Every once in a while an album rolls around that makes you sit up and really listen. Dom & Roland’s Last Refuge of a Scoundrel is one of those albums, but it does more than just make you listen… 12 tracks deep, the LP feels like a sonic memoir of sorts, with each track drawing you deeper into a rich tapestry of sound that could only be woven by a true master.
Unmistakably Dom & Roland, quintessentially Metalheadz – A union like this doesn’t come around often… But when it does, boy is it glorious.
From brutal drum patterns, to beautifully melancholic arrangements, the album takes you on a proper journey from start to finish, each track full of surprises and sprinkled with layers upon layers that’ll have you nodding furiously. Careful though, Dom nodded so much making this album he actually injured himself. True story.
We caught up with the man himself to find out more…
Dom – maximum respect due here mate. This album… Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve been really floored by an album this way. It’s a real fucking statement – Has it been a long time coming then?
I’d say half of it was already made before my distributor Rico suggested I give it to Goldie for Metalheadz. Then it took about another year to get it all done and mastered…
Quite the project then! How exactly do you tackle something like a seventh album conceptually, especially on a label like Metalheadz? Was there a certain element of pressure or was it a smooth process from the beginning?
I didn’t think about it much.. I grew up going to Blue Note and having my music played there a lot, and I felt I already had my work on Metalheadz having co-written and mixed Ed Rush’s Skylab EP.
I suppose I’ve always had Metalheadz in my blood and my style. I’ve always been a fan of Goldie’s earlier reinforced stuff and similar avant garde tracks from that early 90’s era.
What do you think is the biggest difference to your approach to production from your previous albums to this one?
None really. Although plug-ins get closer to recreating that distorted analog sound that I love… I’m nearly completely in the laptop now although I have a great room, interface and speakers. I pretty much sold all my hardware to pay my studio rent to make this album!
It certainly feels like some of your most personal work to date. I’d imagine the magnitude of a project like this would consume your whole life? What did an average work day look like for you while you were putting it together?
3 days a week with sleep and studio time only, and 4 days a week with my family. I have a wife, son and a dog and that need equal attention.
I think I’ve injured my neck from nodding for hours on end and not sitting properly… I actually have a hospital appointment for it next week.
The ultimate sacrifice for a brilliant result i guess! It should come with a disclaimer really as i’m starting to feel the affects of nodding too much myself.. The inspiration for the album was drawn from your life experiences, right?
The album is really a collection of D&B in my style that draws from snatches of music throughout my life so far. I went through stages of enjoying everything from Survivor, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Electro, Classical, 70’s Funk, the whole early hip-hop b-boy scene, right up to early rave and hardcore classics.
Those influence really do come through so massive props. Absolutely love the album art as well. What inspired it and the use of Samuel Johnson’s famous quote as the album title?
After finishing the album, I thought it was so diverse, the tracks felt like chapters in a book. Hence the look. The original idea was to do it in a “Penguin” style, but it had been done by Beastie Boys among others.
Zach John, a friend of mine and graphic artist, suggested we photograph a blank book and go from there. The title I had heard in a conversation and it stuck in my head. It sounded exciting and like the title of a book or novel.. It helped that it sounded “Headzy” too, perhaps due to refuge sounding a bit like rufige? Haha! I didn’t find out about the significance of Samuel Johnson until later down the road.
The album is really brutal in parts… I’ve always been fascinated with how artists incorporate certain life experiences into their music.. Is it as black and white as lighter tunes representing positive experiences and the more savage arrangements representing hardship perhaps? Or is it a matter of individual experience – ie. Beautiful experiences able to inspire deeper sounds, etc?
No, it’s not that well thought out. I just like hard-hitting beats and bass. The rest just comes out of me, I don’t over think it. I wanted it to be slightly more accessible than my previous work though, perhaps because I’m older.. I wanted it to appeal to a wider audience, so I did a couple of tracks with singers, which is a trend I’m going to continue with from now on.
Very few appearances from other artists on the album, but the ones that have made it on there are seriously powerful. How did you go about selecting who you wanted to appear on the album?
To be honest, it was going to be a solo album. The Hive collab made it on there because Goldie loved it and it was left over from the album we had planned to make together. We never finished it due to Hive becoming disillusioned with D&B and going on to become a mastering engineer, a successful one at that! Hive AKA Darkart Masters helped master a lot of the album with me too. I trust his ears.
Through the Rays is one of my favourites on the album. Beautifully melancholic.. What’s the story behind this one?
I think I started with the string sequence on that one. The flow was a bit like all the sounds in the track being compared to people that had never met having a conversation in a room.
One would ask a question, while another answered, the conversation would build until all the people in the room were talking elegantly together.
The bass was someone important entering the room that made everyone else stop and not want to express themselves as much… Lol. Eventually they overcome their fear of the boss and start talking again… Stop me now!
Brilliant description! I kinda want you to keep going and describe every track on the album this way… 😉 Talk us through how you approached the sampling on the album.. Any interesting bits of trivia you can reveal?
