The JUMP Conversation: Eric Slick of Dr. Dog (#fatkidsinamerica).
So, let’s start with the basics. Start from the top. I want to know your whole story.
Is that true? Okay, I was born at Jefferson Hospital on May 15th 1987.
You’ve been playing drums pretty much your whole life, right?
Yeah, I started playing drums when I was 2 years old. But that’s kind of a loose thing, because I started playing percussion when I was about 2, then my parents bought me a kit when I was 5. That was sort of the beginning of the drum set portion of my life.
I read that you would break your cribs.
I did. I would bang on the crib. Often. My parents would play vinyl records in my living room. I’d play on the crib or… I had a set of bongos. I broke the bongos. I broke everything I had. They were like, “Okay, maybe we should get him something a little more durable.” Even to this day I break my drums. I’m cursed.
You play with a vintage set up, right?
I do. I like vintage drums. I think that they sound better for some reason. I don’t know if it’s just because I have hang ups about the way new drums sound, I don’t know. I’ve always connected with the vintage. I mean, I pretty much only wear vintage clothes. I like vintage drums. The only thing that’s not vintage is the food that I eat. [Laughter]
Yeah, you couldn’t really do that.
Unless it’s vintage cheese. Then we could get really fancy.
Or a vintage recipe?
Or if it’s a vintage recipe.
I started School of Rock when I was 11 years old. Paul Green was teaching some friends of mine at 21st and Pine, in his apartment building. He decided to do a variety show at this place called The Griffin Café, which used to be on 2nd and Market. They had this variety show where they were playing Pink Floyd songs, Tool songs; you name it they were playing it. Paul was playing drums and I was like “Aw man, I could play drums.” So I went up to him afterwards and was like, “Hey, can I join your school? Or whatever this is?” And he was like “Oh, maybe I should start a music school.” So that whole thing kind of gelled that night. The light bulb went off.
So you were with it from the beginning.
I was there from pretty much the beginning. I was his first drummer. I mean, besides him.
And then you were the first all-star drummer.
Well the all-star program developed out of Paul’s necessity to tour. He wanted to tour the kids so he had the all-star program where he would take the best kids from the branches and put them in one big touring group. But yeah, the all-star program didn’t start until a little later. Early on it was just 23 kids in the music school. Most of them were guitar students. It was me, another drummer and my sister, who reluctantly joined on bass. She was very shy. She’s a shredder.
Tell me about when you started teaching there.
I started teaching there when I was 16, which was pretty weird. One of the teachers quit and was like “Do you want to teach?” I was like, “I’m not qualified to teach.” He goes “Just go teach.”
How did that feel, going from student to teacher in a short period of time?
It was initially weird. I’d go into the lesson with no lesson plan. It kind of stayed that way for about a year. I was getting really young students too, like 5-year olds with ADD.
Who it didn’t matter what you taught them.
[laughter] Yeah, or they’d like climb underneath their drum set. Or we’d just end up playing games for the lesson. So, it could get pretty maddening sometimes, but it was a fun experience. Eventually I felt like I had taught enough and needed to take a break from it. It takes its toll on you. Maybe I’ll teach again later in life.
It definitely takes a certain amount of patience.
Yeahh, especially with the younger kids. Unless they’re supremely talented or hardworking, it’s like “Hey, here’s my kit. Do something with it. Do something with the kit”
So what was the first actual band you were in?
Well, if you want to get technical, the first band I was in was with my sister when we were like 5. We’d write songs about our mom and dad. I used to have movie posters in my room from really bad B movies. We’d go to the home video store in the neighborhood and I’d buy all of these shitty B movie posters and we’d write songs about them. My dad taught me how to set up two tape decks and do overdubs. So there are a lot of early recordings of me and my sister banging on stuff and singing about our mom. I would love to find those tapes because it’s pretty embarrassing.
Then I had a band called CB when I was 11, which was like a fake grunge band. I had a band called Citrus when I was 10. It was awful. Then later on I had a band with my sister called Overrated. All terrible band names. I played in a band called Flamingo for a while. I was like 18. And then right after that my first touring band was Project/Object, which was a Frank Zappa cover band.
