Most famously the six stringer for Duran Duran for the past decade and a half, guitarist, singer, producer and all-rounder Dominic Brown is about to release ‘In My Bones’; his first solo set in eight years. Clearly busy with the day job which has seen him record three albums with the ground breaking act, he confesses, it’s good to be back on perhaps his most introspective outing yet. “I was so inspired, and I so enjoyed writing lyrics and singing again”, he tells us as we sit down for an in depth chat. With a track by track breakdown, we go deep on the writing, recording, and story behind ‘In My Bones’. Red carpet; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Dom, how are you doing? I can see you’re in your studio?
I’m great, thanks. I’ve been working on a bit of new music that I’m not sure what to do with yet. I’ll maybe do another solo album, but I think I’ll let people digest this one first.
The last time I caught you was when you played with Duran Duran at Electric Picnic in Ireland; how was that ‘Paper Gods’ tour for you?
We done so many shows on that run, and I think we’d just come back from Lollapalooza then, over in South America. Yeah, that tour was a colourful tour! We had all very outlandish coloured clothing. I’ve done four world tours with the guys now, and it’s always a fantastic experience.
What sort of equipment do you take on tour with Duran Duran?
On each night I would say I probably use about five different guitars. It was more to start with, but I’ve managed to reduce that. So my guitar tech, it’s particularly challenging for him because he’s literally, sometimes we do two in a row, but it’s normally every song a guitar comes off and he hands me a new one. It’s a big deal for him. I’m using Telecasters, Strats, and Les Pauls, pretty much; just standard stuff.
Do you need to change guitars often to meet the demands of each song?
It’s the demands of the song, yeah. When I first started working with the band, those guitars seemed to the ones closest to those sounds on the records. Obviously a Les Paul sounds different to a Strat, and their songs are so diverse and the guitar parts are very diverse within the songs, so you have to have all these different guitars.
Not only that, you’re covering the parts of both Andy Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo, as well as your own.
Yeah, totally different types of guitar players.
What are your favourite tracks to play; ‘Ordinary World’ has got to be up there?
Yeah, that is one of my favourites to play. It’s a beautiful song and it’s one of my favourite songs of theirs to listen to, but also to play live. The original guitar parts; it’s a very well-constructed song that I’ve been allowed to interpret in my own way over the years. The more I’ve been playing with them, it’s become more of my own, and I’ve put my own stamp on it. I do a solo that’s nothing like the original, and it’s very much my style, and I wrote that solo, so for me, it’s a good moment. I get to play and express myself.
That solo in ‘Ordinary World’ definitely is a guitar hero moment, isn’t it?
It is, but I’m a real strong believer in sticking to the key parts of a song, because that’s what people want to hear, but there are moments within the songs where you can put your own flair and your style, and interpret it how you wish. That’s a great song to play, but something like ‘Wild Boys’, which is just a rock out, power chords thing, that’s a real energy, big moment song and that’s always fun to play.
How about ‘Rio’?
That’s a fun one to play as well. That’s usually the closer. That’s a big, big moment. That’s a part where the whole place, wherever we are, is just going nuts for that. We have cannons with confetti, and we have these enormous balls, and they have twenty of those floating around. We probably had that at Electric Picnic!
We’re here to talk about ‘In My Bones’ of course, and it’s your first solo album in some time; has the lockdown also enabled that, given that a year of Duran Duran’s schedule was wiped out?
That’s the main reason, yeah. We had Hyde Park [British Summer Time] and the Isle of Wight pulled for 2020 in the summer [the Isle of Wight show is now scheduled for September 2021], and they were postponed until 2021, and now Hyde Park is 2022 [Sunday, 10th July 10]. We had loads and loads of other live things, and obviously, it’s been a terrible time in terms of performance. It’s the longest I’ve not performed since I was 16; it’s eighteen months now, I haven’t been on stage, it’s the longest time by far! The silver lining is for me is it has allowed me to get into my studio and do a solo album, and I’ve absolutely loved doing it. There are about three or four songs that I already had the bare bones written before lockdown, but apart from that, everything else is totally fresh.
