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Lightness Will Show: A Conversation with Dominic Minix

. 17 min read
Lightness Will Show: A Conversation with Dominic Minix


Written by Raphael Helfand

Dominic Minix never fit in at Brother Martin, the Catholic high school in Gentilly he’d schlep to every morning from Uptown New Orleans during his high school years. But during fifth period Religion class, a voice would come over the intercom and tell him it was time to leave. He’d get up and walk out triumphantly, guitar in hand, past a student body that never accepted him, to finish the day at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

“I walked by all these motherfuckers who didn’t like me, like, ‘I’m gonna go play guitar for the rest of the day; see you bitches later,” he said.

Outside NOCCA, Minix studied with the great Donald Harrison at the Tipitina's internship program. Through Harrison’s New Jazz School summer camp, he met Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, a legendary New Orleans expat trumpeter who would later hire Minix as his touring guitarist. That launched a stint of sideman gigs with some of New Orleans most respected musicians, from Delfeayo Marsalis to Nicholas Payton.

During his time at Loyola, he started the Dominic Minix Quartet and released an impressive fusion album. But upon graduating, he went a different direction. As Yung Vul, he blended his extensive jazz training with the punk aesthetic he’d cultivated as an outcast at Brother Martin. He released an angst-ridden record with his new band, his raw voice cracking over panicked guitar licks.

The first time I interviewed Minix was before what was to be his farewell show to New Orleans. He’d flown to L.A. on Juneteenth, 2018, and was back in town collecting his things, preparing for the big move west. At the time, he felt bittersweet about his departure from the city he’d called home for most of his life.

“In New Orleans, there’s beauty in every aspect of life,” he told me. “The way this city is built, even the dilapidated parts, there’s a beautiful aesthetic to it. The sky, the water, the food, the way people walk, the way strangers talk to you as if they already knew you. Everything is so stimulating here. It’s a beautiful place to be free.”

But he was leaving the city for a reason.

“Something I won’t miss about New Orleans is the crabs-in-a-barrel mentality,” he said. “It really prevents the city from moving forward. Everyone wants to be king. It’s a lot of negativity here sometimes.”

He was looking for a fresh start in California. He liked how the city made wellness a priority, how the sprawl made a day of nonstop crosstown revelry impossible. He already had some potential west-coast collaborators in mind and a residency lined up at the Ace Hotel. But the move didn’t go as planned.

“It was even worse out there,” he said when I spoke to him again a year later,  “It was harder for me to get work, because in L.A., everyone’s an aspiring artist. They’re working a day job while they do their art on the side, whereas here, you can be a working class artist full time. I ended up coming back broke.”

Upon returning south, he tried his hand at retail work but soon realized he wasn’t cut out for it.

“I lasted a whole month,” he said. “I couldn’t turn the Dominic off.”

Luckily, he soon found work playing guitar in Solange’s touring band, a gig that lasted until this past December. Now, for the first time since his 2018 double track/double video “85 and Ride”/”Nyctophobia,” he’s releasing new art. His new EP, Sun Will Show Again, is out today via Community Records, an iconic New Orleans grassroots indie label.

The new record is by far my favorite thing he’s put out. It’s incredibly varied yet somehow his most cohesive project, blending four completely disparate tracks through impeccable production and a prevailing mood of desperation. We spoke on the phone earlier this week, picking up where we’d left off.

Photo at end of intro: Minix performing inside Gasa Gasa, by Camille Lenain.



Last time we talked, you were about to go on tour with Solange. How did that go?

It was amazing, because I thought I was done. [Laughs] I thought it was over for me. I’d stopped drinking right around the time I got into retail because I was like, “I need to change something.” Then John Key, the band coordinator (as we so fondly refer to him), texted me that the guitar chair was open. I was very close to not auditioning because I wanted to take a nap. But another part of me was like, “Come on man. Please do this. Just try. You only have 10 percent left, but please turn that 10 into 100 and just go, please God.” I did like 30 fucking takes, and I was sweating and shit. All I had to do was play. It’s not like I had to do anything special, just play whatever I wanted. And then a week later I’m rehearsing, and boy… It was a lot of work, bro. And once the tour started we went to a lot of cities, nonstop. It would be, 12-hour flight, land, rehearse, hour break, sound check, play, next city. Tensions were high, but I liked it. I was newly sober, so my medal was really tested. It was what I needed at the time.

Are you still sober?

Yeah.

That’s impressive. I guess it’s not as hard right now, but in general, New Orleans is not the easiest place to stop drinking.

Oh, yeah. It’s hard for me to be humble. It’s either grandiosity or self-deprecation. When I was on Christian [Scott aTunde Adjuah]’s tour, I was like, “Man, I fuckin’ made it. I’m fuckin’ ballin’. I’m a rockstar. I’m gonna drink. I’m gonna fuck groupies. I don’t know when I’m gonna be here next, so this is it. I’m gonna live today because there’s no tomorrow.” But on tour with Solange I’m sober, and this is work. I have to be prepared to show up every day. So it’s like, “What do I need to do today to make sure I come back tomorrow?”

