Dog Mountain: In it together

by Hayden Eller

photo by Sarah Van Houten

Dog Mountain (previously Dogs) began in the Spring of 2014, born out of a spur-of- the-moment basement recording session between the bands three original members: Nick Emard, Mathew Melrose, and Nate Braks. “It was totally a joke band – all three of us went down to the basement to jam, and I recorded it. That’s the first EP, all the songs are improvised and then we recorded vocals over them afterwards,” Emard said. Braks dropped out of the lineup shortly thereafter (he now lives in Spokane, continuing to release electronic music under the name Student), beginning the revolving cast of musicians that cause Melrose and Emard to liken themselves to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan.

After listening to the pair go back and forth about their music, and the unique vision each has for the project moving forward, it becomes obvious that their relationship (both as musicians and friends) is what has, above all else, allowed Dog Mountain to develop into one of Bellingham’s most exciting up-and-coming bands. The two may argue their differing opinions on what it means to create a socially relevant piece of art (whether it’s greater to create something that connects with a specific/smaller community, or something that impacts society on a large scale) but it’s clear that each respects and values the other’s outlook nonetheless – the conversation is equal parts seriousness and complete nonsense, as if they’re communicating on a level only the two of them understand, an illustration of the closeness and admiration each has for the other.

Both hailing from Bellevue, their friendship began during the fall of 2011, after both started school at Fairhaven College. As they became closer, they bonded over their similar upbringings and the central role music had played in aiding against the isolation they experienced as teenagers.

“I clung to music in middle/high school – I remember one time my Dad said to me ‘I wish you’d spend as much time on your math homework as you would memorizing those lyrics’ and that really hit me, like dude I’m not memorizing these lyrics, this is all I have,” Melrose said.

Shortly into that year, Emard joined the now defunct PNW group New Lungs, an experience to which he credits his professional approach to music. “I’ve always been very serious about every band I’ve been in, I think maybe because of that (experience) – I learned a lot about professionalism and about having your shit together musically (through being in that band). (That band) was always so tight, it was always 10/10 with everyone bringing their A-game and that was really specially being a group like that.”

While Dog Mountain may have begun on a whim, Emard and Melrose have taken the lessons each has learned from their previous ventures (both individual and shared) and the project matured into something much more – a melting point for both their personalities and skill sets.

“The thing for me is pure vulnerability and honesty is the only way to live, so why keep anything out of the public eye – we’re doing it, and it’s part of us. That’s me in my songs, that’s the darkest part of me. To give that to anybody, to give it everybody, that’s the whole point of everything I do,” Melrose said.

While he credits Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins) as his biggest influence when he was writing the early Dog Mountain material, he said he now draws more from rap artists. “I feel like the newer Dog Mountain songs are influenced by the directness of rap, the non-metaphoricalness of it being like ‘this is where I’m at, this is what I’m dealing with, and this is my reality.’”

Although the group had planned on releasing an EP in the coming months, they recently decided to hold off in favor of putting out a full length later this year (date TBA). “My friend Tyson Ballew said to me once that ‘EPs are forgettable, make an album’ and it’s true really – the greatest artists are remembered for their breakthroughs in their albums. An album is a succinct musical statement, it’s a type of art that I feel I’ve lived for my entire life but I’ve never actually done it with any of the projects I’ve been in before, and I feel like this is the project to do it,” Emard said.

Moving forward, Emard (a member of the booking/volunteer coordination staff at Make.Shift) is also quick to note the importance of remaining an active part of the Bellingham community. “We love DIY, we don’t want to compromise our integrity but we want to reach as many people as possible, so on the short term that’s why we play DIY and all-ages shows – it’s the most accessible and that’s the stuff that’s affected me the most personally is going to see all-ages shows and seeing bands who were out there doing it while not compromising what they’re about musically.”

Although they have, and continue to, mature away from the initial lack of seriousness that came with the groups unique beginning, Melrose believes that initial spontaneity plays an important role in the bands identity, saying; “I think that as Dog Mountain has gotten more serious, I’m constantly striving to try and maintain the innocence and the fun that we had since day one, (all) while growing the band’s music in a more nuanced way”.

Oh, and a quick side note for those confused by the recent name change (from Dogs to Dog Mountain) – Emard and Melrose had legal action threatened on them by PetCo Animal Supplies. “We got this letter, this PetCo brand owned the rights to the title Dogs – a man showed up to the door with a suit and a cease and assist letter,” Emard said. So there it is.

To download Dog Mountain’s newest single “Blue Gleam” and other music go to dogss.bandcamp.com. For band updates, visit their Facebook page.

Published in the March issue of What’s Up! Magazine