“You know I live in the house that one of the people who plays in Arctic Monkeys was in?” Dominic Fike, grinning down the Zoom camera, tells NME of his current digs in sunny Los Angeles. “I think the drummer…? I feel his ghost down there!”
Rest easy, AM fans – Matt Helders is still very much with us. But this connection between High Green’s finest drummer and the Florida-born Fike is a pertinent one: both moved to LA, a decade apart, when the allure of the climate, culture and enduring cool of California became too much to resist.
“I like LA,” Fike muses, running his hand over his dyed-pink buzz cut. “I have a lot of friends here, surprisingly – I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s kind of like a second home. It’s the next best thing [to Florida], so I’m grateful – especially with Florida being the epicentre for the virus at the moment.”
Ah yes: the virus. The coronavirus pandemic has upset the very order of life across the globe throughout 2020, forcing us all to acknowledge that we are truly living in the darkest timeline. So, with civilisation looking doomed, now’s the perfect moment to release your debut album – right, Dom?
“For real!” Fike laughs. “Nah, it’s a terrible time, I guess. But, y’know: we’re doing it!” He changes tack: “Actually, it’s the right time: I think we need music at this time as well.”
The title he’s chosen is devastatingly apt. ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ is Fike’s first album under Columbia Records, which emerged victorious from a fierce 2018 bidding war after reportedly shelling out a seven-figure sum. The almighty scrum for Fike’s signature was sparked by the internet frenzy that greeted his debut EP ‘Don’t Forget About Me, Demos’, officially released in October 2018, and its Platinum-selling single ‘3 Nights’, a breezy radio hit engineered for success thanks to its hand-clap beat, upbeat guitars and a stunning vocal turn. Even if you think you don’t know it, you’ve definitely already heard it being played somewhere or other – such is its ubiquity.
It’s easy to see why the 24-year-old created such a whirlwind in the music industry: Fike is a musically ambidextrous, hype-generating independent artist who can sing, rap and shred on guitar. Oh – and he has the kudos of being presidentially endorsed. No, not by that president – ‘3 Nights’ was included in Barack Obama’s best-of-2019 playlist.
“Oh man – that’s crazy right? Boy, my momma is proud,” Fike beams. “I don’t even know what possessed him to put me on his playlist. Crazy, mad shit.” He takes a moment to reflect. “That one stumped me.”
“My friend was like: ‘So… we’re not gonna address how your song sucks?!’”
The new album brightly showcases Fike’s inimitable approach to songwriting right from the first moment of its attention-grabbing opener ‘Come Here’, which pays homage to Pixies’ loud-quiet dynamic. The whole album is a thrill ride, populated by glitchy guitar-pop earworms (‘Chicken Tenders’, ‘Why’), beat-switching two-parters (‘Politics & Violence’, ‘Joe Blazey’) and even a delicate diversion into string arrangements on ‘10x Stronger’.
“I was self-conscious about that one,” Fike admits of the latter. “My friend in one of our group chats was like: ‘So… we’re not gonna address how ‘10x Stronger’ sucks?!’” Reader: the friend was incorrect.
The words ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ clearly served as a mantra for the open-minded mentality Fike adopted over the two-and-a-half years he spent making the album. “I wish I could edit it every day. It’s never done,” he concedes, coming off like ‘The Life of Pablo’-era Kanye West. “But I’m tired of trying to be like: ‘Man, this is my masterpiece.’ It’s my first crack at this album shit: it was fun, I had a great time and I can’t wait to keep doing it and get better at it. I hope I delivered: we’ll see!”
Fike has already endured an awful lot to get this far. He wrote ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ under house arrest, having been charged with battery on a police officer (his mugshot is online forever). He later went to jail after violating the terms of his house arrest, and was serving time in Collier County Jail when the EP first emerged in an online form in December 2017. By the time he was released from jail in April 2018, giddy record executives across the US were clamouring, chequebooks in hand, to meet him.
Fike is understandably reluctant to add much more to this part of his narrative. In a recent YouTube interview, he told Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract, a close friend, that that difficult period in his life “had nothing to do” with the making of ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’. Yet this turbulent chapter is actually referenced on the album’s autobiographical closer, the Kenny Beats-produced ‘Florida’, as Fike declares: “Should’ve told the judge before they locked me up / ‘Ain’t shit in the universe that can stop me, bruh’.”
