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Romero: An Exhilarating and Commanding Burst of Golden Power Pop

Call it chance, but the Naarm/Melbourne power pop band Romero are red-hot right now. Last April, the five-piece released their long-awaited debut album, Turn It On!, an album of nitro-fueled intensity that refuses to keep its foot off the pedal with its dueling yet complimentary guitar-play and hard-edged pop melodies. Ahead of their sold out show with indie rock heroes Pavement in March, we caught up with guitarist Fergus Sinclair to dive deep into Romero's early days, how the debut album came to be, and their magical run.

Photo by Izzie Austin

Call it chance, but the Naarm/Melbourne power pop band Romero are red-hot right now. Since forming in 2018, they've been hand-picked to open for heavy hitters like Sheer Mag and Twin Peaks, while at the same time, still very much embedded in the Naarm/Melbourne underground rock scene. Back in April, the five-piece released their long-awaited debut album, Turn It On!, through Cool Death (AUS) and Feel it Records (US). The debut LP comes on the heels of two successful singles released in 2020 — the sold out double A-side "Honey" / "Neapolitan" and "Troublemaker" and a head-turning performance at the final Maggot Fest, which showcased the early glimpses of some of Australia's best bands right now including weirdo punk mutants Gee Tee, ferocious hardcore punks Future Suck, and scrappy garage-janglers Possible Humans. Turn It On! is jam-packed with punchy heavy-hearted classics and the nitro-fueled intensity — it's the music for future hook-slingers and jangle-mongers.

Led by frontwoman Alanna Oliver's heart-pounding energy and shining vocals, Romero is all about big hooks and anthemic choruses. Turn It On! is loaded with reference points to cheeky power pop classicists like Nick Lowe, the high energy of Thin Lizzy, and the rapid-fire simplicity of Blondie. While Oliver leads the charge, she is backed by the dual guitar work and crunchy power chords of Fergus Sinclair and Adam Johnstone and the adrenaline-heavy rhythm pocket of bassist Justin "Murry" Tawil and drummer Dave Johnstone. Mastered by Mikey Young (Power Supply, Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring) and recorded with Andrew 'Idge' Hehir at Soundpark Studios in Northcote, Turn It On! is an album that refuses to keep its foot off the pedal. Its sharp production catapults the dueling yet complimentary guitar-play and glammy first-class power pop melodies to the very front. Across the punk-laced opener, "Talk About It," Oliver's voice cuts through the swooping guitar lines and driving rhythms like a siren. The jagged double-guitar attack on "Happy Hour" and "Honey" straddles both the melodic guitar lines and early swagger of The Strokes. On the snappy title track, her shining verses are punctured by a strutting guitar line and a clattering cowbell that'll make your speakers rattle. When this track was initially released last winter, Oliver said in the press release, "I was watching a Debbie Harry documentary and one of the quotes was. 'She just gets on stage and she turns it on.' As soon as I heard this I paused it and started writing. The lyrics flowed effortlessly. It was such a simple idea to channel that inner power. When I sing this song, I am now a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it."

While the songs here are purely optimistic, they deal with endlessly restarting, pondering over the unsaid, resisting controlling forces in a deteriorating relationship, and the emotional strain of uncertainty. For example, "Neapolitan" uses the triple-layer ice cream as a metaphor to describe an emotional rollercoaster, while "Petals" is an air-pounding anthem with its lacerating, frenzied guitars that boosts Oliver's most triumphant wail. Meanwhile pop ballads like "Halfway Out The Door" and "White Dress" shows that the band has more up their sleeves than fast tunes and frenetic guitar melodies. The album closes out with "Things They Don't Tell You," whose spiky song structure and cutting guitars repel you while the eminently rumbling rhythms draw you in — reminiscent of the unabashed rock 'n' roll of The Exploding Hearts, Royal Headache, and The Boys. Romero's not reinventing the wheel here nor are they trying to be revivalists for some cultural shift — their style is the embodiment of pure rock 'n' roll. To explore this further, we caught up with Sinclair to discuss the band's early days, how the debut album came to be, and their magical run.

Paperface Zine: Take me through the origins of Romero. How did you form and did you have a specific vision when coming together in 2018?

