By David Rolland
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It's a proven fact that individuals are always happier while immersed in the process of creating something. For Free Dominguez, singer with Los Angeles electrorockers Kidneythieves, that process itself must begin with a clean emotional slate. "I can't create unless I'm happy in some way," she professes. "Anything I've written when I've been depressed has been, for the most part, a bunch of self-serving crap."
Which is kind of funny, because the band's latest record, Zerospace, doesn't sound very happy. The title track opens with a lone, pulsating beat that meshes with Dominguez's alluring vocals before morphing into an aggressive surge of heavy guitars and industrial-strength sequencing. "Dyskrasia" and "Spank" start off with blown-amp guitar riffs that steadily build a dense wall of concrete crunch. The aptly titled "Serene Dream" unveils a delicate blanket of acoustic-guitar layers that embrace warm string arrangements and rich textures. Over the top of it all is a somber remake of Patsy Cline's "Crazy." While Dominguez's seductress/bitch scream elevates Zerospace, mastermind Bruce Somers crafts multihued soundscapes and shifting-tempo beats that share more with Curve or Garbage than with a typical technoid duo.
Dominguez, a first-generation Cuban-American raised in Houston, originally studied psychology. But when Rorschach tests kept hinting at music, she relocated to Los Angeles, where she worked as a paralegal, making enough money to support the pricey habit of playing in bands. "I didn't really have anyone to teach me how to pursue my dreams," she says. "I kind of had to find out on my own." Somers had moved to L.A. from Cleveland, where he had played in a local outfit with engineer/producer/musician Sean Beavan (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, God Lives Underwater). "Trent [Reznor] got discovered in Cleveland, but that was about it," Somers says. "It was difficult getting signed in Cleveland. Everybody has that dream of moving to California."
Through a mutual friend, Dominguez and Somers finally met in a restaurant around 1997. "She had these funky Lisa Loeb glasses on and was all weird-looking," Somers remembers. "And I thought she was cute, so I figured, 'OK, I'll check it out.'" The two started swapping musical visions, spent a year in studio seclusion, and released their Trickster debut in 1998 on Push Records.
But when the label went under, push turned to shove. The imprint failed to pay for tour costs, among other expenses, and forced the band into a lengthy battle over its contract. "It was a tough two years," Somers remembers. "It was devastating and brutally frustrating to have everything tweaked and ready to go and think you're kicking it -- and then have it all stopped. Push made some moves that we didn't understand." Among his chief complaints: The label neglected Kidneythieves in favor of has-beens Hall and Oates. "We didn't have anyone at the label who understood a heavier, cutting-edge, chick-singer band," he adds.
Down but not out, Somers and Dominguez went back to the studio. Without the aid of a band or live performances, the two caught the attention of Extasy Records, which stepped in and released last year's six-song Phi in the SkyEP,a collection of Kidneythieves remixes by artists including KMFDM, Q-Burns Abstract Message, and Terminalhead. Once signed, the duo looked around for potential bandmates but found camaraderie virtually nonexistent. They eventually located guitarist Chris Schleyer, bassist Christian Dorris, and drummer Sean Sellers. "There are very few people here who are going to do it because they believe in it," Dominguez says. Before the new members came aboard, "It was an 'I'm an artist; show me the money' situation we had to deal with."
In the middle of a nationwide tour (its first road trip was baptized in metal courtesy of Clutch and Biohazard), the band looks forward to presenting its wares outside of a lonely studio. For Dominguez and Somers, the addition of a few fellow Thieves gives the project the heft of a real group instead of a late-night, dim-light hobby. "We've really bonded with the band," Somers says. "At this point in the game, I call them my extended family."