Interview: Chatting with Dom Rivers about music, production, and his upcoming album

Dom Rivers. Credit Alec Kintigh
Dom Rivers. Credit Alec Kintigh /

Dom Rivers is cool. And his music is tight and right, and hella dope. His recently released music video, “Playing Both Sides,” featuring Demon Marcus, puts Dom’s remarkable talent on display as a songwriter, rapper, and producer.

Chock-full of symbolism, the video for “Playing Both Sides” aligns with the low-slung somber tones of the music, depicting the impact of personal choices on the outcome of a relationship. The visual image of the rose embodies a choice – stay and keep trying or get out and not look back – a choice Dom Rivers has had to make.

Oozing with melancholy and imminence, “Play Both Sides” presents the elusive familiarity of the emotional impasse we all eventually confront. Smooth vocal flows rife with deep passion impart mesmerizing tones, palpable with the recollection of authentic feelings.

As the CEO and founder of Gnarly Odds, Dom has devoted his life to not only producing deluxe music but also to encourage young creatives to attain their potential as artists and individuals.

Rhyme Junkie caught up with Dom Rivers to discover how he brings his sonic vision to fruition.

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

I’ve been actively working on music since 2016. However, growing up my mom was a huge music consumer. We had just about every CD & vinyl record around the house you could ever imagine. From jazz, rock, R&B, to pretty much every iconic hip-hop album you could think of. We had it right at home. That lasted until the streaming era became widely popular around 2012 or so. I was the only child, so I got to come home after school or from sports events and do things that I wouldn’t necessarily do around friends. Rapping and singing obnoxiously alongside downloading just about every mixtape/leak during that 2007-2012 era were a few of those activities.

In August of 2013, I went off to college to pursue a mass communications degree with hopes of becoming a music journalist. While attempting to stay steady with that, I started learning music production and the business side of music, such as releasing a record successfully, marketing strategies and setting up email campaigns, all while building my company which would become Gnarly Odds much later. This all took place for a couple of years and started midway through my time in college. My interest in school during this time waned exponentially as time went on. My family was not too happy about that. A couple of my friends in the city were working on music and I’d assist them in production and rolling out their record effectively from time to time. Throughout that duration of time, from approximately 2016-2019, I was taking everything I was learning in and preparing my own body of work to eventually make my debut as an artist and not just Dom Rivers the producer. I had a small set up at home back then to record my demos and then have to travel an hour and a half back to my hometown to record the tracks professionally. At least two full-length albums have been scrapped since then. I wanted to sharpen my abilities before putting out absolutely anything. I hear some of those records now and am for sure happy that those didn’t come out first!

What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

Haha! Well, there are two dramatic mood changes for me. I’m probably the opposite of most people in that regard. I tend to enjoy up-tempo music during my showers and more somber and gloomy sounds in my car. On a good day in the shower, I’m probably screaming every word to The Weeknd’s “A Lonely Night,” Khalid’s “Hopeless” or “Khalid’s “Keep Me.” Those songs bring me back to a very special time in my life. In the car, I am often singing along to records from the album Boo Boo by Toro Y Moi, “Gave Your Love Away” by Majid Jordan, “Jungle” by Drake, or “I feel it coming” by “The Weeknd.” “Feel No Ways” by Drake also gets sung on any rainy day while driving. “Roof Gone” by Taylor Bennet brings me tears of joy. The melodic production and songwriting shaped my entire year of 2017. I remember showing the girl I was with at the time the song and I was always listening to it on winter drives to and from her hometown. Oh, and “Bullies” by Baby Keem gets sung at least 3 times a day!

What singers/musicians influenced you the most?

So, an interesting fact. In middle school leading into a couple of years of high school, I would bring about 10-15 iPods home every couple of weeks from buddies of mine who wanted new music. It was quite lucrative for some time too. I’d charge about $5-$10 for each iPod. Eventually, once I became super-close with them throughout time (which was most of them), I stopped charging, haha!

With that being said, during that time I remember discovering a lot of new artists during the heavy blog era very early on. Drake, Big Sean, Casey Veggies, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill, The Weeknd, etc. had the largest impact on my adaption to music and who I was into. Kanye West is probably the reason why I started producing music. I went back home during Thanksgiving break in 2015 and I remember revisiting the 808s & Heartbreak album for about 6 hours and going back to school and getting a laptop strictly for music production with Ableton Live. I remember that release being such a huge moment in 2008. It basically shaped a lot of what would eventually morph into sounds and compositions that we hear today. Noah “40” Shebib is also a monumental inspiration when it comes to my approach to production and sound arrangement. Metro Boomin’ also lives in that space somewhere for me as well.

My biggest influences on the artist-side of things would undoubtedly be Big Sean, Drake, and Vic Mensa. I always seek to capture that balance between delivering vulnerability and witty bars for hardcore rap fans. I dream of commercially succeeding like all of those guys.

Hip-hop is by far the most popular music genre in the world. How do you keep your sound fresh and avoid coming across as derivative?

I’m a natural student and a fan of music, so it is difficult at times to not be a sponge. However, I try my best to not listen to much rap during my album-making process, since that is what I’m mainly doing. I’ll sing here and there, but predominantly I am rapping. Of course, there are some artists that I gravitate towards every day when it comes to consuming music because I love their content that much. Often though, I soak in a lot of alternative music for cool ways to learn different pockets and ways to approach new songs. There’s so much music being released nowadays that it is hard to not be inspired, but I’m also constantly working on perfecting my own work so that helps curve the possibility of becoming derivative.

