A quarantine-hairy No Rome zooms in from his parents’ house in Manila, apologising for the blurry connection.
Right now the Filipino singer/writer/producer, signed to The 1975’s Dirty Hit label and based for the last three years in London, was meant to be out and about in the world, promoting new single Hurry Home. The follow up to last year’s Dijon duet Trust3000, it’s a pillow-soft bedroom digi‑R&B jam that features Jay Som and beabadoobee, both of whom are also of Filipino heritage.
There was also the pressing matter of cracking on with writing and recording his debut album in Los Angeles, seeking to belatedly double-down on the success of Narcissist, his 2018 hook-up with The ’75 (current Spotify streams: 62,166,413), and his supporting them on last year’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships tour.
But in the first week of March, No Rome was caught short in his homeland, having flown in to the Philippines to appear at Wanderland alongside Foals and Nick Murphy (the artist formerly known as Chet Faker).
“Then the festival shut down as everything else was happening. I was actually pretty hype for it but, you know, unforeseen circumstances and all that…” He had planned to stick around to see some family and friends. But not for this long.
Almost three months later, the 24-year-old born Guendoline Rome Viray Gomez is still there. He has his own place in Manila, but “since the lockdown got a bit intense, I decided to come stay with my family”.
This means reorienting himself after a three-year “learning experience” in the UK and US as this prolific artist recorded and released multiple tracks with collaborators including AlunaGeorge, MJ Cole and Brockhampton.
“The music industry, touring, I was doing everything for the first time. But settling down at home right now gave me time to look back and think: ‘Oh, shit, I did that – that was cool.’”
That included hooking up with Dirty Hit. They signed him after he talked online with Sam Burgess-Johnson, an east London-based graphic designer who’s shot and designed much of The 1975’s graphic artwork. The pair bonded over a love of classic album sleeves, and No Rome shared some of his demos.
“Two weeks later, Sam got back in touch: ‘Are you signed? A friend of mine, Matty, loves it, I think he’d like to collaborate with you.’”
At the time Rome had already released Seventeen, “which got so much attention. As Dirty Hit were getting in touch with me, so were a bunch of labels and publishers in LA. Yeah, it was a mad time.”
Amidst the label chatter, though, he felt an immediate connection with Matty Healy.
“I’ll be honest – I only knew their hits at the time. But when we got talking I learned how intricate they were with their inspirations. That’s how we ended up collaborating,” he says of Narcissist. “And they felt genuine, too. They’d only collaborated previously once, with Travis Scott, and that was more like a remix. So this definitely felt like a special connection.”
That connection led to Rome touring arenas across North America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the UK with the band. It sounds like quite the intense experience. Another new, as-yet-unreleased track, It’s Not As Bad As You Think, was written after Rome broke his arm when the tour pitched up in Georgia.
“I was having anger issues. I was doing loads of drugs, and also drinking quite a lot,” he admits. “I was trying to prank my drummer and punched a wall way too hard. So that was my comedown. I felt so lonely, and that song was the result.”
Lockdown, of course, has kept him on a more even keel – not least because the situation in the Philippines makes our restrictions sound like a drive to Durham walk in the park.
“To be honest, politics-wise it’s a bit intense. There are some things I can’t really disclose on paper, due to my fear of getting picked up by the president or whatever! That’s how crazy it is. Basically, the government isn’t really taking care of everything.
“I think a lot of people are able to catch international news and [see] how politicians [elsewhere] are working the other way around… It’s kind of intense. And the lock-up here is pretty crazy.”
“One thing that boggles people from outside here when I tell them is: we need passes to go outside. Or else, the cops will arrest you or some shit. That’s one fucked-up thing. You need a pass to go to the grocery store or drugstore or to get takeaway food. And that’s about all you can go to.”
At least he has a killer new tune to talk about, one whose title is unexpectedly on-the-money: No Rome is releasing Hurry Home just as everyone in the world has recently hurried home.
“I finished the song before quarantine happened, but I figured now is the perfect time for it. Literally, though, the song is about this relationship that isn’t working – it’s asking this person to hurry home so you can fix these things in this dysfunctional relationship. But now it has this double meaning.
“I hope that putting out music like this right now,” he adds of this balming, beseeching after-hours ballad, “might ease out the stress a little bit of this wretched situation we’re currently in.”
As for the track’s other vocalists: Rome met LA-based singer-songwriter Jay Som via their respective managers, and clicked with beabadoobee while playing together on the Dirty Hit label tour of the UK at the end of last year.
“Beabadoobee is super cool and so talented,” he says of the Brit Awards-nominated newcomer. “I was really keen on using her voice on this – I could just hear her on there. And us all being pure Filipinos – that’s pretty cool.”
Next up: not the mixtape Samantha’s TV which, last year, No Rome thought he’d be releasing this year. He described it as “a personification of teen love and melancholy and everything in between. That’s what I’m good at writing. So the mixtape is named after the character played by Scarlett Johansson in Spike Jonze’s movie Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with the voice of his digital assistant. So their relationship was entirely digital.”
Now, though, he’s cut the cord on Samantha’s TV. Instead he’s focusing on making an “actual” album – and, more immediately, already, on releasing his next single, 1:45am.
It’s a collaboration with garage don MJ Cole, who’d previously remixed No Rome’s 2019 track Pink. “Then I made this one garage beat, sent it to him and he said yes. He was flattered and I was flattered!” admits this self-confessed “shy boy”.
They met in the studio in London, “and I told him how much of a fanboy I was. I think he froze for a little bit, like: ‘Man, this kid is such a fucking fool!’ But I was like: ‘Yo, I grew up with your stuff and am just such a fan.’”
Beyond that: how many songs has he made in lockdown?
“I’d say 40 to 50 rough demos.”
Forty to 50?
“Yeah, I’ve been pretty productive!” he laughs. “Some are one-minute clips, some 30-second loops, some full songs. It’s been almost three whole months for me. I’m making the most of what I can do right now. I’m literally waking up, getting baked, making some music, playing some video games, answering some emails and going to sleep.”
And how many of those are future hits?
“Shall we say 40? Who knows, man! Whatever connects with people. There’s nothing really to be afraid of. It’s just making art.”
Restlessly creative, wildly ambitious, supremely confident in his own abilities, always keen to go that bit further even when boring common sense might suggest otherwise: makes you wonder what Matty Healy saw in No Rome, right?
Hurry Home (Dirty Hit) is out now