Music / Features
Magic Man -
A chat with Dom & The Wizards
Words by Doug Wallen
Wednesday 11th August, 2021
Playing fast and loose with both rhyme schemes and outsider psychedelic tropes, Adelaide/Kaurna Country ensemble Dom & The Wizards released their bewitching second album earlier this year. We caught up with the band’s titular leader to unpack it a bit.
Dom Trimboli led the idiosyncratic (and forever underrated) Wireheads through four albums in as many years, including a pair of records cut in Washington State with Beat Happening icon Calvin Johnson. The past few years, however, have seen Trimboli switch his focus to Dom & The Wizards, an even more free-wheeling outfit that features many of the same players.

The band’s second, The Australian Cyclone Intensity Scale, is gorgeously inscrutable, riffing off familiar psych and folk turns in weird new ways. With his name front and centre, Trimboli channels everyone from Syd Barrett to Donovan, packing the songs in every direction with playful lyrical curlicues and scenery-chewing vocals evoking the mystical character-building of glam-rock. Against the folk-punk jostle of ‘Desert Mothers’, Trimboli even eschews language altogether to sputter through a volatile procession of wordless sounds.

Some lyrics are more straightforward and even quaint (“The wind was a train when it blew through your brain”), while others are jammed with references that demand repeat visits just to nail down. (See the free association of ‘Outlaws and the Cops’ and the plentiful tongue-twisting references of opener ‘Cellophane Aeroplane’.) Many of the songs resemble dog-eared fairy tales or nursery rhymes, with dream-derived imagery that spans a winged woman with “a thousand red venomous snakes” tied around her waist, a romantic couple made of ice and ice cream (respectively) and a “heavenly sweet little skin-wrapped skeleton.”

In late June we got Dom on the phone for a characteristically winding conversation about the Wizards, Wireheads and the binding power of “vibes.”
TJ: The last Wireheads album, Lightning Ears, came out in 2017, but some of the same people play with you in Dom & The Wizards. What made you start this separate project?

After we had done a fair bit in a short period of time, I worried that I was pushing the friendship with some of the Wireheads crew. Maybe they were starting to get a bit fatigued with my ideas. (Laughs)

I was always thinking about the next thing, and I felt a bit bad about that. I think we just burnt out that energy for each other at that time. We probably just needed to have a little rest, and I didn’t want to have a rest from music. So I thought it would be cool to have a little offshoot happening.

I was interested in writing more folk songs. Not in the way that the word immediately evokes…

Your version of folk songs.

Yeah, totally. I just wanted to pull it back and do something different.

And this is the second album.

Yeah, there was a 7-inch single (Ana's Little City/Bradley) and we did an album over in Castlemaine - just a run of 200 records. That’s another thing with Wireheads: you feel a bit of pressure to do that stuff [like promotion] and I don’t really enjoy it, so it’s nice to not care too much.

Who from Wireheads is playing in Dom & The Wizards?

It moves around a little bit. Nearly everybody has, at some point along the journey. (Laughs) On the new record it’s Liam Kenny [from Nylex, Zipper and Workhorse] and Vic Conrad [from The Garden Path]. Tom Spall played in Wireheads originally, but he hasn’t for quite a while. So it was fun playing with Tom again.

That reminded me of when I first heard Wireheads: how prominent the violin was. And Tom recorded the new record, right?

Yeah, he built his own studio [Milestone Studios] out in Summertown, in the Adelaide Hills. We did the whole thing there.

What are some of the others bands these people play in?

Tom and Harry [Freeman] have another band called The High Beamers. Jessica Johns has about ten bands: she plays in the Jess Johns Band, Ricky Albeck & the Belair Line Band, Dead Roo…

When I discovered Ricky Albeck & the Belair Line Band, it reminded me a lot of Wireheads. Almost like you’re passing the torch…

Well, I’ll have to hit them up for royalties. (Laughter)

It’s exciting to have other people doing it for sure. People sometimes talk about hearing or something. I think Ricky’s trying to cover one of the songs from Big Issues, I had to send him the lyrics. So that’s nice.

Have you played many live shows as Dom & The Wizards?

We’ve played quite a few. Having a family limits how often you can do that kind of thing, but we play four or five shows a year.

How do you find that experience?

I find I’m more nervous than what I used to be. Maybe because I ask my son’s friends’ parents to come along to the show - maybe they’ll think I’m a freak.

And your name’s on the marquee. It’s not hiding behind a band name as much.

Yeah, I guess. Wireheads is a pretty powerful band to stand in front of. You can kind of do nothing and they’ll entertain everyone. (Laughs) I didn’t feel like it mattered so much if I missed a word. It was more part of the charm.

Well, there are a lot of words. (Laughter) I had asked you about the stream-of-consciousness approach back in Wireheads, but this stuff is even more that way. There’s a section in ‘Outlaws and the Cops’ where it’s almost free association, and on ‘Desert Mothers’ you give up words altogether and just start making sounds. Do you feel a certain freedom with all of that now?

Yeah, a hundred percent. Like I said, I’m getting more nervous and uptight about performing live. But I’ve gone much the other way with writing: I feel completely comfortable and confident with writing songs, probably more so than ever. I don’t really question it at all. It just feels right. When I’m with the band, recordings songs or practising, I feel completely liberated to just be Dom.

Even though it’s your name, is it almost like a character? Because there’s a glam element to some of it, especially the singing.

