Interview: On ‘Melee,’ Dogleg Has Captured Lightning in a Bottle
Posted: by The Editor
Photo by Kris Hermann
A few hours before the gig, Alex Stoitsiadis sits at a high-top table inside Blackbird, a bar and music venue in Urbana, Illinois, restringing a white Epiphone Wilshire. The Dogleg vocalist performs this ritual nightly with two identical guitars—because on any given night, it’s virtually guaranteed he’ll break them. “I’ve started using thicker strings,” Stoitsiadis, 22, says. With a deftness honed by doing this many (many) times, he threads one steel string through the tuning peg, tightens it, and cuts it. Threads, tightens, cuts. Smiling sheepishly, he adds, “But I still usually break at least one a night.” “At least one,” adds bassist and backup vocalist Chase Macinski, 23.
The Detroit-based foursome, rounded out by Parker Grissom (20) on rhythm guitar and Jacob Hanlon (24) on drums, is getting ready to play their last of a 17-show jaunt since New Year’s Day. Now a few hours’ drive from home, they’re feeling the wear and tear; Macinski is coming down with a cold. But in a few hours, none of that will matter. After all, this is Dogleg, the fast-playing, frenetic post-punk outfit that broke the internet in November when they released “Fox,” the first single from their upcoming full-length album Melee (out March 13 from Triple Crown Records). Major outlets from MTV News to NPR praised the track and coronated Dogleg as the new princes of punk. Where did this relentless, violent, anthemic sound come from? Where, for that matter, did Dogleg come from?
“There’s like four different iterations of how things went,” Stoitsiadis says as we sit down to eat at Crane Alley, a gastropub next door to Blackbird known for its craft beer selection, and, apparently, its pesto chicken sandwiches, which Grissom, Hanlon, and Macinski all order. (Stoitsiadis and I both go with the burger special, bourbon bacon.) Hoping to ward off his impending cold, Macinski subs steamed vegetables for fries. He is lightly ribbed by his bandmates.
The current Dogleg lineup hasn’t been together all that long, though you wouldn’t know it from their easy intimacy. What began as a solo project in his parents’ basement followed Stoitsiadis to college at the University of Michigan, and the Dogleg self-titled EP (2016) is a real-time time capsule of that transition. (“Modern Language” is named after the Modern Language building at Michigan.) The band name itself is borrowed from “the greatest band to ever come from Michigan,” Bear Vs. Shark, and their song “Broken Dog Leg.”
“I didn’t really expect anything from it,” Stoitsiadis says. “I just wanted to write because there wasn’t much creative freedom in my other bands I used to be in. I just felt like I couldn’t write the songs I wanted to write, so I was like, I’m just going to sit down, write as many songs as I can before I don’t have this space in my parents’ basement anymore, record, and just put it out there and see what happens.”
After moving to Ann Arbor, Stoitsiadis played the songs from the EP at a handful of solo shows. For some, he invited Grissom, who also grew up in Rochester Hills, to join him on drums. Macinski grew up there, too; the three met when they took after-school music classes concurrently at School of Rock. “So it was just me and Parker playing,” Stoitsiadis says. “I had to drag him out really late because the only shows we could get were these late-night, Thursday-night shows at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.” “I had school at like, 5 a.m.,” Grissom adds. “They would kick him out immediately, because he’s a high-schooler, and they’d be like, ‘You’re under 21, you’ve got to get out of here.’ So he would just race up, help me out, and get back home,” Stoitsiadis says. “Thank you, Parker,” he adds, laughing.
The second iteration of Dogleg formed at Metal Frat, or Sigma Phi, a Michigan fraternity known for its DIY basement shows that have produced bands like Brave Bird, La Dispute, and Pity Sex. For awhile, Stoitsiadis put on shows at Metal Frat and eventually asked his friends Zac (now Dogleg’s manager) and Rory to play with him. When the spring semester ended, however, everyone scattered, and Dogleg was once again facing a personnel shuffle.
“I was like okay, it’s summertime, these friends that I have from college live in like, New York, or far away, I’m not gonna be able to practice with them,” Stoitsiadis says. “So I called up Parker and I called up Chase and I sent them my songs and I was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna make this a band?’ And they were like, ‘Fuck yeah, let’s do it.’” “Alex was like, ‘I need a bassist’ and he messaged me on Facebook. I asked for a link to the Bandcamp and I was like yeah, this seems pretty cool,” Macinski says.
