Since they arrived in Bucharest on Thursday, before their concert tonight at the Hard Rock Cafe, I’ve managed to have a bit of a talk with Jerome Reuter and Eric Becker – more to the point, ROME as an acoustic duo. We spoke about Coriolan, their newest release, the upcoming full-length album coming out at the end of the summer, but also about living as an artist, musical and linguistical influences and the creative process behind the music.
ROME will accompany byron on the Acoustic Melange Tour on April 8 at the Hard Rock Cafe in Bucharest, on April 9 in Iași at the Underground Pub and on April 10 in Bacău at Valhalla Pub.
To start with something very recent, I’ve listened to Coriolan, which came out on April 1st. It’s really not where I was expecting you to go, musically.
What did you expect?
Well, I’m not very well acquainted with A Passage to Rhodesia, I’ve only just really sunk my teeth into the trilogy (Die Aesthetik der Herrschaftsfreiheit), ‘cause you’re so prolific, but Coriolan felt like you were revisiting some of your older musical roots.
It’s old stuff, and it’s also new. There are these passages that are almost garage rock, that goes back into the past even further away than ROME. I started out in bands like that, basically. So I had these songs and they wouldn’t fit anywhere and so I sort of came up with this concept, I wrote around it; I had all these songs but they didn’t have any lyrics, so the lyrics ended up all centered around this Coriolanus theme. Musically, though, it was all over the place. You have like post-punk stuff, ballads, then these industrial loops, and it’s sort of okay to do these things on an EP ‘cause you can just fool around. It was just fun. And everybody knows the story of Coriolanus, so these are basically six moods of that story that I felt inclined to sing about.
On Rhodesia and other records, especially on the Trilogy, I put a lot of effort into it being like a story from start to finish. The trilogy is basically three separate albums, for me, each with a start and an end and a sort of dynamic curve around those two parts. All of that, times three. And still they reference each other. And I did sort of the same thing with Rhodesia, there was a lot of thought put into how I was going to tell the story. I tried to approach it somewhat in a similar way to the trilogy, where there were a lot of samples and spoken word stuff in between the actual songs. But then I thought I was just repeating myself, so I cut out all the industrial parts and put it out as a bonus album.
So would you say Coriolan was more fun to make, musically?
Yeah, I just didn’t care, I was just going to throw in a bunch of great songs that I liked and link them with this theme. It sort of felt like a punk rock thing to do. We also had a year off, and we were busy touring, so this was basically like an EP to get the engines running. And so now we have finished the new album, which is due for release in August, and things are going to start up again.
Keeping with Coriolan and the whole Shakespearian theme, I read in a recent interview that you were into theater a while back.
Yeah, I was born into that, ‘cause my father directed this youth drama group, so ever since I was like 5 or 6 I went on the road with him. He was part of these international festivals around Europe and they would go play there; my mom was involved there too, so basically they packed up the kids in the car and go on the road. So Shakespeare and Brecht and all these other people were household names to me, and there would always be the discussions in the basement about productions, and the plays, and how to adapt… so that theater world was always close to me, I was born into it.
Then I started playing, myself, when I was a teenager; I was never a professional actor but at the end of it all, which was shortly before ROME, I was involved in a few plays where it sort of became more professional. But then I had to decide – was I going to go into acting, or would I pursue music? I’ve always been in bands and a part of both worlds… So that one year, it was 2005, I was in three major plays where I even had a leading role and I didn’t do any music – except in December when I started ROME. The other band I was in was falling apart and I didn’t know what to do; it felt like I had to do music, not as a career, just for me. So I went into the studio and that’s how ROME came about. During that year, doing only theater, I realized that I was really missing the music, I couldn’t do without it. But I could do without the acting. I do miss it a little bit, I haven’t been active as an actor ever since, for more than 10 years, but now I’m on stage all the time and there’s a little bit of acting there, too, though obviously not to the same degree.
I saw the full band live last year in Control and it gave me a very rock’n’roll vibe; now you’re playing a trio of acoustic sets as a two-piece. How do you perceive the difference?
It’s an evolution. When I started ROME it was a studio solo project, and then gradually it became a thing to perform live so I started using backing tracks and it was always a bit like a half-playback show. Then gradually it became a real band, and it was a natural thing for us to pick the songs that made most sense with the almost traditional rock band setup. Right now we have this very post-punk vibe about it, and it’s fun.
And you, Eric, I understand you’re pretty new in the world of ROME. How did it happen?
Eric: I play in this other band, called The Barcodes, which is basically straight up rock’n’roll, and I also have a company that’s building amps, that’s how I met Jerome. We built their amps for their last tour. Then I was playing with Patrick, the bass player, in a surf band, and he told me Jerome was thinking about getting a guitarist, would I maybe be interested? I was definitely interested, it was a great opportunity. And it is very challenging, there’s a great complexity to it. As Jerome says, it’s music that you can play now, then you play the same songs in 60 years and they won’t get old.
