Anna Domino \ Biography
Born in Tokyo, Anna Domino (born Anna Taylor) divided her childhood years between Ann Arbor in Michigan and the Italian city of Florence, before landing in Ottawa in time for sullen and disaffected teenagerdom. This itinerant past goes a long way towards explaining her cosmopolitan musical style.
After settling in New York in 1977, Anna carved out a niche refurbishing lofts, at the same time making clothes, furniture and objects from fabric leather and other found material. As well as making music with her own group Madder Lake (who didn't get to cut a record), Anna tried out for several other bands, including Bush Tetras and Polyrock, who would later record an album with Philip Glass as producer. Anna also played with a couple of one-shot bands, notably Mania D and Tar.
"Mostly I watched as I was very shy," Anna told Pop Matters. "We went out every night to one or two places, so you always knew where everyone was and there was always something worth seeing or hearing. But I never had the nerve to perform my own music or bring out my drawings. I made a living sewing in sweatshops downtown and doing small construction jobs. After renovating a burnt-out store front on East 10th Street I bought my first tape recorder with the 'fixture fee' - money charged to the next tenant for repairs we did ourselves as landlords were absent. It was a TEAC four-track cassette recorder that I worked with for years."
Thus Anna began to hone her songwriting talents, and in 1983 a cassette of simple yet arresting songs caught the ear of Belgian independent label Les Disques du Crépuscule. A single, Trust in Love, appeared in October and gained the accolade of Single of the Week in NME. It was followed in February 1984 by the mini-album East & West, five bittersweet lullabyes steeped in late-night melancholy. With a tender cover of Aretha Franklin's Land of My Dreams included, the record radiated an atmosphere of loss, longing and detachment, Anna's sensual vocal style adding further to its bewitching quality. Guest musicians included Virginia Astley and Tuxedomoon mainman Blaine L. Reininger. By way of a footnote, Land of My Dreams was to have been remixed as a single by Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl, but this project was never completed.
From 1984 onwards Anna elected to spend half of each year in New York, and the other half in Brussels, where Crépuscule was based. Her EP Rhythm appeared in May, and thanks to be-bop influences, latin percussion and smooth production by Marc Moulin of Telex became a Top 10 hit in Belgium and Scandinavia. Anna also performed live for the first time - in Japan! - as part of a Crépuscule package tour in May, sharing a bill with Paul Haig, Wim Mertens, Blaine L. Reininger and Steven Brown.
March 1986 saw the release of her first album proper, the eponymous Anna Domino. Produced by Marc Moulin together with Alan Rankine (of The Associates), the album mixed Anna's cool, reflective vocals and intelligent lyrics with the irresistible rhythms and beats typified by singles Take That and Summer, the latter remixed by New York maestro Arthur Baker. An extensive European tour followed, which along with a string of licensing deals around the world helped the make the album one of the major independent successes on 1986. In the UK, the album appeared on iconic Manchester label Factory Records. More kudos accumulated when Anna provided guest vocals on the album Infected by The The.
"In Brussels, especially, you could hear music from all over Europe and Africa," Anna recalled for Pop Matters. "In the US it was all lush dance music or bone-dry early rap. I listened to everything but didn't attempt to imitate, though in my mind all the influences are obvious. I never did anything intentionally and expect that the 'jazz' sounds were mostly my mind thinking in triplets which was what I was hearing a lot of on the streets of NY. Everything I wrote started with a rhythm which suggested a melody which evoked a mood that conjured up the lyrics which are always about the same things: love, loss, madness, ecstasy, death and goofiness."
If Anna's records often sound deceptively Pop, her lyrics were another matter. The words are charged with fragility, anger, self doubt, sometimes even chaos, often taking our hand only to lead us towards the dark end of the street. "The lyrics might deal with failure or seem like a crushing weight," she told Sounds in 1986, "but I don't believe the world is going to end or anything like that. It's true that in my songs I am reacting from the point of view of somebody who is not actively in control. How I've learned to deal with my life is to acquiesce. I don't think that is particularly female, though."
