Jérôme Reuter of Rome
After a year of silence, Luxembourgish Neofolk project ROME is back on tour and is to release its new trilogy in November. Reflections of Darkness met Jérôme Reuter in Brussels 17th September 2011.
“Art is not about pleasing people.“
Reflections of Darkness (RoD): Would you tell us something about your new trilogy ‘Die Aesthetik Der Herrschaftsfreiheit’? What are we to expect?
Jérôme Reuter (Jérôme): Well, it has three albums… (laughs) ‘Flowers from Exile’ was a very personal record because of my family history. The family of my uncle was involved in the civil war and subsequently forced to go and live in exile in France; in that respect ‘Nos Chants Perdus’ was a natural sequel to it. But during the research I did for those albums, I felt that there were still some important things that were not yet addressed. There was this greater underlying theme, a historical undercurrent. While doing the research, I sensed this spirit of revolt, the joy of fighting for freedom. I found this revolutionary spirit in Spain and then I saw the same thing in France, so I wanted to get to the core of it, to see what it was really about.
RoD: You have referred to your first three albums on CMI as a trilogy, but this time you have decided to bring us all the parts as one package.
Jérôme: In a way, my first albums (‘Nera’, ‘Confessions d’un Voleur d’Âmes’, ‘Masse, Mensch, Material’) were a trilogy, yes. Moreover, ‘Confessions’ was recorded before ‘Nera’ was released, so I could not get any feedback on it, so in that respect the situation was not so different. In a way, those first albums are also reflected in the new trilogy: The first one is a very noisy, brutal one, mirroring the bleakness of ‘Nera’, it is like an uproar of a revolution. People who liked ‘Nera’ will probably like the first part of the trilogy. The second… …is the downfall. The third one has some hope to it, it is mellower. In fact, it reminded me of ‘Masse…’. It was like going back to ‘Masse…’ and starting to move onwards from there, but just in a different direction. It’s like following a path that I did not choose back then. And now I am ready to ignore all of it and the new stuff I am writing right now goes in a completely different direction entirely. So, anyway, fans of my earlier work will probably like the trilogy, but I have got some other things planned that they may not like… (laughs)
RoD: Was this music born over the years or during a shorter, more intensive period?
Jérôme: Both, actually. I think I had something like one third of the material ready before I started working on it. The first part was pretty much done already by the time I walked into the studio. But the idea of this trilogy has been in my head ever since 2008. Then I wanted it to be like a total audio book, with no actual songs on it, just a collage and spoken words. The longer intros and the excessive German spoken word parts are reminiscent of that.
RoD: You say you only used analogue equipment for the trilogy. What’s the thought behind this? Is it some kind of a dogma for music, like the one Lars von Trier and his colleagues announced for movies?
Jérôme: There’s a lot of pressure that you put on yourself, and a lot of the time that keeps it from being a really great record. For the music, it was more important to go into a “Do It Yourself” kind of spirit. All that mattered were the songs themselves. It wasn’t planned beforehand, though: I moved out of Germany and needed a new studio and called up a guy with whom I worked in Brussels when I was in a punk band fifteen years ago. He said he had moved to the countryside and had analogue equipment there. There was nothing there, a calm and quiet place. It was easy to keep going once you got the ball rolling, since there was nowhere to go to. (laughs)
Going back to your question, I must say that ‘Nos Chants Perdus’ was kind of overproduced. You know, you want every record to be the best you have ever done and always sound better than the previous one. ‘Nera’ was recorded in seven days. ‘Nos Chants Perdus’ took about seventy. It ruined me financially, but we brought it to a level where it could compete with the high end productions. But it just doesn’t make sense for us to try to compete with those kind of productions, because were not on those kind of budgets and we are subject to the consequences of people stealing music. I simply couldn’t afford to do this in the same way as ‘Nos Chants Perdus’, but at the same time I didn’t want to, artistically speaking. I also like the kind of working process that analogue technique forces upon you. I recorded two or three songs to try it and I liked the sound and the process: You record and that is it. You can’t go back all the time. It is very spontaneous. With digital recordings, there was extensive post-production. The work never stops. Now you have five hours to finish the song and there is no going back. So it was all handmade and hardly produced. I still use a lot of samples but they are kind of minimal, too.
RoD: You announced a campaign for a living room tour in Europe and US. Where did the idea come from?
Jérôme: We’ve noticed that on our concerts there are a lot of people from hundreds of miles away. They’re spending hundreds of euros on tickets, hotel bills and sometimes even flights for just one show. So I thought why not just get a couple of friends together who are willing to spend the same amount to have us pay in their living room. That is the idea. We’re going to do it in the US and we are definitely going to do it at some point in Europe, but I don’t know when. It simply is a lot of money to get the band moving.
