Quiet Domino recently released the debut single ‘Metropelium’, drawing inspiration from new musings on a hometown city. Founded in San Francisco, this is the new project of singer-songwriter-reckoner Mark Nelsen. His unpredictable live shows and knack for writing and producing genre-blending songs led him to create his debut single as Quiet Domino. Over the past few years, he has become known as a solo acoustic performer of expressive folk-pop and also as a member of several Bay Area psychedelic rock bands, namely Dooms Virginia and Annie Girl & The Flight. Nelsen himself concocted the term ‘Metropelium’, combining ’Metropolis’ and ‘Mausoleum’ to describe the modern city experience. The narrator wonders what the city’s dreams have manifested in this modern age – an age where we are all dancing while simultaneously on our phones; comfortably disengaging from each other while yearning for true connection. Plug in or unplug? Stay or go? The city moves with you. The track’s realization had to await its synths, electronic beats and studio matrimony with keyboardist / producer Devin Farney. Inspired by the likes of LCD Soundsystem, MGMT, Washed Out, Black Moth Super Rainbow and Foster The People, the result is a sonically lush hybrid cocktail with illustrious hints of Moby, Black Keys, Flaming Lips and Thom Yorke. We spoke with Mark Nelsen.
Tell us about your debut single?
“Metropelium” has been essentially a catapult for pursuing my own electronic music making – under a new project/persona (Quiet Domino) – something I had been itching to do for a while prior to unveiling the name and idea. Metropelium is a word I made up, combining ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Mausoleum’, and is a song I had written a few years before recording it. Its a dance song about fading, recycled city cultures and the question of ‘Do I move cities? What is gained?’, and I knew I wanted an all electronic production with no familiar rock band (especially no guitars and live drums) – just software and synths. My exceptionally talented good friend and musical collaborator Devin Farney (co-producer on the track) brought it to life with me in his studio. He produces a lot of electronic and avant-garde pop, so he was the perfect anchor in debuting this song and project.
Tell us about one or some of your favourite creations to date?
So far, probably this song – as far as releases go.
Tell us about an event from the life of your musical project that we don’t know about?
Quiet Domino is currently a one-man band with occasional live backing musicians, and I have only played a handful of shows since launching earlier this year. For my second ‘trial’ show in March, my buddy and I set up an event at his bar/coffee shop’s outdoor parking lot, in San Francisco’s Mission District. It was the most DIY ‘punk rock’ type show I’ve done probably since my teens, a time when I was regularly playing outdoor generator shows and house shows with actual punk bands. For this show, we didn’t have a permit. It was sorta last minute, the PA we were using was shit, my synth stand was defective on uneven pavement and my synth collapsed to the ground mid-way thru my set. It was all frustrating at first, but saved itself and got super fun, with a good crowd. Of course there was a noise complaint from neighbors later that night, but the show did not get shut down. Some friends’ bands played too. The coffee shop eventually closed down a month later, after one full year of operating, and I was one of the few performers who got to participate. So that was cool. And the response was nice. Its really difficult to do these types of DIY shows in the city nowadays, without somebody getting upset.
What inspires you to create the music you create?
Locking into a new groove, playing with new instruments and keyboard sounds, and reflecting upon and singing what I refer to as the ‘algorithm-and-blues’ aka tech blues / internet madness. I am overwhelmed by data and information (especially being in the heart of it here in San Francisco), so I write about it and turn the data into something you can dance to. I also really like what LCD Soundsystem and Thundercat do.
You write a lot of great music, but I must ask, which song (by someone else) do you wish you had written yourself?
Oh man, there are too many. Schubert’s “Ave Maria” or Prince’s “Kiss”, or even Paul McCartney’s worst song would be an honor to posses – whichever song that might be.
If you had to describe your sound as some kind of food, what woudl it be?
Um, an omelette with imported jam or Nutella on top. I don’t know what’s inside the omelette, I just know I made it and it isn’t too heavy or unhealthy. Not yet.
What’s next for you? What are you planning in the near future?
For Quiet Domino: an eventual full length LP, touring, and perhaps expanding the project into a full live band. I may also be moving cities later this year. I am putting the pieces together.
Apart from making music and performing, what kinds of things are you into?
Hmm. Well, I enjoy the sunshine. I also enjoy magic and laughing hysterically. These are weird times we live in, and I shouldn’t deprave myself from getting outdoors more. I am such a ‘city guy’, and nerding out on music and movies is my life, for better or worse. I really like opportunities to do cool creative stuff, and to explore my craft and my abilities as a performer, where ever and whatever the ‘scene’ is. Sadly, the internet is thee new scene. Attention maintenance is the new scene. Everything is exposed now and marketing has perfected itself, so we live in an oversaturated, big-brother world of endless content and digital bickering. I think truly great art still stands out and finds its way, but the discovery seems to be more challenging and the relationship with the discovery is more detached than ever. I dont know.
Artful music and songs just seem to be a byproduct of pervasive marketing. I wonder about my role in music scenes, or what scene I’m supposed to ‘belong to’. I really shouldn’t worry. I stem from San Francisco’s rock n roll tradition, but I seem to always jump around different styles just cuz my tastes and songwriting are so broad, and I have talented friends in different ‘scenes’. The Bay Area is still very diverse and welcoming that way. I have a touch of Leonard Zelig in me – its fun. My main crowd in SF these last several years has been the neo psychedelic rock crowd, because I was playing in a few of those types of bands full time. I have branched out now more than ever, and hope to continue doing so.
Making weirdo electro dance music from scratch is new territory for me. I have always been a fan of computer music, but never a contributor. Oakland has a lot of terrific electronic bands and DJs – something always seems more natural and groovy there. San Francisco can still be cool, but if I’m being completely honest, I never know what the hell is going on here. I don’t think we’re ever supposed to know. Its both liberating and imprisoning. Maybe I feel that way just cause its my native city? I still have a good time here, but I can’t deny those confused feelings. I find that Los Angeles produces a lot of great, futuristic electronic music, especially from Flying Lotus and his community. I dig it. I want to explore LA‘s ‘scenes’ more and more.