RoD header


EscapeWithRomeo HelicopterLogoInterview with

Thomas Elbern (guitar, vocal) from Escape with Romeo

ESCAPE WITH ROMEO, founded by Thomas Elbern in 1988, embarked on a journey blending Atari computers and musical ideas into reality. Their break-through hit ‘Somebody’ propelled them into the music scene, touring extensively across Germany and Europe. After a hiatus from 2018 to 2022, they returned with the compilation album ‘Based on a true Story’, rejuvenating their sound with guitar-driven Post-Punk influences.

Transitioning from keyboards to a guitar-heavy line-up marked a significant shift in their sonic landscape, leading to the upcoming release of ‘Suspicious Bliss’ in 2024. Through revamped versions of classic tracks and new compositions, ESCAPE WITH ROMEO continues to captivate audiences with their evolving sound and timeless themes. With the new single, ‘Suspicious Bliss’, on the way, in an interview Thomas Elbern reflects on the band’s evolution, motivations, and aspirations and offers a glimpse into the sound and themes of their upcoming release and more.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Can you walk us through the journey of ESCAPE WITH ROMEO from its inception in 1988 to the present day, highlighting key milestones and transformations along the way?
Thomas: In 1988 I wanted to start again after leaving PINK TURNS BLUE and starting my career as an independent radio DJ in Cologne, Germany. It was difficult because I was provided with a gigantic music input. Remember: in the late eighties in Germany, radio was the Influencer no. 1 when it came to independent music. So, I worked my way back to songwriting and started ESCAPE WITH ROMEO. We were lucky the first album made an impression on the fans and shaped the way for the future. There were so many transformations in these 36 years, impossible to number. Band members came and went and the audiences became more and more international. Maybe our first tour in Spain in the early nineties was a big thing and the transformation of a complete DIY ethic in 2000 when it came to form our record company, management and work independently from our studio.

RoD: ‘Somebody’ was a breakthrough hit for ESCAPE WITH ROMEO. What was the inspiration behind that song, and how did its success impact the trajectory of the band?
Thomas: ‘Somebody’ was a breakthrough song for EWR, that’s true. To be honest it’s so long ago that I completely forgot what I wrote the song about. But it became a key song for many people that connect their own experiences and ideas of what it means and what topics it covers for them. It’s their soundtrack for the eighties, although it was released very late in that decade.

Escape With Romeo PromoJun2023

RoD: The band took a hiatus from 2018 to 2022 before returning with the ‘Based on a true Story’ album. What factors contributed to the decision to take a break, and what motivated the band’s return to music?
Thomas: ‘Based on a true Story’ is more a compilation than an album. It contains a lot of tracks from day one to the present day, especially that we also played live a lot of times. I was fed up with the whole music industry and all the stress that it brought. Also, I did not see any perspective in playing the old songs again and again and was not very content with the ‘After the future’ album in the end. So, we did this “final” tour that ended in the summer 2019 at W Fest in Belgium. Then Corona came and changed everything. I had a lot of time to rethink my musical past and what I really wanted with my music in the first place. So, the idea came to rethink a lot of the EWR songs and put them in another form. That turned out to be disc one of ‘Based on a true Story’ which were more or less arranged like the versions we play live. For me and the band there was a new wave of motivation to return to the roots somewhere in between electronic, guitar driven, Post-Punk and Indie. So, we played live again with a different line-up and it fully worked!

RoD: The transition from keyboards to a line-up of two guitars, bass, and drums marked a significant change in your sound. What prompted this shift, and how has it influenced your approach to songwriting and performance?
Thomas: As I’ve already mentioned we changed the line-up in the band to two, bass and drums, guitars. You still hear electronics and keyboards but the core is a guitar driven sound. And it worked live very well and this wall of sound that I like so much on stage. That influenced me writing new songs and rearrange tracks that I did for another electronic project called DIRTY VOCODER. This is the core of the upcoming album ‘Suspicious Bliss’ that will be released end of 2024 and we worked on this all year.

