On his first album, “Hidden Hotel Rooms,” Miami-based singer/songwriter and producer Rolko takes us on a transformative journey into the subconscious level of the mind. Rolko is driven to record and share audio adventures that immerse the listener in a visual, cinematic-inspired universe. In tracks like “49 Directors,” “Emerald Stones,” and “Cyber Punk Pretty Lights,” Rolko addresses ideas of spirituality, human needs, and the banal attachment to the dark side of technology with an ignited spirit to transcend and awaken the awareness.
The artist pulls us away from the concrete walls “Through the Untamed Garden” to explore the magical world of shamans in the song “Vicky Dreams,” which feels like a concept album with an interlude of the landscape of the obscure street artist Banksy. Finally, “Another Dimension,” a personal affirmation made as a reminder to never stop realizing one’s full potential, brings the album to a close.
Another Dimension, the album’s concluding track, was composed as a personal affirmation and a reminder to never stop realizing one’s full potential. The earliest and simplest song on the record, it has a special place in his heart because it helped him through difficult and trying times. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
ROLKO: As a kid on my native island of Cuba, I remember singing when the lights would go off. It felt like a magical setting where the whole family and friends would gather in a circle to tell stories, sing and dance. But at the age of 6 my family moved to the states and that passion faded away until it was rekindled right after high school. I bought a guitar and started writing tunes.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
ROLKO: I wouldn’t say I’m “self-taught” but rather cyber-taught since I’ve been fortunate to live in these crazy times , where you can dive into the minds of some of the most inspiring engineers and artists and create yourself from learning from them.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘ROLKO’?
ROLKO: I’ve been more drawn to the artist behind the scenes of some of my favorite albums. Producers like Nigel Goodrich, Danger Mouse and Brian Eno have been very influential. I love artists that reinvented themselves with each album and are able to still keep their authenticity through it all. The name Rolko just came to me on a flight and I didn’t really question it. At that time, I had been attempting to make a band for over 7 years but it just didn’t work out, so it felt right to start a solo project with a moniker.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
ROLKO: I would say my key element is the spirit. I feel like my music is aimed at anybody that is going through their own self discovery journey, for the dreamers, the adventurers and the truth seekers. As for my sound, it is always changing depending on my environment. When I was writing my debut album “Hidden Hotel Rooms” I was mostly hanging out in big cities (Miami, Boston, Detroit, New York). I took a lot of inspiration from the U.K and you can definitely hear it in the album. Recently, I built a camper with my wife and we’ve been enjoying going to the outskirts as much as possible. These new experiences have completely altered my upcoming sound, of which I will be releasing some singles soon.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try to affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
I really try to stay in a bubble when it comes to politics, etc., but I do believe if you have something meaningful to say, music is an incredible tool for that. In my music I write whatever I’m feeling, learning or want to say at the moment. I guess I use some spiritual themes here and there but it’s not something that I consciously force. Sometimes I just want to document or say something to someone I love. I’m interested in giving some kind of value to my audience, something that I’m always craving myself.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
I feel like the songs I put out are gifts, and there are very few things that I enjoy more than sharing a finished tune. The more meaningful the work is to me, the more fulfillment I get from sharing it, no matter how much work I put into it. I try not to have any expectations after they are uploaded, but of course, we all have desires and I would love for these gifts to continue to spread like a web of mycelium through this world.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do you usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
I’ve always been driven by melody. I usually start an idea with a simple beat or a few chords and melodies will start to emerge right away. From there, I’ll try to decipher a phrase from the humming and mumbling and see where my subconscious wants to go. Those initial words will usually dictate where the songs must go lyrically. Once I have the story, I’ll start layering instruments to fit the aesthetic.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
ROLKO: Finishing “Hidden Hotel Rooms” has been the most difficult musical endeavor. For years I used some of the tunes on this album to do technical experiments–trying out different effects, tools and equipment, which ended up sacrificing a percentage of the initial life of the songs for the technical growth.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
ROLKO: Finishing “Hidden hotel Rooms”. Although I had to entangle some of my own chaos to have some songs fit into the world of the album, I was very satisfied with how it all turned out. I feel like this was the challenge I needed to acquire a new awareness of sonics and storytelling. “Hidden hotel Rooms” has tunes that have accompanied me through some years of soul searching, as well as dark and wonderful moments. It’s very liberating to finally have all these songs coexisting in one album, but living in their own space.
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Photo credits: Ellen Judge Keyes