Unlocked: Hey, Punks of Baltimore, this one’s for you; DRGN KING’s Dom Angelella shares his Baltimore Crush
The sophomore album from DRGN KING,Baltimore Crush, feels personal. As an outsider, you’re immediately invited into this fuzzy psychedelic reality where suddenly there’s places and people who feel important. You know their behaviors, dreams, flaws and fears. That’s personal. This world comes from the strength of songwriting from frontman Dom Angelella, whose upbringing among the Baltimore DIY crowd comes out in this love letter of sorts to the scene. As a place where his self-discovery started to take shape, listeners gain a very real picture of what this scene means to those who were, are, and will be influencing/influenced by such a hotbed of creativity. This album thrashes in that convergence of ideas. I hung out with Dom recently to ask him about the album, and he shared some insight into Moments Where Things Changed for him as well as fears and goals cultivated from the environment around him.
The Key: So this album’s called Baltimore Crush— what from the album comes from the Baltimore experience? Is this like a nostalgia piece?
Dom Angelella: I had this idea when we went on our first tour, that I was kind of going back to the idea of how I felt about music when I was younger. Because when I moved here, there was like this really strong pressure that in my mind now feels like it was all sort of made up, to prove that I wasn’t a slacker, to prove that I was going to make something of myself, you know what I mean? I left Baltimore and came here, and did all this stuff—after all that was over, I found myself in the same place I was in when I was younger. So it’s sort of like, all right well, it doesn’t really matter where I end up, as long as I’m doing something that like I believe in and care about a lot. Then there was all this other stuff that’s not seeing friends of mine from Baltimore for a couple of years, coming back and hanging out, seeing where life had taken them. So a lot of songs from the record are about that, too…People change all the time, and it can be very drastic when you don’t see them for a while. Some people, you run into them and it’s like nothing’s changed at all, but like sometimes it’s like, crazy things have happened to people, so there’s this nostalgic element in some of the songs.
TK: “Fail Big” was released before Paragraph Nights, right?
DA: Nah, we played that and “Undertow” at XPNFest . I wrote that when we were finishing up Paragraph Nights. Four years ago there was like this reunion show in Baltimore and all of the bands that I dug in high school played, and my high school band played at it, too. I was so excited about it, and I put so much time into it. I’m so happy that my friends were together but it was also kind of weird. It was kind of like, in this place I was coming from when I was sixteen, and then I was 24, and “this doesn’t really exist anymore.” It was cool that we did it—
TK: But it doesn’t feel the same—
DA: No, absolutely not. It was at St. Tom’s—that’s a church where I used to throw shows at when I was really young. And eventually it got really out of hand. It started off with the youth minister being stoked, and I was stoked that there was a place where I could put on shows, and kind of dream of the perfect lineup of bands that I wanted to see play, and then it got really out of hand. Kids were doing drugs and it was really crazy. So that’s kinds of what that song’s [“St. Tom’s”] about.
TK: So how long have you been doing this DIY thing?
DA: Well, I was really really really really really into it when I was in high school… when I was younger than that, my idea of like rock and roll was The Who, you know, who I still really love, and this is probably like the story that—almost everybody I know has had the same experience, which is an old idea of what rock and roll—like obviously I listened to Weezer, and then I went to this show, and I saw this band called Charm City Suicides. The dude [Mike Apichella] had like a monster drawn on his chest with sharpies, and he was screaming into the microphone this song he had called “Heroin Sucks,” and it was so good. That was a moment in which I was never the same ever again. I got into that and my dad picked up on that and fostered that interest. And so for the next four years I just kind of put on shows, and played music with my friends, and then moved up here, played in a bunch of bands, some of which were DIY and some of which were not, at all. But all of which gave me like a lot of lessons in how to make music and cool stuff.
TK: Do you still book your own shows?
DA: Yup. Every DRGN KING show is booked by me—that’s kind of a point of pride in doing this. I really like doing it. At this point, it’s fun.
TK: So you wrote this while you wrapping up like Paragraph Nights?
DA: Yeah, some of them were written, because Paragraph Nights was done for a little while before it came out, so we put a break on recording. So basically when he [Brent Reynolds] was busy producing, I was writing a lot and came up with this idea that we were going to make a record kind of about everybody’s past in music. Your relationship with the past version of yourself versus who you are now and like who you might be in the future—a lot of it’s personal just because it’s like, ‘this is what I did when I was young, and what it meant to me.’ But we were in California together, and I was waiting for him to be ready to record, and I just started writing “Lovers Rock.” That’s when I kind of knew that’s what the next record was going to be—that’s when I was like, ‘all right, we’re going to make this record about like punks in Baltimore, and like people becoming adults.’ A lot of it is not about me, it’s sort of like, people that I knew and people that I peripherally knew, and wish I had gotten to know better
TK: Like a scene thing?
DA: Sure, or just friends of mine. The song, “Don’t Trust The Sad Boys” is very much about the stereotype of like the tortured white man –almost the concept of being such a burned out failure even in your 20s. People say, “Oh, that man had so much potential but he’s just such a burnout now.” And then they get really into this concept of being like “Oh, like what the f***’s wrong with me, let me do this drug and get all bummed out.” But, there’s so many cool things going on, and it’s not an excuse for you to treat people badly. But, also at the same time realizing how much of that was in me at some point. Everybody’s guilty of it sometimes.
DA: There’s songs that kind of like have to do with each other. You know, like, “Fail Big,” and “Sad Boys”and some others…
TK: Where did you get the title of “Alchemist’s Lament” from?
DA: This is a little moody. The idea is if you create a world, and the first verse is this person who is trying to create a fantasy world for himself to live in. In this, the trappings of reality don’t come in, so you know he’s doing some like real life minecraft shit, making this like world for himself, and then like—ultimately, it’s not sustainable because—
TK: Because reality—
DA: Because reality and because other things are important, besides his own desires. There’s this great play by Samuel Beckett called Krapp’s Last Tape, and it’s this old dude sitting at a table who has a tape player in front of him, and he’s playing tapes from different times in his life… And then at the end of the play, his book only sold like 23 copies, until he’s an abject failure. So at the end of his life he’s an old man sort of ruminating on it. That song to me is just like someone looking at different periods of their life and looking at it with not judgmental eyes, just a little bummed out. “Solo Harp,” too [is] about the same thing.
Check back in tomorrow for our final installment of this week’s Unlocked series featuring DRGN KING’s Baltimore Crush, available now on Bar/None Records.