Sydney Ethereal Experimental Bedroom Art-Pop romæo: “My music is exciting, its unexpected, its weird”

Original photo: Matt Sitas. Handmade collage by B.

We’ve fallen in love with romæo’s music—gorgeous shimmering electronics, lush sounds, dreamy melodies, hypnotic vocals and radio-ready hooks. Gimmie interviewed romæo to explore her world.

How did you first discover music?

ROMÆO: My parents are big music fans and always had the speakers blaring as I was growing up, so I was always singing along to a variety of artists. But the record that really made me want to be a musician was Missy Higgins’ The Sound of White. It came out when I was five and I was immediately sold – I started taking piano lessons and joined a choir.

When did you first start singing? We really love the harmonies and spoken word parts. Do you have any vocal inspirations?

R: Like I said, I was always singing along to the household high-rotation records. I still remember Sharon Jones’ Naturally and Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call back to front. I’ve struggled a lot with where I think my vocals sit and where I used to want them to be. I used to wish my voice was more powerful and mature, but as I’ve developed more confidence in my music, I’ve realised that I can do a lot with what I’ve got. My current vocal inspirations are Kacy Hill, Cecile Believe and Okay Kaya. They all deliver really vulnerable performances and aren’t trying to be anything they aren’t, and in that there is a lot of power. Their vocal melodies are also unusual and unexpected; I love when a melodic line continues further than you expect.

Your music is experimental bedroom art-pop; how did you first start making your own music?

R: I’ve been writing songs for a long time now, albeit most of them were iffy at best and a lot of them where much more indie singer-songwriter vibes. I started playing around with more electronic sounds over the last four years. I’ve always really loved pop but only really came across experimental pop in the last few years, so it’s been quite a recent thing in the grand scheme of things.

What’s your favourite instrument/piece of equipment to use right now when making your music?

R: I bought my first synth earlier this year – the Korg Minilogue XD (in white) so this has been a lot of fun, although every time I think I understand it something weird happens and I’m reminded I don’t.

So far you’ve put out a couple of releases and demos – monologue, revealed & iso demos; could you tell us a little about the progression of your work so far?

R: monologue details the period of time where I fell in love with ‘experimental pop’ and discovered my production potential. I’d always been afraid of trying to be a producer, and to be honest I still shy away from the term, but as I was working on those tracks I built up a lot of confidence. I guess I felt like I finally proved myself to myself. iso demos was thrown together in about a week right at the start of COVID-19. I’ve reconnected with the guitar after disowning it for a few years, so it was fun to combine that with my electronic production. Weirdly, I actually made revealed before any of the other stuff. I was really proud of this track and knew right away I wanted to ‘officially’ release it, so I’ve just been quietly sitting on it for about a year now.

I noticed on your bandcamp you’ve written “written/produced/mixed/mastered (lol)”; why the LOL? It sounds pretty fucking awesome to us!

R: Aaaaa you’re making be blush!!! I guess I’m just giving myself an out in case people think it doesn’t sound too good LOL. Confidence is a slow burn, but we’re getting there.

In November last year you were talking about the first EP you released and mentioned “I’m excited to finally have some faith in myself and my music, albeit unsteady and unreliable”; what changed for you to finally have faith in yourself and what you’re doing?

R: Hmm… I think what I finally realised is that what I’m making is solely my own. I think my music is exciting, its unexpected, its weird – it doesn’t sound quite like anything else. And that is what I look for when discovering new artists. So I kind of shifted my priorities and expectations. My music doesn’t have to be perfect or pristine, it just has to excite me. I still have to remind myself of that constantly though.

When you wrote song “don’t be so hard on yourself” was that a kind of note to self?

R: Oh gosh yes. That song is quite funny, because I listen to it and go ‘yikes that doesn’t sound too good’ but that is the whole point right!! I also laugh at myself for saying “don’t be so hard on yourself/be so hard on yourself”. I know I need to ease off on myself, but personal criticism is such a hard habit to break and can sometimes be valuable. This song was basically my Self pleading to my ego; pleading to be freed in a sense… for these two opposing forces I hear within me to make peace.

Your lyrics are very thoughtful and really honest; are you ever afraid to put yourself out there via your lyrics?

R: Definitely. I do have some unheard songs where I’m like ‘this could be a bit brutal’ for people who actually know me to hear lol. In terms of releasing stuff, I guess I’m conscious of coming off a bit ‘sad girl-y’ and being almost absurdly direct in my lyrics, but I don’t really know any other way. I can be very upfront in person so it is pretty natural for me. I also laugh at my own melodrama and don’t expect it to all be taken too seriously.

Has there been a song that’s been hard for you to write? Why?

R: revealed was actually really challenging to write. I wrote and recorded the first verse and then had no idea how to develop the idea / where to take it or what I even wanted from the song. I basically sat on it for a couple of months and hated everything I tried. Then finally one session, the chorus and bridge just flew out and came together almost insanely quickly. I think the best songs are the ones you can’t even remember writing; they just happen.

Musicians Paul Mac and Rainbow Chan have given you a little guidance with what you’re doing; what’s something you learnt from both of them?

R: Paul and Rainbow are so inspiring for soooo many reasons. What I admire about both of them is their versatility as both musicians and creative, artistic people. They each apply their skills to a variety of different artistic endeavours and kill it every time. Paul helped me learn how to make cool/wacky beats that are both disorienting but also keep the listener engaged. Rainbow has helped me realise how much you can do without overloading a song with different tracks and sounds. As in, we always want to over complicate and add different elements and ‘sparkles’ to a song, but you can also manipulate the same sound in so many different and weirdly wonderful ways. Sometimes less is more.

You use flowers in your artwork; what’s the idea behind that? What do they symbolise to you?

R: Flowers are the ultimate symbol of traditional femininity. Delicate and beautiful, they also allude to female genitalia. Flowers come in all different varietals, all of which are precious. I really struggle with how women in the media must brand themselves. We have to be bold and fierce, or soft and gentle. We are either sexually liberated or innocent and pacificist. But we are all these things, and none of them.

Have you been reading anything interesting, enthralling or great lately?

R: I was enthralled by Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage the other week. His writing is of course stunning – it is as simple or philosophical as you wish, and he hits you with the occasional deep cut. When discussing the unity of heart in relationships, Murakami notes “they are.. linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility”. That hurt.

I’ve also just started my honours thesis on music philosophy, so I’ve been reading a lot about music’s relationship to consciousness and time. Interesting, enthralling and great, it also is an absolute killer.

What’s a song that never ceases to make you happy/cheer you up when you hear it?

R: “Young Hearts Run Free” [by Candi Staton].

What are you working on next?

R: I’m gearing up to release my second ‘official’ single soon which is super exciting. I’m sitting on a number of tracks that I might throw together in a mixtape soon-ish. I’m a master procrastinator and perfectionist, but I think it will be sort of liberating to get these songs out there. It is really hard to stay creative and inspired right now, so I’ve really just been enjoying listening to music and playing around with little ideas. Who knows what’s next!

Please check out romæo; romæo on Facebook; romæo on Instagram.

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