It’s been a long time since Dom Louis started making music. He grew up in a musical family, his mother sang in church folk groups and taught him how to play guitar. For as long as he can remember his life has revolved around hooks and melodies. As a teenager, he spent his afternoons writing songs with his siblings and after high school he left his small town in southwestern Ontario to dive into Toronto’s bar circuit, playing weekend gigs on Queen West and Ossington.
When I meet up with Dom in the studio, he recalls living his early 20s fast and easy, crashing on the couches of friends and hitting the road whenever needed. It was a time of pure indulgence and experimentation. While fun and inducive for the life he wanted, the reality of being an artist in a place like Toronto was a hard slap to take. More often than not, he found himself at dead ends. The gigs didn’t last, and the songs didn’t stick. But something was building subconsciously. His artform, whether he knew it then or not, was maturing. It was during this formative period that the foundation for his music really began to take place.
“Looking back I’m not sure anything would have been even remotely possible if it weren’t for the friends who supported me,” Dom tells me. “Because of them, I was able to be aloof and selfishly pursue my craft even though it wasn’t financially viable.”
Fast forward half a decade later and there’s a much different yet equally relatable version of Dom sitting next to me. We throw quips back and forth about the necessity of struggle. He knows this feeling well. He’s learned how to tap into it and turn it into something meaningful; he wants his music to soothe people, to accompany them during a period of transition, to let them know we’re all in this together. His philosophy surrounding music has expanded beyond a catchy melody or tune. It’s become the forefront of his identity.
Sitting in front of the camera, Dom also talks to me about the idea of confronting his ego and youthful naivety. Before he left for the city to pursue his solo career, he saw his older brother, Nathan, sign a deal with a major label for his widely popular band, The Midway State. The band went from small town heroes to global sensation practically over night. They were jetting around the world opening up for acts like Death Cab for Cutie, Silversun Pickups, and Third Eyed Blind. In 2009, they recorded a song with Lady Gaga. For a young Dom, seeing his older brother’s success was all the proof he needed that dreams do come true.
“I remember Nate gave me his old phone and her number (Lady Gaga) was in his contacts,” Dom says. “It was a surreal experience.”
Dom credits his older brother for showing him the ropes, both from a songwriting perspective and a business perspective. “He was the first one out of the gate,” Dom says. “Not just for our family but for our small town. So he experienced first hand a lot of the ups-and-downs that come with pursuing music professionally. Witnessing his rise to success sort of gave me permission and solidified the idea that you can do it if you’re damn serious about it and you work your ass off, which Nate did.”
Early last year Dom traded the city for the remoteness of Collingwood, Ontario and began to work on new music. His routine drastically changed. Without the allure of city life near by, he would take walks through the woods to clear his head. He started working on himself outside of music and saw a drastic change in his perspective. He re-recorded old songs and finished them in new ways. He started putting them on YouTube and ruthlessly reached out to people in the industry. Putting himself forward as the sort of nostalgic harbinger of new folk, he eventually got some replies, and not long after, some interest.
He was eventually flown out to the U.K. by a manager who liked what he had to say. That same year, he landed an assignment deal and began mixing his debut EP as an independent artist. He finally felt ready to share the collective of his decade-long creative output. He titled it, ‘Everything Must Come Around.’
I wanted to dive a little deeper into his headspace. When we left the studio, I asked him to reconnect over Zoom. A few weeks later, we talked for an hour or more. Here’s what he had to say.
DL: I think initially becoming immersed in ’60s music and mythical heresy of what that was like largely shaped my approach to music and songwriting. I kind of naively subscribed to the idea that a label would pluck you from obscurity and blast you into the stratosphere, and then beam your music down on the world. So there’s this disconnect in my early work between my real self and the façade I was portraying through a song. Naturally you’re trying on a few hats and borrowing some techniques, and I don’t think anything is original. But there is this idea of being yourself which is a whole other bag of worms. Hopefully songwriting is a tool to depict life honestly. I think we’re still around the campfire and we’ve come full circle. It’s very direct again. I’m much more interested now in being as authentically myself as possible when writing and I think that’s an underground idea because so much authenticity has been robbed from us.
KJ: As someone who has been making music independently for close to a decade, how do you sustain creativity as an artist?
DL: I read that for creativity you need experience, observation, and inspiration. So for me that means a balance of a few different things. I’ve always had a certain wanderlust because it’s like fuel for the tank, or better yet the fire. And if I’m observant enough of life, when I do find the time to force the pen to the paper, a lot of the work is done for me. I remember thinking, it’s not that life is about writing songs, but rather songs are about writing life.