Fergus Sinclair: Funnily enough, the beer garden of the late night dive called The Old Bar on Johnston Street here in Naarm/Melbourne was a key piece for two important interactions that created Romero. It was where brothers Dave and Adam were first introduced to Alanna through a mutual friend and it was also where Dave first asked me if I wanted to come in and have a jam with those three along with Justin. We were all growing rather disinterested with what we were doing musically at the time and wanted to start something completely fresh and exciting. We had a couple of punk and power pop reference points to start off with, but also didn't try to force anything with our visions for the band. Just wanted to immediately start writing and jamming while allowing things to happen naturally.

PZ: What's the significance of the name Romero?

FS: We probably had about four or five demos finished before we settled on Romero as a name. Dave insisted that he had it and was telling us for weeks that it was "the one." It took an hour long power-point presentation on the significance, vibe, and importance of the name "Romero" for us to all agree that there were no other options.

PZ: Take me through the lineup of Romero. What's something special that each member brings to the table?

FS: Alanna's incredible knowledge of power groups, Spector-leaning '60s soul and always coming through with huge sounding recommendations, hilarious storytelling with great jokes to boot. No Kayo subscription. Justin has astounding knowledge of the NHL on top of a deep love for the complexly beautiful Bill Withers/Marvin Gaye arrangements and anything with a good groove from those eras. Pretty good jokes. Rangers Fan. Dave is a dynamite Johnny Rotten impersonator paired with an encyclopedic fascination for the artist formerly known as Prince. Master of the tub hitting trade. Great jokes. Lives with Alanna so also No Kayo Subscription. Adam does the best Tim Armstrong impersonation on planet earth. Huge licks and a big appreciation for Honky Tonk, but is a punk at heart. Pretty good jokes. Sharks Fan. And I guess for me, I have vast knowledge of meaningless shit with a preference for Zamrock, Afrobeat and power pop. Quick to recommend Australian films at any opportunity. Takes three hours to tell an okay joke. Grizzlies tragic.

Photo by Izzie Austin

PZ: Since releasing your debut 7" in 2020, how have you grown as a five-piece since then?

FS: We all matured individually through the lockdowns and then collectively through the regular experiences of a band through more releases, tours and the like which took a lot longer than what we originally had intended. It's just good to get the pressure and stress off finally releasing our full-length.

PZ: What usually inspires you to start writing?

FS: We all write quite a lot individually. Not always for Romero specifically but are always trying to demo something and have ideas on the go for momentum's sake. Then when we finally get a chance to write collectively and further flesh out some of these ideas, the energy is always huge as soon as we get in there. As far as inspirations go for the literal writing, that all comes from various places really. A good song, a good film, any life affirming experience, a long period without it.

PZ: Your debut album, Turn It On!, is loaded with big hooks and anthemic choruses, especially on "Talk About It" and the title track. What was the recording process like for it and were there any challenges due to Naarm/Melbourne's lengthy lockdown?

FS: The pandemic definitely threw us a couple of challenges and meant that tracking and mixing took a lot longer than what we originally intended. The whole thing was back in 2019 when we recorded five tracks with Idge at Soundpark Studios. We scrapped two of them whereas "Honey," "Neapolitan" and "Troublemaker" all came out in 2020 and pretty much remained the same as what is heard on the LP. We then started tracking the rest of the record around August of 2020 where we were actually thrown out of the studio due to a Stage 4 Lockdown being called when we had another weeks worth of tracking booked. Those months out of the studio probably allowed us some more time to think and expand on some parts that perhaps weren't working as well and ensured that they were all nailed once we did finally get back into the studio. We mixed the whole thing with Idge at Soundpark for the first four to five months of 2021 before we called a wrap and had it mastered by Mikey Young in July.

Photo by Nick Nolan

PZ: Were there any songs that turned out completely different from their initial idea? I read that more songs here began as ballads.

FS: Pretty much every song on the record experienced multiple interpretations and re-arrangements when we were writing. "Turn It On!" and "Crossing Lines" for example were both originally conceived by Alanna at her piano at home and have ended up being our most rocking and glam-heavy tracks on the record. "Honey" and "White Dress" are perhaps the two exceptions where they pretty much remained untouched from their original demos.

