"Emotional content" is a phrase singer/songwriter Kristofer Dommin uses all the time. He uses those words to describe his singing and his guitar playing, his writing, and the overall feel of his music. The emotional content of the music on Dommin’s first self-titled album ranges from a dark and gothic place all the way to the crooner stylings of singers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Though he sings about broken hearts and unrequited love, Dommin is an upbeat and passionate musician ready to talk about his debut release on Roadrunner Records.
UG: You had talked about wanting your music to sound “authentic.” Can that actually have the opposite effect intended? In other words, you try so hard to sound different or unique that you end up distilling everything and sound like everyone else.
Kristofer Dommin: Actually what I was saying when I wanted to make sure that things were authentic, I was basically saying I wanted to stay true to the actual form as opposed to over-producing something. Doing something 100 times to make sure it’s perfect. I did most vocal things in one take; I did most guitar things in one take. Obviously if you’re doubling the vocals, it’s using more than one take. Usually we’d do four run-throughs of a song and we’d take the best one; or three run-throughs. On the song “Love Is Gone,” after the first or second time I said, “Yeah, that’s it.” So when I was saying authentic, it’s like when you get authentic Mexican food, it’s true to that place. “That tastes like Mexican food from Mexico.”
I want to make sure than when I play guitar and I sing, I wanted to make sure it sounded like me-if my voice cracked; if my guitar playing was not the most perfect, I wanted to keep that. I didn’t want to over-produce something so it sounded so fake. You know what I mean?
The orchestration was really well done; it wasn’t cluttered and every instrument was really present.
That’s how I like to work: The more concise, the more simple it is, the better. Even when it comes to writing lyrics and stuff, if I can get my message across with the fewest amount of words as possible, that’s what I try to go for. Otherwise, it just seems like too much.
Keyboards play a big part in the band’s sound. You were a fan of Depeche Mode and those types of groups-is that where the keyboard influence comes from? In other words, did you know you couldn’t realize your musical vision with a second guitar player instead of a keyboard player?
I think I kind of always intuitively thought that just because the stuff that really turned me on had keyboards. When you listen to movie soundtracks, and you hear the voices going, “Ooh ooh” and even the earliest soundtrack I can remember from when I was young was Conan the Barbarian. I bought that soundtrack because I loved the way those voices sounded. Nothing is more powerful than a choir of human voices. When you hear that, at least for me anyway, it gives you chills. If you’ve seen a gospel choir or a group of Gregorian chant monks or even any type of choir, when they’re singing beautifully and perfectly together, there’s nothing more powerful. You can’t get that out of a guitar lick. And I’m also a big fan of strings and bells and things like that. You can replace those certain melodies of bells and keyboards and synths with guitar, but to me it doesn’t have the same power. Every musical instrument has its strengths and limitations.
Did you ever go back to the Mellotron bands like Genesis and King Crimson for any sort of inspiration?
I’m aware of those bands but I didn’t listen to them too much. As far as the types of sounds we use, it’s really whatever I had available to my fingertips which was pretty limited. I bought a Roland because I went to the local Guitar Center and tried out the Korgs, the Rolands, the Yamahas, just played everything I could, and the ones that seemed to have the most authentic sounding sounds was Roland. So that’s what I went with. It’s just really the availability of what I had. I suppose if I had a bigger library, who knows what I would have ended up using.
And what about your guitar and amp setup?
The guitars I’m using right now are Ibanez SZ Series. It’s got the string-through-body; Gibraltar III bridge; rosewood fingerboard. I really like simple kind of easy-on-the-road, easy to change strings guitars. I haven’t really had the opportunity to play a lot of different things; I still feel like I’m exploring and I still feel like I’m finding the sound that I want. I had an Ibanez S Series Floyd Rose bridge probably about 10 years ago and it was too mechanical for me, too much to worry about with the bridge and the locking nut and stuff. And I wasn’t doing all kinds of crazy shredding anyway that I would need the whammy bar. So I ended up really kind of gravitating towards simple bridge and not too mechanical.
The amps I use right now is a Mesa cab and the head that I use is a Crate Excalibur. A lot of power and mostly I like the mids in that amp head. But I still feel like I haven’t come into my own as far the actual guitar sound yet; I feel I have a lot more exploring to do that I haven’t had the opportunity to do yet.
