Having been completely blown away by the immense force of Doncaster’s Bang Bang Romeo live at Cro Cro Land earlier this year, it was with excitement that I ventured out on a rainy Thursday night to see them again last week.
With their current UK tour in full swing, having already sold out shows in Birmingham, Manchester and Southampton (amongst others), and with the injuries to show for it (drummer Richard broke his foot in an unfortunate accident coming off stage in Birmingham, but is continuing to play gigs like a trooper), the band are in good spirits when I catch them for a quick chat before the gig at Omeara.
“The tour’s been beyond what we expected”, front woman Stars enthuses when I ask how it’s been going so far. “We’ve sold out every night… it’s crazy. Of course, we’d hoped that Leeds and Sheffield and places close to home would sell out. But, for places down here, like Southampton, it blows my mind; driving so far away from where friends and family are, there are no guestlists, it’s just genuine fans. It’s a great feeling.”
Discussing how the crowds have all been totally “up for it“, Stars tells me how it’s been the first time she’s experienced receiving gifts from fans. From wooden BBR logos and names tattooed on people’s arms, to tasty Bake Off worthy cakes: “One BBR fan in Edinburgh had seen on social media that my favourite breakfast is Eggs Benedict with black pudding, so they baked a three tier cake in the shape of Eggs Benedict with a shiny pink tutu… And it tasted amazing.”
And so it seems that Bang Bang Romeo’s time has come to win over hearts worldwide with their energy-fuelled anthems and Stars’ unmatched charisma, and it’s fantastic to see this well-deserved success. “There’s been all these weird moments that we’ll never forget… This tour really has been a turning point.”
But what got Bang Bang Romeo started on their journey to ‘stars’dom? Has music always been a part of their lives?
“There’s just nothing else we could see ourselves doing,” Stars reflects. “I’m very happy that mine and Ross’ paths crossed a few years ago. We’ve been writing together ever since.” And with Richard Gartland (drums), and the recent addition of Richard (II) on bass, their line-up is now complete. “This is the line-up that you see today,” Stars motions around the cosy dressing room, “We’re a very happy unit.”
“We’re all just massive music lovers“, guitarist Ross continues, “We got a lot of inspiration from our dads.” Stars agrees: “We’ve all had our dads as a main focal point for music… Well-played dads!”
As well as listening to music from a young age, Stars can’t remember a time that she didn’t love singing – “Dad says I started singing when I came out of the womb… just imagine – ‘I’m here and I’m queer!’” she chants, with that distinctive cheeky glint in her eye. Drummer Richard, too, has been honing those beats since childhood: “I started playing when I was ten. At first, I didn’t like missing Maths for the classes, but as soon as I got into it, I loved it.”
Music has always been an integral part of the band’s lives, and this completely shines through in their boundless passion and enthusiasm for all they do. Music is life, and Bang Bang Romeo’s belief in this is just one of the things which I’d imagine makes so them so popular – their genuine love for what they do resonates deeply in each of their immense performances; it’s impossible not to become swept up in their utterly infectious joyous energy. “Music is everything” Stars explains, “… Whatever experience you have relates to music – happy times, sad times, you wanna pull a girl – music… Music is the real accompaniment to every memory. It’s a wonderful thing. We are all obsessed with it.”
Bang Bang Romeo’s passion and optimism is reflected in their empowering latest single ‘Love Yourself’, which saw them team up with songwriter and producer Example. Of the collaboration, Ross explains: “It all started at a This Feeling TV show we were doing. He (Example) was also there doing an interview, and we just started chatting.” Stars continues: “Mikey Johns – the creator of This Feeling, an organisation that’s always supported us – just introduced us to his mate, Example, and we just both hit it off straight away… We had each other belly-laughing, and he suggested we should work together. Two weeks later, behind the scenes, it had all been sorted out.” Co-writing and recording the song together, the collaboration seemed like a completely natural and pretty relaxed process: “Blueprints of the song were down within two hours. It was just there.”
