Paul Zollo On Dominique Pruitt

Dominique Pruitt
Photo by Paul Zollo

Videos by American Songwriter

Even at the 101 Diner in Hollywood, where hipsters often lurk, she stands out. With candy-red hair and dressed in classic leopard skin, there’s no mistaking this is Dominique Pruitt, the chanteuse of the moment, enticing music lovers here and beyond with her great smoky retro-modern sound, and delightful songs, and captivatingly chromatic presence. Many of her songs were written with her father, the famous guitarist/songwriter Larry (L.A.) Brown, who played with everyone from the Smothers Brothers to Engelbert Humperdink. “Pink Flamingos,” a remarkable journey through many extremes of life in the San Fernando Valley, which expands in unexpected ways, is one of many great songs father and daughter have written together. She’ll be playing this song (I hope) and others with her band at the Standard in downtown L.A. tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 23.

We took this opportunity to sit down with her and ask her some quick questions about the life and music which brought her to this place.

Both of your parents were professional musicians; what kind of music did you hear in your home growing up?

A lot of Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline. But also James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt.  Also Buddy Holly, Elvis. Which I got very into, later in life.

There’s a definite Patsy Cline spirit in your singing.

I love Patsy Cline. In terms of inspiration from a vocalist, there’s no one like her. She’s country, but it’s such a timeless, classic voice. She’s just perfect. She and Aretha are my two favorites. Also Whitney Houston. Her voice is just perfect.

When did you start singing?

In third grade, in a singing contest was the first time. Then I sort of recoiled from doing it, but when  I was 18 I started again. I sang the National Anthem at a pep rally, and my dad backed me up. There’s a video of it but I do not want to see it, because I was wearing a terrible outfit. I was so nervous to do it with my dad, I wore a bag over my head when we rehearsed.

You and your dad have written a lot of songs together. How does that collaboration work?

I keep a running list of hooks I like, if a lyrical hook comes to mind. He and I go over the list and we work. I also keep a running list of inspirations – an inspirational guitar riff from a song, or a bass line – I take that to him and we fiddle with it until it sounds right. Sometimes we will work on the music for a whole song before we work on the lyrics. Sometimes I have way too much ideas about lyrics and directions I am going in, and he is great at focus and structure.

I love all your songs, but “Pink Flamingos” is my current favorite. It starts almost like an old standard about the San Fernando Valley – but then it keeps expanding in funny ways. 

[Laughs] I am very visual. I love the tacky idea of a pink flamingo in your yard. So I start with that and visually weave a story in my head: a beat-up mid-century house in the valley with a pool. It started as a Valley love story, getting drunk and getting high. I wasn’t gonna have them elope in Vegas. But they were flying by the seat of their pants, getting high in Vegas.

Did you and your dad discuss the story before writing the music?

Yes. I knew I wanted a Latin flavor. I wanted a full mariachi sound on it to give it that spicy San Fernando flavor, but my producer Dave Darling thought we needed more cohesion with the rest of the album stylistically. Before we wrote it I played my dad a Mariachi El Bronx song, and that inspired the feel. And  put castanets on the end of it, which my producer did not want, but I fought and got my way.  I had to have the castanets.

Tell us about the song “Victim”.

I wrote that with my dad. It was an older song he started in the ’70s. It was a disco song. But he never was happy with it, so we rewrote it together.

It has that great line, “I’m the victim of a victimless crime.”

I wish that was mine, but that was his. A lot of people either love that line or don’t get it. They don’t think it makes sense! But most people dig it. I like a play on words, and my dad and I both liked it.

And songs don’t have to make sense. But that line does work – it is better than normal language.

Yes. It’s about a woman-eating woman eater. And we tweaked it up to make it this. It’s in a minor key, and I love a minor key. It’s so haunting.

Another great one – and cool use of language – is “Come and Get My Gun.”

That is all true. It was about my grandma. She was an alcoholic – and she had a gun to protect herself, an elderly woman living alone. There was no lover involved, but we added that. She called my dad and said, “Come and get my gun, I think I might use it.” I am very proud of that song, because it’s a real part of my history. It’s as crazy as crazy gets. Literally those words were spoken.

There’s something powerful about songs that are true. I mean, sometimes contrived stuff can work. But you can only get so far. I personally can’t fake it. I am not a faker, so I have to be myself with my music. I have to sing my truth. Or try. When I have forced myself to do something else, and write in another style, it didn’t work for me. It didn’t come natural.

I wanted my album to have a classic sound. I wanted it to sound like it came out of a jukebox. So we recorded it with all vintage equipment. And we recorded it at a classic studio – Studio City Sound, here in L.A.

I know it well. The studio owned and operated by Tom Weir.

Yes, Tom’s a great guy. It used to be Fidelity. A famous studio where everyone recorded. And my dad and mom recorded their demos of “To Win Your Love” and some of their other songs there. So it all comes full circle.

Dominique Pruitt will play the Standard Hotel, 550 Flower Street, Los Angeles. Wednesday, October 23, 2013.


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