Everything is sampled and manipulated in a sampler. I’ve never been a fan of soft synths, they all have variations of the same flavour of vanilla when I’ve tried them. Sampling something off vinyl, CD, or anywhere for that matter, gives a massive amount of variation in tone and colour.
The process is different for everyone, even if they’re sampling the same thing. There are so many variables, from the stylus used to the pre-amp, to whether the sample was made in the 60s, 80s or after the Millennium. All those colours create a much more detailed and vibrant picture in the end when put back together in the form of a mixed track.
Absolutely! What’s your studio set up is like these days? Any particular plugins or gear you utilized heavily on the album?
I’m on a Mac and I use Reaper. I was on logic for years, but I did a thoroughly long-winded test of most DAWs, including Cubase, Ableton, Pro Tools, S1 etc, and Reaper was the most efficient and seemed the most future proof. It also allowed me to keep the workflow I was used to in Logic almost identical.
Plug-in wise, I’m almost exclusively DMG Audio, Slate Digital, Cytomic, and Soundtoys as I beta-test for all of them, and they feel the same way about sound as I do.
My sampler of Choice is NI Kontakt. I was on the beta team of this from version 1 and a lot of my ideas went into the final product.
I caught your album launch at Outlook Festival this year and was blown away by the power of your set. Do you still get nervous before events like that? Especially presenting your work to a big audience for the first time?
No, I have been doing this for twenty years, the nervousness has gone completely… I still get very excited and giddy though if the event means something special to me or I have something I really can’t wait to test out.
Fair play! The arrangement in A New Renegade is just perfection. That switch up is diabolical and screams Metalheadz to me. The way you’ve created that lovely airy feel with the loose drums and then bringing in that mean switch up is like someone’s just come in and ruffled up your hair out of nowhere. Is there a story behind this track?
Yeah I was listening to Omni Trio tracks one day and thought, I reckon I’ll have a bash at that! So I started tinkling around with a piano sound and the rest sort of fell into place.
I love all the different layers throughout tracks like Sirens Song, Tone Poem and King of the Hustlers… Pure genius. I’m a big fan of progression and the power of a track to tell a story and it’s a shame that tracks are becoming shorter these days with people craving that instant satisfaction – I feel like longer tracks and the beauty of progression are becoming more prevalent again though. What’s your take on this? Is it just natural for you to work within that 5-6min track length or is that something you consciously work on?
I suppose it feels natural to me. The late 90s had a lot of 8 minute masterpieces in it. For me a track has to flow – I like sounds that only happen once in a track and near the end.
The second drop should make you forget the first drop… Music should be a journey that reflects on the road just travelled and not just a mathematical formula.
Well said! Do you think a lot of tracks are becoming quite throwaway these days?
Definitely, but let’s not go there…
Any tracks that were particularly frustrating to complete on the album?
King of the Hustler’s has so many sounds in it that are all fighting to be at the front… It’s one of the hardest tracks I’ve ever tried to balance, but I’m very happy with the result.
I’ve been stuck on the album for a while now and getting to know it in it’s entirety. It’s quite a process falling in love with an album and getting to know it on a deeper level. What are some albums or releases that have had a big impact on you recently?
Nothing in particular at the moment… In my car I alternate between an old RZA mixtape, Cristine and the Queens, and the local reggae radio station.
A lot of new labels are popping up these days with artists doing their own thing.. what’s your take on how the industry is progressing at the moment?
I try not to think about it too much, it’s mind-boggling! But I still get excited when I find things I actually want to include in my DJ sets.
Speaking of artists and their labels, how’s DRP coming along? Loving the new release on there as well, was it difficult to switch off album mode to work on the release?
Last Refuge of a Scoundrel was finished about a year ago but Metalheadz had a fairly hefty release schedule to accomplish before mine saw the light of day. I made the “Life of Chance” release just after finishing the album.
Next up on my label is a “stonker” from Xanadu called Save Yourself. I have been caning it in my sets for about a year now and am very proud to be releasing it. I am very much in awe of his talent and we have some collabs planned for the end of the year too.
Great to hear! With the closure of fabric the future of clubbing in London is looking pretty grim. Do you think the scene can progress as well as it has without clubs like these encouraging that interaction and growth of a scene?
I’ve no idea, and honestly I don’t think anyone else does either. Until power-trips and greed are replaced by compassion and respect everything will be fucked.
Well said. What’s your favourite memory of fabric?
I dunno…. Being drunk and enjoying everyone going nuts to one of my tunes I suppose!
So what’s the plan for the rest of 2016 and beyond then? A much-needed break from the studio now or are you back in the studio?
I’ve had a break now, and I’m back on it. As well as the new Xanadu stuff, probably a follow up to the album for me on Headz. Next year will also see the release of some sought-after Dom & Roland classics on limited edition vinyl. I may even look for another artist.
Final words of wisdom?
The world is what you make it.
Last Refuge of a Scoundrel is due for release on October 7. Pre-order the album here.