She is a singer, songwriter, doula, wife, mother, daughter and sister. And in a month, she will release her debut full-length album entitled Beyond Waves. It’s not that Domino Kirke hasn’t shown off her voice before, it’s just been in small bursts. But life has a way of nudging creativity in different directions and for Kirke, the daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke, the harmoniousness of her life at this moment in time has brought out the best in her vocals and her songwriting. This doesn’t mean that what she has to say in her new songs are all lilies and sunshine. Life is more complicated than that. But her heart is there and that is what listeners will certainly garner from the fruits of her year-long gardening.
While still in her teens, Kirke was signed by producer Andre Levins, formed her band Domino, recorded an EP and toured with artists such as Lily Allen. In 2009, she became mother to a son and began working as a doula. She helped start Carriage House, a doula service organization that assists with births. In 2013, she released the EP, The Guard, followed by 2014’s Independent Channel.
This time around, though, Kirke has eased off the electronics to allow her lilting harmonious vocals to shine through more, to showcase the lyrics and melodies on such songs as the title track, “Black Jack” and “Happy No Happy.” Glide spoke with Kirke recently about her new songs and the emotions behind them.
You’ve released several EPs in the past. Why didn’t you do a full-length then?
What was happening with me before was I was trying to find that balance between new motherhood and creativity and what it meant to play music with a kid. So I think with the EPs it was just sort of my attempt, like my trial runs, to play with different sounds and write with different people but never really finding the right fit. So I was never really creating full records. I was just sort of writing the occasional song with a friend who I would write with and then just put those out instead of working on the whole body of work.
My son is eight and it’s a lot more manageable and I found the feel that I really wanted to get behind. The EP before this was more electronic and kind of more playful and just sort of experimenting with different ideas about how I wanted to sound. Then I was like, well, this isn’t me, even though it was super fun to make; this is still not my truth and these words, they didn’t feel very honest. Then writing this, it took about a year to write and then another year to record because I did two evolutions of the recording process. I just found more space to create this year. My son is of an age where he didn’t need me in the same ways as he did when he was little and my mind freed up.
Do you remember which song got it started?
I guess the first song on this record that really felt complete and really got it going was, I’d say, “Half Blood” and then “Black Jack.” Those songs were sort of like journal entries for me. My friend Luke Temple, who plays in Here We Go Magic, he wrote with me and he asked me to write just stream of consciousness, just write, write, write about my family. And that’s what I did, which was like my first attempt at really writing about my family. And those were the first two songs that came out of that process.
Did that feel natural to you writing about something as personal as your family?
It was really easy. I don’t know why. My grandparents died, they died within a year of each other, and then a lot of stuff happened in my family where it was just a lot of truths exposing in my family and a lot of realizations about my childhood and it was all sort of happening at once and I was like, God, I got to get this out. I couldn’t really tap into that before because I didn’t have access to this information. Then this year a lot of stuff opened up in my family so I was kind of ready to write about it.
Which song in particular do you think was the hardest emotionally for you to write?
Interestingly enough, “O’Kane” was the hardest. It’s about my son’s father and just about making peace with the past and making the decision to move forward with a new love and a new life. That was the hardest one to write. I’d say “Half Blood” was sort of hard to sing because it’s about my brother and we’re half-siblings and how it must have felt for him to have the same mother but not the same father. It’s very, very personal and very private things and I found it was very easy to write about those things finally and they made for really great songs.
Has it been easy to sing them in public?
It is, because I feel like they are so much who I am that it feels very natural to just let them out, you know. I don’t feel shy when I sing them. If anything, I feel like I’m giving people a little piece of myself.
What do you think is the most important line or lyric in these songs?
The song “Beyond Waves,” that I wrote with Luke from the band Here We Go Magic, was the last song we put on the record but the hardest line for me to write and has been kind of tough for me to sing live as well: “I had a child no one told me wasn’t a toy.” Just writing about how unprepared I felt for motherhood and how young I was having a child at that time. So that was a very intense line for me to write and choose to put in. But there are many, so many. It’s a very lyrical record, so lyric heavy, and each song is like a story.
