On "All in Your Head," Doug Gamble and Colin Ward join their bandmates in exploring a range of internal and external anxieties

On All in Your Head, Happy Tooth & Dug take a darker creative turn, rapping about anxiety, the flawed American health care system and the difficulty of making music when the process forces you to consistently confront these harsh daily realities. “Started this whole thing as a way to escape myself,” the pair raps on “Never (Give Up).” “Nowadays it’s been a cage to debate my hell.”

Elsewhere, even seemingly wondrous discoveries (“We’re all made of stardust!”) are met with brutal counters (“All stars collapse”) as the two MCs — Happy Tooth (Colin Ward) and Dug (Doug Gamble) — tag-team tracks about trying to find a way forward even as the ground threatens to crumble beneath your feet. Extra punch arrives courtesy of the four musicians backing the pair: drummer Corey Blaies, guitarist Eric Dixon, bassist/vocalist Ryan Liptak and guitarist Phil Effingham, whose tense riffs formed the foundation for the five tracks that comprise All in Your Head.

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The anxieties explored throughout the album are both internally and externally driven. Gamble said most of the band members, to a degree, have long struggled with anxious feelings — “Sometimes it’s something we help each other with and other times we feed into it because anxious people can make you kind of anxious,” he said — a general unease amplified by the current state of society and recent personal losses, including the death of Ward’s father last year.

“We have a song about that: Is it my own chemical imbalances or is it the darkness of the world that’s weighing me down and making me feel the way I feel?” said Ward, who will join his bandmates for a record release show at Victory’s Live on Saturday, Oct. 12. “[Music is] cathartic for both of us. It gives us a purpose and it’s a distraction, but it’s also a way to get out all of that bad stuff that plagues you.”

Longtime friends Ward and Gamble started their collaboration more than a decade ago, rhyming over beats at college house parties, eventually forming Happy Tooth & Dug in late 2012 (the pair still occasionally performs as a more stripped-down duo under the name Dug & Happy Tooth). As the years have progressed, the pair’s verses have become increasingly personal, and the audience response to its music more intense, which, as with most things, has become a double-edged sword for the two.

“To the extent that people vibe with it, it almost makes you feel worse,” Gamble said. “It’s great that you have people that hear you and understand you and that you get to feel commonality with, but it’s also like, ‘Man, when I wrote this song I was feeling terrible,’ and now someone is like, ‘This is exactly how I feel!’ It’s like, ‘I’m so sorry.’”

“You have questions like, ‘Am I worrying my family now?’” Ward said. “But that’s just what came out of me in the moment. I can’t hold it back, and I don’t want to censor myself.”

Oftentimes when writing, Ward and Gamble will start with a prompt, which allows the two to exist in a similar headspace and increases the likelihood that their verses will operate on the same wavelength. “La Fin,” for instance, started with the idea of “cycles,” its verses built from lines that reference circular, self-perpetuating ideas. “I work a job to make money/to spend it on art,” Ward raps. “To make art about hating my job.”

“It’s about how every beginning starts with an end and you can’t really escape the thing chasing you,” Ward said.

“A lot of stuff we talk about on the album is self-fulfilling,” Gamble said. “You worry about something so much that you can’t deal with it, and then it goes badly because you didn’t deal with it.”

This could all be a little too bleak if the duo didn’t maintain a sense of humor. On “Good for You,” Gamble ponders New Age alternatives for those unable to afford health insurance, spitting, “So why not try a healing crystal in lieu of a spinal tap?”

Besides, this particular batch of songs reflects a state of mind the musicians were in more than a year ago, and Gamble, for one, said his perspective has brightened as of late, although “brightened” probably isn’t the right word.

“For the longest time I always made really negative music … but a lot of my stuff right now is starting to trail away from that,” he said. “I feel like over the last few years people are talking more openly about these problems to where I don’t just feel like a lunatic screaming in the dark, like, ‘AHH! Everything is bad!’ Now everybody else is super worried and depressed, so I feel like I don’t have to be, so I’ve been making more positive music.”

“Wait, so everyone abandoning hope is the thing that has finally given you hope?” I countered.

“It’s making me feel like I have to innovate,” Gamble said, and laughed. “It’s like I don’t have hopelessness and despair on lock anymore.”