Musician: DOM KELLY

Music Video: “12” (featuring Emily Saliers)

Dancer: Erika Leeds

Directed by: Zak Washburn


As the drummer, vocalist and co-founding member of the power-pop band A Fragile Tomorrow, Dom Kelly has released 5 critically-acclaimed studio albums including 2015’s Make Me Over, which garnered an Independent Music Award for their collaboration with folk icon Joan Baez. The band toured with artists like Indigo Girls, The Bangles, Matthew Sweet and Antigone Rising while building their loyal, international fan base. Kelly and his brother Sean are two of triplets born with varying degrees of Cerebral Palsy. Their triplet brother Paul passed away when very young, which inspired them to form the band in tribute to him. After years spent behind the drum kit with his band, Kelly is now sharing his own songwriting talents on his solo debut album, Everything Is Just Enough, for which he recruited musical guests Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls), and Lucy Wainwright Roche. He even toured with Indigo Girls this spring.

Dom-Kelly-1---headshot-croppedThis uniquely creative video asks the question: Can addiction and recovery really be beautiful, even inspirational? Directed by award-winning filmmaker Zak Washburn, Dom Kelly’s moody, elegant video for “12” explores these themes in a visual that reveals the unspoken journey of struggle, heartache, and ultimately—finding hope within the fire. Set in an antiquated Southern home, Dom lives and moves through this metaphorical mansion: piecing together memories of love, love recaptured, and love lost. The clip also utilizes several segments of creative, contemporary dance that feature Dom and dancer/choreographer Erika Leeds in an emotional performance that underscores the impact of addiction. “12” is an uplifting yet thoughtful piece that touches upon the darkness behind much of our reality, while still gently nudging us toward the road that leads to hope and redemption.

We talked with Dom Kelly about his music, passion for songwriting, desire to explore music therapy, and his new solo album—which is eclectic, smart, dynamic and lyrically unique. He says, “Passion, conviction and artistry are the things that matter the most.”

DOM KELLY / A FRAGILE TOMORROW Web-Exclusive Interview

with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David

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Tell us how the album, Everything Is Just Enough, evolved.
I wanted to make a solo album for many years, but always allowed fear to hold me back from taking action. Last summer, after a long year with a lot of ups and down, I decided I finally needed to go for it. I went into Low Watt Recording in Savannah, GA with my younger brother Brendan, and started making this album. It began with the song “Pie,” and after a few months, we finished the very last song for the record, “Great Already.” I started out imagining this project as an album of duets with friends, but it wound up evolving into something more.

How did the idea of “12” come to you?
“12” started musically. Brendan and I were tracking a different song when he started playing that main riff. I stopped what we were doing and told him we needed to write something with that. He and I sat down, wrote the music together, and the melody just came to me as we worked with the chord progression. I went home that night and wrote the lyrics, and the next day we tracked it. It’s a song about addiction, recovery and remembering there is a solution when you sometimes forget. I’ve been in recovery for seven years, and it’s the most important thing in my life—so it’s only natural I would write about it. The lyrics actually came to me while I was taking some time to meditate at home. That happens to me a lot. I knew the song was deeply personal and really special. When I listened back after we did the initial tracking, it became clear that Emily Saliers had to sing on it. I sent her a rough bounce of the track and she wrote back really quickly telling me she loved the song—and wanted to sing on it.

Tell us about the uniquely creative video.
The video for “12” started with a thought on my end about centering a music video around contemporary dance, and director Zak Washburn took off with it from there. He really understood the meaning behind the song and took it in a beautiful direction. I’m thrilled we were able to incorporate dance in a way that makes sense, too. I danced for nearly 13 years—and come from a line of dancers on my mom’s side of the family. It’s an incredibly important art form to me. I was nervous to do any dancing in it, especially because Erika Leeds, of the Atlanta-based company Staibdance, is so crazy talented. But we worked really well together and I’m thrilled about how that portion came out.

