In the Middle with Drug Store Romeos

Almost as soon as I enter the Zoom call with self-described “dream pop trip hop” trio Drug Store Romeos, I feel obliged to let them know that this is my first ever interview. Vocalist Sarah immediately puts me at ease by telling me that I seem “pretty cool and collected”, a description also quite fitting of the band themselves. With only four singles so far but some impressive support credits and upcoming headline shows to their name, Sarah, Charlie (bass), and Jonny (drums) seem as confident in their words as in their refined sound — both are equal parts soft-spoken and engaging.

Our interview coincides with the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown. Hoping not to dwell on it too much, I ask them to describe the last year in one word. Sarah chooses “absence”, Jonny “introspective”, and Charlie says it’s difficult to sum up in one word alone, he needs “a word that describes a mix of emotions, a variety of feelings.”

In their Spotify bio, the band describe their own search for music that “complimented and romanticised the at times slow-paced and quite isolated experience” growing up in their home town in Hampshire. Musing on their growing success in the past year, a collective slow-paced, isolated time, Sarah suggests that maybe “more people could relate to the need for escapism through our songs… there’s quite a big deal of that in there. Maybe it did kind of help people understand that feeling and where it comes from.”

“You kind of transfer over what you need and what you feel to the music you listen to.”

“Back in the day we listened a lot to a band called Mild High Club and for me that was very bedroom-y escapist music… I don’t know if that’s what he was going for, it’s definitely what we got out of it.”

I note that they’ve also cited indie rock favourite Alex G as an influence in the past and mention that he was my last pre-lockdown gig; Charlie puts his hand to his heart and Sarah exclaims “That’s such a good one!” Their own final live experience was a show with The Orielles — “Our last hurrah was a little tour with them, we jumped in some of their dates… It’s quite a stark difference to actually go to gigs where it’s packed out as well as just playing little shows. It was like boom and then nothing.”

Drug Store Romeos. Credit: Neelam Khan Vela.

“It was the biggest shows we’ve played and then a year of a barren wasteland.”

The band haven’t played Leeds yet, but Charlie recalls his old garage rock band supporting “aging rock band” The Trail of Dead, who are “all like forty and were big in 2001 but still had it somehow”, at “the really famous kind of small venue everyone really likes.” We figure out that he, of course, means Brudenell and he notes that “it was actually maybe my favourite show of the tour. I liked it a lot.”

Though no plans for Brudenell yet, the trio had socially distanced shows scheduled for February, including one at Leeds’ The Wardrobe, which weren’t able to go ahead. Sarah says that at first it was “quite nice to have such a massive time slot dedicated to writing and growing within that sense and being able to be incubated in your own little bubble, kind of like how we were back home,” but watching some live Aldous Harding videos the night before the interview was making her feel “really intense.” Charlie agrees, like a lot of us, missing “that electric feeling you can get from seeing someone live or playing live, there’s a certain type of aliveness that you can’t really get from being at home.”

Sarah seems certain that End of the Road will go ahead this summer, however, and mentions looking forward to seeing Aldous Harding, “letting the music contort her in any way necessary when she’s live. Full face inversion.” “It’s amazing,” she gushes. Charlie is looking forward to Big Thief, King Krule (“When I was about 16 I was quite obsessed… especially his first album”) and Pixies. 

“Me and Jonny went a few years ago so I’m really excited to go again. That was actually my best Alex G live experience. He was playing The Garden stage and it was golden hour so the sun was setting and he was so sparkly and he was smiling quite a lot.” We discuss his live tradition of taking endless requests after sets and his cover of ‘What’s My Age Again?’, discovering we both had a pop punk phase growing up — “I was so into Blink 182. They were like my favourite band.”

I ask what the dream festival to headline is, and Sarah says she was obsessed with playing Green Man. Charlie’s answer is a little more elaborate but very picturesque. “I guess somewhere that has amazing natural scenery… Maybe somewhere like Vietnam on a floating stage and there’s lots of candles on the water and people are on the beach watching us.” Jonny doesn’t think anything he says can hold a candle to the “Vietnamese jungle festival” but notes that Primavera always has good line-ups (I have to agree). 

Drug Store Romeos – Quotations For Locations via DrugStoreRomeosVevo on YouTube.

During lockdown, the band have been making their own music videos, something Sarah has enjoyed due to being “quite specific and really picky.” She did the ‘Quotations for Locations’ video, filmed all on tape, and says she “just went a bit mad to be honest.” “I’d never done anything like that before.”

“It was all inspired by the experiments of Cleve Baxter in the 1960s with plant intelligence consciousness.”

Charlie recalls the nostalgic video for ‘Jim, Let’s Play’ as presenting more difficulties — “COVID meant we could go back to the things we planned to do. It was in between lockdowns so it actually made that video a lot harder and more confusing.” “I think that video would’ve been better if lockdown hadn’t happened but oh well.” I assure them that I enjoyed it. 

Drug Store Romeos – Jim, Let’s Play via DrugStoreRomeosVevo on YouTube.

When I bring up their name, taken from Tennesse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Sarah tells me that “Band names are really hard, right? It’s the hardest bit.” “I had a friend when I was younger and I thought he was so cool and he was like ‘Oh we’ve just been reading this book. You should call your band Drug Store Romeos it’s a great name.'” “I told them and we all liked it but to be quite honest with you I did that play at school and I can’t remember reading it after. None of us have read it. It’s really pretentious.”

I ask what they’ve been reading over lockdown and, though Williams doesn’t quite make the list, Charlie’s answers span a variety of non-fiction, from experimental music to 1960s books on surrealism to David Attenborough. He reads the blurb from Michel Foucalt’s The Order of Things aloud, a book about scientific knowledge, mutations in culture, and analogies between the stars and the human face, ending with “Yeah it’s a lot.” Both him and Sarah also note reading and enjoying Murakami, an unsurprising choice due to his notable musical influences.  

Nearing the end of our interview, Sarah yawns and apologises before assuring me that “apparently when you yawn psychologically it means that you feel at ease and comfortable.” Coincidentally, I think that’s exactly the same effect their music has.

The band have two shows coming up in Manchester and London, another two singles and then an album. Charlie adds that they have a “scary show in September that we haven’t announced yet.” Intrigued, I ask what he means by scary and Sarah jokes “Fire!” Really, it’s their first headline in a large capacity venue in London, “it’s kind of absolutely terrifying.”

Before I leave them, I ask what one word they’d like to sum up our next 365 days, hopefully spent out of lockdown. Sarah congratulates me on my first interview and chooses “uncompromising.” Charlie picks “entropy” at first, but then settles on “chaos.” Jonny goes with “respair.”

“Respair is the opposite of despair. It’s the period after. It’s like a period of growth after a period of not growth.”

His answer echoes their lyric from ‘Now You’re Moving’, “There is no growth without moving,” and with an album, festival dates and headline gigs lined up, Drug Store Romeos’ growth seems certain. 

Drug Store Romeos – Now You’re Moving via DrugStoreRomeosVevo on YouTube.

Header image: Drug Store Romeos. Credit: Erin Hambly, Chuffmedia Press.