Interview: No Rome on his 'RIP Indo Hisashi' EP.
I’m in the midst of mocking No Rome. He’s explaining to me his stint in art school in the Philippines, a time during which he began to steal books from the library - enormous books like ‘2000 Best Album Covers’. “Who the fuck steals books though?” he asks, to which I reply, “You do.” He’s amused, and goes on to tell me the logistics of stealing such a hefty book.
It’s this genuine honesty which makes Rome such an intriguing character - throughout our time together, he goes from exclaiming, “Do it again! Do it again!” while explaining the repetition of his debut Dirty Hit single ‘Do It Again’, to reflecting on melancholy and nostalgia in his slow-jam ‘Seventeen’.
On the recently released EP ‘RIP Indo Hisashi’, No Rome’s candour is equally as apparent - on ‘Seventeen’, he sings, “I don't know what's happened to me lately,” and on the EP standout track ’Narcissist’ he opens, “Take a picture of all my flaws / Or you can take a video on your phone.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for Rome, who signed with Dirty Hit at the end of June last year - and has since relocated to London, where he’s been working with The 1975 on their own, and his own musical works. And now he finds himself in Los Angeles for the first time ever, again working with The 1975, concurrently working on their two albums, as well as working on his own debut.
And having just been announced as the opening act (alongside fellow Dirty Hit band Pale Waves) for The 1975’s UK tour next January, No Rome is set to take it up a notch with his first ever live shows.
We caught up with No Rome on a balmy Summer’s day in Los Angeles, where we talked about the new EP, his musical beginnings, and other important things like planning his live show…
...when you’re in a crowd, you feel like you want to belong. I wanted to belong inside the circle, and I did, but I didn’t get to do stuff with my classmates. I had to find that outside school, which became that learning process of doing stuff. Not just learning music, but learning how to use Photoshop, how to shoot pictures... everything was a [DIY] learning process.
COUP DE MAIN: We’re so excited about the release of your new EP, ‘RIP Indo Hisashi’. I think ‘Seventeen’ is my favourite song from it, it captures the ideas around youth so perfectly. Why do you think we, as a society, are so obsessed with the idea of nostalgia and looking back on our younger selves?
NO ROME: Melancholy is a super important feeling. If you don’t know how to look back, sometimes you get lost, and how are you going to keep track of where you’re going, if you don’t even know where you came from? I guess ‘Seventeen’ was more speaking in terms of wanting to relive that moment, it’s not even about the age, it’s mainly anything that refers to anything melancholic or nostalgic. You were 25, and you felt like when you were 17.
CDM: So it’s like the feeling, rather than the actual age?
NO ROME: Yeah. ‘Seventeen’ also became an adjective. Nowadays, it’s pretty cool though. There’s so many quotes about feeling 17, I guess it speaks to that logic.
CDM: You originally released the song last February through Ryan Hemsworth’s ‘Secret Songs’ label. What made you want to re-work this song for the EP?
NO ROME: The songs I put out on the Internet almost felt like demos to me. I want to hear things in my head, but I wasn’t really that capable of-- because of the lack of equipment in my set-up at home. That’s why I always strove to put those ideas out, until I got to a different place. I was able to shape up ‘Seventeen’ as a brighter version of how I wanted it to be, so I really hit the spot on that one which is great. I wanted to keep the originality with it too, but I wanted to tweak some stuff, and put it on the EP.
CDM: I like that most of your older stuff is still available to listen to online.
NO ROME: Some of them I did leave there, on purpose. They were the best ideas I had amongst everything. I guess some people beg to disagree, but that’s just my opinion. <laughs>
CDM: It’s really nice, because so often an artist will sign with a label and delete everything from the Internet prior to that.
NO ROME: I mean, these were ideas that I thought were really special to me, and in my head.
CDM: All the visuals to accompany ‘RIP Indo Hisashi’ are so stunning, and look so cohesive all together. Is the visual side of No Rome just as important as the musical side to you?
NO ROME: Super important. It’s one of the things that delays me the most. I’ve always seen it as an audiovisual thing. I wanted to do design from the start, I went to university to do industrial design.
CDM: What does industrial design mean?
NO ROME: In my university it was designing stuff for industries - designing furniture, a bit of fashion, accessories, and the design of packaging, cellphones, and gadgets. You get to choose your master in what you want to do, and they teach you how to do it.
CDM: Did you do the full degree?
NO ROME: <laughs> That’s the thing, I wasn’t really the best student when I went to college, I tried two degrees that I didn’t finish. I did like it though, it was my first love before music, and I fell in love with music through album art. I was looking at album art growing up, and I would be like, ‘This feels like a good album,’ and growing up with my Dad having good taste in music, a lot of post-punk and new wave music, which was for me the peak of album art. That’s what I really like, especially when in the 70s it was more photography-based, and then in the 80s everybody got into the future a little bit, they could do so much more, and there’s more graphics, which is great.
CDM: How do you go about envisioning what you want your visuals to look like?