Reflecting on the meaning behind the lyrics and its message of self-love, Stars explains: “The state that social media’s in, with the massive pressure to be perfect… It bleeds into your life and your loved one’s lives. It’s becoming more and more apparent that no one can accept a compliment or be proud of how they look. I’ve experienced it a million times with myself, and with my partner Charlotte too: I’ll say ‘You look beautiful today’, and she’ll say ‘no thanks’… I’m like basically ‘just love yourself!‘” So, it seemed only right to write a song with this message. “We all wanted to roll with that”, she continues, “Ross had had this chorus in his ‘brainlocker’ for a while, and it was just a perfect starting point for this song, and we just built around it…”
Taking this as a starting point, Example, too, was inspired: “He would just suddenly come up with lyrics… He’d be on his phone and we’d be like ‘what the fuck’s he texting for?’, and he’d literally just written the whole song… There were just little things that inspired the lyrics. Like, we were recording in London and it was absolutely pissing it down, and we went somewhere called The Moon, which is where the lyric ‘meet me down the moon some rainy Sunday’ came from. The guy’s a genius, we loved working with him.”
On the subject of working with other members of the pop elite, we discuss the band’s recent support slot on tour with the legendary P!NK. “It was amazing“, Stars recounts, “It was more than we expected. A dream come true. Everything was more than we expected“. Richard interjects: “Especially the catering!”
“Everything was more. We got told that P!NK’s agent had come to a show we didn’t know about – you don’t expect anything to come from it, and then obviously this happens. So, that was more than expected. Then you think you’ll be playing somewhere like the O2, then it’s Wembley Stadium two nights in a row, so it’s a little more than expected. Then on the catering, you expect chips and burgers and then it’s lamb shank with a dauphinois red wine jus. Everything exceeded every expectation. Including P!NK herself.”
With clear admiration and gratitude, Stars continues: “That saying ‘never meet your heroes’ – whoever came up with that had shite heroes! She’s a total hero of mine, and I know the lads genuinely love her and appreciate her as an artist. She was extremely inspirational in every single way. It really is a testament to her as a person, and an artist, and her whole team – putting on a band like us, a completely unknown band in comparison. I think other artists of her level should take a leaf out of that book because otherwise noone’s gonna have a chance. And we feel like we’ve been given this wonderful chance.”
Again, Stars’ and the band’s genuine emotion and love for what they do shines through. They’re clearly not taking anything for granted and relish every opportunity they get to spread the word about BBR, perform around the world, and recruit new members of the ‘BBRMY’. Their love for each other and closeness as a unit is also explicitly evident; they seem completely at ease with each other; totally on the same page, and frequently breaking out into little giggles either at each other or the various interruptions we have throughout the interview (the fire alarm and support bands’ vocal warm-ups only adding to the fun).
With them now having shared a stage with one of the most famous women in the industry, I ask the band what they think of the representation of women in music generally. “I think it’s progressing”, Stars begins, “And quite rightly so. Just like anything else in the world, the more awareness there is about it – the more conversations we have, and the more open-minded we are – the more change will happen. And I think this change has started to happen. We’re starting to have more of these conversations; whether it’s the 50/50 split on festival line-ups, or even tragic things that shouldn’t have to be campaigns like the ‘Me Too’ movement. They shouldn’t have to be a thing, but shed light on the way women in general are treated.”
And on the labels women are so often heaped under, Stars laments: “I think we’re at a stage where people are starting to hopefully not focus too hard on ‘female fronted’ as a label. I hate that so so much – my vagina’s nothing to do with it! It’s not ‘female fronted’, it’s ‘me’ fronted! I think we’re getting there. We just need to have more conversations like this.”
It’s evident that the rest of the band are in agreement too, as Richard adds: “I think the best thing we’ve seen is women now finding the confidence to say ‘actually you can’t say that to me. You can’t do that to me‘”. In other words, Stars clarifies: “We’re not taking any more shit!“
However, Stars does have some concerns about certain measures being put into place to promote ‘equality’. “The 50/50 split does kind of worry me. I wanna be on a line-up for a festival because I’m good enough, not because I’ve ticked a box. Not because there’s a space for my vagina! It would have to be a pretty big space… I take up two seats. I don’t want to be a statistic on your fucking spreadsheet. I’m here because I’m good enough.”
She has a valid point. These measures are of course positive steps, but what’s key is the awareness of the issue, and the importance of female/non binary artists being given as many opportunities as their male peers. “I think we just need to come up with more ideas, because it’s working and I’m seeing more bands with a strong female presence, and that’s because of this, and soon I won’t have to say a ‘female band’, that’s the dream for me… Just stop calling me a ‘female fronted’ band!” Stars’ passion fills the room; her assertive and vibrant nature is something that I truly admire, and wish I had more of. She’s a force to be reckoned with, an essential strong presence in today’s industry.
