It’s undeniable that male R’n’B stars have made a huge comeback to the mainstream in the last few years.
Whether it’s been through the rise of the ‘PBRNB’ sound – the indie/alternative variant of the genre favoured by hipsters, and dominated by the likes of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Childish Gambino – or through the mainstream charts, via the likes of Miguel, Sam Smith and Drake, soulful vocals over sensual beats seem to be more in demand than ever.
The climate’s even proved fertile enough to herald the comeback of kings of the genre, including D’Angelo and Justin Timberlake – who have both found comeback success after long hiatuses away from releasing music.
And it doesn’t seem like the movement will be fading any time soon – not with artists like Dornik emerging on the horizon.
The UK crooner started his career as the drummer for another R’n’B / electronica-pop star in Jessie Ware, but a couple of years ago gradually began stepping out from behind the kit, instantly winning acclaim with early singles like ‘Something About You’ and ‘Rebound’. He kept critics and fans salivating over the subsequent couple of years by drip feeding singles online, steadily but assuredly building himself a loyal audience, all the while cementing the confidence required to take up the mantle of frontman.
But earlier this month he completed his metamorphosis – releasing his brilliant debut, self-titled album to widespread acclaim. Channel [V] caught up with him via email to discuss some of his musical influences on the new record, as well as discussing making that transition from drummer to vocalist, and how he thinks he’s evolved as an artist over the last few years to be at the point he is now.
[V]: You clearly wear a lot of r’n’b influences on your sleeve. Who are some of your all time favourite artists and have you found as you’ve started working on the Dornik project that you’ve honed in on any particular records or artists for inspiration?
D: Michael Jackson, Prince, D’angelo, J Dilla, The Roots, James Brown,Sting, Bob Marley & The Wailers. To name but a few.
There’s a definite, shimmery, “west coast” feel to your music, particularly in the guitars and keys on ‘Drive’ and ‘Something About You.’ Was that a sound that you had in mind when you started writing this music – or did it organically mould that way?
It just came out that way. I do like a lot of music from the west coast so maybe subconsciously that’s why it came out that way.
You used to drum for Jessie Ware’s band. Did you learn anything from your time on the road with Jessie that you now apply to your own music and career?
Yeah I learned a lot.I learned that it’s important to believe in what you do and to remember that you’re the artist.
There’s been a definite rise in appreciation for r’n’b again in the last few years, with the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd rising to prominence as well as artists like D’Angelo making their long awaited return. Do you feel that this is a really fertile period now for the kind of music you are making?
Yeah, it’s defiantly started to become more popular again. I don’t think that kind of music ever really went away, I think it just become cool again to say you like R’n’B.
You first released ‘Something About You’ a couple of years back. Was it a deliberately slow process for making a record over the last couple of years and drip feeding tracks as you went along? Or was that just the way things played out?
It’s just the way things played out. I was on tour with Jessie when ‘Something About You’ and ‘Rebound’ were released, so that’s the reason why my album took a while. I only really got the chance to fully concentrate on it after I left Jessie’s band. Making the transition from
session drummer to solo artist was quite a big and daunting step for me. It certainly doesn’t come over, night that’s for sure.
Has your music or your approach to music evolved much during that period? Going from a song like ‘Something About You’ through to the recent single ‘Drive’, there’s a subtle, yet noticeable change in tone. ‘SAY’, for example, is a little more chill wave, with a big sonic landscape. Whereas ‘Drive’ is a little more focused on each individual instrument having its own space and voice, which brings a bit more focus to your voice. Can you hear your own progression as an artist through that period?
Yeah, obviously I grew during the period of making these two particular songs. ‘SAY’ I made as a 20 year old in my bedroom at my parents house and ‘Drive’ I made when I was 24 through a collaboration with Pop Wansel and Flippa in my own studio in West London. Theres a big difference there. I’m feeling more confident in my voice now, when i was making ‘SAY’ I still didn’t even see myself as a singer to be honest.
Can you hear the r’n’b revival infiltrating other areas of music as you dive deeper into this world. There are definitely elements of it on the new Tame Impala record. Do you think there’s potential for that sound to become cluttered as more and more people embrace that style?
I think music in general is getting more cluttered due to everyone having the ability to record and upload to the internet. I think that good music always shines through.
Is there a song on the record that you’re particularly proud of and think best encapsulates you as an artist?
I do like ‘Blush’ but I think ‘Mountain’ perhaps is the best representation of me as an artist right now.
What can fans and new fans expect from your debut album as a whole? Do you think they’ll be surprised by anything on the album?
No, I think the singles I released previously show variety and so if people liked them they’ll definitely appreciate the other tracks on the album. I think there may be a surprise with the songs on my new album though as I’m interested to explore new avenues.
When do you think we’ll get the chance to see some of these songs performed live in Australia?
Hopefully someday soon. I love Australia and it’d be great to get back out there again!