He isn't a dancer. Not even with a few drinks warming his belly would singer-guitarist Meric Long feel the urge to bust a move in front of people. Yet in the Dodos' recently released "Competition" music video, he's there on a spotlit stage, flailing his arms and legs to the moderate-tempo beat. Drummer Logan Kroeber eventually joins in the routine, barely able to keep a grin at bay.
The video isn't some joke or the product of a lost bet. It was an idea the San Francisco-based duo had floated once, but not seriously. But one early morning meeting with their label, Polyvinyl Records, convinced a very hungover Long that he would be the dancing star of his next music video. Long practiced the moves with a choreographer for two months before getting in front of a camera.
"It's not a song you listen to and immediately want to dance," Long explains. "But I just knew it was a dance song, deep down."
The video is just one of the ways the indie rockers are pushing themselves. Through their recently released album Individ, recorded on the heels of 2013's Carrier, they get back to their roots, playing as a two-piece both on the recording and tour.
"I think we were both pretty scared about it," Long says, calling from the tour minivan rolling down the New Jersey Turnpike last week. "Since we've been on tour these last three weeks, we almost get more forgiveness from the audience for not nailing it, because it seems so challenging to pull off what's on the record."
Next Tuesday, their tour arrives in Spokane at the Bartlett. They were last in the area for 2014's Sasquatch! performing on a side stage, early in the afternoon. The band's upbeat disposition was present, but the sound was somewhat off and Long admits there were technical problems.
"Those kinds of circumstances seem more common in a festival setting," Long says. "There's so much that could go wrong. It's maybe good we've never really transitioned to that big stage. We do better in those intimate venues."
There was a time back in 2008 when they imagined their band could be the next big sensation. That wasn't just in their minds; their primal-sounding album Visiter received rave reviews. Larger stages and tours seemed imminent. But the following year's Time to Die wasn't nearly as successful, and the next two more electronic-based records achieved just middling exposure. Their career priorities changed.
"We still care about reaching more people with our music," Long admits. "Now it's about making music we're both really proud of."
The Dodos' strength lies in their use of polyrhythms — each song plugging forward in a flurry of guitar strums and ultra-technical technique. Over the fray floats Long's haunting but apathetic-sounding vocals.
"There are so many times when I'm asking myself, "Why is it so hard?'" Long asks. "The feeling of barely hanging on, it informs our songs and shows. There are times it does collapse, and then we laugh."
As the group's lyricist, Long admits that's where he struggles most. He didn't write lyrics for the new album until it was almost time to record a song, letting his gloomy words pour out of him on the fly.
The past few years have offered much to write about. In 2012, the Dodos lost their touring guitar player Chris Reimer (formerly of Women) when he passed away in his sleep. Last year, Long's father died. But Long doesn't want to look for meaning in his songs.
"There's stuff about death that of course is in those songs, but I've never stopped to think about what those are," he says.
After lasting nearly a decade in the business, Long says it helped that he and Kroeber weren't BFFs from the get-go, originally meeting through mutual friends. They always took the music more seriously, like a job. Now, of course, they like each other. When not touring, they celebrate holidays together and often wax poetic about the future. As they age, they plan to reverse the trend of band complacency.
"I want to be a gnarlier musician. I want to take jazz lessons," Long says. "I want to learn how to noodle more."
As for the recently learned dance number, those moves aren't a part of this tour's stage show.
"There have been requests from the audience," Long says with a laugh. "But then who would play the music?" ♦
The Dodos with Springtime Carnivore • Tue, March 10, at 8 pm • $13/$15 day of • All-ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com • 747-2174