Among many other things, the pandemic has uncovered previously-overlooked disparities in the music industry. Mainstream artists with already massive followings profited from livestreams and merch sales, while lockdowns left independent artists out of work and without many options. One band was particularly unlucky. After years of making a name for themselves through their wildly energetic live shows, Dogleg decided to finally record a full-length record. Their debut album, Melee, happened to be released on March 13, 2020 — the exact day that music venues across the country shuttered for over a year.
To their core, Dogleg is a DIY band: They live, play video games, eat pizza, and make music together as a group. Their sound has been assigned to a myriad of genres from garage rock to emo revival. But Dogleg perhaps put it best as they described their music in their Twitter bio as “punch-dancing out our rage.” As seen through their “Fox” video, their lightning-fast riffs are at home in damp basements where sweaty bodies thrash together in unison.
Before the pandemic swiftly transformed from a lingering anxiety into a real-life threat, Dogleg had their album release plans fully fleshed out — sweaty mosh pits included. They were slated to win over listeners at a handful of summer festivals and had booked a West Coast tour with Joyce Manor, hoping their raucous opening set would lead to a healthy following.
To Dogleg, playing shows is almost as important as their music itself. Sure, the band is happy to have racked up over 60,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and that Melee was met with a handful of glowing reviews, but they’d much rather have their music come to life at a show. So how exactly can a band, who prides themselves on their spirited live shows, stay engaged with fans when they can’t play in front of a crowd?
The answer, according to Dogleg vocalist Alex Stoitsiadis, is that “it’s really really hard.” To suffice, Dogleg organized a livestream on the one-year anniversary of Melee’s release. It felt just about as close to a real show as possible: Dogleg brought such intensity to their performance that the entire band was drenched in sweat after just two songs, and fans continuously sounded off in the comments to offer up the occasional “hell yeah” and describe how they were moshing alone in their living room. The band even spent the first 20 minutes of their livestream loading in and noodling around on guitar, prompting one viewer to make the apt observation that it felt like, “punk time online.”
Ahead of the livestream, Stoitsiadis and Dogleg guitarist Parker Grissom sat down, pizza in hand, to talk about how the pandemic has affected their following.
Your album obviously got a bunch of good reviews. I’d say you still definitely broke out into the mainstream as a band. But do you feel as though you would have been bigger if you were able to tour this summer? If you were able to play Pitchfork Music Festival and tour with Joyce Manor?
Alex: (laughs) Yes. 100 percent yes. Again, the reviews are super, super nice. And I appreciate them for sure. But nothing beats playing for somebody that doesn’t know who you are, and then that’s how they learn to love you and get to know you.
Parker: It’s not even a cockiness thing of, ‘Oh, if we got to play for this person I know they’d love us.’ Any band gets more people to listen to them when they tour with a band that’s bigger than them. If we could have those audiences, 100 percent we’d have more listeners.
A: Yeah, because people that are going to see Joyce Manor probably don’t know who we are. So, if we can at least just show up and play, then they can at least see us and learn. That’s new fans immediately right there. And that’s way, way, way better than somebody on Spotify that just happens to stumble upon a song of ours, whether that happens or not because Spotify has got all the algorithms — so that’s not super likely. It’s just way more impactful with the live audience.
Alex, I read in an interview that you are very sensitive to criticism. But all things considered, it seems like the album got a fair amount of good critical reception, like a review in Pitchfork, NPR, Billboard, obviously Uproxx. Did you feel like you could finally take a deep breath after all of the positive reviews started rolling in?
A: Honestly, no, because I am just always trying to keep one-upping myself and keep doing things even better than before. Even now, I’m thinking, ‘Alright, these songs are kind of old to me now.’ And I definitely want to start looking at making new songs and what that’s going to be like, and that’s exciting. And I always still go online and see what people are saying. Sometimes, you get the occasional person that’s like, ‘This isn’t that good.’ And I’ll feel bad about it for like an hour. I try not to put too much stock into, ‘Pitchfork said we’re really good, so I can stop now.’ No, Pitchfork is saying we’re good and now we have to prove it. We have to make it even better next time.
You’re using that as motivation.
