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Interview: Dominic Angelella and Brent “Ritz” Reynolds of DRGN KING

Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Dominic Angelella and Brent Reynolds about DRGN KING’s debut album, Paragraph Nights, which is out today on Bar None Records. You can purchase the album here and can see them live in Philly on February 2nd at PhilaMOCA. Read our feature article about the band here and a partial transcript of our conversation below.

The Swollen Fox: How did you two meet and begin working together? And what made you want to collaborate musically?

Dominic Angelella: Well, the short story is, my band had just broken up—I was in this band called Nouvaeu Riche for a while—and I was playing in some other bands. And I was kinda just like everybody’s guitar player. I didn’t really have a lot of confidence in terms of my own songwriting, I was just sort of playing guitar with people, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I met Brent, and initially I was gonna just play guitar on some of his productions. I knew about Brent cause he was working with my friend and he had worked with The Roots and all this stuff. And I came in to play guitar on some stuff and then we realized we had a whole bunch of music in common that we loved, and so that kind of turned into me singing on some stuff, and then we started writing songs together. And it sort of slowly blossomed into the band.

Brent “Ritz” Reynolds: Dom and I had known each other casually maybe for a year or so. We sort of were working with a lot of people and he was in a band called Elevator Fight, around the time that we actually got him here. I think the first few songs were vague track things that I had, then kind of from that point forward we just sort of [started] getting out more regularly. Although there were a lot of gaps initially, like I mean there were some periods we hadn’t worked for months.

Dom: Yea, we took like 6-month breaks (laughs).

Ritz: After about a year though, we started piling up some music and became like “ok, let’s do something.”

TSF: What about the collaboration do you think makes it work so well? And what’s your process for putting a song together?

Dom: It reminds me of that joke we had, we were gonna make a joke song called “hip hop vs. DIY.” Because, it started off with this very thing where I sort of felt like people were hiring me more because of my stage presence than because I was a good guitar player.

Ritz: Dom was like the rowdy rock-and-roller.

Dom: Yea yea like who does the bad boy… I mean, I grew up on like Bob Dylan and punk rock and all that stuff, but I also loved hip hop. And I feel like Brent loved hip hop but also grew up on like art-rock and all this other stuff. So I think we really met in the middle, and I think that we both bring our respective personalities and loves of different stuff to the band. At the end of the day, we still argue about music all the time.

Ritz: There’s definitely…we’re sort of, even unintentionally, very reference-y. As far as process, everything is different. Sometimes it’s a track, sometimes he has a vague song written. Or sometimes we just make a beat together. It’s really sort of all over the process. I try to take a different approach…it’s not even trying, it just happens.

Dom: It totally just happens.

Ritz: And it’s a good way to do that.

Dom: Yea, we kind of just entered each other world. I personally feel like our artistic processes are pretty different.

Ritz: Yea, definitely.

Dom: But we’ve compromised in a very cool way.

TSF: The album has been done for a pretty long time [over a year now]. How difficult is it to wait so long to get it out? And what has been the hold up?

Ritz: Actually one of the main reasons that it got held up for a while was because, to be very frank, I signed a publishing deal with EMI and Sony earlier, like about 8 months ago. And it’s a pretty serious, hefty commitment for years on my part. It takes a while to do those major label situations, sometimes it can take like…it was drawn out. And there were all sorts of weird circumstances. So like, I’m not even gonna beat around the bush, honestly, we sort of had to…for business reasons or whatever, I had to personally finish this one situation before…it was just ironing out the details. And then it’s sort of like once you sign a deal, we need to set up putting out the record. I’m sorry to give such a “industry response,” but that’s sort of the reality.

TSF: How did Bar None Records find you? Did you find them, did they find you?

Dom: No, they actually hit us up because my friend Peter of Algernon Cadwallader, the legendary Philly punk band, he hit up Peter because one of their artists, Emperor X, was looking for a show in Philly and they were looking for a band to play with them. And Peter suggested us and sent him the Holy Ghost video, and then Mark contacted us. And it was Anthony, our manager, who found out about it, we started talking to them. And it was a back-and-forth kind of thing. They came to see us to play at Haverford College…that’s the one that’s around here, right?

Ritz: No, was it Bryn Mawr College?

Dom: Yea, I’m sorry, it was Bryn Mawr and they brought a case of Stella. And we just talked to them for a while and we were just trying to figure stuff out, and once we did, that was it.

Ritz: Cause we weren’t quite sure, we had definitely toyed with “should we just put it out ourselves…should we put it out for free,” I don’t know. But then, obviously they were interested so it was like “why not?”

TSF: How hard is it to take these songs from a recorded context and translate them to the live stage so that they make sense and they sound good?

Dom: It’s funny that you say that because it was a long process, man.

Ritz: And I feel like our live thing, I feel like it’s pretty solid now, but I feel like it’s gonna continue to sort of shape shift a little bit.