It’s not very often in life that we get to devote ourselves so intensely to art. And I got to work with Solange, one of the greatest of all time. I mean, c’mon. It’s a job at the end of the day, but it’s the dream job, so I could be professional and still find joy. That’s a difficult balance for me to strike. I don’t know if I did it right. I just tried to not look like an asshole in front of the boss. I was good at that with Christian, making myself look like an asshole.

You did some modeling work while you were on tour, right?

Yeah. Toward the tail end of the tour, Krewe reached out to me and said they were looking for local musicians to model. They got somebody to shoot me out in L.A. And when we got back it was crazy. We’d been away from New Orleans for a long time. We landed at the new airport and saw the billboard.

What are your thoughts on everything that’s gone down with Krewe recently, the allegations of racism and exploitation?

It’s kind of complicated, but it’s very simple at the end of the day. We found out they’re not practicing ethical business. They don’t pay models well, sometimes not at all. I can only speak from my experience. I believe everything people are saying. Any Black person can look at a Krewe advertisement and be like, “That’s some white people shit.” [Laughs] We know it’s racist in our core. Like, “Oh, that billboard has a Black man and a white woman. It couldn’t just be a Black man.” We know that. It’s some fucking 1960s marketing, but it’s accepted. It’s like, "Yeah, yeah, marketing’s racist. And?” It’s a manipulative business. Sure, Krewe’s racist. Who the fuck isn’t? That’s where I’m at with it.

When I worked with them, all they gave me was $500 on the day of the shoot. They told me it was just gonna be on the website, and then months later I find out I’m on a fucking billboard. People were like, “Dominic, you deserve royalties for that,” and they might be right.

Another thing about the way Krewe functions—someone in the company told me this—is that they choose to work with models who don’t have representation, like me. I don’t know how to call them on their shit. My parents think I should fucking sue them. They suspect the white model was paid better than I was. But it’s all conjecture. I tried to ask her…

That’s another problem: There’s a lot of things that are culturally accepted about the way people do business in the arts and entertainment industry. The reality is I got $500 and they got to look like an inclusive brand. I gave them more than they could ever give me. That’s what I’m starting to realize about a lot of presenters and venues and people in business with artists: They’re not really partners. It’s all still based on the exploitation of the artist. The artist is giving the presenter so much more than the brand could ever give them. That’s proved by Krewe pretty clearly. They got to hide behind my dreadlocks for a minute and pretend like they’re inclusive. And then the truth came out that [Krewe founder] Stirling [Barrett] is a dirty motherfucker.

I saw you posted something along those lines on Facebook when the Gasa Gasa owners announced they were selling the venue. I agree with what you’re saying in general, but I feel like independent venues aren’t necessarily the evil actors in these situations.

No. It’s a nuanced conversation, and I was wrong for posting that on social media. But it’s like Chapelle said when the #MeToo allegations were coming out: We can’t attack individuals who are benefiting from the system. It’s the system that allows the exploitation of artists. The entire music industry is built on the exploitation of artists.

Where I was coming from was the idea of, “Let’s just burn it all down.” While we’re in this process of figuring out how the system is flawed, let’s take a look at these venues that are really only operating as middlemen. Let’s say all the independent venues did go down. That would leave the big boys—AEG, Live Nation. They’ll always be there. That’s a fact. Let’s be dispassionate about this. The venues are gone, but what will be there still are artists, and artists have always been in the practice of making their own spaces. So what’s gonna happen is the wall that stands between the consumer and the artist will disappear. Instead of this middlemanning shit that happens with independent venues, artists are given more agency over their communities, over who comes to see their shows. It’s the difference between a house show and a show at a bar. People who go to a bar to see a show don’t give a fuck about the music. They’re there to be seen; they’re there to get drunk. There’s a marked difference between that and a house show, where people are there to see the art.

But there’s a difference between a new bar on Frenchmen Street with a band playing in the background while everyone gets fucked up and a place like Gasa Gasa that’s a music venue first and a bar second. In the situation you’re talking about with all the indie venues closing down, which could very much become a reality if the pandemic doesn’t end soon, there’d be no infrastructure for bands who are trying to make a sustainable living off their art except for the huge promotion companies. I love house shows, but it’s hard to make a living playing house shows.

That’s not true, though. Look what’s happening right now. Artists don’t have a place to perform, so they’re doing their own livestreams. We have to find creative ways to make money on our own. You’re forced into a position of figuring this shit out. Artists live paycheck to paycheck. This pandemic shit is nothing new. There’s a survival instinct in artists that’s not gonna buckle. For the most part, I agree with what you said. But what I find problematic is that these venues are above reproach, because if you say anything about them publicly, you get your head cut off. That’s fucked up.