You mentioned in a recent interview about how you’ve replaced/taken over a few drummers. Dr. Dog, Project/Object, Adrian Belew Trio.
Yeah, that just seems to be a theme in my life, where I’m constantly being put in a situation where I have to replace somebody who’s really well established. So along with that comes an immense amount of stress and feeling like you’re inferior.
But it’s a good challenge for you.
It’s a good challenge. I guess initially there was an inferiority complex. I was like “Oh shit, I’m playing parts from people who are considered legendary drummers. I have to try and approach this from my own angle.” With Dr. Dog that’s probably been the easiest, just because the music is a lot simpler. There are still inherent challenges in all of that stuff. Like I said in that other interview, learning how to play simply, to play a song, as opposed to just kind of going for it. With Adrian, the music is all about intensity and a lot of notes. And with Project/Object it’s all about playing intensely for 3 hours. With Dr. Dog I play for an hour and a half just cruising. But there are still difficulties in playing music that I didn’t come across playing other music.
How did you become the Dr. Dog drummer?
How did I become the Dr. Dog drummer…? [Laughter] Well there’s the long story and the short story.
I’ll take the long story.
All right. I met Zach Miller in 2007. I mean, I met all of Dr. Dog in 2007, but I met Zach first. And Zach and I struck up a conversation about Captain Beefheart. We became really good friends. He kept my number and he said “On your 21st birthday I’m going to take you out.” I didn’t believe him. Again, I had just gotten to know the guys. I’d go to every single one of their shows in Philadelphia. And they’d be like “Oh hey Slick, what’s up?” On my 21st birthday Zach actually called me and took me out. The whole band took me out and we went to see The Black Keys. I ended up hanging out with The Black Keys all night and it was the best 21st birthday.
It was a pretty cool birthday. I was like, “Man, these guys are so cool.” And I remember I would go see Dr. Dog and be like “Man, I want to play drums for this band.” This guy is all right. I could do this.” Typical egotistical young person stuff. Eventually the thing with Adrian fell apart. I wasn’t really happy playing that music anymore. I was starving. I was literally eating ramen, beans and rice for dinner. You can’t really make a lot of money playing that kind of music. Not to say I play for Dr. Dog for the money. We don’t make a lot of money or anything. But yeah, I was just at this place where I was like, “I don’t want to play this music and it’s not worth it and I need to find a job because I’m poor and this sucks.” And so I ran into Zach on the street. I was on Washington Avenue and Zach was just riding his bike. He just happened to be there, like totally a chance thing. He was like “Hey man, what are you up to? Are you still playing music?” I was like “No, I’m done. I’m going to quit music. I’m pretty sure I’m going to quit music. I’m miserable.” And I was like “Come see my band Ape School tonight at Johnny Brenda’s.” I was very much into just playing locally at that point. I didn’t want to tour ever again. And right after I said goodbye to him I walked directly into a pole, which was embarrassing. He laughed pretty hard.
I remember walking home being like “Aw man, that was embarrassing.” And at that time I also wanted to become a DJ, which is so silly, but I wanted to become a DJ because I didn’t want to play music anymore. I didn’t feel like touring. I bought 2 turntables from this guy in Fishtown off of Craigslist. And he was like “Hey, you know that band Dr. Dog? They don’t have a drummer anymore.” I was like “Oh, isn’t that something.” I didn’t even make the connection. Not at all. And then like, 3 days later, Zach calls me about an art gallery in south Philly and he’s like “Hey, so uh, you want join? You want to audition?” I was like “What?” Oh right, they don’t have a drummer… I was freaking out. So I auditioned about 10 days later. It was right after Christmas. They gave me 5 songs to learn, but I’ve seen them so many times, we ended up playing every album. Everyone was like “How do you know all the songs?” So that was the beginning of the whole thing. It’s been amazing.
Just to backtrack a little, was it Bonnaroo that you first met them?