Dom: Yea, it always will. I mean, we actually just got a new piece of gear we’re gonna use for the live show, trying to use it for the record release show. But, I mean it started out where Brent was playing samples from a keyboard, he was playing keys and running samples. And then we started using tracks a little bit, and then once Brendan Mulvihill got involved, Brendan and Steve Montenegro, it kind of became more like a rock band. Because the whole playing to backing tracks [thing] wasn’t really doing it for me and Joe. And so, we tried to strike a really good middle ground of where we had been before and where the band was, and make sure that we brought like…made like a crazy show that people would get energetic and excited about.

Ritz: It was definitely tricky because obviously the studio work is, at times, dense and very arranged and, you know, a child of the studio that sort of you might think that you need samples or whatever. And I think too, everyone in the band is a really good musician. And Joe is like the backbone and the rhythm section, I think even though it’s sort of a rock quartet right now in a way. Although, you know, I make what shows I can now.

Dom: One thing that Mark from Bar None said to me that I thought was really cool and I really took to heart is he was just like “you know, the live thing doesn’t have to be an exact replication of the record.” Like there can be variations and even in a sense that’s what makes it exciting. Cause I love going to see bands and having it sound a little different, you know in a good way. That shit can be really cool. That was kind of the basis for where we’re at right now. I was like “Ok, so we got two guitar players, one keyboard, a bass player and a drummer. What can we do with that that would still work and still make sense as DRGN KING?”

TSF: What exactly is a paragraph night and what’s going on with that cover art?

Dom: Well Adam Lovitz, who’s a great artist and a really good friend of ours, he does all of our art work. So he made the cover art, he made the insert to the record. He’s done basically every graphic…probably every graphic piece that we’ve put out.

Ritz: Yea, pretty much.

Dom: So, he’s done everything. And him and I have had a lot of different conversations about, you know, what we’re talking about and stuff. To me, I’ve had a pretty close relationship and a problem with Catholicism. Cause I was raised heavy Catholic, and so I still don’t really know where my belief structure lies. But I like that it’s [the cover art] like a nature church. The front cover to me…

Ritz: Yea, it’s not even Christian. It’s some weird place in like a different galaxy.

Dom: For me, I don’t know what he [Adam] was going for, but for me that resonated. Because I always think about that weird dark, spirituality stuff.

Basically, the idea with paragraph nights is people go out at night, get fucked up, get drunk, because they’re looking for happiness outside themselves. And a few songs on the record are about that, like “Wild Night,” “Paragraph Nights,” “Barbarians.” Sort of about the different ways that people look for fulfilling feelings and happiness outside of themselves, when at the end of the day you’ve gotta be cool with yourself before you can be cool with anybody else.

Ritz: And to me, obviously Dom is the lyricist of the group, so I’m dealing with things in more abstract terms. But, I think paragraph nights could have been the nights that we spent working on the shit together. To me, it’s just “paragraph nights” it’s just…

Dom: I wanna give you a high-five, you are so right.

Ritz: Cause, honestly, it’s sort of just like all things. It covered that five years of time leading up to us working together. So I think it’s a few things, you know. And paragraph nights was a song that we did, and we were trying to think of an album title. And I think in a way it seemed like it maybe explained the group directly or indirectly.

Dom: Yea, it’s a great example of getting into Brent’s work ethic. I mean, I never did that shit. I was always the first person to leave the studio cause I got bored. Cause my whole deal is like, especially when I was working with Elevator Fight, and me and Cari (SPELLING) and Zoey would be working on songs and I’d be like “I wrote the fucking song, I don’t want to produce it. I wrote the lyrics, we wrote the music, I don’t want to do anything else, I wanna go out and get wasted.” And with Brent…

Ritz: I was probably in the studio most of the time.

Dom: Totally, and what would happen when would start working together I would take the bus from Port Richmond here, and then we would work and I’d lose track of time. And Ant would be gone and I’d be like “oh, I can’t take the bus back til 6:30 in the morning, we might as well sleep on mattresses or sleep on couch cushions on the floor and watch a weird movie and work on music all night.” So, totally, paragraph nights is that.

Ritz: And I think we’re still in it.

TSF: The record comes out on January 22nd. What do you guys have planned [to support it]? I know you’re going to South By [Southwest], do you have any videos in the works, stuff like that?

Dom: Yea, we’re doing a video for “Wild Night” right now. We’re working on filming it, we’re like halfway done.

Ritz: We have a thing for “Barbarians” too. It’s a collaboration with Adam that is sort of a work in progress. And hopefully a few other videos, too. We’ll probably have like four videos.

Dom: We’re doing some remixes and stuff. There’s a guy from South Philly named Boy Scout of America, who’s this great sound deconstructionist. Then our friend Asaad is gonna remix one of our songs. And yea, we’re playing a bunch of shows. We’re playing a bunch in February and we’re doing that tour in March. I wanna try to play like 200 shows this year, that’s where I’m at. But we’ve got a bunch of new material and we’re working on new…we’re working on a new album already.

Ritz: Yea, we’re in no shortage of songs or ideas. There’s a lot of stuff.

Dom: I feel like next Tuesday [the 22nd], it’s like the “GO” mark. So, that’s when the floodgates are gonna open up and then we can just kind of like jump out into the world and show everybody how much stuff we have. Cause there’s a lot. I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life, or a long ass time. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this for a really long time, so, it’s stressful, but it’s also very exciting.

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