Croydon crooner Dornik is the pop star 2015 really needed, and this much becomes apparent when listening through his eponymous debut album. With its futuristic soundscape rooted in '80s sensibilities, it renders equal parts pop, soul, funk and the combined experimental facets of each of those genres. Yet and still, this comes secondary to the common conclusions on Dornik's vocal tone and lyrical composition, that has seen him compared to contemporary The Weeknd and most remarkably, Michael Jackson—the late king of pop. With a stage persona that's seemingly shy and unassuming, we caught up with the south London soulster to delve beneath the complex layers that make the man; one who is still learning to cope with stepping from the background, into the light.
Interview by Tobi Oke
I find artists as experimental as yourself usually shudder at the categories media types try and place you in. What would you say is an accurate summary of your style and sound?
I'm still struggling to find a name for it myself, to be honest. But if I had to categorise it, I'd say my sound is a fusion of electronic, soul, experimental... I've got a lot of influences.
Who in particular?
Main ones? James Brown, Prince, Michael Jackson.
The MJ comparisons must be pretty surreal for you.
[Laughs] Yeah, it really is. That's a huge compliment, man. That's my favourite artist. There's many more influences, though—J Dilla, Tribe—quite a few.
I'm seeing you produced the majority of this album.
I produced seven out of the ten tracks.
Are you more comfortable working on your own?
I'm comfortable working with people as well, though. Team work is important to me; other people's energy, bouncing ideas off one another—I feel it's important, you know?
Give us a bit of background on your self-titled debut album—how long was it in the works?
It's kinda been in the making for about four years, I'd say. Quite a few of the songs are old—some are demos that I'd started a few years ago, and only when the label heard them, they were like: "We like this! You should finish this up." Most of them weren't created with the intention of being on an album, really.
There are no features on the album. Was this a conscious effort to deliver the entire vocal yourself?
Exactly that. It was definitely a conscious decision.
A good decision, I feel.
Thank you, man. For the first album, you kinda need to show people what you're about and the next one I'll open up.
You started out as the a drummer in Jessie Ware's band, but did you always intend on taking centre stage?
I always thought I'd be a drummer, really. I always wrote and recorded and had demos but it was more like a private hobby for me. I guess I'd always think, "I wonder what it'd feel like to perform this song" but they were always like, private thoughts. It all kinda happened by itself, but I'm really grateful for it.
How would you describe your relationship with Jessie today?
I don't believe in having to know someone for a long period of time, in order to click with them. Sometimes you click with people instantly, that feeling that you've known someone for a while. I got that feeling with Jessie; she's just so genuine. She's been really supportive, man.
Speaking of famous fans, I saw you recently getting props from QuestLove of the legendary Roots crew. As a drummer, it must be incredible to get such a co-sign from a legend?
I saw that and was like, "Woah! Shit!" He's been one my main influences and I have all the respect in the world for him. That really meant a lot.
Are you even aware of how far your music makes it out across the world?
I just make it, and it is what it is. It's crazy, the fact that I saw that; I had no idea it was reaching out that far.
Tell us a bit about the working structure with your record label, PMR.
It's great working with them and they allow me to be me. That's the most important thing for an artist: just being allowed to be yourself and express yourself. They've been really great—we're on the same wavelength, and that always helps.
Moving on from the creation process, how do you translate your sound onto stage?
I feel it's important to carry the message across as it is on the record, but also give it that live energy. At the end of the day, it's all about having that right balance. Every show is different; you have to go in with a mentality that why it's called "live" is because anything can happen. But I just always try and have fun with it.
Do you think you've found a balance or are you still searching?
I think I'm getting there. We're constantly improving—you can never stop improving—and I'm just finding my feet more and becoming more comfortable.
Apart from the new Dornik LP, what else are you listening to?
[Laughs] There's this artist, Phil Beaudreau, who's got an album out called Ether. I discovered him a couple of months ago, and he's wicked. Kendrick as well; big fan of his, loved the album. On a UK front, there's loads out there doing their thing and I'm loving what I'm hearing. We're definitely in a good space right now.