A few years ago we met up with Gothenburg band Rome Is Not A Town in Hamburg and chat about being caught in the hype after a successful debut album. The Swedish four-piece caused a stir with their album It’s a Dare, released in 2017, followed by intense touring and a performance at one of the major Swedish music awards. Even better, Sonic Youth man Thurston Moore picked the band as one of “the most underrated bands you should know about” in NME, and when Moore played in Sweden, Rome Is Not A Town supported in Gothenburg and Stockholm.
After a pandemic and five years passing by since their debut much has happened. Like most bands, Rome Is Not A Town worked at a slower pace at the start of the pandemic, but gained speed, did two recording sessions, and just recently released their second album Tender Arms Power Heels.
Messed!Up met up with Caroline and Susanna and chat about writing and recording their second album, being in a band that is geographically dispersed across Sweden, and the struggle to catch gigs when the live scene slowly restarts and there’s a long waiting line to get gigs.
Band on a distance
It’s great to meet you again, it’s almost four years since we met in Hamburg. And you have a new album out. It must be a good feeling to finally have released the second album.
It’s most definitely a good feeling. But at the same time, it’s still weird times we’re living in and we really don’t know what will happen. Most of all, we want to play live as much as possible, that’s what you usually do after releasing a new album, but for many reasons it’s hard to tour at the moment.
One major annoying thing is that there’s a long waiting line at the venues. Lots of bands will play their postponed shows from 2020 and 2021 and there’s hardly any slot left for us and bands releasing records now. If we would have known that the songs we started to record two years ago would end up on a new album, we would have booked a tour already then.
Last time we met up you were quite spread out geographically across Sweden, but today it’s even worse. How hard is it to pull the band together?
It works out fine because we’re very much used to it, we just need to plan for weekends when everyone arrives in Gothenburg. But we already planned weekends like that when everyone lived in Gothenburg as well. It will be more focused on what we’re supposed to do when we meet then, otherwise we’ll just hang out on the sofa and drink coffee.
Maybe we need to plan things even a bit more today because Kajsa lives far up in the north and Emma is also far up but not as much north as Kajsa, but we try to stay in touch as much as possible to share ideas on new music while we’re apart. Then it’s just to put these pieces of sounds together when we meet. But hopefully Kajsa and Emma will return back home soon again.
On the downside is that we rarely rehearse intensely just ahead of shows. We have these concentrated rehearsal weekends but they’re usually not connected to gigs, they happen when they happen. On the other hand, we’ve done it for such a long time now and it works quite well for us to meet up a few hours before a show and play through the set, just like we did before that special gig at Oceanen [venue in Gothenburg] last fall. Emma and Kajsa came back to Gothenburg the day before, we did a few hours of rehearsals and then went on stage.
But you never felt that it’s hard to always be far apart in the band and that it will come to a point when you feel that you will split up?
No, not all. There are many other things stopping us from meeting up as well, not only the distance between us, but we never had any thought about splitting up and doing something else. The four of us have done this for such a long time by now and are used to it.
On the contrary, it adds more input to the band when we’re not together all the time because we’re influenced by different things in our daily lives. It can be quite refreshing to have people living somewhere else, being inspired by other things. When we finally meet for rehearsals, all these different influences transpire into new music when we share experiences with each other.
A record experiment
Despite being scattered across Sweden and a pandemic putting some limits to meet up, the highly anticipated second album Tender Arms Power Heels was released last Friday. But it wasn’t until quite recently that they decided for a second album. After two quite different recording sessions, where they experimented with different recording techniques, Tender Arms Power Heels was ready for a release. And it’s a grittier and noisier sound than we’re used to.
The problem? Like most bands, Rome Is Not A Town struggle to catch gigs at venues that are fully booked due to the last two years of postponed gigs. Give ‘em a ring, and do it in time!
It’s almost five years since you released your debut album It’s a Dare. Has it been a long process to start working on the second album?
It’s actually a new idea to release a second album. We had many songs already two years ago and discussed quite much on how to release them before we decided on an album. On the back of that, it has been quite a long process with lots of hard work.
If we look back on where we were as a band three years ago, we were out playing gigs all the time and never really had any time left to start working on new music. Every time we met up was about getting ready for shows and we really needed time off to start writing new music.
