by: Thomas D. Mooney
Not all southern gothic songs have to sound as though it’s just moments either before, during, or after a thunderstorm. It doesn’t have to all be drenched with dark tones. Austin-based country folkers Madisons prove just that with their debut record Desgraciados.
They’re mainly light in timbre, tone, and sound. By all means, they’re country folk–more folk than country–songs that lean primarily on the acoustic form. I just can’t imagine there being too many pedals on stage. As you guessed it, Southern Gothic has more to do with lyrical content than anything else.
And that’s where Madisons strive. Primary singer and songwriter Dominic Solis introduces to you characters that aren’t in ideal situations or have the best of attitudes or mood–whether they’re actually about him or something he’s created about strangers he’s seen on the road.
He often takes you on the road–but interestingly enough–not like how other songwriters typically do. Most songwriters when they bring you on the road, they’re just that: road songs. They’re tour life. Not with Solis. He takes you to small towns and convinces you that he’s a native.
In that respect, Desgraciados is similar to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois or Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State. You begin to ask yourself if the characters reflect the true makeup of the given town or could they be from anywhere and still be the same? Regardless, Solis has a way of storytelling and revealing characters unlike most.
Madisons is playing The Blue Light tonight (June 19). We caught up with Dominic Solis of Madisons late last week.
New Slang: You guys have kind of said that you’re bad at marketing yourselves. When I was getting ready for this interview, I didn’t find much on how you guys got started or anything. Where are you originally from?
Dominic Solis: I’m originally from Sweetwater, TX. Yeah, I went to school out there and really didn’t play music until I was much older. I was in the Army and stuff. I was in my early twenties before I ever picked up a guitar. And kind of went from there. Kind of moved around a lot–not a whole whole lot–because of the military. When I got out, deciding on a place to live, I chose Austin. I have a little kid and wanted to be around in the area. I have a buddy who I moved in with who is the trumpet player in the band now. But I didn’t move there for music or anything. I was already 29 at that time. But when I got there, just messed around a little on the guitar and decided that maybe I’d try a few open mics and shit like that. Then it started getting cool, man. Started going out and playing. Got to see a lot of shows in Austin. Been exposed to a lot of music.
NS: Yeah. I kind of figured that there was a really good chance you were from Sweetwater since that’s the name of the opening track on the record. It’s pretty interesting seeing how well-developed the music is considering you’ve not really been doing this that long and since you got started so late. Now the band, there’s a lot of people in this band. How did you find one another and start this band up?
DS: A lot of these songs are about friends, back home, and growing up and shit. So I had started out just with a buddy of mine who had moved from Sweetwater. It really didn’t work out. He moved back and was trying to make it solo I guess. I’d go out and meet people and randomly ask them if they’d do stuff. And actually, my buddy, the trumpet player, we were going to throw a party at his house for his wife. We were looking for people to play over there and we invited this other band who we had met at an open mic. You know, there’s house shows in Austin all the time. They played a little bluegrassy type set. Then we ended up being really great friends and asked if they wanted to start a project with me. We did and it was my first band. We started from there. And there was this girl I worked with named Rachel. I found out later she played violin. So I invited her to come over to jam sometime. She came over and was just a fantastic violin player. One thing that always helped was that the band who we were working with, The Shady Rest Band, was that the songs were well written. I’m not a really good musician. I’m not a really good guitar player. But I think people stayed on because they liked the songs. But ever since moving to Austin, there’s just always been tons of different people over. We’d have anyone over who wanted to play. But, their band (Shady Rest) got really busy and it just wasn’t going to mesh up. Our schedules weren’t matching up so we just decided we weren’t going to play anymore. Rachel and I were pretty bummed out, but we started writing new songs. We didn’t know if we’d play anymore, but we thought we’d just mess around. And we came out with a really good demo. We got really lucky. We made it just for something we’d enjoy. Something we were proud of. And in Austin, everyone’s on Craigslist, so we said, “Fuck it, let’s start a new band.” So we put it on Craigslist and met a ton of really cool people. We were used to a bigger band before. I liked it. Like I said, there was always people at the house. We just tried out different people and it just kept growing.
NS: Yeah. Even before speaking with you, I kind of got the vibe listening to the songs and everything, that there was kind of this family band feel to it. Friends and family laid-backness to it. And something I was going to say was that, despite there being so many different instruments on the record, is that it never sounds too congested. It really never feels like there’s too much stuff on one song or that anyone is drowning out another person.
DS: Yeah. We really pay attention to clutter. It does happen. On some songs, we’d find ourselves saying “Man, this just isn’t working” and then try and re-crank it out. It takes time to develop. It’s hard to reign that in. Or at least where everything’s working in one direction. I was always impressed by Arcade Fire. They’re really cool to me. It’s all really big, but moving in the same direction. There’s this band in Austin called T Bird and the Breaks. They’re a different genre, but they’re a huge band like with a horn section and it’s not busy at all. It’s this big unit working together. We try and make sure we’re coordinated.
NS: On the record, there’s a lot of different Texas towns mentioned throughout. Why do you think so many of them have worked their way into your songwriting?
DS: I don’t know. I thought about that. I always wanted since I was younger, to write maybe short stories about growing up, the stuff I’d had thought up, or seen, or been through. It was always kind of crazy stuff. I knew that the rest of the world really wasn’t like that, but it was always beautiful to me. I always attached the names of towns and places to things. The names of the places were always so beautiful to me because they were so isolated as well. For me, when I say the name of a town, I’ll always picture the people who are in it, the attitude of the town, and the emotions that it brings out in me. I think that’s where it came from. Cool sounding town names, they just bring all these feelings from inside of me. Like today, we were driving to El Paso and I thought, “Oh man.” I lived here for quite a few years. I drove around this whole area. My son, when he was young, I lived in El Paso and he lived in Sweetwater with his mom. So every two weeks for a few year, I was driving back to Sweetwater from El Paso and it’s just all these little towns.
NS: Yeah. I’m originally from Ft. Stockton so I know exactly what you’re talking about. So many of these towns have this desolate feeling where you just know there’s nothing else out there for hundreds of miles.
DS: Yeah. It’s similar size to Sweetwater. And, our trumpet player’s wife is actually from Ft. Stockton. So they’ll go down and visit.
NS: Something I think the record has is this southern gothic quality to it. I’m really drawn to music that has those qualities. And in this record, they’re not overly obvious like some bands–like The Drive-by Truckers for example–but they’re still there. They paint the image of a place and the people who live there. The songs, they’re not so general and generic where you’re trying to appeal to everyone, but rather, are really specific–and with that, they’re much more identifiable with a smaller group of people. You get what I’m saying?
DS: Yeah. We really do try and do that. It’s really weird meeting people who really like your music. The connection is much deeper because of that. They know how it makes them feel. And it’s not my goal to make music that’s really appealing. I’m just trying to write what I like. But hopefully I can make something that’s really impressive to somebody. And I love Drive-by Truckers. Love guys like Warren Zevon. That kind of songwriting really talks to me. Those songs really connect to me.