My life as a Dog
10 years strong, DJ Dog Dick returns with The Life Stains
DJ Dog Dick is challenging you to put your finger on where he's at. He's been called "Baltimore's weird-rap kingpin," but doesn't he live in Queens, New York? Does he rap or does he sing? He's been touring for more than 10 years, so how is The Life Stains (HOSS Records) his first full-length?
All of it is true. Mr. Dog Dick, known to his family as Max Eisenberg, has many facets to his personality, but he hems to the margins as well. Due to a proclivity toward immediacy, he's remained simultaneously prolific and mysterious. He's littered his path with an eclectic array of tapes and limited vinyl pressings under a variety of names. It all started in 2003, when Eisenberg left his hometown of St. Louis at the age of 21 to go on his first tour. "I was in community college at the time, and the plan was that I would finish that and go to art school or something," Eisenberg says. "Going on tour was my deviation from that. I came back to St. Louis for a month, then I ended up moving to Baltimore. That just kind of threw me into this world."
Deviation is a key word in looking at DJ Dog Dick's aesthetic choices. Be it a love of half-repaired circuitry or his embrace of the Wu-Tang Clan's subterranean sonics, Eisenberg's scattered catalog is united by the kind of transgressive attitude that used to be synonymous with punk. His output possesses a willful nastiness that flexes his artistic wingspan from the depths of so-called low art to some subtle high art smarts. Despite his erratic eclecticism, he's established himself as a fixture of the American DIY community, gradually accumulating a mildly frothing fanbase.
"That's an interesting thing that's been unfolding as my infamy or whatever has built," Eisenberg says. "I don't want to be tagged as an 'eclectic' artist; I just feel that the nature of culture now, people from the last 20 years of a younger generation can get into a bunch of different genres or styles of music or art. In my music that's all reflected."
On Eisenberg's current tour, he's already pressed against the limits of a given audience's ability to get with what he's offering. After opening up a few dates for Panda Bear, the Animal Collective member most likely to be confused for Brian Wilson, Eisenberg admits, "It was extremely difficult to connect with those audiences.
"They might connect with a certain part of my set, and then the next song, they're like, 'Whoa, what the fuck just happened?'" he says. "Especially now that there might be some moving balladry that occurs in my set, and then a few songs later there'll be some raunchy rap song."
Within his own community, the aforementioned balladry might have jarred even his closest followers. Along with his usual disjointed raps and shrieking textures, Eisenberg wields an unhinged, bluesy sort of croon on The Life Stains, which was recorded over the course of a year with the help of HOSS Records honcho Brad Hurst, a former Atlantan now based in Brooklyn. Although he cut his bones earlier in his career with the likes of Baltimore-based abstract noisemongers Nautical Almanac, "I always knew that I wanted to include a narrative into my music," Eisenberg says. "That's why I pursued rapping. As the years have gone by with Dog Dick and all the energy that I've put into it, my voice has developed a lot in that context. 'Cause when you're in the course of developing that, it's just really tough, being in front of people and singing. Or being in the studio and hearing your own voice and going, 'Wow, that's what I sound like.' But I've gained a lot of control over the years, and I was always trying to sing when I rapped," he continues. "It took the time and the effort and the failure and the struggle to finally succeed with it."
Eisenberg ended up spending so much time working on The Life Stains in New York that he eventually accepted a job as a building superintendent in Brooklyn and stayed for good. He currently lives in a storied DIY space in Far Rockaway, Queens, called the Red Light District. Since releasing The Life Stains in late 2013, he's sought a return to his in-the-moment modus operandi. The recent Kcid God '97 EP "was all recorded in a weekend, and then I spent a few more long studio sessions after that mixing it," he says. "I already have material for another EP that we're gonna finish as soon as we're back from this tour." Just in case you thought you had him figured out.