“Beware of words and their power to charm”
RoD: I don’t know if you have any formal background in history, philosophy or literature, but it appears you’ve studied them for the trilogy. Press release reads almost like an essay - or a manifesto.
Jérôme: I studied German and English literature at university, so I did learn how to do research during that - that’s what it’s all about. I like doing that before I start a project. It’s like doing a film: before you start to shoot you have to write a script, think about the cast and so on. There definitely is kind of preproduction process going on here, for instance researching what sort of sounds to use. It takes a lot of time.
RoD: You are a renown multi linguist. Do you actually still have one language that you consider as your mother tongue?
Jérôme: I clearly do have Luxemburgish as my mother tongue. I constantly switch languages, but as long as you keep dreaming in your mother tongue, it is ok, I guess. (laughs)
RoD: You mix strikingly many languages in your albums. What is the purpose of it? Is it that concepts can never be quite translated to another language?
Jérôme: Exactly that. I‘ve had an album with a Spanish focus and one with French focus and now most of the new trilogy is in German. All the things I read, all the voices I heard… everything that stuck with me while working on the trilogy was in German. I didn’t want to translate it because that was the way it was supposed to be and sounded most natural. I was inspired by the trilogy ‘The Aesthetics of Resistance’ by Peter Weiss. It is such an important book, but it has been sold out for years. When I finally got it in my hands by chance, I was amazed by the form of it. Every book has like seven hundred pages, every few hundred pages there is maybe a chapter number if you are lucky… Millions of words, how was I ever going to read it? I really liked that!
RoD: So you clearly aren’t going to give your listeners an easy time?
Jérôme: Well, it was planned to be much worse. (laughs) But it’s not actually a very difficult album for the most parts, except for those very long German passages. I tried to translate it but it just didn’t sound right. There was no way around it.
RoD: So in a way the listeners are forced to do their own research?
Jérôme: In a way, yes… Or maybe I‘m just lazy. (laughs)
“I renounce you…”
RoD: I perceive Luxembourg as a melting pot for cultures, where nearly everyone has roots somewhere else. Besides Luxembourg, I understand that you've been living at least in Germany, UK and Belgium. Your songs also appear to reflect some kind of alienation, yet simultaneously they reflect attachment.
Jérôme: I don’t believe in nations, nation states, anything like that. If anything, I identify myself as a European. I have roots in different countries. I feel like home everywhere in Europe. This doesn’t mean I would be advocating for the EU the way it is today or anything. That’s not what it’s about; it’s all about the cultural heritage. Also, every country is different and that’s what I like about it.
RoD: Would you say there’s an ideology behind ROME?
Jérôme: No. If there was, it would be a different one every week. This trilogy is the most political thing I’ve ever done. It reflects some early streams of the 20th century left-wing movements and thoughts – I share some of the views and I’ve always been outspoken about not liking the right-wing, but I don’t want ROME to be seen as a political project. It’s again like a movie you make, a subject you chose, a theme you decided to follow for a production. And in my private life, I’m not that much of a political person. I haven’t really found anything ideological that I’d put myself to service to.
RoD: We are lucky to live in a society where we have freedom. So what’s the fight we should be fighting in today’s world?
Jérôme: These records reflect specific times in history, specific fights one could justify. I’m not advocating that people should go to the streets and burn a bank or something, although there’s not that much to be said against doing that… (laughs) Of course one could have the same kind of fight today, but I‘m not going to tell people what’s the good fight. That’s up to people, really. I’m trying to include as many views as possible. The records are more about establishing characters. They may be very strong, but have their flaws and weaknesses, have failures, be traitors… There is beauty and pride and also in being frail.
So while it’s not about a specific fight, it’s inevitable that things are not going to stay like this forever. It’s a natural fact that it can’t go on. We are living in a corner of a world that’s eating everybody else’s food. Perhaps we’ll be fine for another fifty years, but there will be a lot of people suffering for our well-being. All this will be gone soon. It’s sad, but unavoidable. We don’t know what’s going to follow, but it definitely will not be the same again. I’m not going to say it would be bad, just different. It will be a lot worse at the start but maybe something good will come out of it… There will always be an end in everything. Do not get accustomed to things. Keep yourself busy, keep moving.
RoD: I recently stumbled across a little Nazi Goth boy who was quoting your lyrics. I found it rather surprising because if anything, I personally would've seen ROME as anti-war and anti-dictator of any kind, and definitely not one of far-right ideals.