I think the way Community Records functions is the future of how business needs to be done in the music industry between the presenters and the artists. The presenters and the artists both need to keep their production value low. And after the record label makes back the money they spent, the artists get everything else. The model should be switched from artists receiving exposure and labels getting money to the labels getting exposure and the artists getting the money.

Let’s talk about the new album. It’s your first big project since you did Cannonball Adderall with Yung Vul.

I don’t know if I’d look at it that way. “85 and Ride” was a big project too—two videos, two songs. I think we have to reimagine the way we look at projects. If I release four videos, is that not a project?

I do think this record has many firsts, though. It’s the first record I’ve self-produced. (Of course, I got some help from Zack “Lazerdisk” Johson, who works with Diplo and shit). It’s my first record that’s more on the electronic side, first time I’ve used a trap beat, first time I’ve used a bounce beat. There are no guitar solos on it, so it’s the first album that’s mostly about songwriting and production.

To me, it’s the most impressive, fully-rounded thing you’ve put out. The songs are each very distinct, but they also feel connected—they bleed into each other. Did you write them knowing they’d all be part of this project?

No, that’s the crazy thing about it. These are just songs that I made to try to learn how to produce. Each song’s got it’s own thing to it. The single, “No Alliances,” I wrote that when I was trying to write a song every day. It’s a song I played with the band. It’s needed a lot of development. I didn’t start writing it thinking it would be on an album. I just had these chords—I always start with chords—and they told me what tempo to play it at, and the tempo told me what to do with it. I made two versions of the song. I tried one and it came out corny, and then I tried another one with the drums that are on it now, and I was like, “OK, this could be something.”

I produced “Ruckus” when I was on the road with the Seratones. They’re awesome. I love A.J. With that song, I was planning to turn it around for gigs, and I was like, “What happens if you put a snare on every beat?” And then I was like, “Oh, this is kind of funky, kind of sounds like a bounce song.” We were having fun, giggling and shit, and I asked her if she wanted to sing on it, so we wrote it together and it came out really cool. We recorded it on this shitty microphone I got for 30 bucks. That was in like 2017.

“Your Fall Is Always Calling You Back,” I recorded at home, singing into the microphone and trying to overdrive the interface… Just dumb shit.

“Sleep Deep” was a chord progression that I happened to be writing, and Tank from Tank and the Bangas reached out to me to do this video, and the night before that, I just happened to be working on this chord progression, so I showed it to her, and it ended up becoming “Hair Piece.” And then I was like, “I like those chords. I should do my own thing on them.” And one day I was driving, and I was just like, [sings] “Sleeeep deeeep,” and I said, “OK, cool. That’s an idea.” I held onto that for a while, wrote it down, tried to play it with the band, but it didn’t work out. And when I was in quarantine, I was like, “Fuck it. The song’s written; let me just try to produce it.” I still don’t think it captured the intimacy that’s in the song.

“Sleep Deep” is actually my favorite.

Oh, wow. I feel like the last two songs are dogshit. [Laughs] I mean, they’re good functionally and formally. I just don’t understand why anyone else besides me would like them.

I was also surprised when you said you self-produced the album, because it sounds way more professionally mixed than Cannonball Adderall. On that album, I like how your voice sounds really raw and stands out of the mix. But on this one, there are a lot of effects on it, and it blends in with the instrumentals pretty seamlessly. Was it a conscious choice to cloak your voice more on this record?

If it appears I’m cloaking my voice, it’s because I’m insecure about my voice, honestly. I want to get better at singing; I’ve been working on it. I feel like “Sleep Deep” is the only one where I let my voice show. On “No Alliances,” the voice sounds super-produced. I still think my music leaves space for imperfection, and I like that. A lot of the vocal effects have a lot to do with Zack’s work. I did like 85 percent of the creative stuff, but Zack’s 15 percent is what brought it over the edge. He’s the same guy who did “85 and Ride.” What I had for that song before he came in was a freak in the sheets. He turned it into a monster in the closet.

Your guitar playing, which I’m assuming you’re more confident in, is also pulled way back in the mix and toned down. Like you said, there are no solos. A lot of times, it’s not even the lead instrument. You’ve never been a stadium guitar guy who takes big, cock-rocky solos, but your guitar really feels subdued here. Was that an aesthetic choice to make the songs smoother, more integrated?