“I guess I was always going to address it,” Fike tells NME today. “It felt like I should.” He catches himself. “Although… I don’t know; it feels kind of corny for a first album. But fuck it. It just happened.”
Fike, who is African-American and Filipino, was raised by a single mother in Naples, south Florida, which he describes as “a sleepy, conservative beach town that doesn’t like disruptions or disruptors”. He picked up a guitar at the age of 10, inspired by artists as eclectic as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eminem and Lil Kim. As a teenager he began hanging out with his older brother Sean and made friends with the local skaters and musicians, later becoming part of the rap collectives Backhouse and Lame Boys ENT. You’ll have to do a fair amount of internet digging to find those early Fike raps, but at least the memory of ENT lives on: the group’s initials are tattooed on Fike’s forehead.
He also has an apple tattoo beneath his right eye, a permanent tribute to his sister Apple. Family means everything to Fike: he’s used part of the record deal money to hire “really expensive” lawyers for his parents (to give them “a proper shot at their court cases and give them another chance at life”) and he recently bought his mum a new house in Florida. Is supporting his nearest and dearest through music his definition of success? “Yeah – absolutely,” Fikes replies. “I wouldn’t know any other way of measuring it.”
Fike’s own legal troubles came to the surface when he was assembling ‘Don’t Forget Me’. He had only properly finished two of the EP’s planned 17 songs when he was summoned to jail. Yet the resulting six-song record was clearly good enough to impress Columbia, which released it on October 16, 2018. It was a significant date of Fike’s choosing: the day he was due to drive his mother to jail, after she’d been sentenced for drug-related charges.
“Donald Trump gave leadership a bad fucking name”
His family’s legal issues were a key facet of a powerful Instagram statement that Fike posted in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the knee of a white police officer, which inspired the new wave of global Black Lives Matter protests. Fike wrote: “My life has felt cursed since I was a little kid. I’ve watched police, the supposed good guys, beat my mum and take her away. I’ve had my brothers taken away. Aunts, uncles. Shit, my dad just got 20. It’s like they had a problem with my family.
“I’ve since realised the real curse is the system we live in is designed for us to lose again and again. It’s more than just a couple bad cops. Systemic racism and brute, abusive power are issues ingrained into this country, but things can change. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve seen a spark and we have to act on it.”
Fike postponed the June release of ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ to help make space for the global BLM protests. Was he encouraged by the renewed focus on the BLM movement?
“For sure,” he says. “It made sense: what was going on was very relevant to what I’ve dealt with my entire life, and just seeing everybody acknowledge it was like: ‘Jesus Christ, are we doing it? Finally!’ The fact that we’re having talks and that anything’s happening – that’s a positive change. And it’s only going to pick up, you know what I mean? It’s only gonna get better.”
Fike is banned from touring the UK due to his criminal record. “It’s not forever,” he insists. “We’re working on it – sooner or later, I promise. I’m already years into [the ban] already. We’ll see. I don’t wanna speak on it too much and jinx it.”
“Brockhampton are my boys – they taught me a lot”
In the meantime, he’s content with the fact that “people are gonna be able to digest” the album and says they’ll “be singing it on the next tour, so that’s cool.” In fact, with all touring plans scrapped thanks to the coronavirus, Fike has been expanding his instrumentation during lockdown: “I’m into piano now. I got really good at it recently; just sitting in my room playing it for a while. But the guitar is always going to be something that I’m fluent on and I can express [myself] on. It’s like my first language.”
No wonder the album channels his beloved Chili Peppers (there’s an unashamed John Frusciante influence on ‘Vampire’) and even Blur, whose tunes he’s been devouring in the studio. Might we have a new indie hero on our hands? “I hope so,” he jokes, “because we’ve been doing all the shit you’re supposed to do, like breaking guitars and buying too much shit. I need fucking more money, man. I’m fucking myself!”
