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Romy, 2020
RomyPhotography Vic Lentaigne

Romy talks her euphoric debut solo single, ‘Lifetime’

The xx artist’s first solo single is a euphoro-rave banger written at the height of lockdown – here, she tells us about the song and her forthcoming album

Romy Madley Croft might be best known as one third of the band The xx, but she’s no stranger to clubs or dance music. She started DJing in Soho gay clubs when she was still a teenager, and recently picked the craft back up again, performing pre-pandemic sets at Manchester’s Homobloc and Turin’s Club to Club festival, and closing out this year’s Pride Inside livestream for Amnesty. Her debut solo single, “Lifetime”, reflects her fascination with club classics and the image of Ibiza that she’s held in her head since she was a teenager. Written at the height of lockdown, it’s a quarantine rave banger that dreams of the euphoria that will come when we can finally meet our friends on the dancefloor again. “I was craving that upbeat feeling, dreaming I was in a club, hoping that by the time the song came out, we’d be able to listen to it in a club,” Romy says. “And now, of course, none of that is happening.”

It’s easy to hear “Lifetime” as a synthesis between the longing, emotional themes that Romy has previously explored across The xx’s three albums, and the upbeat pop energy she’s honed writing songs for the likes of Mark Ronson and Dua Lipa, including Silk City’s Grammy-winning “Electricity”. She produced “Lifetime” with Fred again.. and Marta Salogni over the internet, a working method she says she was more than familiar with. “Weirdly, it was a return to how I first started making music with The xx,” she says over the phone. “We used to write songs together over iChat in our separate bedrooms as teenagers, sending lyrics and snippets from the safety of our private places. We were shy – even though we’ve been the closest of friends since we were about three, to sit and write songs together is something we only properly got into maybe on the second album. So for me, piecing things together over the internet was familiar.”

“Lifetime” is just the beginning of Romy’s solo journey. She’s been writing new material over the past year, and plans to write and record more throughout October, eventually building towards a solo album. Having primarily worked with men throughout her career, she is looking forward to building a creative team with more women and non-binary people, though she’s also excited about bringing everything new she learns in the process back to her work back to Oliver Sims and Jamie xx, her bandmates in The xx, for their next album together. We caught up with Romy following the release of “Lifetime” to discuss the song and her solo plans.

Your new single, “Lifetime”, was written during lockdown. How did it start?

Romy: The beginnings of “Lifetime” were made over Zoom. It came out of missing the outside world. Everything was still. The fast-paced energy of the track is a contrast to the state I was in when it was made. I think subconsciously it came from the desire to have that euphoria and release that I wasn’t getting.

Had lockdown just started and you had this burst of creative energy to make it, or was it a response to the mid-lockdown doldrums?

Romy: It was definitely made during full lockdown – you couldn’t go anywhere or meet up with even a small number of people at the studio. At first, I wasn’t feeling very creative in lockdown, but I was drawn to writing and making music as a therapeutic thing, which I guess it always has been for me.

I’d been working with this producer, Fred again.., through the pop songwriting that I’d been getting into the past few years – just as a new experience, as I love mainstream pop and was curious about how it was made. Fred was someone I’d met and loved working with; we really connected. When we started, I wasn’t really in a confident place to think I would be making a solo album. I’d always been a band member – and content with that – but I was writing a lot of songs for other people, and in doing that, I realised I had something to say that was maybe more unique to me than just The xx. I met up with Fred and said, “Maybe we could write for me…” That felt a door opening for me. 

“Lifetime” is a collaboration between me; Fred; Joy Anonymous, who is his flatmate and collaborator too; and Jamie xx as well, who came on board over Zoom and added some feedback and additional production. When I was able to be back in a room with people again, I went to Marta Salogni, who is an amazing producer who I wanted to get to know more. We recorded vocals, and she pulled the whole track together and did a lot of mixing and additional production. I feel that’s opened up a whole new part of my next creative journey.

How did your songwriting in the pop world influence your solo music?