Are you looking to create a certain type of guitar sound that will work well with the synth textures? A guitar tone that blends well?
"Nothing is more powerful than a choir of human voices."
As far as the sound, I just like it to sound kind of crunchy but almost clean; nothing heavily distorted. When I think of cool guitar distortions and stuff that are not overdone, I think of the first Danzig record and I think of the way the Kiss guitar sounded on the Dressed to Kill record; it had a little bit of dirt on it. And the reason is when the guitars move more towards that clean kind of feel, when they’re not overly distorted, you can really feel the attack on the guitar. You hit it hard and it’s bam; when you hit it soft, it’s quiet. When I’m onstage and stuff and I want to go to a quiet part of the song that’s almost like a clean guitar, all I have to do is lighten up on the strumming. It really gives me that dynamic range that I like to have in a guitar sound and a performance. To me, the emotional projection of a song is really important so it helps to be a vehicle for that as well. When you hear guitars that are overly distorted, it doesn’t really fit our stuff because you hit the string and it’s as loud as it’s gonna be.
Is the guitar sound meant to clearly embellish what a lyric might contain or the style of a song? Is a ballad guitar tone different than a straight-up rock tone?
Absolutely; it’s really about the dynamic range for me as far as the tone. I should mention this – for half the album, we ended up using an amp called the Bad Cat. An amp boutique based in Temecula; they’re pretty expensive but our producer, Logan Mader had a loaner in the studio and all of the kind of mean guitar tones that could cut through anything, those we were using the Bad Cat amp. I would love to get my hands on one of those and that’s a tube amp. I’m still exploring all the different options.
“One Feeling” has some pretty ripping guitars on it though you said earlier you’re not a shred type player.
It’s really whenever it feels right; I just intuitively say, “It needs a solo here.” As far as guitar solos are concerned, I’ve always been kind of like in the school of Ace Frehley. He could just hit one note and bend it the right way and it would just hit you in the chest so hard you would just feel it. I’m about the one note that can come across in a more powerful way than 1,000 notes put together. And I like to be really melodic with the solos so they’re a hook in their own right. Kenny Hickey and Type O Negative had these kind of real ethereal, atmospheric, heavy on the delay kind of solos that I thought were really cool. I listen to Sabbath obviously. I listen to a bunch of bands that have great guitar work. I mean, Hendrix is one of my favorite artists of all time. How can you even attempt to pull off some of the stuff that he does in the way that he does it. I’ve seen guitar players try to duplicate the stuff that Hendrix does and it just does not come across the same. There’s something about his delivery and what he’s putting behind his soloing and his guitar work in general that is unique in authentic to him.
“Love Is Gone” also has some guitars doing some interesting riffs there.
Yeah; that’s a perfect example. After the bridge of the song, it just goes into this real kind of soulful bend kind of solo and to me that satisfies it. I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to solos. I did that and it’s really short but it does what it needs to and stops there. That’s one of the songs that I can actually picture live at some point just jamming out and extending it a little bit. Because when we were in the studio with that song, the track was just kind of running and I was doing some leads over it. And it was, “Man, I’d love to do this” but to me it was more about making the song concise and to the point. I always like to do stuff live differently than what’s on the studio record because it’s always neat when you kind of get something a little more when you go and see the band live rather than just a repeat of the album that you could hear at home.
Talking about the live aspect of Dommin, what has the response been to your stage show? How have the songs done down?
It’s been amazing; people have really taken to it and we’re relatively unknown right now. The common thing that I get from people from the first shows is, “Hey, I’ve never heard of you guys and I don’t know why and you guys are my new favorite band.” It’s really awesome. It’s always hard to get a really good impression of a band on first listen. There’s a lot of bands that I’ve listened to where I heard ‘em the first time and I’m like, “Nnnh.” And then I’ve heard the song three or four more times and I’m like, “You know what? I really like this.” So to be able to make that kind of impression and hit them once and have them already drawn to the music is pretty amazing.
Are there any songs live that people respond to more than others?
There’s an album track called “I Still Lost” is, for a certain group of people who have gone through that kind of experience, ends up being a song that they’re very, very passionate about. Live we have a song called “Dark Holiday” which is kind of reminiscent of the Doors and stuff and people react to that the most for not having heard any of the songs before.