Stoitsiadis describes that summer with the third iteration of Dogleg “kind of like lightning in a bottle.” The three banged out five songs and before they knew it, they had an EP on their hands—what would become Remember Alderaan? (2016). “We weren’t really thinking too much about what they should be and where things should go a very intense amount like we did for Melee, but we were like, ‘This sounds good, let’s put it out, because this is a new version of what we are, I guess,” Stoitsiadis says.
Stoitsiadis, Macinski, and Grissom spent the summer playing shows in and around Detroit—East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Ferndale—venturing as far as…Kalamazoo. They weren’t quite doing West Coast legs yet, but they were getting their legs under them. “I thought it was just, like, for the summer and then Alex would go back to U of M and I didn’t know what would really happen,” Macinski recalls. But each of them knew they had stumbled into something special, without quite knowing what exactly that something was yet.
“Alex was like, this is it. I think we should stick with this, I don’t wanna go back and be with Zac and Rory,” Macinski says, laughing. “No disrespect to Zac and Rory!” Stoitsiadis interjects. “I love them with all my heart.” Macinski: “I love them as well. But we were like, ‘This is amazing, let’s keep doing this.’” Stoitsiadis: “It felt like we were on exactly the same page.”
Out-of-state shows began opening up to Dogleg: Akron; Indianapolis; Chicago. “It just kept snowballing and snowballing,” Macinski says. An opportunity to rep Michigan at SXSW came in 2018 (even then, fans who had liked what they heard on Remember Alderaan? were gnashing their teeth for a full-length album), followed by Dogleg’s Bled Fest debut. (No, not the 2019 Bled Fest appearance where Dogleg would record the now-viral “Fox” video; we haven’t gotten there yet.)
While they were touring Alderaan, Dogleg were also writing, recording, and teasing at shows new songs from their then-unannounced debut album: “Headfirst,” “Ender,” “Wartortle.” But the band really jumped to light speed when they signed with Triple Crown Records in February 2019. The stage was set for a killer debut: two beloved EPs, a chemistry-filled lineup, and a newly mastered full-length album. And then, as a surprise to everyone, the band made its fourth and final evolution.
“Jacob was put in the picture a little over a year ago because Parker fucking hates playing drums,” Macinski says. Everyone laughs; well, maybe Grissom groans. “Parker hates drums,” Hanlon says. “When I saw Parker play drums for the first time, I was like, ‘Holy fucking shit, this kid is insanely good.’ And I’ve always tried to be as fluid as he is on the drums. But he hates the drums. And you know what? I respect that.”
“Do you want to address that, Parker?” Stoitsiadis asks, laughing. “Yeah, drums were my first instrument, it’s arguably what I know the best,” Grissom says. “But I’m a smaller guy, I’m a weaker guy, I don’t have a ton of stamina, and playing these shows just really caught up with me and it stopped being fun really early on. My anxieties were kicking in, so I was thinking like, what could I do instead of just quitting? What could I change to make it better and still put out this album with these guys? So I brought up maybe we could use a rhythm guitar; I was like, ‘Alex, you can do whatever the fuck you want and I can be the background.’ I knew we’d need to find a new drummer otherwise, but I knew I’d be way happier doing this. And thank god they were on board.”
Stoitsiadis: “Oh, 100 percent.” Grissom: “Also, thank god for Jacob for saving my fucking life.” Hanlon: “The record was like, being mastered when I joined the band.” Stoitsiadis: “So the drumming on Melee is Parker’s drumming.” Hanlon: “Yeah, I didn’t play a single note on that record. This is the second time I’ve been promoting a record as an official member of a band that I did not play a single note on.” Grissom: “Yeah he comes in and gets all the credit for it, everyone’s like your drumming’s so sick and I’m just like, thanks dude.”
A few weeks out from the first new Dogleg music in more than three years is set to drop, it’s dizzying for the band to remember how close it all came to falling apart this time last year. “I was scared shitless,” Stoitsiadis admits. “I was like, this album’s done, we’re signed, but we don’t have a drummer, I don’t know a single person who can play these parts other than Parker. I was so devastated. I was like, we’re just gonna put this album out and nobody’s gonna listen and this band’s gonna go nowhere. I was really sad. “And then we found Jacob.”
