Right now, he’s looking like a serious contender for the title of homegrown R&B producer-artist star, but tomorrow he could be somewhere else entirely.
Pinner’s Samuel Roman – known by friends, family, John Legend and all the other people he has worked with as Rømans – is a triple-threat artist: a singer, songwriter and producer. His powerful, soulful voice assures him a future as a compelling solo performer, while his songwriting and production skills point towards an alternative career path as a writer-producer for hire.
Indeed, he has already penned songs for the aforementioned ‘All of Me’ star, Alicia Keys, Disclosure, AlunaGeorge, Kwabs, Clean Bandit, Låpsley and even Little Mix. Collaboration is his middle name (actually, his middle name is Elliot): he has had a hit with Naughty Boy; composed Tears, a No 5 chart entry for X Factor winner Louisa Johnson and Clean Bandit; appeared in a video for Doubt, a song he wrote for Mary J Blige, that also featured Taylor Swift; even sat down at a piano with his all-time hero, and fellow Pinner boy, Elton John.
“Elton is an icon of our species, one of the most famous people in history,” he says of his brief stint in the recording studio with the artist formerly known as Reg Dwight. “Working with him was the most surreal experience ever, even if he did spend all day talking about Pinner.”
Rømans can also count Jay Z as an associate, having signed to his label Roc Nation.
“That was another surreal moment,” he says of his first encounter with the rap mogul, backstage on the Magna Carta tour in London, and subsequent meetings in London and LA. “He’s a lovely guy, very down to earth. We spoke for hours about the music we love. He also asked me what kind of artist I wanted to be. I said I just wanted to make tracks. Roc Nation really pushed for me to sign – they wouldn’t let me leave the building till I did!”
It’s a long way from North London, where Rømans grew up, “weaned on Elton and The Beatles”. His parents were, he recalls, “always buying me instruments” – he became proficient first on drums, then guitar, piano, cello and sax. “I’m a jack of all, master of none,” he jokes. In his mid-teens, he turned his attention towards production, discovering dance music – garage and drum’n’bass – and the rudiments of production via his laptop and music production software program Fruity Loops.
He played his first “gig” – a set of Beatles covers – aged 13, at a hotel in Northwood Hills where, coincidentally, Elton made his own live debut several decades earlier. Within two years he was putting on drum’n’bass nights with his older brother in Kings Cross and recording a rap track in Kings Langley with a garage crew known as 50 Pence, a spoof on 50 Cent.
By the time he turned 16, the multi-instrumental prodigy had left Aldenham School in Hertfordshire and signed a development deal, leading to writing sessions in Sweden with hot production teams such as So Blue and Merlin. Over the next few years, the prolific young songwriter issued a series of self-released albums that covered the waterfront, stylistically, and evinced a refusal to be pinned down in terms of genre.
“[The albums] went from very poppy Justin Timberlake-type stuff to more soulful material,” he explains. “When I was 19, I started getting into northern soul and people like Musiq Soulchild and Dwele. Then I made a kind of Elton/Billy Joel-sounding album called Man On The Moon – I did the majority of the writing and production myself.”
In the late-noughties, Rømans found himself in demand as a songwriter for contestants from the European versions of reality TV shows such as X Factor or The Voice. Indeed, there was a time when he got headhunted to appear himself in one of the early series of The Voice or Fame Academy (“I can’t remember which”). Not that he ever agreed.
“I always had an arrogant view of them – I thought I was too good for them,” he declares. “I’m thankful I didn’t do it now. But I’m happy to write songs for those sorts of shows – they’ve become quite a respectable platform, whereas before there was a stigma: the focus was on good TV as opposed to making good music. So [contestants] would get in contact with me and come to my parents’ basement in Pinner and we’d make some songs there.”
They weren’t the only ones. In 2014, none other than Australia’s biggest (and tiniest) export spent the weekend chez Mr and Mrs Roman.
“There was a knock at the door and it was Kylie,” he marvels. “The next thing we knew we were watching TV together with a take-away. We did three days of songwriting together – me and this national treasure, in my parents’ house.”
It was yet another surreal moment for Rømans.
“My mum’s hairdresser was doing her hair in the kitchen, and Kylie and I were in my studio in the basement. Suddenly, while the hairdresser was giving my mum a blow dry, Kylie came up the stairs, singing and doing a choreographed dance to Spinning Around. You couldn’t make it up.”
Next, he went to work in LA with Norwegian super-producers Stargate (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry) as well as Rita Ora and Rihanna.
“I’ve worked with her a few times,” he says of the Bajan pop colossus. “She’s amazing – a brilliant curator – and she knows exactly what she wants.”
So does Rømans – he finally knows that what he wants is everything: to be a highly skilled backroom boy and a charismatic frontman.
“I love it,” he says. “My passion is making music and that [collaborating] side of it allows me to just do that and not have to concern myself with the promotional or performance aspects. But I’ve always had periods when I performed. I’ve done some great shows at South By South West and a couple of select shows in LA and New York. I realise that when the music sounds right I do really enjoy performing.”
If he’s growing in confidence as a live performer, as a recording artist he’s fully-formed. He has released four EPs to date – and he likes the size, scope and shape of that format.
“I used to be snobby about EPs,” he admits, “because I thought serious artists made albums. Now I’ve really embraced the four-song release.”
His first EP was Overthinking Pt. 1, featuring the quirky, Oriental-tinged beat and melody of Uh Huh, slow, spartan ballad I’m Not The Father, and the ominous rumble of Life In Monochrome, all crashing drums and epic rasping vocals. It was followed by Act I, which included the guitar-fuelled rock gospel of The Die Is Cast, the pretty, pulsating Ballad Of A Figure 8, and This Might Hurt, which sounded a bit like George Michael were he to work with a contemporary-sounding producer like Rømans. On Silence, he stretched out with the twitchy rhythm of Prisoner, the rousing title track, and the punchy Pacify.
And now there is the Automatic EP. It features his most confident compositions to date. Happy Love posits Rømans as a 21st century Marvin, continuing where Gaye left on Midnight Love, mixing soulful vocals with modern technology. Stranger Things slows things right down, his voice accompanied by bloops and a smattering of percussion, before building towards a classic pop chorus, which he sings over shards of dub reggae guitar. The title track is grittier, almost bluesy, while Love Is The Beast is equal parts electronic and elegiacal. Throughout, there is plenty going on musically, but Rømans knows just when to hold back. Sometimes, less is more.