NO ROME: When I’m writing, it usually comes with it. I have to know what the colour scheme of the song feels like. It sounds so obnoxious though, <laughs> it sounds so pretentious! Some people don’t, and I used to find it odd, and I always felt like it was more of a disadvantage. Sometimes I just want to put music out and not worry about these things, but I get really intricate about it, and if the album art doesn’t look as good as what I want it to be, then I might as well not release it.
CDM: The album art is what people see first, even before they choose to listen to something, so it is important.
NO ROME: Especially now, you get to see everything first. I remember growing up, I wasn’t a vinyl junkie, but I was a CD junkie, so I bought CDs. I used to end up on these weird parts of the early 2000s, early 90s music, and I wouldn’t even know who the artist was, but because the album art looked so good… If I didn’t like it, I would just have it in my room. I want it to be a proper balance though, I just don’t want the visuals to look good, I want the music to sound good too.
CDM: Have you started thinking about what you want the live No Rome show to look like? Do you know when you’re gonna start playing live shows?
NO ROME: Yeah. Especially now that I’m closer to playing some shows. It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be fucking sick, actually.
CDM: In your 2017 interview with Pigeons and Planes, you shared that most of your music is written about personal experiences and perspectives - is that still true of most of the songs on your upcoming EP?
NO ROME: Always. I can never write a song that hasn’t been experienced, at least second-hand experienced - I just can’t. I can, but I don’t feel like it’s the best for me. I feel like a lot of people can actually do that, but for me, I reminisce about things that have happened - it has to be a conscious state of emotions all the time.
CDM: It feels more authentic that way, I guess.
NO ROME: Yeah! It’s kind of an honest form of writing, that is why I consider it as an art project. Most of the personal stuff is done out of honesty. There’s some things that you want to hide a little bit, but it’s always honest.
CDM: Do you find it therapeutic to write about certain things?
NO ROME: Yeah, whether happy, or sad.
CDM: In that same interview, you also said that you wanted to get a record deal and move to Europe or the USA - and you’ve achieved that now. Congrats!
NO ROME: Yeah! Now that you bring that up, that’s pretty crazy. After interviews, I don’t read them back because I get anxious about what I said, <laughs> but that was pretty cool. I didn’t expect to get a record deal from the UK at all, so when that happened, it was pretty sick.
MY FAVOURITE SONG ON THE ‘RIP INDO HISASHI’ EP IS…
CDM: What was running through your mind while writing ‘Do It Again’?
NO ROME: “Do it again! Do it again!” I can go into detail about it, but ‘Do It Again’ is just what it speaks about - doing it again. The song feels repetitive almost, because what the song was about is that frustration of, ‘You say you wouldn’t do it again, but now fuck it.’ There’s logic in that, the redundancy of things. There’s things that keep coming back in the song, the intro comes back in certain parts again, and the hook itself. The experience of it kind of felt like a loop, entering these kinds of relationships where everything feels like a loop, and it’s just like, ‘When is it gonna end?’ But it’s like, ‘Fuck, forget it,’ it’s always that conclusion to most things we do.
CDM: I love the shift in pitched vocals in ‘Saint Laurent’ when you sing, “Babe you looking good with your make-up / I can feel something in my brain when we break-up.” How do you go about experimenting and working on production on No Rome songs?
NO ROME: I guess I just listen to a lot of music, and growing up I appreciated a lot of things, and learning to not stick to one genre - that comes with production I guess. People that I like, people that I listen to, people that I also get inspired from, it’s kind of me trying to be like, ‘How do I patch up these ideas and how do I want to make this sound like…?’ Because I like to take elements from certain stuff, so it’s like that when it comes to production. Getting ideas from bands, thinking about how this would sound digitally, or in this certain platform of the world. How would this sound if it was a futuristic club party, but I’m crying in the corner? What would be the background music that plays behind a beat of what’s playing in the club? That’s where it comes in. It’s hard to explain, I feel like I’m not making sense. <laughs>
HOW I FEEL ABOUT MY NEW EP COMING OUT…
CDM: Did you teach yourself to produce music?
NO ROME: It was more of a learning experience. I started making music at an early age - it has a lot to do with my Dad, because he also had a passion for music. I found a reason to get obsessed with making music, as much as listening to music, and I wanted to strive to learn how. My Dad was a musician, he learned how to use DAWs [digital audio workstation], and he was all right with it, and then he just taught me how to record.
CDM: How old were you?
NO ROME: It might seem like bullshit, but I was 11 or 10. In high school, I wasn’t really doing what everybody else was. I wanted to do sports, but there were a lot of things stopping me from doing sports, and I was really interested in stuff that wasn’t what everybody else was doing. I felt like I was at more of a disadvantage, but those were the things I liked. Now it’s an advantage, because I’m doing stuff that’s related to it, but when you’re in a crowd, you feel like you want to belong. I wanted to belong inside the circle, and I did, but I didn’t get to do stuff with my classmates. I had to find that outside school, which became that learning process of doing stuff. Not just learning music, but learning how to use Photoshop, how to shoot pictures, and I was hanging out with dudes that also felt the same as me. Everything was a learning process, but it was more DIY. I had to do YouTube at one point. At home, my internet was so slow, so I couldn’t watch 30 minute videos - back when the Internet wasn’t speeding up. So that was a last resort. I would normally try to pick up a book, or go to the library. Especially when I was going to college - I went to an art school, and I was stealing books. But I did end up giving them back the books! They were the massive books, not the small ones, like ‘2000 Best Album Covers’ or something like that, or ‘The Sonics of…’. But I got away with it… Who the fuck steals books though?