KJ: Outside of music, you mentioned that your desire to work on yourself has been a huge factor in becoming a better musician and a better guy. Can you talk about that?
DL: Oh man. Many moments. For a while it felt like there was this perpetual burning out. I would literally say to myself on the way to gigs, “Somethings gotta give.” And people can feel that. You bring it with you. You’re pouring so much of yourself into this one thing, and I was neglecting all other aspects of my life in the process. Relationships, family, friends, etc. I think I’ve been a very difficult person to be close with for that reason. There have been so many moments where you say, “This isn’t fun anymore.” My barometer is now shaped from the sunset and seeing no beauty in it. That’s got to be the biggest wake up call especially as an artist when you’re usually so inspired by life, but being too self-centered and narrow-focused can take that away from you. Sometimes you have to step away from it all. For me that’s been anything from living at a religious lay apostolate to focusing on therapy to going to the cottage and stacking wood. It’s the age-old thing. So many amazing artists that maybe would have been more prolific had they sought help or taken a break. I think it’s worth it. If life is the greatest medium of art, then hopefully I’m being a decent person first and foremost. At the end of the day I’ve found that I’m more productive and truthful musically and artistically when I’m aspiring to be the best version of myself.
KJ: That’s something we talked about for a long time, and I really loved how you dove into that. I think you can hear that in the music. The songs on the new EP have a raw Dylan-esque sound to them. It reminds me of something you might’ve found in the Montreal ’60s folk scene or heard on the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack. Was that intentional?
DL: Wow. That’s really nice to hear. I love that stuff! Dylan has probably been the single most influential artist for sure, mostly because there was this time when I felt like his words were written to me and only me and they explained the world and the way it was and it just really permeated my whole sense of consciousness. I would describe my music as folk-country- rock-blues-gospel-soul. I don’t think I’m much of a storyteller yet though. Most of my songs to date are deeply personal things I’ve conceptualized in my head to make me feel okay.
KJ: Do you think genre has anything to do with that? Do you think genre matters as much as it used to?
DL: That’s a good question. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword in my opinion. On the one hand, you have all this stuff about community. Genre is how people find your music and get to know you. And the algorithms are built around it. I’ve never thought very consciously about it to be honest, but I do think it’s important to get feedback from people you respect because how you see yourself is literally an illusion. It’s not how other people see you. So you do want to connect at the end of the day and make sure those two components align a little bit. That being said I also think you have to be careful because something “aesthetically correct” is never going to connect as well as something genuine. It may end up sounding a certain way but I would think that’s more happenstance than intentional.
KJ: Five years ago, who inspired you? And who inspires you now?
DL: Five years ago I was still listening to a lot of older music. Rodriguez and Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Tom Petty, The Beatles, Springsteen. That mixed with a lot of the post-punk-revival stuff from the early 2000s like Wilco, Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, and some other contemporary stuff like Whitney, War On Drugs, and Kurt Vile. I really love so much music. I would say that I’ve worked my way from the past right up to today, and I’m not as pretentious in my taste if I can say that. It used to be like, “Oh I only listen to the first two Coldplay albums and Radiohead’s Kid A.” Now I’m listening to a song by Lennon Stella from Tiktok. I don’t think it’s released yet but I really like it. I like a lot of the female folk/pop singers right now.
KJ: Lennon Stella can do no wrong… For you, this EP has been years in the making. In a sense it’s a release of everything you’ve gone through in the last few years. How does it feel to finally have these songs out in the world?
DL: That’s exactly it. It’s as much a documentation of personal discovery as it is musical discovery. It’s mixed emotions. Mostly amazing because I’ve been so wrapped up in the music that it feels like I’m allowed to come back up for air. Maybe find a better pair of glasses and a new lens, you know? You grow tired of things. And I mix almost everything myself so I don’t particularly want to hear these songs anymore. I’ll get inside them when I need to perform them but it’s definitely been taxing on the emotions and the nervous system and the brain and the ears. So I’m excited to see what’s next.
KJ: Speaking of. What’s on the agenda for Dom Louis in 2022?
DL: I’m about to head down to Columbus, Ohio for my first US gig. I’ll also be starting some sessions there for the next project which is extremely exciting. I would like to make my way over to the UK in a few weeks to touch base and play some shows. There are some artists over there I’m super fond of and I’d like to work with. I haven’t played a show at home in Toronto for a very, very long time so I’m looking forward to doing that this summer too.
To listen to Dom Louis’ new EP, ‘Everything Must Come Around’ on Spotify, you can click here.