Romy: Part of why I wanted to get into pop writing was because I was craving to learn new methods. I was quite scared going into a room with a stranger, where they sit down and say, “OK, just sing,” because that’s not how I’ve made music before. I went into these situations really excited to learn the rules – “What is it that you do to write a big song?” – but then I realised I don’t really like the rules (laughs). It’s good to know them, but it’s also good to break them. I was in some sessions and I listened to some stuff I made there, and then I listened back to some xx demos and was like, “I much prefer the choices we made there.” It made me appreciate that I didn’t technically know what I was doing before. I hope that I can combine all the learning and unlearning of these rules in the music I make going forward.

Modern songwriting camps always sound a little nightmarish to me. Not just the rigidity of the rules, but also the idea of being thrust into a room, surrounded by all these random people.

Romy: I realised I’m better one-on-one or in a smaller group. I really love the experience of working with the person who’s going to be singing on the song, but I know that that’s quite rare. People get handed the big pop song; that was quite eye-opening. I was in a session where it was me and three other people writing a song for someone that wasn’t there. Four strangers, writing a song about anything, for anyone. It felt like the most mediocre song I’d been a part of, because there was no heart or direction or meaning. I’m sure that can work, but in that instance, I felt a lack of soulfulness. My reaction to that was the next day I went and, for the first time ever, wrote with someone else for me.

“I was craving that upbeat feeling, dreaming I was in a club, hoping that by the time the song came out, we’d be able to listen to it in a club. And now, of course, none of that is happening” – Romy

Sonically, “Lifetime” has that bittersweet feeling of a lot of club music – kind of euphoric, kind of melancholic. And then lyrically, you’re saying stuff like, “If this world comes to an end / I wanna be there with you”...

Romy: In general, I’ve been drawn to club music with a bittersweet feeling, where you’re dancing, but also feeling euphoria and heartbreak and these conflicting feelings at once. At the moment I was writing the song, there was this really uneasy feeling – “Is the world ending, what the hell’s going on?” – and I was realising the thing that’s important to me is a sense of togetherness. I was interested in observing that: if all of this goes to shit, I just wanna be there with you.

I know people would describe that as a ‘tears on the dancefloor’ or a ‘crying in the club’ vibe, but you can’t even be in a club to cry there right now.

Romy: ‘Emotional club music’ – if this was gonna be a genre – is the genre I’d want to make. There was a point where I had to turn all the lights off, order a shit disco light online, and just dance to loud music (laughs). It felt like something I needed to do. I’ve really enjoyed seeing people get creative (during this period), whether with streams or staying connected. Even a friend of mine, we were gonna watch a Boiler Room that HAAi did, and we had her on FaceTime and said, “We’ll all press play at the same time, so that we’re dancing at the same time to this.” Then, about 10 minutes in, I noticed she was reacting to really different moments in the set. I was like, “Wait, are you watching?” It turned out she was watching a HAAi Boiler Room from, like, two years previous. It was hilarious, realising you’re trying to force this moment of spontaneity but it’s not quite there.

What made you want to start writing solo music?

Romy: It took me a while. Oliver and I have always shared the songs and stories that we’ve written. With the music I was making, firstly, it felt like, “Wow, I can write the whole song, and the verses too, and the ending.” Oliver and I often share verses – so, I express myself in verse one and he takes it from there, or we share a chorus – so it was quite a novelty to write a full, rounded song, and finish it. I’m quite used to being like “OK, now over to you…” 

(Writing under my own name also means that) I’m being more personal. I love a woman, and I I like to sing “I love her,” and use those pronouns. I still don’t really see myself and my love life reflected in pop music; it’s often a woman singing “I love him,” and that’s fine, but it’s something I want to explore more. It hasn’t come out in “Lifetime”, but in the music to come, it’s definitely a big part of it.

“Lifetime” is inspired by club classics and Ibiza dance music, something you previously talked about in an Instagram video where you first announced you were writing a solo album...

Romy: Club classics and Ibiza house, in my mind, is like a collage. I think I’d built up this dream image of what Ibiza ‘was’ based on what I saw growing up in the 2000s, with big dance hits on TV. I went to Ibiza last year and it’s not what I thought it would be – it’s great still, but in my mind, if I can create the dream Ibiza that’s in my head that doesn’t exist, then I’ll be happy.

