Solo Doings: Mavis The Dog

Mavis The Dog has created his own universe of music. The sort of universe that I’m speaking about can be detected on some real spectacular records of the past few years like Girls of the Gravitron’s Magnetic Mountain and The Electric Bunnies Through The Magical Door and it is one of those ‘I know it when I hear it’ experiences that transports you into a modernly bucolic listening environment. The creative freedom pursued by the masterminds of these records definitely transcends what we might easily define as rock ‘n roll, punk, garage, folk, or anything like that. The ‘outsider’ MO, which is so thoughtfully made digestible by Irwin Chusid’s Songs in the Key of Z (highly recommended reading!), begins and ends with making satisfying music to your own ears.

Mavis The Dog from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is responsible for three and a half album’s worth of original material that was self-released digitally and on tape between April 2011 and March 2012. Mavis, whose internet presence is currently limited to his blog on which you can freely download every MTD album, has not released any new songs since, but that does not mean that this home studio solo phenom hasn’t been at work transmitting his headspace into bouncy, dreamy, psychedelic rock ‘n roll. He’s got a new batch of songs all set, he’s just ironing out some others in the mean time. I first found out about Mavis through DJ Boots Lobelle’s Don’t Paint Your Teeth WVKR radio show. Boots Lobelle’s programming pairs older outsider/DIY classics like Daniel Johnston and Jad Fair with newer artists whose approaches are just as bizarre and brilliant. After hearing Mavis played, I was able to track down his blog along with other websites that featured his music from a couple of years ago. I was instantly hooked and my fascination hasn’t faded. Mavis has been my car ride to work CD for some time now. My playlist is a personalized Best-Of that pulls tunes from all of his albums, but definitely takes a majority from The Second Album.

“The Beach Boys have a great lyric, “sometimes I feel very sad” which repeats and is sung over a happy sounding progression.  That contrast creates an emotion that is neither sad or happy and I can only relate it to the feeling of nostalgia. But it’s not nostalgia.  It’s something else that’s completely new.  And even though the lyric itself is totally simple and childlike, when it’s combined with the incredible melody it becomes impactful.  That’s the feeling I’m trying to get” is what Mavis tells me in a kind email correspondence. Of course I was curious enough to hear from Mavis himself. I really feel what he means and the way I think of it is that Mavis’ music reflects euphoric old memories, although often with contemporary anxieties and frustrations. In my mind, it is the positively radiant melodies and rhythms that take favor, claiming responsibility for the beauty and landscape of the MTD universe. The house might be dirty on the inside, but it sure looks fine from above.

Mavis The Dog has a sense of humor about things – “Should I go fishing with the Governor’s child? Should I kiss her when she doesn’t smile? Or should I leave her and forget!” (From “Nothing To Do” on The Dog Days of Mavis).  Any number of his lyrics contain plenty of lines that seem specific to Mavis, but sound about right to any music maker: “I’ll be at the basement, lady, writing up a new one, lady, I’m not hoping someday you will say,’I love you too, yes I do, yes I do’. (From “Throw Me A Stone” on The Second Album“). Armed with instrumentation and a simple style a la Johnston and White Fencian experimental production flourishes, Mavis The Dog says this about his songwriting: “The good songs write themselves.  After that it’s just layering and embellishing which is the most fun part for me.  That’s usually the step where the genre is determined.”

The Philly native cut his teeth in The Eeries (a superb DIY garage/pop band that put out an LP Home Alone on Evil Weevil earlier this decade) before going Mavis, bringing back the memories. Sleepy, whisper, haunts. Old girls. Then there’s some tunes that I don’t know how I missed the few times around that dodge the familiar: “$$$” stands on its own two with bass, voice, and some ambient instrumental effects. It’s not complete Mavis – it’s a diversion from the familiar song format. Bouncing a long, confidently directionless. But as far as that universe thing that I mentioned up top, the entire catalog is strongly steeped in one man’s chronicle. Yeah, you, go for it.

Mavis The Dog’s Blog

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