Dominic Angelella Welcomes And Fears His Own Nostalgia

Dominic Angelella Welcomes And Fears His Own Nostalgia

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When Dominic Angelella sings, “Know that it never was my goal to play a supporting role,” he means it. The Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter’s claims to fame include stints in Hop Along, touring with Lucy Dacus and mewithoutYou, and session work on a few notable hip-hop records. But before all that, he maxed out a credit card to chase his own dreams of rock stardom in several bands he led. Gear, studio time, and traveling all add up.

Those ambitions didn’t quite pan out to the level he might’ve hoped when he was younger. It took time, but Angelella, 36, is cool with that. He’s a little older now, and he realized his definition of success has evolved. So, in early 2020, he grabbed a guitar and penned another song, “Supporting Role,” about accepting his lot. “There’s a pressure in our society to monetize everything,” he tells MTV News. “Sometimes, you gotta eat, but looking back on that era with a new perspective is really what that song’s about.”

A new perspective like, “I’m living a life and it’s special,” as he says, can be healthy for any musician who’s grinded away for years as Angelella has. His latest album, Silver Dreams Don’t Move Me, is out Friday (November 11), full of character studies, rural travelogues, and nostalgic meditations on precisely that kind of special life. He took the LP’s title from a lyric by Daryl Hall, of Hall & Oates fame, from a tune in the artist’s more obscure, experimental back catalog, where two halves of the brain speak to each other.

“There’s a line where the more pragmatic of the two looks at the dreamier side of the brain and says, ‘Silver dreams don’t move me, or your talk of the sky,’” Angelella says. “Whatever I thought the dream of doing this was going to be, it’s not that, but it’s OK, ‘cause that doesn’t really move me anyway.”

Instead, what moves him are memories of a childhood friend who died after they’d fallen out of touch. A kitschy casino he visited in Mississippi that made him think of Steve Buscemi’s character from Con Air. The draw of nostalgia even as it threatens to upend the present. All of these get transmogrified into songs on Silver Dreams. Angelella spoke to MTV News about the album from Donegal, Ireland, where he was spending time with his fiancée, singer-songwriter Chanele McGuinness (who sings on the album’s final track, “Bitter Drain”), before heading back out on the road to play in Dacus’s band.

MTV News: Ireland comes up on the record. How do you make that transatlantic relationship work? Or are you both touring around so you see each other more?

Dominic Angelella: Chanele and I have been together for almost five years, and for a long time, whenever I wasn’t on tour, I would come out here, or whenever she wasn’t working on music stuff, she’d come visit me in America. Then when the lockdown hit, she couldn’t come to America ’cause there was that travel ban. I was able to get a visa extension, and I ended up just spending a lot of time out here and really fell in love with it, even more than I did before. So a lot of the songs from the record were written when I was here, because Chanele lives in this really, really, really small town, and it’s just really beautiful and quiet. I’d never had that living experience before. It really changed my perspective.

MTV News: On a few of the songs, narrators are in foreign places, namely on “Rural World.” Sligo gets shouted out by name. You were taking in that scenery, and it manifested in the lyrics. What did you find that the travel offered you?

Angelella: There are so many people who’ve made pandemic records, and I didn’t want this one to be that, but a lot of the songs were written immediately after my way of life had come to a forced stop. I spent some time living with my mom, which is the first time I had done that since I was 17. And then I came out here. There was a lot of reflection around place and travel in the record, and specifically “Rural World” is about how the rural area of the United States is so similar to the rural area of many other countries. There are all those memes about how there’s a McDonald’s everywhere and gas stations everywhere and we’re losing our sense of place. But I also think there are a lot of similarities that existed long before that. That [song] was my attempt to reckon with that sort of Hillbilly Elegy-style personal identity, [that] sort of rugged individualism, and to say it doesn’t exist the way you think it does.

MTV News: You’ve been in so many bands over the years and you’ve played with so many bands. There’s Lithuania and Drgn King, which is still your Twitter handle.

Angelella: The other day, I was sitting with Chanele and I was like, “I’ve got to change this. [Drgn King] hasn’t been a band since 2016.” I tried to change it to Dominic Angelella, and [Twitter] was like, “Your name has too many letters.”

MTV News: Online, things like Twitter handles can be so ephemeral.

Angelella: At the same token, you do something stupid, you make some kind of stupid joke, and then it’s still your Twitter handle a decade later!