What I also love about some of those big classics is that there is actually an amazing song underneath. There’s actually still a heartbreaking song over the top of this euphoric, upbeat soundtrack. And within big pop, trance, and dance, it sometimes goes a bit far – the drop happens, and it’s all bells and whistles – but there’s always a bit just before, in the euphoric breakdown, where it still sounds amazing. I’m really interested in capturing those bits. But always with songwriting and lyrics and melodies high on my list. It’s not going to be a club album with a voice – these are songs.

Where did your love of dance music come from growing up?

Romy: It must have been from watching music videos. “Another Chance” by Roger Sanchez, where she’s holding a heart walking around New York, that’s always stayed with me. I’m trying to ask myself, “What is this image I have of Ibiza?” I must have just picked up on it as a young teenger. I started going out clubbing quite young. I was 16 and would go out in Soho to gay clubs. It was quite an amazing introduction, feeling like I was part of a community. I used to be a regular at this club, and one day the guy that worked there said, “Do you want to DJ? Burn some CDs and come down next week.” I was so excited. I was already getting into music with The xx, but this felt like a very different avenue to express myself. I loved watching the moment you put on a song and the instantaneous reaction it has. A lot of those big club classics, the moment you put it on, there’s a nostalgia – the whole room is connected. That stayed with me. I’ve always loved that uniting feeling.

You’ve been DJing out a lot more, too. You played at Homobloc and Club to Club last year, and livestreamed for Amnesty Pride Inside more recently. How has that felt for you, getting back into that?

Romy: I loved it. It feels like connecting to that teenage part of myself again. When I was DJing when The xx first came out, it kind of confused people, because the music I played was more bright and upbeat and often more mainstream. I remember someone came up to me like, “You really like this music?” I was like, “Yeah, I love it!” I realised DJing was something that was a big part of my life, and it made me curious and inspired to find more music again. Getting an out-of-the-blue message from Peggy Gou saying “Do you want to play Printworks?” gave me a big platform to start again. In the same breadth of time I did Club to Club and Homobloc. I was due to be doing a lot more DJing this summer, but now I’ve been doing it in my room instead.

“I’d only ever worked with men before – and that’s fine, and the world I know – but I’m excited to work with more women and non-binary people on this record” – Romy

With the music being quite euphoric, and recent things like talking to your fans directly on Instagram, it feels a lot more open than the image that a lot of people might have – wrongly, perhaps – of The xx, where you seem downbeat and dress all in black.

Romy: I look back at pictures of us from when our first album came out – and that’s probably the main impact for what people see of you, the first album – and we were really young and shy. We were teenagers. None of us were super confident, or knew how to be in front of a camera and look happy to be there. When I look back at the pictures, we’re just scared. It’s taken me a long time to just relax and enjoy it, because there were a lot of nerves there. Sheerly through doing thousands of gigs, I now love playing live, but for those first six months we definitely looked like we didn’t want to be there, even though we really did. Now I can really relax and enjoy it a bit more. For me, doing a livestream like that is a very new thing, but I really enjoy the experience of being able to say, “Hi, I’m doing a solo album,” to people watching. It was very spontaneous.

How far along is your solo album?

Romy: With The xx, we’ve always released singles at the same time as albums, so it’s new to me to put out a song and get a feel for it without a whole album ready. So I can’t just be like, “Yes, the album is about this, and I know everything already.” I’m due to get back in the studio throughout October – if everything allows – and I’m excited to carry on working. I’ve written lots of songs with Fred again.., and I’m excited to be working with Marta. I’d only ever worked with men before – and that’s fine, and the world I know – but I connected with her, and I’m excited to work with more women and non-binary people on this record. My experiences doing pop has been so male-dominated still, and I’d love to use this opportunity to connect with more female producers and engineers and people behind the scenes.

What’s your dream club experience after the pandemic?

Romy: Who knows! I guess somewhere with the people I love who I haven’t been able to let loose with. I don’t need to go anywhere super serious or super highbrow, I just wanna hear a load of music really loud that sounds really good with people that I love.