Filipino musician Guendoline Rome Viray Gomez, better known by his stage name No Rome, has been dropping music since 2013. He has since moved from Manila to London to work with Dirty Hit, the same label as Rina Sawayama, The 1975, and Filipino-British singer beabadoobee. After four EPs, a Coachella performance, and collaborations with Charli XCX, Bearface, and Dijon, the Quezon City native is finally ready to drop his first album.
VICE talked to the 24-year-old to get the dish on his highly-anticipated debut, only to find out during the video call that he was cooped up in his East London apartment, recovering from COVID-19. He continually reassured us that he felt fine, and that he was on his last day of quarantine. In fact, he had just released a music video an hour before the interview and was ready to hit the ground running. There was no trace of fatigue in his voice, just pure excitement for people to hear “It’s All Smiles,” a 10-track album he worked on with co-producers BJ Burton and George Daniel. It dropped on streaming platforms on Dec. 3, a collage of textured distortion that pays homage to the references he’s picked up in the past decade.
“There’s a lot of different themes on the album but at the end of the day, I wanted to constrict it to belongingness and feeling like you belong in this world. [People] have faked all smiles. They come and listen to this music and sit down and hear it. Just smile it out. I hope that this record actually brings smiles to people,” No Rome said.
VICE: You’ve been making music for a while. What made you finally decide to put out an album? Why now?
No Rome: I don’t know, I was bored. No, I’m just kidding. Honestly, I just felt like it was the right time to do it. I could never tell you how and why, but I guess musically, it got to the point where I wanted it to be. I knew it was time because all those years I’ve been trying to make an album, I was always kind of getting to a sonical or musical place that I wanted it to be at, and I think that this was finally that. The timing was just right. The music was right.
You were in Manila most of the pandemic. What was it like producing here again?
It was nice. I really liked that I was back. I’m always back in the Philippines, actually, for holidays, especially, but I think this was the longest in the past four years. I didn’t really get to produce with other people, physically, for the album because I did everything remotely. I think that was the best choice, especially at the height of the pandemic. At the time, I feel like everybody was going back to where their families were, you know. My friends out here in London were all going back to their hometown stuff. So for me, it was really ideal to be back. Musically, it was nice because the emotional attachment I had with home and family kind of contributed to the sound.
When you say “go back,” did you just stay in Manila?
I’m a QC boy who never really left, but you know what, I also stayed in Subic for three months, lived there, set up a studio, and rented a townhouse. That’s where I did the first few songs of the album, actually, so that was a great time. I had some friends who stayed with me during the first half of the lockdown and it got really rough because they wanted us to become residents and show a permit, but we couldn’t apply for one because offices were closed. I ended up leaving and going back to QC, which was rough at first, but it turned out great. I was able to write a lot of good music.
Did you take in any influences from Subic or Manila?
Mostly music from peers and catching up with friends whom I hadn’t seen in so long. I feel like that’s included in the creative process. I also had the chance to meet up with artists I respect. I usually hang out with a lot of the visual kind of artsy, like directors, and I just love that kind of energy because I thrive off of that. Musically, it also inspires a lot of visual art. So through just hanging around and having community conversations, my recommendations are filled with artists to check out.
I know how particular you are about visuals, even down to your hair. It seems like you’ve had eras somewhat marked by your hair color, like when you were doing promo with The 1975 and in your last EP, you had blue hair, and then now you’re blonde.
Manic pixie dream girl, that’s my vibes. I don’t know. I don’t really like to think about, “OK, I’m gonna do a photoshoot, what hair color should I do?” I’ve always just dyed my hair, even before I started doing music professionally or whatever. That’s really funny that you see it as kind of like an era statement, because I guess it was all just right timing, doing promos with that kind of hair. Maybe now I’d like a little bit more self-awareness. Just like plot it out, maybe it would be interesting.
Were all your music videos for this new album shot in the Philippines?
I worked on this album with director Paco Raterta—such an intelligent guy, so creative. I was just a big fan, obviously, and I had the opportunity to work on this record with him. I remember telling him, ‘I want you to do all the music videos, all of it, like all the singles, put it out.’ And he also loves the record, so it’s just natural. We worked on this concept together, which we developed for almost a year, I’d say maybe seven months.
I sent him a couple of references that really inspired me as an artist, like Wong Kar-wai, Gaspar Noé, and all these really amazing visual directors. It helped that he was also very familiar with the Philippines and that he’s got a team he’s been working with for a while, good location scouts that made us really paint these pictures we wanted to do.
I always just enjoy doing videos and making the visual side of things with music. Those are the really fun parts. You know, how it kind of coincides with each other?
What can we expect from the album, musically?
It’s very different from what I’ve done throughout the years. I feel like this is it, musically. I just wanted to be creative and make something new and different. I wouldn’t say it’s like, new new, it’s like a collage of references. I tried to make something out of stitching different inspirations, from My Bloody Valentine, to Nujabes, to The Avalanches—just random inspirations for me to make this album. And that’s what it is. It’s that moment, or what I was feeling musically, that inspired me. So, yeah, it’s a distorted record, it’s noisy, but you know, I love every bit of it, I’m proud of it. I hope that people enjoy it as much as I did making it.
Why did you name the album “It’s All Smiles”?
I just wanted something that was ironic and, at the same time, I feel like it’s a hopeful and very nostalgic album—not really depressing. You know, hence the title. It’s all smiles, despite the sad lyrics. It’s not really sad. It’s just real. At the end of the day, for me, it’s all smiles. I feel like the stuff that I’ve tried to write and sing about on this record are some things that people also kind of go through, but just kind of packaged and delivered in a different way, musically. Even if it’s a little bit sad, we move forward. That’s kind of the idea of it.
I noticed that a common theme in some of your songs is the desire to express feelings for a significant other, but not being able to. Would you say that’s a recurring theme throughout this album?
Oh, no. There’s a couple of songs that are like that. “When She Comes Around” is kind of like a closure song. “When she comes around / I never try, I never bothered, but I love her so,” doesn’t mean that it’s sad, it just means that it’s about closure and acceptance, that it is what it is.
There are some other styles in the album that are very introspective, like in “Secret Beach,” which is about getting those bad thoughts out of your head. Then you got a song called “A Place Where Nobody Knows,” which is a very sweet song about having this spot where you and your loved one or significant other can go, that nobody else knows but you, almost kind of like this safe space for both of you guys.
With pandemic restrictions easing, do you plan to go on tour anytime soon?
Oh, yeah, of course. I had to cancel a show that I was going to do because I got COVID, but yes, I would like to go on tour. You never know, it’s hard to make plans at the moment, but yes, I made this record with the idea of touring. That’s why I say it’s kind of energetic and upbeat, because I wanted to come back and perform these songs. That was part of the plan while I was writing the record. So hopefully, I do get to do it next year.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.