Dominique uses the term “interdimensional” when describing her music and her approach to writing. On her new album, The Instruction Manual, this transitory effect is front and center. Her voice is the beacon at the center of it all, but musically she fuses so many disparate yet visionary ideas into this winding, engaging sonic narrative. I’ve already written a lot about it, but each subsequent listen reveals new tendrils leading to different worlds. The Instructional Manual is an extraordinary statement from an extraordinary artist.
I always love to hear about people’s earliest memories of music and how those experiences kind of set them on this path. What were some songs or albums that made a lasting impression on you at a young age and have kind of stuck with you through the years?
My earliest memories of music would be listening to the oldies station in the car with my father and siblings; Beach Boys, Peter, and Gordon, The Turtles, classic 60s music. Then also, of course, Britney Spears, especially the song “Sometimes.” I remember the first walkman I’d borrowed from my older siblings. I would bump Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” on repeat. Janet Jackson was a favorite, and Savage Garden. I’ve also always loved that one track “As I Lay Me Down” by Sophie B. Hawkins and “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin. I didn’t realize until the last few years that those late 80’s soft rock, early 90s church-like singer/songwriter musicians left a huge mark on me and are still a sort of unconscious reference point to what makes me really connect with a song from the heart.
Related to that, what are some of your most formative experiences singing? Did you sing a lot growing up?
I had always been in love with music, but I definitely never sang formally as a young child. Never took any lessons or any sort of music classes. I remembered recently that I randomly had the urge to audition for the 5th grade choir, though I was notoriously the shyest person in school. I can’t really remember what drove me to audition, thinking back on it, it feels kismet, like I subconsciously knew what I wanted to do but couldn’t really narrow in on it. I started keeping a green journal with a fuzzy green pen and wrote songs with country/pop melodies when I was 12. I still remember how the first one goes. After that, I mostly sang oldies covers with my sister, some Cat Power, some old murder ballads. I’d say those years singing with my sister were the most formative. I loved singing and listening back on SoundRecorder on our PC, then uploading it to myspace music.
Who are some of your favorite singers?
Oh, this is such a huge question. Happy Rhodes, Dagmar Krause, Mimi Goese, Jane Siberry, Marty Robbins, Toody Cole, Slim Whitman, Alice, Stanton Miranda, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Bobb Trimble, Jacqueline Humbert, Odetta, Arielle Dombasle, Armande Altai, Joan La Barbara, Pamela Z, Katalin Ladik, Sally Oldfield, Karin Krog, Joan Armatrading, Demis Roussos, Meredith Monk, Franco Battiato, Fatima Miranda, Nana Mouskouri, Jeritree, Timi Yuro, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Suse Millemann, Irma Thomas, Tammy Wynette, Celine Dion, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Laurie Anderson, Kath Bloom, Kate Bush, Lal Waterson, Peggy Seeger, Tony Williams, Annie Lennox, Jeff Lynne, The Roches… sorry you can cut this in half if you need.
At what point did you start writing your own songs and what pushed you in that direction to start?
I started seriously writing my own music in 2013, my sophomore year of college at UC Santa Cruz. I’m not sure exactly what pushed me, it was a variety of things; a natural progression along with some heartbreak, you know how it goes. I was also influenced by my friends around me always playing music; I wanted to join in.
In addition to your music, you’re also a visual artist. How does your creative practice with each overlap and influence or inform each other?
Both practices are very fluid, the image of one will inform the lyrics for another. The style of my visual art is elusive and improvisational, similar to my music. I love to take a break from songwriting to focus on visual art. It recharges me to switch mediums; it helps me gain the momentum of originality again, then I can go back to focusing on songwriting. It’s like a little dance back and forth or a duet!
Your voice is otherworldly – it’s like a superpower. I’m seriously just in awe. What kinds of exercises (or training) do you do? I’m always amazed at your ability to jump immediately from singing in one style to something completely different and not miss a beat.
Thank you, that is so kind of you to say. I don’t do that much training, to be totally honest. I listen a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time driving around, usually commuting hours to and from a place. I listen closely to singers I adore over and over again. I often attempt to mimic their voices—usually, it’s quite a large range of different voices, powerful voices, some deeper, some higher, some totally experimental, some non-vocal, or just listening to instruments, trying to mimic their sounds too. I don’t necessarily do this with the intention of sounding exactly like these people within my own music, I do it for fun mostly, and to see where my voice can go, (and I love a good impression, esp. for karaoke) but after doing so (and so often) I feel like I have created a new voice of my own consisting of various sounds. I guess you could say this is my training.
Something I think about often (and have been thinking about a lot in the last two years) is how music can create entire worlds and these shared experiences with just sound and can take listeners to some new place entirely, almost in an instant. I feel like this idea is part of the architecture of The Instruction Manual. How do you approach making music as a way to build worlds?
