I look down at my vibrating phone going off.
“Be right there! Sorry!” it reads.
It’s a little after our scheduled meeting time of 6:30 with local singer/musician/mother/doula Domino Kirke. On this night I’m meeting up with her to talk about the first two. I didn’t mind running a few minutes late, as we had already pushed the interview back a day already, and not that I’m the kind of guy who’s usually in a hurry anyway. You can’t rush perfection after all.
“I need something warm, I’m cold. I hope they have tea.” she said with a smile when as we sat down at our table.
I was immediately taken back by her subtle English charm. She did spend her formative years in the UK before moving with her family to NYC. Her English accent has maybe faded a bit, but you could still hear it clear as day.
You never know when it comes to rock star daughters, and although Domino could easily consider herself rock royalty, there was nothing more than a lovely, young New Yorker with a humble and friendly English charm to her. Growing up in a musical family, the daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke took to her own musical journey working on singer-songwriter/pop projects as a solo artist in her late teens before life took over and turned her into a mother. She’s recently started writing again with Here We Go Magic’s Luke Temple, and has a new EP, Independent Channel coming out this spring.
So that’s what I was there to talk with her about. Although me being one to never follow the script, we found ourselves talking all over the place with music from her classically trained musical roots, to helping people give birth.
P&W: Obviously you kind of have a musical background with you family, but how did you REALLY discover your own love and taste for music? Because it doesn’t always end up that way
Domino: I grew up around a ton of musicians and I used to just sing along to the radio in the car with my mother on my way to school. One day she said “Oh, you can sing” so she started sending me to lessons and throughout school, I ended up always being in some kind of choir. When I came to New York when I was twelve I came to LaGuardia High School for music and voice education. That’s where I was really able to hone in on my sound, but I was trained classically there, so it wasn’t until I left when I had to undo the learning and all the arias and singing everything in three languages. I had to kind of scrap that because I had almost forgotten why I loved singing and the formal training had been so drilled into my head at that point. So I started writing my own stuff and a few producers around me started coming to my solo shows wanting to develop me. I was kind of too young at that point; I was only eighteen or nineteen. I went to college but didn’t really dig into it; I was always coming back here to play. I was in such time of growth in my own life that it was very transient and I couldn’t lock into a sound or feel as an artist, but a took a little break and when I came back, I started working with a friend that I did the band Domino with, and that’s when Mark Ronson came to a show and wanted to give us a demo deal.
P&W: Do you think at that point you even knew how to express yourself as an artist and knew what it meant to not just go up there and sing but really be a performer?
Domino: I think by the end of the three-year stretch with Mark, I felt like I had swagger and something to say and knew how to be in my body on stage, not just be some cute girl. At that point I had a really good dynamic with my band, like a family. I was always used to singing alone until that point either with one person or by myself so being a front woman was a whole new thing for me a took a little getting used to.
P&W: What was your formative musical training focused on?
Domino: Piano, bass, and then vocals. My major was vocals so I did chamber music, jazz choir, they just throw you into every corner.
P&W: Did they drill into you how well you have to take care of your vocal chords as an instrument?
Domino: Oh yeah. No smoking. My voice teachers always knew if I’d been smoking all weekend. Then there are the excises you have to do, because I’m singing at 8am. You get into school in the morning and you have to sing a full aria before you’ve had a glass of water.
P&W: Don’t you just hate that
Domino: It was awful. I got really used to just being ready to sing and the teachers wouldn’t do you a favor- it’s a public school, everyone wants your spot, so they were like “If you’re going to be here, make it work for you.” So I got my confidence there and learned how to audition there. I always knew that I had a nice voice, but I didn’t know how to really use it until I went to that school, but then I really didn’t know how to perform until I was in a band with four guys. They were just chapters and now I have a kid and took a big break, so now I feel like I have a lot more to say. I was either going to drop music forever and just raise my kid or I was going to come back and find a different sound entirely which is what happened working with Luke?
P&W: Taking time off to be a mom, do you think that really helped, just getting away from it all for a bit?
Domino: I took being a musician for granted, waking up every day and only focusing on music. My friends and I would just wake up every day and write songs and that’s it. I wake up now with my son and if I can fit in an hour of songwriting then it’s a good day. My schedule’s changed a bit so I have a new appreciation for finding time to be creative. It’s changed my whole perspective on having an outlet like performing. It’s such a joy and a pleasure. I just feel lucky to be able to do it now. Growing up in a musical family with a father who was well known for what he did so I always imagined that .. Oh can I get a tea?
Confused on the sudden change of subject, I noticed that she wasn’t talking to me, but our waiter coming up behind me.
P&W: I just started drinking tea lately, that and coffee too, I never really drank it before.
Domino: Oh really?
P&W: Yeah, I always just thought it was a little too grown up for me
Domino: Aww (laughs) well I like tea because it doesn’t dry you out so much. You have a few cups of coffee and you just feel like blah, but child raising calls for caffeine. My son is pretty sassy right now.
P&W: Does he get it from his mom?
