For Dalton Domino, music was always present. "It's always been there," he says. "I don't really know anything else." Even as a child, he heard the melodies. And the chords. But always the lyrics — the way artists of all stripes, from punk rockers to traditional country artists, could convey a simple or complex truth with a simple turn of phrase. "That's how I fell in love with music," the Texas-based singer-songwriter says. Creativity and an appreciation for song has been an evolution for Domino. He'd written albums before— and solid, heart-bearing ones like 2015's 1806, at that— but when he sat down for nine months last year and began piecing together what would become Corners, Domino's latest and inarguably most soul-baring effort yet, things felt different. "I started just writing songs for me," Domino says of a stunning 10-track collection (out on April 28 via Lightning Rod Records), which at times is lyrically somber and sordid, honest and transparent, but always anchored by sumptuous grooves and melodic mastery. "I had a lot of self-loathing and self-hate," he adds of the months and years that led up to him penning his heartfelt LP. "I just threw all that stuff out. I got it out of me. I realized this record is about me trying to find myself and coming to terms with the fact that who I used to be isn't such a bad person."
That person — the man with whom he was long fighting an internal battle — is a decidedly complex one. For years Domino struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. When he started writing the songs that would end up comprising Corners, the now-27-year-old simultaneously made the decision to begin embracing a life of sobriety. "Writing this record helped me get out of a really dark place," the singer, who cut his teeth in the no-nonsense Lubbock singer-songwriter scene, says of an album rife with genteel sensitivity and road-weary wisdom, and one that plumbs the depths of the asphalt-soaked vocalist's emotional roller coaster of a life. "If it helps somebody else," he says of the album, released one year to the date since he got sober, "then I know I did my job."
For Domino, Corners represents a bloodletting, an outpouring of pent-up emotion. He'd previously written a different album, and one he says may have had commercial success if ever released. "But then I realized the record is not what I want to say," he admits. To that end, his pen spares no one on record. "Mine Again (I'd Be A Fool)" charts a failed romantic relationship brought down by Domino's alcoholism ("It's making amends with somebody and wishing you could go back and rebuild a friendship that you screwed up," he says of the song); "Decent Man" recounts a particularly rowdy night that ended with Domino in handcuffs. And the title track, Domino says, is the most honest he's been ever been in song to "I'm not praying for acceptance and if forgiveness never comes I'll understand," he sings over shimmering acoustic guitar alongside chart-topping country singer Jack Ingram.
Born in Memphis, Domino was raised on a steady diet of varying musical genres, ranging from George Jones to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. He proudly recalls his grandmother walking around the house singing church hymns. Domino moved several times throughout his childhood, always on the move, taking up residence in cities like Las Vegas and Lubbock. "It helped me a lot with the life I live now as a touring musician," he says. "And it helped a lot with my writing. I'm always restless. I learned real quick that people come and go." As a teenager he gravitated towards the punk-rock scene, playing in bands, drawn in by the speed "and the rawness of the lyrics." But not until he moved to Lubbock, however, and started frequenting the Blue Light in the city's historic Depot District, did Domino find his true voice as a songwriter. "Out in Lubbock, man, if you're not a good songwriter then they treat you like shit," he says with a laugh. "You have to be able to have a story with your song or they'll think you're a joke." Domino was instantly transfixed by the local musicians whom he befriended. "It took me hanging around with those guys for a year and a half to realize I needed to get my shit together. I really started digging into records and thought, ‘This is what I really like about this song.'"
Corners, Domino notes, was spurred on by a blossoming friendship between he and acclaimed Nashville songwriter Travis Meadows. When they met for biscuits and honey one day last year, the songwriter, whose album Killin' Uncle Buzzy helped Domino through a particularly rough patch, encouraged Domino to dig into the darkest corners of his life via his songwriting. "To me he's one of the greatest songwriters to ever live," Domino says of the hardscrabble artist whom he invited to play last fall at his annual Dustbowl singer-songwriter festival in Lubbock. "He paints vivid imagery."
Domino says he hopes his album will do for others what Meadows' did for him. He proudly recounts a letter he recently received from a young girl at a rehab clinic who said the song "Corners" helped her out in a decidedly tough moment. "That right there, that's success to me," Domino says. "If I can talk somebody off the ledge, I'd be perfectly happy."
"It's more meaningful and it's more thought-out," he says of the "meticulous" Corners, and, one senses, his new outlook on life. "Every line in this record is specifically there for a reason. These songs have purpose and meaning behind them.
"People mess up. It's just a journey," Domino continues. "And that's what this record was for me. A journey of finding myself."