I often cannot make music without entering a different world. One of the ways in which I learned how to survive is to often exit my present world and enter into an entirely new one. This comes out within my music–If I don’t personally feel transported when singing the music, or listening back, I can’t continue with that specific piece, I don’t feel safe with it. I feel like my music and songwriting come from a million worlds and dimensions, and it’s really hard for me to talk about or articulate because of this. The music doesn’t sit right with me unless it feels interdimensional. In recent years, and especially in the production of The Instruction Manual, I gain great enjoyment out of calling in heavy elements of my reality and sort of enmeshing those elements into some sort of fantasy world—balancing matter-of-fact with fable. It felt good and right.
Has your thinking about the idea of music or sound as a shared experience shifted or changed over the last few years?
Not really, if anything, the only thing that’s changed about music and sound for me is that I want to listen a bit less. I crave quiet, something that at first was confusing to me and a little cause of concern, worrying I’d never want to listen to music again! But, I’m leaning into the quiet, indulging in this new desire. I believe music should be shared, not shared, sound heard, not heard, give all of your attention or none to… Or maybe a little bit, whatever feels good.
I love how expansive and rich the palette of The Instruction Manual is and how, while there is this interconnected thread, every song has its own distinct feeling, like there’s a narrative form to the album in a way. How were you approaching the writing and recording (and sequencing! It’s sequenced so well – such an underappreciated thing I think) in relation to the story you are telling with the record?
That distinct feeling is true – I actually wrote most of those songs separately, all for different potential albums or EPs. I think it was only after writing “If Ever I Fall (Away With You)” that I was really determined to make an album, something about time, something more synth-heavy. Then, I realized I had all of these other songs already written, awaiting some re-visiting, and I was torn. I recorded “The Instruction Manual” second to last out of all of the songs, it felt like the tie to connect them all to each other. I wanted something synthy, but more vocal, with more melodies, unlike “If Ever I Fall”, but I also feel like those two sound so nice next to each other, which is why they are next to each other in the track listing. I also wanted a song that was fully tapping into another world, my subconscious, my dreams, my desire to break the random set of rules I constantly give myself, my habits, and patterns. “Whenever it is the Same” is one of the oldest songs on the album, and lyrically one of the sadder ones, in my opinion, singing of subjects I would often sing of on previous albums. Having that song as the first track and Fantasy Wading at the bottom, the newest song I’d written for the album, which talks of personal growth, understanding, knowing, and peace- like this is it, I’ve broken free from the rules, from myself– felt like the perfect two songs to sandwich the entire album together. All in all, I definitely approached each song from a different world and viewpoint, and I liked that about the album toward the end, at first I was hesitant. I asked a few friends “do they all sound too different from each other?” but then I really leaned in and celebrated the diversity–in the songs and in the different stages of my life I was quickly entering.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had when writing and recording The Instruction Manual?
Recording was hard. Sometimes it was in my bedroom, sometimes in my practice space, my car, the house I first isolated in before moving back in with my parents, and so on. I was very strict with isolating during the pandemic because I was living with my parents and family— I didn’t want to risk meeting up to record with anyone in an actual studio and potentially get sick. So, my process mostly consisted of me trying to maneuver furniture or padding around, or putting a blanket over my head and microphone while I would sing so you couldn’t hear the noise from my 4 siblings, 3 dogs, and parents bleeding into the recording. I love this structureless form of recording my music— improvisation, just making things work on the fly. I enjoy the chaotic nature of trying to find silence in a noisy atmosphere, it’s a good practice in listening and observing, and a beautiful sort of magic reveals itself within the natural rhythm and pattern of sounds around you, sounds I only sometimes notice. I almost felt, at one point, that my family made noises at certain times on purpose, but not consciously. A magnetism pulling a sound out of them to create a song with each other. It seemed like my dad would hammer something or start the lawn mower just as I’d take a breath to sing my first line, always right on time. It felt like we were all making music together in this way; some experimental ode to home improvement.
Oh, and the artwork – I have to ask about the artwork. It’s incredible! Is there a certain story behind it and how you came to work with Min Ji Son on it? It’s perfect for the whole feeling and experience of listening to the album, too.
Min Ji Son is a good friend of mine, and I’ve always been so inspired by her work. It gives me the same feeling I get when singing, this transported feeling, and I was feeling/craving that heavily during the lockdown. When I was writing the album, it struck me that her artwork would be a perfect pairing with the songs. I just knew it deep down. And so I asked her, and she was so happy to do it. It was perfect.
Is there anything that surprised you about yourself while you were making the record?
Yes, I was actually very surprised with the newer sounds I was producing and the lyrics I was writing. They really, truly came out of nowhere, and they just kept coming. I kept telling my friend Kern Haug, who was mixing the album, “I have another new song for you to mix for this album” after telling him many times, “oh it’s just an EP, oh it’s just 4 songs”. The roll I found myself on was very exciting and very surprising.
What else are you working on for the rest of 2022?
I am currently working on more experimental sound pieces accompanied by poems I’ve written. I have some vague performance piece ideas brewing in my head, an artform I’ve never truly dabbled in. I am currently in school as well, studying to become a Sign Language interpreter. I am also working on a garden, growing zucchini, yarrow, dill, and much more!