For Domino Kirke, the concept of normalcy has been rather elusive. Her first foray into singer-songwriting as a teenager landed her on renowned producer Mark Ronson’s radar, resulting in a development deal that allowed Kirke to break out of New York’s coffeehouse scene and onto stages with acts such as Gang of Four and Lily Allen. As her band became more heavily engrained in the frenzied world of touring musicians, Kirke found herself on her way to motherhood, a juxtaposing circumstance that resulted in a rather drastic step away from the spotlight.
The daughter of Bad Company’s Simon Kirke, Domino had become familiar with the difficulties of balancing parenting and the equally testing world of Rock and Roll. After years of focusing solely on her son Cassius and working as a doula, Kirke found herself yearning for the creative realm she’d once thrived in. This time approaching project from a different angle than her singer-songwriter days, Kirke teamed up with Here We Go Magic’s Luke Temple to piece together a four-track EP that faultlessly personifies the phrase “short but sweet.” Independent Channel, which will be available on May 19th, boasts a musical advancement for Kirke, who’s begun incorporating electronic percussion and fragile, layered synths for a renewed sound that maintains Kirke’s characteristic singer-songwriter style.
Kirke’s first single of the new work, “Ordinary World,” shifts back and forth between down-tempo beats carried by Kirke’s sturdy melodies and faster, nearly House-like percussion enveloped by layers of angelic vocal harmonies. Whether contemplating her own rock star father, sister Jemima Kirke of Girls, or the family she herself has started, the piece is Kirke’s study on what it means to live an “ordinary” life while balancing successful artistic projects, or other challenging facets of one’s life.
Take a listen to “Ordinary World” below, read our interview with Kirke, and make sure to see her play one of her residency shows at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right, this May.
I know you started music at an early age, but when did you decide to pursue it professionally?
Well I went to high school for music and then went to college and was like, I need to do more music. I had left high school as a music major and thought I wanted to get away from it, but then I was upstate and was coming in every weekend to play. So I didn’t really get to experience college, because I was too much of a New Yorker. I started performing as a solo artist when I was nineteen. And that’s what I knew that I wanted to only do that.
One of your first “big breaks” was working with Mark Ronson. Can you tell me about the experience?
Mark and I met in two different chapters. The first chapter, I think I was seventeen, and it was this whole pop outfit that they were presenting to me, and Mark was going to be producing. I think I was still in high school and I couldn’t…I wasn’t ready. I think the whole package was not for me. And I grew up around musicians, so I really understood what they were offering me. So I went away for a few years and then met back up with Mark. I had a band at that point and he saw us perform at Piano’s one night and offered us a development deal. We recorded an EP with him, went on tour with a bunch of great people, and then I got pregnant.
What’s the difference between being in a band and working as a solo artist?
I’ve had a few versions of it all. Since having my son, I’d gone back to the kind of singer-songwriter outfit, and then that didn’t feel like where I am right now. So I met up with a friend of mine, Luke Temple, who’s in a band called Here We Go Magic. I’m a friend and a fan. I just wanted to completely revamp my sound and he wanted to write with a woman. He wanted a female vocalist in his life, or a muse, or whatever you want to call it. So we started writing together and we just thought it would be fun to put out an EP that was a little bit more electro, ethereal, and synth-heavy.
I was so sick of the ego that came with being a singer-songwriter. I was just so bored of myself, and I needed to bring in the band piece again, or at least one other person.
Can you tell me about the venues in New York?
I feel old now. The places I was playing when I was twenty-two, well it’s just not that cool to play there anymore. It’s interesting, I keep saying this but it feels like I’ve had to unlearn everything I knew about and the way I did things ten years ago and kind of relearn the industry. I mean, I’m sure a lot of musicians say that today. Because I’m a mom I can’t really go on tour for three years, so I’m just kind of trying to take a different approach.
There is a different pool now that I’m swimming in. When I first started it was like singer-songwriter’s at Joe’s Pub, Sidewalk Café…you know, pretty girl with a pretty voice, just doing her thing. And then I was lucky enough to get the attention of Mark, who just put it all together. So it feels like I’m kind of starting from scratch, in a way, which is great because it’s not really scratch since I know what I’m doing. Although there is a feeling of being a beginner again.
What was it like working with Here We Go Magic’s Luke Temple?
I know for Luke, he’s not used to writing with other people. He’s been in other people’s bands, but I don’t think he’s sat down for someone, or with someone, and written. He’s always the front man, and I’m always the front woman. So for two front people to come together and create a sound, I think for both people it was a huge learning experience. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know if he and I would gel because we were friends socially, and I just didn’t know how we would do in the creative space together. He’s a bit of a mad scientist and a genius songwriter.