That’s funny, cause there’s that Bonnaroo video online that’s kind of a lie, because they edited all of that out. I hung out with them extensively for the first time at Bonnaroo , because I was there playing with a bunch of belly dancers, the Gypsy Hands belly dance ensemble, don’t even tell me how I got involved with that. [Laughter.] Or don’t ask me, rather.
The first time I introduced myself to them they played an in-store at FYE, for We All Belong. I used to carry around a dictionary and I got them to sign my dictionary and they all signed different definitions. I guess it was Tower Records at the time. It was like the end of its Tower Records-ness.
So I introduced myself to them and then I was at Jam on the River 2 weeks later, because my friends were playing and I had a backstage pass. I was like “Oh my god, Dr. Dog is playing.” The first person I ran into was Frank. He was like “Hey, you have nice glasses. Can I borrow them?” I was like, “Yeah, man!” So on stage that day he wore my sunglasses, you know how Frank always wears sunglasses. But then I struck up a conversation with Zach.
So I guess technically the first time I really talked to Zach was at Jam on the River in Philly. And then I was like “Hey, I’m going to be at Bonnaroo in 2 weeks.” And they were like “Oh yeah, we are too.” Then when I got there we literally were camping right next to each other. They just pulled up right next to me. We hung out the entire weekend and it was awesome. So much fun. I was hanging out with my favorite band. Frank and I were telling stories to each other. It was just a really cool thing. I didn’t see them until my birthday a year later. They just didn’t call me. Zach remembered.
That’s pretty impressive.
Well Zach was very eccentric. He wrote down my number. Zach didn’t have a cell phone for the longest time. Until like a year ago, Zach didn’t have a cell phone. He wrote down my number on a card, along with my birth date, and then looked at his card and called me from his house phone and invited me. That’s cool! Nobody really does that anymore. It’s a very Zach thing to do. I guess in hindsight it’s something he would do. Zach rules man. I owe Zach a lot. Zach is the reason I’m in the band.
It seems like it was really meant to be, with all of the chance encounters.
Oh yeah. I think Toby was the most skeptical.
But Toby’s a skeptic. Now Toby’s like my best friend. I think that’s just how he is in general. I think initially he was like “Who is this kid?” Scott was really open. He’s like, maternal. Scott’s like the mom in the group. Toby’s like the dad. Bonding with everybody on that first tour that I did with them was just such an amazing experience; getting to learn about each distinct personality and how I was going to fit in with these personalities. Juston was kind of the badass. Juston rides a motorcycle. Juston knows how to woodwork. And I like to paint watercolors and meditate. So there’s a pretty drastic difference between us as people and us as musicians obviously. He was primarily a guitarist and now he’s doing his band, The Get Real Gang. I think he plays drums in Generationals now.
I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I can’t wait for people to hear the new record. The new record is crazy. It’s really really different. [February release date.]
It’s kind of crazy because we have assemble a 7”, which is going to come out in November.
Would you be able to name every single band that you’ve ever played in off the top of your head?
Oh man, this is going to get tough. Okay, let’s do this.
Okay, so there’s Ape School. There’s Norwegian Arms. There’s Paper Cat. The Adrian Belew Trio. Goldbug. Lithuania. Project/Object. Dr. Dark, which was a Captain Beefheart cover band. Pretty funny that I was in Dr. Dark and Dr. Dog. I played in the Shannon Penn Band. I played in the Control Freaks for a while, which was an all female metal band. I was the only male member. Yeah, there were some dark times… I played in Crescent Moon with Dave Dreiwitz from Ween. Played in Chris Harford & The Band of Changes. I played in the Sounds of Greg D for a while, went on tour with them. I’ve been on way too many fucking tours. I guess those are all the ones from [age] 18 to now. I’m probably missing some. I was in Auto Car. Jesus, this is going to get ugly. I was in Extreme Fishkin. I mean, I still am in Extreme Fishkin, which is like a free jazz band. And I was in Dragonzord for a while. When we would do double drums I would play drums for Dragonzord. And I was in the very first version of Nicos Gun, because I was living with them. It was called Young Ice. So I was in Young Ice for a while before they were Nicos Gun.
