Maybe ‘matured’ wouldn’t be the right word for an artist who still gets after it on stage and in the studio like he always has, but at 47, Dex Romweber has come to the point in his life and career where looking at things differently than he did two decades ago isn’t just a good thing; it’s necessary.
“I think when I was younger, the self-destructive aspects of music and my idols held a certain allure,” said Romweber, whose latest album with his sister Sara, Images 13, hit the streets last week. “But as I’ve gotten older and met certain people – very wise people – they told me I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to be self-destructive or die young or anything like that. And that was a real breath of fresh air.”
It’s a common theme among any artist, whether musician, writer, actor, dancer or painter. You see the work of someone you admire, hear their story, and if it took a tortured existence or the aid of some extracurricular substances, it becomes romantic. The only thing is, those stories usually don’t end up well, and when those artists realize it, it’s often too late. Romweber wasn’t interested in becoming a statistic.
“I think that when I was younger, some of my performances suffered because I was so into a self-destructive element of it,” he admits. “Part of that is choosing role models that burned out pretty quickly and were heavily into drugs, like Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Errol Flynn, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, and people like that. And although I still really dig those artists and think they did a lot of cool things, I found out that if I tried to take care of myself or worked more on that level, and not be so rude, I was happier. And that was a good thing to learn. Some people don’t learn it, some people OD or die young without ever knowing that they never even really had to do that.”
For North Carolina’s Romweber, who first made his name as a member of the revered Flat Duo Jets, the result of this realization is his work with his sister in the Dex Romweber Duo, which will arrive in New York City Sunday night for a gig at the Mercury Lounge. Images 13, their third album, has all the elements that garnered Romweber a cult following over the years: an eclectic song collection that still works together as a cohesive unit, a unique cover choice (The Who’s “So Sad About Us”), atmospheric ballads, and surf / rockabilly tear-ups. When it comes to American music, Romweber has forgotten more than most remember, and it shows with every note.
“There wasn’t really a theme (to Images 13), and the record has a lot of different types of music,” he said. “I think it all works together, but sometimes whenever we’re scheduled to make a record, I have to go in search of songs or write songs or figure out what I’ve been liking the past year – either a cover or an original – and just make sure we have enough songs to nail down a record. I probably could be writing a lot more, but as the record is looming, I tend to nail down and start writing material for it. But there really isn’t a theme to it. If anything, it’s just songs that I like that might mean something to me or give me a sense of vision of where I’m at in my life at that point.”
And despite high praise coming from the likes of Jack White and Neko Case, Romweber isn’t feeling the pressure of having to live up to his previous work. He’s just going to keep doing what he’s doing.
“It’s different getting older doing it,” he said. “When I first started, it was all fresh and there seemed to be a lot more pressure. But after so many albums and so many gigs, there’s not so much pressure about it, which is kind of nice. When you go into it when you’re young, you’re pretty naïve and you don’t know how a lot of it works, but now I’m kind of a seasoned veteran in all this, which has its more relaxing points, it really does.”
Given history and the epic battles between siblings like the Gallagher and Davies brothers over the years, you wouldn’t expect that touring and recording with your sister would be one of those relaxing points. But as Romweber points out, while there have been a few bumps in the road over the years, he and drummer Sara are on good terms as they head out on the road.
“We get along pretty good now, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing,” he said. “A lot of that is the pressure of the business itself, and also, traveling can be really fun, but it can also be really hellish. I think me and Sara, at times do struggle with family dynamics, but we try to not fight and when the fights do happen, that’s kind of the worst of it, meaning they are a drag, but it really doesn’t happen that much.”
So what’s the secret?
“Me and her don’t spend a lot of time together when we’re not working or touring, and I always remember a quote that Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones said, which is ‘the reason the Beatles broke up was because they hung around each other all the time, and the reason the Stones stayed together was because they didn’t hang out that much outside of the band.’ And that’s kind of where me and Sara are at. We do our own thing when we’re not working, and we really haven’t toured that much in the past couple years, so this new record we will be working more and fights will happen, but we’ve managed to survive it so far.”
Well, maybe surviving isn’t the right way to put it, but thriving, as the Dex Romweber Duo doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As for that maturing thing, let’s just say that Romweber doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression.
“It’s not to say that I don’t want it to be wild and out of control as much as it can be, but at the same time, I think we’re like that naturally, so you don’t really need to add anymore to your normal state because I think people are kinda crazed anyway,” he laughs. “As a result, my performances have become more consistent and when I started to find a degree of respect for myself, I found that others respected me too.”
The Dex Romweber Duo play the Mercury Lounge on Sunday, March 23. For tickets, click here