Throughout my often adventure-filled career as a music and occasional entertainment ‘journalist’, I have graciously been presented with a veritable wealth of opportunities to work with artists and groups that I feel are deserving of additional (or, in some cases, entirely renewed) commercial recognition. As a result, you, the increasingly-faithful reader, have frequently been subjected to my notoriously long-winded accolades regarding Black Label Society, Megadeth and Quiet Riot to name only a few. Unfortunately, my frequently unnerving quest continues largely unabated, with my disturbingly-intense focus now wholeheartedly centered on the Charlie Dominici (ex-Dream Theater)-led quintet Dominici and the group’s newest Progressive Metal masterpiece O3: A Trilogy: Part Three…
Todd: What can you tell us about O3: A Trilogy: Part Three? There has been an obvious metamorphosis over the course of the trilogy. Was it always your intention for Dominici to evolve into a Progressive Metal project?
Charlie Dominici: “Basically, the new album is the finale for the O3: A Trilogy. It’s a natural progression of the story where everything comes to a head. It’s a trilogy where there’s three different parts and the difference between them is very distinct. Obviously, the first album was completely acoustic with just me and no overdubs whatsoever. The second album was with a full band and was very Progressive, but not really very Metal and the third album is full-blown Progressive Metal. I had planned on it getting heavier all along. It started out kinda black and white, like life, ya know? In the old days, years ago, things were simpler, things were slower. There wasn’t a lot goin’ on, but as the world got more complicated, there was a little more Technicolor, things got a little bit more rushed, there was a little bit more activity and there were more frequencies of incidents and problems. If you fast forward to today, everything is spiraling out of control. So it seemed natural that the music would go from one level to another notch up and then kick up even higher for the third part. It’s just like if you went and saw Lord Of The Rings or some other trilogy. The bottom line is that the story is there. The only reason the first part is the first part is because as I was writing it, I realized that I didn’t have a band and was going to have to do it acoustically or wait for who knows how many years. So I decided not to wait. And then, as I was writing it on an acoustic guitar, even though it was acoustic and the songs were ten or eleven minute Progressive Metal songs, I realized that I had forty or fifty minutes of music but wasn’t even to middle of the story yet. …I didn’t wanna do a double album of acoustic music, so I said ‘I’ll find a band. I know I’ll find a band and maybe I’ll do it in three parts’. I had a pretty good idea that three parts would be enough even though three parts almost wasn’t enough. It was very challenging to wrap the story up.”
Todd: How did the songwriting process for O3: A Trilogy, Part Three compare to the processes involved with the creation of O3: A Trilogy, Part One and O3: A Trilogy, Part Two? Was it a more of an actual ‘group effort’?
Charlie: “I’d love to be able to say that I wrote all of those lead guitar, drum and keyboard parts, wrote all the charts and then put them in front of the guys, but unfortunately, I can’t say that. It was a group effort. I basically knew how I wanted the story to go. I did it differently this time than how I did both other albums. This time, I didn’t write a single word until I got to Sardinia. I always got to Sardinia before I even get the advance money. I just use my own credit cards. It’s my little way of kinda putting a little pressure on myself. I like to work under pressure. I get really creative when I force myself to get it done in a short amount of time. This time, I really put myself behind the eight ball by flying to Sardinia before a single lyric had been written. I knew how the story was going to end and I knew what I wanted it to sound like. I had a vision in my head and I just proceeded to sculpt that vision with the band. I really drub my grubby fingers into it this time as far as the music is concerned. Last time, I just basically gave them ideas and let them run with them… This time, I got right in there and wrote with them…every verse, every chorus, every bridge. I had my hands in every part of the record. I handled the Production the same way. I went to Germany and sat down with the Engineer… He’s very good, but has his own view. I wanted him to help me achieve my own vision and in doing so, he kinda came over to my side, finding that some of ideas were pretty cool and the end results were a little more powerful than they would have been if I had just let him do it his way. So I basically dug into this whole thing.”
Todd: What prompted you to temporarily relocate to Hungary? It seems like a less-than-desirable destination…
Charlie: “I’ve been pretty dedicated to this project. I was living in San Diego. I was livin’ there, it’s a very expensive town and I had a nice place and was drivin’ nice cars and we gave it all up so I could be closer to the band and closer to where I record and Mix. The record label and all the guys in the band are in Europe, so for that time period, it was just too hard to be in San Diego. I would get on a plane in San Diego at six a.m. on a Monday morning and get off the plane in Sardinia at six a.m. on Tuesday morning, ya know? It was just too much just so we could write, practice or record. Plus, I needed to give up all other sources of income to pursue my music on a full-time basis. If I would have stayed in Sand Diego, I would have lasted all of three months before I went bankrupt, so Hungary seemed like a natural progression. My wife is from there, so she has family there and I know from experience that the US dollar goes a long way in Hungary because their economy is very depressed. It just seemed like a wise place to park myself for that year. I had some touring to do in the summer and then we did the recording in the fall and the Mixing in the winter. It all worked out so wonderfully. I was actually able to squeeze out an entire year from what would have been a month worth of income in San Diego.”
