Since exorcising some of his demons and getting clean on his 2017 sophomore album Corners, Dallas-based singer-songwriter Dalton Domino has recently had more things go right than wrong in his life. Domino has lost two bands, suffered a relapse and gone back into treatment, but he still says his life is more peaceful than ever.
Domino has turned a corner while writing and recording his most reflective album to date, and he's finally learning how to take some much-needed time off for himself.
“I got clean for a while and I fell off and I spent a year in kind of a weird place,” Domino says. “I spent a lot of time I guess looking at life and kind of thinking, Why do I think the way that I do?”
The singer’s new mind-set can be heard throughout his upcoming third album, Songs From the Exile, which drops on Aug. 23, the same night he’ll be playing Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth. The album largely features songs related to an extended family he was detached from after his parents split when he was young, and in reconnecting with his roots, Domino says he bridged a gap he felt through much of his life.
“I lived with my mom and my stepdad and I always lived away from my family members," Domino says. "I lived in Texas, lived in Nevada, always out away from Memphis where all my other family lived. They were always just an aunt or uncle, there was never a personal touch to them. I didn’t know anything about them and then older I got the more I wanted to delve into knowing these people because they are family. They’re blood.”
Domino brings the listener along with him as he recounts stories from a lineage he hardly knew. Track-by-track, he explores these new relations as well as addressing the cause of his familial split on “Daddy’s Mud.” "It ain't my fault that Daddy's mud shines on what you raised/ That we look alike and we talk the same/ Don't forget, it was you who gave me his name."
Ultimately, curiosity was a major inspiration behind his new album, as opposed to confronting family skeletons.
“It was good laying where it lie, but I wanted to pick up and play with it,” Domino says of his past. “I didn’t know if it was a snake where it was going to bite me or if it was a flower type of thing and it turned out to be an extremely peaceful thing.”
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The album showcases a level of consistency one would expect when drawing from such personal subject matter. Domino’s singing and lyrics come off like a cross between Jason Isbell and John Rich, in the best sense. Compared with his last album, Domino seems to have settled into a more traditional country music sound, without entirely abandoning his punk rock tendencies.
“Corners, that was a record where I was getting clean and getting sober and getting rid of the shakes, shit like that,” he says. “This record was more so ‘let’s talk about the family, let’s talk about how you grew up, let’s talk about life, let’s talk about some family members and how they grew up and why we are the way we are.'”
The dichotomy between Domino’s newfound mellowness and his gruff take on pop-country-turned-red-dirt can be heard on the album’s handful of love and breakup songs. Including the aptly named “Dead Roses." Dalton says the song was the first written for the new album in February 2017. But after spending 2018 struggling with creative stagnation and a hectic touring schedule, things came to a head for Domino early this year, which perhaps explains some of his shift in tone.
“That led to a lot of internalizing frustrations and that just started building, and in my personal life I just started picking up a bottle again,” he says. “Finally in January it all came to a head and I checked myself in a treatment center, and the people who were playing for me they all went on to other places.”
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In January of this year, Domino took to social media, only 11 days after checking himself into treatment. In the post he touched upon the cumulative stresses of being a “road warrior,” which he says contributed to his recent struggles. And now he’s hung up his Mad Max leathers, promising to only play selectively when he’s not touring for an album.
“Life is so much better today than it was this time last year. I was so angry this time last year,” Domino says. “You’re on the grind, you want to do this, you’re planning to blow up and it takes years to do sometimes, it doesn’t just happen overnight. So when you’re hitting it that hard and it’s the same shit every single night, every single day … dude, the repetition alone is enough to drive you insane, at least it was for me.”
And his path to self-improvement doesn’t stop there. After having to record Songs From the Exile from demos recorded using his cellphone, Domino says he’s been taking online sound engineering classes and making more of an effort to get out into nature. Aside from that he’s sticking to his day job and stopping to smell the roses.
"I read some, I don’t have a job, my job is to write songs so I’m trying to get better at making demos,” Domino says. “I write songs all day, that’s what I do."