“I could never remember the lines that an actress would say,” begins Domino Kirke’s solo full-length debut, Beyond Waves. It’s a subtle nod to her sisters (Lola and Jemima Kirke) on the first page of a star-studded family photo album in lyrical form. Domino, whose parents are Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke, and interior designer Lorraine Kirke, has been surrounded by creatives throughout her life. Beyond Waves paints that personal family portrait as much as it allows her to move into her own space as an artist, separate from the identities of her siblings and parents.
While Beyond Waves is Domino’s solo debut, it’s far from her first venture into music. She was signed as a teen to Mark Ronson’s label, but decided after a time that she needed to take a break and reevaluate from a creative perspective. During that break, she discovered she was pregnant with her son and rearranged her priorities to make being a mom her main focus, putting music on the back burner, but never quite shelving it completely.
Now, after taking time away from music as a career to be a mom to her now eight-year-old son, as well as become a certified doula, start a successful doula collective called Carriage House, and wed actor Penn Badgley, the Brooklyn-based songstress is ready to get back to music professionally, but this time, she’s doing it on her own terms. We spoke with Domino about getting back into the industry, why the timing was right, and the meaning behind Beyond Waves.
Let’s talk about the last few months. Beyond Waves came out at the end of August. How has everything been going since the release?
Good. I mean, as good as it can be without being on tour. The thing is with me and having the ability to tour is something I’m still sort of navigating, trying to find time. But yes, it’s being a mother and having another business — just carving out time for all the things is a job in and of itself.
Beyond Waves was one of those albums where I felt the need to not go into it knowing anything, so I just listened to it and did my homework later, so that I didn’t have any sort of preconceived notions. First impression is that it’s sonically very calming and grounding, and second, it’s very lyrically heavy, so it’s so easy to just get lost in it in the best way. Did you set out, though, to thematically write something so personal?
I did and I didn’t. I knew I was going to make a folk record, and it was the first time I had the self-esteem, and, really, just the confidence to let my voice and the lyrics and the songwriting sort of speak for itself, and not water it down with certain instrumentation. I wanted a stripped down feeling, and I wanted it to feel like it was — like have people be like “Whoa, is it okay that I’m listening to this?” I wanted it to be so personal that it might make you feel a little uncomfortable. It’s a little strange because people are aware of my family, so when I talk about my family it’s a two-fold thing. They’re like “Oh, that’s cool that’s she’s writing about her family,” and “Oh, wait her sisters are… and her husband is…” I felt like I had to do it. The next record will be a little bit more people-pleasing, but in the meantime, that needed to happen.
I definitely got the vibe that I was looking in on something very personal. It was almost like each song is a snapshot.
Luke [Temple] and I really wanted that. We set up the record like — he wanted me to write as if I was writing a journal, and then put music to it. That’s how he imagined the record. That’s the vibe we wanted — like you said, like a photo album.
Have your songs always been very lyric centric, or was this a different writing style for you?
That was more Luke’s influence on me. I’ve always loved his lyrics. I’m a really big fan of lyrics. I don’t tend to like the hook. For me, that was really why I wanted to write with Luke, because of the way he writes lyrics.
Am I wrong in reading into that very first line of the first song (“I could never remember the lines that an actress would say”) as a sort of introduction to your yourself by way of saying, you know some of the members of my family, but that’s not me?
Yea, that was a little dig right there [laughs]. You got it right.
I have a bit of a selfish question for you. “Paranoid Flowers.” For whatever reason, I keep going back to that particular song on this album, and I can’t figure out why, but I’m just really curious about the process behind that one.
Luke had that song all laid out it in his amazing mind, and when he played it for me, I heard it — it was sort of the song that shaped the whole record for me. I wanted to make a record as lush as that song. I wanted it to be simple. I wanted it to be sort of Brazilian folk. That song inspired the whole tone of the record.
It’s one of those songs that’s sort of whatever you want it to be, it is.
Yes, exactly. I think for Luke he had no idea what it was, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into singing it. It just sort of grabbed my soul and made me want to write an entire record.
This is also technically your debut solo album, but it’s by no means your first musical venture.
By the time I was ready to write a full-length record, I was pregnant, and I was like, “Well, not gonna do that anytime soon, so let me have this baby, become a mother, get a feel for that, and then I’ll come back.” Of course, it took this many years for me to have the time. For me, it was more about time management than anything. I could get the time together to write an EP. I could get the time together and the studio together and the money together to record four songs, but to record, mix, and master 12 songs was a whole other thing. Every year I would put it off.
This approach is different, too, than when you were a teenager because it’s all self-released and created.
