Blue Volume is out now!
Image: Bee Elton.
Sydney based songwriter and performer Dominic Breen has unveiled his superb debut album, Blue Volume. We caught up with the musician to chat about the release, working with Tim Fitz, connecting with his audience and so much more!
Congratulations on your debut album, Blue Volume! Such a great body of work. Across the collection of songs, you explore themes of identity, anxiety, hope, disillusionment, yearning and love, with a main conceptual thread of communication. Could you walk us through the conceptual nature of the record and why you’ve documented these themes on the album?
I think some of those themes, I think they're documented in a way to better understand them probably. I guess for me, when you're in a position of, you know, where you've got to think about those sorts of things, for me the best way to do it in a way is to, you know, it's an unintentional thing, but you end up writing songs about it. It's only like a while after where you can look at the song and you can see what it it means to you. It helps you make sense of those sorts of things, I guess. That's probably why they're in there.
The songs hold their own as singular entities, but also work together to create one longer narrative that essentially tells the tale of the human existence. I was going to ask was that was something that you had in mind whilst creating the record, but I going off what you've just said, you pieced together what the album was about afterwards?
Yeah, I never set out to document something or explain or sort of illustrate something. It's just how things end up really. They sort of just happened. I guess if you zoom out and look at the album as one thing, it does sort of paint a picture. But I didn't have any intention to paint it any certain way. I think just based on people's responses to it, like I've had to do a couple of interviews and it's really interesting to hear how different it is for certain people. I spoke to a, I guess you would say middle-aged man, and he thought it was an anti masculine sort of record. And then I spoke to like a 20 year old girl last week and she thought it was very vulnerable.
Vulnerability for sure, that's definitely embedded within your lyricism.
Yeah, this whole interview thing which I've had to do has been really interesting for me because I'm understanding the album better myself, hearing what people say about it. So I don't really know, but the anti masculine thing I thought was interesting.
Yeah, I can't say that's something I found super prevalent whilst listening but will keep in ming on my next listen.
Yeah, It was quite a deep, deep cut, you know, that angle. But I mean, I see what he means in a way. It just depends on what you think masculinity is, I guess. I think, if masculinity is the absence of vulnerability, then yes, it probably is an anti-masculine record [laughs]. Who's to say!
I love that! You’ve said you were almost ready to throw in the towel before working on Blue Volume. What essentially kept you going and made you want to realise this record?
There was a period there where before I recorded this, I thought I was gonna move to the desert. I had a job pretty much lined up out in like this really remote community in Western Australia called Warburton. I thought there was a possibility for me to go out there, and it was nearly locked in. I think, it seems that way and I was locked into the idea. Then I thought, like, you know, there's no shame in doing something like that, but I felt like it was quite antithetical to what I'd been working towards and I thought I've got a lot of songs and the best thing to do is record them instead of run away from them. So I ended up doing that and I did it with Tim Fitz who is a great guy and he's always been very supportive. I have like a very small group of friends who I send like dodgy demos to, he's one of them. He always said, 'we got to record this properly.' So we finally decided to do it and I didn't do all the other things that I thought I was going to do, which is probably for the best at this stage.
Speaking of Tim, you worked on the album with him and the album was mastered by Matthew Neighbour. What do you think Tim in particular brought to the project to help bring to life what you wanted for your debut?
Matt Neighbour, in all fairness, he just mastered it and sometimes I can't really tell what that process does [laughs]. So I don't really know what he brought to it [laughs]. I worked very closely with Tim and he was, you know, it was just the two of us locked away in this attic of his and he brought a lot to it. I think the things which you can't hear that he brought was like the emotional counsel and the, I don't know how to describe it. The togetherness that I wasn't doing something alone, which I think you can feel when you're solo artist, you know? It felt like in a way we're a band, like I'd already written all the songs and stuff, but he helped colour them in, you know?
Oh, that's such like a lovely analogy and a great way to put it.
Well, that's pretty much what he did. He had all the texters, he had better texters and we got to go through his texters. And then he had cool ones and maybe I was like, 'nah, but we should use my texters for this one'. It's kind of like that exactly.
You’ve been releasing music since 2018 and building towards this album. What new knowledge do you think you were able to bring to the record after years of sharing music and touring, that you wouldn’t have been able to if you jumped straight into making an album three years ago?
I guess if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have had to write these songs because I would've understood people better and their intentions and I wouldn't have got myself in the situations I did. So the album really wouldn't have been made.
How did the album evolve and change as you were creating it? Did you go through a number of track lists, was there anything left off that you'd want to release in the future?
I guess I brought the songs and they were all kind of done. It was how we dressed them up, you know, like they were already these forms, we were deciding what clothes they were going to wear for this time and place that we live in, in Sydney and Australia and the world. The songs kind of, to me, the songwriting style I think I do is kind of more traditional, I guess. I really recognise and value non-traditional sounds, and I guess we eventually tried to create a harmony between those two things. Like some of the songs are really like folk songs on the album, but they're kind of dressed up with screechy guitars and stuff. I think that had a lot to do with Tim, even though I wanted to head that way too. But there were some songs that were cut, not necessarily because they were bad just because, well I don't know if they're objectively bad, but I didn't like them [laughs]. So yeah, there was a few that got cut, but now that the album is coming out and I look at the songs that were cut, I think, 'oh, maybe they could have been on there', but they can get released on the album for like the 20th anniversary edition [laughs], the diamonds Jubilee celebration!
Can't wait for it! Which three songs off the record would you pick to play to someone who had never heard your music, to make them an instant fan?
If I knew that then it would be so easy! Um, It would depend on who I'm showing. If I know the person then I would be able to sort of like customise the selection. I think James Street Tonight sums up one of the themes in the album pretty well, which is like the will to contact somebody and the desire to communicate against forces beyond your control, anybody's control. Real Hard Week maybe sums up the album a bit too. I think because Real Hard Week to me is kind of like the sequel to James Street Tonight in a weird way. I guess it's like, once you realise you've been blinded by different things and once you can finally see everything's very clear, you see that sometimes the thing that surprises you most is not what someone has done, but what you've allowed, what you've actually allowed for someone to do. You're surprised by yourself. Then I guess the third one, maybe Under Your Sorrow. It depends, there's kind of a few different strands I think.
I like the choice. So if the album was like a piece of pre.-existing visual arts, which artwork would perfectly sum up the album be?
That's a good question. I've been trying to think about things visually lately because I've been doing a lot of painting myself. I think Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Rubens would be the painting to sum it up.
Love it! We're about to come out of lockdown, do you have any live show plans? Will audiences be able to catch you on tour?
Yeah, there's going to be an album tour next year. Early next year, I think February. There might be some gigs this year, it depends. It's hard to say a few things floating around.
What can audiences expect from one of your live shows?
I don't know what I expect either! I think they should come with no expectations and walk away feeling 10 out of 10.
How important do you think live music is for you, like connecting with your audience?
It's a special feeling when that happens, when you feel the harmony between you and the audience. It's a special thing and when that happens it's very validating and I guess more simply it's very encouraging when that happens. So the absence of that has been quite strange because you have to push on, you have to keep doing your thing. But you don't have any sort of , beyond Facebook likes or something where you post a song, you don't really have any sort of a way to connect. I guess as artists we do in a sense rely on there being an audience and when your audience is the internet, like numbers and seeing how many likes something gets and things like that, I feel like it's a very dangerous.
For sure it's a dangerous culture because importance is placed on the wrong thing.
Exactly! The true yardstick for measuring art is how much you connect with it and how much you're able to create that harmony and that there's no way of really doing that online. I know there's a lot of good things happening in filling the space right now because of COVID, but I hope that after this we can return to, I guess, real life scenarios. Because there's an importance with that, that you can't measure.
I guess that would be my thoughts on the matter, but I think a lot of people should be very proud of what they've been able to achieve in lockdowns, the improvising. I'm totally supportive of that too.
Blue Volume is out now!