Los Angeles-based alternative rock group That Dog came to prominence in the early 1990s behind a string of 7-inch releases which led to the band signing to DGC Records and their self-titled debut in 1994.
With a punk power pop sound, rich with layered harmonies, Anna Waronker (lead vocals, guitar), Petra Haden (violin, vocals), Rachel Haden (bass guitar, vocals), and Tony Maxwell (drums) stood toe to toe with some of the best acts to come out of the historic ’90s music scene. This should be no surprise considering the lineage of its members.
Waronker is the daughter of music industry executive Lenny Waronker and singer/actress Donna Loren, not to mention sister of drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M., and Atoms for Peace). She is also married to Steve McDonald of Redd Kross. The Haden sisters also have deep roots in music as daughters of jazz bassist Charlie Haden. However, having that family history in music isn’t always a blessing.
“Well, it felt like a curse because some people wouldn’t shut up about it. We were all proud of our father’s incredible accomplishments, but continuing to bring it up felt like a means to discredit us. That was hard at 19 and 20 years old,” front woman Anna Waronker said of the early days trying to establish that dog on its own merits. “We hadn’t asked for the attention we initially received and were literally just making music for fun and making our own sound. We felt protective over that and proud to have been so independent in our career.”
The members of That Dog and their music stood on their own and earned the respect of their peers. The band became fast friends with Geffen label mates Beck and Weezer. Members of That Dog can be found on the Beck songs “Girl of My Dreams,” “Totally Confused,” and the single “Steve Threw Up,” and Weezer’s “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams.”
When 1995 rolled around That Dog released their second album ‘Totally Crushed Out!’ Poor album sales and reception was chalked up to the dreaded sophomore slump, but Waronker took it hard. Band members went on to contribute to several tracks on Mike Watt’s star studded album ‘Ball-Hog or Tugboat?’ then regrouped to record what would be their final album, 1997’s ‘Retreat from the Sun.’
“[‘Totally Crushed Out!’] was our most underrated album for sure, but in some ways our most collaborative album and we were and are really proud of it. Mike Watt wasn’t really around for the creating of ‘Retreat from The Sun.‘ He was around more in the beginning and stayed closer to the Haden’s after that.”
After the album’s release, it was reported that ‘Retreat from the Sun’ was supposed to be a solo album by Waronker, but pressure from the label led to the band releasing the record.
‘Retreat from the Sun’ did produce That Dog’s only hit single, “Never Say Never,” but it wasn’t enough to keep the band going.
‘Retreat from The Sun’ was definitely intended to be a solo album. The label was already involved and behind me doing it as a solo album. Our A&R person at the time suggested I do it with the band but ultimately, I was left to make the call about whether to include them or not. And I chose to.
“The band broke up for a lot of different reasons. Some personal and some professional. There was a lot of frustration from everyone about their input and output. I think if we had given ourselves some space it would have been helpful but that was not where we were in our career at that time.”
After the demise of that dog, Waronker released solo albums and contributed music to soundtracks. Petra Haden also released solo records, and became a member of The Decembrists for a short time, she’s also contributed violin and vocals to albums from Green Day, Bill Frisell, and The Rentals. Rachel Haden has contributed vocals to albums by Jimmy Eat World, Say Anything, and Nada Surf, and was also a member of the reformed version of The Rentals (featuring ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp) for a brief period. Drummer Tony Maxwell went on to compose music for films.
Then, with the explosion of social media, original members of That Dog reunited in 2011 for a handful of shows, which all quickly sold out in Los Angeles and New York.
“Some of us were surprised and some were not. I was in the surprised camp for sure,” Waronker said of those shows.
Twenty years after their break up and six years after their reunion shows That Dog are back once again with a limited edition 7-inch vinyl ‘Totally Crushed Outtakes’ (Hello Records). The four tracks on the release were originally recorded in 1995 as the first recordings on the ‘Totally Crushed Out!’ sessions.
“I actually went back and listened to almost every recording I had of That Dog. It was emotional and fun. These songs feel like diary entries to me and snippets of my life. Every feeling and melody comes back. Things I would have never remembered. Bittersweet but mostly sweet.”
The 7-inch features some musicians on it before they reached rock stardom. Beck plays banjo on the acoustic versions “Silently” while his guitarist Smokey Hormel played the pedal steel guitar. Unbeknownst to Beck at the time, Waronker wrote the song about her childhood buddy. Other tracks on the album are demos of “Ms. Wrong,” “One Summer Night,” and “Punk Rock Lobster.”
“He still doesn’t know. Unless he’s up on indie 7-inch releases from his old friends. We were very close friends for a long time and definitely loved each other. But, technically, we did not date.”
The limited edition 7-inch release is just a little fun project to remind fans of who they were and to let them know that the band is back and working on new material. And if all goes well, That Dog might hit the road for a supporting tour.
“We are making a new album. It’s close to being done. Hopefully soon. The new album will stand on its own. It’s very creative and we are super proud of it.
“We are doing a 20-year anniversary show for ‘Retreat from The Sun’ this April 8 at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles. And are talking about supporting the album as well. So, you never know… we may just show up in your town one of these days.”