One night at the Rams Head in Annapolis, Maryland, drummer Dominic Fragman showed the audience what he could really do. Making the most of an unintended gap between songs during a set by his band, he grabbed a guitar, returned to his kit, picked up a stick, and broke into the Black Sabbath classic War Pigs.
He did it all. Drums, guitar, vocals. The lot. By himself. And the crowd, as they say, went wild.
And so he did it again, during a set with Swampcandy at the 2015 FloydFest, a music festival held near Floyd in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The performance made its way to YouTube and created something of a stir, and Dominic knew he had to embrace the concept more fully. The Solo Trio was born. “The trick is to not think of it as two or three or any different things,” says Dominic. “It is all one thing. All one instrument. All one sound. One endeavour.”
Last month Dominic released a new video, in which he tackled Rush’s 1981 classic Tom Sawyer. At the time of writing it’s been watched close to half a million times on YouTube. Throw in another 3.5 million on Facebook, and you know people are taking to the concept.
How did you get into this Solo Trio thing?
It began with just the drums and guitar together. I was around the age of 10. Of course, when I started I had no idea what it would develop into. I did not approach the concept with any real intention. I just wanted to play. A lot. Initially, I simply operated the guitar with both hands with the right foot on the bass drum and the left foot on the hi-hat. Many folks for many years have done mostly variations on this. Eventually, I got comfortable enough physically and mentally to grab a stick and a pick with the right hand and it went from there. I was probably 12. For years, I would only really do this at parties and in front of friends. I could play tunes like what you would think: Free Falling, Sweet Home Alabama, Hotel California, Back in Black—or at least pieces of them. Reggae was natural to execute in this way. Also, there was War Pigs. It always slayed!
I am still learning so much about it. It’s very interesting actually. I can notice the effect it has on my brain, my thinking, my processing. It’s crazy to be able to perceive those kinds of shifts. It’s been really amazing. The support of the people, their embracing of the idea, and their reactions to the performances! It’s all been really awesome! I am honored and humbled.
Why choose Tom Sawyer?
Well, I guess I haven’t really thought about it, haha. Mostly, It is a song that I enjoy and it came kind of naturally. Things just fell into place. Don’t get me wrong, I spent time on it. But, it was just kind of there. I had also been pulling it out on gigs here and there for the past 6-8 months. By the time it seemed necessary to make a recording of a cover, Tom Sawyer seemed like a good choice. Also, many of the topics that I think about and write about in my own tunes intersect with the lyrical content of Tom Sawyer. For this project, I often write tunes of awareness that touch on individualism and free thinking—and maybe a little rebellion. So, I gravitate to and like the consistency of topic that came together from my own tunes/themes coupled with the themes of covers like Tom Sawyer and War Pigs, which I had already been doing.
Why do you think this particular video has struck such a chord with people?
I’ve actually been speaking with people about this a lot! The general consensus is that the tune itself is epic and is viewed as a musically difficult task. Therefore, to see one guy do it all (which is also viewed as a difficult task) was exponentially difficult! If that is the case, I sure have my work cut out for me moving forward!
Have you heard anything from the Rush camp?
Haha! I have not. That would be amazing and very humbling. I wonder how they would feel about it. The night I sent it to my social media manager he sent me a message immediately after he watched and said “This is fantastic! It could go all the way to the band!” At the time, that just seemed like excited talk or fluff even! About an hour after he shared the video I think it had over 10,000 views and it was clear results were coming that I had not yet experienced. After a week it was at about 3 million views on my Facebook alone! That was in early January. Now we are experiencing another surge. Maybe it will make it to Rush! Haha! That would be rad!
Who are your musical influences?
I listen to as much different music as I can. I am mostly into things I don’t know I’m into! But from what I am aware of, I am as much in love with Bach and Beethoven as I am with Monk and Coltrane. I am intrigued as much by North Indian Classical as I am by Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and Gamelan. I still crank Zeppelin and Soundgarden. James Brown and Otis Redding make my hair stand up. I dig John Hartford as much as Royal Blood, Kimbra, and Tune-Yards. Also, I will say I have been very fortunate to spend a lot of time with and play with masters like Cecil Taylor and Larry Willis which have been tremendous experiences of a lifetime.
What do you say to people who insist that what you do is a gimmick?
It’s ok. I don’t mind. If I did I would have stopped after day one because people have been saying that since day one! There are many people who have heard and experienced my playing for several years in different situations outside of the Solo Trio who hold me in such a regard as a drummer and musician that believe the Solo Trio is not what I should be doing. They believe that the world needs to know my other skills and that this will dilute those.
It is totally fine that people feel that way. Let them say what they will. I believe that I am music and that in order to be music, I must organise my life so that all I have to do every day is be music. If in order to do that I have to utilise skills that I have which are not the exact skills that somebody else “thinks” I should utilise, so be it. All the things I am, are all things I am and can be. So I will be them, especially if it facilitates my development as a musician, as a professional musician, and as a being of music, light, and unity. Right now, I believe this is the path to find/ establish a platform to share all of the skills and ideas. Even/especially the ones that are a bit beyond the outside of the box!
You’re working on an album for 2018. What can people expect from that?
Yes! I’m really excited about the new original music for this project! I’m actually going to be releasing a few tunes next month. It’s definitely rock’n’roll based!! It is intense, high energy stuff! It’s tough for me to say a lot about it since I am so close to it. For this project, my goal is to put out music that sounds real, alive, raw, fresh, and has a message. I think it is coming together nicely. I perform all the instruments on the recordings. And, while I currently do live solo performances of the tunes, I will be looking to put together a band which I front as the Solo Trio to perform the music.