Adam Cresswell aka Rodney Cromwell is an electronic artist based out of Catford, London whose synth pop tunes coalesced into a full length debut, ‘Age Of Anxiety’ back in 2015. Not the first stop on the rodeo for Mr. Cresswell, he was formerly a founding member of Saloon (a folktronica band who had the pleasure of recording three Peel Sessions) and one half of the duo Arthur & Martha. Below we discuss the music made under the Rodney Cromwell guise, including ‘Rodney’s English Disco’ – the new EP out this May via Happy Robots Records.
Take our readers back to the beginning of Rodney Cromwell. How did this solo venture begin?
The first Rodney Cromwell track came out back in 2002 while I was in the indie band Saloon. We were asked to do a track on a “The Lord Of The Rings” tribute album and the rest of the band said ‘no thanks’ as they thought Lord of the Rings was for geeks. I love a bit of high fantasy though so I wrote a song called ‘Radagast The Brown‘ and released it under the name Rodney Cromwell (the joke was it was like someone getting my name wrong). Shoot forward 12 years and I’d written what I thought would be the second Arthur & Martha album called ‘Age Of Anxiety‘. But my friend Alice (aka Martha) thought it wasn’t right for Arthur & Martha so I just dug up the Rodney Cromwell name and used that. I genuinely didn’t think anyone would be interested in the record, so it didn’t matter if I used a rather unrepresentative name like Rodney Cromwell. There is a Country artist called Rodney Crowell and we’re always getting mis-tagged on Twitter. It’s such a drag.
What artistic freedoms do you have as a solo artist as opposed to collaborating either as a duo such as your time in Arthur & Martha or in a group like with Saloon?
Well I’ve always had total freedom in all my previous acts. Saloon made something akin to indie, folk, kraut, electronica so it was a ‘broad church’ of a sound anyway. With Rod Cromwell I can do whatever I like, but I have too much respect to my fans to go off and make a gabba or a trap album. They expect irreverent synthy electronic indie, so that’s what I deliver. It’s also what I enjoy making. I don’t exactly carve a living from this, so doing what I enjoy is really important.
‘Comrades’ was released as the first single off ‘Rodney’s English Disco‘ at the beginning of March. What was the process like behind recording it?
My writing process is essentially I set up a bunch of synths on the bed and just mess about until I have an idea that I like. With ‘Comrades‘ I remember being quite frustrated that I’d not come up with anything cool in my last couple of sessions so I just started stabbing angrily at the microkorg which sounded cool and became the lead riff. I just built the song from there. This whole EP was produced with a guy called Rich Bennett in NYC who I’d met through Morgane from Hologram Teen. Once I had an almost finished song I sent it to Rich via Dropbox, he reassembled it in his studio, added a few synths and mixed it properly. It was a lot of fun working with a proper producer and the EP sounds great for it; it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a dustbin like much of my album does.
The artwork for the ‘Comrades‘ single is quite interesting, what is your collaboration like with the artist behind it?
I was talking to my friend and video collaborator Dariy about the next video and I said I wanted a soviet fantasy vibe. He introduced me to the work of Jelena Osmolovska a photographer from Latvia and I instantly fell in love with her work. Her work has a really dark tone, but a lot of it has a black humor that I felt really suited the vibe of the new EP. So I asked her about using her photos for the artwork and she agreed. I can’t tell you how happy I was. Her aesthetic became the inspiration behind the ‘Comrades‘ video too. I think she likes what we have done which means a lot.
‘Rodney’s English Disco‘ is said to come from the ‘current social and political tribulations’ lyrically. Do you find social oppression easier to draw from than your own personal issues? Are you looking to send a message with the EP or is it more so your observations of this world?
Well if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’m not a big fan of Brexit or Donald Trump – I don’t like any kind of political extremes, so definitely the ‘post-truth’ climate inspired the whole EP. I can’t say I would have wanted to write a whole album inspired by that stuff though – an EP is enough. If it includes a message to the world then the message is ‘I’m a bit miserable about everything that’s going on’. I have a secret Twitter account for my more direct political ranting and I barely get a like or re-tweet on there, so I definitely don’t think a whole album of my political inspired messages would be of much interest to people.
On your new EP you intentionally kept instrumentation minimal – all of the drums sounds were entirely made of a vintage Boss DR-55 drum machine. Could you speak more on the gear used and your decision to keep it minimalistic?
Well the decision to use less synths and one drum sound was partly so that the whole EP would sound coherent and have one voice. But equally it was because I wanted to get the EP out quickly and if I had spent weeks trying to decide on the best snare sound, I would never have gotten it out in time. On this record I use the DR-55 which I sampled for all the drums, the microkorg, the Korg MS10, a Moog Rogue and then the Arturia Solina String Ensemble soft-synth package. It’s a lot less hissy than my real analogue ARP.
It has to be asked: what is your memory of your three Peel Sessions when you were still a member of Saloon?
They were fantastic, of course. We recorded two studio sessions and, being a band that recorded most of our stuff at home, it was incredible to go into a real 64 track studio and record with sound engineers that had worked with everyone from The Fall to Nirvana. The third session was a live session, which in theory should have been terrifying, but we were young and took everything in our stride – it was just another day at the office for us. I almost missed the start of the session – John Peel had to put another record on – because I was in the bathroom cleaning my teeth. It’s very important to have clean teeth before playing on the radio!
As the main stay at Happy Robots Records, what’s your role and the story behind the label?
I am the main man so I do pretty much everything from talking to the press and schmoozing with celebs all the way through to searching out the best pound shops to buy ‘Fragile Tape’ in and spending many many hours in the post office. The label started when we did the first Arthur & Martha record – I’d always wanted to run a label at some point and after getting mucked around by a couple of labels we just thought, well why not lets do it ourselves. And that’s how we started. I enjoy it but it does take so much of my time. Hopefully Sony are planning on buying me out any day now.
Have you bought any vinyl recently? What hidden gems can you share with us that you’ve recently discovered?
Not as much as I would like – it’s expensive work running a record label. The new Lake Ruth album is my favourite record of the last few months. If it’s old stuff you like, I finally bought a vinyl copy of Lou Reed’s ‘Cony Island Baby‘ – such a great album, I totally want the lead track played at my funeral.
The way you intertwine children’s toys with the rest of the instrumentation in the past I’ve found so refreshing, in what direction do you see yourself heading in next artistically?
You know I’ve not thought about my next direction. I know I want to record another album, but whether it will see much of a new sound I won’t know until I’ve set up my synths on the bed and started playing about. I imagine it will be more of the same. We don’t plan on having any more kids so I’m pretty sure it won’t feature any children’s toys, as long as we avoid any happy accidents.
You’ve recently embarked on the first Ohm From Ohm tour this springtime, with dates across England. Featuring three other artists headlining as well (The Frixion, Nature Of Wires, and Vieon) how does the energy differ from solo gigs for you? And most importantly – what can concert-goers expect from a live Rodney Cromwell set?
I think these gigs are even more high energy than normal. With a four-band line up you need to cram your very best tracks into 30 minutes because, much as we might all get along with one another, obviously there is still a healthy rivalry. With a Rodney Cromwell live set it’s luck of the drawer as to what you get. I generally play with a couple of my friends Alice and Richard in the band who add extra synth and guitar. But if they can’t make it then I’ll get other people to help out, or occasionally I’ll even play as a one-piece. Although the set does rely a lot on the computer, there is a lot going on over the top so no show is ever the same. No-one has asked for their money back yet though.
Photo credits: Zamberwell