Dom Is Finally Out of the Shit
The Massachusetts songwriter was one of blog rock's big success stories, turning an internet hit into a major-label deal and a collaboration with Gucci Mane. Then he disappeared for a while.
The turn of the decade was a different time, at least on the music internet. Back in 2010, sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum were at their most influential, with the suggestion that one solid review could make the career of a young band. The Hype Machine—both the metaphorical apparatus and the music aggregator that borrowed the name—was as efficient as ever. MySpace was still a thing people used. It was a halcyon era for homespun indie rock; all of these avenues allowed for many otherwise low-key artists to have a moment in the digital spotlight. One of those acts was the Worcester, Massachusetts band Dom. The group was named their singer-songwriter, who kept his last name a secret for years—reportedly to avoid run-ins with debt collectors (it’s since been confirmed as Cournoyer). Dom may have been one fish in a big sea of buzz bands, but there was something unique about the songs.
Dom’s brand of power-pop was full of gleaming studio tricks, but also larger-than-life maxims that emphasized his blithe approach to life (“I got an I don't really care attitude/I'm gonna live how I want to”). There is no better example than his minor hit, “Living In America,” a euphoric anthem built from glittery synthesizers, sleazy bass, and a ridiculous chorus that boasted, “It’s so sexy / To be living in America.” Gucci Mane even hopped on a remix, a sign both of the song's infectiousness and the boundless possibilities of the blog era.
To no one’s surprise, the labels soon came knocking. Dom signed with Astralwerks, a subsidiary of EMI at the time, and didn’t take long to christen the deal with another EP. Astralwerks released Family of Love in the summer of 2011, following a glossier, remixed reissue of Dom’s debut EP Sun Bronzed Greek Gods in February. The second EP may not have capitalized on the buzz the way it should have (fame, fortune, arena tours), but it certainly elevated Dom’s songcraft. Tunes like the freewheeling “Damn” and the childlike “Telephone,” which actually features a solo on an actual push-button keypad, showed that Dom were only getting better.
And then it all stopped. By Dom’s account, Astralwerks seemed to give up on him, then he brought his music to an abrupt end and pretty much vanished. Those years out of the spotlight weren’t particularly fruitful ones, but Dom has resurfaced with a newfound hunger to write more of those elated bangers for us. He currently has a handful of demos and a new single called “Gud Tymes” that has officially set him on the comeback trail. As the title insinuates, things are going well for Dom at the moment. He’s gotten out of Worcester, kicked a drug habit, and is more serious than ever about making music.
“I’m just in a much better place right now,” he says. “I’m planning on moving to the Pacific Northwest for a fresh start.”
We caught up with Dom while he was temporarily stationed in Hartford, Connecticut, to find out what the hell he’s been up to in the last five years.
Noisey: Hey Dom, it’s good to have you back. I heard you have a bunch of new songs.
Dom: Yeah, but I need to re-record and mix them. They’re basically all demos. But I’m more excited to write new songs.
How do you feel about labels these days?
I’m not turned off to the idea. I’m just apprehensive. I would have to know that whomever I work with would pay more attention to me and actually care about my music. That would be more important. It needs to be symbiotic.
So I guess you’re now a free agent?
I’m independent now. I think if I release something, Modular might still have an option in Australia. Other than that though I think I’ve got a clean slate, which is great because being signed sucked the fun out of everything. My heart wasn’t in it, which is part of the reason why I left.
You seemed to come and go really quickly. Did you find the whole thing overwhelming?
Well, it happened really fast and I was pretty young. You have to remember that I came from juvenile hall, foster homes, boarding houses and hustling on the streets of Worcester, not really having anybody or anything going for me. All of this attention was shocking and really fun at first. But it quickly became a joke when people started trying to control it and treat me like a commodity. People didn’t care about who I was as a person when they were working with me. They only cared about creating a product that people could consume.
So that wasn’t fun. I understand why they didn’t understand me, but it didn’t feel like they were making much of an effort to try. So I became disenchanted. Everything just seemed one-dimensional. Like everything happening in my personal life and in my head was confusing. I had a cousin who discovered me in a Spin magazine centerfold who reached out to me. Odd people from my past began resurfacing. I realized just how unhappy I was, so I let it all fall apart. People started dying in my life. A ex-lover of mine overdosed and died. My biological father died. It was a really dark time in my life.
When exactly was this?
This was right after the second EP [ Family of Love]. I wanted to continue doing music because I loved doing it. So I started messing around, not taking things too seriously and making it fun again. I decided to start DJing, which was fun and gave me a bit of money, but that’s not what people wanted from me. Around that time I went through failed romances, struggled with drug addiction, went back to Massachusetts to meet my biological mother, but it didn’t feel right.
I wasn’t ready to deal with that with everything else. Usually when I see an opportunity I seize it, but we just stopped talking to each other and left it where it was. I moved back to New York and picked the drugs back up, which was still a bit fun. I’d be strung out on private beaches, and staying in expensive hotels. Like, I went from playing the Sydney Opera House and hanging out in Bandos to hearing the sound of my own name said out loud feeling like a curse. Times just got really dark. It felt at times like I was just waiting around for death and okay with that.
So how did you get out this dark period?
A buddy and I went to Detroit for a bit, then Seattle where I cleaned up and got off opioids with Kratom. I produced a new band out there, which was just a really good experience, especially for my detoxing. I have a lot of friends in Seattle who are super supportive, so that was a lot of fun. They were the ones that made me say, “Fuck it! Maybe I will come back to music again.” So I wrote “Gud Tymes” and had some friends hold my iPhone so I could make the video. I had this vision that I wanted to tell with the video without making it too obvious. I wanted to create a visual experience, but I guess it’s avant-garde – by accident. It was fun to make and fun to do and the response has been fantastic. I’m just in a much better place right now. I got all of my stuff from New York and I’m planning on moving to the Pacific Northwest for a fresh start.
