When Dream and Day Reunites
Andy Read speaks to Charlie Dominici
After 18 years, the original voice of ProgMetal icons Dream Theater has returned from a self-imposed musical exile with a new album that will defy anyone who thinks he is just another musician living off past glories.
Here, Charlie Dominici tells Andy Read how he lost and then regained his passion for music, why the threats facing the world today may lead to a happy ending, and why he hates the Dream Theater debut.
Born in Brooklyn, Charlie Dominici was a young boy when he heard The Beatles song "Love Me Do", and so embarked on a musical journey that saw his first album released at the age of 17.
In the early eighties, he was a founding member of Franke and the Knockouts, in which he played guitar and sang backing vocals. The band scored a US hit with the song “Sweetheart”, toured and appeared on national TV, and became the launch-pad for a guy called Tico Torres to find fame and fortune with Bon Jovi.
Charlie then became the second vocalist for the fledgling Dream Theater, auditioning in 1987 as a replacement for Chris Collins. He performed and co-wrote seven of the eight tracks on the band's 1989 debut album, “When Dream and Day Unite”.
However, Dominici was older than the rest of the band and there were personal and creative differences at work. Viewed as a good singer in the wrong band, drummer Mike Portnoy once commented: ‘It was like having Billy Joel singing in Queensr˙che.’ Band and singer parted ways towards the end of 1990. Since when, he may just as well have been abducted by aliens. The name Charlie Dominici disappeared from the music scene without a trace.
Speaking from his home in San Diego, I begin by asking the singer what he’d been doing for all those years?
‘The real question would be, why did I get out of the music business in the first place?’ he offers. ‘I got away from Dream Theater ... the band was going nowhere. When I left, it wasn’t a happy time for any of us. It was hard because of the conflicts we had been having internally for sometime. That split, for me, was like a last straw. It wasn’t my first band. I had been in bands all my life. I had been up and down, in and out, back and forth, been there done that. I was just burnt out with everything - the music business, the creative stuff and just being an artist. I was getting so discouraged with doing good stuff and then getting nothing in return.’
‘So I finally said: ‘You know what? I’m not doing this any more. I’m just gonna be a Working Man Joe. I’m just gonna get an ordinary job. And I did. I went from job to job - sales, finance, mortgages, this and that for many years. And I got caught up in all that, because it’s not easy to stop working and stop having an income.’
He continues: ‘Many years passed, but the important thing that happened, was that enough time had gone by for me to forget the bad stuff and to get back to why I loved the music. When I got that passion back, I got that urge back to create some music, to play the guitar again, to write and sing and it all started to come together.’
Three years ago Charlie answered all those fans who had asked if he would again step on the same stage as his former band mates, when he joined them in Los Angeles to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the debut disc.
This performance was later released as an official bootleg entitled "When Dream And Day Reunite". Charlie is keen though, to put the record straight on the part this show played in reuniting him with the music business.
‘Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t that show that made me want to get back to music,’ he says. ‘It was that show that gave me the final confirmation that, yes, this is what I’ve been missing. This is what I am.’
And that leads us perfectly to the present, and the reappearance of the Dominici name in our record stores. This time though, it is the name of a band that has put together a highly-addictive progressive metal album, mysteriously entitled ‘O3 - A Trilogy’.
It is the second of a three-album concept piece about a terrorist sleeper agent in the USA who falls in love with the country, and discovers that the biological weapon he is creating could destroy the entire world. Concept albums are often seen as musical versions of films, and Dominici explains that his interest in filmmaking and world events provided the backbone for the story.
‘The inspiration came to me one day as I was thinking about the events in the world lately,’ he says. ‘I always wondered what would happen if a ‘sleeper’ was planted here long enough to start seeing how great this country really is to live in. From there the idea just exploded into all kinds of conflicts between democracy, politics and religion. I always loved film and filmmaking. I guess it was the most convenient alternative to making a movie.’
‘On the surface, this story may seem dark and somewhat negative because of the terror theme. What ultimately happens however is quite positive, because the threat of annihilation might force them all to ultimately see the error of their ways and the world might begin to come together with a new hope.’
The album has a sub-title of ‘Part 2’, which suggests that the first part of the story has already been told. I invite Charlie to fill in the gaps.
‘I did the first album completely by myself - the vocals, the guitars, the production, the lyrics. Mainly because myself was all I had at the time. It’s like night and day when compared to the new album. That was just me and my guitar on my own label. This is a full-on, metal band.’
