Dalton Domino Interview: Out of Darkness Comes ‘Songs From the Exile’
"It's been a weird year," Dalton Domino admits mere seconds into our conversation. "Not weird -- unusual. And it's a good unusual. Life is great right now."
Last year at this time, however, life was decidedly not great for Domino, a Texas country singer-songwriter whose sophomore album, 2017's Corners, earned him critical praise and spots on a number of artists to watch lists (including The Boot's in 2018). His new album, Songs From the Exile, out Friday (Aug. 23), came out of a dark period -- "a low point," as he describes it -- that found the singer-songwriter doing some soul-searching ... and not particularly liking what he found.
"Everybody reaches a point in their life where they ask themselves, 'What are you doing with it? Are these things worth it? Why do you think the way you do?'" says Domino. For him, that period began in early 2017, after he got out of a long relationship "I ruined because I just wasn't a really good person." It's what inspired Songs From the Exile's third track, "Dead Roses."
A more public incident turned those metaphorical embers into a full-blown fire, however. After an October 2017 show in Amarillo, Texas, Domino and a fan got into a public argument on social media that grew more heated and, on his end, profanity-laced. Assessing the situation, Domino realized that while he had previously thought the online crowd was laughing with him, so to speak, they were actually laughing at him.
"I started reading some other stuff and kinda started drinking a little more," recounts Domino, who had previously gone to rehab and was, at the time, sober. "It wasn't as bad as it used to be, though, but i just kind of got in this little hole ... and things just started getting darker."
Later, Domino admits, "I kind of deserved [the ridicule]. I was kind of an asshole to this person ... I said a lot of bad stuff and just read a lot of articles about me as a human being, and it kind of messed with my head a little bit. That was the start, and Jan. 12,  was the end of it."
During that year or so in between those moments, Domino was angry -- "at things," he says, and "at myself." He was drinking and doing drugs alone, and hiding that fact from those who knew he was sober. "I know it wasn't the normal [level of] out of control -- it wasn't wheels off ... but I knew it was just getting dark," he reflects.
He was also writing, and then recording, what would become Songs From the Exile. Feeling a need to get out of Texas "and just breathe a little bit," Domino and a band of ace musicians went to Mobile, Ala.'s Dauphin Street Sound. After making a "weird," jam-based record with Corners, he decided to strip back Exile's production and let the lyrics speak.
"I didn't want to overcrowd the words, because I did put a lot of time into these words ... and I wanted the words to be the focal point rather than the groove," Domino says. "We just wanted to make a good-sounding record that focused on the words."
At its core, Domino says, Songs From the Exile's tracks are "basically journal entries to me of things that I wanted to say out loud, that I needed to hear: You did live part of your life really wrong. You did mess up this relationship. You did leave home. You did leave these people in the dark.
"But go repair those things. Go fix those things," he adds. "This isn't the end of it."
Domino keeps the details private, but on Jan. 11, he attempted suicide. On Jan. 12, he called his manager, told him what had happened the night before, and asked for help. He canceled a few weeks' worth of shows and checked into a facility in Dallas, and got clean and sober for a second time.
"The way I was thinking and the stuff I was thinking wasn't normal, and the stuff I was doing wasn't normal, by any means," Domino admits. Now, he says, "I got to meetings regularly. I stay clean and sober ... I miss out on a lot of things that, at the end of the day, don't really matter."
"It took me until January to realize, everyone's a good person. People make mistakes."
These days, the songs on Songs From the Exile mean something deeper to Domino, too: They're reminders of that "really dark, ugly place," he says, his voice filling with emotion. They're also reminders of how much he's grown since then.
"In my mind, at that time, i thought that I was a broken human being ... I thought I wasn't a good person, I thought I wasn't a good enough human being," Domino shares. "It took me until January to realize, everyone's a good person. People make mistakes ... Get off your ass, stop feeling sorry for yourself, go get help if you need help, and ask the questions that you need to ask yourself, and try to be better than you were the day before."
While Domino is keeping his career going -- he's got a short list of upcoming shows and, he shares, another batch of songs he wrote while in Mobile -- he's focused on a lot more than that. He's spending more time with loved ones "and revolving my life around things that, to me, matter a lot more than standing onstage and telling stories and stuff like that."
He also knows it's time to use his platform to help other people struggling with the same things he dealt with. "I know I have a platform, and I know I act like a d--k on my platform sometimes," he admits, "but ... I want to lean more into why people are the way they are.
"And if they do feel like they're the only ones," Domino adds, "[I want] to kind of help them see that they aren't."
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