There’s so much music out there but there’s also so much music that isn’t out there because musicians are overthinking it
Arriving in Melbourne moments before the swing of Covid-19 hit Australia, Romanie has managed to create and sustain a name for herself in the scene with her acoustic story telling. Rom’s music is light and airy, and always manages to give me a breather in the middle of overwhelming days. It was so lovely sitting down with her (in person!!!!) and chatting about her journey
I am loving hearing your music with more than just guitar!
I really feel like I’m ready for a band now!
It’s just so beautiful to hear all this extra expression in your music. Solo guitar and voice is really powerful but I think it just brings all this extra colour with all these new elements in the music. Has it been fun to explore that?
Yeah! I feel like when I was doing my first EP, I just needed to get everything out of me. I wanted it to be just me and nothing else because I didn’t want to be on stage alone if my music had all these other instruments- I didn’t want to feel like a fraud. I just wanted to have me and my guitar. That was something I was really struggling with. I think at the time it was a good decision because it has led me to new opportunities, which I probably wouldn’t have gotten without the EP, but I don’t think I would put something that raw out into the world again. I’m really proud of the new music. I feel like it’s me changing my sound, changing my personality, the country that I live in. So yeah, I’m very excited.
I know how it feels when you put something out and then you change so much and wonder if you should scrub your profile clean again. It’s a hard balance because you want to have stuff out so people can listen to it, but we can be so hard on ourselves and feel so negative about past versions of ourselves. But to be honest, your first EP is still great!
I can’t listen to it anymore because I’m like, ‘oh no, what are you doing?!’ But yeah, some people still like it. Like when I’m busking, people buy CDs and seem to like it. I just think I’m now ready for the next thing. Working with James helped me really find my sound, and he also helped me to be patient because I was ready to do a second EP straight away! He said, “No! You need to wait and collaborate and learn more because you’ll only grow” and that’s true
I’m the same, I’m very impatient. I just want to do everything straight away, and it’s not always smart. It’s hard because there’s no formula to do anything
I feel like I’m getting older too, which is silly because I’m only 26! I worried I’m too old for this, you see Billie Eilish being 19, ruling the pop world, I’m like “shit, what have I done?”
I know! It’s so unfair because it doesn’t at all represent the growth that you’ve had.
Yeah, but I’m also so new to everything. I only just had my first proper studio experience, and I’m still learning. I’ve sung in bands before, and written for other people, but when it’s for my own stuff I feel like everything needs to be perfect. I’m a big over-thinker; the overthinking train never stops.
Musicians putting pressure on themselves and overthinking everything feel so inevitable
It’s such a big issue in the music industry. There’s so much music out there but there’s also so much music that isn’t out there because musicians are overthinking it, which is so sad if you think about it! I’m happy that I did put my first EP out. I swapped distributors, and I was thinking of taking it down, and the distributor was like, “I think you should leave it on because it’s part of your journey.” And I’m like, “I hate it!” And he’s like, “I think you should really leave it on because it has 10,000 streams!”
I really enjoyed listening to it and there are heaps of people who listen to it. Two years ago, four years ago, whenever it was when you were creating it, you thought it was great.
I remember I went to the studio and said “here are all the songs I’ve written” and so we recorded nine songs! I had written ‘Burnt’ the day before going into the studio and I was like, “I feel like this is my best song!” Maybe it was, but I didn’t let myself be patient with any of the music. I don’t think you should record anything that you wrote the day before, because it can become so much better if you give it time. I don’t know if the English word is correct but … you have to ‘earth’ your songs, like, you have to grow into them. My songwriting comes out so naturally and sometimes I write a song in two minutes because I feel like it just has to get out, but I always need to grow into them.
Was there an overarching message of the first EP?
Feelings! I had literally written nine songs about my feelings. I had only really been writing music since I was 18, and I stopped when I got rejected from music school. I was like, “I’m never doing music again!” I took a break from it for three years, and then the year before I left Belgium, I started writing again. I remember being so proud that I wrote 6 whole songs in a year, which feels so silly now because I try and write every day! I feel like I used to be so silly, but if you look back to your younger self, you can see how much you’ve grown and that’s something to be proud of
Growth is one of the most important things a musician can go through. I wanted to ask a bit about your transition of moving from Belgium to Australia. Did you find you had much culture shock, or was it pretty easy to come here?