For me, I didn’t know if I would get in the way of his process. I don’t think he knew what to expect from me, because he met me as a mother. He didn’t know me as a musician. It’s two different brains. So many people met me four years ago; they met me as a doula. I’m a birth doula, or a labor coach, for my day job. People knew me as a mom and a doula. They knew that I used to be a musician but that I don’t do it anymore. So it was like reintroducing myself to my community as a musician.
Did Temple understand how you spent your time outside of creating music?
It’s funny because I was there for the birth of [Luke’s] nephew, so he understood what I did. He finally went, “Oh, you don’t just wake up and write songs every day, or record music. You do other things that don’t involve being creative or yourself. It’s a pretty selfless job. It helped us I think, for when we were writing together, for him to understand that I wear so many hats. I went in as such a fan of his. Here We Go Magic is one of my favorite bands, and Luke’s solo stuff is bananas. So when he wanted to write with me, it took a few times for me to kind of calm down and to feel like his equal, because I was just in awe the whole time. But I think that’s good for the creative process, to be a little bit in awe of the person you’re writing with.
Who came up with the lyrical content and subject matter on the EP?
It was just mixed. He would come up with a lyrical idea really more to show me a melodic concept he was coming up with, and then whatever came of that idea, I would run with it. I tend to go more autobiographical and Luke is very much a storyteller. He’s always like, “Stop talking about yourself!” That’s what I mean when I say I had to relearn. I had to fully take the way I wrote and toss it, and really get into this other uncomfortable space with someone I admired. The whole thing was like shedding the skin as well, because I hadn’t written a record that I was excited about before I had my kid and I have a lot more to say now, as a mother. I’m not the same twenty-two-year-old that does nothing all day but talk about myself.
How did the song “Ordinary World” come about?
“Ordinary World” was the last song we wrote. It was my favorite melody that Luke played for me. It was almost like saving the best for last. He sent me a batch that I thought were great and special, but this one really stuck out…It’s the only song where I did the vocals with Luke in the room, and as one of my favorite singers, I was like, “Oh god. Please don’t judge me.” He had so many genius ideas as we were going along for the layering and the harmonies. I think it was the most collaborative song on the EP. And it’s a bit of a weird song, but it’s kind of beautiful in its weirdness.
What does an ordinary world mean to you?
Luke presented the idea of “Ordinary World” and I was like, this is so interesting because I feel like both Luke and I are in this transitional place, where I’m coming out of the first phase of motherhood, having a six-year-old, and he’s having a little bit of a “what am I doing” phase. We both have kind of come into our own this year, and it’s funny to circle back and have kind of found him again and to be doing this with him now. Because I think we’re both kind of trying to figure out what is normal, as musicians who have both gone through a lot of family stuff. There was a lot of truth that came out this year, and I think we both met when we were trying to figure out how to land from various…everything.
It’s also just talking about not getting caught up in the chaos and letting it spit you out on the other end. It’s more about grounding and finding yourself, and sort of building a wall around you, which is why I wanted it to be thick with layers, and a lot of synth and a lot of whirly, trippy effects. I wanted it to be a strong melody, but I also wanted it to kind of spin you out, because that’s how this year has felt for me. And as a mother, you have to be so firmly planted in the ground while all of this stuff is happening around you.
I’m sure if nothing else, motherhood requires a type of stability that not a lot of musicians have.
You have to be stable, and I didn’t grow up with a lot of that stability with having artist parents and only knowing people in that world. I mean, they’re crazy people. So I tried to figure out what my normal was, and I’m still figuring it out. But the song is really about making your own normal, and what one has to do to achieve that.
What did you learn about parenting as an artist, having had a father in a famous band?
I think musicians back then were very different than today. But I did grow up kind of with the understanding that the lifestyle of a touring musician was really crazy, and very unstable, and that people can have multiple worlds when they’re on tour all the time. There’s the touring world, the band world, and when they’re home, sleeping and eating well. I think what I’m trying to figure out is if you can be in that world without the chaos. Because everyone I know who’s in a band has a hard time coming down from the experience, like finding their day-to-day and not being a total alcoholic and not being a total drug addict. They’re addicted to this adrenalin all the time because that’s what you get when you perform. I think I stopped needing that from people.
When I was younger, I was like, “Like me! Approve of me.” And then I had a kid and I’m like, “I don’t give a shit. I just want to sing.”
And the need to sing changed, and the need to write music changed. I have a lot of friends who don’t have kids who are like, “God, I’m so sick of myself. I have to sit and just write songs, and I get disappointed when people don’t like it, and it sends me into a depression.” And I’m like, “I can’t be depressed if I played a bad show or wrote a song that people thought was cheesy. I don’t care anymore the way I used to care. Somehow music is more of a pleasure, now. It’s just something for me to…it’s just therapy.