So, it is not surprising that when asked about sexist attitudes she’s come across directly, her initial response is: “I think the majority of people wouldn’t fucking dare! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ll just tell you what I think.” (I have noticed, and it is one of the things I love most about her).
“Yeah, I’ve experienced little things – it’s hard to compile just one experience. But there are always things that make you go ‘Oh, you said that because you’re a man… At a show abroad recently, I was getting interviewed and the guy was like ‘how do your band feel about a woman fronting them?’ … I was like ‘they probably feel pretty fuckin’ lucky. Next question’… And then he continued ‘how does it feel to be female in a band in a man’s world?’ – I was like ‘what is this?! Am I being Punkd?!'” So, yes, even the strongest and most outspoken of us experience sexism from ignorant men in the industry… “There are so many other interesting things to talk about… Why are we talking about my tits?!“
And it’s clear this wasn’t a stand-alone incident, as Richard adds: “And a bloke the other day said he’d wank over Stars. He even said it twice, for effect.” Stars continues: “Yeah, he said it like it was a compliment, like I should be flattered. I was like ‘why are we having this conversation?!’ If I could get away with breaking someone’s nose, I’d have broke his nose. Obviously I don’t condone violence though… Piss off!”
My admiration for Stars only continues to grow, as I secretly wish she had broken that guy’s nose…
So, onto subjects other than being in a ‘female fronted band’…
It’s with evident excitement that the band talk about their upcoming debut album, which is out this Friday, 1st November. “We had the release pushed back a couple of times due to various things, like the P!NK tour and Example song“, Richard explains, “And us all just being total perfectionists… But we’re finally in a position when it’s ready.”
“We’re itching to get it out“, Stars adds, “It’s a compilation of songs that we’re so excited about. It’s our life’s work versus recent work, showing the journey of us as musicians, and how we’ve progressed.”
“I just think it’s a really good introduction to what we deliver” Richard continues, “It varies from different sorts of vibes. It’s got funkier tracks, heavier ones, and then more mellow ballads, like my personal favourite ‘Beautiful World‘.”
“It includes songs we’ve recorded all over the world“, Stars explains, “From songs we recorded a few years ago, to one we recorded in March of this year. It really does span a long amount of time and distance – from NY and LA, to Birmingham, London and Doncaster.“
This distinctive, yet eclectic, sound is a Bang Bang Romeo trademark, as I witness at the gig that follows – from head-banging, fist-clenching heavy rock moments, to lighters (phones) in the air emotional pop ballads. Their versatility, all held together by the immense power of Stars’ vocals, her unique charisma, and the band’s consistently tight musicality, is another element that I think contributes to their widespread and ever-growing fan base.
And, yet again highlighting their closeness as a band, Stars explains how all the songwriting is completely collaborative: “In terms of lyrics, me and Ross will write the songs, then when we take the bones into the studio, it’s all very hands on in how we want it to sound. We all help each other out with everything, we’re strangely in tune with each other, and have the same kind of vision. We all trust each other completely, and want each other to be completely happy.“
“One of our favourite things to do“, Ross adds, “is just being in the studio, throwing ideas around. With ‘Beautiful World’, for example, Stars went in to do a vocal on it, and just went off on a tangent of crazy vocals. We were all hugging each other, and she had no idea what was going on – it was perfect. There are loads of little beautiful moments. So, hopefully people will listen to the album and get those too.“
It seems, with the tour and album, that Bang Bang Romeo are pretty busy and couldn’t possibly fit in anything else for the rest of the year, but they’re not stopping there…
“We have got a few announcements coming up. A few Christmas shows we’re playing and announcements for next year…” Richard assures me.
“Even though our debut album will have just come out”, Stars adds, “we are going straight back into the studio to record album number two… Sitting on our hands and doing nothing is just not an option. Not just financially, but we just don’t wanna do anything else… This is life. We are often talking ’til midnight, and then will be back on the phone at 8am. Not a day goes by when we don’t speak.”
And it shows. Bang Bang Romeo are clearly as tight personally as they are musically. There will be no stopping them as they continue to blast into our ears and minds, expanding their ‘BBRMY’ and creating powerful, empowering anthems. With the incredible raw force of Stars at the helm, they’re unlike any other band around; their music, and all they stand for, is truly admirable. It was an honour not only to meet them, but to continue to have my mind blown by their colossal live show once again.
A Heartbreaker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the upcoming debut album from Bang Bang Romeo, is out 1st November.
Words: Mari Lane / @marimindles
Photos: Jon Mo / @jonmophoto