MTV News: You’re currently playing with Lucy Dacus, you’ve played with Natalie Prass and Hop Along and mewithoutYou recently, and then you’ve done your own solo stuff. Are there any key ones that I’m missing?

Angelella: Before all of that, I did a lot of session work and I played on a bunch of rap records that I really am proud of. There’s a mixtape-only song with Tinashe that I love. I’ve done some stuff with Mac Miller and I played on that one Kendrick [Lamar] record and I am just super grateful to have been able to do all of that. I also worked under the manager of The Roots for a long time. I’m 36 right now, and that was back when I was like 21, 22. There were a couple of Roots Picnics I played, and I got a chance to play with some Soulquarians. I played a gig with James Poyser and a gig with Questlove once as a very young person. I was really, really anxious. But I think about that as really a definitive moment for me. Being able to listen to [D’Angelo’s] Voodoo or any of those classic records, I go, damn, I played a gig with that guy who played on this record. As a fan of music, I’ve always wanted to be part of the tradition.

MTV News: Silver Dreams Don’t Move Me sounds great from a sonic perspective, but it lacks the fuzz and bite of your previous albums, especially Goodnight, Doggies. and Poison River. What did you have in mind to help define the sound of this new album?

Angelella: I’ve always wanted to make skronky noise-pop punk stuff, and then also enjoyed playing the acoustic guitar. This is why so many people become obsessed with Neil Young, because he is very good at both of these things. But this record, I took advantage of the fact that I was teaching guitar on Zoom for money and just wrote all of the time. On the earlier records like Poison River, it’ll be like, noisy banger, noisy banger, and then a very quiet piano song. I just went, why don’t I try and do one where I try to exist in one place the entire time? In the same way that a really good Mount Eerie record can feel. Phil Elverum, at least the younger version of himself, talked all the time about the way that a group of songs would feel and wanting it to feel like you’re in a foggy bay with a steamboat coming in, that kind of thing. I love movies that have those extra poetic layers to them. So I purposefully said, why don’t I try to get the group of songs that all feel like this?

MTV News: There are moments on the album where you seem to give into nostalgia, but you’re also kind of trying to dismantle it. “Duckpin” has these voices from the past and the future, and the future voice basically says stop worrying about the past. But then at the end of the song, you’re wanting to revisit an old Alkaline Trio song anyway.

Angelella: I’m a very nostalgic person —  a lot of people are — but I’m also incredibly afraid of nostalgia. I think we are in a very nostalgic time, specifically [as] it’s weaponized by corporations. I think that is very dangerous. As someone who was once a very big Star Wars fan, it feels like there’s been a shift. You could talk about it from all these different angles, and a friend of mine will call me a hypocrite because I own one share of Disney stock. There’s no more original intellectual property. Everything’s rehashed, and I wonder how much of it is just people escaping into that because being alive today is difficult. But personal nostalgia is also fine. I definitely reckoned with my own human tendency to rethink the past.

MTV News: Here’s a really random thing. You were in the 2002 film Tuck Everlasting.

Angelella: Yeah.

MTV News: It was filmed in Baltimore and other places in Maryland, where you grew up, so I figured that was how it happened. But can you explain that experience a little bit? You’ve got an IMDb credit and everything.

Angelella: I went to high school for acting at Baltimore School for the Arts. Occasionally, somebody [from the film industry] would come in and say, hey, we need this kind of kid. I went and auditioned and got the part. I had lines and everything. I met Sissy Spacek and felt all cool. Then I got to the shoot and all my lines were cut. I was like, I know this is not a good sign. So they filmed the scene that I was in, and then I never heard anything about it. Me and my family went to go see it when it came out and, you know, you could see my back for a fraction of a second. I was the guy that Alexis Bledel was supposed to marry, and then she ran away. But [the filmmakers] were probably like, no, that doesn’t make sense. Regardless, I got the IMDb credit and I get royalties up to this day, which is cool. It’s 10 bucks a year or something like that.

MTV News: Speaking of movies, you tweeted, “I’m just saying you put Naomi Watts in some shit I’m going to watch it.” I’m just curious what you were watching.

Angelella: I watched the first episode of that new thing she’s in on Netflix, but I got bored.

MTV News: So you wouldn’t recommend it?

Angelella: I like it. But Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks: The Return — just two of my favorite things. So, whenever I see her in some shit, I’m just like, yeah, I gotta put on for Naomi.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.