Hailing from Catford in South London, Rodney Cromwell is the solo project of Adam Cresswell, founding member of indie-folktronica band Saloon and one half of electronic two-piece Arthur & Martha. He has just put out his Black Dog EP, taken from his debut album released earlier this year. Tomatrax caught up with Mr Cromwell for a frank and fearless discussion!
You put out your debut solo album this year, how does performing solo compare to being in a band?
Onstage it is not massively different really. There are two other people in the live set-up, both of whom are reliable enough to keep me upright. My good friend Richard Salt is on guitar and my long time collaborator Alice Hubley (who was Martha in Arthur and Martha with me) sings and plays moog. I regularly joke that the hardest working member of the band is our laptop; it is the only one of us who can remember all the parts and stay in time. I suppose I do miss the opportunity to experiment loudly within a band set-up, which I had when I was in the band Saloon. But in the Rodney Cromwell band we are all busy people and don’t really have much free time for post-rock jams and free-jazz noodling.
The one thing I do miss as a solo act is other people helping me with the bureaucracy, like booking gigs, going to the post office and doing the inevitable photocopying. Thankfully I have a good agent who does all the press side of things, but it would be nice to have someone to help with the soul-destroying part of the business that involves bothering people on Facebook and Twitter.
What made you choose the name Rodney Cromwell rather than your actual name?
I chose it so no one from work would find out what I get up to in my spare time. Unfortunately Twitter ruined that for me when my boss got one of those ‘people you might know in your network’ emails. I walked into the office one day to the greeting of “Morning Rodney” and I knew the game was up. My boss and I now talk a lot about 80’s synth music and Discogs metadata, so it all worked out OK in the end.
You made your album almost entirely on vintage equipment, what made you decide to take this approach?
To be honest it wasn’t much a decision. I still have my vintage synths knocking about the house from my previous bands and they just sound head-and-shoulders better than anything else I own, so it was a no-brainer to use them. Once the majority of the album was recorded and it came to mixing it down, I did make a conscious decision not to over-produce it though. I wanted its sound to be different to all the clean, neat-and-tidy, overly compressed auto-tuned soft-synth dominated stuff that many other people make. I like records that are a bit rough round the edges, like the original version of New Order’s ‘Temptation’ or indie stuff like early Quickspace, Flying Saucer Attack or Pavement. There is a lot of soul in the noise around the edges.
How does using vintage equipment compare with more modern equipment?
I’ve always preferred the vintage sound and I own way more vintage gear than modern stuff. I only have one digital synth, which is a MicroKorg, and whenever I dig it out I get so bored trying to work out how to programme a sound that I just give up and go back to a moog or the MS-10. As soon as you plug in an analog synth and twizzle a couple of knobs, before you know it you have a massive great sound filling your ears. It’s idiot proof, which suits me.
Was ‘Barry was an arms dealer’ based on anyone in particular?
Not at all. My three year old likes randomly running around shouting ‘Barry’ so somehow the name found its way into the lyrical melting pot. I think Barry is a good synthpop name too; I like to think that I wrote it about Barry 7 from one of my all time favorite bands Add N to (X). But I didn’t. Sorry Barry. Maybe on the next album.
What made you pick ‘Black Dog’ as the latest single?
It certainly wasn’t part of a well-considered strategic plan. The first coverage I had for the album was on ‘The Electricity Club’ website. They thought that ‘Black Dog’ was the best track, so I based my decision entirely on their judgment. I do think though that if any track on the album captures its overarching theme of existential angst then it is ‘Black Dog’. It also features my favourite lyric ‘If a Black and Decker drilled a hole into my head, would it let this dog out?’ I love singing about performing surgical operations with DIY equipment.
The single also features remixes of some of your other tracks, what is it like hearing people remix your work?
With the ‘Black Dog’ single although there are several remixes on it I had a lot of artistic control and the whole EP was very much in collaboration with my brother Dom Cresswell, my musical wing-man. We have worked together many times, right back to ‘Movimiento’ by Saloon. He also co-produced the Arthur and Martha album ‘Navigation’. With the EP I was very conscious that people were interested in what Rodney Cromwell would do next, so I wanted to ensure it was a really high quality release. I am also a massive control freak.
So to answer your question, yeah it’s always great to hear how other artists interpret your work. Occasionally you can be a bit disappointed, but that is quite rare. Some of the Arthur and Martha remixes were among the best things that I have ever been a part of. The Laudanum remix of ‘Autovia’ for one is absolutely gorgeous, in fact I must add it to the playlist for my funeral.
You will be DJing at the Analogue Nights Christmas party, how does DJing compare to writing and recording music?
Well I’m not much a DJ. I just play records that I enjoy back-to-back and hope someone might dance. In fact in the last few years I have only really DJed at work Xmas functions or toddler birthday parties. You can’t really stick on Cavern of Anti-Matter or something from the Black Devil ‘Disco Club’ album when you are playing to a room of primary school kids who just want to hear Meghan Trainor, so doing a night where I can play a few records I actually like should be fun.
Will there be any future releases from Saloon or Arthur & Martha?
Well Saloon definitely not. We were very much about the dynamic of the five of us and wouldn’t dream of reforming the band without all of us – no matter how much anyone wanted it. As far as I know Amanda our former singer has a serious job in pensions and doesn’t really do music anymore, and sadly Mike our drummer is no longer with us. Matt and Alison from Saloon have also this year released really well received albums with their bands The Leaf Library and The Left Outsides respectively.
As for Arthur and Martha, well after the amount of fun I have had doing the Rodney Cromwell record, yeah I think I am ready to do another LP and I already have a concept for another Arthur and Martha album. You should ask Martha though; I have been trying to talk her into it for months.
Do you ever listen to your own music?
I went for many years not being able to listen to anything by Saloon or Arthur & Martha at all, but in the last few years I’ve come to terms with a few of my personal demons and yeah I can listen to that stuff now. I do find it hard listening though, I only ever hear the mistakes and things that I should have done differently. With Age of Anxiety, I only really listen to it if we’ve got a gig coming up and I need to remember the parts, or if I’m writing an interview and I need to remember what it sounds like. Although saying that as I write this I’m listening to Ladytron and I have no interest in switching it off to listen to my own rubbish thanks.
What music do you listen to?
I’m not going to say ‘all sorts’ because that will be a lie. I’m incredibly fussy. Broadly I like melodic intelligent synth based pop, although I do like old reggae and ska (pretty much anything pre-Bob Marley or Lovers Rock), I like good exotica and easy listening stuff – decent stuff can be hard to find as the crates in the charity shops are getting pretty bare now, but when you find a tune that hits a sweet spot there is nothing better – and I like lo-fi indie stuff, but it generally needs to have synth in the mix somewhere. This week I been mostly listening to a synth rock band called Battle Tapes, the new Pye Corner Audio ‘Prowler’ album and a reissue of a guy called Ata Kak from (I think) Ghana who plays sort of lo-fi, world-music, proto-rap stuff. I like it, but I can’t say it would be everyone’s cup of tea.
What do you have planned for 2016?
My long term plan is just to milk this album dry. I’ll probably put out another EP, when I can find the time to do some new mixes. And I hope to play a lot more gigs. I’m playing in London on 30th January and I have a bunch of other gigs potentially in the pipeline. As soon as I’ve sold the last box of CDs I’ll think more seriously about my next steps – I think my wife would like me to retire from making music, but let’s see about that.
Check out Rodney Cromwell’s Facebook page to find out more!