PZ: Any favorite memories from the recording sessions?

FS: Probably when Lana was giving it her all on a vocal take and leant backwards on a woolen soundbeam that dominoed downwards where it hit a key on one of the Wurtlitzer's at Soundpark Studios. Everyone in the control room was clapping and woo-ing before she realized and had to awkwardly break the news to Idge who was thankfully very understanding.

PZ: How did you get connected with Sam Richardson of Feel it Records for album's U.S. release?

FS: We've been long admires of the incredible Feel It catalog that features some of our favorite modern day bands like The Cowboys, Sweeping Promises, Smirk, The Toms, the Days Of A Quiet Sun compilation and so much more. We began chatting with Sam ever when Cool Death put out the "Honey" / "Neapolitan" single in 2020. He's always done an incredible job distro-ing Oz bands in the states and really helped us out a lot over there with the debut single. He was keeping tabs with where we were at with the full-length throughout the pandemic and it all made sense once it came down to the crunch. It really is a crazy fucking honor and privilege to be a part of both the Feel It and Cool Death roster.

Photo by Kaitlyn Hickey

PZ: What's the energy been like translating these songs live?

FS: Took us a really long time to play them all in full, but when we pretty much played the whole album in full at our first gig back from the 2020 lockdowns, it was absolutely crazy and has been a hell of a lot of fun since. The reception during our shows in Regional Victoria was the most flattering since the LP came out.

PZ: Last fall, you embarked on a UK and European tour which included a stop at the Pitchfork Music Festival in London. What was that tour like for you?

FS: Europe/UK tour was wild! so many varieties of ham in the UK! We met a lot of extraordinary people and played some awesome venues along the way. Definitely can't wait to play some more shows in London/Paris again as we met a lot of great people and some intercontinental Feel It family in the form of Qlowski which was super special. I think Still being extremely jet-jagged and then stepping out to a packed out room for a festival in Amsterdam was the most surreal experience of our lives. I was actually desperate to catch a premier league match whilst we were over there before the World Cup break and I had bought tickets to Newcastle at Southampton (long-time Geordie supporter here) before realizing that we would actually be on the road at the time of the kick-off. We were supporting Bodega in Southampton the night before the match and I made an announcement on stage that I was looking to offload the tickets and was immediately swamped as soon as we stepped off stage and was continually harassed for the rest of the night. Thankfully the tickets were sold, but was shattered to miss a massive 3-0 road win for the toon!

PZ: Last summer, you opened for post-punk giants Parquet Courts when they came through and played The Forum and in March, you will be opening for Pavement! How huge has this been for you guys?

FS: Parquet shows in Melbourne have always been memorable dating way back when Total Control and Constant Mongrel supported them at The Corner Hotel in 2014 perhaps??? A night which Andrew Savage referenced on stage at one point which was awesome. They also once played an outdoor show at the most prestigious university in the country with an equally bangin' lineup (Terry, Tyrannamen, Ausmuteants). The uni had a whole bunch of undergrads patrolling the campus in high-vis trying to kick punks off campus for smoking which backfired (pardon all puns). Loads of people were stealing drinks from the bar and the night ended with me trying to talk a friend out of throwing an empty bottle of champagne at his best friend's ex's new partner. The forum show was just most special for the fact that we had our brother Adam on lead guitar with us. He hasn't been in the best of health since our record came out, but soldiered on through like the champion he is. Pavement are a band that have been a major part of all of our lives for so so long, playing with them will feel just as surreal I'm sure.

PZ: Aside from opening for Pavement, what else is on the table for Romero in 2023?

FS: 2022 was a hell of a year. Taxing, tolling, draining, beautiful and exhilarating. We're definitely taking some time to re-charge physically and mentally before tackling record number two. I spent a lot of time in the tour van listening and re-discovering TVP's, Kath Bloom and lost Swell Maps recordings/demos. Energies that I'm channeling into a solo record which will hopefully see some daylight before the year is out. We played a few new tracks on tour which we will hopefully convert into a 7" pretty soon too.

Turn It On! is out now through Cool Death and Feel It Records.


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