I had lived in Brisbane when I was 18 as a student, but Brisbane is very different to Melbourne. I really wanted to come back to Australia and am so lucky we chose Melbourne. The city has been so welcoming. I’ve lived in Spain for a while, and I moved cities in Belgium, and I always felt like maybe I wanted to live abroad, and this is the first time I actually feel like I could live somewhere for a while.
It definitely was a shock because when I came here everyone was a musician and everyone was so much better than me! I’d ask, “Oh, do you play an instrument?” And then they say like, “Oh yeah, I know a little bit of guitar, but I’m not really good.” And then they’re like frikking Jimi Hendrix! So, yes, I was really overwhelmed and I was like, “maybe I should just give up music!” I felt like it was never going to work out. I always take rejection really personally. If someone says “Oh, now this is shit”, I’ll be sick for days! Which is not a good mindset, because I know there will always be some rejection.
I think that that’s fair enough to feel like that because music is not just a job; It’s your soul. I think when people have an opinion on it, it’s so hard to not take that personally because it’s you
Yeah, I think that’s why I have never put my soul into something with music, which now I have for the first time. I’m scared to put my EP out because it feels so vulnerable. It’s hard to know if what you’re making will be received well by other people, especially when you doubt yourself so much already. That’s why I love Melbourne, all the musicians are so supportive and people embrace you and what you make. I feel like everyone believes in each other and gives each other the space to grow
I agree, it’s so encouraging how supportive people have been and how much people want to lift each other up.
I noticed in ‘City Lights’, you had this lyric,
Your name is on the list,
you just play the waiting game
I wanted to ask about writing because that’s a play-on-words in English, have you found it hard to learn how to write like that when English is not your native language?
I actually always look out for those things, and I feel like it’s getting easier because I’m hearing and reading so much English now that I’m living in an English-speaking country. I’ll always look out for those kinds of things, and I always like to play with the words, especially because I’m not native. I feel like I can’t just say ‘I love you’, I need to say, ‘I adore you’. I do feel like there’s extra pressure on me because I’m not English. I want to write with double meaning, and that’s hard in English because sometimes I don’t even know what the double meaning is! I also like having the production work with the lyrics too, like for one of my songs I wanted to have a heartbeat because it’s about mental illness, and at the end of the song the heartbeat needs to stop
Would you ever write in Dutch?
I’ve never written something in Dutch; I’ve written one song in Dutch and I write poems sometimes, but I’ve never really written in Dutch
Why do you think that is? Why haven’t you wanted to write a song in Dutch?
I feel like it’s really weird, but it feels like I can express myself through music better in English. In Dutch I have a very heavy accent. The town where I’m from has a really heavy accent, so I can’t speak proper Dutch. I would have to sing in my dialect, which no one would understand anyway! I feel like lyrics are so important, So I write in English because I could reach that broader audience. I feel like the ultimate goal of a songwriter is to be heard, so if a bazillion people speak English, I would 100 times choose that over West Flemish! Which, of course, I know some great songwriters that are writing in my dialect, but it feels too limiting for me
I’m just always so impressed with people who are singing in their second language. It just blows my mind. I feel like I can barely write good songs in English!
Sometimes I have to look things up, and I have a thesaurus and a dictionary, but I’m starting to think in English, which is amazing. My dreams are in English now too!
Do you translate what you were saying from Dutch to English when you’re writing?
Yeah, I tend to do that with things that I find particularly beautiful in a phrase in Dutch. Then I translate I don’t even know if it’s a concept in English, so sometimes I do doubt myself because I’m literally translating my ideas. Sometimes the translation helps make my words more poetic, like instead of ‘guinea pig’ I would say ‘test rabbit’ because that makes more sense to me! But now I know that’s just wrong English haha
Did you have a very musical upbringing?