Next. Interview: Big Lou seeks and finds “Redemption”. dark

You’re also the CEO of Gnarly Odds. What makes your company different?

My company is built around empowering the youth. I think a lot of companies capitalize off of what they have to offer, however, I more so get a thrill and heap of satisfaction off of inspiring others to create and build something. At times I often wish that I had the courage and bravery edge to leap into what I do now at a much earlier age rather than trying to fit in with those around me. People in my age group of their early ’20s and up like what they like already so it’s hard to get people to tap in and gravitate towards something new. Kids, on the other hand, are looking for something to grow with and attach themselves to, so they’re my, along with my company’s, main target audience. Also, Gnarly Odds is built around truly making something out of nothing and turning whatever that “something” is into a product or task that becomes bigger than life and has a life of its own. It is all about spending those 9-12 months crafting together a plan, increasing repetition, and discipline and then continuing on to give birth to whatever it is you are nurturing and innovating. We’re all inspired by something in this world and we eventually ask ourselves at some point while we observe others who have succeeded at a high level, “What are the odds, Gnarly Odds, that could happen for me and the people around me too?” Nonetheless, it is an outlet that allows me to secure and own all of my official works such as music releases, music videos, quick merchandise drops, and all of my creative endeavors really.

What is your songwriting process?  Do the rhymes emerge first, or the music?

My songwriting process consists of me soaking in the production side of things first. I love melody, underwater pads, and chords. It takes over my soul to find that sonic elevation every time. Once I find that and pay close attention to the pockets, I begin to start writing my lyrics. Once a record is in demo stages or finished, I tend to go on drives or skate. If I am able to get lost in the music while doing that, the job is completed on my end as far as if I’m satisfied with the direction of where the track is going or ends up. Sometimes it takes me weeks to finish songs entirely. Back when I first started out, I wouldn’t stop writing a song until it was done right then and there. I’ve learned now that it is okay to put tracks down for a moment. It always comes back at some point while living and doing day to day things.

What was the inspiration for your new single/music video “Playing Both Sides?”

The inspiration for “Playing Both Sides” rose from me wanting to make a song that captured the feeling of being in a mental state of playing both sides emotionally when being involved with someone on a romantic level. The track represents the heaviness that comes from being torn in between remaining strong to keep pushing or to give up completely due to the circumstances of a relationship that’s at hand and/or risk. Fall is my favorite season and I wanted to capture that feeling sonically of how things can change quickly over the course of a season. The season autumn is a metaphor for the relationship that is being questioned and feelings changing throughout the duration of it. The production mirrors the sounds and emotions of somberness, melancholy, and emotional vulnerability.

As for the video, “Playing Both Sides” represents how it feels to be solo after a ruined relationship and go through different phases emotionally, mentally, and physically while sailing and living your day to day life. The rose being smashed in a vase is a metaphor for heartbreak or losing someone who has had a large influence on your life emotionally.

What do you want people to take away from the video?

I want people to just connect their own experiences to the video. It is a symbolic and metaphorical video and can elicit a lot of questions, which results in a lot of people being able to connect what “Playing Both Sides” means to them.

That’s why I decided to not be in the video. I wanted to do something that was nontraditional and connect to the masses without having the video center around me.

Where was the video filmed and who directed it?

The video was filmed throughout the Twin Cities in Minnesota and was filmed by 2-time regional Emmy recipient Alec Kintigh and directed by him alongside my primary music manager Jack Daley. The director of photography for “Playing Both Sides” was Alec Kintigh, also. He actually is my photographer as well!

How did you hook up with Demon Marcus?

In early 2018, Marcus put out a mixtape titled “Blue Boy” and I remember coming across it because he was recording out of the same music facility with some engineers and producers I was affiliated with at the time. There’s a song on the mixtape titled “All Apart” and I remember having that track on replay one night while I was working on a fashion and makeup magazine that never ended up being published and l was immediately a fan. Later that winter I went to an album release show for someone and I remember seeing him perform and being even more connected to his sound. I ended up running into him at the recording studio in late spring of 2018 and telling him I was a fan and that I wanted to work together on a couple of tracks and then we exchanged contacts from there. A year later, I finally sent him over the beat to “Playing Both Sides” and the rest is history.

What’s next for you musically?

I am currently finishing and gearing up to release my debut studio album that’s slated to be released sometime at the end of the year. “Playing Both Sides” would technically be the second official single off of that body of work. Technically my 3rd single in the last 4 months, but the second single was a loosie and something fun for the summer for the people to hold onto until I was ready to deliver again. I’ve spent an extensive amount of time on this album and I’m excited for people to hear it. I was fortunate to work with some of my favorite artists that I am a fan of – Demon Marcus being one of them. I produce all of my songs or in some sort have my hands on the production and/or the sonic value of it, so it takes me a bit longer to craft a body of work than most artists who get to just focus on songwriting. I also had a lot of learning to do when it came to me as a person outside of music and within the music. I tried my best to capture moments on this album that I feel are strong and true to what I like but also connect to the masses. Hopefully, it gets me in the same conversation alongside my idols and contemporaries and pushes my career to the next level. I captured just about every emotion I could have over the duration of the entire record. It is a roller coaster for sure! I am excited to get this out to the people who support me and those who will end up discovering me as I continue to elevate my music career. Maybe we can connect again when the album is out and creating a world of its own for its listeners! I’d love that.

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