More about: Drug Store Romeos
Blossoming three-piece Drug Store Romeos first met five years ago under circumstances that are straight out of an angsty mid-2000s coming-of-age film. "Charlie and Jonny knew each other from school beforehand," vocalist Sarah Downey explains, "then I met them on the Facebook forum for our college. They wanted a bass player and I basically really wanted to be in a band. I met Charlie in the IT suite the next morning and we started manically sharing music with one of those headphone splitters."
Without any of the awkward preamble that normally comes with meeting someone online, the trio formed an organic bond over their shared music tastes. "We met and walked home together," Sarah explains, "we all found out that we lived five minutes away from each other in the same town and that evening we all just stayed up really late sharing so much music." And the cinematic clichés don’t end there: "I didn’t even play bass," Sarah laughs, "I just said I did! They caught on but they didn’t really mind. I started singing and Charlie started teaching me bass and it just went from there."
With only four singles under their belts— the latest of which, ‘Jim, Let’s Play,’ was released earlier this week— Drug Store Romeos aren’t the rookies they might seem. The band have been playing live shows since their conception and weekly pilgrimages to cult London venues became routine in their adolescence. "It was very intensive," Sarah says, "we ended up playing like three shows a week and we had to cart all our gear at rush hour from Fleet to London."
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"We were the most hated people on every tube line," she laughs.
With "[no] online presence whatsoever" in those early days, live shows in the capital were integral to the band’s progression. "Charlie put out lots of feelers and sent our music to a lot of different people putting on shows in London," Sarah explains, "and people started to hear about us through word of mouth and just through playing shows."
It wasn’t just the trio’s alluring sound to thank for their early success and their equally schmaltzy band name— extracted from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire— also booked them gigs. "We played this one show called Custard Thruster," says Sarah, "Sports Team didn’t see our show but they saw our name and they asked us to play with them," she laughs. "We played with them quite a bit at The Lock Tavern and it all happened very organically from there. We discovered ourselves during that period. I wouldn’t have it any other way."
It wasn’t just exultant trips to the capital that shaped Drug Store Romeos’ idiosyncratic charm and the trio— who have all now flown the nest and moved to London— are thoroughly indebted to their drowsy suburban roots. The band grew up in Fleet— a sleepy Hampshire town, esteemed only for its motorway service station— and it seems as though some sort of small-town syndrome was unavoidable. "I don’t miss it too much," Sarah confesses, "it’s more what it represented."
"Within that time we weren’t influenced by anyone and we were very cut off. It had its benefit and we were completely able to dive within ourselves and be influenced by no other scene or anything." While most of the bands in capital have bounced off of one another— often emerging out of the same London-centric mould— Drug Store Romeos’ suburban isolation allowed them to effloresce all on their own. "I guess that’s why we’re extremely different to all of the music going on in London at the moment, because we weren’t influenced by it," says Sarah, "we found our own influences. We were just going back into history and pulling out all this stuff that was very uniquely our own."
Autonomy and homemade influences dominate the band’s sound, and is perhaps the key to their anomalous, ethereal allure. While they cite Broadcast, Beach House and Stereolab as artists they admire, Sarah thinks their music is "mostly influenced by the pictures of things we see in our heads." "I think that’s why I struggle so much with saying what our sound is or giving assertive influences, because it’s extremely visual," she says.
The band’s Instagram is filled with enchanting visuals to complement each song and the complex universe they create, and Sarah explains how they tend to assimilate each of their tracks with different colours, then let these different hues lead the creative process. "Let’s say we write a line and it has a certain colour," she says, "we’ll be influenced by the feeling of that line by itself and then start trying to really hone in on those colours with different keyboard lines and different basslines."
To complement the "visual worlds we paint in our heads" the trio craft entrancingly abstract lyricism to intertwine with their evocative instrumentals. Some of their lyrics might seem arbitrary and almost nonsensical, but a methodical creative process lies behind each word choice. "I make these sheets," says Sarah, "word pages or whatever. I get two publications and I cut out different words from each. Two publications of contrasting themes, let’s say like a ‘70s girl mag or a gossip mag and then a tech magazine, and they create these very interesting contrasts together. It’s like activating my unconscious because for some reason I saw these words and thought, ‘I like that,’ and stuck it down."
These collaged sheets then form the basis for the imagery and lyricism in each song. "I start picking [the words] out," Sarah says, "and ordering them into non-nonsensical lines. At the time it kind of feels like, ‘oh, I don’t really know what that means,’ but then a month later I’ll flick back to it and it’ll be exactly how I was feeling in that time, just somehow described in a way that’s very abstract."
Abstraction features highly on the trio’s latest release, ‘Jim Let’s Play,’ described by the band as a homage to Boston songwriter The Space Lady. The track marks a slight break away from Drug Store Romeo’s characteristic dream pop, with transcendent synths intermingling deftly with Sarah’s celestial vocals. "’Jim, Let’s Play’ is quite different in itself," Sarah muses, "but within the whole sonic world we’re creating it makes complete sense." The band’s sound is anomalously genre-bending and each single makes them increasingly difficult to pigeon-hole. "It’s definitely changeable. We don’t stick to one concise box, we let ourselves evolve musically and we keep similar tastes but just allow it to move in different directions than it did a month or two months ago.’
This changeability is perhaps what makes the band so refreshing. Each release is slightly more exhilarating than the last, and despite their eclecticism, there’s a definite sense of meticulously planned pandemonium running through their flourishing discography. "I guess the foundation of it is dream pop," Sarah says, "but it kind of ebbs and flows out of that. Different rooms within the house of dream pop."
With the three-piece set to start recording their long-awaited debut album later this month, Sarah explains that more cohesion will come within the context of a larger-scale release. "I feel the way in which musicians release isn’t kind," she says, "we can’t completely show this world which is quite new. I feel like once you hear the album, it has all these different kinds of strings that will pull in from the different worlds that we’re creating within this one world." This beguiling, cultivated chaos is perhaps the sharpest tool in Drug Store Romeo’s impressive, eloquent arsenal and— just like their forthcoming album— everything seems to be falling into place for the exuberant young trio.
More about: Drug Store Romeos