“Yeah, well Nick Ferrio’s just copying me.”
Daniel Romano’s mostly joking. He and Ferrio — fellow crooner and bassist for The Burning Hell — have played numerous shows together and have been known to give each other a hard time while doing it. The thing they share? A love for country music, though not the type of country music that most of our generation endured. No music videos, flashy pyrotechnics or bad puns. It’s the country music on which our grandparents were raised, the grainy sound of sweet-souled voices singing lonesome lullabies through broken AM radios while they travelled in their equally broken-down vehicles.
If you were a fan of punk/indie stalwarts Attack in Black, you might mistakenly think the former bassist of the band isn’t being loyal to his punk roots and that this “experiment” is not genuine. In fact, as Romano explains, you couldn’t be further from the truth: “This was the kind of music I was raised on. It was always there. My parents were, and still are, musical.
“Anything that I contributed to Attack In Black kind of came from that, as well. That was four people’s brains instead of one, so that’s why it sounded the way it did.” The band formed in 2003 as a cut-to-the-chase raw punk outfit, before shifting into a more folk-centred indie rock group. After creating some success for themselves, the band decided to call it quits in 2009. Fed up with certain aspects of the Canadian music industry, Romano soon teamed up with fellow Attack in Black alum Ian Kehoe and Steve Lambke of Constantines fame, forming their own label, You’ve Changed Records, in the process. Rumours of an unreleased full-length have often been whispered between fans and as Romano confirms, it does indeed exist, in a sense.
“It’s fully in limbo. I don’t really know what will come of that. We basically don’t want to give it to who would technically own it.” Romano’s words begin to have a bit more bite in them as he continues, “We’re just going to wait until they die, or inevitably fail at what they’re doing and then we’ll put it out ourselves.”
The entire situation was beginning to take a toll on Romano, who decided to go an entirely different direction with his solo debut, Workin’ for the Music Man. “Luckily, when I made the first [record], I was in a very cynical stage. I’m actually surprised I even finished it.” While some artists may have been afraid of alienating fans or following in previous successes, Romano explains that it simply wasn’t about any of that. “I wasn’t worried at all, because I didn’t really care.” Now having released his third solo release, Come Cry With Me, earlier this year – the second straight to land on the Polaris Long List – Romano sees this success as just the icing on the cake.
I ask Romano about the differences in the recording and creative processes, compared to his days with Attack in Black. While he confesses that it has been eerily similar, he also points out that some of the aspects have definitely changed, especially when it comes to touring. “It’s been pretty nice getting to play different and generally nicer rooms.” One of those rooms will be the Ironwood Stage & Grill, which will host Romano on October 15th. The venue is a personable, quaint and mostly-seated venue, which most likely would not have been host to his former band. The crowd, as expected, is also shifting as Romano continues his career, but the exact makeup of it is a bit tougher to categorize. “It’s hard to say; it’s very eclectic now, it’s a pretty wide range of people.”
Up to this point, Romano’s records have stunned listeners with a vintage vocal pitch and emotionally draining lyrics. While the mood around Romano at the time of this shift was understandably grim, he’s focused his efforts on creating unique narratives from scratch, rather than personal accounts of his own life. “It’s all storytelling,” he reveals, “it’s relatable on a general level from what I understand and that was my goal.” Songs like “Middle Child,” which achingly describes a middle child’s account of being the only sibling abandoned by his mother, are serious, whiskey-soaked anecdotes that find a way to resonate with you far long after you’ve listened to them.
In previous years Romano has mentioned his indifference to the touring aspects of being a musician, claiming he’d much rather focus on songwriting, given the chance. Even now that he’s a few years into his solo career and has been a touring member of City & Colour, Romano still seems to hold a similar outlook, but clarifies that maybe it’s not so black and white. “I don’t dislike it, I like playing shows. It’s just, you know, I’ve been doing it a long time,” he continues facetiously, “it’s actually kind of starting to affect my bowel movements.” A brief moment of silence arrives before he intervenes, “Maybe don’t put that in.”
What exactly does Romano listen to on his own time? The answer is exactly what some might predict, “Pretty much the Pogues and old country and western,” he says while adding, “I’ve actually been on a Porter Wagoner kick lately.” For those not familiar, Wagoner has been long considered one of the genre’s “golden” voices.
So, while lamentations of another time pull Romano along their dusty paths, the artist doesn’t seem too concerned about where they lead him. For now, he slips on his boots, buttons up his rhinestone covered “Nudie Suit” and hits the road, just like they did in country’s “Golden Years.” Whether it’s his appearance at the Americana Music Association’s conference in Nashville, or the Ironwood here in Calgary, Romano seems to be right where he needs to be, working on his craft.
“I’m still learning how to sing. I’ll get there, someday.”
Catch Daniel Romano as part of the Up + Downtown Music & Arts Festival (Edmonton) on Oct 12 and 13, at the Ironwood Stage & Grill (Calgary) on October 15, and at the Folk Exchange (Winnipeg) on Oct 19.
By Cory Jones