AS THE ROMANS DO
A Conversation with ANA LOLA ROMAN
By Lori Zimmer
Ana Lola Roman is an experience. The Brooklyn-based musician is as much a performer as she is a songwriter and music-maker, fusing the three into one incredible super power that pushes limits as it inspires. Not all musicians create an all-encompassing experience when they perform, but Roman is able to without the aid of props, other musicians, or an elaborate set–achieving music nirvana using only her body and costume.
I first heard Roman’s brand of “henna-pop,” as she calls it, after our lives threw us together via many, many coincidences. Tweets turned into chats turned into meeting up at artsy happenings and I slowly began to find out the creative driving force behind her as a person, as well as an artist.
With deep Spanish roots and a life long study of Flamenco, Roman is heavily influenced by a thick amalgam of Persian and North African beats, mixed with a medley of Turkish hymnals, peppered with Arab influence and topped with a dollop of electro synth-pop. Her lyrics are written in a somewhat unconventional way, instead of a structured writing regimen, she flows from a stream of consciousness, writing songs from the heart and the mind.
With these ingredients, Roman’s performances fuse each element into a unified force. Each stamp of her foot matches a drum beat, which matches the flowing movement of her fabric, that is met with the purr of her voice. Her latest EP, Keep it Mellow, will be released this week, but I suggest catching her perform in person, if you really want to experience the stars aligning.
Lori Zimmer: Do you consider yourself a musician or a performance artist?
Ana Lola Roman: They go hand-in-hand for me. I don’t feel one cancels out the other. I’m not interested in just ‘playing’ music, singing well, and playing my instrument well. I’m interested in provocation, evocation, and pushing myself beyond my own limits. If you can’t do that within your own music, if you can’t create your own world and bring people into to it, then you’re not doing it right. You just aren’t telling the truth. Stay lean. Stay confrontational. Keep endurance. Then attain maximum performance. Period, end of story.
LZ: Your performances are as powerful as your music, tell me how you combine your audio with the visuals of Ana Lola Roman–your costuming, movement etc.
ALR: I believe in elements, metals, and alchemy. I believe in the tone of how a snare drum or tambourine sounds on any given night–those tones never sound the same no matter where you are. A pair of eyes looking at you is never the same. It all depends on the elements.
The movements, as awkward as I may feel, come naturally and symbolically. You caught me out at a very precarious and vulnerable time when I am just coming out of a very vulnerable shell. In my opinion, I’m much, much too raw and sincere for my own good, but in many respects I think that’s what people appreciate. I have nothing to lose and nothing to hide anymore. I am not posturing or playing it cool. I’ll leave that for the politics after, offstage. I’ve shut the door on my lies and what I feel others should see me as. You can clearly see that in the movements too.
The audio will grow. We are adding new members to the band, and it will always be highly, highly percussive because that is the way a heart beats, right? It’s percussive. That’s the only way I can ever conceivably perform or make music.
My styling and costuming depends on who feels like dressing me and who I can create a collaboration with. I always invite new designers and stylists into my world, not because I need to put on a $5,000 designer piece just to look good, but because I want to be around creative people in order to bring something to life. Stylists/artists/other designers are now approaching me also, because they feel the need to use me as a canvas, and I welcome that with no hesitations at all. If I inspire vision in someone else, then I have no qualms of wearing their vision on my body.
LZ: To me, your music evokes the intensity of Siouxie Sioux and Kate Bush, meshed with the sounds of other cultures, tribal beats, and electro-pop. What has inspired you to create a mesh of very different ideas that sound completely “right” together?
ALR: What influences me is the direct correlation of how we have isolated ourselves through technology. How our isolation has become it’s own tribe. We are tribe unto ourselves now, no matter how connected we are. We are tribes of people held hostage by our iPhones, and because of that we can no longer be alone. And when we are, we are seeking solace in that soft-glow of our iPhones and Androids blinding our faces. We are the tribe of the isolated.