The album opens with ‘Mercury Ascending’, which hits you with a fat guitar riff, an even fatter tone, and it’s catchy as hell.
That is one of the ones that was started pre-lockdown; I had the guitar, the drums, and the bassline. I’m playing the bass on that as well, and it’s a very, very fat bass sound on there. That song is one of the one of the ones; it’s catchy, and I love something about it. I’ve written it with sort of, Arabic influences on the strings and things, and it’s got a very kind of Arabic theme throughout it. That was one that I knew one day that I wanted to finish.
It’s a song that wouldn’t be out of place on a contemporary Duran Duran album.
Yeah, it’s funny you say that because a few people that have heard that say that would be amazing for Duran Duran. Simon Le Bon, he played that song on his radio station, in SiriusXM in New York; he chose that song from the album to play his radio show, so that’s saying something. But no, it’s a song that I wanted to finish for myself for some time. The lyric on that is the most fun, and sort of throwaway. It’s about somebody basically desperate to get across London to meet somebody who they’ve just started to have a relationship with, but with lockdown and the restrictions. It’s the tension; it’s the frustration of not being able to get over there, and so basically they decide to – as the backing singers sing it – they come undercover, so it’s kind of breaking curfews and things like that. It’s not serious; obviously the whole thing’s been shocking, so it’s a light-hearted thing, and it’s a kind of fantasy song, really.
It’s followed by ‘Ripples in the Water’, which is quite a contrast; it starts off with an atmospheric slide guitar, which gives way to a melancholic piano and vocal.
Yeah it is, absolutely. That’s actually a dobro I’m playing on that, that slide stuff. That’s the most political song on the album. I wrote most of the lyrics myself, but I co-wrote on that one with a girl called Jennifer Ann Keller, and that was written before lockdown. It’s reflecting on the political climate mainly in America, but also we’ve had a lot of stuff going on here. It’s kind of aimed at certain American presidents who are no longer in office; mentioning no names, but you know exactly who I’m talking about! He’s the protagonist of the song. It’s not overtly in your face; it’s not preachy, but it’s the darkest lyric on the album. I love that song. I love all the gospel, and I’ve got Anna Ross from Duran Duran, she’s a backing singer, and she’s singing this amazing gospel breakdown.
Is that Anna on ‘Whisper to the Wise’ as well?
She’s doing most of the female backing vocals on the album, but that’s Anna and a girl called Jessie Wagner, who did some stuff with Duran Duran, but she was also Lenny Kravitz’s singer for years, and she worked with Steven Van Zandt. Those are really cool parts; she shouts it out a bit!
The solo to ‘Whisper to the Wise’ has such a beautiful guitar tone; what are you using?
I’m actually using an EBow on there. It was a Les Paul, an EBow, and a slightly saturated guitar.
What about amps etc; do you use the Kemper profiler at all?
Not on the album. I use that live with Duran Duran. The amp that I used for this whole album, it’s a new amp I designed with a friend, and it’s called Ghetto 310, so it’s a really good configuration. It’s similar to a Fender Bassman, but we’ve put a few little naughty things in there, and I love the sound. I’ve been using it, but I’ve got a room full of great stuff; I’ve got a 1962 all original [Vox] AC30; I’ve got Divided by 13; Fender amps; I’ve got a whole load of amps. I’m pretty much using the Ghetto on the whole album, other than Audio Kitchen; that’s another great company, and they have one called the Little Chopper that I’m using on a few songs as well, just for a few textures and stuff. But it’s the Ghetto that we’re hoping to put into production at some point.
The title track, ‘In My Bones’ is a pop anthem with a melancholic backbone.
There’s a theme running through the album and there’s a lot of stuff about rediscovering yourself and being positive. It’s an uplifting album and I think that lyric is the first that starts the theme that goes through the rest of the songs. That song, I love the drums on that – that’s by Darren Mooney of Primal Scream, so it’s a real driving beat there. He did a fantastic job. I had the song complete and I programmed the drums, and then I got him to replace them. I’m really pleased with that, and I’ve had some really good feedback. I’ve had some crazy comparisons with that; people have said it’s a bit, sort of, Foo Fighters, but then the breakdown in the middle is kind of like Seal, and Seal’s producer, Trevor Horn. It’s not something I was ever particularly interested by. It’s strange how people find connections with things.