A little bit, but not really. I played the saxophone when I was little because I wanted to be like Lisa Simpson. When I got into music school, I learned you had to go through ten years of classical music in order to get to the jazz section, which I thought was shit. I didn’t practice because I sounded so bad, and my teacher was really annoyed with me because of that! I realised I didn’t like saxophone because I couldn’t sing with it, and I always liked singing. I quit my instrument and music school the year that I moved to Australia, and took a guitar with me. I was in love with ‘Angus and Julia Stone’, which is the reason why I chose Australia after music school! I wanted to go somewhere as far away as possible, which was of course New Zealand, but I thought I should go to Australia because Angus and Julia Stone live there haha! Imagine if I met them, what would I say?
I moved here for you!
Yeah, it’s crazy! But music has always followed me, and I think I’ll always go back to music. I’ve never had any singing classes or guitar classes, so I feel like there’s a big gap in my knowledge about things. I’m trying to catch up, which sounds silly, because there’s no catching up. If you’re a songwriter, I feel like you’re a songwriter forever. I think there’s just technical things that I really don’t know anything about that I need to learn. You just have to try your best, I think that’s the most important
I think the music that you’ve made without lessons or without training is still amazing. I think that shows that you’re naturally a good songwriter and a good musician. Anything that you learn or anything that you work on it just going to expand your songwriting ability. What emotions do you feel like you write with the most?
Sadness, of course. It’s so hard to write happy songs. If you’re happy, I feel like that’s just one emotion. I feel like when I’m sad – like properly sad- then the best songs come.
Yeah, and sadness can mean so many different things
I feel like the main emotion that I write about is insecurity. Writing really helps me process my thoughts. I’m writing for others and for others to relate to my music, but I’m also writing for myself because otherwise I would probably need a very expensive psychologist!
Musicians have to write about their own experiences because I think that’s what makes the music feel so authentic.
And I don’t always write about my direct experience, I wrote ‘City Lights’ about the refugee crisis in Europe. I have not exactly lived through the experience, but I do feel strongly about it. If you read about something in the news, you can be so impacted by it. I will always write from things that I’ve seen or have experienced.
Writing music is such a vulnerable experience. You were saying before that this new music is the most vulnerable you’ve ever been in music. Have you felt much hesitation about some of these songs and some of the lyrics being out in the world?
I feel like I’ve stepped away from that because I want to be a songwriter, and I want to put music out into the world. I made a pact to myself that I’m never going to over explain lyrics anymore because it’s so vulnerable. Some songs are about people in my surroundings, and my boyfriend always says I’m writing shady songs about him, but I never want to over explain or take the magic away
Yeah that’s true, and people like to project their story onto your music, if you explain it too much, you might make it less relatable.
Yeah. Keep things vague. I want to be mysterious! Haha
Do you find that you have to overcome pressure from the industry to be something that you’re not?
I don’t know, I don’t think so. I feel like my thing is to be authentic, and in the beginning when I came here, I was like, “ok, I need to be like this songwriter, and I need to do this in order to get to there”, but now after COVID, I’m like, fuck it. I’m just going to be myself.
I’m just going to try and be as authentic as possible and as honest as possible, I feel like that’s worked so far. If someone in the industry says, “that’s shit”, then I’ll be like, “Ok, well, that’s my personality!” I’m a singer/songwriter, but I’m also just expressing who I am
Is there anything you want to be doing more of with music?
I really want to collaborate more, that’s something I’ve learnt living in Melbourne; if you’re a songwriter, you don’t have to do everything by yourself. The Belgian community is supportive, but not like it is here! Here, everyone goes to each other’s shows and everyone shares people’s music, buys each-other’s merch. Collaboration is such a huge thing that I really want to embrace
Collaboration is such a great way to communicate your emotions with someone else too. What do you think would be your dream collaboration?