Which song would you say changed the most from it’s original composition to when you finally recorded it?
I’d say “Nightmare.” It used to be very structured and didn’t really have much space at all and almost was sort of jolly. It was pretty upbeat and now it’s really spacious and sort of an art piece, like it’s it’s own thing. It’s very minimal and it’s sort of a weird song now, which I love, I love what it became. It just became very sparse.
When you sit down and start creating a song, what comes first?
Lyrics come first. It’s sort of lyrics then melodies. Luke Temple, who I write with, is a melody mastermind. He’s sort of an architect when it comes to songs. The combination of my lyrics and his arrangements and then we sort of go through them together and we weed out. It’s sort of a three part process. I would say the combo of my words and his arrangements are for me the dreamiest duo I’ve ever had as far as writing goes.
Do you like to be in the studio and fiddle with knobs and stuff?
Yeah, I like producing. I worked with Joan Wasser, who is Joan As Police Woman, and she was the producer on this record and I ended up mixing it myself with an engineer, just to get all the things just so. That was really empowering for me. To get to be the only one in there while we were mixing ultimately was very important for me.
Did you do anything like that on the previous ones?
No, I always sort of hung back. And that’s why this record is so special for me. It’s really me sort of stepping into my power and speaking up for myself, because historically I always made records with other people and sort of allowed producers and writers to sort of take over.
When did you first start writing songs?
When I was a little kid. The first song I ever wrote I was probably eleven or ten. I always wrote on piano and I grew up in choirs and always, always singing. I went to school for vocal music and piano so I’ve always been writing, really since pre-pubescence.
You were saying earlier that you made EPs and you weren’t satisfied and then life got busy. How does an artist kind of push that creative force to the wayside and focus on new things?
I don’t know. I was a single mom for like four years but I had the help of my son’s father but I operated mentally as a single parent and I think that’s where I really couldn’t find any space for music. But I missed it and for me singing is sort of like breathing, like I’ve always done it for as long as I can remember. I never had a plan B. So for me, it never really went away, it just sort of lingered really close to the surface, but I just didn’t have the mental space to acknowledge it until my son was of an age where he could sort of fend for himself a little more.
How would you describe your relationship with your voice?
I had training so I had to actually work to undue a lot of the training. I used to have a very strong vibrato, I used to study classical music, I sang opera. I used to also sing gospel music in school and I sang arias and chamber music. I mean, I did everything. So I had to really work to take all of the influences out of my voice in order to find who I really was in there. And that took years. I really think until I had my son I didn’t really drop into my body and into my voice the way I did recently. Like, that didn’t happen until the past few years I think. It took a long time to decide, or not even to decide but to just discover what my voice really sounded like.
What can you tell us about the song “Happy No Happy”?
That one was written by Luke Temple. He wrote the arrangement and I wrote some of the lyrics. It’s about a love of his, actually, sort of about the woman he started to see and I really, really identified with this woman he was writing about. So I chimed in lyrically on a few verses but it’s actually his song. It was the most easy song to sing. I really identified with the character, the woman it was about, and I eventually met her and I was just like, I feel like I know you because of this song. And he really wanted a woman to sing this song. I wrote some of the lyrics in some of the verses and it didn’t affect it at all. It still sounded like it was about her. So I was able to really play the part.
And “Black Jack”
That song is about my grandfather and about my family growing up with him, about my mother’s childhood and what it must have been like to grow up with a dad like that.
What would you say is the strongest emotion on this record?
That’s a tough one but I’d say just investigation. Like, I really wrote this record to get closer to my family and the mythology of my family. Just curiosity and sort of nostalgia.
What happens next?
I’m playing a lot of shows in the fall. I’ll be going to Europe and opening for some friends bands. I’m still getting all of that lined up but I will be playing here in New York in the meantime, some radio shows and some live streams. We’ll be busy this year.
Photos by Shervin Lainez & Tina Turnbow