How is this solo project different from your band A Fragile Tomorrow?
My solo project is different than my work with AFT in many different respects. I think it’s pretty obvious right off the bat that it’s more of a singer-songwriter record than a rock record. I listen to music that spans genres, and I really wanted my influences to shine through here. In AFT, we kind of have a pretty specific sound—although it has evolved over the years. We’re a high energy rock band with catchy melodies and loads of harmonies. I wanted elements of that on this record, but I also wanted my lead vocal to shine in a different way. I wanted it to be more acoustic based, and made a conscious decision to take more of a folky approach. There are obviously some rock influences on this record, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to lose that if I tried. (Laughs) But I took a different perspective with this one. Working with Brendan in this way was actually really incredible. He’s a complete genius. Obvious musical ability aside, his approach to production and engineering is like nobody else I’ve ever worked with.

Dom Kelly-6 - Everything is Just Enough - album artworkWhat makes you want to write songs?
I want to write songs because it helps me have a voice. I spent a long time not writing songs. Ideas, melodies, and lyrics would come here and there, but I’d often dismiss them because I compared myself to my brother Sean—who is one of the best songwriters living on this planet. I’d put him up against the greats any day. He has a true gift for crafting songs that you don’t see nowadays. You can imagine that as his identical brother, I’d feel some inferiority. That’s got nothing to do with him and everything to do with my own insecurities, but it’s the truth. For years, I pushed away songs because I never could imagine bringing them to AFT.

How did your view of the songs change?
I realized my songs weren’t really suited for the band, and I could actually do something on my own. I stopped comparing myself to Sean and started to feel confident in my own abilities, realizing we’re just different writers. These days, I have songs coming out of me left and right. I feel I can share my experiences, thoughts, and feelings best with others when they’re told through song. Songwriting is kind of cathartic for me. I do it for myself first, and then hope others connect with it. Lately, I’ve had Noah Gundersen’s latest record on repeat. There’s an incredible line from one of his songs that explains my view on songwriting. He says, “There’s nothing more sincere than selfish art.” It gives me chills just saying it. That’s exactly how I feel about writing songs.

As a drummer, tell us about your creative process for writing songs?
I definitely approach songwriting differently than drumming. On the last AFT record, there was a song that Sean, Brendan and I collaborated on, and it actually started out as a drum beat I wrote. Over time, we formed the rest of the song on top of that. On my own, it generally starts with melodies—that come while I’m driving my car or meditating, and I’ll pull out my phone and record myself humming them. The lyrics come mostly after the melody of the entire song is formed, and then the music comes after that. That process isn’t true for all my songs. There were a few on my record that started out with me fooling around on the piano, and a couple of others were lyric ideas that turned into something else.

Tell us one experience where something unique inspired you to write a song.
I’d for sure say that “Hailey’s Gone” on my new album fits into that narrative. After a tour my band did with Indigo Girls a couple of years ago, a fan, who at the time went by Hailey, wrote to me privately and told me that our album, Make Me Over, helped him come out as trans. We became friendly on social media and I watched how this person, not even done with high school, started the transition from female to male. Now he lives as Ben, and I was blown away by his courage that I was inspired to write that song. Most of the time my writing comes from my own personal experience, but in this case, I was deeply moved and inspired by someone else’s story.

What songwriting tip would you like to offer?
I feel like I’m still learning about songwriting and taking tips from others, so this is a tough one for me, but just based on my own experience, I would say don’t be afraid of being vulnerable and honest. I think there’s a place for songs about pickup trucks and whiskey, but it’s rare to hear people go to deeper places these days. Don’t be afraid of writing about things that make you uncomfortable. As a music listener, those are the songs I connect with the most.

Who inspired you to write songs?
I would honestly say my brother Sean. Even though, I’ve compared myself to him in this regard, he’s really inspired me to write. His ability to craft a song—from music to lyrics to arrangement—is hugely influential. He has an ability to dig deep and write about important things in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. In addition to Sean, I would most definitely say Joni Mitchell. Blue is my favorite album of all time, and the emotion she puts into her songs is transcendent.