The following year Anna joined forces with Belgian multi-instrumentalist Michael Delory, formerly with Bel Canto and Univers Zero, an enduring partnership which survives into the present day. Together the pair began work on writing the classic songs which form the second Anna Domino album, This Time, recorded with noted British engineer Flood. The album was less groove-orientated than its predecessor, offering instead stronger songs in a variety of styles, be they uptempo dance tracks (Time For Us, She Walked), ballads (the singles Lake and Tempting) or country-folk (Own Kind). This Time was a significant commercial and critical success on release in November 1987, particularly in Japan, although a planned release through Virgin failed to materialise, and there can be no escaping the fact that by now Anna should have been enjoying bona fide hit records, and swimming in the mainstream.
"I felt queasy about large arrangements, backing vocals and brass ensembles," Anna confessed to Pop Matters. "Now I know that my voice gets lost in big sounds, but at the time it was great fun. Lake started as a piano part Michel played; he'd been playing it for years. The atmosphere his melody inspired made me think of variations on the symbolist work Isle of the Dead, which is one of those deathless images. The lyrics describe my version of that subject, I suppose. There’s always imagery in my mind when I write and I often remember the images better than I do my own lyrics."
Live dates were restricted to Japan, along with a low-key club residency in New York at the beginning of 1988. Here Domino and Delory previewed five new songs subsequently recorded for the mini-album Colouring in the Edge and the Outline. More experimental than previous releases, the set embraced sequenced electronics, best heard on the anthemic '88, and this short but sweet collection remains Anna's favourite record. "My reaction to This Time was to record Coloring in the Edge with just Michel Delory and myself in a smaller studio," says Anna. "That felt better." Incidently the vinyl format is well worth searching out, since the songs all appeared on one side, the other given over to an etching by Crépuscule design genius Benoît Hennebert.
After an extended period writing new songs, Domino and Delory relocated to New York in 1990 and produced a new album at the end of the year. Mysteries of America contained nine new songs produced by Anton Sanko (known for his work with Suzanne Vega), and explored acoustic settings in greater depth than on previous records. Mysteries... is a travelogue of sorts, starting with a memory of childhood and ending with the Big Sleep. Pandora is dreamy and druggy, while in Bonds of Love Anna turned in one of her very best songs, as well as a celestial interpretation of Jesse Winchester's Isn't That So.
"I was so proud of Mysteries of America," says Anna. "Which is not easy for me. The song Dust seemed like the first time I'd succeeded in getting a song on to a record exactly as I heard it. We wrote the songs while staying at my mother's cottage on a small lake in Quebec, and we were able to record the LP in NY at Suzanne Vega's home studio with friends playing and producing. The title and cover image just came to me, as things do. It took forever to get just the right color of blue for the background."
Sadly, Mysteries made less impact than Anna Domino and This Time, and would be the last album of original material released by Domino and Delory under that name. A compilation, Favourite Songs from the Twilight Years 1984-90, appeared in Canada in 1996. Three years later, however, the duo returned as Snakefarm with an album called Songs From My Funeral. The new project comprised radical reinventions of blues and folk songs about trains, drink, murder and jails, playing down the melodic lines and instead constructing performances around trip-hoppy rhythms and grooves.
"One day I thought of recording the songs I'd grown up with," explains Anna. "Songs everyone in America grows up with pretty much, but with modern arrangements. And Snakefarm was born. The material is all traditional American ballads in the public domain, so you can do whatever you like to them. I wasn't at all sure they could take strong rhythm sections, but stayed up for two nights working and came out with four songs arranged, it was so much fun! Michel and I started recording, bringing in friends that were willing to help, and I handed out cassettes to anyone that would take them. Eventually someone called back, a friend of Matt Johnson (The The) who had a new label and wanted to sign us. This was terrific, but in the meantime I'd lost my loft of 20 years and we were leaving NY for the middle of nowhere in two weeks, so we went and finished the record in the lower Mohave Desert."
The next decade would relatively quiet. Anna and Michel relocated to Los Angeles, but eventually revived the Anna Domino name for a couple of limited run singles on EnT-T (Blood Makes Noise in 2010, and Johnny two years later), as well as two new tracks on Crépuscule-themed compilation After Twilight in 2010: The Lights Downtown and Wonderkey.
2011 brought a second Snakefarm album, My Halo at Halflight, issued via Fledg'ling. In 2013 Anna and Michel began touring again, performing acoustic shows featuring Snakefarm material and Anna Domino originals in America and Europe. 2015 saw a collaboration with Jean-Marc Lederman (aka Kid Montana) on The Last Love Song, released on Crépuscule compilation Ni d'Eve, Ni d'Adam.