A: Yes, especially when it’s all online. Because we’re all sitting here thinking they don’t even know the other half of it. They don’t even know the live shows, yet. They just know the recordings of the live shows. So when they can actually go to a show, that’s when they’ll get the full experience. And it’ll be even more impactful than just that nice review.
Speaking of that, I know that you guys have this mantra where you say 50 percent of you is your recorded music, and then the other half is the experience of seeing you guys at a live show. But since you can’t have live shows right now, has that shifted your perception of yourself as a band?
P: I think what we’ve been saying still stands true. If anything, we’ve been anxious to prove that. With the album coming out, we have more people listening than ever — by a very large margin — and we don’t have the opportunity to show them our other 50 percent. So I think it’s definitely an anxiety to prove it.
A: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one thing with all the good reviews and everything that I was seeing. I’m like, this is without even seeing us play live. And normally, when we get new fans, it’s because we play so good live that people are like, ‘Who are you? What is this?’ That’s how they get into us. So it’s this opposite direction that they’re taking now. So we’re like, alright, when we come back, we’re going to show them that we’ve been practicing, we can bring it live and that it’s going to be even more impactful.
I remember back when lockdown started, I was one of the many people who was of the mindset of, ‘This is only gonna last for a few weeks. We’re gonna all be at home for a few weeks, and then everything’s going to go back to ‘normal.” Do you guys remember, specifically, when you finally accepted that Dogleg actually had to cancel the tour and couldn’t play shows for a while?
A: Well, SXSW got canceled first. Before it got officially canceled, I remember, one or two days before, we were deciding how we should try to drive down there and do a little mini tour. Then, a week or so later, it was just the official statement from the city that said it was shut down — we can’t do it. And I think at that point, we were all just like, ‘Oh, that is that.’ Once the city started making official statements, it was just really like, this is serious.
P: We had some shows planned throughout the summer as well, so I held out hope for a while. Probably until late April, early May. I was like, maybe we’ll stick with those summer shows and festivals, but it was also around that time that I accepted it.
Before you guys canceled your shows, were you playing some of the songs from your album on tour? Or were you saving them until the album was released?
A: We actually have been playing those songs live for a year and a half. Our thing is that when we need a new song, we usually like to play it live in front of people a lot. We can really tighten it up that way and learn new and different parts to it by playing it — noticing, oh, the crowd is reacting this way, so we’re gonna play it this way. We just have a different synergy when we play that way. So we’ve been working on that for a while and just kind of had those songs fresh in people’s minds, even though the album wasn’t out yet. At least for local fans.
Well, that’s good that at least some people got to hear them. That’s interesting what you said, though, about how you like to try out songs in front of a live audience before you decide to go ahead with it. Have you been writing music this past year? And how is that changed, since you can’t really play it in front of people.
A: We’re trying to write new stuff, but it’s really really hard. We’re all just kind of still waiting to actually tour on what we made. And right now, I’m coming up with ideas, but they’re just ideas. There’s nothing really like concrete. Because without being able to show off what you made, it feels weird to just start making something new. We’re trying, I guess. You know?
P: We were playing a show a week for so long. That was a huge part of not only keeping an agenda to keep meeting up and hanging out, but also we were constantly playing music, so it would just come out naturally.
A: Yeah, it was basically just like practice.
The last time you guys talked to Uproxx, your album had been out for about a month and it had almost surpassed a million streams. But now a year later, you guys have two songs with almost a million streams themselves. How have you as a band been able to stay engaged with fans and keep pushing your music 100 percent online?
A: Before all this, we were definitely all about playing as many shows as possible, because we didn’t really know how to do the online thing. We had friends that were really good at being online bands. But our thing was just like, we just play more shows, and then more people notice us. So we’ve had to do a complete 180 when this all happened, and transition into being like them and being an online band. So we were all about what we could make that’s cool that still flexes our talents without necessarily having it be new music. So we were like, let’s try to make cool music videos, let’s try and keep replying to people online and show them that we’re still here, make cool new merch — just enough to kind of stretch out through however long this is gonna last — and show that we’re not dead. We’re not just waiting.
Melee is out now via Triple Crown. Get it here.