As a direct result, I thirst for togetherness and understanding and the only way to get back to that is through the primitive. It’s the primitive that is always coming out of me. This music is primitive. I sometimes call it Ghetto-Flamenco and sometimes I call it Henna-Pop. It’s cross-cultural, but highly technical. The ideas also come out of isolation within love. I have chosen not to sing about love between individuals. We’ve already covered that territory in the last million years of sound and words. That subject is done and over. It’s just a non-issue for me, and personally I don’t want to hear about how someone broke your heart and how much you are in love with this person through a song. I can no longer allow it in my songwriting.
What is on the table now is how we’ve managed to isolate ourselves so much that we have forgotten to get back to the source. I want us not to forget about he soul in things. That’s what most of my ideas are. Truth and soul. And honestly, I don’t need to be playing acoustic piano, folk music, or guitar to get that point across.
Sometimes I think this music is more like Electro-Soul if you think about it. In some songs I have sampled Sephardic Jewish hymnals, and chants. There are also mantras on the album. There’s cells, ions, molecules and pieces of all my hurt, blood, guts, and vision in my music. I’m taking on the hurt of being isolated through no one’s fault but my own.
LZ: Your shows are all encompassing, and breathe creativity, something that I feel is appreciated mostly in places like New York (or Europe). Do you think music fans are apt to accept this kind of experience, or do you feel its limited to the more creatively open-minded audiences?
ALR: I’m not sure. I’d assume that even an audience in Nowhere, North Dakota would appreciate an effort beyond learning how to play instruments well and strumming a guitar. Don’t people want to escape? Don’t people want to feel something? Don’t people want to feel provoked or feel compelled to get up and dance? I want to be the one to pinch them to see if they are still alive. Whether or not they can take it and whether they have to walk out of the room is not my problem. Whether or not it’s just ‘too much’ is simply not my problem. Whether or not it’s too emotional or uncomfortable–not my problem
You know what I say that? Look, honey-baby I wasn’t put on this Earth to make you feel comfortable while you’re sipping your beer. In fact, I’d rather those people left the room and make room for the other audience members who wish to be taken away, even if it’s just for 30 minutes.
Fact of the matter is I’m not as good as an episode of Mad Men. But if Mad Men isn’t on the night you’re coming to see me, I’d love to take that place in your life for at least 45 minutes. Otherwise, whether in Europe, NYC, or Kansas, I’m opting for my audiences to kill their television and get off the internet.
LZ: Your EP just launched, can you tell us a little about it?
ALR: The EP is called Keep It Mellow. It was released in the U.S. on 4/10 and in the U.K. on 4/19.
The title track, “Keep it Mellow” is a special song. The backing track was composed by Tom Ellard of the Australian band Severed Heads. My co-producer Jean Luc Sinclair (he’s worked with Scissor Sisters and Nine Inch Nails) and I re-mixed the song and I put vocals on it. It’s basically about being over-taken by the image of someone’s online presence. That futuristic chemical reaction that happens when we fall in love over a computer screen, but not the reality of the person. This is a very curious phenomenon that’s happened over the last 20 something years. It’s so prevalent in our generation.
It’s Virtual-Love and it’s spreading like a disease. I call it image-tattooing. We can’t push our image-tattoos on other people, it’s not fair. So in this song I’m challenging people, as a call to arms, to fall for a person in front of their faces rather than behind a computer screen or through facebook pictures. In simpler terms, it’s also about the numerous amounts of infatuations and boys I’ve had to deal with sending me massive amounts of texts and emails professing their fetish or fascinations for me before they have even met me in person. This is why “Keep It Mellow” is such a strong song for me, we have to take a step back and just face the reality of things. Don’t tell me please you want me to be your girlfriend or month-long muse or fascination based on my profile pics. Can we all just take a breather from it?
LZ: What is next for Ana Lola Roman?
ALR: Shows in Paris. European tour. And couldn’t you believe, already writing the second album. Possibly another pair of new shoes by the time you publish this. Oh, and massive amounts of awesome chocolate soy-dream ice cream.
Ana Lola Roman is a singer, songwriter, producer, editor and writer based in Brooklyn.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography by Jonathan Grassi
Makeup by Claudia Lake
Art Direction by Ryan Richmond
Style by Jenni Hensler
Design by Marie Havens
Ana Lola Roman, Under the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo Brooklyn, February 18, 2012, Photography by Jonathan Grassi
Page 1 & 2: