Free Dominguez Interview
Free Dominguez is the vocalist for kidneythieves, which she formed with Bruce Somers in 1997. Kidneythieves have produced 4 studio albums, a live album, and their music has been featured in movies, television, and video games (Detailed discography at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidneythieves).
Kidneythieves took a break in 2004 and reformed in 2007. The music business changed dramatically in that time period. Prior to 2004 kidneythieves were on the Extasy label and in the post 2005 era they were independent and produced and marketed their own music.
Kidneythieves create industrial-electronic rock with tones of light and shade. Free’s beautiful voice contrasts with Bruce’s aggressive guitar playing. The lyrics often utilize surrealistic imagery; sometimes they sound a bit like someone describing a Salvador Dali painting. Some excerpts from their songs are below.
Before I Am Dead
The sun reclines
Eats my mind
Reminds me what to leave behind
The Invisible Plan
My heroes don't fly
They crawl up inside
Take over your mind
Just like a drive-by
Woke up from the raddest dream, there were purple skies and we all could fly
and there were neon signs where our hearts reside saying “you are welcome here, anytime”
During the course of the interview I was not surprised to learn from Free that Led Zeppelin was a HUGE influence upon her. Like Led Zepplin’s music, kidneythieves music has tones of light and shade in it and uses cultural motifs to create a sense of mystery. In the same way that Led Zeppelin utilized imagery from Celtic and Arabic sources in their lyrics, Free draws upon her own cultural heritage and uses Spanish Surrealism.
Free has recently released a solo album, Vocano + The Sea. In the following interview, I discuss with Free her current work beginning with the process of reforming kidneythieves and leading up to her solo album.
The photos were taken by Tiffanie Byron at a kidneythieves performance at the Roxy on June 3, 2011.
D: Going back to the writing and production of “Dark Horse” please tell us about the process of rebuilding kidneythieves up to picking out a new line up for the Invisible Plan.
F: When Bruce and I started writing again, we had taken a break for about two and a half years. Things had gotten really confusing and difficult and we just needed to take a step back, because moving forward had just begun to seem like Sisyphus. We needed some perspective. After the two and a half years that we didn’t write together, when we came back we knew that we had to try some different things. Dark Horse was the first track. We were just back in the zone. It got into a better groove as we kept going. Dark Horse was a very personal song for me. I think that we represented it well, and that it was a good start in getting back into more kidneythieves albums.
D: You did Tryptofantic with purely you and Bruce. After that you did a live show and you got a new line up, and did a new album with the other players playing on it, is that correct?
F: No. But I feel that the band that we got when we did Tryptofanatic was a really good group. Dylan who was helping us do the sound for our shows, introduced Murv, Nick, Annis, and Cary. We did these shows. We thought that we would be able to do some more touring--people just don’t buy records anymore like they used to. We hadn’t fully understood the change in the music industry. We came from record deals and tour support and getting our songs into movies. So many things had changed in a very short period of time. Just finding out where we fit in all of that took some adjusting. Invisible Plan was done also with just me and Bruce.
D: What new skills have you had to learn in the changed environment of the music business?
F: Adapting to a new reality: everything is online, and there have to be other ways to fund our records. Tours cost money. There has been a disconnect in the community of people in understanding that. [People say] “Oh well I can download music for free why do I need to buy it?” I felt like there was this disconnect and there wasn’t a lot of talk about it. Artists need support. We feel a little weird asking for that. I have really seen a change in that with Kickstarter, and in the past couple of years and going forward. The truth is we can’t keep going without money. If you like our music spend the 99 cents as opposed to playing it on Spotify and Youtube and downloading it illegally. I think now that we have all banded together, we feel strong in saying that.
One thing that I have always been appreciative of, are the people have been around in the online community. The people who have come to my shows in the past, who are just good hearted music lovers. I am so greatful to have that. That was before everything else. Just understanding that we are all in this together and communicating with them has really made a difference.
As you can see from the Kickstarter that I recently did, it is a pretty good start I think. Every day when I wake up I am still surprised that happened and so grateful. It not only is enabling me to make this record and do a bunch of creative things, but it has pushed me into the whole year of 2013 being able to collaborate with other artists. I was able to do some upgrades to my traveling studio, so that when I do my own electronic music I can put it all in one bag and go somewhere and write. I have a major video game that is about to come out and hopefully with all of these things it will just keep going.
Bruce and I are working on new material in the new album and we have some really strong ideas about the direction of the music as far as kidneythieves
D: How much time would you say that you spend these days on promoting and the business side of things compared to doing the art?
F: That is a really good question. I feel like no matter what I am doing in life, whether it is sitting down and actually executing the music or writing the lyrics, I am always doing the art in some way when I am going and living life. I am always thinking about it, I am always inspired. So I am probably a hundred percent of the time being an artist, and I think that it is very artistic and creative to share ideas with fans and people who listen to the music. I like to hear what they have to say, and they are sharing their own art. So that becomes part of the creative process as well. The actual grunt work of business stuff, since now I am writing all of the checks, well Bruce and I have always written the checks before, now it is just a matter of maintaining, answering e-mails, when someone e-mails me with an opportunity I follow up, you know, normal stuff. I never feel like there is an imbalance.
D: Back in the days of record deals, when people actually had records on vinyl, how was that different in terms of the amount of time that you put between promotional stuff and art?
F: That is funny; I was actually just thinking about that when I was answering your question. When we weren’t actually independent, Bruce and I still had to work really hard. We had some good managers, but you still have to manage your manager. You still have to talk to your agent, and you still have to get checks from the label and deposit them. We have to keep business records, hire musicians, and communicate with the fans. It has been an integral part of keeping going. It is always a good idea when you are an artist who has commerce to make sure that the buck stops at you. Always! Always have your eyes and ears open and everything ends up in your lap. I think that is a healthy way to exist and for checks and balances. Also to be a hundred percent sure that you are being represented in the way that you want your self and your art to be represented.
D: What is your starting point when you write a song? Do you start with a riff and the music or do you start with a lyric or an image or an idea?
F: It is not linear at all. It could be something that I see on the street. I could wake up with a bass line or a piano line or strings and I have to put the idea down. It could be that I am playing with a sound and I like that sound. It could be a phrase that I write down and maybe a decade ago and again I see it and I go “That is striking a chord in me.” I am always “on” in that way. It doesn’t ever feel really stressful to be always “on.” It is just the way that I am.
D: Thank you for that insight. In a lot of your lyrics you use surrealistic imagery and you try to move the audience to another place. What do you feel is the importance of a sense of mystery or mysticism in art work?
F: I have always been kind of weird and I see things a little differently. I gravitate towards symbols, double meanings. I have always been attracted to poetry and the way that things are said; the way that they manipulate the reader. Carl Jung and transformation through our deep collective symbols attracts me. When I am writing it is just the way that I see things. I like the mystery in life. I like transformation. I like emotion and visuals and human connection. I like being able to do that through poetry. It has always been something that I have loved to do.
D: How is working on the current album and the kinds of sounds and textures on it different than kidneythieves?
F: I am working on something without Bruce, and Bruce brings a lot of his own engineering and sound to the table. Kidneythieves to me is . . . there definitely is a sound and a structure to it, even though a lot of our songs sound different. I think that you can put all of our albums together and go “Ok, that is kidneythieves.” I am just me, and I also wrote a lot of the songs with Static from Ours. We collaborated; we both have very similar unique inspirations. I am also coming deeply from my roots. Not consciously, but there is a string of that is from the first type of music that I heard. It is not going to sound just like that because we are bringing a modern element into it. It is going to be its own picture that we are painting. I am working with JJ Blair, and because I am so close to him all three of us see things in a very similar way, but everyone has their strengths. I know this is going to be a really special piece of work. It is not an electronic per se album, it is not an acoustic album, it is going to be some raw emotion visual telling stories. The whole album tells a story. I will be sharing pieces of it in the next couple of months before it comes out.
D: Great thank you very much. You kind of got into covering my next to questions with that.
F: One of the things, I am from Texas and I did grow up listening to, I mean my mother listened to the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and all of these things. My first influences hearing Led Zeppelin, which I am still a huge Zeppelin fanatic. Strong female vocalists from Annie Lennox to Stevie Nicks to Heart. Plus I grew up listening to the real Blues and Soul. You know just dirty raw music. Those elements definitely influence my songwriting. When I sat with bass, when I sat with piano and I just . . . And Static he is rooted in Brian Eno to Jimmy Page to Jimi Hendrix to Robert Fripp even Django Reinhardt that is the school where he comes from. We both love electronic music and rocking out. It is just going to be a really solid record. After meeting with JJ the other night I am starting to see how it is going to form. You are the first person that I am talking to about it, so I am probably rambling.
D: This is great! From my point of view it is great when the free stuff just starts coming out because we are focusing subjects that are very important and the free association gets at where the heart and soul and guts of this are at. One of the things I brought up earlier is the mysticism and mystery, and that is highly unusual to see in modern music. Robert Plant is one of the few people who has been doing that for a long time. So it is not surprising to me to hear that Zeppelin is one of your influences.
F: Oh HUGE! When I saw Heart do the Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven at the Kennedy honors, a bawled my eyes out, and I have watched it probably ten times. I have watched it ten times and I have not been able to get through it once without shedding a tear. It was just phenomenal.
F: Have you seen it?
F: That is your homework.
D: Allright, is it on Youtube?
F: Yes. Heart does Stairway to Heaven at the Kennedy honors.
D: Are you familiar with Maná or Caifanes?
F: Do you mean Maná the Latin band?
F: I am familiar with them. A lot of my Cuban family loves them.
D: They understand Zeppelin’s technique for making music. They did with the indigenous music in Latin America what Zeppelin did with Celtic, Indian and Arabic music. They took ideas from them and figured out how to work those ideas into Rock.
F: That makes a lot of sense.