The untimely death of singer-songwriter Dominic Miranda leaves a gaping void in Silicon Valley’s arts community. On Oct. 20, the musician—the driving force behind San Jose bands The Record Winter and Rex Goliath, among many others— succumbed to diabetes-related complications.
He was 34 years old.
Though it’s been more than a decade since she first saw him perform live, Kendall Sallay-Milotz, singer of the band Starover Blue, says she still remembers the experience vividly.
“A friend had recommended that I check out the show,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but it just blew my mind. I hadn’t seen any other vocalist perform like that in San Jose. I was frozen in the middle of the room watching him. Part of me thought, ‘I want to watch this forever.’”
Now, she and a group of musicians affected by Miranda’s work are organizing an online memorial concert to celebrate his life and music. The event is scheduled for Feb. 13, and will feature roughly a dozen acts performing covers of his work, alongside their own originals.
“The point is to celebrate his incredible songwriting,” Sallay-Milotz says. “People are going to dial in from their respective bedrooms, practice spaces, wherever they are, and play a song from Dominic’s discography. We’re trying to get all eras of his career represented.”
There’s no shortage of compelling material to represent. Miranda was a prolific and dedicated songwriter who began playing guitar at the age of 10 and performing in bands four years later.
Longtime best friend James Mastrocovo met the musician in Kindergarten at Bertha Taylor Elementary, and spent most of his 20s documenting the performer’s various musical projects. Over the course of years, Mastrocovo regularly interviewed Miranda about his work, and filmed his shows in San Jose’s roller rinks, coffee shops, and punk houses.
“He would come up with songs in a day or two and they would be incredible,” Mastrocovo says. “He just had a notebook, and he’d write sheets upon sheets of pages. He had that and he was ready to go.”
Steven Szcpanik, guitarist and one of Miranda’s most consistent musical collaborators, recalls meeting him as a senior in high school and already being impressed by his songwriting.
“I remember thinking, ‘Man, I really want to play with this guy,’” he says.
When, just a few months later, he did, the two gelled naturally.
“It just felt right,” Szcepanik says. “He would write these amazing songs, crazy hooks, solid melodies. Then I would layer lead melodies on top on guitar. I felt like we had a really good thing going.”
For about a year, the two played together in emo band The Avenues, with Miranda on rhythm and vocals and Sczepanik on lead. When the focus of Miranda’s songwriting began to shift more towards his solo project The What Ifs, Sczepanik joined him there as well. Over time, that group morphed naturally into the band Miranda would become most well-known for: The Record Winter.
Tempestuous and psychedelic, The Record Winter fused elements from many of Miranda’s most beloved musicians—the intimate folk of Elliott Smith, the fried circuit freakouts of Neil Young—and ran them all through his own personal filter.
“One of the things he always wanted was to develop a San Jose sound,” says his father, David Miranda. “He always said, ‘there are so many good musicians here, we should have our own sound.’ And there was a sound here. He and the bands had been putting it together for over twenty years.”
Leslie Hampton, founder of San Francisco-based label Side With Us Records, first saw The Record Winter at a show in the party room at Nickel City, a nickel arcade off 85 in south San Jose that used to host shows in lieu of any real all-ages venues in the city.
“They definitely seemed a lot bigger than the bands playing at Nickel City,” Hampton says. “They didn’t seem like a DIY band. They seemed like they should have been in real venues and clubs. They could’ve been on the radio. I still can’t believe that band didn’t play big festivals.”
Hampton and Side With Us went on to re-release The Record Winter’s self-titled debut LP in 2009. Though the band wasn’t able to tour much due to Miranda’s on-going health complications, they became a favorite around the South Bay and San Francisco, particularly for their song “Mannequin,” an eerie, tightly-wound rocker with autumnal hints of Interpol and Radiohead.
In 2013, Sczepanik decided he needed a break from music and quit The Record Winter, but Miranda kept right on. In 2014, he released Sleeptalking, The Record Winter’s explosive, psychedelic final LP. That same year he also formed Rex Goliath, a grungy political punk band and the focus of his creative efforts for the next four years.
On songs like “Artless Cog & the Meaningless Drone,” “The Working Poor,” and “Selling Drugs,” Rex Goliath gave voice to many of the frustrations felt by San Joseans in the 2000s as the city attempted a hyperspeed transformation into the Capital of Silicon Valley.
When Rex Goliath ground to a halt in 2018, Miranda again returned to solo music, this time under the name Payphone. The first Payphone EP, recorded at San Francisco’s renowned Tiny Telephone studio, is some of the strongest work of his career.
“The thing I take away from knowing him is that no matter what happened, he persevered with his music,” Sallay-Molitz says. “His motivations were so pure. He did it because he loved it. More than any musician I’ve known, he was the pinnacle of DIY.”
Even as he struggled with his health, Miranda continued to work and refine his music, putting together songs for a planned Payphone full length.
“The last thing he texted me was I want to play rock and roll,” Mastrocovo says. “That was his life. He told me on many occasions. I think having other musicians playing his music, he would have loved that.”
The Dominic Miranda memorial show is scheduled for Feb. 13. Visit dominicmirandamusic.com for more info.