Following the release of his debut album Empire, we caught an interview with musician and songwriter Roman to find out more about the project, his thoughts on creativity, and his plans for the future. Here’s how it went.
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Hi Roman. Thanks for your time today, and congratulations on the album release – fantastic songwriting, a pleasure to discover.
Thanks so much. That means a lot!
Empire is your debut album, though from what I can gather you’re no stranger to making music. Did you have the album name in mind for quite some time, and is there any connection between the implication made by those two words as a collective idea?
I have been waiting my whole life to make this album. I had tried in the past to start the project, looking for the right producers, recording here and there, and it just never felt right. From as early as I can remember I wanted to be a singer/songwriter but it never seemed like a goal I could achieve. It always seemed too massive of a goal to pull off. Who am I as an artist? What is my sound? What are the stories I want to tell through songwriting?
I had had a lot of life experience built up and a lot of stories to tell and so it finally seemed like the right time to approach this project. I had written the song Empire and knew I was going to record it for the debut. When it came time to pick a name for my album I felt like Empire was right. I had amassed all of this experience and the final product felt like something I owned. It felt powerful next to my name. It was making a statement out of the gate.
You say the album is a collection or expression of personal experiences. Does it feel therapeutic for you to write in this way, and is the feeling intensified when you release it to the world? How does it feel to have this personal project being heard by people everywhere?
Writing from personal experience is the only way I know how to write. Songs are journal entries for me. I know I’m going through something emotional when a song appears in my life. It’s totally therapeutic as I’ve come to realize that there’s something I’m not dealing with on the surface when a song appears and while I’m working out the lyrics but it is a cathartic process. I ask myself ‘what are you trying to convey emotionally about your feelings regarding this situation?’ And although there are stories behind each one of my songs, I do want listeners to find THEIR own experiences within my music and allow my songs to become personal anthems for whatever experience the music brings to their lives.
I try not to think about what impact my music has on world. Music is so personal and individualized. We all have that go-to song because it evokes emotions. That experience has nothing to do with me.
Are there any songs on the album that you particularly feel connected to – that get to you emotional when you perform them live, for example?
Boy From Salt Lake and U-ME = 0 are extremely personal for me. They represent an extremely personal experience for me and it feels good to be able to musically tell those stories without revealing specifics. They bring a certain bit of satisfaction.
How did you come to write Saints, and what does it mean to you?
I have an unexplained emotional connection with New Orleans. My soul has never felt more grounded and at home than in NYC and NOLA – complete opposites in every way possible. When I’m not in the studio recording music I work as a news producer – another fantastic way to tell stories.
After the great deluge hit New Orleans I became obsessed with stories about Katrina and read everything I could get my hands on. One story that haunted me was about the last murder before Katrina hit. A man named Tracy Bridges was killed for what seems like no reason at all. He was trying to do better in his life and as he was packing to meet his family before the storm when someone shot and killed him. They didn’t steal anything, not his wallet and not his music equipment. Here he was, killed right before the storm, his family not even able to mourn him as they had to pack up and leave the city, the crime scene just washed away.
New Orleans is a gorgeous, magical city but it also has a dangerous side. It has extreme poverty and gang violence. The black population, despite being the cultural pulse of that city, are so unfairly treated there. I wanted to write a song about Tracy and the gun violence that plagues the city. I played off the famous When The Saints Go Marching In and tried to convey the pain the city is in. Tracy Bridges is still a cold case. The opening line in the song is a direct quote from Bridges friend Emmett Dabon. He told the reporter: ‘In New Orleans, it don’t take much to lose your life.’
How do you generally begin when writing a new song?
There is no process for me. Songs just come to me. Usually when I’m alone, biking, walking or driving – a lot when I’m stuck in traffic. I could never actually sit down and say ‘Ok, I’m writing a song today.’ I would immediately get writer’s block. Songs appear out of nowhere. Thank god for cell phones. If I didn’t have a device that could immediately record a song as it appears I would lose them all.
You describe your music as alt-country-rock. It’s a fair representation, though there’s so much variation and so many levels of musical influence throughout the album. Who inspired you the most when writing these songs, both musically and personally, and who are some of the artists or bands that have always been a go-to for you?
I have such a variety. I really wanted to find a way to combine all these amazing artists that have inspired me and inject them into my sound. Growing up I was obsessed with the Carpenters, Paul McCartney, Elton John and the Stones. Eventually pop found its way into my life and artists like Madonna, Prince and George Michael ruled my earphones. I learned to really appreciate jazz on trips to New Orleans so you will also hear influences of Professor Longhair and Dr. John creep into my work. And of course I love country music so Garth and even Sam Hunt – whom I really think captures the new sound of alt-country beautifully.
If you had to choose one song by another writer, from throughout time, that you felt you yourself could have written – which would it be, and why?
Good question! Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It’s an emotional song. Probably not at this stage of my career but in ten years look out for my Hallelujah!
Your music has the sort of energy and sound that makes listeners likely to crave a live show. How important is live music to you, will you be touring soon, and if so – what can people expect from a live performance?
I would love to do more live tours. I am not very good at playing the guitar live. I try and I’m still taking lessons but I struggle with it and I want to be better. I do have to rely on other musicians for live performances and a band takes money. I believe that artists should be paid for their work.
I am teaming up with some musicians here in NYC and we are going to be doing some more live shows soon. I just have to find the right musicians and that is taking time.
What are your hopes for the future?
Well I hope more people are exposed to my music. Despite the luxury of the internet, as an independent artist it takes a lot more work to get your music in front of people.
I hope to be working on a second album before year’s end. And definitely looking to shoot some more videos for Empire.
Is there anything else you’d like to let people know?
You can find more information about me as an artist on my Website and go ahead and like my Insta and Facebook pages to keep track of where I’ll be and what’s happening next!
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