On Visiter, San Francisco duo the Dodos wrestle flint-fingered jangles, busybody hardware-nicking drums, and ’60s (at times, Animal Collective-lite) melodicism into catchy, insistent folk-pop. Or something. Singer/guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber also fit chicken roasting and letterpress work into the daily mix. The boys recently ditched the jobs to go on a lengthy Visiter tour (dates, many with Les Savy Fav, after the jump), but luckily they’ve developed the sort of workforce skills that won’t fade when tour does. Also, after the discussion, take a listen to The Hood Internet’s mash of “Park Song” with Crime Mob’s “Stilettos” and, under separate cover, previously mentioned Visiters standout “Fools.”
MERIC LONG, guitars/vocals
STEREOGUM: What kind of cooking do you do?
MERIC LONG: Mostly French-Italian restaurants, I like cooking Chinese food though.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any specialties? The dodo’s extinct [sorry]. Any other poultry dishes?
ML: I can roast a mean chicken. I worked at a restaurant called Zuni in SF for three years. Their specialty was the roasted chicken, which we did in a wood-fired brick oven. It comes with a bread salad that has pinenuts, scallions, and currants. People order it like crazy, we’d roast anywhere from 45-70 birds a night.
STEREOGUM: Do you have official training or is it something you picked up along the way?
ML: No training. I grew up watching my Mom cook, she’s an amazing cook.
STEREOGUM: Do you cook differently at home?
ML: I don’t cook much at home, but when I do it’s much more sloppy. I usually just throw whatever’s in the fridge in a pot and heat it up.
STEREOGUM: You’re in San Francisco, which has always struck me as a town where folks are especially serious (i.e. snobby) about food. Any amusing run-ins with over-zealous foodies?
ML: There are a lot of regular snobs who are very particular about how they want their food cooked. This one dude wanted his pizza burnt black with bleu cheese and prosciutto ham every time he came in. I think it has less to do with the food and more to do with their insanity.
STEREOGUM: It sounds like you’re done with the restaurant. Do you work at a specific place right now?
ML: No, I quit my job at the restaurant. I was working for a catering company until a few weeks ago, until we left on tour.
STEREOGUM: How long had you been there?
ML: I was there for three years, and I technically quit when we left for our first tour in 2006, but I was lucky enough to be able to come back and work for weeks at time whenever I was in town.
STEREOGUM: Do you imagine going back to another restaurant when touring lets up?
ML: Probably not. Towards the end of my cooking career I started to realize I was kind of a horrible cook. I like cutting things and burning things, but I don’t really care what it tastes like. I don’t think I should subject any more people to eating my sloppy playtime.
STEREOGUM: Ever cook on the road?
ML: A couple times I became the designated cook at my sister’s in LA, but that’s about it.
STEREOGUM: Favorite food-themed song…
ML: “What’s For Dinner?” by King Khan and BBQ.
STEREOGUM: Would you make it to the second round of America’s Top Chef?
ML: I would like to think so. It depends on the challenge. If it were like that one where each contestant got an aisle in the supermarket and that one guy built a diorama out of crushed up Captain Crunch cereal, I think I’d do alright.
LOGAN KROEBER, drums
STEREOGUM: What’s your background in printing? I have a friend who did this sort of thing in San Francisco, too, though he lives in Brooklyn now. He learned from the guy who used to run White Rabbit. Do you know that sort of small-press poetry scene?
LOGAN KROEBER: My start in printing was fairly recent. Around 2002, my friends Noel and Nick worked at a screenprinting place back in Santa Cruz that did local high school sports uniforms and the like. After-hours they would print shirts for friends bands, mine included. Making the color separations at home for those shirts started the bug, then at New College up in SF I took a silkscreening class from a great teacher, Gonzalo Hidalgo, and from the first day I just loved it. Through the same school I met Micah Ballard who was doing these beautiful broadsides of his poems with added illustrations. That’s how I got introduced to the tactile quality of letterpress.
STEREOGUM: I know there’s a different between being someone who can operate a letterpress and someone who can design. So maybe you could discuss how you learned to arrange things visually, etc?
LK: When I first got interested in printing I would scour internet art sites, because up until then I didn’t know anything about graphic design (I still don’t really). Everything was new to me but people like Geoff McFetridge were popular then and their silhouette heavy approach appealed to me. Because of that I would try to flatten everything into solid blocks of color with no halftones. Now I’m more open to anything as long as it has good composition or just looks good to me.
STEREOGUM: I’ve seen letterpress and know how that works, but can you explain some of these other things — embossing, die cutting, foil wrapping, engraving?
LK: Letterpress is definitely the most popular survivor of the more antique printing world, but I’d be willing to bet most people encounter the others on a daily basis. Embossing and foil stamping you can usually find together on the labels of high end liquors. Embossing takes an existing image printed on paper then using a 3-D die of the image and the pressure of the press pops it out toward the viewer. Foil stamping involves heating the die of the image, sometimes up to 350 degrees, and placing between it and the paper a colored foil (usually metallic) that when the press brings all three together melts onto the paper the desired image. Put them together and you’ve got a golden, 3-D Jonnie Walker doffing his top hat at you or whatever.
