In this day and age, there are a lot of artists that fit squarely within one musical category. Dommin is not one of them. Although promoted as gothic metal, their music is so much more. Each of Dommin’s songs has a distinct musical character, with influences including The Doors, Depeche Mode, Metallica and Danzig.
Viola and I had the opportunity to chat with frontman Kristofer Dommin – songwriter, lead singer, guitarist, and the driving force behind the band. We covered a variety of topics including Kris’ musical beginnings with his older brother, his songwriting process, and what he hopes people take away when listening to Dommin.
Dommin’s debut, Love Is Gone, is scheduled for release on February 2, 2010.
Contrapuntist: Kris, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We are really excited to meet and chat with you. To start us off, what kind of music was played in your home as a child and what compelled you to go into music?
Kristofer Dommin: My mom listened to a lot of pop stuff when I was younger. My dad was really the music lover. He listened to everything from Kool and the Gang to a lot of the funk and soul from the 70’s. He was also an AC/DC and KISS fan, so I grew up on that kind of stuff. Plus, I have a brother who is about six years older than I am, and he was in high school when I was around 9 and 10. He would bring things home like Danzig, Metallica and all the thrash metal of the day. But I think it was really KISS who made me more interested in music. Maybe it was the theatrics to a seven or eight year old that made me even more excited about rock music. It wasn’t until I was listening to Metallica, in particular the …And Justice For All record that really made me actually want to play guitar. That was what initially what got me started.
Contra: So did you just start learning to play by ear? One day did you just pick up the guitar and start to play?
KD: I asked for a guitar for Christmas one year, my brother got drums and we got them the same year. I think was about nine years old. I didn’t take any lessons or anything like that. I just tried to figure things out. The very first thing I learned how to do was slide up and down the string. I learned by ear and teaching myself, which proved to be one of the best things because it really trains your pitch. Now I can hear a song and pick it up pretty easily.
Viola da Voce: Did you and your brother jam with each other?
KD: Oh yeah, all the time. My brother was the original drummer of the band until about two years ago.
VV: One thing that Contrapuntist and I really like about your album, Love is Gone, is that it has a great variety of different kinds of songs on it. When you hear many bands’ first albums, the songs are written in the same key and often sound the same. Each of your songs has a different vibe and sound world. Could you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process and how you came up with all those different vibes?
KD: Those are really two different things. The songwriting process really comes from a statement that I wanted to say or an emotion I felt, like in “My Heart, Your Hands.” There really wasn’t any music at first. After I had that emotion that my heart was in this girls hands and I felt like she was just closing her grip around it and that made me feel a bit suffocated, afraid, and overwhelmed. So the song came from the idea first and then the music. I remember singing it to myself in the car and then the music just came around the thought. You will notice in a lot of the choruses they are very simple; not very wordy because I like to sum things up in the simplest terms as far as the statement and build the music around that.
As far as the differences on the album, a lot of these songs have been written for a very long time. “My Heart, Your Hands” dates back to 2003 or 2002. “Dark Holiday” is a newer song. I think the idea was to group songs together that had a similar mood or vibe together regardless of when they were written. We wanted this first album to be not so much a concept album, but something that just had a tone from beginning to end that had a similar emotion or mood. And this was a more calculated thing. I didn’t want to be locked in a box artistically. A lot of the times I can just imagine we would do a second album, with the first having songs like “My Heart, Your Hands,” and then doing songs that sound like “Honestly.” I could just imagine people saying “oh no, he’s changing” or “going in a different direction.” I really wanted to make sure there was enough variety on this album so that I could go in any direction I wanted.
VV: That is so clever. I’ve heard so many times that a band will put out their first album and the second one is different. And then people react by saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s so different.”
KD: And nothing is out of the ordinary. The funny thing is the guy who is producing us, half of our producer team, Lucas Banker, who is also co-managing us right now. He knows all of my songs, which are probably around 70 or 80 songs. He conceived by listening to all of them, as different as each song is from another, he could kind of see how they are all united by mood or vibe or style. The way it was basically arranged on the album was to say here is a little taste of a lot of different things and directions we can go in. And, I hope that is the case with all our different records; if we get the chance and if we are lucky enough to keep doing this based on things going on in the industry. If we get to do, let’s say, album number four or something and there are a lot of songs like “Honestly” on it, then there won’t be much of a surprise from where this style came from.
The real benefit to this is I really have a lot of different portions to a lot of different album already written, so they are all ready to go. Whereas I think many bands take their best songs and put them on their first record. And then when it comes to doing a second record they are trying to write twelve really good songs in about a one year span or less, and that is the timeframe they have to put something really good together. Whereas on our second record you will hear stuff that is a lot older and some that is a lot newer.
Contra: Would you recommend that approach to aspiring/up-and-coming artists? For those bands that are trying to figure out their own voice to not necessarily put everything that sounds the same on the first album?
KD: If they can get away with it. You know what I mean? In a lot of ways you are geared to do that. And nothing against bands that do, for me personally I didn’t want to have an album where every song sounds like the first one. And, I don’t want to be a band where every album sounds like the first one. I think it gives us a chance to grow and to change and to morph and still not have anything that is out of left field or unexpected from anybody that has listened to the first album. But I really think for all bands, you should constantly write so that you are never in a position when you don’t have any material. Predominantly, I consider myself a song writer first, and then a singer/guitar player and front man after.
Contra: Yeah, I gotta be honest. When I started listening to your music, I was blown away by the variety, too. You really don’t find that kind of thing, and I found it really refreshing. Partially because both of us are musicians as well, so we could certainly relate to the diversity.
