by Sebastian Buzzalino
Daniel Romano is wildly prolific, bursting bold and bound to no one but himself — an artist equally comfortable kicking out the jams before 300 mad girls in Madrid with his free-wheelin’ rock ‘n’ roll group, The Outfit, as he is nestled in a cabin deep, far-off in the solitude of a waning Swedish summer. Such is the panorama life he loves.
Romano made his name fronting the seminal Attack in Black before striking out on his own, releasing an insatiable 10 full-length albums (including his recent Ancient Shapes LPs) since 2011. And when he’s not writing or recording music, his Instagram feed features him filling canvas after canvas with dreamlike and imperfect characters. Among all this output, in pursuit of music, poetry and painting aimed towards discovering a sort of truth in art, he ends up confronting the notion that perhaps truth isn’t the right question to ask.
“I don’t think the truth of a song matters at all,” says Romano. “I never listen to music and think, ‘Is that true?’ I get uncomfortable with very literal language in song, it makes me feel uneasy. Outside of the personal relationship of trust, I think the truth doesn’t matter so much.”
For Romano, there is no truth in rock ‘n’ roll, no fixed horizon, no centre from where we can get our bearings. Our heroes are dead, the gods are long gone and, the only thing that is left is an exploration of the human condition as it unfolds alongside us. His lyrics, penned somewhere between Dylan and Rimbaud, exist in a paradise populated by Greek myth and take on the mantle of a soft resistance, a call for freedom.
On his recent album, Finally Free, this is particularly true. The songs slip in and out of feverish dreamscapes littered with alabaster bodies and weeping angels, characters trying to get out from under the machinations of their own thumbs. It’s an apolitical warning where freedom from corruption moves towards freedom in love and expression. There’s honesty in his lyrics, but not necessarily truth — at least none that you or I could access. Not that it would matter anyway, we make our own truths as much as he has his.
“The song changes as soon as it’s written,” claims Romano. “You write a song with a purpose, with somewhat of a meaning in mind, or, more interestingly to me, a mood. But then you can’t replicate that mood once it’s done. I mean, you’re singing the words in so many different circumstances and playing the song in so many different places for people, and people are always going to feel differently, that I wouldn’t want to try and replicate that original mood. That would be so exhausting.” He adds, “A show is, ‘Take these [songs], I made them and maybe they’ll do something for you as they did for me.”
Indeed, the live show is an arena of transformation, of connection for Romano. His songs span countless genres on album, where he mostly plays and records everything himself. But, on stage with his band and audience sprawled in front of him, they are condensed down to tightly wound rock ‘n’ roll performances, relentless ceremonies that bring everyone together, if even just for the duration of the show. His live shows feel urgent and important in a way that highlights the power and potential of an electrified togetherness. As restless as he is releasing new material on a yearly basis, he is more so on stage, where he takes the distance between recorded and live, between audience and artist, and condenses it down until it becomes a singular moment of freedom just waiting to burst out in every direction.
This postmodern approach to songwriting makes Romano one of the most enigmatic and exciting songwriters in Canada. He understands he is dead as an author but alive as an artist, and that the intersection between him and us is where we create instant meaning in the moments we share.
“You can find anything in anything, if you want to. I used to worry that things were too in the moment and not exact and concise, as far as whatever the process is for getting thought into word in my songs. But it’s really more to do with the mood than anything.”
With the mood of the song as his guiding principle, Romano is a chameleon, a Renaissance man, a dandy and a punk. His career is built, in part, on his ever-shifting moods and the songs that emerge from those shifts. He can put on a Nudie suit and sing heartfelt songs over weeping slide guitars just as easily as he can step straight into the ‘70s and go toe-to-toe with anything Pete Townsend wrote for his generation.
On the track, “Between the Blades of Grass,” Romano shifts into singing about the “liberating in the language of love.” It’s a common thread throughout his work that clarifies what, if anything, can fill the void — a deep, empathetic, spiritual sort of love that binds us together, a nucleic bond between artist and audience. To illustrate his point, he mentions a new poetic project he’s wrapping up with long-time friend and artist, Ian Daniel Kehoe.
“We started a poetic correspondence. We send each other poems in dedication to each other. Interestingly, 2019 is the year of eros, the origin of erotic nature. We had decided, previous to knowing that, that it was going to be a sort of erotic, in the early Greek meaning of the word, exchange. As our correspondence continued, the poems became tributes to each other, more so than how we think of it as modern eroticism… you can sense this kind of symbiotic and drastic metamorphosis of almost two people becoming one. There’s a unification of thought and feeling.”
This unification, this becoming of one, can be read as a blooming process that, again, resists the easy packaging and distribution of a singular sense of being. Romano and Kehoe’s bodies move towards each other into one and, in the cosmic collapse, an impassioned universe of love emanates, entire constellations tracing out nostalgic histories and emergent presents. The same applies to Romano’s art, musical or visual: it’s a tense, symbiotic relationship between art and audience, between creation and consumption, a crucial link in the survival of both.
Thus here we stand, at our own brink of collapse together — Romano and his audience, Romano and Kehoe, Romano and his own shifting identities — the ground already crumbling at our feet in anticipation of emancipation. Will 2019 be the year of eros, a complex metamorphosis? What becomes the meaning of love? Are our spirits truth? And are our bodies free?
Daniel Romano performs February 28 at Commonwealth (Calgary) and March 1 at the Starlite Room (Edmonton)
Commonwealth, Starlight Room