And you contributed to their upcoming record, right?
Yeah, I’m on 3 tracks for the new record, which I’m so excited about. It’s really good.
I’m excited to hear it.
Yeah, it’s going to rule.
Okay, so what bands are you currently in?
All of the bands I’m currently in are: Dr. Dog, Norwegian Arms, Ape School and Paper Cat. I’ve paired it down to 4. I guess the 2 priority ones are Dr. Dog and Norwegian Arms. I just play with those guys the most. I live with Brendan [from Norwegian Arms]. Paper Cat is more whenever Julie [Slick] and I can get together. Ape School is whenever Michael [Johnson] wants to play. Those 4 bands are the ones that mean the most to me. So those were the ones that I made sure I kept.
So what other albums have you contributed to?
I did Nicos Gun, the new Ape School record. I just did a track with Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear. I just did a song with Passion Pit for the Twilight soundtrack.
That’s awesome. I support that.
I’m glad you support that.
How did you get involved in that?
We have the same manager as Passion Pit. He was like “Hey, do you want to do this thing?” So I met Michael Angelakos and we immediately hit it off. We have a very similar sense of humor. We’re both really quirky and offensive and stupid. So we both have this absurd humor that we share. I like that a lot.
Tell me about the 1K Sessions.
The 1K Sessions was a live webcast with my sister and Tim Motzer. It was awesome, we had 6,000 visitors, and now it’s for sale online.
Was that a one-time thing or will you do it again in the future?
I’m sure we’ll do it again. One of the plans was to continue to do collaborations. So I guess Paper Cat would do a 1K Session eventually. We talked about doing a double drum thing with me and another drummer or something. So they’ll hopefully be more 1K Sessions. It was so fun and so easy.
You tweet a lot with the #fatkidsinamerica hash tag. How did that come about?
I guess it just sort of came about because I had that song “Kids in America” stuck in my head. And I was like, “Aw man, fat kids in America.” Every time I think I’m just thinking about food. I used to be really fat. When I was a kid I was 50lbs overweight. So I guess there’s still this fat kid inside of me that wants to eat Reese’s Pieces after every meal and wants to put half a stick of butter on everything. So that #fatkidsinamerica hash tag just seemed to erupt out of eating habits. I try to tweet Twitter with the most absurd view. I don’t believe that anything I have to say is relevant or anything.
Is anything on Twitter relevant?
Yeah, exactly. So I just kept noticing that my friends would be like “I’m eating at Taco Bell” [on] Foursquare, “Eating at PYT” [on] Foursquare. Like, you’re going to be the mayor of Taco Bell? I guess it was just a way to take the piss out of all of my friends who were tweeting about what they were eating. I was like “I’m just going to write about what I’m thinking about eating” or what I ate, which was seriously for fat kids. I initially started that hash tag [for that reason] and it caught on. People started using it. I started putting it on Dr. Dog, because I also tweet for Dr. Dog – which I do not take seriously at all, and my manager kind of hates. He was like “It’s funny, what you do, but it also doesn’t help us.” And I’m like “What are you talking about? It helps” We got 3,000 new followers out of it. I’m just saying.
I mean, fans want to know that you’re normal, funny people who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Right, which is what I hoped. So that #fatkidsinamerica thing started to get picked up by the Dr. Dog world and I was really happy about it. Some people even come to the shows and have #fatkidsinamerica signs.
And you’re like, “Wait, what I say matters?”
Yeah, this is not relevant at all! The other day I tried to do #fitkidsinamerica. Not going to catch on.
Why don’t you have a Facebook? Or is it just super private?
Well, I’ll tell you this. I do have a Facebook, but it’s secret. I only have 9 friends and I play Scrabble. That is it. So, even if you tried to find me, you can’t. The real secret is that 2 other members of Dr. Dog also have secret Facebook [pages] with only like 5 or 6 friends. It’s all just family members that we play Scrabble with.