If you got a letter in the mail today, you’ve seen die cutting put to use. Every envelope has been die cut using an array of tiny blades arranged in a flat piece of wood and after the paper has been cut in the press it’s folded up into your three months overdue phone bill.
Engraving is more of an endangered species in the printing world, but it is a gorgeous art practiced expertly by my old boss Randy. It involves recessing the image into a metal plate then filling that recess with ink (again, often metallic) and smashing the paper into it. When it dries, you’re left with a hardened little rock formation of ink in the desired shape. Very tactile and beautiful and is sadly often only used for high-powered lawyer’s stationery.
STEREOGUM: What’s the shop like where you work? Do you have a number of co-workers or is it a small place? What’s your “title”/duties?
LK: The shop where I worked is called Digital Engraving and shortly after I started working there we moved to this beautiful, high-ceilinged brick building in the SoMa district of SF. It’s an historic building because it was the only structure left standing for a mile around after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It’s a medium sized company, maybe 20 people or so, and I was a press operator. My duties were to pay attention to the tiniest of tiny details on the printing jobs while simultaneously trying to get them done as fast as possible. The environment was fun though, and if you’re reading, I miss you guys and gals!
STEREOGUM: You mentioned that you’re mostly doing work for old-school designers and high-end clients. Can you describe a couple recent projects?
LK: One of the last jobs I did was a wine label for Niebaum-Coppola vineyards that periodically came through the shop each year for different varieties and vintages, and it was a doozy. Litho, gold and black engraving, each label individually numbered in gold letterpress, then die cut and perforated and organized by number. To get 5,000 or more of these without any missing numbers was always an undertaking.
Another memorable job was for a hotel called London, which was of course not actually in London. This one involved a foil stamping die that was about the size of a small TV screen. It’s size proved to create many difficulties it terms of generating enough heat and pressure to make it work, not to mention the paper kept sticking to the massive swath of foil. The design was a beautiful and ornate abstract repeating pattern that sadly ended up being the interior of an envelope, visible to the recipient of the letter only upon opening.
STEREOGUM: I imagine you also had to do tons of wedding invites and things?
LK: Oh yes. Most of these were also quite extravagant. The dining options looked so good on some of the invitations that I entertained fantasies of keeping one and RSVPing just to get a free prime rib dinner.
STEREOGUM: Have you done work for artists?
LK: No. I think a lot of artists are taking that sort of thing into their own hands. There’s a guy here in SF, Bert Bergen, who does these great half printed half sewn pieces as well as concert posters and things like that, and he’s always doing his own stuff.
STEREOGUM: In your opinion, what’s the different between this sort of old-school design and graphic design work folks are doing on computers? I know there’s the obvious tangible feel of the indentation in the paper, etc. I’m interested in the aesthetic behind that.
LK: The main difference I see is that newer designers try and wow people with the colors and graphics they create while remaining constrained to a flat litho or digital print. The stuff I got to help create at my job at it’s best was striving to be some sort of art object that had other dimensions of feel, reflectivity and texture. Something you could admire in different lights and from different angles.
STEREOGUM: You also design for the band. Can you explain that some? Have you ever packaged any of your music with a letterpress design?
LK: That goes back to the silhouette/flattening thing. Taking something like the cover to our first album, a sketchy and penciled thing, and turning it into a more bold and silkscreen friendly image. Then choosing and mixing the colors for t-shirts and posters and such. We’ve never done a more elaborate letterpress package, but should we get the chance I’ve definitely got some ideas.
The Dodos – “Fools” (MP3)
04/02 – New Haven, CT @ Cafe 9 w/ Silje Nes
04/03 – Edison, NJ @ Vintage Vinyl Instore (6PM)
04/03 – Princeton, NJ @ Terrace Room w/ Silje Nes
04/04 – Washington DC @ Black Cat w/ Les Savy Fav and The Big Sleep
04/05 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theater of Living Arts w/ Les Savy Fav and The Big Sleep
04/06 – New York @ Mercury Lounge w/ No Kids and Silje Nes
04/08 – Montreal, QC @ Divan Orange
04/09 – Toronto, ON @ Soundscape Instore (5PM)
04/09 – Toronto, ON @ El Mocambo
04/10 – Annandale/Hudson, NY @ Bard College
04/11 – Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk
04/12 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Garfield Artworks
04/13 – Cleveland, OH @ Pats In The Flats
04/15 – Columbus, OH @ Cafe Bourbon St.
04/16 – Detroit, MI @ The Pike Room
04/17 – Chicago, IL @ The Note
04/18 – Chicago, IL @ Shoreland Ballroom/University of Chicago
04/19 – Bloomington, IN @ Culture Shock Festival (Indiana University) w/ Mahjongg and Beach House
04/20 – Lawrence, KS @ Replay Lounge
04/21 – Denver, Co @ Hi Dive
04/27 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall w/ Les Savy Fav
05/02 – Los Angeles, CA @ Natural History Museum w/ Akron/Family
06/19 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
06/25 – Seattle, WA @ KEXP (3PM)
06/25 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos
06/28 – Calgary, AB @ Sled Island Festival
07/02 – Boise, Idaho @ Downtown Boise Summer Series Festival
[Meric is holding a guitar; Logan’s looking to see where they play next]