Up and coming Milwaukee raised, LA-based artist Romell tells it like it is, but it’s taken some hard work and maybe a little serendipity to get there. Heartbreak and hopefulness. Pain and optimism. Darkness and light. Heavy and uplifting all coexist in his art. Each song an ode to the struggles around every day life, making Romell an incredibly exciting and relatable artist. We sat down with him to ask 5 questions about his journey.

J: So Trevis, I want to kind of go back a little bit… Romell. You guys caught me, that’s his real name. I want to go back a little bit and talk about what you did before we met, we started working together about a year ago. I don’t want to talk about our process necessarily. So, explain what you were doing the year before we met, versus the year since we’ve met. Creatively.

R: Creatively I was pretty much just doing any and everything that was hot. Just trying to follow a trend, just trying to do this and do that and just be like “Oh I can sing it like that, I’ll just try to do it better… Oh, I can get a producer to do that, and I’ll just try to do it better.” And I just never really like…

J: You were feeling frustrated because…

R: It wasn’t working. It wasn’t clicking. I knew I was talented enough, I just felt like it was probably something they’d already heard before. And I was always on the late show.

J: Not the actual Late Show…

R: No, no, just late to the party. I always felt like I was just late to the party and that just drew a lot of frustration.

J: You’re a new artist, what it sounds like you’re saying to me is you were being reactive to the trends. In other words, you heard something and were like “Oh that’s kind of what I like.”

R: That’s kind of what I like, and that’s kind of what they like so let’s try to do that. Let’s make a record like that. When – no.

J: And you realized that that wasn’t really getting any traction.

R: No not at all. I mean you know my peers, and everybody around me knew what was good but it just could never get me to the next level because somebody already had that sound. Somebody was doing that before.

J: So, you could say a lesson learned was try and be unique even if it might take an extra minute to get there?

R: It’s worth it. Its more beneficial to take the time to figure out what you need to do to help you as a creator instead of just creating something someone else has already created.

J: We don’t need to get too deep into it because it’s about you today, but we met, and one of the things I really felt like I wanted to hear from you was honesty. So now when you’re writing your new music, and you’ve started moving forward now in your creativity, on a scale of one to ten how important is let’s say honesty versus swag versus trying to be cool versus trying to do what you think people are going to like?

R: If you want to do music and be an artist and actually have longevity, it means everything. If you want to do music just for fame, a quick ticket, you know. You have to be honest. You can say whatever you want to do but I felt I needed… I had to be honest. I had to figure it out to be honest I just was never around the right creative people that allowed me to be honest because that’s not what they wanted to hear from me. I was never given a chance to really do that.

J: That’s one of the things I’ve always really enjoyed about working with you – ever since the first song that we wrote together, it was “Let People Into Your Life.”

R: And I was very, very, reluctant to want to do that.

J: Why’s that? Was it the culture of Hip-Hop and R&B? What was the thing that made you reluctant to be truthful and honest?

R: It was just me, you know? Because of the friends I’m around, I feel like there’s a certain type of aura you have to carry yourself around and I was never really okay with letting people fully in on how emotionally I was feeling or how depressed I was or how financially I was doing. On the surface it looked like I was fine because I was around the right people.

J: Hanging out with movie stars and NBA All Stars!

R: Yeah! So, I just kind of fell into that role of like “Yeah, I’m doing good, I’m doing this…” But like…

J: So, in a manner of speaking, this batch of new music set you free in a way?

R: Oh, my goodness, this is like therapy! It’s like a therapy session every day. Every time we wrote… it was just therapy. It helped me become who I needed to be as a man, as an artist, as a creator. And I will say since we linked – because a lot of people and a lot of artists, they’ve always loved me as a writer and stuff like that, and always felt like I could do something great but I was just never like “Yeah okay…” Since us writing, I give better advice now, because I know exactly what to say and how to say it now when before I was very – I was tiptoeing around it because I didn’t know what to say because I wasn’t even doing it myself.

J: You weren’t practicing what you were preaching!

R: But they wanted me to preach something to them because they knew I had some better knowledge than them but was too afraid to actually give it because I didn’t know for myself.

J: I want to go backwards for a moment and then I want to move forward to what we’re doing right now. So, if I’m going backwards – because I always say sometimes the smallest things can lead to the biggest opportunities – we kind of sit there and go “Ok this is going to be our strategy. I’m going to do this I’m going to show up here…” And then it sort of doesn’t happen. And yet… We meet because you were just randomly singing on the street on Halloween and my wife comes up and taps you on the shoulder like…

R: “Hey! Do you sing??” And I’m like “…yeah. why?” and she’s like “You need to meet my husband!” and I’m like “…alright cool.”

J: Right, but here’s the point. Such an inconsequential event…

R: But the thing is…

J: It changed both of our lives.

