Exploring the Hidden Disciplines of Emmet Romo
Soundclash Conductions from CDMX
Emmet Romo isn't your typical accomplished multi-instrumentalist. It’s my belief that there are few musicians of his skill level that make interesting records. Usually, when an artist is extraordinarily proficient on their instrument, it becomes the focus, obscuring the ideas, overall vision and exploitative elements that make music art rather than exercise. Emmet Romo’s virtuosity never gets in the way of his vision, as you will hear on his incredible new record, Hidden Disciplines. Let’s talk with this vital artist from Mexico City and find out where his music comes from and how our Masks fit into the picture. Why not stream while reading?
"The idea of the elephant, the pants and the lake came up as a metaphor to the complex and sometimes paradoxical gears that envelope the mind." - Emmet Romo
Fletch: Thanks for the time and the tones Emmet. I've really enjoyed exploring your new album Hidden Disciplines, which features a curiously cool image of you in our Elephant Mask pulling some laundry toward a body of water. How did this come about? Is it surrealism or does it have a more defined meaning relating to the music? I see that you do some painting...
Emmet: It definitely has a surrealist element, but also the idea came out as a visual metaphor. To put it into context, I have a very close relationship with art; my aunt is a proficient painter (Follow her: @avryl666) and I started drawing the human body when I was a little kid. Even my parents thought that I was going to be a painter or a doctor. When I finished recording Hidden Disciplines, I knew that the music was reminiscent of some of the art that I like; in that moment I started sketching the front cover searching for the best concept that could describe the album visually. The idea of the elephant, the pants and the lake came as a metaphor to the complex and sometimes paradoxical gears that envelope the mind. The elephant, representing memory, pulls the strings from the rack that carries the pants. These jeans are a direct reference to the pants that are portrayed in Duchamp's, The Large Glass. In a few books, these pants are described as pure mind masturbation or false illusions. Most of the conceptualisation of this pants rack came from the book Apariencia Desnuda, a great lecture that analyses The Great Glass, written by Octavio Paz. Even so, the connection between these elements is something that I like to leave to interpretation, as an exercise to establish a connection with the picture. People often give me surprises when I listen to some interpretations. I already heard a guy say that this front cover was about aliens and I love that.
"I consider myself a rhythm-centred guy. Although I rely in my drumming and production skills, most of the songs begin with piano improvisation." - Emmet Romo
Fletch: The first thing that struck me about your music was your rhythmic prowess. You are obviously a multi-instrumentalist of many talents, but your combination of programming and live drumming is stunning. It blurs the line between improvisation and orchestration. Is this where the tunes take form from?
Emmet: I consider myself a rhythm-centred guy. Although I rely on my drumming and production skills, most of the songs begin with piano improvisation. I start by getting a few nice jazz chords and melodies before I start adding electronic beats or layered synths. After doing production iterations, the songs turn into something completely different from the initial version. Then, I proceed to decide if the piano makes it to the final version. There are also special cases, where a song come from recorded improvisation when I invite my friends to jam around. After defining some guidelines to improvise, we proceed to develop ideas on the fly and then, in my computer, I listen the whole session and I rescue the best bits to add production layers. Two tracks that were made only with improvisation bits were "Berklee Funk" and "Bohemian Bondage". I think that this approach contributes strongly to the improvised and orchestrated feel that you describe.
"I have never been able to adapt to a normal class learning rate; I like to explore music through experimentation and breaking some rules to create others." - Emmet Romo
Fletch: The free-form nature of your music is compelling. There are many who attempt genre mashups and it ends up sounding like a music grad-student progging off, which leaves me rather cold. Your music doesn’t do this. You have the unique ability to maintain vision and vibe throughout your genre explorations within each track, which is no small feat. Have you studied jazz, guitar, electronic music or drumming formally? Was there a kind of music that initially inspired you?
Emmet: That’s a curious fact. I have never taken a music class formally. Well, I went to a pair of drumming lessons 6 years ago, but nothing too rigorous to be honest. When it comes to learning harmony, patterns and music styles I am a total bookworm and most of my close friends can tell you that. I have never been able to adapt to a normal class learning rate; I like to explore music through experimentation and breaking some rules to create others. In this sense, understanding jazz has been a very important component of my life. And it is curious, because I am not a purist; I am also attracted to metal, rock, hip-hop, glitch and very eclectic stuff. Even so, the journey started with blues and psychedelic rock. Interestingly, hearing the string-bending solos of BB King and the psychedelic keyboard passages of The Doors lead me to the stuff that I am doing now. I take electronic music more as a layer to dress the whole song, but in essence I think more like a jazz-rock musician.
"In recent years, many bands are changing their concept to fit into pop radio hits in order to survive, which to me is a total creative loss." - Emmet Romo
Fletch: I love your moniker on Instagram - ”Digital Punk” – apt description going on Punk as an attitude of independence, rather than a prescribed sound and look. Did you (like so many of us musicians) start out playing some form of Punk? What’s the musical landscape of Mexico City like? Do you have many collaborators in experimental music over there or are you a sort of lone wolf?