‘Shadows’ has such a such a beautiful sound, particularly with the acoustics guitars.
That’s just two mics; a stereo mic thing on the guitar. There’s nothing special going on with that. There’s not much post-production processing on it or anything. It’s pretty much how I recorded it in the room. I love that song. It’s quite an up tempo one and I co-wrote the lyric of that one with Jennifer Ann Keller as well. I just wanted to have a little story.
There’s a great flow to the album, and ‘Where You Gonna Run to?’, which follows, opens beautifully with just guitar and voice before taking off.
The album’s a journey, but that song, it’s a journey within itself. As you say, it starts off with a dirty electric guitar and a voice, and really stripped back, and the song could almost stay like that, but then I’ve layered it up so you go into the chorus and it just builds and builds. The drums come in on the second verse, and that’s Ian Thomas who’s played with Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton. He’s a fantastic drummer. I play everything else on the song other than the drums, and the cellos as well. I love that song a well, and that’s got the biggest guitar moment on the record, I’d say.
Yes it has! In my notes, I’ve written; “the solo really screams”!
Yeah, it does, because you’ve got that middle eight. The whole song is about saying to somebody that you’re there for them, and you’ll always stand by them, and you’ll support them. When I wrote that lyric I was thinking of my children, but also like, homeless people, and friends in need. But it’s not a kind of soppy song, and as you said, it just builds and builds. There’s even a bit of whistling in the background! That’s supposed to be a guy happy and wandering off.
‘Leap of Faith’ is another that features one of those existential lyrics.
Yeah, and I tell you what, there’s a real thing about this one. It was about March 2020 just as we were going into lockdown, and I had a meeting at my studio with the head of a library music company, and he heard that song and it didn’t have any words on it, and he loved it. He said; “I want that”. I had the basics, he said; “just do me a shorter version”. I hadn’t even started writing the album at this point, and I came to do that, and as I was doing it, I suddenly got really inspired to write a lyric, and I wrote the words in the morning, had lunch, I came and I sang the vocal, and the take that you hear was all done in one day. I don’t usually do that, but that was an improvised lyric, and that was what started me off on doing this album.
So that one song was that inspiring to you, personally?
I thought, well, I’ve got three and a bit good tracks already, and I was so inspired, and I so enjoyed writing lyrics and singing again. It’s the first time I’d sung anything for about ten years, other than backing vocals with Duran, and the odd lead vocal when I was doing the band Blue to Brown with my dad [Rob Brown], but I hadn’t done any solo lead vocals. That was what started the journey, and also, that lyric, like you say, it’s quite existential, and that kind of determined the theme for the record.
On the other side of things, you have the likes of ‘Baby Don’t Worry’, which is sultry and sexy; there’s something else going on with that one!
Yeah, that’s another fun one, that and ‘Mercury Ascending’. That’s the moment where the person’s found themselves, they’ve had an epiphany through the journey, life’s positive and great, and that’s just enjoying the company of someone. As you say, it’s kind of a sexy song. It’s about a specific person, and yeah, it’s a very easy going, light-hearted song.
Which brings us to the final track ‘Let it Wash Away’; it’s a beautiful way to close the album, and that dropped D tuning is reminiscent of Jimmy Page.
Wow, it’s amazing you say that because I’ve had Jimmy Page; I’ve had Bert Jansch; I’ve had Jeff Buckley! It’s just my spin on probably all those things. There’s some lovely textures on that song I think, and it’s another that starts quite stripped down and then it builds up.
You must be very proud of the album as a whole; are you excited for it to finally get a release?
Yeah, very much so. It was a great album to make, and that song does wrap it up because it’s “let it wash away”; let everything that’s shit in life just, let it wash away, man, and that’s kind of the whole essence of that song. It’s about finding that comfort place.
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Dom Brown’s ‘In My Bones’ is available from Friday 11th June from Dom’s Website.