“If you grow and understand the business, you stay longer”, says London newcomer Romel. “The big song is not really the problem, it’s the next one you follow up with.”
It’s easy to see the Tottenham native has his head securely screwed on when it comes to his career.
Romel has intricately honed his craft, learning about every facet of the music business and biding his time before launching himself into a professional career.
And now it’s time for him to reap the rewards.
He’s enjoying a breakthrough 2020 so far. Romel’s fifth single, Mind Blown featuring Sweet Billy Boy, knocked both Drake and Tinie Tempah off the top of the Music Week Official UK Black Music Club Chart following a 10 week journey.
The track, which was produced by his cousin and Tinie Tempah producer Slic Vic, has grown in popularity during lockdown as it enjoyed plays in virtual club DJ sets.
The Grafton Recordings signee’s career so far has seen him wow the crowds at Notting Hill Carnival, support Burna Boy, and embark on a tour of Nigeria alongside artists Jaywon, Mr 2Kay, and Tha Suspect.
Romel is set for a bright future.
Daily Star Online caught up with him to talk about his influences, topping the charts, future singles, and his hopes for the year ahead.
Hi Romel, how’s lockdown treated you?
“To be fair I haven’t really done much but I’m on the post production of my new song. I should have done more but I spent most of my time playing Fifa!”
When did you first get into music? Tell more more about your journey.
“The first time I was in secondary school, I was about 12. It was more like a talent showcase. The first time I recorded professionally was in 2009. That was when I recorded my first song.
“2016 was when I could professionally call myself a pop artist. In the past four years, that’s when I found my sound and the way I want to go with my music. In the other years I’ve been studying the industry. I’ve been touring with different artists, watching and learning. From 2016 I actually found my sound and I’m really happy about that.”
Were you getting involved in certain scenes?
“Before that I was on tour with my current manager and he organised a tour for his artists. I was the only unsigned artist. I was quite privileged to be a part of it. It included MTV Base. I was in Nigeria back then. We toured there. I spoke to most of the artists and learned a different side of it, to see it’s more than just music. It’s about your sound and brand. That’s when I realised it’s bigger than I actually thought. I think it’s better that way.
“Back then I was looking for a big song that can spring me out. At some point I just realised I don’t need that big song. I just need to grow.
“If you grow and understand the business, you stay longer. The big song is not really the problem, it’s the next one you follow up with. I didn’t want to be one of those one hit wonders. I kept learning and learning until finally I realised I just want to be that artist where I don’t have competition. If it’s not Romel, it’s not Romel.”
Your track Mind Blown has proved to be extremely popular. How did you write and record it? That bass line is so catchy.
“It wasn’t really planned. I got to the studio because back then my cousin Slic Vic, who produced it. He’d just got signed. I was really excited with the way my music was going. I thought let’s just make a pop song. He said ‘I’ve got you’. We came up with something in an hour. Then we were done. When it comes naturally, that’s just the best part.
“When you sit back and write and do stuff, it feels more like work, like you’re doing a job. I came up with the melody. He said ‘sing about how you’re feeling right now’. I was thinking ‘you know what, it’s Mind Blown’.”
When you listened to it back, did you think we’d made something incredible?
“I listened to it before this interview and I can’t believe we actually made this!”
You also brought Sweet Billy Boy on to the track too, what did he bring to the song?
“He brought a different vibe to it. I actually finished the song before he was brought onto it. I wasn’t actually supposed to release the song next. I was going to release another song.
“He used to be my manager. I play semi professional football as well. I met him in the reserve team. He said he did music. I heard him sing. He had a really good voice. I heard some things he’d done in the past. I said I had a few songs. He listened and loved Mind Blown. I said he can have the second verse.
“We just re-recorded the second verse and when he sang it, I thought that’s even better! I liked what he’d done to it.”
It knocked off Drake and Tinie to hit number one in the UK Black Music Club chart, which is massive. Did you ever think you’d do that? How do you feel?
“The song getting to the chart was enough. I saw I was number 17. I posted on Instagram that I was so excited to make the chart. Maybe the next time I could be number one with the next single.
“The next thing it kept moving and it took 10 weeks to get there. When it got to number two I thought this was the best, there’s no way it can get further than this. The next week my manager phoned me and said ‘Romel, you’re number one!’. I was like ‘What?’ He said, ‘you know what among all the artists I’ve ever managed you’re the first person to hit number one in this chart’ – It was a big deal for me. I never saw that coming. We’re all really surprised.”
Are you thinking now ‘we need to take this but we need to push on’?
