Artist of the Month: Romy

As we hurtle towards the release of her long-awaited debut solo album Mid Air, Romy talks to Ralph Moore about the power of ’90s dance music, the thrill of being a DJ and her ultimate artist collaboration.

19 min
Jun 12, 2023
Ralph Moore

The offices of Romy’s East London-based record label aren’t as easy to find as you might think. And in some ways, that suits Young (the tastemaker indie imprint formerly known as Young Turks, also home to FKA twigs) just fine. Once the door opens and you’re through the initial underground tunnel, you get the slight sense of entering a palatial James Bond-style lair: it’s stylish as hell and also disarmingly pristine from top to bottom. That said, the mid-morning arrival of singer-songwriter and guitarist Romy Madly Croft is a reminder that what really keeps modern organizations like Young ticking are artists as talented and astute as she is. Not only that: Romy’s kept her main focus consistently on the music and the odd smattering of Whippets FC-related football conversation over, say, daily animal-based social media posts, which means her artistic authenticity always shines through. But if there’s one thing we’re here to establish once and for all, it’s that she adores “nostalgic, emotional pop-dance.”

The first time I spoke to Madly Croft was for my first-ever Worldwide FM show during the lockdown of 2020 and at that point, Romy was still living in London and on the verge of releasing her debut solo single, the agenda-setting, lyrical pop manifesto ‘Lifetime’. Co-written and produced by Fred Again.. (you may have heard of him) and featuring a whip-smart remix package from Ninja Tune artists Anz and Jayda G and her good friend HAAi (who was also emerging around the same time as a solo artist), it was a taste of the snap, crackle and pop rush that was to come. A Mixmag digital cover dropped soon after and alongside that feature, she also delivered a club mix that not only featured contemporary producers like Avalon Emerson and Jayda G but also gave space and time to nineties rave classics like Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free” and the Nalin & Kane trance standard “Beachball”, songs which clearly wrong-footed a few people along the way because for Romy, these were in no way a Guilty Pleasure. “Before The XX started, there was a period when I was in clubs in Soho and with no irony, I loved this music,” she remembers. “But there was also a time when I would DJ and play the music I loved at (The) XX after-shows and people would ask in an ‘aggy’ way, “do you really like this music?” Her joyous solo single “Enjoy Your Life” features a smart vocal sample from US jazz singer Beverley Glenn-Copeland and has arguably been the project’s most turbo-powered e-mo(tional) moment to date. But how did we get here?

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In essence, the album “Mid Air” was mostly written and conceived over lockdown, when Romy was most definitely missing clubs. “I’m definitely referencing a 2000s pop-dance that feels nostalgic to me,” she says of the album, which will drop on September 8th. “My favourites are these kind of trance pop bangers that sometimes verge on the edge of being cheesy.”

To break the proverbial interview ice and in the absence of coffee, I’ve brought along a copy of an album made by the producer who’s worked extensively on her new solo album: Stuart Price broke big as a pop producer back in ‘05 with Madonna’s super-Euro “Confessions on a Dance Floor” album. It turns out it’s an album with some particularly special memories for Madly Croft and she lights up when I hand her the box set. “Sonically, I really loved it.” she smiles wistfully, while flicking through the pages of the album booklet, a mixture of Steven Klein photos, Jeremy Scott red sequin dresses and hand-written lyrics. “There’s a song on that album called “Get Together” that I still love and play as a DJ and it makes me think about when I first went to queer clubs as a teenager: “Hung Up” and “Sorry” were the big hits on that album at the time. So when they would come on at the club, everyone was happy. I also have a nice memory of my Dad going through a Madonna phase: he collected records and played a lot of music at home and would go through people’s discographies and I remember coming downstairs and he’d gone through “Ray Of Light” and then [suddenly] “Confessions…” was coming out of the kitchen – I loved it! Which is a lovely memory because he’s no longer alive.”

So “Confessions…” helped set an invisible album bar: or as Romy says, “I just kept coming back to it.” But it was Caius [Pawson, the boss of Young] who suggested the link up with Price but at this point, no one had quite envisaged an album project. “Initially, it was Caius who suggested Stuart and we had a Zoom call and after that, we talked for hours! It was really interesting and he made me feel comfortable. Not everyone was as excited as Stuart: some people didn’t like that music the first time round. [Most of] the songs were written with Fred with Stuart on production. Every song on the album, songwriting wise, was Fred and me and in terms of the evolution, the sonics and the finishing of it. that’s Stuart. A couple of the songs: “Last Try” and “She’s on My Mind” really are very Stuart but all of it is both of them with me in the middle carrying it all. Between them, I felt really safe.” (Jamie XX also lends a hand on recent single “Enjoy Your Life.”)

The next step was to ensure that the album sounded as big and strong as the melodic hooks underpinning it. “I am very proud of what we did with The XX and I also wanted to make an album I was proud of that sounded great sonically.” The good news is: they’ve succeeded in that mission. Romy mentions “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa, which as everyone who loves pop knows, is a top tier Euro pop anthem. Her eyes widen. “”One Kiss” sounds good in any situation, in a car or in a club!” It’s the same energy that come September, will surely surround all eleven of those album tracks.

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Three years on from “Lifetime”, Romy left behind the hustle and bustle of the proverbial big smoke of the capital for a quieter life in East Sussex, which means she gets the best of the countryside and Brighton’s ocean waves but can equally get back into London for a quick day trip like this. “I have always lived in London but I live in Sussex now,” she says of the move. “It’s a nice change, it’s not too far out of Brighton and that’s where [her wife, photographer and director] Vic [Lentaine] and I met when I was younger when she was at Uni. Brighton is great for gigs and you can be out in nature, which I love. It’s more peaceful. And while it’s not something I saw coming, it was definitely something spurred on by lockdown. I am at festivals most weekends but it’s nice to have some quiet time too.”

