Most of us spend our lives chasing after some kind of identity, when we'd do just as well to be ourselves. That's Philadelphia-based DRGN King auteur Dominic Angelella's strategy. He just happens to have some pretty varied tastes, including jazz, rap, electro and rock.
"I feel like it's a constant exploration, and you've got to just be open to whatever comes your way," Angelella says while wandering about New Orleans pre-show. "And that's just what I've been doing."
After creating a critical stir with 2012's debut electro-soul LP Paragraph Nights, the singer-songwriter dove headlong into collegiate indie rock (read: pretty melodies, swelling, slightly anguished choruses) with last year's Baltimore Crush. Both albums were released on Bar/None, the famed indie label whose roster has ranged from They Might Be Giants and Yo La Tengo to Colorado Springs-based duo Eros and The Eschaton.
"The first DRGN King record was this electronic thing, because I was sick of doing guitar rock and I wanted to expand," he says. "Then I found myself coming back to guitar rock again."
Baltimore Crush has a decidedly nineties alt-rock flavor, because that's what Angelella grew up on. It's a kind of homage to his early basement show days.
The most potent track is the keyboard-laden mid-tempo rocker "St. Toms," a sort of carpe diem ode to teenage anomie. The music has a languorous melancholia and self-conscious psych-tinged flair that recalls early Walkmen.
"All the kids and their friends are suicides," he sings. "And all their mothers and their fathers bought their rifles."
Angelella grew up in the bustling Baltimore basement-punk scene before decamping to Philadelphia to study jazz guitar. There, he hooked up with Dice Raw (The Roots) and Nikki Jean (Lupe Fiasco, Ab-Soul) in a project called Nouveau Riche. He seemed on the verge of living the musician's dream when reality intruded.
"I thought we were going to be signed to Columbia, I was going to live in L.A., and play guitar and shit. But it didn't really pan out," says Angelella. "Then I realized that, so much of the time, it doesn't work, for whatever reason. And that's fine.
"If you're going to be in a band that has a big chance — and then you put out a couple records and it fizzles out — it might as well be the kind of band you want to do."
DRGN King emerged when Angelella hooked up with the more hip-hop-inclined Brent "Ritz" Reynolds, who was working with The Roots at the time. While their collaboration has continued, Reynolds had no interest in touring — he makes his money at home. So Angelella put together a touring band and hit the road.
Now in its third lineup, DRGN King heavily features guitarist and keyboardist Lucy Stone, with whom Angelella's written four new songs for a potential EP this coming fall.
"Almost all the new stuff we're working on is dual male/female vocals," he says. "I'm interested in doing a record really quick and not thinking about it too much. Just getting it as live as possible."
Angelella also has an album coming in June from his side project, Lithuania. It's him and long-time friend/drummer Erik Slick (Adrian Belew, Dr. Dog) on guitar in a punky-sounding combo.
"I'm just trying to be as prolific as I possibly can be," he says. "I want to keep people guessing."