Published Nov 30, 2018Daniel Romano thinks that Finally Free, his third album of 2018 following the surprise release of Nerveless and Human Touch in January, is his strongest one yet. But he isn't so sure that you'll agree with him.
"I think [Finally Free] is a pretty difficult record and it's not necessarily easy to listen to," Romano tells Exclaim! from Utrecht, Netherlands following a show with his punk band Ancient Shapes. "A lot of it is intentionally out-of-tune and not sung obsessively, but I just felt like that's how it needed to be."
The album's nine songs are a rush of rich imagery that come through off-kilter and flickering, like the picture on a TV that fell down the stairs. A haze of psych-folk floats around Romano's voice, which becomes so strained at times, it sounds like he's gasping for air. Regardless of how he feels it will be received, Romano believes that these songs reflect his truest self. "I think it was coming from a place that maybe I hadn't explored in myself, which left me detached from that space until many listens later, and realizing where things are stemming from," he explains.
The place that Finally Free emerged from is a bit of a mystery to Romano. The words came to him all at once as he was driving through the Prairies. He can't recall when he was driving or where he was going, but he remembers feeling "a strange moment of clarity in some way." When it came time to record, Romano felt uncharacteristically daunted by the task. Romano sets self-imposed restrictions when recording, and for Finally Free, he committed to using a four-track Tascam cassette recorder. Once he started the recording process though, Romano, bolstered by his limitations, felt fine and fell into a routine that mirrored the fast pace by which the words came to him.
"Through the entire process with this record, I just felt that I was making somebody else's record," says Romano. "Obviously it's mine, I wrote it and made it, but it just felt that I wasn't necessarily alone in it. I think because it was so fast and because of the rules that I set up for myself, I didn't listen to the songs that many times. I hammered one out and then onto the next."
Romano sings of "the long mirror of time" — a source of awe — at various points during Finally Free. When asked what the mirror is all about, he admits he doesn't know. Romano isn't really that interested in getting into the specifics of his lyrics. "Everything I've ever written has had some literal meaning at the time and place that it was written, but I tend to write in a way that it's not so obvious."
Instead, Romano focuses on crafting a mood, and he points to the album's overarching theme of "hopefulness in a very hopeless time." Romano also commends the communalism of music and hopes that Finally Free will be interpreted in many different ways.
"That's what I like about songs — different people can take completely different things out of something that may seem like it's really obvious, or not. I think that makes it more interesting. Or at least it makes it more interesting to me.
"I'm not interested in telling my own boring personal story. What would be the point of that? Who wants to hear about some white guy and his middle-class lifestyle? No one needs to hear that. Lots of people still make that kind of music and make a lot of money doing it, but I don't feel like I need to add to that."
Finally Free is out now on You've Changed.