Even then, Mark [Ronson] wasn’t who he is today. He had a little label called All I Do, and he was developing and producing Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. We were like the babies of his label, and once I decided I wanted to have the baby, it sort of didn’t work with their plan for us. I came back from that with the idea that was I was never going to approach the record industry again in that way. It wasn’t a “Fuck you.” It was more of a — “I know when I come back at it, I’m going to come back at a different angle. More on my terms.”
Is it more of a natural approach for you?
Yea, I mean, we’re definitely interested in label support, but at the same time, I’m 34. I’m not looking for someone to support my life, the way I was when I was 22.
Right. Creating the whole image and everything at 34. It’s pretty much already there.
You hope! You hope the image is there.
It’s difficult to talk about all of this without also considering that you really grew up in the midst of this crazy rock and roll world because of your dad . As someone who grew up with this sort of inside view of the industry, what is your perception of it — how has it evolved, or how does it need to evolve, in your opinion?
I want everybody to be able to not have to tour. Touring musicians — I think the idea that I would have had to set out on the road in a van, when I was 22, 23, 24, was really appealing. But flipping your life upside down, I believe that you have to build the stage. You have to get the fans. But I think, growing up, my father was always gone. He was a rockstar to everyone else, and he was sort of one to me because he was so absent. The balance with family life is very hard to achieve. I think back then, you really had to tour because there wasn’t social media. Today, you don’t really need to. You should. You should play the ones you want just to get yourself out there because it’s fun. But there’s a way now to be in the industry and not tour.
But is there a way to be in the industry and not tour and make a living?
I don’t know. I think so. I think there is. I hope there is. I don’t have another — I’m bringing my son with me this summer because we’re playing festivals, and that’s going to be fun — but I’m picking and choosing my battles with touring because I associate touring with a lot of insanity. My cross to bear with making music is that I swore I would get all the touring done when I was younger and never have to do it again, or find this other way to do it. I’m sort of between worlds at the moment.
And I’m sure that’s true based on not just family life, but you also have Carriage House, which I don’t want to call secondary because I don’t think it is secondary, but you do get to go between the music and that now.
Yea, the two of them make a whole for me. Like you said, I can’t do those two things separately. One keeps me grounded, and I need it to survive. And if I’m not singing, if I’m not performing, if I’m not making music, I start to feel like I’m floating away. For me one is very anchoring and one is very uplifting, and I need both. I built the Carriage House model from the ground up, and it’s sort of at a place where I don’t have to take care of it anymore, and it works on its own, and I feel like I have all this freedom to pursue music in a way that I sort of circled all the way back to where I was before I had my son, which is really exciting, but also really overwhelming.
Just because there’s so much space now for art and creativity, and I used to make the excuse of having a son and not being able to do anything and not having the time, and now I have all the time in the world. It’s daunting, but it’s exciting.
Aside from your son being at an age where you can do this now, and Carriage House being at that place where you can step away, what moved you innately to get back to music now. Why was it time in that sense?
I was just getting more and more inspired by my friends’ music and seeing how everyone was evolving and getting older. Musician friends of mine whose lives were changing, when they started having families of their own, their music got better. Like they sort of knew who they were more. I had a handful of friends really inspire me to keep going. It’s like in the movies where you had a mum who used to be a great beauty or used to really want to be a singer, and she didn’t because she had kids and that was it. Done. The idea of doing that really scared me. The idea that I would put it away was very scary, and I felt like I owed it to myself to at least make one record that I was really, really proud of. You know, whether it did well or not, just to say that I finished something, and I completed a full-length was really important to me because I had so much to say because so much had happened. I didn’t want to go out like that, if that makes sense.
Definitely. It’s probably a great thing to for your son to be able to see that you can do this, too. It’s never too late to do something you love.
Yea. He’s very used to seeing me do the mum thing, but I think it’s really important for our kids to see us do what we love, and I feel privileged to have a schedule like the one I have where I’m on call, and I have time in between my clients and between recording and touring for him, and I already feel like he’s a really lucky kid. He sees his parents really, really doing what they love, and I think that’s going to have a great impact on him. Hopefully.
You have some shows coming up as well. Are you excited to get that started?
Yes! I’m supporting Bedouine, and I’m really excited. We’re playing Boston, Philly, and DC, and then we have some stuff coming up in the spring and festival stuff this summer.
I went and listened to Bedouine’s records, too, and I always wonder what artists who are sort of making music off the beaten path are listening to. What’s on rotation for you right now?
At the moment, I’m listening to Nick Hakim. I played a show with him last year in the city. We played a benefit together, and I sort of never stopped following him. He’s wonderful. And then, Alex Cameron, I love. What a great, great songwriter. I’m also listening to Stevie Wonder right now, and Gillian Welch. I also love the new Grizzly Bear record right now.
For details on Domino’s upcoming shows, you can visit: dominokirkemusic.com