Charlie Dominici remains remembered as a former member of today’s most influential and successful progressive metal band, Dream Theater. But besides that fact, Dominici still knows how to make good albums and that’s what he has presented in his O3 trilogy. I’ve spoken with Charlie about his time before joining Dream Theater, 15th anniversary of When Dream and Day Unite, but also about the O3 trilogy itself and his future plans.
Nick: Hi Charlie. I don’t want to say your time in Dream Theater was absolutely crucial to your growth as a musician, but it was definitely a part of it. Shall we start from your musical beginnings? What was your background before joining Dream Theater in 1987?
Charlie: I started getting into music in 1964. That might surprise anyone who doesn’t know anything about me other than my time with Dream Theater. The funny thing is, I started out playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and 40 years later I came full swing back to my roots on the “O3, A Trilogy part one” CD, which was all acoustic guitar ,vocal and harmonica. In between, those years were filled with many different band projects.
Nick: As I said, you joined Dream Theater in 1987, shortly after an audition. What was the audition like? What was joining the band like?
Charlie: The audition was a little rough because I was trying to sing like the previous singer, which as you might know by now, is not really my style. After a few songs I asked to sing something that no one had sang before me. They gave me the lyric sheet for “The Killing Hand” and I proceeded to sing the melody like I thought it should be. They were impressed by that, I guess because I got the job. Joining the band was like every other band I had been in. A lot of rehearsing, Low paid gigs etc. It was a lot of fun but many times I was uncomfortable because it never really was my band and I am an “alpha” type just like Mike Portnoy. We had a lot of differences of opinion and along with other reasons I eventually went on my own way.
Nick: You performed on Dream Theater’s debut in 1989, and that album marked the beginning of Dream Theater’s career, but also practically created a new genre, progressive metal. How big was your involvement in the making of this album?
Charlie: I was involved in the entire process even though many of the songs were being worked on before I joined the band. I made many musical and some lyrical contributions on almost every song except “The Ytse Jam”.
Nick: According to after that first album DT, you were a good singer in the wrong band and you parted ways with them amicably. How do you see that situation now? Was it easy to depart the band?
Charlie: It’s never easy to leave any situation, even a bad marriage is hard to leave but it obviously works out for the best in most cases.
Nick: You haven’t been so very musically active until 2003, if I’m not wrong. Why is that? Surely, you had many chances to be involved in music. Was that your decision to stay aside? Tell us something more about it.
Charlie: I wanted to get the “love” back. I’m not the type of person that can stay in a situation for very long if it is not what I really want. I was also burned out from many years of struggling in music so I took a long break. When the time was right, I returned to music for the right reasons.
Nick: In 2003, you released a song, which was available through your website, with the symbolic title “Now The Time Has Come”. Did you want to show that you’ve returned to the music business? Tell us the story behind this.
Charlie: That was a song from a project I was working on with Richie Cannata, the sax player from Billy Joel’s band. In fact it was Richie playing the piano part and me singing. The project never took off and I eventually started my own project of 3 albums which you know as the O3 Trilogy.
Nick: 2004 brought the 15th anniversary of Dream Theater’s debut and you rejoined them for a concert in LA, singing that album in its entirety, but you also did a duet with James while playing “Metropolis”. How did it come to this “oneshot” reunion and how did you feel being on a stage after all that time?
Charlie: It was James that sang the album in its entirety and I sang the 2 encore songs with James. I did it because Mike asked me to join them in celebrating the 15 year anniversary. I was very much unprepared for the whole thing. I was overweight and out of shape but I did it anyway. It’s funny to see the comments on you tube about how I looked out of place. The truth is, I was out of place. If you look at the you tube videos of me with my own band you will see the difference.
Nick: Did this performance with Dream Theater help you to return once and for all to music and help you start creating your own?
Charlie: Only in the sense that it made me realize that I missed being in the music scene and that it was time to return. I had already been writing the trilogy for months before that night.
Nick: In 2005, you released the first part of your O3 trilogy, which is a conceptual story. Would you mind telling us a bit more of this part’s concept? What’s your opinion on concept albums in general? Do you have any favorites?
Charlie: Part one introduces the story and the main characters. It makes you think that it is a story about a terrorist but in parts two and three you find out different. Concept albums can be great or they can be boring. I guess it depends on how well they are written and performed.
Nick: Speaking of music, on this first part of the trilogy, you’ve done it acoustic. It’s sort of done in a singer/songwriter style, which is different from the majority of albums like this. Did you have clear image of this trilogy when you started working on it? Did you know that the first album would be acoustic, and the others more “electrified”, with a band approach?
Charlie: I wanted the trilogy to be with a full band on all three albums but I had no band yet. The idea came to me that it might be cool to just do part one myself and see what happens. The fact is, it all worked out perfectly because I soon found a band and the fact that part one was all acoustic made it more interesting and original, in my opinion.
Nick: The second part gave us a more progressive melodic metal sound, a much more energetic album than its predecessor. This time you had a full line-up. Tell us something about the musicians that performed on this album. The art cover on this one is totally different in comparison to first part, on which there was a photograph.
Charlie: By now, most people know that the guys on the second and third parts are from the Italian band, “Solid Vision”. They are still working in that band today and we are all living very far from each other right now. The album covers were different because the music inside them was all different.
I did the entire part one completely by myself, writing, producing, album art and everything. The cover art on parts two and three were done by myself along with the artist at the label.
Nick: The story from the first part is developed more, and the main character, who was trying to destroy the world, was arrested. Please, tell us about lyrical side of this part.
Charlie: It all contains the groundwork for the rest of the story. If someone really wants to get the whole story, they need a copy of part one which I still have a few copies of. Even if you are not into the acoustic style on part one I think it is something most people can appreciate if they like the concept at all. Anyone who wants an autographed CD of part one can still get one from me on my website, www.dominici.com
Nick: The last part of the trilogy inflicts a feeling that it is rougher than the previous one, a heavier and more aggressive record. What is it that made you follow such a direction?
Charlie: It is what the story ending needed. The whole thing comes to a head and the events surrounding that part of the story are climactic.
Nick: How did you get an idea to name this trilogy O3? It’s known from chemistry and medicine that ozone has harmful effects on respiratory systems and I think the title fits well with the trilogy itself.
Charlie: In part one you find out that the so-called “terrorist” guy is told to develop a formula for a version of “O3” that will kill everything and choke all life on the earth. It is not till the end that you find out what it is really all about.
Nick: Where did you record these three albums? I know that one was recorded in Italy, Germany too.
Charlie: Part one was recorded at my home studio in California and parts two and three were both recorded in Sardine, Italy and both were mixed and mastered in Germany.
Nick: So what’s the latest news? It’s been 2 years now since you completed your O3 trilogy. It’s over now, but I guess you have more to say, right?
Charlie: I have a lot to say but I’m not ready to say it yet.
Nick: Which artists/bands have been influenced your musical shaping? Who are your favorite vocalists?
Charlie: That’s difficult to answer in a few sentences. I have a very long musical history and I have many favorites. Steve Walsch, Paul Rogers and many others have influenced me but I always try to find my own voice.
Nick: How do you see world today? How do you see a man’s behavior towards the world?
Charlie: I’m pretty disgusted.
Nick: I’m out of questions, so is there something that you would like to add in the end of this interview?
Charlie: Thanks for taking the time to interview me and I hope you like the music!
Nick: Thanks for the interview, Charlie. All the best.