Meet Romero – The Melbourne Music quintet

Romero, Australia’s Soulful Power-Pop Dynamos

“Turn It On!” reveals stories of personal striving, restarting, mulling-over the unsaid, resisting control, deteriorating relationships, the emotional throes of uncertainty and celebrating growth through all such experiences. The rollercoaster of life is mirrored by the sonic and lyrical turns MarkMeets featured artist ROMERO have crafted into their debut album – a hopeful tonic for whatever you’re going through, and a dose of excitement for what’s to come. 

The Melbourne quintet boasts a DIY punk attitude, a big-voiced singer who once fronted a Blues Brothers tribute band, and songs that are as sticky as a bar room floor.

At a global stage of supporting new music talent here at MarkMeets, the rock band’s debut album Turn It On! is a perfect soundtrack to sweltering drives to the beach and sweaty times at the bar, with Oliver crooning and yelping over a sound that’s equal parts joyous power pop, scuzzy punk, and early ’00s NYC indie sleaze—with some Thin Lizzy-ass ’70s hard-rock guitar solos to turn up the excitement a few more notches.

Rising star 29-year-old Alanna Oliver basically has a home studio set-up with two synths, a microphone in a stand, and a tambourine.

Fergus Sinclair’s fuzz-rock power chords, Adam Johnstone’s trebly six-string heroics, Dave Johnstone’s rumbling drums, and Justin Tawil’s bass melodies are the operation’s muscle and adrenaline, but Oliver is the star at markmeets music introducing. Her commanding pipes and presence set the band apart from their pub-crawling peers, and she was practically raised to sing like this. All her favorite artists as a child were big-voiced legends like Etta James, Stevie Wonder, and Carole King; she even remembers sitting in the booster seat in her mom’s red sports car at age 5, singing every note to every song from King’s 1971 album Tapestry reports say.

After studying music at Melbourne Polytechnic in her 20s, she toured Australia with a Blues Brothers tribute band, trying to do justice to Aretha Franklin’s “Think” and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” All the while, she was writing songs and trying to start a band of her own. One attempt fizzled out because the other members didn’t share her commitment or enthusiasm. “I didn’t want slow, I wanted now,” she says. “I’m a bit impatient.”

Just as Oliver was desperately trying to find the right band, brothers Adam and Dave Johnstone were smarting over the dissolution of their Dinosaur Jr.-inspired group Summer Blood. “My life was just a hot pot mess at that point,” Adam recalls. Their mutual friend Josh O’Keefe, who created the punk-inspired Roku animated series Doomlands, arranged a meeting between Adam and Oliver—though Adam was so disenchanted with music by that point that O’Keefe had to promise to buy him multiple beers and shots of whiskey in order to pry him off the couch. Upon his arrival at the beer garden, Adam quickly told Oliver that he didn’t want to play shows ever again and was considering moving to his parents’ farm in the countryside to reboot his life. Then she played him one of her demos off her phone—a “holy shit” moment that prompted a series of jam sessions.

Around the end of 2018, Romero was fully formed. But by the time they were thinking about playing live, Oliver couldn’t help but feel a little out-of-place. She didn’t listen to rock music growing up and had never stepped into a punk bar before Romero’s first gig. “I didn’t know who I was in rock’n’roll,” she admits. “I was like, ‘What do I do on stage? Do I run around and bang my head?’ That’s what I was trying to do—which was hard, because I can’t actually sing when I do that.” Since those early days, she says she’s become much more comfortable. “I just had to become more authentic and not get caught up in trying to be ‘punk.’”

After just four shows, Romero had labels knocking on their door. Co-founder of the scuzzy Australian punk destination Cool Death, Alessandro Coco, remembers receiving a “shitty phone recording” of one of Romero’s sets and being instantly taken aback: “Fuck, man, that goes.” He invited Romero to play Melbourne’s Maggot Fest, an annual event known for booking some of the country’s best punk and hardcore bands. While Oliver’s bandmates expressed their disbelief about playing on a bill with aggro underground weirdos like Gee Tee and Swab, she remembers thinking, What’s Maggot Fest?

After releasing a few singles on Cool Death, the group hunkered down to record their debut LP. Dave says their engineer had “grandiose ideas about wanting to make songs sound like Phil Spector,” but the group steered the sound in a more austere direction, inspired by the first two Strokes albums, along with grungier records by Sheer Mag and fellow Aussies Royal Headache.

With Turn It On! out this week, the band have imminent Australian touring plans, with hopes of playing internationally soon. And they’re already eager to start working on a second album. Adam is even considering another trip to his parents’ rural property—except this time, instead of going there to get away from music, he’ll be joined by his bandmates as they all figure out some more new music. In the meantime, Oliver, who’s currently studying the works of Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder here in her room, is continuing to fill her notebooks with song ideas.

How did you come up with the name Romero?

Alanna Oliver: It took us months. We had all these ideas, but there was always one person in the group text saying, “nah.” Then one day Dave sent us all an invite and was like, “Come to my house for a PowerPoint presentation.” We had no idea what it was about. I remember him making all these connections like, “Lanna, you really want to go to Rome in Italy. The hearse in GTA was called the Romero, and that connects to me. We like horror films, and Night of the Living Dead was made by George Romero.” He was pointing at all of us—“you and you and you.” At the end of it, we were all just like, “Yes, this is amazing! We are Romero!” But I think if he had just group-texted us “Romero,” it would’ve been a flat “no.”A lot of your lyrics are inspired by people from your life. “Neapolitan” uses the triple-layer ice cream as a metaphor to describe an emotional rollercoaster—were you writing about someone specific with that one?

My auntie, who first introduced me to Ella and Etta and Otis and Stevie. She let me borrow all of her CDs, and I just idolized her. We spoke on the phone all the time for hours and hours. She was just obsessed with healing and understanding where your trauma comes from. You couldn’t have a conversation with her without it going back to all your trauma. I’m like, “I just wanna talk about chicken parmigiana, I don’t wanna talk about how I’ve got abandonment issues.” You could have all your friends there, and I reckon within an hour, she’d probably have worked her way around all the group and figured out what everyone’s issue was—but in a really great and kind way!

One time we were having a chat, and she was talking about love and how she had commitment issues. She had cancer again and again, and every single time, it brought her closer to a nirvana—she became more present, saw more love in people, was able to connect more. She loved to talk about her journey. She was saying, “My life is like Neapolitan ice cream—you’ve got the chocolate, the vanilla, and the strawberry.” After that conversation, I hung up the phone and wrote the lyrics. I showed them to her before the song was born. She knew that it was her story. She just passed away about five months ago.

Are you nervous that some of the specific people these songs are about will hear them?

Very! Some of them in particular, oh man. I was with the guy who “Halfway Out the Door” was written about on-and-off for a long time when I was young. And funny enough, I recently saw him for the first time in like six years. I’d just written some words about the album’s songs and where they came from, sent it off, went out to have a drink at a bar down the road, and he was there.

It was quite a relief, actually, ’cause I’ve always gone through life thinking, I’m gonna run into him one day and it’s gonna be like a bullet and I’m not gonna know what to do. And you could tell the two of us were like, [gasps] “Oh fuck.” But we went for it, and it’s much better now.What is the best part about being in the band?

Just having these new mates. These guys are like my brothers now. I honestly know that they care so deeply for me, and I can rely on them. When we come together and something clicks, there’s nothing better than that. I live for those moments. I just want that all the time.

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Paul McDonald
Paul McDonald
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Paul is a freelance photograher and graphic designer and has worked on our most recent media kit.


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