The shift in sound from Alderaan to Melee is considerable. The EP is fast, but not burn-it-all-down, “Fox” fast. Alderaan is characterized by peppy, bright upstrokes and insistent, rhythmic drum hits. “It sounds to me like it was really inspired by…” I stop myself from saying “The Strokes,” unsure of how this will be received. “Early aughts indie bands,” I finish.
“Definitely. I love The Strokes, Interpol, bands like that,” Stoitsiadis says. (Huzzah!) “Jacob likes all the albums I like, like that first Arctic Monkeys record, all the albums that are like really good drumming, rhythmic stuff.” (Why does Stoitsiadis play an Epiphone Wilshire? Because that’s what Vigilante Carlstroem from The Hives and Pete Doherty of The Libertines play, naturally.)
Their shared taste fast-tracked Hanlon’s invitation to join the band. His drumming talent did the rest. “I went to jam with Jacob for a little bit,” Stoitsiadis says. “I was like, ‘Here are the songs from the album, let’s see if we can play them,’ and the first practice with Jacob was just like boom, same page. It felt very much like when I brought Chase and Parker in. I played with Jacob and I was just like, yes!”
From there, the band began hammering out practices, and everything jelled. “Parker is also, on top of being an amazing drummer, an amazing guitarist, and I’m just like, ‘Jesus Christ, stop being good at everything!’” Stoitsiadis laughs. Macinski: “Parker goes to Wayne and studies jazz guitar.” Stoitsiadis: “We have the inside joke of Parker being the best musician in the band.” Macinski: “Well, he’s definitely the best bassist.” Stoitsiadis: “He rips on bass. He rips on everything! He could play any of our parts.” Macinski: “He’s way better than me. I got a marketing degree, I didn’t get a jazz guitar degree.” Stoitsiadis: “I just like, howl, you know. I just try to sing.”
With the lineup complete again, Dogleg could finally advance to the next level: preparing to release, promote, and tour Melee. There’s an alternate universe in which Alderaan included a better taste of what was to come on Melee: the oldest song on the album, “Headfirst,” almost made it onto the EP. “We were thinking about putting ‘Headfirst’ on Remember Alderaan?, because it was like 95 percent done and we were like, we just wanna have this EP ready,” Macinski says. “We were so close to putting it on, but we took it and tuned it to exactly where it needs to be now.” “I’m so glad now that we saved it for the album,” Stoitsiadis says.
Still, in the three years Remember Alderaan? has been out, Dogleg has been performing the unreleased track at shows. It helped earn them at least one superfan: Hanlon. “Oh yeah, I wanted to mention that Jacob was a big fan of the band, and in the 2018 YouTube video of the Dogleg Bled Fest set, it’s Parker on drums and Jacob in the front row going crazy to the music,” Macinski chuckles. “A good foreshadowing of things to come. Dogleg lore.” “Dogleg lore!” everyone shouts.
“I had been a big fan for two and a half years,” Hanlon adds. “Alderaan was the stuff I listened to. They were teasing ‘Fox’ and ‘Kawasaki Backlip,’ which has been around for years, also.” Strangely enough, the single Dogleg is arguably known for, the song that broke the internet, was the final song the band wrote for Melee. “We were struggling really hard to write a 10th song for the record, because we were like, we need to have 10 songs. We need to have it be a full thing,” Stoitsiadis explains. “And we were trying to come up with a different bridge for ‘Prom Hell,’ so I just started playing in the same key and I started playing the riff of ‘Fox’ and I was like, ‘No, this is its own song. We are writing this song right now.’ So in 10 minutes we made ‘Fox’ and everything just, like, came to us right there, like a shock of lightning just came down. I love how it is now.”
“Fox” is a harbinger, a portent. No one would dare compare this Dogleg sound to early aughts indie rock. Stoitsiadis’ howls are accentuated by Macinski’s guttural shouts; it’s when the two vocalists sing in harmony that the song really shits into high gear. On the album, Grissom’s drum hits are insistent and crisp; in person, Hanlon carries that torch. “Fox” is a throwback and a forward leap all at once; it has more in common with D.C. hardcore than it does emo revival. It also in all probability only scratches the surface of what Dogleg is capable of.