R: Yeah! But for some reason… usually I’m very like “Nah I’m okay.” But for some reason I was just like “Where is he??” she’s like “In the house.” …alright cool. Let’s do it! You know at that point, as we got to work more and more, that’s when I was kind of like… I was in depression mode, like whatever.

J: You’d almost given up.

R: Yeah. Pretty much almost given up on everything.

J: I’m sorry you had to go through that but in a way, and I know that that’s still a challenge for you on the daily but, in a way, it also allowed you to be vulnerable and open. And you’re like “I’ve done it this way… let’s try a different way.”

R: But that’s the thing that I’ve always loved about this new situation… I’m not actually doing it ALL my way… I’m more open to learning of new ways to actually do it but the correct way, whereas before – like you said… “Oh, let’s go to this event! Oh, we gotta go to that! Oh, I gotta fly here! I gotta meet this person! Go shake that hand…” But that’s not how it goes. It’s literally structure… It’s literally finding your sound… It’s literally finding you… finding the right pieces to the puzzle and then stepping outside.

J: We talk a lot about the importance of collaboration, and how somebody else can bring something to the conversation that you yourself may not be able to bring on your own. So not to say that you’re not good enough, but to say that there something that happens sometimes in the magic of a collaboration that makes both of you bigger than you could be individually.

R: Before when I would work with people like, I don’t want to say they would be scared but, they were very standoffish to actually want to collab with me because…

J: Maybe they felt like you overpowered the room or something?

R: Yeah… that wasn’t something I was trying to do but it’s just my presence. Like “Let’s get this done, let’s get this done now.” And they were like alright, just gonna follow my lead.

J: Let’s move forward and I want to conclude on this. So that you guys are aware… over the last year we’ve written for the Romell project I think 10 or 11 songs, and I was offered an opportunity to try and write a song for a major motion picture, and Romell was the perfect collaborator for it so we decided to jump in a write this song for this film. We recently found out that we unseated Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.

R: Big facts!! Ha-ha…

J: They’re using our song instead of theirs! So, what I wanna do is I want to talk a little bit about the process of writing the song, and what the film is about, and how you put your life into a song about somebody else’s life.

R: Well I just felt like the story of the movie and my life was parallel, where he was trying to break through a barrier – he was trying to find truth, I was trying to find honesty. And I felt like I could actually speak on something from my perspective that he would feel and actually understand. It was like man, this is about me when I was actually writing it about myself but at the same time it was just so perfect and so parallel… which his story was you know, being convicted of rape and he was…

J: We should tell people his name…

R: Sorry! Brian Banks! The movie is called Brian Banks and he was wrongly convicted of rape and he was a very, very talented football player that got stripped away from all of his dreams and aspirations just because someone falsely accused him of something. He had to fight for it and fight for truth. The California Innocence Project actually helped him get through that. He was exonerated and actually got a shot in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, shout out to the Falcons for welcoming him and giving him that shot. Ten years later he got that shot, because he deserved it.

My situation was I was in bad music situations, bad friendships, bad everything! Bad energy. And I was never lead in the right direction to actually do something positive and change my life, because outside looking in, like I said, everybody always thought I was already together. Which I wasn’t. And the whole time I was praying for a miracle to change, to actually be something greater than I thought I could be. And we came up with that, we wrote it, I think it took us like what? Two hours? Send it in, submitted it, next thing we know we get the end credits on it. It was a very, very exciting feeling, it didn’t kick in that we really got it until I went to the premiere, and I saw the director and he just looked at me and gave me hug and that’s when he told us “Yeah you guys beat out Beyoncé” and I’m like “Whaaaaaat…?” And I almost ran in the street you feel me? Hahah like “FORGET IT IM DONE!!!”

J: It’s funny, the thing I love about that song is the concept and the content, the song called “Pray for a Miracle” in itself has become a miracle.

R: Yeah, big facts!

J: It’s sort of when true life imitates art, or is it art imitating true life? We don’t know! Look, I wanna leave on this one thought, there’s a lot of people that I think will connect to your story in the sense of there’s a struggle, you’re writing, it feels like nobody is paying attention, you almost feel like – what’s the point of doing this?

R: At a certain point, as any creator, you get to that point of “What’s the point?” especially when you’re not surrounded by the good people that actually lift you up. And a lot of people in this industry, as you know, they’ll leave you dry. But at the same time, they did that because you can bring so much bad energy to a situation – you run people off.

J: And you don’t realize that until after the fact.

R: Luckily, I went through what I went through and I got it together. I’m still not all the way there, but I’m in a way better position than I was a year ago today. I’m thankful for it.

J: Do you regret the hard times?

R: Nah, because that made me! If I didn’t really go through what I went through I would not be here today. I would probably think I was already good! I would be somewhere just living a false life, and I would not be happy eternally. Right now, I’m rebuilding that full happiness through music, just going outside walking through life like I don’t have to lie about what I have or what I’m doing. Like I’m broke! What’s good, we can hang out though!