No Rome made it out of his hometown of Manila in the Philippines. Not that he was ever stuck, but he always had ambitions of building a broader, western audience. Through a chance introduction and an impressive repertoire of self-released SoundCloud singles, he was able to make the leap he had long dreamed of.
In 2017, the now London-based Rome Gomez told us that he had aspirations to take his distinctive, chamber-inflected R&B to a bigger platform. The 1975's Matthew "Matty" Healy immediately saw something in him upon hearing his music, and was compelled to sign him to Dirty Hit. Joining a label featuring the likes of The Japanese House and more recently Beabadoobee, Rome released his first EP with them, RIP Indo Hisashi, last year, and contributed to 1975's single "TooTimeTooTimeTooTime." In April, he became the first Filipino artist to perform at Coachella, joining 1975 on stage for their collaboration "Narcissist."
With his newest EP, Crying in the Prettiest Places, Rome has pushed his sound even further into the realm of pop music. Although the intro recalls My Bloody Valentine's chaotic walls of sound, the EP then transitions to songs like the Billboard 100-ready "Stoned in the Valley" and the buoyant "Pink." Without sacrificing his personality or unique approach, Rome has polished his "shoegaze R&B" sound and is connecting with more people than ever before.
Read the interview and listen to the Crying in the Prettiest Places EP below.
First of all, how crazy is it to have come from uploading your songs to SoundCloud in Manila to joining The 1975 on-stage at Coachella?
Honestly it feels like a dream, in a way. Not playing at Coachella, but y’know being on a big stage amidst being a so-called “bedroom producer.” I made music in my bedroom, not that it sounds like the term. It was big progress for me as a musician, as an artist. Being on the same stage with people like 1975, who make good music and have good intentions with making art. So definitely an experience, and I’m looking forward to doing my own thing in a bigger space, in a bigger sense. It’s inspiring.
When I talked to you in late 2016, you said that you wanted to move to the USA or Europe, so I think congratulations are in order. Could you tell me a little bit how that move came together for you?
Thank you! So, I moved to London about two years ago. I was 19 and I’m turning 22 now. I did mention in that interview that I always wanted to move to America or the UK, because I felt like it would be a good experience for my craft and music in leaving home. And it was, because I got this deal from Dirty Hit. At the same time I also had US deals, so it was tough to me to decide which way I wanted to go. I guess signing to Dirty Hit made me realise what I wanted to do as an artist, and what to develop. I just decided to pick up all my stuff from the Philippines and move all in after my three months in London, and decided to sign with the label.
That must have been scary, though?
Yeah very much so. I’m not going to be the one to say that moving to a new place is easy. I think it’s always hard the first time you get there, ‘cause for me it’s completely different place from where I grew up in Manila. The UK is drastically different, but I guess I eventually fell in love with the thought of that and used it to make art, to make ideas, to write music.
I know that Manila has a very rich scene, but what do you think necessitated that move abroad?
I had ideas that didn’t really fit. People didn’t really understand at that moment in the Philippines. I guess it was too ambitious. It’s what I felt like in a way. I was playing these underground shows all of the time, so I was a part of it by working other artists my age in my area. Making music in their bedrooms and coming to bars to show to people. I felt like the only way for me to get better was to get out, so that was my sense at that moment.
You know, I watched the movie Ladybird…I felt like there is a coexistence with me, I grew up somewhere else but there’s a beauty in looking at another place from a perspective different than the norm. If I was a Filipino living in London, living like a Filipino, it’s a totally different perspective and you get to see it in a different sense. A London person moving to L.A. would see it differently to someone who grew up there. I guess that’s what I felt like.
How did you and Matt Healy meet?
We met through his graphic designer, Samuel Burgess-Johnson, who I’m a big fan of. We were speaking via email and next thing you know he was tagging in Matt Healy, asking if I had any interest in doing something with them. Eventually, Matty said, “I really wanna sign you.” That’s how we met. I flew into London a month after I got that email, and we started working together.
It was very quick, then?
Yeah it was. Spur of the moment when I think about it now. I guess that’s also how music in consumed now, everything happens at such a fast pace.
So was it really nice to have someone who had so much faith in you so quickly like with Matt?
Of course, especially with the level of experience with what Matty and the band have. It feels like there’s always someone I can ask for help. As an artist that feels so nice. Before it was just me and internet friends making music. There are not a lot of people who have made it out of the Philippines as far as I know, gone on this kind of tour, played Coachella as someone who was borned and raised there. It’s really nice, it’s a fortunate experience and not a lot of people who started out in their bedrooms have people so experienced willing to help them out.
When I was first hearing about you way back, it was always through people I already knew. Brockhampton’s Bearface, Ryan Hemsworth, Meishi Smile, they all talked so highly of you. That must have felt great.