Domino: I’d say so. Definitely his dad too though, we’re both dramatic, sassy people.
P&W: Is it pretty easy balancing being a mother and work?
Domino: Yeah, because that’s all I know. I grew up with artist parents so I don’t know what the 9-5 family looks like. My dad was on tour for six-months at a time, which meant my mother was alone with us, but she was quite social in her own right. So I like to think with my kid, I’m a little more available and a stay-home mom. I don’t feel like I’ll have the career I would’ve had if I was still 22 because I don’t have the time to go on tour for two years. It feels like I’m finding a different trail than my friends who are in bands and are gone for two years.
P&W: Obviously you grew up with the kind of classic rock that your dad played, but growing up in New York City, you had your own melting pot of music in your back yard and a scene. Did that scene have an effect on you?
Domino: Oh yeah. I played the Bitter End when I was sixteen
P&W: I hate that place
Domino: I hated it too. Then I started playing Joe’s Pub, Blue Note, Sidewalk Café, and those singer-songwriter dives.
P&W: And when you first started writing that singer-songwriter genre was the kind of music that was more your niche?
Domino: Yeah, I’d say so. When Mark (Ronson) took us on it became more of a pop outfit. I was always more jazzy/bluesy/songwriter kind of sound though. Anytime I met with an A&R guy they knew exactly what they wanted out of me, that white girl who has a soulful voice. I was meeting with all these record people at an age where I didn’t know what I wanted to sound like but all these people knew for me. I needed to live a little more then circle back to it.
P&W: Looking back on it you’re pretty happy that you got to take a break from the machine?
Domino: Yes. The industry is so different now and I feel like I have a lot thicker skin than I did and a lot more to write about. I just feel more confident doing it now. Writing songs with someone like Luke that I’m impressed by and totally in awe of as a songwriter is like, no matter what happens with this project, it’s just been a gift working with such talented musicians that I admire.
P&W: Speaking of Luke (Temple), how’d you end up hooking up with him?
Domino: Being in this neighborhood for twelve or so years, most of my friends are well known musicians so we would have the same group of friends and get coffee at the same place. Knowing we were both musicians and had friends in common, he came to see me play at the Knitting Factory last year and said he was interested in writing with women and asked if I’d be interested in singing on a few tracks of his and writing together. I’m a huge fan of Here We Go Magic so I was a little intimidated and flattered at the same time.
P&W: Were you nervous?
Domino: Completely. But he was a friend so that helped.
P&W: Before you guys really got into the process together, was there any game plan? What were your own expectations? Because the songs on the new EP are a different kind of music that what you seem to have done earlier in your career.
Domino: I was totally open to Luke coming in and doing what he does so well. He’s such a classic songwriter, but also a mad scientist with melodies and beats. He just has a perfect combination of ethereal and electronic styles. He’s a bit of an architect. I ended up writing a lot of melodies and just sang the lyrics that I wrote over the tracks that he pretty much had done already. It was a great combination.
P&W: What was the songwriting process on a daily basis like?
Domino: With the beats in place, we’d fill it in layers. It was pretty drawn out and a year to come up with seven or eight songs. Mostly because A. I’m a mother and I don’t have a lot of time, but when I did we really got down to it and B. He’s still working with Here We Go Magic and his own life too.
P&W: When you decided you wanted to start focusing on music again did you have any specific goals on what you wanted to accomplish?
Domino: My hopes are that I can take it on the road in pieces. The mother tour. At the same time I was open to the project just being something short and we’re excited about and see what happens. There were very few expectations because we’re all such busy people so it’s been a very open door experience. I’ll be playing more this year and writing more songs for a full record. I don’t have the same agenda I had when I was a kid; I don’t have time for it. Back then the goal was so high that you couldn’t meet it. The lifestyle didn’t impress me either I just wanted to keep performing. A lot of people want to be in a big band just for the sake of being in a big band and for me I was pretty jaded from seeing that whole world as a kid. I just wanted to perform and be happy with the work. Maybe I should care more though (laughs)
P&W: Why do you think that is, kids today wanting to be famous just for the sake of being famous? As opposed to really focusing on the craft and the art.
Domino: I get it. It’s also very American. I mean in England there are obviously celebrities and kids wanting to be rock stars, but in America there’s something even more shiny about it. It’s the American dream. For me, growing up with a parent who was living that was kind of like seeing the flip side of the dream. It’s all ego. It’s also like chasing you’re chasing your tail.
P&W: Yeah, I mean, unless you’re at the top of the mountain like Mick Jagger
Domino: But even he.. I know Mick and it’s an insatiable thing. I just want to be happy with my work. When I was younger, I was around people who just wanted to ‘make it’.
P&W: Whatever the fuck that even means
Domino: Right. There’s nothing in the middle, just play shows, and parties, and hooking up. I remember being grossed out by it and the scene in the LES just didn’t fit me, but it’s really nice to re-visit that on my own terms and call my own shots.
Domino, Luke, and their band will be starting a residency at Baby’s All Right starting in May.
Article: Tommy Shackleford