Published Mar 20, 2020"It's been a bit a real rollercoaster," Alex Stoitsiadis tells Exclaim! "A lot of high highs and a lot of low lows."
This wasn't how Dogleg had imagined it. The Detroit-based band were supposed to be on the road with Microwave, Elder Brother and Save Face, celebrating the release of their debut album by opening up a tour that would run until mid-April. After that they'd then jump on another tour supporting Joyce Manor along the West coast. In fact, this interview was supposed to happen in person the following week, right before the band took the stage of Hard Luck Bar in Toronto. Instead, we are both self-quarantined in our homes.
Dogleg dropped their debut album, Melee, on March 13 via Triple Crown. Following up a couple of Bandcamp-only EPs, it was being tipped as one of the most anticipated debut albums of the year, mostly on the strength of their single "Fox," a raging flare of emo-drenched punk that dropped at the tail end of 2019. Initial pressings of the vinyl sold out, and reviews of the album so far have been glowing, notably an 8.6 score and Best New Music honour from Pitchfork. It was everything an emerging band could dream of, until reality sunk in.
Everything was coming up Dogleg until COVID-19 shut virtually everything down. "The day after the album came out, we got confirmation that the Microwave tour had been postponed until November," Stoitsiadis explains. "We don't even know if we'll be able to do it. That's all up in the air, along with the Joyce Manor dates, because it's still pretty close. We started worrying that nobody would care about this record. That it would be thrown into the ether.
"Then, a couple days later, we got Best New Music on Pitchfork, which was awesome! And then we started seeing people say, 'Whoa, this is the soundtrack to the end times. Perfect!' So after seeing that we felt like we could spin this, and that there were still some successes to be had. The response has been awesome. To see people get exciting about it while everything is going on has been awesome. So now we're scrambling around, trying to figure out how we can keep the 'hype' going without actually playing live."
As they sit at home in Detroit practicing their social distancing, Dogleg find themselves in the same position as every other active musician: unable to tour and promote their record because of the global pandemic. Yet, for them, it could come at a higher cost. They had caught lightning in a bottle, ready to use it to introduce their music to the world. The way Stoitsiadis sees it, Plan A for building their audience has been temporarily shut down.
"For us, it's a huge problem because we thrive on playing live shows," he explains. "We play a lot of our old songs differently — faster and better, in my opinion. The energy is obviously more tangible live, because we can interact with the crowd, so we're really bummed that we can't share that with people. It's definitely a huge blow. But at the same time, we're also happy to have an album that captures as much of our live sound as possible out available to the public now."
It's no wonder Melee has struck a chord, especially in times like these. It is a blindingly cathartic and stirring punk record that lives up to the maxim gracing their Twitter account: "punch-dancing out our rage," which is something a lot of people can relate to. They're okay with being labelled emo for the simple fact that they're fans of the subgenre and Stoitsiadis' lyrics deal with emotional themes such as depression and anxiety.
"I don't have a distaste for the name at all. In fact, I friggin' love emo!" he says. "I know it's a turn off for some people, but I also hope they can see past that with our music and see us as a punk band that sing about their emotions. If that makes us more palatable to people and lets them get into the music, I'm okay with that."
While the members of Dogleg sit at home and wait to hit the road again, they now find themselves in the same position as thousands, likely millions of other people all over the world: without a job, perhaps on the verge of going broke.
"We're losing out on quite a bit of money," he says. "These tours were pretty financially viable for us, getting us off the ground. Festivals, in specific, we got a good amount of guarantees. And we definitely bet on the band. When 'Fox' came out, we decided to commit to the band and have a full year of touring, hoping we could make as much money we could by touring our butts off. And then the virus hit, we didn't have jobs, and now we're wondering who is even hiring at this point? It's all very confusing and unsure."
For now, the band are focusing on finishing some new music videos, keeping their merch store stocked (a third vinyl pressing of Melee is now available) and coming up with new ways in which to share content with fans. Stoitsiadis says it could be streaming a live session, a concert, or even a Twitch stream, "where we're all playing videogames together."
The idea of watching members of Dogleg gaming on camera in front of a live audience might strike some as bizarre content, but the band have come to be known for their association with videogames. They named the album Melee after the popular 2001 Nintendo GameCube title Super Smash Bros. Melee, and 'Fox' after the game's character, Star Fox.
"I knew that it was important to Chase [Macinski, bassist], and I was thinking that Melee could also be interpreted as a fight, and the album is about internal fights, so it made sense," says Stoitsiadis. "I connect to it more as a way of expressing my internal struggles, because I don't really play the video game that much. So far it's really attracted both the emo community and the gaming community."
Macinski, as it turns out, is not only a fan, but one of the world's greatest Melee players. He's so dominant that regularly challenges fans at Dogleg shows. If they can beat him, they can win free band merch.
"Chase basically plays Melee professionally," says Stoitsiadis. "He hosts tournaments at the house, goes to tournaments, brings the game to our shows and challenges fans to play for merch. When the band first started, he knew he could beat anybody who came up to the merch table. It was the perfect gimmick early on, and it's been prolific. We usually have a sign up that says, 'PLAY ME FOR MERCH.' Chase has even said, 'I'll buy you the other band's merch if you think you can beat me!' He's that serious about it and he's never lost. The fans know the risk. He's also played [former tourmates] Foxing and a bunch of local bands, and beaten all of their asses. In the three or four years of doing it, he has never lost a game."
While the band — like everyone else — waits for normalcy to return, Stoitsiadis says he hopes to use the free time to continue moving forward with the band.
"Since we have nothing else to do, I think this is the perfect time to actually start writing new material," he says. He also hopes the band at some point can re-release the first two EPs on vinyl, with a completely new re-recording of the self-titled EP from 2015, which he recorded when Dogleg was a solo act.
"We definitely thought about [releasing] a direct press of them, but I want to do a re-recording of the first EP's songs, because we perform those songs live completely different now," he says. "We're hoping for everything to get back to normal soon, but we're also not letting up on anything. We're still full throttle as usual."
Melee is out now via Triple Crown.