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Domino Davis is, to say the least, a sight to behold. Accompanied by a small entourage, the mastermind behind local electronic act Dearling Physique has the otherworldly appearance of a bird-like creature decked out in a large white wig, silver face paint, and exotic dress that mixes high fashion with a healthy dose of fantasy. There's a little theater in it all, a little mystery, and more than a little self-awareness.
In subtler ways, the same is true of Davis's music. Lurking beneath the dark, murky surface of his band's new EP, Currency, is a similar preoccupation with identity and perception. With their creeping production centered on the soulful tone and dramatic range of his voice, the record's shape-shifting songs are full of ambiguities and fragmented memories—all of which coalesce to create a disorienting and alluring world of light and shadow.
Describing himself as something of a "nomad," having lived in Brooklyn, L.A., and Seattle, Davis says Dearling Physique has evolved over the past six years to match the growth of his artistic ambitions. "I like to do everything as big as I can with no money ever," he laughs. An actor in his youth, the singer found music to be a more fulfilling outlet. "I really enjoy being a component to another's vision, but I didn't have enough creative control [when acting]. Going into music, the sky's the limit; I don't need a hundred people to get a thought across."
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A prolific composer who says he has "hundreds of songs and demos" that he tweaks and reworks for different projects, Davis admits Currency came about more or less by accident. After a successful tour of Canada and the U.S. last fall, he wanted to capitalize on his band's momentum with an early-spring release of their first full-length, The Moon Leads Me.
"The album has been in the works almost since the inception of Dearling Physique. Some of the songs are years old that no one's ever heard before," Davis explains. "I wanted to wait to find the right musicians because from years ago I had a very specific idea of how I wanted it to sound." After undergoing multiple incarnations, the album began taking shape last year, but various complications forced its release to be delayed until next fall.
Thus Currency came to be—an EP built around two songs from the forthcoming album, "Oh This Currency" and "Sleep and the Heart." Yet this collection is much more than a pair of singles with some tacked-on dance remixes. The standard versions of the songs benefit from Davis's attention to detail, their live instrumentation lending them organic textures that wouldn't be possible on a laptop. The remixes, meanwhile, help reveal his fascination with experimentation and sound manipulation, exploring the compositions' brighter, more energetic dimensions.
Davis, who is already deep into production on the follow-up to the yet-to-be-released The Moon Leads Me, says these songs will be much different when they appear on the LP, and may have completely altered arrangements when the band goes on tour again this year—most likely as a two-piece rather than in its recent five-piece guise.
"[For me] it's always about creating a live performance that stands apart from the albums," he says. "As an electronic musician, it's already difficult for people to understand what exactly you're doing, [especially in] the black hole of electronic music that isn't dance or techno." Davis places an emphasis on creating a unique live experience because people "don't realize that hours and hours and hours have gone into programming a song, so for all they know you could be checking your email."
To this end, Dearling Physique utilize a multimedia stage production for their concerts, and will debut a whole new act at the release party for Currency. "The Varsity is a show in itself," Davis enthuses, referring to the Dinkytown venue's ornate interior styling and vivid lighting. When it comes to the details of the performance, he keeps his cards close to his chest, revealing only that it's been designed with smaller venues in mind and that there have been close consultations with a mirror specialist who has helped "create an illusion."
"Imagine you're very sleepy behind the wheel and see a deer on the side of the road, but when you look again you see nothing there. That'll be the experience," Davis says cryptically, peering out from beneath his wig. "The entire stage will be an illusion if we can pull it off how we want to. It'll all be very confusing."