As a producer with credits that include artists like Lorde, The Gaslight Anthem and Well Wisher, not to mention a newly appointed, full-fledged member of The Front Bottoms, Erik Kase Romero has quite the resume for a kid from New Jersey. With all this on his plate – plus a new baby! – it’d be kind of a miracle to find time to branch out on his own andmake a solo record. Yet, here we are. how to be still and still be here is his debut full-length release, due out in January. A couple weeks ago, Erik dropped the vulnerable pseudo-title track, ‘still’, as the first glimpse into his new world. Our own Rory Graham caught up with Erik via email for a quick chat about the new single, the inspiration behind the new record, and more.
[Rory Graham]: Hi Erik! Thanks for doing this Q&A with The Rodeo. Before we even get to the music, which is wonderful, there’s some even bigger news you’ve recently shared: you’re a new dad! How are things?
[Erik Kase Romero]: Things have been great! Time kind of moves so slowly but somehow also so quickly. She’s gonna be a year old next week and it feels like it flew by! Most importantly she’s healthy and me and my wife couldn’t be happier. Having a baby has given me so many things to think about… Existential stuff. The idea of giving and expecting nothing in return is really incredible to begin to unpack and experience.
[RG]: You describe yourself as a “humble punk kid from Central Jersey” – could you tell us more about your identity as a musician? Naturally, artists are always growing, so how has your identity changed during the making of this solo album?
[EKR]: Haha! I think those exact words might be Mike’s, being that I don’t know if I’d openly label myself as humble as it seems like an oxymoron. But I am definitely someone who was shaped by the punk and DIY scene of NJ in the 2000’s and 2010’s. I feel like no matter where I go or what I do, the DIY ethos, house shows, making your own merch, being a part of a community, they all will be a part of the DNA that informs my decision making as a musician.
[RG]: Many music fans may recognize you from your work with The Front Bottoms or from your multitude of producing credits. I noticed that for your EP you stepped away from producing on and let Tim Pannella take the reins. How was it to step out of your comfort zone like that?
[EKR]: For my EP that I put out last year, I produced and Tim engineered everything as it was recorded live! I love and trust Tim in a way that I don’t think I do anyone else. For ‘Shotgun’, a single I released, I had Evan Dibbs (who has played guitar, banjo, steel, and/or mandolin on everything I’ve released) take the reins with production and arrangement and it was a really great experience! For the upcoming LP I produced/engineered everything but Tim handled all the mixing and mastering and I really think he did a beautiful job as usual.
[RG]: Let’s get into the title of this record, a lyric from “still,” how to be still and still be here. It’s simply beautiful. Can you talk about where that came from?
[EKR]: That line, which at least for me kind of unlocked the ‘still’ as a song, was written on a plane ride in early 2021. I had been working with an artist out at a studio in texas and had to fly home earlier than expected for a family emergency. On the plane, I was reading through a book of poems by David Whyte that my Mom gave to me called Pilgrim. For context, I was in a pretty volatile state of mental and emotional health, probably not unlike many people were in 2021. I stumbled across this poem titled ‘Second Sight’:
“…Sometimes you need only the first shyness that comes from being shown things far beyond your understanding,
so that you can fly and become free by being still and by being still here.
And then there are times you need to be brought to ground by touch and touch alone.
To know those arms around you and to make your home in the world just by being wanted…”
It really struck me at that moment and I just scribbled down the words “how to be still and still be here.” That idea turned into the chorus of the song within the next few weeks. It eventually became sort of a guiding mantra for this whole new collection of songs. It was only about 4-5 weeks ago that I decided that I might as well just use it as the album title. It really sums up what I think the cumulative energy of the songs are.
[RG]: It sounds like this album showcases some incredible vulnerability and self-awareness. I’m curious about your writing process – how were you able to revise songs that touched on trauma?
[EKR]: That’s very kind of you. In short: slowly and by going back to them when it felt like it made sense to. My writing process for most of these songs (one or two I had written a little while ago and ended up using them for this record, but I still edited the lyrics heavily), was very new for me. Usually, I fall into a pattern of demoing songs I write to a point where I’ve done full arrangements. It’s probably a byproduct of having studio access 24/7. This time around I made the decision to only realize them in a guitar+vocal format until we went in to record them. I really wanted to focus on the songs themselves and sort of limit myself from going down too many rabbit holes with production and arrangement until it was time to REALLY do it.
[RG]: You’re quoted as saying “this music reflects the echoes of a profoundly traumatic moment in American history.” What decisions did you make thematically or instrumentally that helped you illustrate such a difficult moment?
[EKR]: I don’t think I went into it with the intention of having that be a theme. I think it just sort of revealed itself through the songs and lyrics. Most of them were written while I was home during the end of the part of the pandemic where I was spending a lot of time quarantining or only having minimal contact with small groups of people who were vaccinated/testing etc… I think it’s more that the mindset of isolation, overthinking, anxiety, and anger that defined that period of time for me is just baked into the message of the songs.
[RG]: To close out, I might have the toughest question of the whole bunch here: is there one lyric that stands out to you as a favourite or one you’re most proud of?
[EKR]: Ooooh. That’s tough. The penultimate verse of ‘Maria’ feels really satisfying to me as I hear it back:
‘One day I’m gonna fail you and I hope you can forgive There’s a pain that’s coming your way but I’ll be its apologist. The fact that it’s all gone so quick is what makes it worth the risk Won’t you go be free, Maria Cause you’re gonna hold me down For a lifetime now…’
It’s a song for my daughter. It just feels like an encapsulation of something I hope to communicate to her throughout her lifetime. When lyrics are concise, honest, and flow well is when I am the most excited.