RoD: ‘Based on a true Story’ showcased revamped versions of some of your classic songs. What inspired revisiting these tracks, and how did you approach reinterpreting them for the album?
Thomas: While there was lockdown during Covid I digitalized all my old black and white negatives from the 70s and 80s with my new scanner. It was not so much a feeling of nostalgia but a reminder of how my eighties were, the Punk and Wave scene, the gigs I’ve seen at that time and how cologne felt at that time. I made music with a very minimal equipment and it tried to describe the anger and joy in this decade. Now with the evolution of studio tools in the Digital Audio Workstation I’ve started to play around with the single tracks and made new versions songs like ‘Refuge’ or ‘Somebody’. We’ve finished the tracks in the studio and were really happy with the results because they sounded very much more like EWR 2022. On disc 2 we collected a lot of songs of the EWR catalogue that we felt were relevant after all these years.

RoD: With the upcoming release of ‘Suspicious Bliss’, how would you describe the sound and themes of the new album compared to your previous work?
Thomas: The sound is more rough, unpolished and pushed to the edge. Maybe that is because I was listening to a lot of Metalcore and Post Rock at the time of writing. I’ve discovered the band SLEEP TOKEN and they became an influence as well. Also, I’ve discovered that there is an important transition possible: I’ve written and released a couple of tracks with DIRTY VOCODER. I found a way to transform some of these songs into the EWR soundscape by adding a lot of guitars, real singing, but also computer-generated voices, as I did with DIRTY VOCODER. That was a breakthrough in the whole production that we are still working on. And lyrically it’s very much about the time we are living in: angst, revenge, artificial intelligence, war times and being alone in overcrowded world. Nothing is quite what it seems, that is the idea behind the album title ‘Suspicious Bliss’.

Escape With Romeo Promo BandInShadow

RoD: The first double-single, ‘Black Jaguar in a Police Car / Freezing in the Summertime’, offers a glimpse into the new album. Can you share the inspiration behind these tracks and how they fit into the overall narrative of ‘Suspicious Bliss’?
Thomas: ‘Black Jaguar in a Police Car’ is an impression from a crime scene. The Black Jaguar was a strong healthy person and falls into the trap of addiction. That can be a relationship or a dangerous drug. I like to leave this open to the listener. He ends up driving in a police car …the episode ends here. But we have a crime scene here filmed from above and the music is the tapestry of it all. (Have I watched too many Netflix series?) ‘Freezing in the Summertime’ is an example of a DIRTY VOCODER track transformed for EWR. It is inspired by the Burt Bacharach classic ‘Walk on by’ (Also covered by THE STRANGLERS) in a different mood and style. It’s rough, it’s loud even at low volume and it captures that strange emotion of an unexpected encounter.

RoD: As a guitarist and singer, how do you balance the creative aspects of songwriting with the technical aspects of production when working on new music?
Thomas: I spent a lot of time on front of my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Very often I begin with just a sample that creates a special vibe. I see the DAW as a big instrument, technique and songwriting work flawlessly together. The real challenge is finishing a song, because you’ve got so many possibilities nowadays. But in the end, it’s the melody in that creates the magic, wrapped into a production that peels out the good moments. Frenzy (our drummer) and I are very busy in the end of a production session and we are very nerdy, when it comes to a distinct sound and vibe. Live I’m just the guitarist and the singer but behind the scenes we have a clear idea to use our production tools to take that music to the extreme in a good way.

RoD: ESCAPE WITH ROMEO has built a dedicated fanbase over the years. How do you connect with your audience, and what role do they play in shaping your music?
Thomas: The easiest and most direct way to connect with our fans is, when we play live and get a direct reaction from the audience during and after the show. You only feel if a song works live when you play it. You feel the audience, see the reaction and this is how they shape our music back. If a song doesn’t work live, we have to go back and react on it by finding the elements that make it difficult and fix those. I’m happy that we don’t have those only The Cure AND JOY DIVISION audience only anymore. People have also changed and that means they have a broader taste in music which I really enjoy as a music guy.

RoD: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of ESCAPE WITH ROMEO, both musically and professionally?
Thomas: I don’t think too far ahead: We’re looking forward to play a few festivals this summer and finish ‘Suspicious Bliss’, the new album out by the end of 2024. And I hope we’ll get the opportunity to play a lot of shows in 2025 to promote it.

Comments powered by CComment