I don’t know if I agree with the premise of making aesthetic choices. I think the way I see it is I’m cooking, and I’m doing my best to make a good meal, and I don’t want to overdo it on the salt. Sometimes guitar solos take away from what’s trying to be said, voices too. The way I build music, at least the present shit, is I try to bring it back to the mood of the song. That’s why I think “Sleep Deep” is kind of a failure. I don’t feel like it got to the integrity of where the song is really at. But I accept it for where it’s at because it’s what happened. It’s what I created. The intention wasn’t to make a record that was going to be this, this and this. It was created at totally different times, in totally different spaces. It wasn’t until the back end when I thought it would be fun to put it all together.

And I’m not confident about my guitar playing. That’s a driving force for me. I can’t let go of it. I’m not in a place yet where I’m ready to solo on those tracks. But I have confidence in my ability to write a good song.

I’m gonna try to guess the music that inspired you to make each track. On “No Alliances,” I hear a lot of 808s and Heartbreak.

Definitely Kanye, on the production side. But from the songwriting and vocal side… Dylan is always an influence, but I don’t know how much he came out on that track. When I first sang the song, I sounded like Tom Waits. It was awful. [Laughs]

I love Tom Waits!

I do too, but I wouldn’t wanna sound like him in 2020. I think everything he puts out is amazing, but I don’t wanna be that. I wanna have a pretty voice. I don’t wanna have to carry that cross. [“No Alliances”]  reminds me of a Drake song—the catchiness, the repetitiveness. It’s just a gloomy pop song.

You said “Ruckus” is your take on a bounce track. I heard a lot of other stuff too, though, especially a late-’90s Timbaland vibe, like the beats he made for Supa Dupa Fly.

I don’t really listen to Timbaland. “Ruckus” to me is super jazzy. It swings. But it was bounce as far as the beat being a vehicle, a frequency for the song to ride on. I look at it as a Black “Kid A.”

“Your Fall Is Always Calling You” is the one I felt least confident about. This is a reach, but I heard a tiny bit of nu metal in there, like in the way Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) does it on Garden of Delete.

I don’t know none of those people. [Laughs] For me, again, it’s coming from a Radiohead place. That song is funny to me because it’s so dark, and what it’s really saying… I don’t understand why people would like that shit.

It’s hard to make out the lyrics on that one because your voice is so distorted.

That’s fine. I like that. You never really know what D’angelo is saying. I don’t care about that shit. But it’s also the energy and the urgency in that song. There’s an intensity to it that I don’t think people really want. People don’t look to music for that today. I love music from the ‘60s—Dylan and Jimi Hendrix—because they had something urgent they needed to express. That’s what I try to hold onto in my music, but I feel like people don’t want that. They just want weed-smoking music. They want something to chill out to, and I don’t judge them for that.

I think there’s definitely a lot of people still out there who like urgent music.

Sure, certainly. But in the mainstream… You have to be a certain type of insane to really relate to “85 and Ride” and “Your Fall is Always Calling You.” You need to be at the bottom of an emotional well, and I’ll be there for you. [Laughs]

“Sleep Deep” was where I heard the most Thom York.

Yup.

One thing I liked about that song is something I’ve been noticing about a bunch of albums that I like: There’s no title track, but on the last song, the singer finally says the name of the album, and it’s a great payoff.

Thank you. I appreciate you noticing. I couldn’t come up with a good album name, so I figured I could just use something that was already written, and I decided on “sun will show again.” It’s kind of corny. But I think the record is dark. If you really want to feel this record, you’ve got to be in a really dark place. I want to make music for people who need it. If you need “Your Fall Is Always Calling You” to get up, if you need it to get through your day, you’re in a pretty dark place. If you need “Sleep Deep,” you’re in a pretty dark place. But I accept that and I love that.

Any record is a document, and this one is a document of a dark time. In a dark time, you can only hope for the best. Lightness will show. The sun will show again.

The album cover is a picture my girlfriend took when we went on one of our little excursions to LaCombe, where my mom’s family’s from. In that picture, I’m in the road, and it's totally flooded. When I used to go there as a kid, it never flooded. We’re losing so much Gulf Coast all the time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to take that picture 10 years from now. Probably not.

Oh, and arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor.

Sun Will Show Again album cover by Theresia Sutherlin.



In addition to Sun Will Show Again, Minix has three more projects on the horizon. He’s the lead vocalist on the upcoming debut record of Bad Operation, a ska-punk band featuring Community Records founders Greg Rodrigue and Daniel “D-Ray” Ray, as well as Brian Pretus of PEARS and Rob Landry of Static Masks, Strange Daisy Records and ANTIGRAVITY Magazine. Minix is also working with Rodrigue on a Community Records Black artist compilation album, which will feature AF The Naysayer, Yun Vul member Xavier Molina, LB, Zetroc, Solange backing vocalist Frewuhn, Delores Galore and Sexy Dex, among others. Finally, Minix and Molina will getting back in the studio soon to record new Yung Vul material.


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*Thumbnail Image: Minix outside Gasa Gasa, by Jonathan Isaac Jackson.