An Interview With The Artist, ED ROMANOFF, On His Forthcoming New Album ‘The Orphan King’!
Posted On 20 Feb 2018
On February 23rd, Ed Romanoff will be releasing his newest album called “The Orphan King” via PineRock Records. The title of the follow-up to his 2012 self-titled debut stems in part from Romanoff’s recent discovery from a DNA test that his father’s identity was mistaken.
His new video for “Without You” premiered at The Bluegrass Situation. Both video and song feature Kenneth Pattengale of Milk Carton Kids. Romanoff’s inspiration for the song came after a case of identity theft he experienced not long after a breakup. Read more in the post HERE and watch/share the video HERE.
In support of the new record, Romanoff will perform an album release show at Rockwood Music Hall in New York on February 27 alongside Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney) on drums, Sara Lee (B52s) on bass, Ann Klein (Ani DiFranco) on guitar and mandolin and Jay Collins (Greg Allman Band) on horns.
His previous video. for the track “Less Broken Now” (featuring Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams), premiered at PopMatters who called it “a gorgeous song…[with] truly heavenly harmonies that lift the song to greatness.” Earlier, M Music & Musicians Magazine debuted the audio for the song along with an in-depth interview, which can be read here.
A lifetime of occupational rambling across the country—including stacking toilet bowls in North Carolina and branding cattle in Wyoming—and a relatively late start to musicianship has given Romanoff a unique perspective as a songwriter. An embrace of outsiders is integral to his material with songs about abandoned Irish boxers, outlaws and even the Elephant Man. The thirteen tracks on the new LP collectively depict a kind of gothic car chase across some mythic American plain.
Based in Woodstock, NY, Romanoff worked alongside producer Simone Felice (Lumineers) to record The Orphan King at Felice’s barn studio just miles down the road in Palenville, NY. The pair corralled an impressive roster of collaborators to appear on the album including Romanoff’s longtime friend and touring mate Rachael Yamagata, Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids, guitarist Cindy Cashdollar (Dylan’s Time Out of Mind), The E Street Band’s Cindy Mizelle and multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, along with Campbell’s wife and duo partner, Teresa Williams.
Romanoff is a singular chronicler of American experience having had an unconventional journey before beginning his music career in earnest. He founded his own New York-based production group but then committed himself to songwriting in his forties with mentorship in Nashville from the likes of Darrell Scott, Beth Nielson Chapman and Mary Gauthier, who invited him to support her on tour. His 2012 self-titled debut, produced by Crit Harmon (Lori McKenna, Martin Sexton), won the Nashville Songwriters Song of the Year and later that year he joined Steve Earle and James McMurtry as a winner of the Kerrville New Folk Competition.
Learn more about Ed Romanoff in the following All Access interview:
Happy New Year! Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
On an island in the Caribbean. First chance to get away in a while.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your music career?
2017 was spent in a really cool way musically, collaborating with some amazing talents, like Simone Felice, Larry Campbell, Kenneth Pattengale…the creative process was really fun and in a remote location not far from Woodstock. So, 2017 was mainly a planning year—a making music year, versus performing much.
What are you most excited about for this year?
I’m excited to see how the songs are received…Being in the studio is kind of magical, but it can feel somewhat far away, so I’m curious to see what happens once the songs are out in the world. Hoping they take hold somewhere, and grow into something some folks find useful.
Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Care to share them with us?
I’m actually a big resolution person and do dozens and then check ‘em during the year to see how I’m doing…this year a lot of mine are about growing musically, expanding my musical vocabulary on guitar and piano, and to learn Spanish.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician?
I did. I began drawing pictures of guitars when I was young. But, ironically, I wasn’t allowed to buy a guitar and was actually discouraged from singing in the house, which was pretty confusing. Looking back, in light of my DNA results (that showed my father wasn’t my father), I think there’s a good chance my biological father was a singer or musician. Even though my brother played the drums, and my mother played the piano, every time I asked to get music lessons, I was told “it was too much.” I figured they meant it was about the money. As soon as I turned 18, I took all my savings and bought a $75 Yamaha acoustic.
Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
I remember being at my grandmother’s house and reaching over my head to touch the keys of her piano. I was struck by the thought that my hands could make sounds like that.
Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
I have often thought making movies could be cool. I love a story that makes you feel something. That’s why I write story songs, I think.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your home has affected you and your music today?
I grew up during the ‘70s in Connecticut, in a half rural, half industrial town just next to New Haven…there was so much racial tension at school, skirmishes shut our high school down and brought in the National Guard. Things were also tense at home as well, but then again, tension seeks relief, which is kind of the essence of music.
On February 23rd, you will be releasing your newest album called “The Orphan King.” What was it like recording this collection at your producer Simone Felice’s barn studio?
Simone was brilliant. And so was the barn. Simone’s like a ghost or a pirate with a very intense energy, and he’s always in search of a little extra special magic in the studio. He also was very open to my suggestions and was open to what he called, “auditioning” ideas. The barn was amazing. There was no separation and the basic tracks were all cut live, and I think the record feels very “live,” and most of those vocals from the first takes are what we ended up with on the record.
