Dr. Spock were formed in the final years before the millennium by a group of artists who met randomly to discharge the energy flowing between them. Despite their electrifying blend of rock and roll and unbelievably cathartic live shows – which feature marigolds and balaclavas in abundance - many believed the band would eventually fade into obscurity.
But then they were asked to donate a track for the film Óskabörn Þjóðarinnar starring the Icelandic rock singer legend Óttarr Proppé. Dr. Spock asked Mr. Proppé to sing on the track not knowing that a mystical course of action was in motion - Mr. Proppe joined the band after that fateful recording session. In 2004 the band signed to Smekkleysa and recorded their debut album “Dr. Phil” live in the studio in just 20 hours, following up with a string of live shows in Iceland, playing both the smallest and biggest venues around as well as the only high security prison in the country.
In 2006 Dr. Spock played a slew of international gigs as well as supporting Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop in Iceland. They were nominated for an Icelandic music award for Best Live Performance, received 4 nominations at the XFM radio awards (walking away with an award for Best Live Act) and, in 2007, recorded the 4 track EP, "The Incredible Tooth of Dr. Zoega", whose first single, "Skitapakk", held the Number One spot for six weeks.
Even more impressively, Dr Spock wrote and performed a song in the Iceland Eurovision Song Contest and made third place! Now the band are back with their second full length, "Falcon Christ", another blistering set of Spock-style rock. IMX talk to Óttarr Proppé…
A doctor a day
The first question has to be: how many pairs of marigolds do you get through a year, on average?
This last year we have gone through quite a few hundred pairs. The quantity depends on the number and size of gigs since we like to share our signature hand wear out to the audience. The Eurovision semi-finals were especially taxing. We do enjoy a good relationship with the marigold-importers in Iceland who give us good prices and sometimes sponsor us with extra pairs. This is fortunate since marigolds are one of our main costs and this could become prohibitive.
Aren't you ever worried that your heads will explode when you wear balaclavas and jump around a lot?
That's exactly what we're hoping for as this would be the ultimate in rock'n'roll theatre. Seriously, we do believe in taking things to the edge physically on stage, playing music as a sort of catharsis. A gig should be hard and take you to the edge if it's going to have any meaning. We played a gig at a spinning-aerobics class the other day and we actually sweated more than the audience. That's the way it should be. Our concerts should always be more painful to us than it is for the audience.
Óttarr, the meeting of yourself and the band seems especially serendipitous – can you explain the magical events that made this unison happen…?
Around the turn of the century I had become disillusioned with the Icelandic music business. A lot of venues and record companies had closed down and I was sick of not being able to record and constantly playing the same rooms for the same faces. At the same time Dr. Spock were playing as a quartet in underground venues only a handful of people had heard of. One of these people was film director Johann Sigmarsson and I had just played a leading role in his movie Plan B. When it came to the soundtrack Sigmarsson decided it would be funny to have me sing a song with one of the underground bands he had selected. So I was sent to a seedy studio in the basement of a carpentry workshop where I met these scary looking dudes playing insane music and we clicked musically. Later on Finni called me to ask me to appear as a guest at one of their gigs. I didn't dare to say no to this giant of a man and we haven't looked back since. It's been 8 years and nowadays I'm hardly even scared of him most of the time.
You've played gigs in prisons and gyms – why do you choose to play these less traditional 'venues'?
We have all been playing in the Icelandic scene for 10-20 years and truthfully we have played most venues countless times. As a performer you get a bit tired of playing to the same faces and ears all the time. Therefore we are constantly looking around for new places and new people to play to. We love impromptu concerts and weird venues. When we released our first record we loaded our equipment and a powerful P.A. in the back of a big truck and drove all over town and played a song or two outside schools and workplaces. This was especially exciting since we had no permits and were chased by the police most of the day. Most bands like to play fancy gigs in the centre of Reykjavík to celebrate a new album but we prefer an opposite way of doing things. This time around we decided to continue our never-ending 'Skítatúr' (The Shitty Tour) where we play our shitty songs in small venues in out of the way places. We did the first 7 in 5 days last week and plan to keep on doing this throughout the next year. If we run out of places we'll have to go back to the first ones. Our dream is to play in old-age homes, on trains and inside tunnels in the mountains in the west and east of Iceland.
