360°Sound conducted a socially distanced sit-down interview with Dominic Solis, lead singer and songwriter of the Austin-based eight-piece garage-folk band Madisons. In March, Madisons digitally released their fifth full-length studio album, Better Than I Deserve. Solis said a vinyl release is expected for this winter and a CD will come later. In this interview, Solis, 40, talks about the new LP, their dedicated fanbase, songwriting and more.
Dominic Solis – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Songwriting
Cass Brostad – Vocals, Accordion, Songwriting
Nick Kukowski – Vocals, Banjo, Electric Guitar, Songwriting
Thomas Damron – Bass
Mike Rothschild – Vocals, Drums, Percussion, Keys
Zack Patteson – Vocals, Electric Guitar
Oscar Gomez – Trumpet
Samantha Stewart – Violin
360°Sound: Please start by giving the readers who aren’t familiar with Madisons an introduction to the band.
Solis: We started around 2010. I was going to open mics. I had just moved to Austin. I hadn’t been in a band before. I was really into writing music. I had seen The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the documentary about Daniel Johnston. It fuckin’ blew my mind, so I wanted to write. I met some folks and started a band called Jubal’s Lawyer. That band broke up. When we broke up it was myself and violin player Rachel Lane.
Rachel and I decided to start our own band, we made a bunch of demos and put some ads out on Craigslist. We were super surprised by the response. We wanted a big band, and we got a lot of responses. Rachel’s middle name is Madison, so we were like ‘Alright, this is it.’ We don’t want a flashy name. We want something hometown-y, like a family type of deal. If you’re gonna remember us, you’re gonna remember us for the music not for the name.
The band was really built on Craigslist other than me and Rachel. We got a pedal steel player, a bass player, a drummer. We kept pluggin’ away. We got lucky with playing shows in that people liked the songs. [Madisons] is only the second band I’ve ever been in. Our first record came out in 2012.
What genre would you say Madisons are?
The genre we use to describe ourselves is “garage folk.” A ton of folk instruments, an upright bass, a banjo. I play the lead rhythm guitar and it’s acoustic. There’s a violin, an accordion, a trumpet. But all of those instruments are plugged in through amps. It’s got a real crunchy sound. We turn up a whole lot of reverb as well. It’s not traditional folk, there’s a lot of screaming, a lot of cussing.
There’s a lot of punk influence. Not only that distorted sound but we’re not all professional musicians that have given our lives to music. We do music and we work at it really hard, but we all got day jobs. It’s not as polished as you might find from other musicians, but it’s raucous. There’s a lot of shit going on. It’s a lot about community and people we meet. It’s lyric based. There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in the lyrics, but there’s a lot of really joyous stuff going on with the sad stuff. Lot of passion. Lot of heart.
Do you write most of the songs?
Yeah, I’m writing about 90% [of the lyrics]. With the arrangements, I’m maybe closer to 50%. It’s a big band and you want everybody to be writing their own parts. I’m not writing the bass parts and drum parts and stuff. But I’m like ‘Ok, we need this right here, this fill right here.’ I’ll direct most of it and make the bigger picture. The fucking musicians in the band are killer. Everybody. Cass [Brostad] is now a co-lead singer and co-songwriter. Everything she brings to the table is fucking stellar. I’m blown away every time.
Cass’s “No Man’s Land” seems to be one of the more popular Madisons songs.
Yeah, she’s a phenomenal talent. The song is about her dad. I had heard it a long time ago, just as casual acquaintances. I was like ‘It’s a great song. We should put this on a record.’ She was like, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never played it for my dad.’ I was like, ‘Look, if you put this song on the record, we’ll make it the title track.’
Tell us a little about your loyal fanbase.
There’s a lot of great things about being in a band. But by far the best thing about playing music is meeting all these people. We have fans, people who are fans of the music, but they also become really close friends. We’re already surprised at how somebody likes the music and identifies with it and then we meet them and start talking to them and just become close. Even if we’re not close, we develop relationships. It turns into family.
What did you want to express with the latest album Better Than I Deserve?
It’s about the imperfections of love. Love isn’t easy, but in the end, it’s worth it, easily. Love will make you put up with shit you don’t need to. It’ll make you lie to yourself. It’ll help you forgive and get to the other side. Love will fill you up like nothing before, and for some people, it’s so special and new, you can think you’re not worth it. It’ll make you wear a mask and stay home. If you’re the luckiest of people, you’ll touch it, even briefly.
We were going for a little bit more of a rock record. Definitely guitar-heavy, less folky. We were willing to push ourselves in a different direction with this record. We spent a lot of time in the studio getting a heavier tone and making sure we got the vocals right and they were prominent in the mix.
A lot of your songs are very personal. Are there any particular songs that seemed to really connect with people?
Yes, there’s a few. I think the one that very much surprised me and has been the go-to over and over again in that sense is “Basketball Practice.” It’s nine minutes of me telling a story that we lead off the [No Man’s Land] record with. I tell a story of when I was young and I go to see my mom and my stepdad and it doesn’t end well. And then I go into, ‘Well, now I’m a grown person, and even though I’ve suffered from these things, I still want to try really hard to be a better person to the people that I love.’ I can’t just live a bad life and say, ‘Well, it’s OK because I had a shitty life when I was young.’ I need to take responsibility and work really hard to be a better person.
People come up all the time, “Are you gonna play Basketball Practice? Basketball Practice is my favorite.” Most requested, least played song of all the Madisons catalog [laughs]. But we’re so excited because when anybody says that, you know that they’re listening. Who’s gonna listen to a nine-minute spoken word track? The people who listen you know that they get it, and they’ve been through some shit, too. I think, with that song, what I was trying to do for myself was to make sense of it. And I think that song for them also helps them make sense of it.
Our drummer said he had a friend come up to him and she was like, ‘Hey, I like your band. I’ve been following you guys for a long time. ‘Basketball Practice’ is…’ And she couldn’t finish. She started crying. And I’ve gotten that at shows. You see tears come out. It’s a lot of emotion. I’m forever grateful that people are able to get relief from [our songs]. It’s a big driving point for why people love the band. They can see themselves in us.
What can fans expect from Madisons in the future?
Our plan was to do a big tour in 2021. I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s talk of a Madisons greatest hits album coming out in 2021. We might put two or three new songs on it. We’ll call it Los Exitos. When Tejano bands would release all their old shit, they’d call it Los Exitos [laughs].