Words by Bill Robinson
Dominic Breen has long been one of our favourite Australian songwriters. Standing alongside artists like Caitlin Harnett and Maple Glider, he features brightly in the — his words now — “constellation of Australian songwriters”. Before he shares the stage with these artists tomorrow night (July 7th) at Mary’s Underground for the first instalment of our monthly GOING UNDER series, we caught up with Dom for a quick chat about painting, life on painkillers, and new music.
MARY’S: Well, first off, how’ve you been? Working on much at the moment?
DB: I’ve been well. I just moved house, the last place I was in was very small and flooded a lot, plus I was in a wheelchair for a big chunk of last year, so it’s good to have a new ceiling to stare at. I’m always writing a lot. Time will tell if any of it is any good haha. We’ve been touring a bit since the world has opened up a bit, it’s been great to hit the highway and play to new audiences.
MARY’S: Oh yeah that’s right, I remember you having a big foot cast or something at that Caitlin Harnett show. What happened there again?
DB: I broke my leg real badly. The top of my shin kinda shattered and split in two. It’s been a year since the injury. I have a lot of metal in my leg now, but I’ve been in constant pain for a year so we’re gonna try to take it all out and start again. I got into painting as a bit of a self soothing activity. There were plenty of silver linings actually.
MARY’S: Brutal, I hope you’re on the mend okay! But yeah, I was going to ask if it forced you down any new creative pathways. Was that your first time painting?
DB: Yeah I guess it’s the first time I’ve really sat down to paint pictures. They’re kinda weird, I was on some heavy pain killers for a while. They feature a lot of magpies. I call them Dream Embassies.
MARY’S: I really like the sound of that, “Dream Embassies”. Makes it sound like the paintings were a place you could be safe in a strange foreign painkiller dream land. What was the significance of the magpies for you?
DB: Haha yeah it was kinda like that. My face was right up close to the canvas for long enough it started to feel like I was in these rooms, being able to move furniture around with the brush and assemble flowers in vases and stuff haha. Kinda like the Sims on opioids. The magpie thing is a bit more personal.
MARY’S: Sims on opioids is amazing. Did you also do much songwriting on the painkillers? I’m always interested when people create under the influence of anything… I’ve tried in the past, fancying myself a bit of a Burroughs or Aldous Huxley or something, only to turn out complete rubbish. What’s it like looking back soberly on what you created in different states?
DB: There are a few songs from that time but they’re more like field recordings than anything worthy or palatable, to me at least. I think it’s all properly comin out now.
MARY’S: Yeah right, as in you’re just now being able to properly process and express what you were thinking or feeling during that time?
DB: I dunno. Sometimes you can’t really see the bigger picture or how something affects you until it stops affecting you. Kinda like you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, in a way. Also, regarding your rubbish, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
MARY’S: I shudder to think what kind of man that would be!
DB: Haha! It certainly wasn’t this fantasy land, it was largely just painful, monotonous and uninteresting. I think that’s why I got into the painting haha. Hospital yoghurt is good though. Got back into weet-bix for a bit there too. That passed. Prescription drugs are dangerous.
MARY’S: Yeah right, well I’m sorry to hear you had such a rough time. I’ll stop trying to glamourise the whole period now! But does this all mean there’s new music on the way?
DB: Haha, nah I dunno why I went on about it so much to be honest. Yeah there should be new music soon. Working on a few things. ‘Blue Volume’ came out in October last year but it already feels like ages ago. It’s so great to see the arts communities and venues coming together again in this semi post-covid world, people busy working on their stuff, and leaping back out into the uncertain reality of things. It’s inspiring, and a bit wholesome.
MARY’S: Yeah man, it’s awesome to see everyone getting back out there. Still such a weird time to be putting on shows, but everyone’s cracking on with it. It’s great to see. And to rope it in tomorrow’s show, do you think we’ll be hearing any of that new stuff?
DB: Yeah I’m sure there’ll be a couple of new or unreleased ones in there. I’ve done a couple of stripped back shows recently and it’s been nice to kinda just play whatever comes. I’m looking forward to it. Caitlin and Maple Glider and big stars in the constellation of Australian songwriters going around. It’s an honour to be in their light and orbit. Shame Darby got Covid. She burns real brightly too.