Interview – Rodney Cromwell

Rodney Cromwell is the solo project of Adam Cresswell. His track ‘Black Dog’ was our track of the week recently, so I was very pleased that Adam was kind enough to spare some time to talk to us about the Rodney Cromwell album ‘Age of Anxiety’, his previous bands Saloon and Arthur & Martha, running a record label, and combining music, work and parenthood.

If you enjoy the interview, why not head over to Happy Robots Records and grab yourself a copy of the album.

Hi Adam, thanks for taking the time to talk to On a Good Day!

Hey Mark, the pleasure is mine

First question which I always start with, were your parents music fans, and if so what influence did they have on your own taste in music?

Good question. Yes they were – they were both mods and then hippies when they grew up so the house was always full of David Bowie, Led Zep type stuff. When I was a kid they were listening to Elvis Costello, Blondie sort of stuff. Even so the music I chose to like was a bit of push back from their taste stuff like Pet Shop Boys , Erasure, New Order… So I suppose they were an influence – but ultimately I deliberately liked stuff they were less keen on. I’ve always been a bit difficult I suppose

Did they encourage you to play music? Did you play any instruments as a child?

No not really – I had one recorder lesson when I was about 8 and my teacher refused to teach me after that because I had a small wart on my hand and she thought it might be contagious. I never had any lessons after that. I joined my first band when I was at school when I was about 15. I was the singer but taught myself to play bass guitar because no-one else wanted to play it. We played Wild Thing and Pixies and Joy Division covers mainly. We used to practice in our loft – my mum was supportive though in that when the neighbours came around to complain about the noise she would tell them to piss off.

Brilliant! Not sure my mum would have done that for me. So, how soon after that did you form Saloon?

Ha my mum was always supportive. She loaned Saloon the money to buy our van. I had to pay her back when we split up though. So Saloon was late 90’s so a good few years later. We were very much a post-Britop reaction

Were Saloon ever successful enough that music became your full time career, or were you working other jobs at the same time?

We all had other jobs but I would say we were semi-professional. For our last three years I did temp work so I could take as much time off as I needed. I would say it was about 60/40 split real work V band. We had got to the point that when we toured we could pay ourselves a few quid – about 100 quid a week – but it was never enough to live on. And of course we split up just as the band was on the ascendancy.

What led to the band’s split?

A mix of things. Personal circumstances, we had been going for 5 years and we were getting a bit bored of the touring, we had a great indie label but we still didn’t have any extra help – we could have done with a manager or someone to take us up the next level, there was a degree of frustration about the fact that were starting to sell a lot of records in America and we were getting great coverage out there but still we had never managed to tour the States – and of course we had started to get dissed by people after we topped John Peel’s Festive 50, that criticism really hurt. So we fell apart. It was a messy split. Not a time I remember fondly.

How long after Saloon’s split was it that you started your next project Arthur & Martha?

Pretty soon. There was about a year where Saloon were in limbo – but as soon as that was resolved, I met up with Alice who had just moved to London and we decided to start a band together.

And you put out Arthur and Martha’s releases on your own label, Happy Robots Records. What prompted that decision? Was it due to your previous experience with labels?

Yeah we recorded the ‘Navigation’ album within a year of getting together because I didn’t want to gig without something to sell, so we prioritised having an album. But we got mucked around by a couple of labels – which dragged on for a couple of years – in the end we decided, y’know we can do this ourselves. I’d aways wanted to run a label at some point anyway, so it seemed a cool idea to just get on and do it ourselves. It also appealed to the control freak in me!

I can relate to that! So, the last Artur and Martha release was in 2009, but I don’t the impression that this was a messy split in the way Saloon was. Is it more of an indefinite hiatus?

Yeah absolutely. The whole Arthur & Martha project sadly coincided with some really bad personal times for both of us. I was burned out, I needed some time away from music. I got married and moved onto doing different things – a lot of DIY. Arthur & Martha never officially split – although the third single ‘Vallorian’ never happened you can see the video on YouTube and hear the remixes that were done for the EP on our Soundcloud. I would never write off the idea of doing another Arthur & Martha record because I know a lot of people really love that album. If Alice was up for it I would be – although I know she has all sort of other exciting things going on.

What bought you back to making music again after you decided to take time away?