Just ahead of the pandemic we arrived at the point when we knew what we wanted to do, what sound we wanted, and who we wanted to work with. That last piece, collaborations, was very important to us. But when the pandemic struck at full force it slowed things down, it was like a mental block. You know, we could see the highway but didn’t find the driveway.
New albums will always be compared to what you’ve already done. How would you describe Tender Arms Power Heels in relation to your debut album?
The new album is quite different from It’s a Dare, there’s a different set of feelings connected to it. It’s more thoughtful and experimental in the sense that we have tried a lot of different techniques for writing and recording music.
Our debut album was the result of a very stressful period; we did it all in a month, everything from writing to recording the album because we decided “Let’s release an album”. Tender Arms Power Heels was a much longer process and we experimented with the songs to get the sound we wanted and it has taken its fair share of time – and we let it take time, it was necessary. It happened quite often that we changed the sound of a song when it was nearly finished, like “Doesn’t it sound better if we do it like this?”, just because it felt better for us.
I get a darker feeling when I listen to your new album. It’s more post-punk, less pop music. Is that part of how you worked with the sound?
The first record was a mix of things and definitely had a poppier tune in there, at least some poppier pieces. It sounded a lot more Pustervik [venue in Gothenburg] and slim productions while our new album takes inspiration from seedy underground clubs and classic punk clubs like you have in Germany. It’s more splintered glass than chandeliers on the album. What I [Susanna] like most is that we have allowed ourselves to not sound too perfect, that may be the dark sound you talk about.
The album is recorded in two parts and we did the first session with Frida Claeson Johansson in the Music A Matic studio in Gothenburg. That was a great collaboration; Frida is such a super pro and very attentive to how we wanted it to sound. She’s not the type of person telling you what to do, but she adds a few quirks to make the result so much better. You know, it can be quite tense in the studio because you don’t have much time and that could easily transpire into negative stress if you don’t work with the right people, but Frida just got us into a flow. We had similar ideas on things and could easily spend a whole day experimenting with the sound and trying out weird things – and it was fine for all of us to do it. That’s how it should feel in the studio.
The second part is recorded in our rehearsal space. We got this idea “How would it sound like if we recorded our music where it was born?” because we thought that it would have an impact on the end result. Caroline Wickberg helped us to rig everything and is the brainchild behind an amazing studio sound from our own rehearsal space. And it felt very much like recording it in our living room, it’s basically our home.
To summarize it, we’ll probably say that this is an exploring record on which we’ve tried new techniques and have experimented a lot to see what happens with our songs if we record some of them in a studio and the rest at our rehearsal space. And it was an awesome experience.
But most important is to find that feeling when it would be fun to play the new songs live, and we certainly have the feeling that it’s going to be a fun few years ahead of us on stage.
A lot has also happened since It’s a Dare. You gained momentum when it was released and earned a lot of media attention, and even got Thurston Moore to play your music on his radio show. But it is five years ago. Does it feel like this is some sort of restart to get back in the spotlight again?
Maybe we have to talk to Thurston again.
We’ve never been that type of band that have done this for media attention. We didn’t do it the last time either, it just happened. It can’t be our main goal to be as visible as possible in different media channels, it will take too much time from what we want to do – to play live.
Of course, we can’t deny that it was great to get Thurston’s attention, it helped us to get gigs, but we’re quite sure that many of those contacts we learned to know the last time we were out touring are still out there. But we can never know who listens to the album or comes out for our shows, that has to happen organically.
Maybe it’s difficult to compare records when it’s five years in between and lots have happened since 2017, but what’s the best with the new album?
It’s just awesome! But what’s best with it? It may be hard for an outsider to see it, someone who hasn’t been part of the process, because it is the process that has been exciting for us. How we recorded the album and who we teamed up with has left a permanent ‘feel good’ mark on us.
Tender Arms Power Heels was released last Friday. Although it’s tough to book gigs at the moment you may have some gigs coming up?
If we ignore the annoying fact that there’s a line to the venues, we hope for a few gigs during the spring and to see new clubs open up for bands that don’t have a chance to get slots right now. We have received a few requests but with very short notice and as our lives look like at the moment we can’t go to Malmö when someone asks us “Can you play in Malmö in five days?”, it’s not really possible.
We have a few dates on the way for the spring but hope for an autumn full of gigs when most of the bands in the waiting line have played their gigs. It’s just how this year has to be. But we will play gigs, that’s a promise.
Photographer: Richard Bloom
Rome Is Not A Town pages