Emmet: I started playing in a rock band called Worfel a few years ago, then I moved to an avant-garde hip-hop band named Uncut Jordan, and finally I was performing with a shoegaze band called Dotzd. So, yeah, I have been through the local music scene for some years. I have never been into a punk band, but I would love to try some day.
The local music landscape is complicated; there are a lot of bands and few venues. Playing in house shows is a regular practice and sometimes, the crowd that goes to these events is greater than the crowds of medium size festivals. Although there are bands that stay strong in the scene, there is little innovation in terms of sonic proposal. Also in recent years, a big part of these bands are turning their concept to fit into pop radio hits in order to survive, which to me is a total creative loss. Even so, there are excellent artists and bands out there: Little German, Instante Suspendido, Kumatora, Hong Kong Blood Opera, Joliette, Recuerdos de un Sueño Perdido… just to name a few.
This musical project has been a combination of lone work and good collaborations. In terms of creating song structure, production, mixing, and most of the core stuff are my own ideas. But also, in Hidden Disciplines I invited a few friends to round up the album. One of these cases is the saxophone solo in Long Lost Divers, performed by Violeta Torres and recorded by César Salazar. The bass and guitar parts are performed by Rodrigo Acevedo as well. And the drum passages were recorded by Amaury Pérez and Genaro Ambía. There are not a lot of experimental acts in the Mexican scene, but collaborations with other projects are part of the common landscape, and I cheer that.
"In the future I am thinking in the incorporation of guests to perform bass, guitar, piano, etc. Just like in the format of a jazz band extrapolated to the eclectic realm." - Emmet Romo
Fletch: How do you bring your eclectic sound to the stage? Do you have a live band, or do you play different instruments over loops? I don’t imagine you could train up a drummer very easily?
Emmet: Bringing the music to a live show format has been one of my priorities in the last months. I see what other people are doing, how they connect with the crowd and how to provide an insightful experience. Right now we have a very basic show: A DJ host plays with the live set looping, filtering or processing tracks, and I play the drums. The combination between this syncopated solos and the live set electronic improvisation has been a powerful scheme. In the future I am thinking in the incorporation of guests to perform bass, guitar, piano, etc. Just like in the format of a jazz band extrapolated to the eclectic realm. I cannot foresee myself playing live on another instrument; drums are my way to shout energy to the crowd.
"Project Osiris is an affordable module to connect your drum vibration sensors and trigger MIDI information to the computer in real-time." - Emmet Romo
Fletch: We saw on your Instagram that you seem to be building an analogue synthesiser? Can you reveal anything about it? We love hardware and software synths as well. Any synths that inspired you over the years?
Emmet: You hit a nail with that question! I have been working in a drum triggering module created only for the live shows. Project Osiris is an affordable module to connect your drum vibration sensors and trigger MIDI information to the computer in real-time. Since I conceived the idea of doing live shows, I wanted some kind of device that could create synergy between drum improvisation and electronic music. I created this module because the devices that are in the market are a total rip-off in terms of functionality and money. This module comes with three independent channels with attack, decay and intensity settings. Right now, I am testing the prototype and selecting a few materials, but it will be available soon. In addition to this, I will make it open-source, so that anyone who wants to build it or propose changes is welcome to. However, I am very inspired by the DIY synth community and how they come along with such cool projects everyday. Maybe in the future I will be considering the idea of creating a solid synthesizer. I admire most of the Moog family devices, Erica Synths and the legendary Jupiter-80 by Roland.
"With the development of technologies that we are working on, I expect to interact with people in new digital ways" - Emmet Romo
Fletch: Finally, Emmet, we love Hidden Disciplines and we urge all our musical builders to repeatedly listen to it as a remarkable, immersive and explorative work. What’s next for you? Your new website linked below looks great and it feels like you’ve got some momentum. Any tours in the pipeline? We look forward to more of your music and hopefully we can collaborate again.
Emmet: In this moment there is so much going on! I can’t reveal a lot, but right now the priority is in the incorporation of audiovisual elements into the show and some alternative media that is being developed. In addition to this, we are working in Project Osiris to launch the first version soon. Most of the work that is already finished and testing is being carried along to the construction of the first version. It is curious because now I am coding and rehearsing more than creating new music. I already have some new ideas for an album and the front cover, but it remains in standby until we carry the audiovisual stuff out. Also, I am doing a few collaborations with other projects, which is very fulfilling and I am learning a lot from other musicians right now. Chances of a tour in a near future are slim, but with the development of technologies that we are working on, I expect to interact with people in new digital ways. I would recommend the audience to peel an eye.
Photos by: https://www.instagram.com/diegonavza/
For more about Emmet's incredible audio-visual adventures, follow the links below:
Sign up to our newsletter
Receive special offers and first look at new products.