ABQ Green Room
Q&A: Josh T. Romero
By August Edwards
When COVID is behind us, I will still be on awe of those people that turned a time of worry and ruin into a time or creation and achieving dreams. Josh T. Romero is one of those people.
Romero, who is a freelance graphic designer and spearheaded Dark Room Horror, is now fulfilling another artistic endeavor that he's dreamed of for as long as he can remember: making music. His two projects include hardcore punk band Only Fables and his own solo work, Josh T. Romero, which has elements of doom and black metal.
In this Q&A, Romero and I also talk about the relationship of music and aesthetic, and horror. Here is an exclusive look at "The Conjuring," the second single for his upcoming album.
"The Conjuring" tells the story of a man who is haunted by the man he murdered, which tortures him, so he decides to bring the dead man back to life.
ABQGR: How’d you get into music?
Romero: Music started, for me, at a young age. I’ve always been into it. I remember driving to school in middle school or elementary school and singing Dean Martin and Neil Diamond songs at the top of my lungs with my mom. I think that’s when I started trying to hone a voice. These guys we were listening to had something so distinct and so powerful.
But I didn’t start writing music until I was about 13. I picked up my dad’s acoustic guitar and just started writing my own music. I’m sure it was terrible—none of it still exists, which is great for me. But yeah, it’s been something I’ve been passionate about throughout my life. Through college I’d written some stuff, but I never really took the steps to record or do anything on a band-scale up until very, very recently. Hence the Only Fables project as well as Josh T. Romero. They’re new and crazy exciting, because it’s a big step I am just now taking. Even though I’ve been wanting to do it for my entire life. I’m 31 now. It’s—it’s about time, I suppose.
What made you decide to get into these two projects? Was there an impetus—was it COVID?
COVID definitely helped, as weird at that sounds. I think a lot of recording artists found some benefit in being locked in home for so long. I think, for me personally, I’ve gone through a dramatic change in my spiritual life, in my work life, and kind of just what I desire out of life. Kind of finding what those things are, and really deciding whether or not I’m going to go after them, or just stick with how things are “supposed” to be. Getting the job, doing the 9-to-5, providing—in a very practical way—for the family – some of which is still necessary. I don’t know what stemmed it, but it’s been one of those things where I’ve wanted it for my entire life, and I think, with the major changes that have happened in my life recently, it’s just pushed me to go after what I want.
That being said, you are involved in these two projects, and you’re a visual artist—you’re in graphic design, correct?
Yes—I do a little freelance work, I work with Mitch Horowitz, who’s a fantastic author, and we’ve been working together on various things. [mitchhorowitz.com] .
You’re a multi-media artist, is what I’m thinking. Are there creative benefits to you, in that you don’t limit yourself that way? Especially since you decided to tackle multiple musical projects.
Yeah! I think so. I think since I was young, aesthetics have always meant a lot to me. I’ve been criticized for it, actually. People have told me, ‘aesthetics aren’t everything!’ I would debate that. I think that they may not be everything, but they hold a significant amount of weight. I think that invades every aspect of what I do.
The work that I create actually plays into the music that I create. There’s a very similar tone throughout it that I think you can pretty easily see, between dark themes from horror to the spookier elements of things. They all feed into each other. Honestly, when I’m struggling to write a song, I find that it helps to create a piece of art around the idea or the feel that I try to create for the song, and they all just kind of come together within that.
Can you explain to me, a little more, the relationship between music and aesthetic? In your case, you’re very horror-oriented, and create deep, dark metal—so what’s the relationship there?
It’s funny, because when you’d sent me a direct message asking about the correlation between horror and music, I didn’t actually snap to it at first. I was like, 'Ah, there’s not really a connection. Dark Room Horror,' which is a separate thing that I own and run, 'doesn’t have anything to do with my music.' But it totally does. There’s a really common thread between, I’d say aesthetic and atmosphere.
Atmosphere is something I’ve been obsessed with in music since I was younger, like teenage years, when I discovered black metal. There’s something about black metal and the atmosphere they create [to] draw you into their world. It’s tough, because I have a hard time saying I’m a fan of specific genres, because there are a lot of bands in genres that I really dislike. I’ve very picky. However, if someone can bring me into their world using their own atmosphere and aesthetic, then I’m sold. I think that has a lot to do with it, whether it’s the hardest, heaviest black metal, to folk of some kind. It’s all in that creation process and atmosphere, and if that atmosphere can draw me in, then I’m hooked to whatever that looks like.
So, here’s a tough question. How might a musical artist create atmosphere within their music?
It’s a challenge. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for you! It takes a lot of work. There are some musicians that are incredibly capable of just creating atmosphere. They can just sit down at a piano and just nail something out that’s melodic and beautiful and expressed emotion. I am not that. It takes a lot of work for me to channel ideas and then bring in that sort of atmosphere. One of the reasons that it’s been so hard and why its taken so long for me to put together the music that I’m working on now, is because I have been incapable of that.
