Perfect Sound Forever

that dog.

Rachel, Tony and Anna; photo by Cara Robbins

Tony Maxwell inteview
by Peter Crigler
(October 2022)

One of the quirkiest bands of the '90s, that dog, came up in the same scene as Beck, Weezer and others. Adding a violin and three-part female harmonies to the mix was certain to help the band stand out in an already overcrowded field and they did. The female-led group had quite a heritage: singer Anna Waronker had both parents in the biz (mogul Lenny W and singer Donna Loren) and the Haden sisters (bassist Rachel and violinist Petra) were daughters to legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Never having the type of success that Weezer and others had hurt the band and led to the initial '97 breakup but after returning and finally releasing their comeback record, they made one of the strongest and most vibrant records of 2019. We spoke with td drummer Tony Maxwell about their history.

PSF: How did you get interested in playing music?

TM: I took piano and violin lessons in grade school, and always had an ear for music. But it wasn't until I picked up a guitar when I was 12 and taught myself how to play "Rock Lobster" that I realized it was something I really enjoyed doing.

PSF: How did that dog, come together and what was the scene in L.A. like?

TM: Anna was a childhood friend who had started writing songs and wanted to put a band together. She first connected with Rachel, who she knew from high school, and soon brought in Petra. Anna brought me in to play drums and help put all the pieces together, since I had the most experience playing in bands out of the four of us. We started out rehearsing acoustically in Anna or Rachel's bedrooms. Then I showed Anna and Rachel how to use amps and dial in cool sounds with a distortion pedal, which we put into practice in my garage. The first thing we did as a band was record our double 7" EP for Magnatone Records (1993), which happened before we had ever played in front of an audience.

Rachel was interning at KCRW radio station around that time and was able to circulate our EP to some of the DJ's, which is how we got our first radio play. There was a bustling underground music scene in LA, and we started playing shows opening for some of the more established acts, amongst them Weezer and Beck. That camaraderie amongst bands carried over into the recording process, which resulted in members of various bands (ours included) guesting on other band's tracks.

PSF: When did Geffen come into the picture and how do you feel about it now?

TM: We benefitted -- as did a lot of "indie" bands at the time -- from the wave of record labels hunting for new talent in the wake of the success of bands like Nirvana. And at a different time, we likely would never have had interest from a place like Geffen/DGC at that stage of our career. But as it turned out, Geffen became aware of us about 6 months after we got started and did a good job convincing us that they would let us keep creative control of our music and develop at our own pace. Had they not come around, we might have ended up putting our music out through Caroline Records or another indie label. It's hard to say if things would have turned out better or worse in that scenario. Looking back on it now, I think we made the right choice, since we really did get to control our own destiny for the most part. The only down side is that now we are considered a "major label band," when we were really always an indie band that happened to put out its records on a major.

PSF: What was it like making that first self-titled record (1994)?

TM: We had no idea what we were doing, so it was super fun and intuitive as we figured out a process that worked for us. We had a great collaborator, Tom Grimley, who engineered the album and allowed us to get our hands dirty re: the recording process.

PSF: How did you come to start doing commercials with Spike Jonze and what was that experience like?

TM: I originally met Spike when I worked in the music video production department at Virgin Records (the record label, not the store). that dog. was gearing up to do our first video (for "Old Timer") and he agreed to direct it. After that, he would call me up randomly to do different things on different projects, often in front of the camera. He used me as a dancing extra in the Weezer "Buddy Holly" video, as Charles the Dog Boy in the first Daft Punk video (for "Da Funk"), as the jogger in his Nike Y2K commercial. But I also did behind-the-scenes work, like all the choreography for the movie, Being John Malkovich.

PSF: Any interesting stories about the 2nd disc (Totally Crushed Out! (1995)?

TM: The second album was our most disjointed and experimental and also, in my opinion, the most fun to make. It was really the sound of a band pushing itself, both musically and sonically. That idea is best encapsulated in the song, "Rock Star." Anna had written a fairly simple song on acoustic guitar, but she had the great idea of doing an extended ending/coda that kind of goes crazy. We all really attacked the idea and started layering sounds on top of sounds, all glued together by the hypnotic violin/cello figure. You can hear everything from drum core snare drums to experimental noise guitar to dirty techno all in one song. And when we mixed it, we all had to put our hands-on different faders at the same time bringing sounds in and out to give it structure. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, we were flirting with the idea of striving for success on the radio, so we went in the studio and recorded two tracks -- "Ms. Wrong" and "He's Kissing Christian" -- with Rob Cavallo, who had produced all of Green Day's big radio hits. Looking at the album as a whole, there's a good deal of tension driving it -- tension between experimentalism and pop craftsmanship, between dissonance and harmony, etc. And consequently, I feel it's the most interesting that dog. album.

PSF: I understand Anna had been working on a solo record that turned into that dog #3 (Retreat from the Sun, 1997)). What happened?

TM: You'd have to get Anna's take on this, but my recollection is she was getting more serious about her songwriting, and, after touring and recording as a band for a few years, she was looking to do something on her own. She played me a few demos while we were touring in support of Totally Crushed Out, and I immediately heard that dog. arrangements in my head. I can't remember exactly how or when she moved off the idea of using them for a solo album, but I like to think my enthusiasm for the great material and how cool it would sound as that dog. music played a part in it.