How did the process of putting this album together different then your previous collection?
My first record was a great experience as well, working with Crit Harmon, who’s a folk singers’ secret weapon. Crit made me sound way better than I deserved to. I’d learned a lot during the first record, which helped a lot going forward. For The Orphan King, I wanted the songs to be as solid and close to finished as possible. I had also learned to be prepared for the very first vocal take, as that’s often where the gold is, at least for me.
How do you think that you have grown as a musician since your self-titled debut album was released in 2012?
I was so new during the making of the first record, only starting really in 2010 and recording in 2011. I had assumed all my life I was tone deaf, so I waited forever to try. At that time, I had only just started writing and hadn’t done many shows, partly because I assumed I wasn’t musical enough to do it and partly because I didn’t have many songs. I can hear the lack of road miles in the first record. But it’s really honest and sincere.
Over the last five years or so, I’ve really gone to school musically, studying with folks like Ann Klein, Michael Chaves, Oscar Rodriguez, Bill Riley (voice), and Adam Kromelow (piano)…
How did you go about collaborating with Rachael Yamagata, Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids, guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, the E Street Band’s Cindy Mizelle, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams?
The first few were friends and so that happened organically. Especially Rachael, who lives just up the road. She’s someone who’s always willing to help. One of the best friends a person could hope to have, really. She’s an absolute musical dynamo as well. Her voice is every bit as good as any of the greats. Kenneth was also a friend and willing to hop on a plane to Woodstock from Nashville which was very generous. He’s a mystically talented guy. Knows every damn flat or sharp on that beautiful bold guitar of his. And even though he’s gotten to be a major star, he was still ok with sleeping on my couch.
The others were blind luck. Simone has a killer rolodex and could just pick up the phone and call someone like Larry Campbell, who said sure. I’d never met Larry before and was kind of knocked out he came, and ever more psyched he kept coming back. It was amazing to watch him compose musical lines in his head and lay down harmonies with himself on multiple instruments. Teresa too, Larry just asked his wife to come in and sing. And to open for those guys (Larry and Teresa) was a real highlight for me.
While it may be difficult, can you pick a favorite song or two from “The Orphan King” to elaborate on their process? How did they go from being ideas in your head to full blown songs on the album?
I really like “Miss Worby’s Ghost.” I had stayed at The Tyrone Guthrie Center, an old Tudor writing retreat in Annamaghkerrig, Ireland where there was rumored to be a ghost. After a few days, she started DM-ing me on Twitter and then threatened to haunt me forever if I didn’t write her a song. I don’t know whether she was real or not, but I figured it was better to not take any chances.
“Elephant Man” was fun. That was a total re-write. Simone shot it down early on. I went back to work on it, made it feel a little more Americana, and then I also had him meet Pauline, the tall girl who works the Tilt-A-Whirl. When I hit upon that I wrote Simone and said, the Elephant Man is making a comeback, which I think he did.
“Orphan King” was the first song I ever wrote, which was with Mary Gauthier, and it’s special as it is close to my own story about searching for family. Plus coming out of all my experiences but still believing in love.
I also like “The Ballad of Willie Sutton” which evolved a lot in the writing. It was slightly more biographical at the beginning but the song revealed to me that the reason he did all that bank robbing was for a girl. Their relationship became the most interesting thing to me, and that I supposed he’d do it all again. The blistering lead at the end by Larry Campbell was a very special moment, too. It sounds as though Tom Petty and David Gilmour stole a car and drove across America. Stunning.
“A Golden Crown” happened fast and also surprised me. It’s about a boxer and an Irish wedding ring. I thought it was going to be a dark song where the boxer was gonna end up in a river somewhere with the ring in his pocket. But in the writing, he kinda told me he’d prefer to meet somebody new, which is what happens in the third verse.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today?
Man, everyone needs a break right now. And anytime a song makes you feel like someone else understands how you feel, that’s a very healing thing. For me it’s always about connection. But, after the election I felt just awful, and I tried to cancel the recording. I wanted to buy myself some time, but Simone said no way, “get up here and make some fucking art.”
How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
I have one song on there about the Statue of Liberty. It’s called, “Lost and Gone.” It’s a question about whether we can remember what it stands for. I chose to include one song, “Coronation Blues,” which gives voice to the biggest asshole in the room, in this case a mad king who’s pissed about the lack of enthusiasm for his coronation.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?
Always John Prine. And Mark Knopfler. Never get tired of listening to Dylan, either, and the same goes for David Bowie.
What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I’ve been pretty lucky so far given I’m fairly new and already worked with some serious heavyweights. I’d work with any of those folks again in a second. If I was to pick somebody new, I’d say Gillian Welch.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I hope people feel some sense of hope that even outcasts can find love and make out ok in the end.