Different rooms within the house of dream pop
Charlotte Marston
11:18 13th November 2020

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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 dont end there: "I didnt even play bass," Sarah laughs, "I just said I did! They caught on but they didnt really mind. I started singing and Charlie started teaching me bass and it just went from there."

With only four singles under their beltsthe latest of which, Jim, Lets Play,was released earlier this weekDrug Store Romeos arent 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."

"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 bands 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 wasnt just the trios alluring sound to thank for their early success and their equally schmaltzy band nameextracted from Tennessee WilliamsA Streetcar Named Desirealso booked them gigs. "We played this one show called Custard Thruster," says Sarah, "Sports Team didnt 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 wouldnt have it any other way."

It wasnt just exultant trips to the capital that shaped Drug Store Romeosidiosyncratic charm and the triowho have all now flown the nest and moved to Londonare thoroughly indebted to their drowsy suburban roots. The band grew up in Fleeta sleepy Hampshire town, esteemed only for its motorway service stationand it seems as though some sort of small-town syndrome was unavoidable. "I dont miss it too much," Sarah confesses, "its more what it represented." 

"Within that time we werent 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 anotheroften emerging out of the same London-centric mouldDrug Store Romeossuburban isolation allowed them to effloresce all on their own. "I guess thats why were extremely different to all of the music going on in London at the moment, because we werent 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 bands 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 thats why I struggle so much with saying what our sound is or giving assertive influences, because its extremely visual," she says.

The bands 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. "Lets say we write a line and it has a certain colour," she says, "well 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, lets say like a 70s girl mag or a gossip mag and then a tech magazine, and they create these very interesting contrasts together. Its 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 dont really know what that means,but then a month later Ill flick back to it and itll be exactly how I was feeling in that time, just somehow described in a way thats very abstract."

Abstraction features highly on the trios latest release, Jim Lets Play,described by the band as a homage to Boston songwriter The Space Lady. The track marks a slight break away from Drug Store Romeos characteristic dream pop, with transcendent synths intermingling deftly with Sarahs celestial vocals. "Jim, Lets Playis quite different in itself," Sarah muses, "but within the whole sonic world were creating it makes complete sense." The bands sound is anomalously genre-bending and each single makes them increasingly difficult to pigeon-hole. "Its definitely changeable. We dont 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, theres 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 isnt kind," she says, "we cant 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 were creating within this one world." This beguiling, cultivated chaos is perhaps the sharpest tool in Drug Store Romeos impressive, eloquent arsenal andjust like their forthcoming albumeverything seems to be falling into place for the exuberant young trio.

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Photo: Melanie Hyams, Sarah Downey