee — easily its highest profile gigs to-date. The musicians have also stepped up their songwriting in recent weeks, and the three hope to begin work on a proper full-length as soon as Jones and Withers can find time away from Saintseneca and Delay, respectively.

“We can't figure out why we got the attention we're getting, but people are looking at us now so we should probably release something,” Bartley said. “We do feel a tiny bit of pressure, like, are people going to be expecting us to do all these things?”

“Like be good?” Withers countered, and laughed.

For her part, Jones said the attention has been largely positive. At times in the past she’s struggled with her focus, and the recent press has forced her to dedicate more time to her songwriting. It’s also, in many ways, increased both her enthusiasm for the project and her belief in what All Dogs might be able to accomplish moving forward.

“At first it was like, ‘Whoa, hold on. What if we don’t even release anything else?’” she said of the early spotlight. “We were always planning on it, but [the press] was a little like a runaway train.

“But I have to admit it’s really been a good thing overall. When people were responding and were getting really into it we got more excited and more focused and it was like, ‘OK, we're going to really do this.’”