No Rome, the latest addition to Dirty Hit’s formidable roster, is a man on a mission. Claire Biddles talks to the conceptual artist about collaborating with labelmates The 1975 and the importance of finding his own artistic voice.
No Rome calls from LA, where it’s still morning on the West Coast. “It’s my first time here but it feels familiar,” says the Filipino singer and producer, “I guess from seeing it in films growing up.”
He’s here to work on his debut album with his friends and co-producers, pop superstars The 1975. Matty Healy recently referred to No Rome as his ‘muse’, though the partnership is more equal and collaborative than that.
How is Rome adjusting to his LA surroundings, which are admittedly luxurious for such a new artist? “I haven’t been here for super long, but it doesn’t usually sink in until way later, I’m that kind of guy,” he explains, revealing his introspective nature that reveals itself throughout our conversation.
“Everything kind of feels like it’s passing by, I’ll be keeping things moving, having some fun and then one day I’ll be like ‘Damn, I’m really out here!’ The same thing happened to me when I first got to London. I was writing in the studio then after a month I was like, ‘Oh shit, I’m in London. Everyone’s English!’ That’s what it felt like!”
"It’s not about treating tradition with nostalgia, or trying to relive a certain era, it’s about working with something that already exists and looking forward to what it could be.”
No Rome - aka Manila native Rome Gomez - is the latest signing to Dirty Hit, the London-based record label founded in 2012 as an outlet for the then-unknown The 1975. The label now boasts a roster of artists that are as esoteric as its central group’s influences, from the dreampop of Pale Waves, the laconic post-punk of QTY and the Mancunian rap of Just Banco.
Like The 1975, No Rome’s music is idiosyncratic and difficult to pin down to just one genre however, so it makes sense that the two would be drawn to collaborating with each other. “We’re working on my album and The 1975 album at the same time,” Rome says of his time in LA. “I’m helping them out a bit on their record and Matty is helping a little bit on mine as well. It feels very natural.”
Rome is fresh from the release of his first EP, RIP Indo Hisashi, which is a collection of songs written and recorded after his relocation to London earlier this year. “I wrote that record in Matty’s kitchen and I was lucky enough to record it at Abbey Road.” The EP fizzes with layers of beats, synths and samples, with each song deftly constructed. The lyrics are conversational in a way that feels wholly contemporary; densely packed with clipped syntax and snippets of confused communication.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about the lyrics,” explains Rome, who counts the poet Frank O’Hara as an influence on his complex and considered writing process. “I want to write lyrics almost like storytelling, but it’s not entirely me telling the story. The structure is the same for all of the songs on the EP; I’ll tell you a bit of what really happened in the verses and then the chorus acts as an explanation of the situation.”
The results are wonderfully enigmatic, the verses of EP standout “Saint Laurent” encompass fragments of conversations, daydreams and remembered moments from nights out, all of which circle the stunted plea of the chorus. “Tell me something, are you feeling the way I? / I can't say that I'm feeling just fine I?” It’s a detailed story without a conclusion, with Rome as the unreliable narrator.
"I see No Rome as an art project, where I am the canvas and everything else is what happens to the canvas - the visuals, the music and the lyrics."
Rome views the composition and construction of the lyrics and music as inherently interconnected. “I love playing around with sonics and lyrics at the same time” he says. “I try to tackle as much meaning as I can with the production. I create the feeling that I want to get from the song through the instrumentation and then I write the melody on top of that, responding to the subject of the song.”
This approach is something else that Rome shares with The 1975, whose cohesion of music and lyrics are dependent on the bond between their primary songwriters, Healy and George Daniel. Rome singles out The 1975 collaboration “Narcissist” as demonstrative of this shared cohesion. “I built up this very sad club music and then responded to the lyrical themes with the melody.” Accordingly, the melancholy of the music acts as the setting for the playful lyrics and melody, which serve as a reflection of the multifaceted emotions of the protagonist.
This conceptual approach extends to the entire No Rome project, which has existed for the past six years. “I see No Rome as an art project, where I am the canvas and everything else is what happens to the canvas - the visuals, the music and the lyrics. I don’t see No Rome as a persona per se, because it’s more of an honest piece, nothing about it is projection. Even when I’m writing, I can’t really write something that I haven’t directly experienced.”
So it comes as no surprise that Rome is heavily involved in the visual aspects of the project. “It’s what usually delays most of the releases” he laughs, “because I want to get the visuals just right, so that they’re coherent to the music and I’m lucky that my label supports that.” Rome’s fascination with the visual aspects of music can be traced back to his childhood in the Philippines where he became intrigued by the covers of his parents’ records (“Sometimes I’d listen and not like them, but I’d keep them in my room anyway because the I liked the cover”) and as a teenager he sought out iconic albums by bands including My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, and Sonic Youth.
For RIP Indo Hisashi - the title of which pays tribute to the late Japanese painter - Rome worked with Dirty Hit’s resident art director Samuel Burgess Johnson, in whom he’s found another collaborator and kindred spirit. “I forward the music to Sam and he’s really hands on, we both throw in ideas.” The visuals for the EP and its preceding singles present Rome as the diminutive centre of a maximal installation, whether he’s whimsically painting his nails or checking his phone under a gargantuan floral display.
The accompanying videos also inhabit this collision of the organic and the technological, which is a key combination for the project. “The whole concept of No Rome in general is the mix of traditional and futuristic,” clarifies Rome. “It’s not about treating tradition with nostalgia, or trying to relive a certain era, it’s about working with something that already exists and looking forward to what it could be.”
In the near future, Rome can look forward to a recently announced run supporting The 1975 on their arena tour of the UK and Ireland in January. “The shows are going to be fun and there’s going to be a big visual concept. I really want to bring the visual aspects of the music on stage.” Details of Rome’s album are as yet unconfirmed, but it’s clear that the change in setting from London to LA will influence the tone of the record and his process. “It’s going to be a totally different experience for me, and a different record.”
“Right now, just with the sun being out most of the time, it really changes the creative process. I can’t speak yet about exactly how it will work out on the record, but there is a big difference. I’m looking forward to finishing the album. The album is going to be a sick experience.”