Your music really took off while you were an independent artist. Do you ever regret signing to Astralwerks?
At the time I was being courted by a bunch of major labels, and some of them might have been a better fit. I just didn’t like the other contracts. These labels were flying me out with just random people I insisted on joining me. They would tell me how they work but it wasn’t how I worked. Then EMI stepped into the picture, and a cool dude named Rob Stevenson worked there at the time. I remember we were at the ACE Hotel, not impressed at all, and Rob told me that he believed in my vision and me. That he wouldn’t change a thing and we could do it my way. And I said half-jokingly, “Five-song record deal.” And he replied, “Done!” So he drew up the papers and let me have rights to the first EP, which they remastered and remixed to put out again, even though they didn’t need to. So I said they could do that if they wanted. Of course, they put that and everything else on my tab.
That’s the version with the cat on the front.
Yeah, they also insisted on changing the artwork, which confused me. Then on the back of the EP I listed a party hotline I had started years back. It was a Google Voice number I came up with while I was tripping acid one day. The number was 502-922-6Dom. But when EMI printed it up and shipped out the EPs, they didn’t care enough to show me what they listed on the sleeve. Instead they got the number wrong. So this poor woman who had that number started getting harassed.
Why did they change the number?
Like many things, they didn’t put any care into the details. It was just basic stuff, but I was just another product on the conveyor belt. That’s one example of how that operation went. As soon as I signed they laid off Rob Stevenson, and all of the people I was working with were like, “How did you get a five-song deal?” It was confusing to them. They didn’t know anything about it. They didn’t care to ask me anything or find out about the band. It felt totally insincere. The proof manifested in how little attention they paid to anything I was doing. So this bad relationship with EMI paired with drugs and the confusing journey I had with my life up to that point was too much. I just didn’t want it anymore given how unhappy I was.
Where did you leave things with EMI?
Well, the five-song record deal was fulfilled. I didn’t sign for an option because I wanted to be a free agent. So that’s where it ended.
When you released Family of Love you said you had another EP ready to go. What happened with that?
I think I still have those songs. I have a vault full of songs at this point. Some songs I like, others not so much. I’ve also given some to other artists and reworked them in different ghostwriting sessions, while I was doing stuff behind the scenes for Universal and Atlantic. Now that I’m back, after doing “Gud Tymes,” it’s just become exciting and fun to write again. It’s the way it was when I first started.
Can you tell me about some of those songs you gave away?
Yes and no. I was basically working with these vapid Vine and YouTube artists through Atlantic. I wrote and produced a bunch of hip-hop stuff for Max Piff. I did one song that I believe was put on Wiz Khalifa’s desk, but nothing manifested. I still work with hip-hop but I have more fun writing and producing bands. It’s generally stuff that I don’t listen to but I can understand why other people would, like Prom King and Oberhofer. There have just been a lot of these artists that didn’t go anywhere. Like one of the most talented bassists I’ve ever played with, Alex Suarez, was in a top 40 band called Cobra Starship. That dude is actually a phenomenal bassist. I did some session stuff with him.
You also got to work with Gucci Mane on a remix for “Living in America.”
Yeah, that was an interesting experience. It was all pretty surreal because I was pretty stoned when I showed up. He was pretty tired, I was kind of out of it, but we smoked some weed and drank some Grey Goose. I walked into the vocal booth and saw that there was a candy dish, which is the last thing you want in there. So yeah, it was interesting.
After Family of Love you disappeared and came back with a proto-EDM project called Kiss 1O8 . What was that about?
I really liked music and wanted to continue. Maybe it was an act of defiance, but it was just fun to DJ because you don’t have to be honest. I could hide behind it and express myself with the music without having to put myself out there. So I gave that a try and made an electronic album. I made a little bit of money off it, but didn’t want to tour. If I actually had the opportunity I don’t know exactly how I would tour it. I also did this weird acid-techno-inspired project that’s a little bit less known than that one. I dabbled in a little here and there.
Then you came back with a couple more tracks: “Hot Limit” and “Champagne Blues,” but nothing seemed to happen with those.
I put out the demo to see if there was still interest. It got a good response, but still with the drugs and my personal life it was just wasn’t appealing enough to pursue. I just wanted to put out a song so I did. I worked a lot with an extremely talented musician from Minneapolis named Mark Ritzema. We’ve worked on random stuff over the years.
What happened with your rumored album , Sweet & Sour ?
Those are all now B-sides. I don’t really know what I’ll do with them. If I can’t find the time or if I’m just not pleased with some of the new stuff, I’ll release those tracks, just so I can continually be putting music out. I’m not focused on the album thing. I never was. People tried to talk me into it but I really just wanted to do EPs in the first place. I didn’t see much of a future for the album. If I could compile tracks together as an album that could be alright, but I like the idea of just releasing singles, videos and EPs. I honestly don’t think people have the patience to listen to a full-length these days. When do you find the time to do that? It’s better for me to release songs periodically.
Is what you’re doing lucrative? Can you survive on it?
Yeah, I think so. I still get royalties, so that’s been a blessing. I’m not making the old Dom money anymore, but I’m still bringing in some coin from selling music on Bandcamp. Plug the link right there [laughs].
Will you perform live any time soon?
I’ve got a band in Seattle, and I’ve almost got a complete band in New York. I’d rather release a few songs before I do that. I’m signed to play Upstream in Seattle, so worst case scenario I’m playing in June. But I should be doing some by springtime.
Finally, is the Dom party line still active?
Hey, we’re talking on it right now, brother!