It feels really cool as well, because I ended up becoming friends with most of them. We’ve met in real life, which is way cooler for me. I always thought they would remain people on the internet. People like that made me push myself harder, not because of the co-signs but they also make art I respect a lot. A lot of people I respect believed in what I was doing, and it makes me inspired and not want to feel so stale.
there are a lot of people Who just make music and you can’t even categorize it. You just say, “It sounds like Lil Uzi Vert.” Even if you put him on a different beat, you know if it sounds like Lil Uzi. that’s what I’m trying to do.
Especially with Ciaran [Bearface], we spent a lot of time making music together. He also did a little bit on “Pink.” Me and him made that song ages ago, even before we were recording together in London. I brought it to L.A. and he gave me the master chords, and we kinda just re-arranged them and produced it again into a different thing.
I just love working with Ciaran, because I feel like musically we really get along. We get inspiration from the same places. When me and him worked together, you could always know it was me and him on the end product. But so far we’ve only got like two songs we’ve done together. We were working together when the first Saturation was coming together, which is how we ended up writing “WASTE.”
There’s been a shift in sound since your SoundCloud days, back then you described it as “Shoegaze R&B,” but what would you say it is now?
Up to this point, I still kind of tag it shoegaze R&B or pop. But it’s just making sounds now, in that there are a lot of people who just make music and you can’t even categorize it. You just say, “It sounds like No Rome,” or, “It sounds like Lil Uzi Vert.” Even if you put him on a different beat, you know if it sounds like Lil Uzi. That’s what I’m trying to do, but right now it’s still shoegaze R&B that I’m trying to portray.
I definitely got that with the first track on the new EP, which reminded me of My Bloody Valentine's wall of sound approach, although it sounds a lot cleaner.
Exactly. It’s like when My Bloody Valentine started to do the MBV album. It’s a very good album, I love that album. It’s not Loveless, but it has the Loveless sound. It feels like it’s done better. It’s just what Kevin Shields would have wanted if he had enough money when he was producing Loveless. He has the better sound desk and all that sort of stuff now.
But that’s what I feel like with my SoundCloud music. If you listen to it, it’s still very reminiscent of what I make now, but now it's much bigger. It’s always been a chamber sound. Sometimes it’s in a bigger room, sometimes it’s in a smaller room. For now it’s in a room where I can actually control where the sounds go. The whole concept is there, we’re just trying to put it in a better sense where people can understand what I do.
Coming from more lo-fi sounding stuff to having this higher production budget, does it make it difficult to decide when something should be lo-fi or hi-fi? I know you still incorporate muffled sounding vocals, so do you approach songs thinking “This is going to be the neater one” or “This is going to be the dirtier sounding one?”
I do. Sometimes when I’ve recorded something in such an honest way, I don’t wanna touch it anymore. Like this part already feels good as it is, even if I recorded it in a bathroom somewhere. That part, that little messed-up voice, I want that as it is. It just works way better that way, there’s more honesty.
Could you tell me where the title Crying in the Prettiest Places came from?
It was an idea that came from being in the prettiest places and feeling sad. It’s kind of like being alone or feeling alone at a nice party. That’s what I felt like these songs were about as well, pretty sounds juxtaposed with honest lyrics that involved relationships I’ve been in or experiences. I was writing in these pretty places. L.A., London, a little bit in Tokyo. But that’s besides the point, I’ve not been to a lot of places I consider entirely pretty, but writing this I was in a pretty place and I was in a rut. Anything can be considered a pretty place, wherever you are and if you feel alone in that.
It’s not necessarily about the location but the state of mind.
Yeah. It started out as location for me, coming to L.A. for the first time, which I always wanted to do. Then I was in the mess, and that’s when I had the idea. I was crying in this pretty place I always wanted to go to, but somehow when I came there I felt so empty.
I started out listening to music because of the album art. I remember finding music by going to shops or the internet. I would see the coolest art ever and Think, “This is going to be a good record.”
Was it always the plan to release both of the EPs within a year of each other?
Almost. I think I was supposed to put it out earlier last year, but I didn’t really have all that I needed at that moment, especially musically. We moved it back, and it became almost a year from the first EP, which is perfect.
There’s a very cinematic and stylish flair to your videos, so would you say that the visual aspect is just as important as the music is?
Oh yeah, definitely. I started out listening to music because of the album art. I remember finding music by going to shops or the internet. I would see the coolest art ever and think, “This is going to be a good record.” Usually it is, sometimes it would be shit, but at least it had good album art. It’s super important for me. It’s the first thing you see when you listen to music, it should co-exist. Having an album art that represents the music you’re making, it explains a lot to your audience. That’s where the fun begins, when you get on that road you try to make this world inside your head. You want people to see what you were thinking of when you were making this music.
So have you been working on an album at the same time as these projects?
I’ve always been working on an album, but the idea production starts with me and I have some people over to come over and help with it, put it on a bigger plate. It’s finding the sound for me, but for right now EPs work for me. I get to make shorter projects, a collection of songs. When I do an album I want to sit down and do the album. Eventually it will come. For now, this year, I will be putting out a lot of material. Next year might be my album.