Why do you have it that way?
I had a Facebook for about 3 years and eventually it was eating away at my creative time and my productive time. I think some people can use it productively and some people can actually do great things with Facebook. For me, my brain isn’t really wired that way. I spent way too much time on it. I was uploading photos everyday of me doing stupid shit. That’s why I started doing a blog. I still like posting all my weird photos that don’t make any sense.
It’s more one-sided.
Yeah, it’s like “Here are a bunch of photos.” I actually did enjoy Google+ for a while. I was into it, but nobody would respond to it because nobody cares, unfortunately. Sorry, Google+.
There are a lot of Facebook changes.
I know and I heard that it has the circles thing.
Yeah, they’re kind of doing that and changing the whole profile. Anyway, we don’t need to keep talking about Facebook… See, it sneaks in!
See!? It dominates.
You have a few endorsements listed on your site.
I do. I endorse Paiste cymbals, which are made in Switzerland, and they’re amazing. They are the best people ever. That was actually my first endorsement. I was on tour with Adrian and they came to a show in Phoenix. They were like “Yeah, let’s do this.” I was a fan of their cymbals ever since I was a kid. I used to read their catalog in gym class instead of actually exercising; like a fat kid. Evans drumheads are amazing. I’ve been playing Evans drumheads ever since I was like 14. And Vater drumsticks. The only thing I’m looking for now is a drum endorsement. That is literally the most impossible thing to do. No matter what band you’re in, it’s so hard to get. I do play Ludwig drums exclusively because they’re my favorite. I email them like every day and I never get anything back. You can put a frowning emoticon in the article too. [Laughter.]
I’ll do that and maybe they’ll read it and feel bad.
Yeah and maybe a Google alert will come up and they’ll be like “Oh this guy really wants [this], okay!”
There’s a page on your site for artwork, but no artwork.
It’s all scanned in. I just have to upload it. Also, there’s a new button that I’m adding in the next week or so that’s called Vault. It’s going to be my entire discography. It’s all being organized right now. The entire discography’s going to go up and there’ll be a place where you can purchase it. And every press thing that I’ve ever done. I’m going to be scanning in all of these articles that are kind of hard to find and hilarious and stupid. So yeah, the Vault site is going up soon.
What kind of artwork do you do?
I do collage. Exclusively. I like collage. It’s like the non-artist art.
Of what? What do you usually use?
Usually of food. Actually, I did this series last year, where I was going through recipe books from the 70s and juxtaposing these really awful looking sloppy joe’s and putting them in a desert landscape.
So it’s all images?
Yeah, it’s all image-based. Again, I really like absurdity. I think I’ve said it like 5 times today. So, they end up looking hilarious because I make this really intricate landscape out of maybe 4 or 5 different desert pictures and I cut ‘em up and cut ‘em up and cut ‘em up. It’s really fun. We actually do it on tour. We all sit around and do collages on tour.
I remember doing that when I was like 8…
Oh, so fun. So I’d cut ‘em up and cut ‘em up and then you get this big wide thing and I’d just plop a sloppy joe in the background. It’d just be chilling there. I did some large scale ones. I actually sold them at the merch table for Dr. Dog. I sold every single one. I was really psyched about it.
Very nice. I’ll have to keep my eye out.
On the next tour I’m doing watercolor pictures of every member of the band.
So you were born and raised in Philly, right?
I’ve never moved. I was raised in Fairmount. I grew up right by the Eastern State Penitentiary, like a block away. When I lived with Nicos Gun it was at 18th and Washington. Then I lived in West Philly with Scott. And now I live here. [Fishtown.]
Where did you go to high school?
I went to J. R. Masterman.
Did you go to college?
I went to University of the Arts for a year and I dropped out because I couldn’t play jazz.
You don’t have to feel bad. I couldn’t play jazz. I was a failure. Total failure at jazz.
You know, Justin Bieber started out playing drums, and even jazz.
Is that true?
He was banging on stuff before he could hold drumsticks.