Oh, Julia Stone? Writing a song with people that I have grown up listening to and admiring. The insight that you could get and the new ways of songwriting. It’s crazy because I always start from lyrics, and I feel like most people start from a melody. I have 15 books full of lyrics that are ready to become a song, but I don’t know anything about finding a good melody on a request. I like getting inspiration from other songs, and I think collaborating might help with making more progress
Collaboration can definitely help you to vent your own ideas and work with someone else’s strengths. I find it hard to collaborate a lot of the time because I end up just wanting to stick to my own ideas. I think it takes a certain kind of willingness an flexibility
It depends if you’re writing a song for yourself or for them, or something completely new! I think I’m always inclined to write for others, not for my own stuff
Yeah, if I write for others I find it really easy to help and to offer ideas, but if it’s for myself I struggle to give up control
I’m the same, but I want to step away from that because I feel like it’s so good to have other people bringing in their ideas. It makes things so interesting
I want to talk a bit about ‘I’m Anything (But Myself Around You)’. It’s always in my head, it feels so warm and like home. I would love for you to tell me a little bit about what it was like writing this song and what you’re communicating
It actually started from a conversation about racism. I couldn’t get a word in and became really upset that I couldn’t express my disgust and felt like I had to pretend that I was just okay with what the other person had said. And I was done with that. I kind of came up with the line, “I’m anything but myself around you”, but then it got this whole new meaning when I came to Australia. I wanted to call my friends back home, and say that everything’s fine, but I was so fucking scared to start this new life. I don’t want to be a failure, but I also want to express that I’m really insecure and I really want to come back home. In the beginning I was like, “what have I done?” I had everything in Belgium, I had a really nice house, friends and a good network! And now we’re here in a one-bedroom apartment starting completely from scratch. The song came from this one situation, but then morphed into something bigger, which I like a lot more now
I think it’s great when something can take on new meaning as you grow and as you develop
Same with things that we recorded recently, when something critical happens in your life, songs can get another meaning and it’s even more vulnerable because you get double layers of emotions and meanings. That’s what I really like about music, and I feel like I always want to write like this. Some people think it’s about love, and it could be about love to them. I feel like I want to keep things as open as possible. Maybe that’s why I’m writing simple music, if you’re not specific about something, then everyone can take their part and everyone can have their story, which is something I love about music
Music has a lot of subtext as well, you might be feeling all these things, but you only express a part of it.
What do you feel like you’ve learnt since your first EP?
Do not put everything out at once! Sometimes it’s better to wait. I still haven’t fully learnt that because I want to put everything out still right away. I feel like that’s maybe just my personality! I have learnt to resist the need to put things out immediately though. I’m really thinking about what to put out and when. If it wasn’t for James, I would have released ‘I’m Anything (But Myself Around You)’ during lockdown, which would have been a silly mistake. I think I’ve learnt to listen to others, and just let myself grow as much as I can. I feel like I’m learning every day still.
Definitely plenty of mistakes to learn from!
In some ways nothing is a mistake, and I do think that everything happens for a reason. If my song never gets played on the radio again, well, maybe I wasn’t made for radio play and maybe people would hate my song if it was on the radio!
Everyone’s definition of success is different. Things might not happen for you that happen for other people, and you can wonder if it’s because of your music not being good enough, but there’s so many factors that you have no control over.
It’s true! I like to think that there’s space for everyone, but some things are really our of our control.
In terms of new stuff, what are you excited about people hearing?
Oh my God, just everything! Me and my new sound! I’m really excited for people to get to know the new Romanie because I’m really proud of my new stuff. It’s crazy because I would never have thought that I could collaborate in a studio, I never saw myself getting this far, so it’s already such an achievement. I’m very excited, but I’m also a little scared because it’s so vulnerable! Makes me feel so egocentric because it’s all about me!
No, that’s just song writing!
I’m also very excited to play the songs live with a band; I feel like that’s going to be so much fun. I’m always shitting myself when I go on stage by myself and I feel like this will be a great next step to overcome that stage fright
Is there any advice you might have for other emerging artists?
Don’t doubt yourself, there’s so much music out there, but there’s also so much music that needs to be heard. If you like what you’re doing then it’s good enough to put it out! You learn so much from putting yourself out there. My first EP ‘Feelings’ feels so far away from who I am now, but I’m still so proud of myself for having it out there, because at one point I really believed in those songs and recording. I still resonate with the music, so a great thing to release and learn from the past.
How to find Romanie’s music