Whether or not he follows in Matt Helders’ footsteps in more ways than one, Dominic Fike seems sure to continue amassing admirers, from devoted fans to his musical peers. He’s already collaborated with Halsey (the woozy baroque pop of ‘Dominic’s Interlude’), Omar Apollo (the funked-up NME 100 alumni teamed with Fike on the tumbling single ‘Hit Me Up’) and the aforementioned Kevin Abstract (the campfire song ‘Peach’). Fike claims he’s “gonna make a whole album” with producer-of-the-moment Kenny Beats and says he “loves making music with people”, but prefers to let them reach out to him. “Maybe it’s my fear of rejection that I’ve got going on,” he admits. “I’m weird about that shit.”
Yet he enjoys a close friendship with very modern boyband and former NME cover stars Brockhampton. They have a lot in common: he’s in their age group and, like the 13-piece, moved to LA (Brockhampton were formerly based in San Marcos, Texas) as a hot new music prospect with an eye-watering record deal. Have they taken him under their many wings?
“Yeah, they’re my boys,” he says. “It’s amazing, and I’ve never really thought of it like that, but they taught me a lot, even just when I went to their shows and watched them perform. Before I was touring and doing any of this shit in the public eye, I learned a lot from them. I’m grateful to have them as friends.”
“I love making music with people, but fear rejection”
Has he ever been asked to join the group? “That’s never really come up. I feel like as a really close friend – and we’ve worked together as well – we don’t need to label it.”
Last year Billie Eilish, probably the most famous teenager in the world, told NME that Fike “is the baddest kid I’ve ever met in my life… I think he’s slowly getting the recognition [he] deserves so I’m pumped about that, but I think it needs [to be] more.”
Fike beams when NME reads the quote to him: “Yeah, I love her. It means a lot, especially coming from, like, the biggest motherfucker in the world. It’s amazing.” He hasn’t had the chance to work with Eilish yet as “she’s super busy” but says: “I hit her up recently, honestly, on some shit. We’ll see what happens. There might be a time and place.”
Eilish is a multi-award-winning global star and the certified leader of Generation Z. Does Fike have similar aspirations? “Oh my golly gosh,” he says in mock-astonishment. “That’s for everyone else to decide, brother. I’m chilling, man. I’m just making music, honestly. I’m fucking 24 years old, so it’d crazy to be [considered] a leader.”
But, NME posits, this is a leaderless era; surely we need all the leaders we can get? “Yeah, I know,” he replies. “Crazy time. Donald Trump gave that shit a bad fucking name – he gave it a bad energy.”
Yet he does long to inspire. Fike said in that Kevin Abstract interview that “hopefully a kid like me listens to my music”. What did he mean by that? “Music was obviously very important to me [growing up],” he explains. “I used to go through a bunch of dumb-ass shit, and I used to use music to help me with it. I was very thankful to the artists for creating it.
“I see a lot of people DM me and thank me for making music, and I wish I could’ve done that – I couldn’t DM my favourite artists. When somebody DMs me like that, I know that they’re going through the same thing I went through, and they’re so grateful to this person for bringing this medicine into their life.”
A re-up of that Fike brand of medicine is already on the way, with a new project in the works. He reckons he could “make multiple songs a day” given his current creative flow, and reveals that it won’t be another guitar-based record. Still, he finds the idea that we’re now post-genre a little overcooked.
“People are always [talking about] that whole blending styles shit. I think people use that word kinda lightly,” he proposes. “Sometimes I’ll write a whole rap song or a whole reggaeton song and someone will be like: ‘Oh, you’re blending your genres’. What I’m making right now is crazy: it blends, it’s weird and it’s all different types of shit. But it works – I love it.”
He continues: “It’s like how I used to make music: not calculated. I’m looser with lyrics, but they end up funner in the end.” Will he follow up the album pretty swiftly? Fike replies in the affirmative – then catches himself: “Damn! I should be more secretive about stuff. But I’m trying to drop ASAP and load the world with a bunch of music. I’ve been making a bunch of stuff, and I want it to come out. So that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Maybe he should just make an anonymous SoundCloud account, drop the songs there and walk away? “I’ve thought about it many a time,” he replies with a smile, “but never sober – that’s why it’s never happened.”
Point taken, but we don’t see why not. After all, when it comes to Dominic Fike and releasing music – a journey that’s landed him in the former LA home of an Arctic Monkey, seen him befriend superstars Brockhampton and Billie Eilish and helped him uplift his own family in the process – what could possibly go wrong?
Dominic Fike’s ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ is out now