Getting ready to go on tour behind their 2011 album, No Color, The Dodos’ Meric Long and Logan Kroeber were in need of a supporting guitarist. The band’s publicity agent at the time came up with the idea of bringing on Canadian native Chris Reimer, whose noise-rock outfit Women had unceremoniously broken up some time before and was looking for a new outlet to keep him busy.
“It was funny because it was a bit of an odd pairing in some ways,” recalls Long sitting at home in his San Francisco apartment. “I remember when [our publicist] proposed the idea she was quite specific about it. She wasn’t like, ‘Oh I know a guy that plays guitar.’ She was like, ‘I know this guy who plays guitar and can make it sound like all sorts of things. I think it would be a really killer match.’ It sounded awesome when she told me but I was primarily looking for somebody who could just play the parts on the record, parts that were pretty angular and leady and not the kind of stuff I thought Chris was known for.”
Setting aside his hesitation, Long agreed to a proper introduction. “Because he lived in Calgary, the first time we met we rehearsed over G-chat,” says Long. “So we started and I was showing him some of the parts and I’d be like, ‘OK, let’s play this together. One. Two. Three…’ and we’d start and it was all messed up. We didn’t realize there was a total latency in the connection. So at first I thought, ‘This guy’s horrible!’ It just wasn’t working out at all. Of course, we figured out the problem and it was fine, and it was funny seeing his face in the little screen. It was awkward and we were both cracking up about it. Later he came by and we did a try-out week. He flew down here and it was awesome. We rehearsed for a week and nailed everything. He was super mellow. He stayed with me that first week, and immediately I just liked the dude. Sometimes that’s almost more important than the music. It was like, ‘All right. I can hang out with this dude for a year.’”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, a year was all Long was inevitably permitted to have with his new friend. On Feb. 21, 2012 Reimer passed away in his sleep at the age of 26. The cause of death was later determined to be the result of a complication related to a heart condition.
In an incredibly short amount of time, the relationship Long developed with Reimer wound up having an energizing impact on The Dodos, during a time when Long admits he was struggling to relate to his own songwriting. “I felt like I had kind of forgotten how to write songs,” Long says. “I wanted to have a closer connection to the song. Not necessarily have the subject matter be more about me or have the lyrics be more personal, but just have a closer connection, just know where the song was coming from and try and write it from a different place.”
It was Reimer who ultimately served as Long’s guide through this period of reaffirmation and discovery, and it is his influence that silently propels the music found on The Dodos’ newest LP, Carrier. The most evident progression found on the record is that unlike the previous albums by the band, which regularly centered around Long’s frenetic work on the acoustic guitar, the new effort showcases Long’s exploration of sound on the electric guitar. “The electric guitar was sort of new to me,” he says. “I was always playing acoustic, and I sort of had my thing of being a fingerpicker who played aggressively and that’s the kind of sound I gravitated to, but playing the electric was starting to open doors and [Chris] was really kind of the gatekeeper. On our days off we would go to guitar shops in different towns and try out pedals and introduce me to all these different sounds that could make with an electric. For me to adopt something into my own creativity I really have to understand it in a certain way, that I see it makes sense, and he did that for me with the electric and just the possibilities there with just tone in general.”
Over the course of several weeks at San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone studio, Long played his parts in a way that emulated and referenced the techniques and overall style Reimer imparted on him. Of course not having Reimer himself to be a part of the process was particularly hard. “When it was time to record the songs for this record, Chris was going to be involved in that,” says Long. “He was going to be a collaborator, and for the first time we were going to have another collaborator in the band, somebody who was totally going to bring something different to the band and to the writing process. I don’t find a lot of people that I can collaborate with against my own ego, but he was somebody I was super stoked to collaborate with. And we never got to do that and it when it came time to write it sucked. I was kind of counting on that.”
Though the record is ultimately dedicated to Reimer, and even includes a prominent photo of him as part of the inside sleeve’s art, in its finished form Carrier never directly addresses his passing. In Long’s mind it was never Reimer’s death that influenced the album. “It was him,” he says. “There’s a difference I think that’s important.”
Moving forward, with plans to tour behind Carrier this fall, Long no longer feels that particular detachment he once felt when writing a song. He’s excited again, so much so in fact that he and Kroeber just finished a 10-day recording session, already completing what will eventually be their sixth album. Though he’s not sure how quickly the untitled work will see the light of day in the wake of Carrier, Long is enjoying such unexpected creative restlessness.
“I got out of the studio last week,” says Long. “Normally I feel like, ‘Awesome, we just finished this up. We’re stoked on it. I don’t have to play the guitar for another week. I can forget about music for a little while.’ And surprisingly I didn’t have that. The next day I wished I could go back into the studio. I wish I could do more stuff. And I think that’s a sign.”