Your live shows are renowned for being incredibly tight and in-your-face – what's your secret to being such a kick-ass live act?
We take our music seriously and respect our audience too much to do bad gigs.
What is your most amusing or interesting live gig / backstage / tour experience?
We were playing the Þjóðhátíð music festival in the Westmann Islands a few years ago. While we were there we received a phone call from someone who had set up a caravan camper in an out of the way car park on the island and wanted us to play an early morning gig there. When we turned up there was 1 microphone, a small amp and absolutely no musical equipment. We managed to find a sailor who lent us an acoustic guitar and then we did some 'a cappella' versions of our songs for a few bewildered bystanders. Addi, our drummer, beat out the beat on the sidewalk and had to sing out his drum-breaks. This was possibly one of our best gigs.
You recorded your first album in 20 hours – what are your memories of that recording session…
It was very busy so we don't really remember it. We did the whole thing live in a few hours and then spent most of our studio time beating out rhythms on old cars and steel pipes in a garage next door. It was for a song called "Dj Fool" which was supposed to be the big hitter on "Dr. Phil" but mysteriously it didn't end up on the album and none of us remembers anything about the song or how it went.
How come you ended up entering the Eurovision Song Contest - and were you surprised at how well you did?
We were asked and we thought it would be impolite to say no. We did not expect to get any further than being booed off the first night. We wrote "Hvar ertu nú?" in 10 minutes and ended up with a pretty good song if we say so ourselves. We really enjoyed going through the whole circus. The audience was new to us and we had an opportunity to try out live gimmicks on a bigger scale than usually. We also made a lot of good connections in Hafnarfjörður and Eastern Europe which will come in handy some day.
Tell us about the new album – how long did it take to record and who was involved?
We spent about two years following up the Dr. Phil album and had a hard time finding time to write new material. So we took our equipment to an abandoned farm-house in the north and set up. Then we made up a rule that we wouldn't eat until we had 2 new songs worked out. This was painful and slow to begin with but the pace quickened the more we starved. Then we locked ourselves up in the Hljóðriti studio with producer Styrmir Hauksson once we escaped the crazy world of Eurovision and laid out the tracks live. We spent a month or two on finessing and changing things around. Once we thought we were close to a final mix we had the opportunity to work with the legendary Husky Hoskulds in LA and basically went back to the mix from scratch. He worked in his studio in LA. Then we downloaded his mixes, listened to them, e-mailed our remarks back to him and he would go back to the mix and so on. It's been the longest process we have gone through but we're very happy with the results. We are also very excited that we managed to realize our dream of releasing a Dr. Spock album visually as well as in the more usual audio format. We covered our concert at the 2007 Iceland Airwaves and released it as an extra DVD with Falcon Christ. So we were working on the editing and mixing of the concert at the same time as we were working on the album.
How do you feel about the new record, as compared to the last one?
Spending so much time on the album a lot of things changed in the process. Some songs were rewritten or changed around back and forth and quite a lot of them ended up as completely different beasts to what we thought we were recording to start with. We feel that the Doctor has opened up his world a bit and we have a better understanding of what is going on. For one we now realize that the band is actually more of a soap-opera than it is a band and that as members of the band we are actually channelling characters from a bitter place in a different time. All of this is somehow connected to a hospital named 'Falcon Christ General'. It might all come clear one of these days if we give it time.
If Dr. Spock could have any one wish for Xmas what would it be?
Dr. Spock would love to make the acquaintance of a talking Chihuahua.
Source: Iceland Music Export (IMX)