Domino Kirke returns to music with emotionally powerful “Mercy”
Kirke is no stranger to the music industry, having been an active songwriter in the indie and high-art scene of New York. The artist signed a recording contract at the age of 17 with her previous project, simply dubbed Domino. On her previous project, Kirke even teamed up with legendary music producer Mark Ronson, known for collaborations with artists such as Amy Winehouse and Adele.
With the release of her latest single “Mercy,” Kirke once again showcases her skills in creating heavenly sounds with rich, multilayered vocals that are breathtaking, soothing and emotionally transparent. The lyrics are painfully honest and draw from her life experiences and the tragedy of suffering a miscarriage.
The accompanying music video, created by artist and animator Nalani Williams, could almost be looked at as an art piece in an exhibit celebrating the magic of when multidisciplinary arts converge to create intriguing and experimental work, both sonically and visually. The animations created by Williams are expertly crafted with bold watercolor paint strokes and stop-motion design, accompanied by abstract shapes, figures and silhouettes.
While viewing the video, it's almost as if you are watching the paint on the canvas come to life in real time. However, the biggest takeaway from the video lies in the message it's representing, with images of childbirth, pregnancy and the pain that comes from experiencing a miscarriage and the grief that's associated with it.
Though an accomplished songwriter and performer in her own right, Kirke is also a proud mother to two children and has devoted much of her life’s work to being a professional doula since 2009. As a doula, Kirke has supported thousands of families through childbirth, both emotionally and physically. Kirke is also a co-founder of Carriage House Birth, an organization that has touched the lives of many families across the country. With spaces in both New York and Los Angeles, they support a wide range of reproductive needs.
We had the chance to speak with Kirke, who also happens to be married to Penn Badgley, star of Netflix’s hit television series You to discuss her new music, influences, motherhood and the impact she wants to create through her life’s work.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it? I almost hear elements of Sigur Rós in the new track.
Wow, Sigur Rós, what a massive compliment! At this point, I have to say that I don't know what the genre is because it’s such a medley of life experiences. I wrote “Mercy” on piano and brought it to my producer and co-writer Eliot Krimsky, and it just came to life organically. I don’t even fancy myself as a singer-songwriter. I take so many breaks between releasing music, with having kids and my main job, that when I come back to music, it just becomes a reflection of where I am at each given time.
Some of the best artists go away for a bit to live life. When they eventually come back to their music, there is a fresh perspective and a lot of experiences to pull from that can make the art even more impactful.
It’s so true. What’s been so tricky about being a musician, a parent and career-focused is that I have these huge gaps in my life. Hopefully when I do come back to music each time, I am a little wiser. Every friend of mine that has watched my journey through music has said that my new material sounds like me, and I feel like I dropped into my body and created something that feels like it is truly mine.
The brilliant part about writing with Eliot Krimsky was that we both became parents at the same time while we were making this new music. It was a really beautiful sort of synergy, even though the recording was a nightmare sometimes because we were so exhausted from being sleep-deprived. [Laughs.]
What has the experience of juggling motherhood and your music career been like?
I was just talking to my sister, who is an actress, about this. We were talking about how if you focus on your art and as a parent, there is going to be some neglect somewhere. So for me, I wasn’t able to tour like my other musician peers. My friends would have these epic careers and constantly be gone. However, they also were in and out of relationships and got into drugs and alcohol. I remember being like, “Oh for fuck's sake, I don't want any of that,” so I dodged a bullet there in my mind. I chose parenthood over my career, but I was also not willing to let go of music for my children.
There’s a certain vulnerability and rawness that comes from music created by people who are parents. How is that reflected in your songwriting?
You meet your music where you are at in life. Friends of mine who get to make music full time at the studio or home essentially get to live and breathe the music, where they almost begin to take it for granted. I would piecemeal this record together whenever I got an hour to work or before I would pick up my kids from school. That hour to work was like gold, and there was gratitude in it. I know I'm not nearly the musician I could have been if I had continued on the path with Allido Records, Mark Ronson and the Amy Winehouse era.
I had a platform that I jumped off, and I didn't stay on the train because, honestly, it didn't feel authentic. There might be some things in my music that are lacking, but I feel like I am in a place where I have art that will resonate with people, and that makes it all feel worthwhile. I want my music to feel like I'm a real musician making real music. It's not just this fun hobby of mine. I take it very seriously.
Yet, you can't take it too seriously because then it sometimes becomes hollow. It almost has nothing to say if you're just hanging on to every song. It’s also like a double-edged thing. I want people to like the music and to resonate with it, but I also want people to feel that I don't do this all the time and that you can enjoy your art and not make it the only thing you live and breathe.
The music video for “Mercy” is incredible with the stop-motion design and watercolor styles. What was the process behind creating the video?
It was animated by an old friend and former roommate of mine, Nalani Williams. I wrote “Mercy" after experiencing a miscarriage, so the song came from a dark place. I brought this story to my friend and told them how I wish people would write about real-life things more. There’s such a stigma behind infant loss, and I felt like I couldn't talk about the intense grief and intense loss because it is so hush-hush. I told my friend that I wanted this video to be a forest of souls. Where do all these souls go? How do we connect with them, and how do we see them in our mind’s eye? Nalani nailed it and channeled all of that with this video. It’s just this universal language tapping into the soul, no matter if you have kids or not.
I think it’s cool that not only are you involved with creative arts, but you are also a doula, which is equally a huge part of your life. What has that experience been like?
For me, it was like, “How do I be of service to others? How do I right-size all of my ideas and ego around music, and how can I still have both?” Once I found doula work, I realized that I could create my schedule. Granted, I am at the mercy of people going into labor. Being a doula allowed me time to make art and to be a parent. For the first time in my life, I have a job that requires me to be me. When you are a doula, you are forced to be in the moment. It forced me to stop imagining my career and where it was going, had things been different. I stopped imagining and fantasizing and just started living. Being of service to others helped me stay grounded, and it saved my life in many ways.