Todd: In hindsight, how would you describe your rather brief time as a member of Franke And The Knockouts?
Charlie: “Frustrating (laughs) and boring. Well, not really boring because we were pretty wild on the road. I was, anyway. I was the Keith Moon of that band. I was the one that would start the riot in the hotel room that would destroy the room and then go down to the tour bus and go to sleep while everyone else would get stuck paying for the damages. I was a wild man. …Running through the halls of the hotel naked, throwing water at everyone. It was just wild, man (laughs). But that was in like 1980 or ’81, so it was a different time. All the Hair bands were big, MTV was still Metal and it was a wild time. …Of course I was a little younger then, too.”
Todd: How did you initially become involved with Dream Theater? In contrast, how did the audition process compare to your previous experiences? Were you able to work with material that had already been completed?
Charlie: “I basically just saw an ad in the paper. They weren’t really weren’t even Dream Theater yet. They were called Majesty. There was just something about the way they worded the ad. I said to myself ‘Either these guys are completely full of shit or they’re really good’. So I called up for the audition and I was really busy. I remember I kept postponing the audition. They wanted me to bring a PA system and I was like ‘Yeah, right. Okay, no problem’. I couple of weeks went by and I knew a couple of them were teaching at a music store on Long Island, so I stopped in there a few times and said hello. It basically turned out like any other audition except that it was for Dream Theater. I was doing my best impression of their previous singer (Chris Collins) and at one point, they were about to say ‘Okay, we’ll call you’ and I was like ‘Give me something that no one has ever sung before. Afresh lyric that doesn’t have a melody for it’ because back then my strong point was my creative side. I’m not a high Operatic Metal vocalist like (multi-octave Queensrÿche frontman) Geoff Tate or (current Dream Theater vocalist) James LaBrie. I don’t sing like that. It’s not my style and I don’t wanna sound like everyone else. So my attitude was like ‘Give me something and let me do my own thing so we can see if that’s what you’re looking for’. They handed me the lyrics to “Killing Hand” (from When Dream And Day Unite), I looked it over, listened to the music once through and said ‘Okay, let me sing it’ and basically wrote the “Killing Hand” melody line right there on the spot. About a week later, I got a call informing me that I would get the probationary position. I was like ‘What? Am I going to work for a corporation or something?’ I was basically a hired hand. …Anyone that sings for that band is just a hired gun.”
Todd: At what point did you realize you time with Dream Theater was ultimately coming to an end? Was there a clear and defining moment or situation where it became obvious that everyone should go their separate ways?
Charlie: “That was a very complicated time. There were a number of issues going on at the time. People who saw that situation from the outside have a very interesting slant on things. It’s either ‘Charlie was booted out’ or ‘Charlie quit’. I always like to say that neither of those are true. What happened was that I fired the band (laughs). To me, it’s funny. I’ve been in so many bands and have left so many bands for many different reasons. Very few bands have booted me out against my will. The bottom line is that there were a lot of issues that were happening. The record company (now-defunct MCA Records imprint Mechanic Records) wasn’t behind us and they weren’t doing the things that they promised. There was gonna be a video, there was gonna be a Japan tour… We did a big showcase at SIR that was filmed for MCA Records. There were about fifty people there who were all MCA executives. There’s a video of it out there somewhere. The band played, it was a great show and MCA just didn’t know what to do with the band. There was a lot of that going on. I was at the end of a long period of being in bands and just pluggin’ away. These guys were like twenty one. This was their first real experience and I had already been there and done that, ya know? I was burnt out and was like ‘You know, this shit sucks’. I started losin’ it. I was out of control at the time. I was still into a lot of craziness, doin’ a lot of the wrong stuff all the time. It all piled on top of each other and we all just started going our separate ways. …We were getting to the point where we were all going to realize that I wasn’t the right singer for them and they weren’t the right band for me. When they came to me about it, I was like ‘Yeah, I agree. I feel the same way’. I was like ‘Thank God’ (laughs). To this day, believe it or not, I’m happy that I left that band for two reasons. First of all, it was a very difficult thing for me to sing in that band. The vocals were out of my range and I was working for other people. It was a slave gig to me. It wasn’t enjoyable. I had enough years of music that weren’t enjoyable for me to be in a band with guys that were much younger than me. I was the only one who had any experience, I was doing vocals that were out of my range, I was out of control physically with all the shit I was doing. I was at a point in my life where I was totally burned out, I was tired of it, the record company turned us down and left us out there and I was finally like ‘That’s it. I’m done’.”
