Rio Romeo: "I've found a huge online family of other queer people"
© Photography by Eli Pedraza
Get to know Rio Romeo (they/them), the 22 year-old butch artist from California who plays theatrical-inspired music for the termites in their piano (and for their 247,000 monthly Spotify listeners).
What are four things we should know about Rio Romeo?
I have a collection of over 400 vintage lewd magazines.
My piano has termites in it.
I love to draw angels and paint women.
I have four smiley face tattoos.
Where and when did your love of singing and songwriting begin?
My love for singing started when I was a really little kid. I used to lug around this little fake microphone as a toddler and walk around the house singing all the time. I got into a Christian choir in the first grade and stuck with that for a few years. Later on, in middle school, I found myself taking part in my community's local musical theatre shows. After that, I got my hands on my first guitar and started writing songs from scratch my freshman year of high school.
I fell in love with songwriting for the first time when I first went to college at The Theatre School at DePaul University. I ended up dropping out after a quarter because I didn't love the program, but I'm so grateful I went or else I wouldn't be playing the piano today. I used to fiddle around on the pianos in the rehearsal rooms while I was waiting for my friends to get out of class and eventually started writing little songs on these pianos with the sole goal to express myself and make myself laugh.
I wrote my first album on those shitty pianos in the rehearsal rooms and fell in love with music in a new way while doing so, mostly because for the first time in my life I had the freedom to write songs without the judgement of my family. This led me to be able to make songs about my experience as a lesbian for the first time in my life, and that ignited a burning passion to keep writing and keep sharing my experiences.
Who are you inspired by?
I'm inspired first and foremost by my real-life experiences as a cheeky lesbian when it comes to songwriting. In terms of musical influences, musical theatre rubbed off on me quite a bit. I've also grown up with quite the obsession for Freddie Mercury, who coincidentally was also an escaped theatre kid.
© Photography by Kara Vorabutr
How would you describe the music that you create?
The genre is still being defined by the internet, but I would describe the style of music I make as cabaret blues. It's theatrical and conveys a story while still being emotionally articulate in its expression. It's cheeky and intentional.
You have almost 420k followers on TikTok (at the time of writing), and your song Butch 4 Butch has over 21.9k videos using it. Do you think the app has been essential in finding an audience for your music? And how does it feel to know so many people have heard your music?
TikTok has been incredibly instrumental to building my community. I have found a group of people that resonate with my music because they're just like me. I've found a huge online family of other queer people that have gotten me through the hardest times in my life. The algorithm on TikTok really works, and because of that my music has been exposed to people that want to hear what I have to sing and what I have to say.
It's crazy to think about how many people have heard my music. Butch 4 Butch hit 7 million streams on Spotify today, and it's gaining millions on other streaming platforms as well. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I've put out such a well-liked song. I wrote in an hour in my garage and showed it to my soon to be girlfriend that I had written the song about the next day. My music has always been so personal for me, so I definitely am still getting adjusted to having it gain traction.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
The best piece of advice I've been given is not a saying or a slogan, but an example.
Since I was 15, I've been loitering for countless hours at a local coffee shop that has a wide range of clientele, including older professors. There is one professor there in particular named John, and we've known each other for years and still grab a coffee there once or twice a month together.
He has set a beautiful example in this cafe to meet people where they are. No matter what age, what their day was like, who they hang out with, or whatever it may be. He always has consistently led by example of putting aside our differences and coming together to meet each other in the present.
I've ran with this example, and I consistently try to model what John does in my day to day. To be mindful of where people are coming from, and meet them there.
You're very open about your experiences as a non-binary butch lesbian, and about your struggles with chronic illness and addiction. What's it like having so many people know these details about your life, and do you think vulnerability and honesty is important for artists?
I am incredibly open and honest online, but I have nothing to lose. I receive such great feedback and support for sharing my experiences online and it strengthens my community. No matter what I'm going through, my community has met me with love, support and solutions. I am so grateful that I have a huge family to be vulnerable with. I've never found it too weird because in person I'm the same way. If it comes up, I'll talk about just about anything. I think it's an outdated mindset to have hush hush topics for no reason.
I think because I am so vulnerable with what I am going through, people find a way to resonate with my art in a more meaningful way. When you've heard the backstory of a piece of art from the artist's mouth, it means more. This is just an added perk for me, because I'm going to share my life either way.
For many content creators, the pandemic has been somewhat beneficial to growing their audiences. Have you found this to be the case for you?
The pandemic has been good in a way for me, that's true. More people are consuming content because they can't be out of the house. We're all going through it together, and I am grateful that I've been able to be a source of entertainment for people through these dark times. It does have its drawbacks though: My music career took off during the pandemic, but I've still never played a live show. I've also gotten this weird experience of being a microcelebrity with never being able to see anything actually come about from that in person. It's all completely online, so that's been a weird one. In summary, everything has its pros and cons.
Who are some of your favourite LGBT+ artists?
My favorite LGBT+ musicians at the moment are Sir Chloe, Elton John, Frances Forever, Ashnikko, and if we're talking painters, Elly Smallwood.
Is your piano really infested with bugs?
My piano is actually, truly, really, infested with bugs. The piano was made in 1953, and somewhere along the way got infested with termites. They fly out while I play sometimes. I like to think that they enjoy it when I sing for them.
© Photography by Eli Pedraza
What are your plans for the coming year, music-wise?
This next year is going to be pretty huge for me. I just signed with a manager, William Bissic, and he's helped me get organized and find valuable connections to producers to help create my next EP. I'm putting in 12 hour days in the studio to pump this project out. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I'll have two EP's out: Good God! and Good Grief!
I also am going to start playing shows once it's more safe to do so, and that's a huge deal for me because I have little experience in that field. I can't wait to be able to see my online community in person once I start doing these shows!
Anything else you'd like to tell the readers of INJECTION?
I just dropped merch! You can find some of my fuck! angels on rioromeo.com/shop. I have a new song titled Missus Piano coming out on September 26! If you want more unreleased music, check out my patreon (patreon.com/riodoeseverything)-- I have months and months worth of work on there!
And where can people follow you?
You can follow me on Instagram & TikTok @riodoeseverything ! You can also subscribe to my YouTube for more demos on youtube.com/rioromeo