To a certain degree. I think in Dom & The Wizards, it’s trying to turn the things that I feel and think about into things that don’t really make any sense - and just sound fun and ridiculous. (Laughs) So I guess I feel comfortable to get a bit playful and adventurous and wacky in that space.

Do you think that partly comes from being a dad and playing with kids? Just embracing silliness that way?

Maybe it does. That’s a good question. But I think it’s more to the point that I just don’t really want to listen to angsty stuff, and I don’t want to be angsty. I think if you have angst, it’s cool to dip it in chocolate and make it more fun.

When you’re recording, is it pretty loose? How open and jammy is it?

They’re all talented musicians: you can literally play them a song and then they just play along with it. In Wireheads it’s more like you have concepts and come up with things [together], but in this band you can write complete songs and just play them for [the players].

When we start recording them, it seems like nobody ever really learns them that well: we just go through once or twice and record them. Then we relearn them when we have to play a show or something.

That sounds like a fun, low-stress way to do it.

Yeah, there’s minimal stress.

‘Woman with Wings’ feels like a kind of psychedelic lullaby. Is there a story behind that song?

Well, how long have you got? (Laughter) It’s about some stuff…

It’s got this sense of remove that feels quite surreal…

When we recorded that, Vic had this little keyboard line that he played. We recorded it into my phone and then onto the tape machine and looped it. Then we got the band to play the song and stuck that over the whole thing. Nobody knew that was playing, so it comes in and out of time and doesn’t really make any sense. So that gives it that vibe you’re talking about.

Yeah, almost like an old music box.

Yeah, like a wind-up thing. The rest of the song is pretty straight though.

What instruments do you play on the record?

Maybe I played a little bit of piano at some point, but pretty much nothing. “Vibes” is my job, I think. I just stand in the middle of the room and be big on vibes. Because we don’t really learn the songs, I need to make big arm gestures when the change is coming. So I find that it’s better if I don’t play the guitar. There are plenty of other people that can play the guitar better than me.

Photo by Harry Freeman

I love the rhymes you’re coming up with. On ‘Downtown Sydney’ you rhyme “liquid” with “addicted” and “rodeo” with “explodes oh.” And the album’s opening line is about a “bicycle” that you can ride “if you’re licensed to.” Do you ever feel like you’re going too far with that stuff?

Well, challenged accepted. Let’s see how far we can go.

Do you ever hit a certain point and decide to bring it back a little?

Liam always tells me I’ve gone too far. (Laughter) But he comes around. I don’t know… Bob Dylan used to do that a lot. If you just wrote it down on a piece of paper, you’d think it was ridiculous. But when you string all the bits together and it sounds okay, it makes more sense. All of those crazy guys, like Kevin Ayers and Syd Barrett, they were doing all that stuff.

Plus hip-hop … I wish I was a rapper. (Laughter)

There’s still time.

Yeah, thanks Doug.

But I know what you mean: it makes language fun again. With this thing that’s often really rigid, you can just go for sounds instead. It doesn’t have to fit into this narrow conception of what rhymes should be.

I think it’s more evocative when you think slightly outside the square, which helps you make better metaphors anyway. Because everybody’s heard the same old ones.

And I like all the references you bring in. Just the first song [‘Cellophane Aeroplane’] mentions Salvador Dali, Mephistopheles and Cyclone Tracey. Then the next song mentions the Russian steppes. It feels like you’re reading a lot and putting that stuff back into the songs.

Well, I don’t know how it works for everyone else, but if I don’t get to read too much, I don’t get to write too much. If I’m reading, I’m writing. But if I’m not, I’m not. Whether it be Wikipedia pages or Dostoyevsky, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve just gotta be reading stuff and learning stuff.

Do you have notebooks that you fill up with ideas?

Yeah, I’ve got some notebooks. Actually I left one in Newcastle a couple weeks ago that I’d love to get back. My phone is full of voice memos: I think I’m up to 300-and-something. I never give them a name, so every time I’m looking for a riff or something, I have to go trawling through like 290 files.

It can be a bit cringe-y sometimes. I also write lots of things in my phone, just ideas and things I want to research. Feelings. Emotions.

You mentioned by email that you’ve been driving a lot. Is that for work?

Maybe. I work in multiple locations, so I do spend a lot of time in the car.

Do you get a lot of ideas while you’re driving?

I think I work on the ideas when I’m driving. I get most of my ideas when I’m sleeping. Every time the woman with wings visits you in your sleep, you realise it’s a sign and quickly write down on your phone: “woman with wings.” And then when you’re driving around for work, you work on that.

Are you thinking about doing more Wireheads stuff?

It’s funny you should ask. I just went to Newcastle because Liam lives there now. We went up there and made some Wireheads demos. We’re currently in the process of trying to book a studio for later in the year to make a record.

That’s great news. I loved the last record [Lightning Ears].

Yeah, we get some good feedback about that one.

You did that with Calvin Johnson again, right?

Well, he was there. I don’t know how much he really did. He cracked some dry jokes now and then. Nick [Wilbur], who owns and runs the studio [The Unknown in Anacortes, Washington], made the magic. Calvin maybe pushed us into a kind of space. (Laughs) He drinks a lot of tea and sings to himself - other songs that aren’t relevant to the songs you’re trying to make. He does those kind of things.

[Dom mentions an upcoming gig]

I was thinking about maybe playing electric guitar again. I haven’t played electric guitar for a while.

But how would you move your arms?

(Laughs) That’s true. No one would get the signals.

The Australian Cyclone Intensity Scale is out now on Tenth Court - head to to grab the album on limited vinyl.
Photo by Alex Gordon-Smith