You mention a Doors influence and yet your vocal on “Dark Holiday” has a real, old-timey sort of crooner quality about it.
For that song, it was a piano riff our keyboard player had been playing since he was like six years old. When he joined the band like three years ago, he’d always play it here and there and it was always just a find little tune. And the way a lot of stuff happens in the band, someone will have a riff and I’ll take it and basically make it into a song. The root of that song came from Konstantine, our keyboard player and I collaborated with him on it. It’s funny that you mention the crooner thing because I’m actually huge Frank Sinatra fan and Dean Martin and Vaughn Monroe; I like all those types of singers. I probably listen to that stuff a lot more than a lot of rock stuff. Lately it’s been right up my alley.
“Closure” has a bit of a different feel with some acoustic guitar.
Yeah, in the very beginning. Actually there’s a lot of acoustic tracks laid into various songs just to kind of give it a more full feeling. But yeah, that opens up with an acoustic. I used a Taylor acoustic and it sounded beautiful on the record. I love to play guitar, any guitar, electric or acoustic, anything that will make its way into my hands. But yeah, I love acoustic guitar. I think there’s gonna be a lot more of that kind of stuff coming out in the music in the future.
“One Eye Open” is a strange little piece also with acoustic.
"The emotional projection of a song is really important."
If you listen to the basic chord structure and melody of that, that riff in the beginning is the same melody that’s in the bridge of the song. That song, “Honestly,” came from that guitar riff and Lucas Banker who produced the album along with Logan Mader was always playing that little riff all the time. He’s like a big guitar plucker as far as his fingering; he does all these plucking rhythms and has these little riffs all the time. And so when I heard that, I went, “Oh, wow, that’s really cool” and I started singing something over it. And so actually what kind of happened was that first interlude and the bridge of the song were its own thing. And then from there we made the rest of the song, “Honestly, around it. I put it as an interlude on the album because it was something separate but I didn’t want you to have to listen to that to get to the crux of the song, “Honestly.” And then it reappears at the very end of the song; it’s more or less kind of one big track.
Can you talk a little bit about Logan Mader and Lucas Banker and what they brought to the music as producers?
They own a company called Dirty Icon Productions and that is Logan Mader and he was in Soulfly and Machine Head and his partner is Lucas Banker. Logan is just an amazing producer behind the mixing board; he’s really quick, he’s really fast. He’s got a great ear for pitch and tone and perfection and he’s the man as far as that’s concerned. And Lucas Banker has more of an ear for melody and songwriting and emotional content. So you put those two guys together and they’re an amazing team. Lucas Banker was actually the guy who found us and discovered us first and brought us in and we recorded our first five-song demo with them. They’re the ones who brought it to Roadrunner. Lucas really saw the value of the style of the music and the emotional content of the music and immediately just became our number one fan. They brought out the best in us. The songs were basically the same; they didn’t try to come in and change our sound. It was basically like, “Let’s make what you have better; let’s put you in a real studio. Let’s make sure we track it right.” And I also collaborated with them on a couple of the songs as far as songwriting. The songs “I Still Lost” and “Honestly” are both co-written with those guys. There’s one song that didn’t make it on the advanced release called “Remember” which is a real kind of orchestral piece at the end of the CD. I co-wrote that with them as well and an artist named Junkie XL did the string arrangements on that.
Lucas Banker would sit there and most of the vocals as I mentioned were one or two takes. He’d say, “You know what? Try it with emphasis on this. I want to hear your vocal chords busting open.” That really helps bring out a lot of the emotional content of the music as well.
Was that emotional content on display on your first CD? Does the record portray you accurately as a musician in 2009?
It’s hard for me biggest I’m my biggest critic so I hear things. Anybody who comes to see us live will hear differences in the songs. “Oh, they put in a whole part in the song that doesn’t exist on the album.” To me, songs are kind of never done; if there’s something cool that could be added to it, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t do that. It’s definitely where I was at that moment; I can’t really say it’s where I am now. You’re always evolving and always changing and always have new ideas. I’m not looking to go back in and re-do anything because that is what it was and it captured that moment in time and it’s perfect.
You think the next record will more fully realize who you are as an artist?
Yeah, absolutely. As long as I’m always evolving and always changing. But even then, five months past that record and it’s gonna be the same story. Hopefully you never kind of stop growing from where you were before.
Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2009