Monday, May 2, 2011

Dominique Leone Interview

Dominique Leone's eponymous debut full length release is an album brimming with ideas and originality. When I first listened to the 2008 album, I was struck by the sheer variety of styles and influences on show. Commercially palpable tracks such as "Duyon" and "Conversational" put Leone's fondness for melody and traditional songwriting to the forefront, bringing to mind the songwriting of Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson. On the opposite side of the coin, the sample heavy "Kaine" and fourteen minute long "The Return" demonstrate a darker, more experimental edge to the former Pitchfork critic's music. Leone has since collaborated with artists as disparate as Bob Drake, Lindstrom and R. Stevie Moore as well as releasing the equally intriguing, if less eclectic "Abstract Expression" in 2009.

Last month, Dominique was kind enough to partake in an email interview with me concerning the music of his first album as well as touching on his present day activities.

Your debut LP is extremely varied in its overall sound. Was there a desire to be as eclectic as possible particularly as it was your first full length album?

Not really.  The only decision I made was to use what I thought were the best tracks I had at the time.  Most of those tracks were recorded over the course of a year or so, 2003-4, at my house.  Similarly, most of the tracks on the next record were done 2005-2007.

"Nous Tombons Dans Elle" is a fine example of the diversity of the album. Comparisons to The Beach Boys and New Wave artists have been made yet there still seems to be so much more happening here, what other artists influenced this track and the album as a whole?

Gosh, good question.  That track was really just me making music that made me feel happy-- I'm kind of ADD in a lot of respects, and I think that track sums up a lot of how I feel when I'm inspired, happy, stimulated.  The track says "we're falling into her, each of us", which was a line that referred to the notion of giving into temptation, or letting your impulses guide you to whatever might be.

Was the decision to open the album with "Kaine" and leave the more accessible "Claire" and "Conversational" towards the end of the album an intentional decision to challenge the listener?

No, I didn't ever think of trying to challenge anyone.  I put that track first because I liked the way it just kind of exploded from the get-go.  I like when songs do that.  Philip Glass does that too; he'll just start a piece with all the gears already in high.  Doesn't waste any time.  It might also come down to the ADD thing again, just not really having the patience to build a long intro, and wanting to get to the meat of the things immediately.

Aside from "Nous Tombons Dans Elle", "The Return" is perhaps my favorite track on the album, what inspired you to write this thirteen minute long epic?

That song was my "getting out of depression" song.  I had gotten out of a long relationship, and was super down.  The "return" is me getting back to my life, and out of the mire of self-pity.  I wanted to make a song that sounds like what it feels like to go through that, with the messy, torturous moments resolving to the still messy euphoria of realizing that things get better, and you can start to move on.  There's a lot of weird guilt in there too, like "should I be happy now?  is it too soon?"   A lot of my songs are ambiguous like that, not really making a firm statement as to whether things are happy, sad, resolved, left up in the air.


Lyrically, tracks such as "Blist" and "Duyon" suggest interesting stories and ideas. What influences the lyrcial aspect of your songs?

Well, "Duyen" was actually inspired by a real person with that name.  "Blist" was more abstract, but inspired by another person I knew.  I write songs from a pretty relentlessly autobiographical place.  John Lennon is a big inspiration in that regard, as far as just writing about what you know, which generally comes down to all the stuff you go through in life.  My modes of expression can be more or less abstract, varying from song to song, but I have a hard time just writing a "story" that isn't related pretty closely to things I feel or have gone through.

How important do you feel live performance is to your music? How do the recorded songs transfer into your gigs/shows?

I love performing live, though depending on the song, the translation from record to performance can be a challenge.  We recently started playing "Nous Tombons" live for the first time (not sure why I waited so long), and it's fairly different from the recording, sonically speaking.  We play the same form, and don't really change any of the music, but because my band is drums, guitar, synth/vox and bass clarinet, the sound is definitely different than the track-- more stripped down, more "rock".  But I like working things out with the band - the best part of playing live is letting the music take on a life of its own, and letting the musicians put their own stamps and personalities into it.

Since the release of your debut album, you have been involved in several collaborations and released your second album "Abstract Expression" in 2009. Did you feel the need to create a more solidified sound for your sophomore album? How do you feel the two albums compare?

For the second record, I went back to the original tracks I'd done in 2005-2007, and remixed them.  I knew a little bit more about recording than I had when I'd first created them, so I wanted to use that to help them sound better.  However, I also mixed the whole thing myself, and learned how important it is to have another set of ears giving feedback on the music!  It's really easy to get lost in your own music when you're making a record.  After awhile, it becomes almost impossibly to make objective decisions about anything because you've heard everything way too much. 

As far as how the two albums compare, I personally think the songwriting on Abstract Expression is better than the s/t.  The songs are more crafted as songs, in the vein of, say, Randy Newman or Paul McCartney.  Not that I'm anywhere near the songwriter those guys are, but the way I wrote the songs was maybe similar, as far as structure, and thinking about the lyrics.  I think the sound of the album is better than the debut, less noisy, less "lo-fi".

Now that you have several releases under your belt, do you feel like you have ditched the "music critic" tag which followed you when you first started releasing your own music?

Hard to say.  Some people only know me as a musician, while others probably only know me as a critic.  I identify as a composer who performs his own music.  When I was writing record reviews, I approached them just like I would a composition, thinking about how they'd be structured, how the transitions would happen, the "style" of the piece, etc.  How people view my work, and my identity, seems mostly out of my control-- so I just try to focus on the work, and let everything else take care of itself.

What's next on he horizon for Dominique Leone?

I'll be recording my next record with my live band in August!  In July, I'll be staging a version of Stravinsky's Les Noces, with two pianos, choir and percussion.  In a few weeks, I'm putting on a show to benefit Tim Smith of Cardiacs-- all the bands will be doing Cardiacs covers!  Beyond that, I have a 12-inch in the works with a French label Upcode, dancey music, and also thinking about the next time I want to travel back to Europe to play.  Plenty of work to do, hopefully enough time to do it.  :)