Todd: Was your departure from Dream Theater the primary catalyst behind your decision to take an ‘extended break’ from the music industry? I would imagine leaving such a potentially lucrative position was frustrating…
Charlie: “Yeah (laughs). That’s the understatement of the year. Did my frustrations lead to me taking a break? That’s like asking if OJ Simpson’s frustration with Nicole lead to him slashing her throat. Yeah, I think so (laughs). I was completely frustrated with the business and again, it’s hard for people to realize that because they didn’t see me at the end of something, they saw me at the beginning of something. I was at the end of a long period of many bands and many trials and tribulations that never came to much fruition. I wanted to get out of music. I had decided that as much as I had loved it, I didn’t love it anymore. If you don’t love it anymore, it’s like a marriage. Once the love is gone, it’s just a matter of going through the steps to wrap things up and tie up the loose ends so you can go your separate ways. For me, it was like getting divorced from my music career. I stayed away a little bit longer than I thought I would. I was beginning to think I was going to stay away forever. I thought that was a part of my life that was finished. I pretty much just started to go work other jobs. I was actually pretty successful in finance in the auto business. I was running Toyota dealerships by myself. I was makin’ good money, but I was miserable (laughs). I was driving a fancy Mercedes Benz convertible around San Diego and had everything that you could want in my house, but I was totally miserable. I sold it all when the love for the music came back and I started writing and feeling creative again. I didn’t care if I made it. In fact, I was hoping that I wouldn’t make it. I just wanted to make music my way without anyone telling me how to do it. I didn’t want to do it to succeed. I just wanted to do it so I could be doing it. I sold everything I had because I didn’t care. I wanted to be so vulnerable and out there with this project, that’s it’s just so appropriate that the first CD was just me completely acoustic without one single overdub. I was just being very brazen about it. I was just pushing myself to the limit. Then, when I got the band, I just decided to go to Sardinia and live over there. I actually went and recorded the album before I came home and decided to sell everything and move to Hungary to be closer. Then, just as I was selling everything, I got the offer to open for Dream Theater in Europe. That was an indication that I had made the right move. I moved to Hungary on May 1st and on May 15th went to Sardinia, spent five days rehearsing with the band, did a couple of headlining gigs and then went and did shows with Dream Theater on June 5th, 6th and 7th in Croatia, Budapest and Austria.”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? Is it safe to assume you’ll be touring as much as humanly possible?
Charlie: “You can assume that all you want. I’d like to assume that as well, but the fact of the matter is that I have no idea. A lot of people just don’t realize how it works. It’s not up to me if I tour. I’m not the one that’s going to lay out thirty or forty grand for buses, a crew, hotels and food. These people want to know that the people that they are hiring are going to be able to bring in revenue. It’s just like making a film. Before a studio goes out and spends two million dollars, they have to know that the film’s going to gross twenty million dollars. That’s why they go after the main actors who are the big box office draw. And right now, we’re not a big box office draw. We’re really just a relatively new band, so I have to take a wait and see attitude with it. I don’t know what’s going to happen or if it’s going to happen. The band is a year and a half old and for all intents and purposes, we have one album under our belts that’s been released. I personally think it’s a little bit of a sleeper. People are just really beginning to tap into it and a lot of people still don’t even know about it. Now, we’re about to release the third part which is the second full band album, so it’s still a relatively new project. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I could get a call to open up for Metallica at (Madison Square) Garden or it could just be just a tour for us to be the opening act, which in that case, we’ll have to pay to play and I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know what’s going to happen with it. But I’ve got no choice. That’s just business.”
Todd: If and when the opportunity to tour does ultimately arise, what type of set lists will you be working with?
Charlie: “If we’re an opening act, we’ll be lucky if we have thirty minutes. If that’s the case, we’ll probably do two songs from part two and three songs from part three and that’ll be half an hour. It’ll probably be two songs from part two and two songs from part three. It’s hard to say. If we’re headlining, then it’s a different story. Obviously, if we’re headlining, we’re gonna do and hour, and hour and a half or maybe two hours and do a couple of songs from part one and then all of part two and all of part three. But who knows? This is a crazy business. This album could come out and be just like part two where it was an excellent album but the whole world just went ‘Whatever’ (laughs). I don’t know what these people want. I don’t give a shit what they want. I did it because I like it. If they like it, that’s fine and if they don’t like it, that’s fine, too. I can go and get a job just like I did last time or I can go out and work with the band. One of the reasons that I’m back here in New York is because they speak my language in case I have to go back to work. I told my wife ‘I can’t go without working. I’m not twenty years old and living with my parents’. If the music takes off and I can make a living with it, then great, but if I can’t, I’ll just go back to work. The bottom line is that dollars have to be made and bills have to be made. I’ve taken a very mature attitude about it. I can take it any way it goes because I also know you really can’t fight it (laughs) and you can’t change it… Whatever happens is what’s going to happen.”
O3: A Trilogy: Part Three (2008) ***
O3: A Trilogy: Part Two (2007) ***
O3: A Trilogy: Part One (2005) ***
When Dream And Day Unite (1989) **
Franke And The Knockouts (1981) *
* as a member of Franke And The Knockouts
** as a member of Dream Theater
*** as a solo artist