Hooks ‘N’ You: Dogs Die In Hot Cars, “Please Describe Yourself”

Written by Hooks 'N' You, Music, Popdose Interviews

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If there’s anything more deadly to a band’s career in the States than being pegged (however briefly) as the next big thing in the British press, it’s having a bit of a dodgy name. This problem was particularly bad for the band Dodgy, but given how politically correct America likes to think it is, you can imagine how well they responded to a group who called themselves Dogs Die In Hot Cars. (And, yet, it could’ve been so much worse: the band’s bassist, Lee Worrall, assured Designer Magazine that “you really don’t want to hear the suggestions we came up with before that, but the one that sticks out is Robert Plant in Poo Poo Land.”) Despite their decidedly non-PETA-friendly moniker, however, Dogs Die in Hot Cars – henceforth to be referred to as DDIHC – still managed to earn a certain amount of buzz in the U.S., with MTV2 picking up the video for their song “I Love You ‘Cause I Have To.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough. The band and their fine debut, Please Describe Yourself, soon disappeared into the same abyss which houses 95% of the Britpop artists who’ve managed to eke out a Stateside release, but if you were one of those who dared to investigate the record, then you know already what a great piece of pop it is.

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Even before you spin Please Describe Yourself, there’s already a credit that ensures a certain amount of quality: “Produced by Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley.” Few names provide fans of British pop with quite as much reassurance that the album they’re about to investigate is going offer them a jolly good time. Once you do spin the record, however, you’re inevitably struck by the fact that the voice of Craig MacIntosh – frontman and guitarist for DDIHC – sounds more than a little bit like that of a young Andy Partridge. Though you’ll get the impression before the end of this column that this resemblance may be the bane of MacIntosh’s existence at times, you won’t find me complaining about it; listening to songs like “Celebrity Sanctum” or “Somewhat Off The Way” are like discovering heretofore-unheard nuggets from the XTC archives, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned.

There’s a lot of vaguely new-wave fun here, including the bounce of “Godhopping” and “Lounger,” but these sounds sit alongside the vaguely psychedelic lyricism of tracks like “Apples and Oranges” and “Paul Newman’s Eyes.” Although the singles certainly grab you from first listen, the charms of the rest of the album may introduce themselves to you over time rather than immediately; one of my favorite songs, “Glimpse At The Good Life,” took awhile to sink in, but now I look forward to the keyboard break every time I play it.

After Please Describe Yourself, the members of DDIHC opted to call it a day, but the band has recently begun the process of resurrection. I traded E-mails with Mr. MacIntosh, and in addition to offering his feelings on the much-cited XTC comparisons, he provided details on the band’s second album and explained how their fans are playing a part in determining its contents.

How did DDIHC first come together as a band?

The familiar route of being friends at school. Laurence (Davey) had a basement and so was destined to be a drummer. Lee (Worrall) lived five minutes away and had an electric guitar. And one Saturday after a game of school rugby, I invited myself along to their jam session. They had a wee stereo in the basement which had a line in and a mike, so I started screaming down it, and so the band began. 16 years ago when we were 13. Jeeese

Do you have any favorite anecdotes from the process of recording your debut?

The whole process was a great experience. But outside of the recording, to me, I loved listening to Alan (Winstanley) and Clive (Langer’s) stories of past productions. They were partly responsible for creating a number of very successful albums and it was a fascinating insight hearing about the making of them.

You guys were accused of sounding not a little bit like XTC. Guilty as charged, or complete coincidence?

I could write an essay on how lazy a comparison that is. It’s even got to the point where I’m reluctant to comment as all too often I’m indirectly accused of lying by inarticulate journalists as they use the word “allege” when I tell them that we were introduced to XTC after our first gig in London when the promoter billed us as “The new XTC.” The only song of theirs I had known before that was “Making plans for Nigel,” but having been prompted by the billing, I listened to them and on Andy Partridge’s voice I thought, yeah, he’s good, he sounds like me. Take away my voice from Please Describe Yourself and tell me where the XTC comparisons are – where they can only be with XTC and not The Beatles, Taking Heads, Squeeze, Madness, The Police? Bands that we had actually been listening to as we grew and developed our music. And on my voice – the inspiration behind realising what I was capable of doing with it was thanks to David Byrne and Kate Bush.

Did you have any real hopes for US success? I know some artists say, “We will RULE America,” while others are a bit more realistic about their chances, given how fickle we are on our shores.

Did I? I still do. But maybe in another form. As a band it was always going to be difficult for us – we weren’t the best performers, we had a strange name, a pretty inactive press department, we missed home and we were lazy. Even if you were shit, if all that was to the contrary I reckon you could rule anywhere.

What was your favorite gig that you played in support of your debut, and why?

My favourite gig was one of our last, in Glasgow. It was one of the rare occasions where every band member really enjoyed it – the crowd was incredible.

What led to the dissolution of the band, and were you personally blindsided by it, or did you see it coming?

We all knew it was coming. Even as we released the album, members were talking of wanting to get on with other things in their lives. I don’t think we’d have been the band that we were without us being like that. It’s something I am proud of.

How did you come to regroup?

Well, the original members haven’t regrouped but the band has. Because we went our separate ways after our second attempt at recording the second album we had a whole load of songs, albeit not completed to our level of satisfaction, just sitting there gathering dust. Predominantly inspired by people asking to hear the demos, yet, wanting to do something different than just putting them up online, we created the second album project – our way of passing on the Dogs Die In Hot Cars baton.

And, pray tell, what is the Second Album Project?

We want the online community to take over the band. From our website (www.dogsdieinhotcars.com) we have put online, free to download, the second album demos and all their individual tracks (guitar, vocals, synth, drums etc) for people to use to make their own versions of how they hear the songs. The intention is that we will then compile our favourite mixes from all the versions sent in to us to make the final second album. We are also going to give 50 percent of all our personal royalty incomes to those who have contributed towards the making of it.

What are your expectations for the group now?

For it to be taken wherever the online community wants it to. It’s something that will evolve as the project goes on, already there’s been some interesting suggestions as to where it could go. Let’s see what happens.

And, lastly, I interviewed Andy Partridge awhile back and asked him what he thought about the rash of artists who’d been popping up with an old-school XTC sound, and I just wanted to see what YOU thought about his response:

“Jesus, it’s, like, every week there’s a rash of groups. I kind of feel a bit sorry for them, actually, because they do sound a bit like us at one point in our career – somewhere between 1978 and 1979 – and people say, “Wow, you must really like that group!” No, not particularly, because I’ve actually sort of done that. Been there, done that, thanks. Believe it or not, I kind of invented that style! So it’s tricky for me to get excited when I hear what can be best described as competent tribute bands. But they won’t always sound like that. If these bands hold together, to be fair to them, they’re gonna find their own feet very shortly…or they won’t, and they’ll just fall to pieces!”

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.