No Rome’s been on a slow-burn setting for a few years now. Over the past two years, the Filipino artist has been putting out mood-setting singles that’ve flitted from lo-fi indie to R&B and alt-pop. Several of them are collaborations, from ‘Trust3000’ featuring Dijon to the powerful team-up of ‘Hurry Home’ with Jay Som and fellow Dirty Hit artist Beabadoobee. And last month, No Rome put out the fizzing pop concoction ‘Spinning’, featuring none other than Charli XCX and The 1975.
Will No Rome continue this drip-feed of new songs? It might also be time to ramp up to something more substantial. The new No Rome album is close to done, he tells NME over a crackling Zoom connection from Manila, a little over a week since flying back to the Philippine capital from London. It’s a rock-inspired record that he’s been working on with producer BJ Burton and The 1975’s George Daniel, the latter a close collaborator whom he “connect[s] with on a certain musical level”.
Read on for NME’s conversation with No Rome about the musical language he shares with ‘Spinning’ collaborators Charli XCX and The 1975, his love of UK garage – and how he’s diving deep into his electronic dance music inspirations in his new music.
How do you feel about having two homes: London and Manila?
“I wouldn’t consider it as like two homes, but yeah, in some ways, it kind of is. I’m really productive in London. I get there, and get work done. I get to link up with people I get to collaborate with. I get to do the same thing in the Philippines, but I feel like it’s more fast-paced in London. There’s a lot of people who really do [music] as their living full time, and you kind of have all the time in the world to do that, because it’s your job.
“I quite enjoy it, to be honest with you. I feel like it’ll come to a point where I might be exhausted [laughs]. I think it’s very nice to have this setup right now. When I need to write or get in the zone, I go to the Philippines. And then when I want to make stuff happen and come to life, I come out to London.”
Was your latest single ‘Spinning’ an in-person or remote collaboration with Charli XCX and The 1975?
“That one was finished remotely, because we had the song written for quite a while. I wrote the song with The 1975. So I was making a beat, they were in the room and once I’d made my part, I sent it to George and we kind of just worked together on it. But everything else that was finished was [done] remotely. I think Charli was somewhere in Australia recording her vocals, and The 1975 were finishing it somewhere in a countryside in the UK. I was in the Philippines, getting all of these stems and calls: ‘Oh, do you like this?” Yeah, we wrapped up the whole thing remotely.”
When you released the song, Charli said that all of you “speak the same musical language”. Would you agree with that? And what language is that?
“I hundred per cent agree. I don’t want to speak on behalf of Charli, but the way I see it, we all kind of feel like outsiders in pop music. Like we make music that stems from pop music, inspired by pop music, but we don’t tackle it traditionally. One thing I noticed that we all agree on is the juxtaposition: we love happy, vibey melodies and production, you know, you’re dancing. But then you read the lyrics, and you’re like, ‘Wow, this hurts a lot, and I can relate to it – but why am I dancing and crying at the same time?’ I feel like that’s one of the languages we share.
“Me, Matty [Healy] and Charli – we all are fans of each other’s music in some way. We all appreciate [each other], and we all appreciate the message we try to bring to the table. So I guess that’s the message we feel like we all agree on, musically as well. We just like to tackle things that inspire from the same place, but it’s our own take on it… That’s what I’m trying to do with my music. I’m trying to get inspired by all these things, but do it my own way. And I’m not following anybody’s footsteps, but rather, being inspired and motivated by it.”
And speaking of which, how is work on your new album and music going so far?
“It’s been great. I’m actually very close to finishing, and looking forward to that. I really went in the start of late 2019, I think. I’ve been writing songs since I started touring, so I think it was the start of The 1975 tour, and a couple of songs made during that time have made it to the album. So you know, it took a year’s amount [of time] to work on it, but I’m glad to be in the position where I am right now: I’m close to finishing it, and it’s going really well. I feel like it’s something that I’ve wanted to say as a musician for a while. This is that product.
“I’ve been working on it with BJ Burton and George Daniel from The 1975 and they’re both very incredible musicians. I think they’re very intelligent and I’m glad I was able to meet them because they opened my eyes to a lot of production. We’re all producers in one room, so it was very creative. I’m really excited to get it out.”
You’ve explored UK garage on your recent singles. What about the genre appeals to you?
“I think I’ve always been into electronic dance music. If you’ve followed No Rome [since] like, 2013-2014, that was the kind of music I was making. It was not garage, but everything stemmed from electronic dance music, whether it was UK dance music, or Chicago footwork and juke music. I was just heavily inspired by electronic dance music. And moving to London – that was the first thing that I picked up. Besides me being like, ‘Oh my god, it’s such a great country. I used to see pictures of this in Google! It’s such a great place, I want to move here’.
“You hear these things in clubs, like garage music, and you don’t really hear a lot of that stuff in America or Asia. You know, it’s mainly top 40 dance music, or unless you’re in a niche, underground club, which were the clubs that I grew up on. That was my coming of age. I was spending time in bars watching bands, but at some point in my life, I noticed that I was leaning more into enjoying electronic dance music, including garage music and house music. And yeah, so I’ve just been exploring it, and I’ve been trying to build that sound since 2017.
“I’m excited because the two albums that I’m writing – the first one is heavily inspired by rock music, and the second one is just purely dance music. So the interest has been there ever since. It’s just I felt like this was the right time to really explore it, especially with people really getting on the same hype. They kind of understand it now… Because when I put out [2020 Bearface-assisted song] ‘1:45am’ people took it very well. Not that I cared, to be honest with you! But at the same time, I’m like, oh, people understand what I’m trying to do. So I then wanted to really go deep into it. And I’m not gonna lie, I’ve went deep into it and I’m really excited.”
Are you working on both those albums with The 1975?
“No, I’m working on the first album. The second album, I can’t say anything yet, because everything is still being started. Like, last month, I finished my album, everything was done. I’m on the corporate side, I’m just recording everything I need to record. Then I started the second album. I have so much music now, and I’m like, alright, time to scheme things, see which ones I’m working on.
“So right now, I can’t tell you any info with the second album [laughs] because I’m still on the works with it. But um, who knows? George is a very close collaborator, for a start. So you know, he might be on it. He might not. But if it happens, it’s not much of a surprise because I work very, very closely with George. We connect on a certain musical level, like we understand each other on a musical level.”
So the first album that you’ve pretty much finished is the rock one.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s rock, but it’s rock-inspired. If you follow my music, I’ve always had hints of rock elements. There’s guitar-driven music, you know, drums, guitar and bass guitar. As well as electronic influences. So, I guess that the first album is me embracing that side, but also showing my inspiration of dance music and jungle breaks and underground clubs.
“It’s like this emo kid who turned into a raver who’s always alone in the club. [laughs] Like some dude who’s going through some mental crisis. And he’s in a club, he’s alone, yet the club is very full… In the club, there’s so much happening. There’s so much noise. But if you feel lonely, oh, that means you’ve got something going on. [laughs] Guess what the album is – in a good way! I mean it in an emotional way – a lot of us feel that way. You feel alone in the sea of the crowd.”
No Rome’s ‘Spinning’ featuring Charli XCX and The 1975 is out now