“Yeah, we need to push on. If I can do this, then I think I’m ready to go even further. I think I know how to make good music.”
You mentioned the other singles coming up. Are they of a similar vibe?
“They are different. I make pop music but I fuse different genres. This one was pop-funk, the one before was EDM pop. Before that I had a mix of garage and pop. Before that I made afro beats. I’m still not sure what to expect for the next one but I know it’s going to be different than anything I’ve ever done. I can’t wait for you to hear it.”
How do you coin your style?
“I would say I’m a pop fusion artist. I don’t want to be limited to making pop music. I want to make a song everyone can listen to but at the same time I want to challenge myself and try different things. I don’t want to be cliche and do what everyone’s expecting.”
Does going down different avenues keep it exciting and fresh for you?
“Exactly. It’s like doing a different job every day.”
In terms of your writing, does music come first or the lyrics?
“I think always the music comes first. I have this feeling where I don’t think the lyrics really matter if you don’t get people engaged in the song. They have to listen first before they think about the lyrics. If I wanted to do just lyrics, I would probably do poetry or something like that.”
You’ve had airplay on NTS and BBC radio, as well as the track making Apple Music playlists – how important is it for an emerging artist like yourself to have that backing?
“It’s really important because it shows that when people see that he’s got something to offer because it’s not that easy these days as an independent artist to be playlisted. That’s the first step into what I want to achieve. I’m really grateful for that. You have to make every success count.”
It was produced by Slic Vic, what did they bring to its production? What makes him such a good producer?
“I’ve known him since I was a kid and he’s amazing. You think you can be a good producer, but if you don’t have the chemistry that’s more like a downside. When I speak to him he understands what I want and what I’m trying to achieve. Most of my songs I go up to him and say ‘I want to do this’. Sometimes he’ll say let’s try something different.”
Is it a partnership that’s going to continue looking forward?
“Hopefully but he’s been quite busy. He’s been working with Tinie Tempah. I beat him to number one! I’ve got a lot of songs so I can wait for a while until he’s available again. I’d love to work with him.”
As well as music, you’ve featured in a Bengali movie and had cameo appearances in the short film Lucid and the BBC show Famalam. Are you interested in getting in front of the camera too?
“I never actually planned for it. I’d never tried acting in my life. The way I got into it was I was playing football and I dived. My opponents didn’t find it funny.
“This guy came up to me after the game and said ‘you shouldn’t be a footballer, you should be an actor’. My friend said I should go for it and ‘if the way you dived was so convincing, you should just go for it’. I just gave it a try and that’s how I got in!”
What’s Tottenham like in terms of the music scene?
“I used to listen to Channel U. It was difficult for me because I realised if I had to do what I wanted to do I had to break away for a while. It used to be more grime and hip-hop in Tottenham. For me I used to listen to Vengaboys, I still listen to them and I’m proud of that. I listen to Robin S, Peter Andre, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys. I realised in Tottenham it was difficult and I had to step out of it. I moved out to places like Shoreditch to make sure I could reach out to people who could listen to my kind of music.”
Are those artists your main inspirations or do you listen to lots of things?
“I listen to good music. As long as it’s good, I don’t care about the genre. I want to have a broad range of music in my head.
“My dad used to be a DJ. I listen to most of the songs he played in the past. I never really stuck to an artist. I let the song get me before I know who the person is. I went to some parties with my dad when I was a kid and I watched the way he moved from one song to the other.
“I always watched the reaction of people and studied what made them wowed. I apply that when I’m making my music. I need something catchy that people can sing and move to. Michael Jackson, I listened to him, and a South African pop star called Brenda Fassie. She was quite big in the 90s.”
Do you find yourself listening to other artists at the moment?
“The first time I heard Dua Lipa I knew she was going to be big. When I heard Be The One, I told people she was going to be big. The same when I first heard Zara Larsson.
“The main person we need to be paying more attention to is Jax Jones. I’ve loved him from the first time I heard him. I knew he had potential. We’ve got something similar. I just think he’s got more to offer, from the music videos to the songs. It’s really amazing.
“Burna Boy has done a lot. We have a lot in common. We have the same storyline. I’ve met him before and I know most of his family but he’s done well. I knew he was going to get this big.”
What are your hopes for the year ahead and do you have an ultimate goal?
“Last year I said in 2020 I’m going to get on the charts. I never talked about being number one and it just happened. It’s amazing for me. I said it and I meant to. Most people thought I was joking.
“My hope for the next year is to get more recognition in the industry. I think that’s going to happen because I’m making really good music.”