Jérôme: People are stupid, you know. (laughs) Yes, you can write that down, everybody knows that. It’s not like I have an anti-right wing badge on the album covers, but if you read the lyrics, it should be quite clear. Sometimes you see people and are like, “whatta…” Maybe they should go and read a book or something. But everyone’s got the right to be interested in whatever they want. If someone really has a thing for that kind of things, they’ll find what they want from any kind of music. A lot of bands glorify war, and there is a lot of war in ROME, but I don’t portray it as something glorious and also I don’t see the point of singing about flowers…
RoD: Matt Howden from Sieben openly speaks against Nazist and racist ideas among Neofolk music fans. Do you have any thoughts on the alleged connection between neo-Nazism and Neofolk?
Jérôme: It’s revolting to see ROME to see linked to right-wing bands. There’s these bands that are openly or by causative factors linked to those ideals. Many artists state they aren’t political, but at the same time they’re dealing with very political issues. I’ve always been very clear that we aren’t right-wing and that we’re on the left side of things, even though we’re not a left-wing band as such. I do not want ROME to be a political band. But Nazis are scum, end of story.
RoD: Do you actually even perceive ROME as a Neofolk project? I can see this label arising from your CMI years, but lately, it has appeared somewhat unfitting: You seem to draw more from Leonard Cohen than a stereotypical Neofolk ensemble.
Jérôme: A year ago I’d have said to hell with Neofolk, ROME is not Neofolk. (laughs) Well, the last two albums weren’t Neofolk, but I started out sounding partially like some of the Neofolk bands, so I don’t mind being labelled as one and I’m used to that. Besides, stylistically, Neofolk is pretty difficult to describe anyway. But there’s more to ROME than just Neofolk and that’s what I like about it. That’s what people like about it. Rock’n’Roll, industrial, singer-songwriter, punk, all kinds of weird dark stuff… And I don’t really know how to label myself, and I don’t really care. For me, it’s just music.
“Compromise - is not possible!”
RoD: You’ve mentioned that you can get along with very little money. Is that simply out of necessity to be able to live on your music?
Jérôme: Well, yes, as a musician you kind of make that choice anyway before you start. Buying expensive cars has always been out of the question – certainly with the kind of music I do. Making music doesn’t generate a lot of money, and in recent years the global record sales have dropped to such an awful degree that all musicians, labels and fanzines suffer from the consequences of people stealing music. It’s generally played down, either by the bands and labels to keep their guard up and to keep up appearances, or by people who just go “oh, well, you can still play live and make money there”, and “downloading gets you more fans” and shit like that.
A record label invests tons of money into making a product and promoting it. Now we just took the customer out of the equation. The math is simple, if not enough people buy it, there won’t be a next record, because there are more fun ways to burn money for everybody involved. And playing live is hard if you want to make a living with it, because everybody has to tour now, so the fees are going down because of the competition. A lot of labels don’t have enough money to pay for advertising in the fanzines, so the fanzines don’t get any money anymore either. So it’s really tough right now. A lot of the underground culture is dying because of that. I don’t care if the major players struggle, they have been asking for it ever since they started, but it’s the small companies, the small idealists who find it harder by the day to get by. It is stuff like that people really don’t think about when they are stealing our work.
We aren’t pop stars who can find other ways to make money – I can’t release some stupid perfume or sneakers or whatever. And I don’t have another job waiting somewhere. At least, there’s still a lot of people out there who support the artists by buying merchandise and purchasing the albums. There’s – at the moment – still enough of those individuals who keep this going and make it possible for me to release another album. So, yes, living on very little money is a necessity more than a choice. I chose to become a musician, so I chose not to have a lot of bling bling. But on the other hand I don’t care a bit about the bling. I don’t even have a TV.
RoD: I keep repeating myself, but you’ve been amazingly productive. Do you have other interests in life that would have nothing to do with music?
Jérôme: I have a part in my life that is private and sacred, but pretty much everything else is ROME. As you can see, all my friends are in the band. Everything I like, people I meet, theatre, books I read, history, all that is combined in ROME.
RoD: Where are you planning to go from here? I’m not expecting to you to tell the details, I know you won’t. But do you know already yourself?
Jérôme: Before it’s done I can’t really speak about it, also because you never know what it’s really going be like in the end. Maybe you run into something you didn’t expect and venture that direction. I talked to a friend about ‘Flowers From Exile’ before it was released. I told him about this small mellow thing and by the time it was out and he heard it, it had turned out into this grand rock kind of thing. Every album is different. The next will be even more different. (laughs) I don’t want to reveal anything. All I can say is that I have a completely different approach to songwriting right now. My intention is to keep fresh. You easily get stuck recording the same album again and again. Most artists think they reached whatever they were striving for once they have found their sound. I don’t believe in that. Once you find your sound, change it! Art is not about pleasing people.
Titles are excerpts of ROME’s lyrics. ‘Die Aesthetik Der Herrschaftsfreiheit’ is out on Trisol 11th November 2011 and on sale via Infrarot.
Pictures by Achim Webel (www.nightshadow-photoart.de)