Jerome, last year you played some shows in the States. To me, ROME has a distinctly European vibe; how would you say your music was received on the other side of the ocean?
Very well, and because of that – because we don’t sound like an American band. In Northern Europe you’re pretty interesting if you have a flamenco band, whereas if you go to Spain they’re not really interested, they know how to do that. There’s always been a scene for that sort of music in the States, a lot of influential bands have come from there, and I think what ROME does is pretty much mixing all these influences; it is very European, but at the same time when it comes to certain influences the American input is certainly strong. I was born in ’81, I’m an MTV kid and that’s what we grew up with, the radio was full of American bands, and some British ones, so that’s what you were fed. And it’s become ingrained in my generation, you can’t take that away, for best or for worse. Of course I have many European influences, Jacques Brel, the chanson, the European folk tradition, and that’s in there as well. But there’s a blend between the both worlds – that’s how I feel about it, at least.
Coming back to Coriolan for a bit, I noticed there’s one song, “Der Krieg”, in which we hear you sing in German for the first time, if I’m not mistaken.
Yeah, I had done some spoken words, like in the trilogy, but the official language has always been English. This is the first time that I wrote lyrics in German. It just sort of happened; the words came to me, and I thought I would have a German verse, or maybe a chorus. Then I realized I had to stick to German for the whole song, it made more sense that way. I can’t really say why, it just felt right. There’s some parts of ROME that are very well thought out, where I put a lot of effort into research, but there are other parts where I just want to have fun with it. I’ve read that people like the German song, and it’s tricky, because when you change the language it changes everything. Language is key to everything – even if you use the same setup, musically, it’s a completely different identity. It’s fascinating. There was this theme that was just distinctively German to me, and the words kept coming; there was no way of me transposing that for the English speaking world, because it just doesn’t make sense to the same degree.
I read an older interview of yours and you said something that really stuck out to me, about this balance between light and darkness and how only through deep darkness can you actually see the light.
Well, people might ask you, like, “why don’t you sing about flowers and make a disco track? Think the happy thoughts!” I actually am! But in order to get that sort of light, that sort of happiness, you have to come from the darker side. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense to me. Also, this comes into life; I’ve met a lot of bands in my time, now, some of them heavy, metal bands, dark stuff like that. And all these people are very light-hearted. I would say, the darker the music, the brighter the people. People know how to appreciate the light more ‘cause they know where they’re coming from. People who only like the light side of things, they will never get into ROME, and that’s fair enough; I’m just not that kind of guy.
To wrap things up looking forwards, you said something about a new album coming out in August. And it will probably not sound like Coriolan does, from what you’re telling me.
Jerome (to Eric): How does the new album sound?
Eric: I would say it’s a little more open. People might find it a bit more accessible, maybe people who don’t yet know the band.
Jerome: We’ve broadened the horizons a little bit, and this might be a good side-effect. But it’s still dark. Like with Flowers, it was heavy stuff, but it was very sunny too. This is different though, with this one there are straight-up songs that are tinged in some darker matter, but they’re going to be great live songs. I had some songs, some of them I played live, and I didn’t know what to do with them. Then I had some more of them and I said that this is going to be an album of that sort of stuff. But they’re all different.
Last year we had our 10 years anniversary, and the original idea was to prepare a best-of release with some bonus tracks, like people do. And then I realized that it was going to be a lot of work to make that thing interesting and to find reasons for people to buy it, being mostly old stuff. So we decided against it. We did end up doing an Anthology, which is simply a collection of songs for everyone who wants to get into the band, as it also represented what we were doing live. We did that, but there was still this energy to do a best-of release. So I said, let’s do a best-of, but with all-new material. It’s just an album of great songs that I really like. We’ve now recorded most of them, but I’ve recorded some other stuff too.
There’s always something in the works. I get bored easily, and seriously, I like the work. I’ve always been that way and it wasn’t for the sake of success; actually, career-wise, I’ve done a lot of bad moves just because I was writing and I wanted to get rid of it by releasing it in order to be able to write more. I can’t have all these things lying on my desk at the same time! The label would tell me, “Are you sure you want to release a triple record right after your fifth album in five years?” And I say yeah, they can listen to it when I’m dead. And that might happen pretty soon. Here comes the sunny side (laughs). But you have to enjoy life while you have it, and to me working on things is exhilarating. Once it’s recorded, I lose interest. I’ve already moved on to the next thing, now; when people ask me about Coriolan that’s ages ago to me. I’ve done my peace treaty with it a while ago. And as long as I feel like I have something to say, I’ll try and do that.