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What instrument can you not live without—that helps you write, record or perform?
I studied music in college. I know theory. My Yamaha keyboard is important, but I’m not a pianist. I’m not sure there’s a particular instrument or piece of equipment that helps me write, but I know that I rely on my vintage Ludwig Vistalite drum kit while performing with AFT. I absolutely love that kit, as well as the 60s Supraphonic snare I use with it, and I never want to part with it.

What PRO are you with?
I’m with ASCAP, and have been since AFT’s first album in 2005. They do great work in ensuring that artists, particularly independent artists, get what we deserve for the work we put in.

Top 5 Musicians who inspired you to become a musician?
The Beatles, Neil Finn, Joni Mitchell, Richard Farina, Peter Holsapple

What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?
Blue (1971) – Joni Mitchell
Pet Sounds (1966) – The Beach Boys
Dulcinea (1994) – Toad the Wet Sprocket
Rumours (1977) – Fleetwood Mac
Swamp Ophelia (1994) – Indigo Girls

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Tell us about a time you recorded with a musical hero.
Recording with Joan Baez was probably the highlight of my career. We covered a version of a Mimi and Richard Farina song called “One Way Ticket,” and it was an absolute blast. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, and getting to collaborate in that way was remarkable. The late Mimi is Joan’s sister, and Richard is my cousin. Obviously Richard died before I was born, but I grew up listening to their records, and I always dreamed of joining our bloodlines again to cover one of their songs with Joan.

Tell us about working with Indigo Girls.
Last week when I was on the road with them, Amy joked on stage that they’re basically like my second and third Moms. I met Emily and Amy at an Indigo Girls show at least 10 years ago. I think I was 16. My brother Sean and I were probably the only male teenagers at the show in Kingston NY. (Laughs) After the show, we went behind the venue and waited for them to come out. We had already given their guitar tech, Sulli, a note saying we were friends of Danielle Howell, a singer-songwriter from South Carolina we’ve known for years—who was on Amy Ray’s label. Amy got that note, came out, and we talked about all these people we knew in common. We had just made our second record with Malcolm Burn, who they had worked with in the late 90s. We gave her our record. About six months later, Sean went to one of her solo shows, and she ran up to him saying, ‘I love your record. You guys are so good.’ And we just became friends.

They’ve helped your career.
We definitely credit them for us having a career in music. They’re the two most down-to-earth, supportive people on the planet. The fact that they gave me shows for my solo record is amazing. I honestly thought I would put this record out on my own on Bandcamp—for free or something—because I wanted to do it for fun. MPress wanted to put it out. I was able to get Emily to sing on it, and all these friends to help. It turned out to become something else. I didn’t expect to tour around it. It’s just something I wanted to do, but I got some shows because of them. It’s been pretty remarkable.

Dom Kelly-5Best advice someone has given you.
This is a weird one, but when I was 14, AFT opened for Blues Traveler, and John Popper told us to drop out of school and take Vicodin. I admit I didn’t take his advice on the Vicodin front, but my brothers and I did ask our parents to homeschool us in high school so we could go on the road and pursue a career in music. I’m grateful we heeded that advice—otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Best advice you’d like to give upcoming musicians.
Have courage in your convictions. It’s so easy to do what others tell you hoping it will make you famous or make you lots of money. If that’s what you truly want, then go for it. But don’t let fear of failure hold you back from creating great art. I don’t believe you can fail if you’re making art that sincere. It’s no secret that most people can’t afford a full time career in music, but money shouldn’t be a driving force in becoming a musician. Passion, conviction and artistry are the things that matter the most.

What’s next?
I just got done with a run of shows with Indigo Girls, and now I’ll be working on booking some other solo shows while getting into the studio with my brothers to begin work on a new AFT record. I’m more excited about this AFT record than anything else we’ve ever done. Outside of my music career, I’m in the process of going back to school for music therapy. I’ll be getting an equivalency so that I can be board certified since I already have an undergraduate and graduate education in other fields. My goal after getting certified is to get a master’s and eventually a PhD so I can do research in the field. We did music therapy when we were kids. I see how powerful music is and can be in helping people stay alive. Music can bring positivity. It’s really inspiring.

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