CDM: You do.
NO ROME: I do. <laughs>
MY FAVOURITE LYRICS I’VE EVER WRITTEN ARE…
CDM: ‘Narcissist’ is also so, so good. At what point did it become a No Rome song featuring The 1975, and not just a standalone No Rome track? Was there a moment where you realised you wanted them to feature on it?
NO ROME: It actually just came along. I was working on the EP with Matty [Healy] and George [Daniel], and it kind of became an exchange, just friends hanging out in a room, being like, ‘Yo, that’s dope! Do you need help with it?’ Giving advice, and if you dig it then do it, and if you don’t dig it then don’t do it. It was that exchange, so I was sending Matty some songs that I had been working on for my EP and he was like, ‘Yo, this song is hard. Do you mind if I do something with it?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ He did something with it, and it came along very well. We just ended up finishing it properly - thinking of the sonics behind it. We sat down after we did the demo, I think they were doing it on tour, Matty liked the song and recorded the demo vocal and sent it over being like, ‘This is the best thing ever, we have to finish it.’ So we hopped into the studio and just sorted out the sonics.
CDM: Did you work together on the lyrics?
NO ROME: Yeah. When writing, it’s more of like, ’Oh, this would sound great,’ it’s more like advice than it is, ‘Do this, do that,’ which is cool. Being two songwriters, we both have ideas of how we want verses to sound in our heads. Amazingly, it’s a mutual spectrum of that. I would be here in this tone, and he would be here - it’s not too far, and it levels out the song.
CDM: Did you just work with Matty and George on the song, or did Ross and Adam contribute too?
NO ROME: Matty and George wrote the song with me. But actually, Ross and Adam had a lot to do with my EP. Ross [MacDonald] played bass on 'Saint Laurent’, and Adam Hann replayed my friends’ riff for ‘Seventeen’. That’s a fun fact.
CDM: Before signing to Dirty Hit, you’d released two other EPs, ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Hurry Home & Rest’. How have you found No Rome grow and develop since those earlier EPs?
NO ROME: Those were ideas I was just putting out. Those are two EPs that felt like they were so rough, they weren’t even in a place where I wanted them to be, that’s why it led to Soundcloud, I felt like it was an easier platform to put out those ideas. But again, I’m a really patient writer, I want to hear what I want to hear. It was the start of trying something out, but what sucked for me was I was still trying some stuff out, and it was already on a platform. I guess, if I didn’t do that though, I wouldn’t have ended up here with the sound I have now.
MY FAVOURITE DIRTY HIT SONG OF ALL TIME IS…
CDM: It’s so cool that you sampled Lontalius on one of your earlier songs ‘Flowers On My Neck’! You already have a connection to New Zealand. How did you find Lontalius’ music?
NO ROME: I was hanging out with him yesterday at a diner, just talking about our favourite movies. I found his cover of Beyoncé’s ‘Mine’, and I was like, ‘Yo, this is the best ambient cover of Beyoncé ever.’ We’ve had exchanges before, and I listened to his album that he put out.
CDM: I loved your cameo in The 1975’s ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ fan music video, it was really cute. Did you have to audition to be a part of it?
NO ROME: No! I actually came from a night out, I had just got back home. They called me up and they were like, ‘You should be in the next The 1975 video,’ and I was like, ‘Oh sure, when is it?’ They were like, ‘Right now.’
CDM: In your hungover state?
NO ROME: Well, it’s always a constant, you just gotta replace it - so eat tonnes of food, and head out. But it was a really fun shoot! Me and Matty just in a natural state.
CDM: I loved that he was carrying you around at one point.
NO ROME: Yeah! He did carry me around.
CDM: Are ‘Forever’, ‘James Ferrari’, ‘420’, and ‘2088’ future No Rome songs?
NO ROME: I’m just gonna keep that there for now.
CDM: I’ll just say, ‘No Rome raised his eyebrows during that question.’
CDM: Are you working on an album at the moment?
NO ROME: I am. It’s gonna be quite a fun experience doing the album. I already kind of know what’s going to happen, it’s going to be pretty exciting.
CDM: You seem very organised!
NO ROME: I’m more of a disoriented organised person.
CDM: What else do you have planned for 2018?
NO ROME: More music from me. More stuff, more anti-Trump, more just getting shit together, in general. More music from stuff that I’ve been working on as well.
No Rome’s ‘RIP Indo Hisashi’ EP is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘Do It Again’ music video below…
ALL PORTRAIT PHOTOS OF NO ROME BY: DILLON MATTHEW