Ruben Romano has had success with every project since he founded his very first punk band, Virulence, back in 1985.
He is a world-class drummer whose ambition has taken him around the world. But first and foremost, he is a songwriter. Fearless and dedicated to creating new sounds, Romano will pick up any instrument, regardless of whether he knows how to play it—and he’ll find his way to music. He founded veteran stoner-rock groups Fu Manchu and Nebula, and he’s now put down the drumsticks, picked up the guitar and built one of the hottest stoner-rock bands to come on the scene in recent years: The Freeks.
Ruben Romano talked about his musical beginnings.
“Before Fu Manchu, there was Virulence,” he said. “We did a couple of demos and then actually put out If This Isn’t a Dream on Alchemy Records. … We were tadpoles in a pond of heavyweight bullfrogs. We were just out of high school!”
By the early ’90s, the punk scene had come to a standstill. Then along came the Seattle scene that produced bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney, Skin Yard and Soundgarden, and all seemed right with the world again. But while Seattle was getting grungy, Southern California was getting stoned, and bands like Nebula, Kyuss, Monster Magnet and Romano’s new band, Fu Manchu, brought new life to what seemed like a rock ’n’ roll graveyard. Stoner rock embodied elements of grunge, punk and metal, and the guitar tones and bass tones were fuzzy, distorted and fat as hell.
“There seems to be a triangle between Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet,” Romano said. “… We did shows together. We had the same management.”
Despite being in one of the bands that created stoner rock, Romano said that if he’s a pioneer of any sort, that didn’t happen on purpose.
“I just did it for myself with people who were my friends. Since we were a part of our own community, I guess it turned into a genre that was just an extension of what we all were influenced by,” he said. “It was the media that tagged the term ‘stoner rock,’ because we came out of the ’80s and into the ’90s still smoking pot with our hair long.
By 1996, Romano was through with Fu Manchu, and he took guitarist Eddie Glass with him to form Nebula, a band that took off quickly. They jammed deep psych-rock grooves based on raw riffs with heavy rhythms, and were quickly embraced by stoner-rock fans.
“All the Nebula recording sessions were memorable,” he remembered. “Let It Burn was just Eddie and me up at Rancho de la Luna with Fred Drake. We were on fire and felt the freedom of moving forward after the Fu Manchu separation. That session, for me, was magic.”
After more than two decades of playing drums with Fu Manchu and Nebula, Ruben not too long ago switched to the guitar and founded The Freeks. Why?
“Switching to guitar was a fun challenge, something new and fresh,” Romano said. “I’m self taught.”
In 2013, The Freeks released a debut album, Full On. Romano said it’s the record of which he’s most proud throughout his career.
“With all that I experienced, I could have just hung it up and said, ‘Been there, done that,’” he said. “Full On has given me the closure that I am a lifer. I might not tour as much as before, but that won’t stop me from getting loud with the guys—and now we are working on its follow-up.”
Romano refused to say when that Freeks follow-up would be released.
“We have recorded a full-length record. We did 12 songs in 10 hours with Matt Lynch at Mysterious Mammal Recording, and are now ready to start mixing it,” he said. “We are free to move about this cabin at our own pace; there is no deadline until it’s done. … You bet we will be playing it live at our upcoming shows!”
For more information on The Freeks, including a schedule of upcoming shows, visit www.thefreeks.com. Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at www.desertrockchronicles.com. Below: The Freeks with Scott Reeder at his Sanctuary recording studio.