It’s time to start getting excited, Dear Reader. We’re just a few months out from the unofficial start of our summer festival season. That May Day Bank Holiday weekend means one thing – Live At Leeds. Packed with (literally) hundreds of the best new bands on the planet, it sees one of the country’s most vibrant creative cities turned into a mecca of buzz, hype and awesome live music.
To celebrate, we’re holding a special Live At Leeds takeover. Over the course of the day (28th January 2020, in case you’re coming to this late – Ed), we’ll be bringing you all kinds of stuff from and about the acts playing this year’s event. If you’re going, it’ll help you plan out those all-important spreadsheets. If you’ve not yet picked up your tickets – well, what are you waiting for? You can grab ’em here, right now.
“I’m not in anything I want to get out of,” says Stella Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’ infamous play A Streetcar Named Desire. The acceptance of, and succumbing to being in a favourable scenario is something that resonates with Hampshire-based trio Drug Store Romeos, who take their name from the aforementioned play. What would eventually become the mellifluous sound of the future started off as a hardcore punk band called The Imbeciles. Jonny and Charlie – who play drums and guitar respectively – met while in Year 9 at school. After three and a half years playing gigs to “45-year-old punk men and women” the pair decided that they wanted to be more serious about being in a band.
Following the conscious effort to listen to bands that were more “relevant to their age group” Jonny and Charlie quit their punk band, and by not wanting to completely isolate themselves from the world of music, put up an advert on their college Facebook group in search of a bassist. In a wondrous twist of fate, their advert was answered by vocalist Sarah who by her own admission wasn’t even a bassist: “I didn’t actually play bass at that time, but I really wanted to start making music with people, so I just said yeah.” Emphasising how natural their musical connection was, Sarah adds: “I bought a bass and me and Charlie were up until [the] early hours sharing music. Then we met in the IT suite, and the rest is history!”
Taking inspiration from the soundscapes of Bowery Electric, Portishead, and Broadcast; Drug Store Romeos coin their distinctly hypnogogic sound as “dream pop trip-hop”. The term is something that the band feel is most reflective of their debut single ‘Now You’re Moving’ – a spectre of fleeting sounds that draw you into a meditative state. What is the reason in creating a new genre to define their sound? Sarah explains that the band have “always been about making something new and not [trying to] conform to a genre. When someone asks what kind of music you are, it’s an impossible thing to answer so having a phrase like that – even though it doesn’t correlate completely to all our music – is to allow something to create its own meaning.”
Charlie adds: “I think trip-hop is an underutilised style in music because there are a few trip-hop bands like Portishead and Bowery Electric, but I think there is a massive hole where bands could use that drum style and the [same] kind of atmosphere, but use it [to make] like a three-minute pop version.” He continues, “A lot of our songs aren’t trip-hop really, so maybe it was a bit bold to put trip-hop in the title. We might back step from that.” In a kind of defiance and sticking to the roots of how she joined the band in a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ kind of attitude, Sarah adds: “It sounds like a genre, so we’ve just got to make it.”
While there is serendipitous energy that radiates from Drug Store Romeos, there is also a juxtaposing consideration that follows everything they do. Understanding the impact of cause and effect, and how you cannot undo something once it is done was instrumental in the decision not to release a single for the three years that they were becoming well versed in London’s live circuit. Jonny explains how their road-testing method would sometimes be to the detriment of newer songs: “Whenever we would write a new song that we would really like, we would put it in the live set. It kind of represented our sound at the time. Life was changing, and the sound was morphing quite a lot, and so six months down the road we would be like ‘okay, we’re a different band now’.”
“We kind of [understood] the impact of realising that you can’t take back your first thing, your first impression, so it took us a while to be [at the point where] we’re happy for more than six months of this version being our first impression to the world.” It comes as no surprise then, that none of the band members are regretful about taking their time with the debut single. Instead, flowing with the mindset of understanding that there are ups and downs with any burst of creativity, but it’s about harnessing them at the right time. “You can get out of that hole, and it just takes that one little tidy melody line and all of a sudden you’re like ‘Ah! I’m a creator; I’m an artist; this is my passion’, and then you do two bad melody lines, and you’re like ‘nope, I am just a pile of crap’.”
To those who are hearing of Drug Store Romeos for the first time, it would be an easy mistake to assume that they are still in the toddler stages of their musical careers. In actuality, they’ve already had quite the ride. From cutting their teeth at The Five Bells in New Cross, to being the wedding band for a certain Breaking Bad actor – they’ve already played a plethora of gigs. But the most interesting of them all? A nursery. Charlie’s mum invited the band into her classroom of two-year-old children, so that they could perform a post-punk rendition of ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ allowing the children to participate via a microphone that was hooked up to a delay pedal, and try their tiny hands at the instruments afterwards. (Yes, reader, they gave us a snippet of what it was like, and yes, it is just as magnificently bizarre as you’re imagining.)
Charlie describes Drug Store Romeos as an “abstract, playful band”. The kind of people that “think it’s important that every day you look outside and think ‘well, I’m alive!’ and then everything you see, you’re kind of appreciative of and excited by.” Given that their supergroup would consist of Alex G on drums, Henry Rollins playing the harp, Skrillex shaking maracas through a distortion pedal, and Beyoncé on bass, it’s safe to say that they have quite the eccentric imaginations.
From sucking on pebbles, to plant consciousness, and an apocalypse at the hands of a satsuma-wielding child; there is nothing you can throw at Drug Store Romeos that isn’t met with a side-splittingly insightful reply – because beneath the mysticism and otherworldly demeanour, is just three friends who have concerted plans to make great music, and have a laugh all at the same time. Now that their first single is done and dusted, they definitely won’t be making us wait another three years for a taste of something new. There are plans for an EP, and the trio are keeping their fingers crossed for some headline tour dates. Drug Store Romeos took their time in releasing their synesthetic sound into the ether, but now they’re moving, it’s going to be hard for them to stop…
Words: Tyler Damara Kelly