PSF: What were the inspirations behind "Never Say Never"?

TM: We were nearing the end of recording sessions for the Retreat from the Sun album, and it felt like we had room for another track, preferably something a little radio-friendly. So, Anna pulled out a super rough guitar demo of the main riff, and we brainstormed ways to bring it to life along with our producer at the time, Brad Wood. There was something so bold and blunt about the riff that lent itself to a big '80's production style, so we headed in that direction. We were laughing our way through the recording, and I remember writing Tico Torres's name in black sharpie on my drums for inspiration (Tico was the drummer from Bon Jovi, for anyone who doesn't know). Not that the song ended up really sounding like a true '80's track, but you can hear the influence if you listen for it. It also proved to be the radio-friendly song we were looking for and served as the album's one and only single.

PSF: What was 'success' like and how did everyone handle it?

TM: It depends how you define "success." It was very exciting when we first signed with Geffen/DGC and had a little bit of money to purchase better equipment and pay for a rehearsal space. But mind you, we did not get a lot of money in our deal, which was deliberate on our part, as that way we could ensure we would have total creative freedom. You also have to keep in mind that we were quite young and unformed as people, and the sudden lifestyle of being away from home, traveling around in a van for weeks and months at a time, ultimately created challenges that negatively affected each of us in our own way. Another factor was the fact that a lot of our friends and peers (e.g. Weezer and Beck) were achieving a lot more commercial success than we were, which was frustrating given how much effort we were putting into the whole operation. The truth is, history has shown that any type of "success" is difficult to manage for most artists, and we were no exception.

PSF: What ultimately caused the band to break up so suddenly?

TM: While it probably seemed like a sudden break up, the seeds were planted for a while before. See my response above.

PSF: What did you end up doing after the split?

TM: In addition to my love for playing music, I was always drawn to the visual arts, in particular movies and music videos. So after a brief stint as a music video director, I managed to get a job overseeing creative services (music videos, album artwork, etc.) for the Almo Sounds record label, who put out records by the likes of Gillian Welch, Ozomatli and, most well-known, Garbage. After that, I went to work as the West Coast rep for Propaganda Films' music video division and eventually became the Executive Producer, overseeing all of the company's music video work, with directors like Stephane Sednaoui, David Fincher and Nzingha Stewart, amongst others.

PSF: How did you end up scoring for movies like The Good Girl?

TM: The film's director, Miguel Arteta, has been a close friend since college. I did some music supervision and composition work on both of his first two movies, Star Maps and Chuck & Buck, so there was a built-in creative trust by the time he started working on The Good Girl.

PSF: What has it been like collaborating so often with Spike?

TM: It has been some of the most fun work I've done. He approaches every project feet-first, making daring and surprising decisions that push everyone around him to perform at their best. Plus, there always seems to be a sense of wonder on his part at what he is able to pull off, which makes his projects even more gratifying. He's a true original, and I feel lucky to have had the chance to work so closely with him.

PSF: What was it like when that dog. reunited?

TM: We were all very cautious leading up to the reunion. It was a long time coming, and none of us was sure how it would feel playing together again. But it was clear fairly quickly that we had all grown and evolved as people, and we were in agreement that we would take things one step at a time to make sure we were all comfortable before committing to doing too much. It was surprisingly easy to slip back to the sense of humor that bonded us when we were first playing together all those years ago, which helped a lot. Of course, Petra ultimately decided not to continue with us after that first batch of shows, which was disappointing at first. But Anna, Rachel and I have had an amazing time creating new music together since then, and I feel really proud of what we have achieved.

PSF: Anything you can tell me about the latest record (Old LP, 2019)?

TM: The new record has come about very slowly for a variety of reasons, one of which being that I live in New York and Anna and Rachel are across the country in L.A. We also wanted to make sure the music captured the spirit of what the band had done before while still pushing into new territory, which took some time to figure out. We brought in some awesome guest musicians to broaden our sound, which was a lot of fun. And recording a song with a full orchestra was a very exciting first for us. As I said earlier, we're really proud of the work, and I think it stands up against anything we've done before. Also, I'd be remiss in not thanking our fans for making it possible in the first place -- we ran a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the album, which was absolutely essential to it happening at all.

PSF: What are you up currently up to?

TM: I've been working in television since 2005, first at VH1 and currently at Nickelodeon. I'm the SVP Executive Creative Director for the brand creative team and oversee all the creative promotion -- i.e. commercials, digital content, social media content, etc. -- for the Nick brand. I love making things that put a smile on kids' faces, and my team creates around 120 pieces of content every week.

PSF: What do you think about the explosion of alternative rock in the '90's?

TM: First and foremost, I am just grateful it even happened, as it allowed me to have some magical experiences playing music that likely wouldn't have had otherwise.

PSF: What do you hope that dog.'s legacy will be?

TM: I hope we are recognized for our originality, emotional honesty and humor. And that we've proved once and for all that sweet vocal harmonies and dirty guitars go great together.

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