Recently, I’ve been challenging myself as a musician to create atmosphere. Even then, I’m getting better, but I’m not quite there yet. But what I can do is give an idea of what I’m trying to create. That is where my good buddy Brett Bronner comes in. He does everything for Only Fables, outside of lyrics and vocals. Even then, he does some of the vocals, but most of them are mine. I’m like a glorified karaoke singer when it comes to that band. In my own personal stuff, I’ve written all of it, started with an acoustic guitar, gave [Bronner] an idea of the type of atmosphere that I’m trying to achieve, and then he just fucking nails it out of the park. Having the opportunity to work alongside him and his vision that he can just—he has this weird superpower that can take a concept and create it like nothing. He’s one of those weird musicians that can create shit from nothing and it’s beautiful every time. So, he has been one of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to step forward confidently and create this new material.
Going back for a second, tell me a little bit about Dark Room Horror and the kind of work you put into that.
Dark Room Horror is temporarily dead. It was very, very based around events. Community events. Really trying to bring the horror community together. Not necessarily trying to expand that, but trying to tighten up something that already exists. So we did a lot of events at Sister Bar—we’d do Dark Room Horror nights where we’d have a couple of vendors, different activities, spooky music in the background. And then beyond that, we’d show old classic horror movies at The Guild. And occasionally some new ones. It’s something that I would love to get back to, but at this point, we can’t. There’s not a lot of opportunity to get together, but we’re getting there.
What does the project Josh T. Romero mean to you at this point in your life?
It’s something that I’ve always wanted, and I think that this opportunity is the beginning of something that I’ve desired since I was a child. I’m ecstatic, I’m anxious, I’m excited about it. It means a lot to me—I get so obsessed with this idea and my mind is constantly revolving around music and all of these things, and it’s—it just feels like the right step. It’s the first step in something that I hope to make my future out of.
At this stage you’re at now, what kind of things are you looking for from your community or from Albuquerque?
The biggest struggle that every new musician has is getting new ears on their music. I want that to happen—but at the same time I recognize that my music is not for everyone. It is very much a niche in the doomy, somewhat experimental, post-metal, punky world. I don’t expect it playing on [the radio]. I don’t have a lot of expectations from the community around me. I feel like it’s almost more personal in that I feel it’s something that I need to express or I need to get out and want to build something out of over time. This EP that’s coming out around April 20th, it’s a first step in creating something I want with my whole being. It’s—I want the community’s support, but it’s not a necessity.
What’s your favorite part about Albuquerque art?
I love how much people show up. Since Dark Room Horror, I didn’t know if the movies were gonna be a hit or not—I wasn’t really in it for the money, but more just to develop a community. Because I’ve run in small circles in my time in Albuquerque, but I wanted to expand that. I wanted to tighten up with more people who are interested in the same things. People show up for each other. That’s it. We’ve got another dude in town who has another horror brand, his name is Gary, he does Spectral Youth. And his shit’s rad. He constantly got different events that he goes to, showing up at places and e’s got—it’s just cool seeing people do their thing and then a community go show support for that. Even when they’re not necessarily in the niche, whatever that looks like. People are stoked to see people succeed, and I love that about Albuquerque.
I think it’s incredible that you’re pursuing this dream—what would be the thing you say, or some advice you’d give someone who has that thing they’ve wanted to do their whole life but they can’t muster the gumption to do it?
There’s always this desire to want to be ready for whatever you’re pursuing. And it just kinda never comes. If I waited until I was ready, in the sense that I was the musician I want to be—cause I’ll be straightforward with you, I’m a good guitarist. I would say subpar. But if I waited until my skills were where I wanted them to be, I wouldn’t start this for years. And that would be tragic. I’d be wasting a lot of time trying to get to a certain level before I could do something that I’ve wanted to do. So start where you’re at, whatever that looks like. In the smallest ways possible. Dark Room Horror – I didn’t expect that to turn into anything, and then all of a sudden it was something. And it started out as a blog because that’s all I was capable of doing at that point. So whatever it looks like. I think it just takes focus and persistence and putting action behind your desires and that’s kind of the key to everything, I think.
What is something you wish people knew about the horror genre?
I think a lot of people dismiss horror as a trashy form of entertainment. However, I think that there’s a lot more to it. I think it becomes a lot deeper when you start to actually look at the things that are happening within horror movies. For one, it starts a good conversation, because you’re able to discuss things that you normally wouldn’t be able to discuss. There are a lot of taboo topics that go on in the world, different things that make life shitty. However, what the genre of horror does is it brings those topics to the table in a way that allows people to discuss what their reactions are, why they feel the way that they feel. I think that there’s something deeply profound about that.