R&B is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. The genre’s category at the MTV Video Music Awards was revived after a twelve-year absence and newer artists like Khalid, Jhené Aiko, 6LACK along with veterans like Beyoncé and Chris Brown, are helping the genre hold its own alongside hip-hop and pop. Romen, one of the hottest new indie R&B acts, is on the rise. His smooth and authentic style has captured the ears and hearts of many. I got to interview Romen about the success of his Dear Growing Pain EP, his influences, and his creative process.
“I feel like my entire life has been a musical experience.”– Romen
Congratulations on all of your success so far! You seem to be just on the cusp of really breaking out, how does that feel?
Thank you! It feels amazing and extremely motivating. I’ve been creating music for a while and over the last few months, I’ve gained a great influx of new listeners. I’m grateful for this moment.
What is your earliest musical memory?
I can recall sitting in church, around the age of 4, waiting for my dad to call me up to sing. I’m a Pastor’s kid, so my earliest memory is singing at church. My mom taught me songs and would have me rehearse often to make sure I knew how to perform in front of a crowd.
What are the most formative musical experiences you have had so far?
Humbly stated, there have been so many and I’m grateful for them all. Of course being a Pastor’s kid who sings, I was a member of the church choir by the age of 10. I’ve been in various singing groups and choirs throughout my school years. Then there were talent shows, such as It’s Showtime At The Apollo Kids, school shows, and other regional showcases. During my college years, I was a background vocalist for a couple of artists, in-studio and on the road. In between all of that, I began honing my songwriting skills and learning my way around recording studios. I feel like my entire life has been a musical experience.
On Dear Growing Pain there are many genre influences. For example, I hear notes of gospel in the climax of “So For Real” and hip-hop throughout “Let It Flow.” How do you define genre? Do you classify yourself as part of one (or many) genres? Is genre important to you?
I believe genres help listeners find what they are looking for without digging through one big pile. I despise the politics of it all but I’m not a genre basher. As an artist, I like to feel free to create whatever I feel, but I believe in labeling what I create correctly so it can be easily discovered by the people who are looking for it. I have a feeling that traces of other genres, such as gospel, will always be found in my music. Gospel, in particular, because I began leading the worship and music department at my church as a teen and engrossed myself in the genre.
Who are your biggest vocal influences and why?
I pull from many vocalists, depending on the song or performance but I will say my top influences are from BeBe and CeCe Winans, Steve Crawford, and Usher. Together they influenced the shaping of my voice and the type of singer I believe I am. Also, Beyoncé because she’s my favorite artist and I love the way she arranges her vocals. I love studying her vocal techniques. They all, in my opinion, sing clearly with precision, diction, and great delivery. Growing up I was always intrigued that they could sing a song in a smooth tone, with minimal riffs and it would still hold your attention and pierce your soul. However, they know how to place riffs, runs and belts without overdoing it. In my opinion, they all sound great recorded and live. For me, that’s a huge factor.
Who are your biggest songwriting influences and why?
Mariah Carey, Babyface, NeYo, Terry Lewis, Kirk Franklin, Bruno Mars, Sean Garrett, and K. Michelle. They influence my R&B writing style heavily. All of these writers taught me how to tell a story and pair it with a great melody. I find myself humming their melodies and dissecting the lyrics of their songs. Through their work, I learned the importance of saying something worthwhile as opposed to just rhyming. I also enjoy writers who can implant a personal, sometimes sensitive message into a commercial song. I love when songs like that blow up. I like to read between the lines and discover deeper meanings of songs that the average ear may not catch and these writers are great at that. I’m a sucker for songs with multiple perspectives, metaphors and wordplay.
What is your favorite part of the music-making process? Least favorite?
The writing process is my favorite part. Creating a melody and pairing it with lyrics is the best part of making music to me. I don’t have a least favorite part. Making music is my favorite thing to do and I could literally do it every day, all day.
What were you listening to/watching/reading during the creation of Dear Growing Pain?
During that time I didn’t watch much T.V.. Usually, when I’m intentionally writing for a project, I minimize any outside voices so I can hear my own. I’m an empath, so I’m easily pulled into TV shows and movies. I don’t need any extra drama when I’m writing about my own. I also don’t listen to a lot of music when I’m creating a project. I’m always afraid to sound too much like another artist. However, I do listen to several podcasts on subjects such as mental health, dating, and self-development. I’m always seeking ways to connect to my higher self. I think the search during this period is what built the foundation for my EP, Dear Growing Pain. I love to read but from what I recall, the only book I read during this time was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I had read it before but I reread it with a group of friends. There is a lot of wisdom in that book.
Where do you draw your influences from?
My daily life heavily influences my songs. I sleep next to my journal every night. If I have a thought, dream, or an idea, I’ll jot it down. Dear Growing Pain is a result of an idea I wrote down 2 years prior. I’m full of ideas and had to mature to understand that I don’t have to execute them all at once or any time soon. Writing them down in detail offers me references for the future. If I have a creative or mental block I can always go back to an idea and build from it. I also document experiences, good or bad, in detail. I don’t vent well and I’m sort of private, so my journal knows all of my secrets. Some of my secrets I decide to share and they become my songs.
What are your top three songs ever? What is your favorite song right now?
“Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey, “Breathe Again” by Toni Braxton, and “Scared Of Beautiful” Frank Ocean & Brand. In this very moment, my favorite song is “Bigger” by Beyoncé. It has kept my head above water since its release. Definitely on repeat.
You switch between programmed beats and analog instruments throughout the EP? Do you prefer one over the other? How do you blend those different sounds together?
I love programmed beats, but they don’t always compliment my voice or the sound I’m going for. It depends on who produces the beat. Sometimes I produce my own beats for this reason. Because I’m essentially a new artist, I like to play with both because I want to showcase my skill set and ability to be diverse. Some of the programmed beats give you that R&B commercial sound of my generation. However, the songs with analog instruments allow me to showcase that I’m a singer. Those songs are usually easier to create and perform live. There is more room in the track for my voice to be heard. I like for my projects to have variety without losing the core R&B sound.
Any news about the album you’re willing to share?
My EP, Dear Growing Pain, is being received well. It’s still fairly new and people are still discovering it. The EP debuted at #3 on the iTunes R&B Charts. I am enjoying the process of promoting it online as well as performing it. I don’t want to rush this moment. I’m always writing, I’ve been doing collabs with other artists and, of course, there will be an official LP/album one day, but right now I want to focus on introducing myself to as many people as I can through promo and doing shows. My username on every social media platform is MeetRomen, and I was intentional about that. I want people to meet me, whether on a streaming app, on social media, or in person, and get to know who I am and what I’m about so when the time comes they can appreciate what I have envisioned for my official debut.
Check out Romen’s Dear Growing Pain EP here.