Friends, countrymen: Meet RØMANS, whose blend of pop, R&B, rock, and electro is worth the ear-lending, as Julius Caesar and JAY Z would almost certainly agree. The Roc Nation label has once again proved its internationality by plucking this singularly named neo-soul man out of the nation of England, for a debut that should get anyone whose primary citizenship is with the tribe of music nodding heads in happy agreement with the title of his blissfully affirmative debut single: “Uh Huh.”
”Uh Huh” is one of a quartet of tracks that make up RØMANS’ freshman release, Overthinking—Part 1. As the title might suggest, it’s literally the first chunk of a full-length album that’s due later in the fall. The aim is to give listeners a more digestible preview of the delights the 28-year-old Brit has to offer.
The artist arrives with a slew of writing and production credits presaging this solo bow. He had three tracks on Mary J. Blige’s 2014 London Sessions album, as well as work with John Legend, Naughty Boy, Disclosure, AlunaGeorge, Birdy, Kwabs, Ella Henderson and several other as yet-unreleased collaborations. “I don’t think I would have had a chance if I hadn’t spent eight years writing songs every day for different people. Yeah, definitely, the 10,000 hours!,” he laughs, referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers theory of work and reward.
When he signed with Roc Nation last year, that, too, was as a writer-producer, initially. Collaborating with Naughty Boy on the track “Home,” he envisioned it as something that, say, Cee-Lo might sing. And then multiple light bulbs went off around him: Wouldn’t it be, well, crazy to get anyone, even Green, to replace a scratch vocal that gloriously good? “I was convinced to stay on it,” RØMANS says, “and then at that stage signed a record deal. I’d really had the intention of finding someone to take these songs, someone who I could develop behind the scenes. And that obviously ended up being me.”
Only in hindsight, then, does the move to frontman seem such a no-brainer, yet it’s difficult to imagine a mere mixing-board position as you put on the final track of Overthinking—Part 1 and hear RØMANS plead for his romantically bereft life: “You drew the heartbeat out of my veins/When you blew out the supernova, what did you leave in your wake?/A life in monochrome.” The man doth arguably protest too much, as his vocal explodes into living color, immediately establishing RØMANS as one of Britannia’s, or our, finest young craftspeople, and a supernova still powerfully lit.
It’s not as if he never thought he had it in him. But RØMANS had the dream of being a singer in his own right more or less beat out of him after some failed attempts back in his teen-prodigy years. “I spent a long time thinking that I wanted to be some kind of artist or pop star around the time I was 16, and that was the focus. The focus wasn’t making great music. So I just ended up making shit, basically,” he admits. “But in retrospect, I was learning a lot about the process of making music, even as I saw the bad side of it from behind the curtain. Now I’ve ended up in this situation because I made great music, not because I was determined to make it an occupation.”
RØMANS grew up in Pinner, Middlesex, and it wasn’t just the fact that Elton John was also born and raised there that made him a musical hero. “My real education in music was from my mum, who was a complete music lover in that era where I’ve drawn all my influences from. She toured around seeing all these live artists on their European tours and met a lot of them and was in a kind of core scene in London at the time, so she really educated me in The Beatles, Bowie, Cat Stevens, Elton John and so many different artists. Obviously that’s where all my tastes come from…”
Except it may not seem so completely obvious as you listen to Part 1, since there’s nary a hint of the retro or self-consciously classicist about it. Yes, if you look at his Instagram, you’ll find him posting a photo of Leon Russell, or of the Beatles pillow his mum knit him. And yes, he’s at least mildly proficient on a score of instruments, from drums to saxophone. But that doesn’t mean he’s going for an old-school “organic” sound when he came of age amid a historic blossoming of the tools of the trade.
“Although the bulk of my influence is from the golden age,” he says, “I also grew up in this music technology revolution, and educated myself in making music at a time where suddenly you could make a song from a laptop, using programs like Fruity Loops or Logic.” So he’s unapologetic about using samplers as well as the plethora of instruments he can actually lay his hands on. “I’m pretty fluent with technology,” he allows, “even though for some reason, I’m on the phone to Apple Care once every month for three hours, waiting for a response on something I can’t quite figure out!” As Us Weekly would say: Studio geniuses — they’re just like us.
RØMANS didn’t feel creatively thwarted during his behind-the-scenes years. “I love making music,” he says, “whatever capacity that’s in — whether it’s doing the stuff that flows naturally for me, personally, or the process of writing for artists who have their own sound and lending something to that. I felt that I was very comfortable being in the background and being creatively satisfied. The thing with writing with loads of different artists is you’re literally pushed in a different direction every day. Every artist demands something else and brings something else to the table, so I love that it keeps me on my toes. But you’re pacified slightly in the world of writing for other people, in that there’s such a chain of command, and you never even know if it’s going to sit on the shelf or whether it’s actually going to be used. So I think that desire to have that one creative outlet I’m in control of has always been there, even though I definitely didn’t consciously think to get into a record deal because I’d been down the road of trying it and being heartbroken when I was younger. Now it feels like a different experience, and I’m loving it.”
One connection between Overthinking—Part 1 and the music he was making as a teenager: This four-song release, too, was recorded literally in his parents’ basement. But he had to relocate to work on the sophomore album he’s already putting his mind toward. “Sadly, they moved out, and I lost my basement studio! But I’m in a cool spot now, as well. I work out of one of the oldest, most famous studios in London, which was run by a guy called Mickie Most, who was kind of the UK Phil Spector. All this amazing, vintage stuff of his is still there, and I’m still using it, but using it going straight into a laptop and emailing myself different stems.”
Like most artists of his generation and younger, genre isn’t a big deal to RØMANS. “Kids now are not just rock fans or pop fans, or dance. They like a bit of everything. That’s another reason why I think English music in particular and the scene we’ve got over here is a collaborative, cool melting pot of sounds.” It’s the set of keys more than a hoped-for radio format that guides him. “If I play a series of chords on a Rhodes and I get that feeling, then I’m probably going to make a soul track that day. If I’m sitting at a synth, I might make an electro-rock track like ‘Uh Huh.’” By the time fans hear his full-length, “I really think that there’s a track for everyone. My aim is to find a fan in every corner. You might not like every song, but I’m sure that you’ll love one of them, at least.”
Early reactions have born that prediction out, whether it’s come from RØMANS playing multiple gigs at this year’s South by Southwest or the showcases he performed for insiders in New York and Hollywood. MTV enthused that “he might be JAY Z’s next big Roc Nation star.” BET.com predicted that “British recording artist RØMANS will be your new music fix. His sound blends pop, rock and soul influences with piercing instrumentals, shades of funk music, and potent vocals. You’ll definitely want to hear more from the U.K. crooner.” And VH1.com gave a big uh-huh to “Uh Huh,” raving over “an inspirational, radio-friendly track complete with a catchy chorus, belty high notes, and uplifting guitar rhythms — all the makings of a hit. He won’t be denied the spotlight for much longer with his arresting voice.” And Buzzfeed put the “soulful, euphoric” single at the very top on their June list of “63 Songs You Need in Your Life This Month.”
As the title of RØMANS’ debut would hint, this is a guy who does cerebral, and does it well. But when it gets to his most emotional, soul-searing material, like “Life in Monochrome”? If anything, you’ll be overfeeling it.
For more information, please contact Mary Moyer, Cami Opere, Kristina Headrick or Carla Sacks at 212.741.1000.