Yeah, he just came to mind when I was reading about you online.
He’s a really intriguing dude. That’s why he might have a future.
I think so.
Like the way Timberlake had a future back then, because none of the other Nsync members had a future. Joey Fatone, maybe on Broadway. Chris Kirkpatrick, definitely no future. See? Instead of college I just have totally useless knowledge.
You should look up Bieber. You have more in common than you realize.
Yeah, you just went down slightly different paths.
Pfft, if I was that good looking, and I could sing that well, I would totally take that path.
So I was reading about your mom and all of her accomplishments as an editor and author, what was it like growing up with that creative influence?
It was awesome. That was actually a relatively new thing. My dad is also a musician. So my dad was inspiring me in the music world and then my mom was also writing, but the Internet really cultivated that for her. Once we got the Internet in the house she was able to join online writer’s groups, very early versions of online writer’s groups. It reignited her love for writing. So because of the Internet my mom started publishing books, which was awesome. Just watching her do that, devoting hours and hours of time to do that was very inspiring. Some of them are erotic novels, which cracks me up.
Is that weird for you?
No, it just became a funny thing to talk about at parties with my friends. [They’d be like] “Eric’s mom writes erotic novels.” I’d be like “No she doesn’t! Stop it!” They’d go to my bookshelf and read them. I’d be like “No that’s not them! Come on!” [Laughter.] It still happens to this day. You can definitely print that, because my mom would get a huge kick out of that.
So overall a pretty artistic household growing up.
Oh yeah. You should see my house where I grew up. It was crazy. It was like a Willy Wonka house. I’m not even joking.
Could you lick the walls?
You couldn’t lick the walls, although Frank often jokes that I ate paint chips as a kid, but that didn’t happen. The house was all leopard print and exposed brick. We have this big hand chair in the living room that’s made out of recycled gallons of milk. My parents have a very unique taste in furniture that’s borderline kitchy. We also grew up with like 3,000 vinyl [records] in our living room. My drum set was in the living room. All of my dad’s guitars were in the living room. So we really packed a whole lot into a Philadelphia row home. But people always wanted to come over. It was a funky house. It still is a funky house. I was over there the other day.
So as far as what’s next, you have the Dr. Dog album, anything else with the other bands that you’re in?
The Dr. Dog thing is pretty much going to take up the majority of 2012. We have the 7” coming out, we have a tour in November, and then we’re probably just going to tour all year. We’ll do the major festivals, probably Bonnaroo, probably Lollapalooza. The thing is because the record label really loves the new record more so than the last one, they’re really pushing it. Which is awesome. It feels great. We’re working with the same PR team that did The Black Keys’ Brothers. Hopefully they do something with this record [like they did with that]. Personally, it’s my favorite Dr. Dog record. I’m biased because I’m a part of it, but I also think it’s the best that they’ve ever written. Especially Toby. It’s the best stuff that Toby’s ever written. His songs are really weird and they came out great. He allowed us to make them weird. I think before he’s had hang ups about it. He’s just intrinsically such a weird songwriter. Everyone who’s heard it jokes that it’s like our White Album. Because everyone compares us to The Beatles and it’s so annoying. I mean, I guess it’s a good comparison but I don’t know.
I feel like it’s a comparison that no one really knows what to make of.
Exactly. Because it’s not like we actually sound like them.
I mean, everyone is somehow influenced by them.
Yeah, because they invented pop music as we know it today. It’s funny to think about it like that. I guess it’s like the White Album. It’s not a double album, but we did record 2 albums worth of material. We might do something with that. We know we’re going to release one full album next year, and then we might do like a volume 2 next year, and we might do a live record next year. We’re not going to stop producing stuff. We’ll probably do more 7”s. We just had so much material for this album. Scott came in with 30 songs. Toby came in with like 12 songs. Scott always writes more. He’s just a 6 songs a night kind of guy.
Is there a name for the album?
That’s what I’m going to go discuss right now. We have to decide that today. Everyone has their own idea of what it should be. We have to pick out a track listing, album title and artwork.