Photo by Michelle Bruton
After dinner, we stand around Dogleg’s merch table at Blackbird and listen to the openers, Long Birds and Power of Dusk. I ask Macinski to set up his Super Smash Bros. Melee emulator; a crucial part of Dogleg lore is that anyone who can actually beat him will be rewarded handsomely with merch and respect in equal parts. I have nearly a decade of casual playing experience on Macinski, but it’s very clear very quickly I am in over my head. Battlefield, Yoshi’s Island, Pokémon Stadium; it’s no matter. Yoshi is bested by Falco every time. Not only do I not win a single one of our seven matches, but Falco does not lose a single life.
Macinski is nonplussed. “No one ever beats me,” he says. I ask Macinski what the set list will be; having recently heard Melee in its entirety, I wonder how many new songs will make an appearance. Earlier, we discussed at length the importance of album sequencing; the band has devoted no insignificant amount of time to getting it just right. Believe it or not, the coveted second track position typically reserved for a record’s banger is held not by “Fox,” but by “Bueno,” which contains the album’s most memorable vocal hook.
I ask if they’ll play “Bueno” tonight. “Yeah, if you want us to,” Macinski responds. “Can I design the set list?” I ask, astonished. “You can design the set list. You can, actually,” Stoitsiadis says. “We make it up on the spot every night,” Macinski adds. “I want ‘Bueno,’ I want ‘Fox,’ I want ‘Star 67,’ I want ‘Remember Alderaan?’…” I start. “Easy peasy,” says Stoitsiadis.“You’re definitely gonna get all those anyway,” says Macinski. “I want ‘Prom Hell’…” I continue. An outburst. “Alright.” “Hold on.” “Hey now, whoa.” “Yeah, we didn’t practice that one at all,” Hanlon laughs. “We’re saving one that for later,” says Stoitsiadis.
I will hear the live debut of “Prom Hell” along with everyone else who goes to see Dogleg provide support for Microwave’s Death Is a Warm Blanket headlining tour, along with Elder Brother and Save Face, starting March 20 in Chicago. They’ll hardly have a week to sleep at home after that tour wraps up April 4 in Atlanta before they head out again with Joyce Manor for a West Coast sweep. Life has been coming fast at Dogleg these days, and it will surely hit a fever pitch when Melee makes its debut. For now, all Stoitsiadis, Macinski, Grissom, and Hanlon can do is try to take it all in stride.
What would success ultimately look like for Dogleg? “If we can do it all, it’d be cool. I’m down for anything,” Stoitsiadis says. “I’m down to see it through as far as it can go. And the things that have been coming our way are already more than I could have expected. Just finishing this album is more than I’ve ever expected. It started from zero, it started from me just fucking around in the basement. So every single day I get a new day of being like, ‘What the fuck, we’re doing this now, I’m waking up in California playing with my best friends.’ It’s sick.”
“People don’t owe us anything. We’re trying to get them to listen,” Grissom says. “If they can give us the .0003 percent of a cent on Spotify, it’s like, you listened to the song, that’s all I really care about.” “I don’t even care if you pirate it,” Hanlon adds. “If you love our music enough to steal it, I love you,” says Stoitsiadis. “I would say the biggest thing you can do to support us is to tell your friends about us,” Macinski says.
“We don’t want your money, we want your ears,” says Stoitsiadis. “I’m thinking about all the bands I used to listen to that mean a lot to me, and I wasn’t spending lots of money on them. But they still meant a lot to me because I was listening to them for my entire life basically, and that means more, because you connect to it on a deeper emotional level. And I want that for us. I want people to listen to this record and have it touch them in a certain emotional way. Not to put expectations on people…like, please listen and make your own judgments, but I would love that. “That would be cool.”
Dogleg takes the stage at Blackbird a little after 10. When they play the opening notes of “Fox,” the crowd, largely University of Illinois undergrads, begin howling along with Stoitsiadis and Macinski. “You’re in a fiction of a past that you wrote down…” There can’t be more than 40 people in the room, and the stage is too small for Stoitsiadis to do his now-signature cartwheel during the song. But when he sings the relentlessly repeating bridge, it sounds like every person in the room joins him on the last two words:“Any moment now, I will disintegrate… You’ll make your move and I will fade out”.
The stages, the venues, the crowds will all double, triple, quadruple in size when Dogleg hits the road this spring. But it doesn’t matter; everything the band needs to do their high-octane thing comes from within. After all, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Melee is out 3/13 via Triple Crown Records and catch Dogleg on tour with Joyce Manor and Microwave soon.
Michelle Bruton // @MichelleBruton
The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.