KD: A lot of the times that could be a problem. Mostly from the business and the record company stand point because they want something they know they can market. When you think in terms of market, you want to think about something you can target. Actually, when you think about us, that is one of the reasons why the album has been delayed. I mean, it was supposed to come out at the beginning of February of 2009. Then it was pushed back to May, to July, to September. Now the album is scheduled to be released on February 2nd, 2010. I think it was because [the label] were like, “Where do we go with this? “ There wasn’t a clear target.
Contra: I found there was something on your album that could appeal to just about anybody.
KD: And we have found that. We often get asked from our friends at our label, “What kind of people are going to your shows?” I tell them, we have had kids to senior citizens, male and female. People are really scenester kind of people that are part of something and your regular people who just like what they like. I’ve had a real tough time pinning down who is our fan base. To me, it just anybody who likes music. Anybody who can appreciate a good song can be a Dommin fan.
Contra: Overall, since you seem to have this broad audience, what is it that you hope your listeners will take away after hearing you perform or listening to your albums?
KD: A lot of time, you can read the bios and read Dommin is a “band of the broken hearted.” I hope they would feel like that says exactly how I felt when I went through something similar, because that is they way that I look at it. Really, I am only speaking for me, but a common assumption is that we all aren’t that different. We all go through some of the same things. I hope that someone would listen to it and come away saying, “Yeah, I feel that because I have experienced that too, and that is exactly how I felt. And I wish I could have put it in those words.”
As far as the performance and show, I think that is a completely different experience than what is on the record. At least, that is what I have been told. It is one thing to listen to it and another thing to watch and see it performed. They have a completely different vibe.
VV: What do you feel is different about your performances?
KD: For one thing, the songs are a little different live. It is something I have always liked to do.
VV: Do you mean improvisationally different?
KD: Only improvisationally when we are in trouble. [All three of us laugh] There’s been times when something has gone wrong and the band needs to kind of jam stuff out till we fix it, and it ends up being a good thing sometimes. Well personally, I’ve always liked when I go to see bands and you get something a little bit different, something a little special. If you have listened to live albums, you hear songs that are just a little bit different, or the person sings it just a little bit different. It is kind of special. It makes you want to have a live album too. You don’t want to have something that sounds like the studio album with crowd noises in the background. The songs aren’t dramatically different, but certain parts of the songs like interludes or things are a little prolonged a little bit. Just to give it more of an atmosphere or vibe that isn’t so much about the song as it is the whole experience. So we will extend certain parts of songs and maybe add, like for example on “Without End”, we have a whole intro that we go into before the song even begins. Just to kind of draw people in and make them part of the experience.
VV: I think you have a really great set of pipes and I was just wondering if you had any training or anything like that.
KD: Well, I’ve taken two vocal lessons. And it was because I was having problems at one point. I have always had the same voice ever since I started singing with an old band I was in together with Billy James, the bass player. I would sing backup in that band, I would say I was about 13 or fourteen. Right before we did this album, I started experiencing a few problems, and I was like OK, I know I am doing something wrong.
VV: What kind of problems? Was it pain or…?
KD: It wasn’t pain, but when I was doing rougher stuff, it just felt like I didn’t have as much control as I used to or should. And sure enough, I went to two different people to get two different opinions. I went to probably the most top of the line vocal coaches you could go to because I really wanted to figure out what was going on, especially right before we were about to do the album. So what they told was when you are hitting those notes because you are so into it that you are slamming your vocal chords with air and your vocal chords are locking themselves up to protect themselves. Basically they showed me the right way to breathe and the right way to kind of hit those dirty, gritty notes. And now that I know, I’ve been able to do it every night without having problems.
VV: So that is the only vocal training you have had, and other than that, the voice is just all you?
KD: Yeah, that is the only thing that I have done, right before the record.
Contra: I have to say, when I first heard “Dark Holiday” I instantly heard Jim Morrison.
KD: For me it was a lot of the Doors influence, and I like a lot of the rockabilly stuff. I think that stuff makes its way into the music and I think it definitely had its way in that song, especially in the beat. And you can probably hear a little slapback vocal effect. It’s like a real quick reverb that kind of gives that 50s vibe. I wrote it with Konstantine, our keyboardist. He’s been playing the keyboard riff [KD sings it] for years. Basically, he would come to practice and screw around and eventually we made into a song.
Contra: What would you like people to know about Dommin that we haven’t talked about today?
KD: The only thing that I would really like to address, some people have misconceptions about music that is dark. They think it is encouraging some kind of darkness, or encouraging bad behavior. But I think when people actually give the music a listen it actually ends up being a positive experience. I was explaining this to someone yesterday. He kind of asked me that question, “What do you think about people who don’t understand it; think it’s bad?” And I was trying to tell him that some of the greatest love stories we have in history all have to do with love and loss and tragedy. And, at the other end of it the victory of it. I think the fact that I am here and perform this stuff every night and afterwards, I don’t need to slit my wrists or go do anything bad – that is the victory. I think in the end it is positive music, but it is dark music because it is talking about dark stuff.
VV: Actually, I think it is really interesting that everybody keeps calling your music dark, because to me it isn’t depressing. I think some of it is actually upbeat. I mean, some of it isn’t, like “Love Is Gone.” When I was reading about you and read this is “the music of the broken-hearted,” I could hear that, but I wasn’t left feeling sad.
KD: It wasn’t meant to be “please feel sorry for me because I am in a horrible place.” More than anything, when I am singing, and I hope it comes across this way, this is coming from a place of strength instead of weakness. So, I hope it is empowering through those situations. It isn’t about becoming a victim of those things; it is about becoming a survivor of those kinds of experiences.
Thanks again to Kris for chatting with us and to Roadrunner for providing tickets to their show. You can also check out our review of Dommin’s Chicago performance on October 24th, 2009 here.