‘That first album is really a collectors item at this point. It was a very small project. I did 5,000 copies and I have around half of them left. With the new album coming out, people have already been e-mailing me and asking to buy signed copies of them.’
‘For me, I did it acoustically because I had no band. Now I’ve got a band, I’ve no real interest in promoting that album at all. If people want to get it, because they want to find out about the beginning of the story, then details are available from my website www.dominici.com. I’m not going to reprint any more or re-record it. I want it to be so rare, that if you have it, you’re a real fan.’
As Charlie says, this time around the name Dominici is not just that of the singer. It has become the name of the band itself. The guitarist, bassist, drummer and keyboard player have been drawn from the ranks of the Italian ProgMetal band Solid Vision.
In a way, that means Charlie’s career has come full circle. Solid Vision actually began life as a Dream Theatre cover band. I ask how he managed to hook up with them.
‘I was speaking with Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater backstage one day. I had started to write for the second part of the trilogy and asked him if he knew of any bands that wanted a singer. He suggested that I should put an advert on the Italian Dreamers website as there are apparently a lot of DT cover bands over there. I didn’t want to get a DT cover band, but decided to place an advert. I got lots of people getting in touch but there was one group that really impressed me. They had a singer but he wasn’t really career-minded and they were. They were no longer a cover band either.’
With the internet nowadays making it so easy to simply send musical files across the world, many albums are produced by ‘bands’ that never actually meet. Charlie is keen to stress, that was not the case with Dominici.
‘I was flying back and forth to Italy all year,’ he reveals. ‘When people listen to this album, they are listening to the result of my blood, sweat and tears for the last 12 months.’
‘I see this as my band now. I’ve been looking for a while and it feels like a real family thing. We’d never even met each other before this and we had to spend a lot of time together to get this produced. And I think you can hear it on the record. There’s a lot of passion on there. I don’t think there’s any reason to replace anyone in the band.’
As Dream Theater was initially stuck with a label only willing to back a handful of dates in support that debut album, few fans have ever seen Charlie perform on stage. With his new album already receiving rave reviews, could this be the chance to really hit the road?
‘I hope so, ‘ he admits. ‘Lots of people ask me that question. It’s just that everything is so new. It’s a bit like asking someone who took a girl out for a meal last night, if they’re gonna get married. It’s just at such an early stage. I’m still in shock that I was able to complete everything. When I finally got a copy of the album, shrink-wrapped in my hands, I just stood there in awe.’
‘At this stage in the game, I’ve got no management or anything, so we’ll just wait and see what happens. I’ve got a band that’s got limited experience of the music business, so we’ll see what the reaction is to the record. But sure, if we are approached to put a tour together, then we’d love to do it.’
Charlie says he always remained in contact with his former band as their career blossomed. He even sang at Mike Portnoy’s wedding.
‘I go to see them whenever they’re playing and they sort out backstage passes and stuff for me. We’ve always remained good friends. Even James LaBrie. He and I have become very good friends. He’s great guy and if they’d have asked who should replace me, then he’d have been my choice. He’s very talented and extremely well trained. If I had half as much training as he’s had, then I’d be quite a good singer!’
And Charlie is brutally honest when asked how, 18 years down the line, he views his contribution to the development of the Dream Theater brand.
‘I can’t listen to that album,’ he groans. ‘The production is terrible. What the producer did to my voice made me sound like a mouse.’
‘You’ve listened to the new album, right? A lot of people say to me that my voice has changed. No it hasn’t changed. Now you’re hearing my voice the way it’s supposed to be heard. At the time, the band wanted me to sing very high and I was singing out of my range. In fact it’s so out of my range, that when James LaBrie performed that album, he had a hard time.’
‘All the vocals are so high, nobody can take a breath. I almost did that purposely because I knew I was leaving the band. I figured whoever was gonna replace me, I wasn’t gonna make it easy for them! I remember thinking: ‘I’m gonna punch these notes so high, whoever is gonna come in and audition for the band is really gonna struggle’. It almost worked, cos for two years they couldn’t get anyone!’
But now all of Charlie’s energy is directed to a fresh and hopefully brighter future. The new album should immediately return Dominici to being one of the key players in the Progressive Metal genre. As for a final comment, the singer is content just to say:
‘I’m very happy to be back.’
Interview for DPRP by
Charlie Dominici Official Website
Charlie Dominici MySpace
Dream Theater Official Website
Dominici - 03 ~ A Trilogy ~ Part 2 - DPRP Review
Dominici - 03 ~ A Trilogy ~ Part 1 - DPRP Review