Well I never really gave up tinkering away in the home studio. I find working in the studio on my own very therapeutic. So I had a couple of half baked ideas that were left over from Arthur & Martha along with all sorts of little new ideas. I had really just taken myself away from the business side…. The thing that really brought me back though was that my home studio was to be turned into the nursery for our second child. So I decided before I dismantle everything while not mix down the songs that I’ve got and see if they work together… I played the results to a few friends and they told me I had to put it out. And here I am now I suppose!

Well, i have to agree with your friends, the Age of Anxiety record is fantastic. You mention your children there, do you find it tough to find the time to make music and run the label alongside having a young family?

Can I swear in this interview…. Damn yes!

Really great that you like the record though. I am thrilled with how it has been received – to say it has surpassed expectations is an understatement

But to answer the main question. It is incredibly difficult – obviously I want to spend as much time with the family as is possible; they are everything to me. And as a – lapsed – catholic I feel an incredible amount of guilt about the time I am away from them, or the time locked away in the studio when I should be spending some quality time with my wife of changing nappies.

Are your kids aware that you make music? They’re still quite young I guess?

Yeah they came to see me at Indietracks last year although they only lasted for three tracks because it was a bit loud. My eldest gets a bit moody when I have band practice because it means I can’t do bedtime story. In fact he can be seen dancing around in the video to ‘Black Dog’ (see below). I recorded him dancing about when I mixed it down. I’m not sure the little one gets it yet – he’s pretty nifty with a melodica though, despite only being one and half…. In fact my next show is an ‘all ages’ show which is at Lewisham People’s Day, a big free festival near where we live. At that gig they will not only see Daddy sing but also Mummy because we plan to do the live debut of ‘Fenchurch St.’ on which my wife also sings (well talks)

Would you encourage them to follow a career in music when they’re older, if they were interested?

Ha ha. I will let them follow their own paths. I want them to do whatever makes them happy. I do feel sorry for young acts these days though -as there just aren’t the opportunities that even we had as Saloon. There are less venues, too many old bands competing in a shrinking market, the print music press is dead, the internet is saturated with so much crap it’s really difficult for the best acts to get heard. I don’t want a return of how things used to be, but I do think new opportunities need to be made so young acts can come through. Sorry that got a bit ranty.

Not at all, I think we’re all concerned about how difficult it is for young musicians (and all musicians) at the moment. In this climate do you find it hard to find the motivation to continue putting out music and running the label?

Absolutely. Running a label is so difficult now – it’s so hard to even cover costs let alone make any money back. It is very difficult to keep motivated. 2015 was brilliant for me – but 2016 has really challenged my motivation. BUT… the good outweighs the bad – I’ve met some great people doing this, my agent Shauna has been a rock through the bad times… and not only is my music being heard but I’m getting he music of the likes of Hologram Teen heard more widely. So in all, all is good

Glad to hear it, and long may it continue! I’ve taken up more of your time than I intended, so just a couple of last questions. What does the immediate future hold for both Rodney Cromwell and Happy Robots? And what’s the significance of the Rodney Cromwell name?

There will be a new Rod Cromwell EP later this year – it might be mostly remixes but it will happen. And next year I’m going to step back a bit and see if I have it in me to write another album. In terms of the label, the Hologram Teen single (which is the new project of Morgane Lhote ex-Stereolab) is out on July 1st, very excited about how that is going. I’m toying with the idea of a Botpop 2 compilation in the new year and who knows what – certainly I have a couple of acts on my wish list….. And as for the Rodney Cromwell name, well it was a name I’d used back when in Saloon for a one off solo project – when it came to ‘Age of Anxiety’ I was just too lazy to think of something new. My wife hates the name Cromwell – as an Irish Catholic it’s not a name that really warms the heart.

Ha, no I suppose not! Well, thanks so much for your time, it’s been fascinating. 

That’s terrific – many thanks for doing this.

Rodney Cromwell’s ‘Age of Anxiety’ is available from Happy Robots Records. ‘Age of Anxiety’ and the ‘Black Dog’ EP are available in digital form from Bandcamp. Happy Robots releases Hologram Teen’s (excellent) ‘Marsangst’ on Friday 1st July, but it can be pre-ordered right now here.

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