Sweeping and cinematic, the music of Wave & Rome has an almost visceral immediacy. A crossbreed of alternative, pop, and even orchestral elements, Wave & Rome’s Sam Tinnesz, a veteran songwriter in his own right, has come up with something that is a true representation of his personality. It radiates authenticity from start to finish.
His latest release, Across the Map, has an emotional element underneath the first experience of it as a catchy, infective rock album. It is lyrically that Tinnesz manages to capture us by simultaneously urging us back in time and asking us to peer forward. It is rhythmic and pulsing without the vacuousness that accompanies most of today’s pop music. It is because of this lyrical keenness that Across the Map bears repeat listening, presenting layer after layer that continues to unfold.
NYMM: You’ve been a working musician for a while now, so how did this project get started?
ST: After writing for a while with other artists, I did some writing with Josh Farro (Paramore) that just felt and sounded different. After you’ve written with a lot of people, you can recognize when you have something special. With him, I was singing differently, and playing parts differently, so I knew that it was worth pursuing.
NYMM: How long have you been working on the songs that ended up on Across the Map?
ST: Almost a full three years. It went through several different manifestations before becoming Wave & Rome. One of the first songs that set me on this path was “Hands Over Eyes”. I wanted to write something that was a mix of Sea Wolf and Local Natives and some of these other records that I love. Josh and I recorded it at Matt Hoopes’ (Relient K) home studio, and at the end of it we really felt like we had something. It’s been three years of writing, recording, and fighting for it. It has definitely been a passion project for me.
NYMM: Tell me a bit about what is behind these songs.
ST: “Across the Map” is the title track. Before I started writing, I did some touring with different bands and that song was inspired by doing so much traveling. I got to see some amazing things and go to some incredible places, but there’s that constant tug inside to be back with the people you love. It’s possible to listen to that song and never really get that meaning from it, but if someone wants to go deeper into the music I always want to leave them room to do that with these songs.
NYMM: Is there one that is particularly personal to you?
ST: “Wandering Wolf” in inspired by my dad, who was in the Air Force . He passed away when I was younger, and Josh always asked me questions about it. To me, that fact was a part of normal life, but not to other people. There was a picture of my dad that Josh wanted to write a song about. I was always a bit reluctant, because you don’t want to make art that doesn’t stand up to the thing it’s about. I finally decided that if we were going to do it, we needed to do it right. We realized during the process that my dad was the same age in that photo as I was when we were writing the song. I decided to make the first verse about him and the second about me, and about how our paths are actually very similar.
NYMM: Did you have a particular set of ideas or principles that you adopted for this project?
ST: We wanted it to be something we had never written or recorded before. When it was happening, as long as it sounded like something we were into at the time, we just kept doing it. We served each song as its own individual thing and then came up with a grouping of songs that went together. There were several tracks we had recorded that just didn’t feel right with the rest of them. When you’re an independent artist, you have to be your own quality control. I decided I’d rather put out five songs that I’m passionate about than release nine songs and be embarrassed about four of them.
NYMM: What about in terms of lyrics?
ST: A lot of my musical heroes have work that pulls back the curtain and shows the wizard behind it. They stay open and vulnerable. I think vulnerability is a magnet, and it draws people in and lets them open up themselves. For the most part, people are very guarded. Being an artist and writer, I want to put words to things that people are already feeling but can’t because writing is not their skill. A lot of my work wants people to indulge in nostalgia and xperience something a little deeper, while remaining on the fringe of pop music. I want to keep the hooks that stay in your head without losing a depth of lyrics.
NYMM: How did you decide when a song was a Wave & Rome song and when it wasn’t?
ST: I read a lot of articles about different artists’ processes and how they work on music. One thing The National said in an interview was that they just stopped thinking about whether or not a song sounded like The National. They decided that whatever they created was what they wanted to be. I think most artists are defined by their tastes, and if you’re true to yourself and what you really like, I think you can come up with something truly unique. The question is: “Would I listen to this?” I spent a lot of time as a writer coming up with stuff that I wouldn’t really listen to, but I new others would like. The “older, wiser” me didn’t want to do that this time.
NYMM: How did the remixes come about?
ST: Matt Bronleewe (The Hawk in Paris, Joy Williams) helped me produce some of the album, and was instrumental in putting this project together. He kept pushing me to continue with the project. He’s been in the business and doing music for a long time, so I listen to what he has to say. He suggested remixes and knew people who were good at it. It allowed us to give away some music without giving away all the hard work I’ve been doing for three years [laughs].
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