Duran Duran’s John Taylor interviews Dom Brown
Duran Duran’s John Taylor interviews the band’s guitarist Dom Brown about his latest solo album In My Bones
Duran Duran’s John Taylor: I just love this new album. I feel it’s on an entirely new level to any of your previous solo work. I’d like to ask you a few questions about the process of how it all came together. I’ve always been a fan of albums that take the listener on a journey.
Listening to your new album it seems I am taking a journey with you, Dom. You start out angry but end with belief and absolute faith. It’s as though you had a spiritual epiphany while writing the songs. You end the album a wiser and happier man than you started it. The classic ‘hero’s journey’. Did you conceive of the album as a journey, or did the songs fall into place once they were finished?
Dom Brown: I’m with you on that, John – I love an album that takes the listener on a journey, too. I’m glad you’re feeling that I’ve achieved that with this album. Initially I hadn’t set out with that deliberately in mind but as I was developing the songs it became apparent to me that there was a theme running through most of them. At that point I did start to think about this as a journey and continued writing and adapting with that in mind.
As I was getting closer to completion I definitely factored in the journey concept and carefully chose the song order. In fact the final song, Let It Wash Away, was a song that I’d previously written the lyric for with my father and a singer called Jennifer Ann Keller. It was sitting on the shelf but I knew it would be perfect, with its positive lyric and cinematic mood, as this album’s closer. I just needed to flesh out the production and enhance the build of the song.
When you say, “you start out angry” I guess you’re referring to Ripples in The Water. This is the only song that has a political angle on the album and refers to the political climate in both the US and the UK at the time we wrote that lyric.
Trump-mania was getting out of control and the situation in the UK was, and still is, so divided and unstable. I must say Jennifer had a huge input on that lyric.
The journey is one of self-discovery, of new beginnings, not having regrets and moving on with life in a positive way. Finding one’s feet, living in the here and now and believing in oneself. Hopefully listeners will find it uplifting and optimistic. Writing this album has been very cathartic for me.
John Taylor: Your voice has never sounded better. I’m used to your backing vocals with Duran Duran, and you’re always in tune (unlike me), but your voice has taken on a really appealing and expressive style. How hard was it to find this new level of expression, or has it always been there?
Dom Brown: Ha, thanks, but hey your vocals are cool, too, man. It’s great doing backing vocals with you in Duran Duran. It’s a strange thing, really, regarding my voice because other than the few backing vocals with Duran Duran I’d pretty much stopped singing altogether for the last 10 or so years.
I was finding the pressure of lead vocals and lead guitar duties, on my own gigs too much of a responsibility so for many years performed with my dad on lead vocals in our band Blue To Brown.
It’s not that I technically find playing guitar and singing simultaneously, difficult in any way, it’s just having someone else singing gave me more freedom to play the guitar.
I began singing again by accident… it was actually right around the time of the first lockdown in early 2020. I was editing some backing tracks, that the executive of a production music company wanted to license, and just fell back in love with one of the tracks.
I was really inspired and literally wrote the lyrics and recorded the final version of the vocal for it in one afternoon. I named it Leap Of Faith. I’ll say though that it’s very rare that I get a lyric finished that quickly. Often I’ll write and record a lead vocal and all the backing vocals on a song only to go off them and totally rewrite from scratch. This happened quite a bit on this album.
John Taylor: There are many messages in the music, particularly of hope and self-belief in overcoming life’s obstacles. You have two young children. Did you find yourself speaking to them as you were singing?
Dom Brown: Yes, definitely in places. It’s cool that you’ve picked up on that. There are some lyrics where I’m kind of offering my help and advice and experience and hoping that my children and friends and family know that I’m there for them whenever they need a shoulder and support. I’ve been through some quite challenging life situations over the last few years but have come through the other side all the stronger for it.
This album is definitely a positive and hopefully uplifting album overall. I would love for my children to actually listen to this record and to understand the lyrics if only to reassure them of my love for them.
John Taylor: There is a wide range of influences on the album, Little Feat, Jeff Buckley, even Coldplay. Do you think your influences have broadened now you’re thinking less about the guitar and more about the song and the overall arrangement?
Dom Brown: I’m not sure it’s that my influences have broadened particularly as I’ve been really into Little Feat and Jeff Buckley since before I made my first solo album nearly 20 years ago. Early Coldplay I really like, too. There is inevitably still a strong guitar element to the record but I think my approach to writing has developed and this album was deliberately always going to be less guitar lead then my others. I just fancied doing something different.
Also I’ve started a cool side project where I get to perform songs that had an enormous influence on me as I was learning to play the guitar. The band is called The Stand-Ins and we do songs by Hendrix, Prince, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Stones, Bowie etc so I get to play my arse off with them.
John Taylor: Clearly you sing from experience. You’re not a young man, but there is energy and a sense of fun that keeps the music from ever getting too sad or maudlin. Its like you’ve had a rebirth. Would you say that the Covid/lockdown experience had an effect on the development of this album?
Dom Brown: Ha, a rebirth, I like that! Well, lockdown definitely afforded me the time to really knuckle down and write in an intensive way that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do for many years. I was able to get a routine going and would endeavour to spend at least a few hours everyday in my studio.
Some days it could be as much as 14 hours straight. I really enjoyed the process even though some days I may have felt uninspired or I’d question myself – is this actually any good? Am I wasting my time? But would always come back around and felt very motivated. It may sound corny but I felt I had no choice other than to complete this record.
John Taylor: It also seems to me the arrangements on certain songs are built for the stage. When you were arranging these songs were you thinking about how it was going to work live, or how a certain song might lend itself to an ‘emotionally wrung-out’ moment?
Dom Brown: Actually I did go through that on quite a few. The more anthemic songs I was visualising being performed at festivals and I was imagining an audience singing along to them. I would also sometimes think about who would be in the band performing… it would ideally need to be a pretty large band to cover the various guitar and backing vocal parts that are integral to the songs.
A couple of the songs I visualised performing in smaller venues where an audience are right up against the stage and there’s a real connection with them. Before playing arenas with you guys and some of the other bands I’d worked with, I’d spent years in small clubs. I love the feeling of connection in those smaller more intimate settings.
John Taylor: I have to ask, mainly because I’m so proud that someone who has spent so much time on the road with us has made such a brilliant album, but, have your experiences of working with Duran influenced the way you approached the making of the album in any ways?
Dom Brown: Yes, for sure. I’ve always loved pop rock music and Duran Duran are masters of that genre. Being in the studio and co-writing on two Duran albums and learning the structures of and playing such great pop songs all around the world has rubbed off. I think there is a pop sensibility to this album… it’s quite hooky and catchy in a lot of places.
Also I think I may have been subconsciously influenced, by the way DD layer and produce the backing vocals, when I was writing them this time around. I focused in on the vocals more on this record than on previous albums.
John Taylor: Tell me about your plans to present the music live to audiences out there that are still in lockdown?
Dom Brown: I don’t have any plans to perform these live at the moment. I’m sure I’ll put something together at some point in the future. It would be quite a mission logistically getting these songs to sound great live.
John Taylor: Thank you, brother. I hope millions of people get to hear this album, they could use it.
Dom Brown: Thanks, John. It’s been great speaking with you and so interesting hearing your take and interpretation of the songs.