Of course, the main reason we’re here is to discuss ‘Mid Air’. True to the brief, it’s a heartfelt eleven-song-strong collection of cuts that references everything from her own current happiness levels to the sweet nostalgia that certain songs inevitably bring: tellingly, the last track is called “She’s On My Mind.” “’It’s a collection of songs celebrating love, navigating loss and exploring identity,” she says. “It’s musically inspired by dance music and a love letter to the queer clubs I first went to when I was growing up and the people I met there. The music I heard that made me feel more alive and less alone.” Highlights are numerous but aside from “Enjoy Your Life” and “Loveher”, the best cut to these ears is the sweetly nostalgic “The Sea”, which effortlessly nods to the melodic and lyrical power of Everything But The Girl. It’s also all unashamedly, unequivocally pop-inflected dance music. Are EBTG an influence? “Definitely. I have an early memory of being in the car with my parents and hearing “Missing”, so they are part of my subconscious. I also liked “Walking Wounded” and the accompanying album where they went more electronic. I also really like the new record and that they’ve stayed electronic!”

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I counter that the best songs become irrevocably attached to personal memories but that “Missing” might be the ultimate Euro Dance Banger. “I love that. “The Sea” is musically and lyrically inspired by Ibiza – it is! When I was writing that song, we went to Ibiza for Oliver [Sim’s] thirtieth birthday and I only had an instrumental and I was in the car and thinking that I wanted the lyrics to fit with this moment: that’s why “the sea” lyrics are in there. It was really fun. I went as a kid to Ibiza with my parents and had romanticised things like club references and the iconography of the Pacha logo – I’ve got it [a sticker] on my phone – but I didn’t know if that was real still and I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination based on early 2000s culture. But we had an amazing time.

That was also the first time I went as an adult and I’ve been back since: I also went there for my honeymoon with Vic and have done a bit of work there in the studio and had the pandemic not happened, I would have probably done more work and embraced it more as an inspiration. Last year I got to play at Pacha with Kim Ann Foxman for a night called El Baile. It was fun!” Just how autobiographical is the album? “All of it is autobiographical, it’s a diary of our relationship. Also grief, mental health and processing, it’s very personal. But in The XX, that’s a shared story between two people so it’s always been honest but the song “Twice” is literally about me re-meeting Vic, having met when I was younger and us breaking up and getting back together. But it’s in a club world. And I was really interested in finding a way to tell a story, song-writing, as well as people being able to dance to it.”

When you’re the member of a multiplatinum act like The XX, some musicians might rest in their laurels: but not Romy. I wonder what it is that she gets from being a DJ? The connection? The fun? “I love to connect and it’s definitely fun. I love connecting with the crowd, that moment when people hear a song they like or also one they don’t know. I love seeing people have a moment. As a musician it keeps me curious which is something I was craving after touring a lot with The XX. Touring was intense and I was missing making music and being inspired by new music. When I have something coming up, I will go through new music for hours which in turn is inspiring to make new music.” Her taste in meaningful music, as you’ll now realize, hasn’t changed one bit: she’s not here to play the same tracks as everyone else and she’d rather jolt you into life with a pop vocal or a new edit of a trance classic than stick to long-adhered ideas of twelve minute techno cool.

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Since making the album, her former creative writing partner Fred has exploded on the global stage. But in many ways, it’s something she experienced herself as a member of The XX. Again, she’s not resting on her laurels but she’s also not taking anything for granted: she never has. “I never expect anything,” she says. “This is music I’ve loved for a long time and it’s been encouraging to see more people be into it. To start with, I didn’t set out to make a solo record. When The XX finished the third album tour, I wanted to be creative and I was introduced to Fred in a writing camp and we just hung out as friends and made music. And I’d play it to people and I wasn’t confident enough to go beyond that until we made “Love Her” which is lyrically very personal and Fred was like “who is this for?” and I said… me! I’m so proud of him. When we met, he was working so hard and working with a lot of people but in the time we’ve made this album, he’s put out three projects and a Brian Eno collaboration!” I ask her who her ultimate collaboration would be. “I just keep saying Beyoncé! Ever since I’ve been a teenager, she’s someone I admire so much. And I’m going to see her on Saturday!”

I decided that the best way to close out the conversation is to talk about three club cuts she would play at the right given moment as a DJ. All three set her musical agenda perfectly. The first is Tiësto’s remix of Delerium – “Silence”. “That song, without the trance elements, is a Celtic ballad. And it’s a record I played Stuart and Fred early on as a reference! I think it’s an amazing piece of music. I love ballads and I love trance.” Next: The Conductor & The Cowboy remix of Sonique – ‘It Feels So Good’. “It’s really good. I’ve played that in every part of the world and people love that song! I love that song too but it’s The Conductor & The Cowboy remix that I like, an extended ethereal mix which builds and builds.” And finally – HAAI – “Purple Jelly Disc” with Obi Franky. “It was so cool to hear her working with that vocalist and this has a really beautiful vocal. She’s been so great in terms of supporting me in the DJ world. It can be intimidating.”

The album “Mid Air” is out on September 8th with the current single “Loveher” out now via Young. Buy it on Beatport.

Ralph Moore is Beatport’s Editor In Chief. Find him on Instagram.

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