Listen to Dawg Yawp perform a set from their debut album in the WCPO Lounge and chat with host Austin Fast about their unusual instruments and journey to becoming band in the player above.
CINCINNATI -- If you haven’t seen Tyler Randall and Rob Keenan sounding their barbaric yawps over the Queen City’s rooftops, Thanksgiving Eve is your chance at the Woodward Theater.
Face it -- we all need ways to power through Aunt Dawn’s asking why aren’t we married yet or withstand cousin Eddie’s rant about how American politics have gone down the drain. That anxiety can melt away for at least a few hours as Dawg Yawp brings its sitar and synth-infused folk to Over-the-Rhine on one of the busiest bar nights of the year.
“I got a dog when we first moved back here named Jimmy, and we wanted to call (the band) Dawg Yawn because when he would yawn it was the fullest expression, and that’s what we want – we don’t want anything held back --” Randall said.
“-- uninhibited!” Keenan threw in.
“We told somebody at a bar and they were like, ‘No, that makes me tired,’” Randall said.
The pair’s route to Dawg Yawp began at Turpin High School in the mid-2000s when then 16-year-old Randall asked his classmate Keenan if the sitar he heard on The Beatles’ “Within You, Without You” was an electronic instrument. That eventually led him to order a 17-string sitar online from California.
“I didn’t know anyone who knew anything about it, and there wasn’t much online at that point,” Randall said. “So for six months, I experimented with getting it in tune. Then once I got it in tune, I started going down to the Withrow Nature Preserve off Kellogg. I would go after high school when I was all stressed, so I’d relax down there and kind of improvise.”
By playing with a number of bands around the country in the intervening decade, Randall said he learned how to integrate the traditionally Indian instrument into Western music, including bluegrass and roots music. That last step toward Dawg Yawp’s current folk sound came when the pair landed in Newport, Kentucky, in 2014 and a friend gave Randall a CD from another local band: The Tillers’ album “Live from the Historic Southgate House.”
“Around here, a lot of the music that we didn’t really know of when we grew up in the suburbs is, you know, comes along the banks of the Ohio River and people playing old-time music,” Keenan said.
Waterways have defined civilizations’ rise and fall for millennia by enabling their agriculture, commerce and, Keenan says, music to flourish.
He points out that the sitar originates in India with its Ganges River and that many English musicians who influenced Dawg Yawp grew up along the River Thames.
“There’s something about flowing of the river and the sound of it that just somehow works with the sitar. It’s kind of round and moving,” Keenan said.
Alongside Randall’s sitar, Keenan’s guitar and their crooning, the band’s “third member,” an MPC synthesizer, helps pump their yawps out over the rooftops. They can load samples of music they’ve either recorded or found, allowing them to experiment in the studio or take turns playing live, creating the illusion that they’re much more than a two-piece group.
Expect to see much more from Dawg Yawp as the band’s landed a spot at the world’s largest music festival, South by Southwest, for March 2017 in Austin, Texas. This comes after local festival performances at MidPoint in September 2015 and Bunbury in June 2016. The pair is also scheduled for a performance with the World Café at WXPN in Philadelphia and has been featured on NPR’s Heavy Rotation.