Guitar and sitar

Dawg Yawp starts national tour at home

Photo: Guitarist Rob Keenan (left) and sitarist Tyler Randall (right) of Dawg Yawp play at The Old Yellow Cab Building this Friday

By Gary Spencer

Sometimes when you befriend someone, you end up becoming friends for life, even if you don’t know it at the time. That certainly seems to be the case for guitarist Rob Keenan and sitar player Tyler Randall, collectively known as the Cincinnati-based group, Dawg Yawp. The two met as childhood pals who quickly discovered they shared a love of making music.

“Rob and I met in high school, backstage at a chorus concert,” Randall says. “He played me a song he wrote called “Lou” which is on our EP. I didn’t believe he wrote it, and then we started a band called Echoes.”

In those early days, Randall was mainly playing mandolin in addition to Keenan’s guitar work. But around that time, he had an epiphany that made him switch from the traditionally folky mandolin, to the wildly exotic sounds of the sitar.

“I heard the song “Within You Without You” by The Beatles and was immediately entranced,” Randall explains. “I saved up for a while and ordered one online. It came and eventually I got it in tune and would take it down to the river and improvise for hours after a stressful day of high school, then I started learning melodies of songs I liked by ear.”

With this change of instrumentation, the seeds were planted for the beginnings of Dawg Yawp, but the project almost went astray when the two left the Cincinnati area for academic pursuits. But in the end, it seems Kennan and Randall were destined to reunite in the name of music.

“I went to Berklee while Kennan was at Indiana University,” Randall explains. “Rob studied guitar and I studied electronics as well as taking lessons from various stringed instrument professors, and figured out how to apply western music to sitar. He eventually joined me (at Berklee), and then we started making music together again.”

And when they started making music together again in 2015, Dawg Yawp was reborn, and was the amalgamation of all the musical experiences the duo had, both together and separately.

“We just wanted to make music that reflected everything we’ve been interested in musically,” Randall says. “We started as a folk duo in high school, then became a rock band, a jam band, and then I started DJing and studying electronic music. We just wanted to do it all.”

Indeed, Dawg Yawp’s music does touch upon a bevy of styles and influences, often within one song. The dual vocal harmonies of Kennan and Randall recall those of Simon and Garfunkel, weaved around Kennan’s wispy, folky, and nimble acoustic guitar. But things get really interesting when the duo throws in the unexpected; washes of synths and electronics give the songs aural color that leaps out of the speakers. Add in subtle drum machine rhythms and, of course, Randall’s sitar reverberating over the proceedings and you’ve got one enticing musical brew that Randall calls a “timbral circus”, influenced by the likes of Air, The Grateful Dead, Beck, Bill Frisell, LCD Soundsystem, and Fleet Foxes. Dawg Yawp’s one-of-a-kind sound has garnered a lot of attention nationally with the band being featured on NPR Music, Conan O’Brien Presents, World Cafe, Consequence of Sound, and Crave Magazine—and the milestones just keep coming.

“Playing (NPR’s) Tiny Desk Concert has felt like our biggest achievement, an amazing experience,” Randall says. “However, a close second is walking into (Cincinnati’s) Northside Tavern, right around the corner from where we live, and finding our album in the juke box. To know that people are listening is truly inspiring and motivating.”

After Dawg Yawp’s official rebirth in 2015, the dou decided to head home to Cincinnati to fully concentrate on their music because it simply seemed like the right thing to do.

“We felt that Cincinnati could provide the freedom we needed to make the best music we could,” Randall explains. “There are a lot of different music styles happening in the city, and if you make something good, people will support it no matter what it is.”

This support Dawg Yawp has received, not just in Cincinnati but all over the country, is no doubt partially due to the group’s reputation for a perhaps surprisingly kinetic, energetic live show that amply displays the duo’s penchant for taking their songs in new directions.

“I think we show more personality on the spot,” Randall says. “Things happen in the moment and we get to have fun and expand, exploring new ideas and other feelings to the songs that have appeared since recording.”

Dawg Yawp’s concert at The Old Yellow Cab Building in Dayton this Friday is the kickoff date for the duo’s first full-fledged national tour, and while the band is stoked for all these new opportunities, they haven’t forgotten why they started doing it in the first place.

“We go on tour for a month—it feels really special, we are very excited,” Randall says. “One reason we play music is because of how much we love connecting with people. Also, it makes my mom happy.”

Dawg Yawp will perform this coming Friday, Oct. 27 at The Old Yellow Cab Building, 700 E. Fourth Street in Dayton. Lioness and The Boxcar Suite are also on the bill. Tickets are $9 in advance, $12 day of show. Show begins at 8pm. For more information, please visit http://tinyurl.com/y6wgff2p

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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