When you hear the phrase “piano rock,” you might consider it a contradiction. At the very least, the concept seems foreign to the College campus, considering that artists of the genre like Billy Joel and, more recently, Ben Folds, are seldom heard at First Fridays. Nonetheless, two of our own, Andrew Dominitz ’11 and Jon Foster ’11, have claimed this sound for themselves. They call themselves Majordomo.
Why Majordomo? “I was actually in a Starbucks with both my parents at home. Andrew and I had come up with a couple of names that we were tossing around and I think it kind of segued into my dad coming up with ‘Majordomo,’” Foster said. “I didn’t know what it meant.” The word, it turns out, means “head butler” in Italian.
But before they were Majordomo, Foster and Dominitz were just a poet and a pianist who met by chance at a concert during First Days. When Foster discovered that Dominitz was musically talented but had trouble writing lyrics to set to music, an epiphany struck him: “I remembered that I had randomly written lyrics to a song.” Foster then shared two sets of lyrics with Dominitz, one called “On the Big Screen” and another called “Senseless.”
So they started with “On the Big Screen,” a commentary on how life is not like the movies – but the song was awful. “To this day, it’s our biggest inside joke,” Foster said. Looking to prove his musical skills, Dominitz picked up the other set of lyrics and everything changed. “Within 20 minutes, Andrew had written the entire piano piece for what actually became the finalized version of ‘Senseless,’” Foster said. The experience cemented their partnership, and thus Majordomo was born.
I have had the privilege of watching these two throughout their career at Williams, from the first performance of “Senseless” in the Makepeace Room of Greylock to the production of their self-titled album. Since then, Majordomo has given us songs like “Hail Mary” and “Operating Table,” the surgical love story that sounds as if it were the theme song to Jerry Bruckheimer’s Miami Medical.
“It’s ironic because initially I didn’t want to write love songs, and that’s become our staple,” Dominitz laughed. But Majordomo is not without range: In the band’s dark experiment “Just to Feel Alive,” Foster’s voice tells the story of three kids who become victims of social pressures and lose their lives to drunk driving, Columbine-esque gun use and an eating disorder and cutting. Dominitz and Foster could be seen as a homegrown aspiration towards Elton John and Tim Rice, fusing their music and lyrics into powerful piano rock. “I almost think of us as a throwback to the nineties,” Foster said.
More recently, Majordomo released its music video “Heart Twice Broken,” directed by Andrew’s brother Alexander and filmed in the Perry Goat Room, on YouTube. Foster described the song as “mainly about a girl who’s been hurt before, so she’s kind of shut herself off to men in general.” The result is a visual exploration of a party where a damaged girl navigates leonine obstacles while the lovesick narrator sings about her pain.
“Working with my brother was a real pleasure and he is one of the most talented – if not the most talented – creative people I know,” Dominitz said. Alexander, 22, is a Yale graduate who is pursuing filmmaking as a career. Visually, a number of powerful images dominate the video. “There’s a broken glass motif,” Dominitz said, “and also Jon, in his sexy/perverted lion outfit, represents the predatory male.” According to Foster, the lion costume was actually an accidental move. Despite this, the song is quickly becoming their biggest hit, with over a thousand views on YouTube and another thousand on MySpace.
What’s next for Majordomo? Reunited after months abroad (Foster in Italy, Dominitz in South Africa), the pair will start performing again. In the near future, they plan to hold an official premiere for their music video, accompanied by live performance. They have also been invited to several local colleges, including a few in Boston, and hope to spread their music across the region. They are not unrealistic, though – they don’t see themselves becoming major recording artists like College alums Fountains of Wayne. “I think our realistic but ultimate dream may be to write songs for placement in media, like films and TV. We kind of recognize that we’re not going to explode on the scene … but we do enjoy writing songs with some kind of narrative,” Foster said, adding, “I’d like to be on Grey’s Anatomy, maybe Gossip Girl.”
While in the past Majordomo has included other college musicians, Dominitz points out that “It’s really difficult to have a band at Williams,” citing busy schedules and a lack of rehearsal spaces. Foster added, “It’s also hard to recruit musicians. Rock drummers are really scarce here.” But more than that, the kind of passion which brought Foster and Dominitz together in the first place seems to be rare. “We get very excited about it, and it’s difficult to find an excitement that matches ours,” Dominitz said. Foster continued, “It would be one in the morning and we would just say ‘Oh my god let’s work on music’ because we don’t want to do homework or something.”
These bursts of creative juices late at night wouldn’t fit into most schedules, but Dominitz and Foster have a natural chemistry that makes it work. “Jon and I see eye to eye on a lot of creative things and a lot of people in the creative world sort of clash,” Dominitz said. “I think we work really well as a team, and I want to continue working with Jon even if it’s just for fun.”
That doesn’t mean they could do it without help. Throughout their work together, Dominitz and Foster have sought out the advice of eager (and sometimes not so eager) audiences, looking for feedback and gaining support. “We’re lucky here with people who appreciate aspiring musicians,” Foster said. “We had a studio up the street, and Williams has pianos.” The list of resources goes on and on. Majordomo, more than just a “two man band,” has what it takes to stick around if only because, as Foster puts it, “We need two guys to carry the keyboard.” What else are head butlers for?
Majordomo’s songs can all be found at http://www.myspace.com/majordomomusic and their new EP Loveless is available for download at majordomo.bandcamp.com.