Of all the local bands I’ve listened to and written about over the years, few hold as dear a place in my heart as The Domestics.
I first met Ian Cornelissen and Sandy May way back in 2008 at the very first RPM Challenge listening party. We spent the evening sharing stories, laughs, and talking about the crippling stage-fright that would prevent either of us from ever playing a live show. Fast forward seven years later and at least one of us overcoming their fears, The Domestics have become a beloved band on the St. John’s scene, gained national attention as stand-outs in the 2015 CBC Searchlight contest, and are about to release their first full length album.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past seven years falling in love with The Domestics’ music, which is as genuine and heartfelt as the two people that I first met that chilly March night at The Ship. As a fan of everything from their lap-top recorded RPM debut to the Mark Bragg/David Guy produced EP State & Arrow (2011), the new LP Lovers and a Better Wage exceeded even my expectations. Ian and Sandy once again enlisted the production expertise of Mark Bragg to help them realize the polished, rounded out sound that their previous work always hinted at.
The tremolo-drenched twang of “Better Days” and “Picking Sides” bring the dusty, back-roads of the Americana sound to the pot-hole riddled streets of small town Newfoundland.
The record’s music and words intertwine to create the feel of a beautiful, indie-movie soundtrack that needs no visual accompaniment to tell its story other than the images it paints in your mind. As Sandy opens the title track with “Everyone I know is leaving this town for lovers and a better wage, for golden fields and red clay” in her warm Margo Timmins-esque croon, you are instantly projected into a narrative that feels as intriguingly new as it does strangely familiar. The tremolo-drenched twang of “Better Days” and “Picking Sides” bring the dusty, back-roads of the Americana sound to the pot-hole riddled streets of small town Newfoundland. Track after track you are led down a trail which traces lost lovers, times, and places left behind while looking ahead with hopeful expectation.
Lovers and a Better Wage is the band at their best, not only in terms of production and musicianship, but also in maturity and depth of songwriting. There is a sense of breaking new ground while holding dearly to the threads that tie us to our past. For example, Ian’s “Saint Peter’s Isle” is a gorgeous love letter to home that could easily be our generation’s answer to “Saltwater Joys.”
“Saint Peter’s Isle”
This is a record that could only have been made by a band who have spent the past seven years gigging and working hard to hone their craft. That fact is reinforced in my mind by the heart-wrenching version of my favorite Domestics’ song “Put Me on a Ship.” This track first appeared on the 2008 RPM album as a scratchy recording of Sandy singing into her laptop, but appears here in like a diamond cut from the rough, masterfully arranged and executed while retaining the stark beauty and world-weary feel of its original form.
As children, we get to live in the moment and be all the more perfect for it. We don’t have to stop and remember to smell the roses, we just smell them.” – Sandy May
After becoming convinced that the album had reached its emotional peak, Ian and Sandy pulled out the rabbit on the stunning closer “Cole Harbour, Mid Afternoon,” a track so compelling I had to ask Sandy about the story behind it. “I was feeling homesick, and pretty adrift in my life,” she recounts, “I was basically panicking about the passing of time, but also thinking about how beautiful it is that as children, we get to live in the moment and be all the more perfect for it. We don’t have to stop and remember to smell the roses, we just smell them.”
The song’s humble beginning builds into the majestic swell of a children’s choir singing the closing refrain “A scar below my right eye to show.” When asked about the line Sandy replies, “When I was about five or six, I ran into a tree in the woods, and still carry a vivid reminder of the smells and sounds of that day in the shape of a scar under my right eye. I like to rub my finger along it to remind me of some of those thoughts.” Complete with spoken word clips of children from the choir recounting stories of their own bumps and bruises, the song is a beautiful reminder that the scars we bare are often an important link between the storms we’ve weathered and the person we are today.