Romain Virgo has established himself as the lover’s rock ambassador of this generation, and expands his range on his new album “Love Sick”. Jason Browne chats with your favorite crooner to talk process, influences and his quest to make a song for everyone.
Sitting down to talk the third solo album from Jamaican Singer songwriter Romain Virgo made us very aware of several things. He’s very busy; making time to speak with us in between an American touring schedule and an impending European Tour with a new album (out Now, released March 30th). Talking to us smack in the middle of it all. He’s very polite; refusing to single out a single Caribbean destination of favour, so as not to slight any of our islands. He’s very smart; about his audience, about his music, and on his new album; about the history and direction of Reggae music and his place within it.
To break the ice, we threw him some word associations:
My second album
I won that competition in 2007 (the first brush we had with his talent)
Beres (Hammond, because you don’t need to say the last name most times)
My Mentor, my musical Icon, the person I look up to
I couldn’t say. Don’t know how to answer that, I’ve been to so many islands, I wouldn’t know how to answer that. It’s hard to even choose a moment, never a dull moment in the Caribbean.
My Birthplace, where I grew up where it all began.
You give us a little bit of everything on the new album from and a standout is “Heartbeat”. A bluesy affair that gives us a deep heartfelt soul, a little more mature than a lot of work in reggae and very soulful. It’s a standout vocally and the production moves from modern to that really classic feel. How did that come about?
On Heartbeat, that is a song we started out from scratch wanting to give that vibe. Me and Nico Brown (his producer on this album), we started with the musicians first and it was all melody with the guitar. We built it all from that and it took on a life of its own for us. Same with ‘Face to Face’; that was a ukulele playing in the start of this, Nico had the idea of using the ukulele to introduce me in the start. Giving people the feel of where this love story is starting from. It gives you that vibe where you want to hear this, you want to listen to this story, I need to sit down and be quiet and listen to what he’s saying (Romain gives special credit to the Ukulele player Jason Walters). It really starts that light vibe and rolls over into the reggae from that Hawaiian sort of sound and it’s a beautiful song.
“Day in day out”- we love the dub vibe and the song feels like you’re in the midst of a relationship, going thru it for real. Did you use a lot of real life experiences on this album?
Yea, I mean just two songs on the album aren’t mine (Romain covers Stay with me and Caress Me). If you’re gonna live with somebody, problems are gonna be there day in day out, so it was something I lived. (Virgo describes the musical interlude of the song, which pushes into dub style territory, as “unexplainable” and “a spiritual moment” in studio where the musicians just vibe out for 3-4 minutes) It’s one of my personal favourites on the album.
There are parts where we can hear the Beres Hammond’s influence.
Yea Trouble was highly influenced by Beres, even down to how he writes and the way he puts melody to a riddim.
There’s two that we hear; “Trouble” and “sweet liar”
There are other songs that are highly influenced, like hold on (we hear a little Sanchez), it’s a little bit of Beres but more so on a Gregory Isaacs kinda thing. And all these names we call(are) people I grew up with, people I grew up listening to and basically putting them all together as I tell these stories.
Listening to “Still” and we hear so much of a 2000’s dancehall vibe and I’m trying to place the producer and then we see it; “Richie Stephens”.
Yeah man and Richie, he’s the kind of producer that knows what he wants and tells the artiste “this is the sound that I’m hearing” and will try his best to get that sound. I remember when he gave Nico the riddim for me to listen to, he was saying that he wanted something like back in the day, a Tanto Metro and Devonte (at which point Romain belts out their seminal hit “everyone falls”) and said that that’s the vibe he wanted. So, we had to go in and (laughs) probably not go with the same melody, but probably put ourselves in that position, listen to the riddim and come up with something that’s a sing along thing you know, and that’s how we came up with it, simple words and simple melodies that everyone can sing along with. When we went back to him, he was like “This is EXACTLY what I wanted”. It was a good team effort with everybody coming together in understanding, without ego or anything like that. Just listening to him and his ideas, and him listening to us. Maybe that’s the reason it turned out the way it did and I think it’s a song that’s gonna grow and do big things. We have a video for it dropping when the album drops, look out for that.
The song writing on “cannot close my eyes” is great. Of all the songs on the album, this song is most your voice.
Thank you. Yea, we sang that song with a whole lot of passion, and we try to make each song have its own vibe and it’s another one of my favorites, and one that I don’t expect a lot of people to be talking about except musicians or people that understand music… that’s one of the songs where we really put a lot of effort into, the delivery of the song, every single word.
On expectations and his European Tour
What expectations did you have with the making of this album?
The reality is I always know that I have to explore, I can’t lock myself in a box. This was the idea with this album, that I be me but to explore and be different. I want every single song on the album to sound different. Also, if people should have anything negative to say it will be good, about learning what they want and how I move forward from here and what sounds will work with the fans. I just create at the end of the day and I believe that to move forward I must fail and not just once, if it’s 3 times or 4 times to find out what works outside of the studio setting. There were no expectations other than to create with a free spirit and free heart and hope that people will feel the same way that I feel.
What does the European tour feel like?
It’s such a perfect feeling to be on the road while this album comes out. It’s tough in this time when so many artists are putting out music and so many albums and the way to stand out is to take the album on the road. One of my strengths is performance and I always want to use my talents to push. The main goal is to put this album on the road. I’m not expecting this to be number one in an instant but over time and touring, the album will gain more life and resonate with more people.”
What would you tell the people of the Caribbean about this album?
This one has a little bit of everything for everybody. It’s an album I’m proud of and I hope they go out and support it and find something for them. I hope they are as excited about it as I am.
Photography: Will Twort