Gratuitously girly writing implements, knee-highs paired with chunky Mary Janes, faux Oxford collars, Coolio’s “Rollin’ with My Homies”, and Paul Rudd’s career—Thanks, Clueless! Fifteen years ago, the bubbly feature launched the success of these trends–for better or worse—and a television show with a theme song almost as sticky as Cher’s situation with Christian. But, this post isn’t about the gang. It’s about That Dog, the surprisingly overlooked 90s pop punk quartet who have stolen my heart.
That Dog began in a teenage girl’s bedroom—Anna Waronker’s to be exact—with punk songs about boys. Anna, the daughter of record industry mogul, Lenny Waronker, enlisted the help of two high school friends, Petra and Rachel Haden, sisters who, like Anna, spawned from a musically-inclined gene pool. (Their father is free jazz bassist, Charlie Haden.) The girls rounded out the lineup with Tony Maxwell, a Nicholas Cage body double (no joke) and mutual friend.
Like their tour mates and close friends, Weezer, That Dog’s music captured the essence of high school butterflies and history class daydreams with their elementary lyrics—the kind that you penned in a marbled composition notebook—and raucous punk melodies. The band managed to kick up their catchiness by adding one essential pop component—vocal harmonies that take cues from Brian Wilson and Sixties girl pop. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention another over-achievement that transforms That Dog from just another pop punk band into a pop punk band worth your time and bandwidth—the violin, one of Petra’s signatures, the other being her polished vocals.
The band released their first album, a self-titled 7” double, in 1992 and followed up with their 1995 release, Totally Crushed Out! Sharing 1995 with the release of Clueless, it’s no surprise that the album followed a structure loosely based around crushes and adopted the look and feel of a pulp teen book series (think Sweet Valley High) for the layout. (Side note: Anna, with the help of The Go-Go’s Charlotte Caffey, co-wrote and provided the vocals for the previously mentioned Clueless theme song. Like, totally rad!)
Two years passed after their failed tour for Totally Crushed Out! before That Dog released their final album, Retreat from the Sun—a departure from some of the heavier punk elements of their prior albums (such as the distorted vocals and Riot Grrrl-feel of Totally Crushed Out!’s “Lip Gloss”). Despite having friends in high places (e.g. Petra lent her voice for Weezer’s b-side, “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams”.), the album only produced one charting hit, “Never Say Never” and saw little success. After a year of touring with 90s favorites like Blur and the Wallflowers, the group disbanded. (Tear.)
Seriously dedicated to making music, each member of That Dog has continued working in the industry. Tony (in addition to pretending to be Nicholas Cage) choreographed the Dance of Despair in Being John Malkovich; Tony’s tight with Spike Jonze. Plus, he’s composed the score for both Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl. Rachel currently tours with Todd Rundgren. She also performed with her sister on The Rental’s Return of the Rentals.
Petra was one of the first members of The Rentals, her band with ex-Weezerite Matt Sharp, Patrick Wilson, and Cherielynn Westrich. Petra, an a capella aficionado, has released two albums since That Dog’s breakup—Imaginaryland in 1999 and my favorite, Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out in 2005. (“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand”—One of my favorite covers, ever.) Recently, Petra has taken on the daunting task of judging on NBC’s second season of The Sing-Off, a competetive reality show that showcases a capella groups from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. (The show’s host—Nick Lachey. Poor Petra. But, I guess sitting beside Ben Folds balances that out.) Currently, Petra is working on an a capella album of her favorite movie themes, and based on the 7.0 that Pitchfork gave Petra’s last album, the next is bound to be a 10 in my book. (Unlike Pitchfork, I don’t have an unusual obsession with the number seven.)
As for Anna, Lovelace: A Rock Musical, which she co-wrote with her sister-in-law, Charlotte Caffey, recently opened to glowing reviews and has been nominated for multiple awards. (The musical won Best Musical Score at the Backstage West Garland Awards and Best World Premier Musical at the Scene LA Awards!) It’s no surprise that Charlotte and Anna work so well together. Listen to that Clueless theme one more time. Plus, Anna keeps punk in the family with her marriage to Steven Shane McDonald, the bassist for Red Kross.
If That Dog has taught me anything, it’s to keep the (day)dream alive. A reunion, perhaps? Never say never.