Jerome Wasn't Built in One Day
Jerome Reuter wakes up and looks at an antique French watch lying on a table beside him. It’s 9:30 in the morning and time to go to the studio. He quickly downs a cup of black coffee and walks to his band’s rehearsal space located just a few blocks down the street from where he lives. Before he reaches the street where the studio is located, he pays a visit to his favourite newspaper vendor to get the latest version of Die Zeit. “Merci beaucoup,” he says as he hands the coins to the vendor.
When he finally reaches the studio, he heartily embraces his fellow band members. It’s been a while since he last saw them. Originating from the genre of neo-folk, the Luxembourgish musical project Rome has evolved over the last decade in a way that defies any characterization. Founded in 2005, it’s literary approach to musical composition is based on a profound appreciation for European culture and languages—an inclination only natural for someone with a background like Jerome Reuter, Rome’s founder and lead singer.
Growing up in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg’s second most populous commune in the south-west of the country, Reuter was exposed to the diverse European culture from a very young age.
“I guess it was the cultural variety that influenced me. Growing up so close to the Belgian and French borders was certainly influential,” Reuters said.
Although he currently spends most of his time in Luxembourg, Reuter has also lived in Germany for about ten years, and spent some time in Belgium and Manchester as well. Apart from Luxembourgish, he is fluent in German, French and English.
“I see myself primarily as European. I feel strongly connected to German and Italian culture. I also have a special affection for Ireland and Sweden, where I have many friends,” he said.
Although English is the official language of the band, Rome’s lead singer doesn’t shy away from incorporating other European languages like German, French, Spanish and Italian into his music.
A mere look at some of Rome’s album titles, such as Confessions d’un Voleur d’Ames, Die Æsthetik der Herrschaftsfreiheit, Passage to Rhodesia, or Le Ceneri di Heliodoro, immediately reveal Reuter’s borderless taste in music.
According to the band’s own website, Rome’s music is truly unique, blending traditional songwriting craftsmanship, unusual arrangements and fine poetry into a monstrous and intimate musical output that combines chanson, dark, ambient, apocalyptic folk, pop, acoustic rock, martial industrial, and cold wave.
Reuter himself doesn’t like being associated with any particular musical genre. He likes to maintain his artistic freedom. Instead of fulfilling the expectations of others, he just does whatever he feels like in any given moment, constantly exploring new terrains.
For example, in the 2009 album Flowers from exile, Reuter explored the theme of the Spanish Civil War. Incorporating the traditional Spanish Flamenco rhythm with voices whispering in Spanish in the background, Reuter set himself a task to enliven the painful experiences of those who perished in the war.
With song titles such as “The secret sons of Europe” or “To die among strangers”, Reuter paid homage to those participants of the war whose names have not appeared in history books, highlighting the futility of the conflict in which the left-leaning Republicans fought against the forces loyal to General Franco.
Jerome Reuter first got the idea of exploring this theme over a dinner with his Spanish uncle, a man who was born in Tunisian exile. His mother was Italian who fled from Mussolini to Tunisia, where she fell madly in love with a Spanish soldier, who in turn, found refuge in Tunisia after being threatened with death penalty in Spain for his anti-fascist activities.
It’s the untold stories of marginalized communities in Europe that seem to always catch Reuter’s attention. This was also the case with Rome’s later album Nos Chants Perdus. Researching about Paris in the fifties and sixties, Reuter stumbled upon libertarian organizations of the French underground that were largely influenced by the Spanish fighters. He was moved by these stories, and he would cling to it until he found a way to vocalize these individual experiences in his own unique way.
With his latest album, Le Ceneri di Heliodoro, Reuter shifted his focus from the past to the present. He didn’t do so because of the lack of historical material to draw inspiration from, but rather because the same forces that once nearly led to a destruction of the old continent, seem to be reemerging in contemporary Europe.
“I believe it’s been established that we live in a time of division,” he said.
With song titles such as “A new unfolding”, “Who only Europe know”, or “The West knows best”, Reuter touches themes ranging from the rising populism and the migration crisis, to Europe’s fraying bond with America.
But Reuter is also careful not to appear like he has answers to all the problems of modern Europe.
“I’m no prophet, not some Cassandra or Nostradamus kind of guy. I have no wisdom to offer whatsoever. I just sing about what I see around me. And the view is pretty bleak at the moment for sure.”
As a constant traveler, Reuter has been moved by the changes in the cities and the major intersections within Europe.
“New world is calling for new unfolding, new man crawling out into light,” Reuter sings in one of his songs. It’s a clear warning to those generations of Europeans who grew up without images of a major conflict in living memory.
“I see it as a threat. In a way it’s a form of revenge on the legacy we’ve refused to inherit,” he said.
In a way, focusing on the current situation in Europe is a logical continuation of Reuter’s previous work.
“I believe mankind is always poised on the brink, and can fall into chaos at any time. This strange omnivore we name democracy has a way of masking its fragility,” Reuter said.
Having drawn enough inspiration from Southern Europe, the constant traveler Jerome Reuter now moved on to Ireland, the other edge of the continent, where he is currently working on a session with local folk musicians. Only one thing is certain regarding Rome’s next album—it’s not going to be anything like the previous one.