She attended an American school with mostly Ukrainian students, but as a newcomer who didn’t speak English she was a social outcast. “I listened to nothing but English for eight hours a day and had no idea what anyone was talking about,” she notes. But rather than despair, she stayed up until the wee hours studying the dictionary, week in and week out, in the tiny, dismal apartment she shared with her mom. The two hung on to one another for emotional strength, but Romi considers this period one of the toughest she endured.
It took her two years to become fluent in English, but by the time she arrived at a new, more culturally diverse school, she’d begun to learn how to handle herself. Another benchmark came when Romi was admitted to the Franklin Fine Arts Center magnet school. Studying dance, piano and drama there, she had plenty of opportunities to sing, and her voice got her noticed. Soon she was showing off her impressive pipes at Ukrainian cultural events, working intensively with vocal coaches and learning operatic techniques.
She continued with this demanding regimen – and sang opera with a local children’s choir. But despite her rigorous classical training, she was drawn to more contemporary genres. “Opera was never in my heart,” she reveals. “There’s a difference between an aria and a song on the radio – I can feel the latter.” She was inspired by an eclectic array of modern sounds, including the smart-spiky bubblegum of Pink, classic rockers like The Rolling Stones, and the intense, heavy sounds of artists like Muse and Linkin Park. What did they have in common? “I was always into music with guitar in it,” she relates.
After posting a demo on MySpace, Romi began interviewing producers, radio promoters and other interested parties. She soon landed a Production deal with Slang Music Group, a Chicago-based company where Romi learned the art of song writing and gained her first studio experience under the tutelage of Producer – Vince Lawrence. They recorded twelve songs which featured the talents of Frayne Lewis, Geno Leonardo [Filter, Chevelle, South of Earth], Joe Babiak [Kill Hannah, SOE], and Augustine Alvarez. During this time Romi also got a spot singing one of her songs at the NBA All-Star game at the United Center.
Unsure about the best way to bring her tracks to the marketplace, she approached Chicago’s Rosehip Records. The label agreed to assist her in accomplishing her goal where she continued working on “Rock Ur World” for Rosehip with producers Andy Gallas and Nick Monson of Lowercase Productions. “Andy and Nick challenged me to try a different sound, give it a more girlish vide, and expand my horizons,” she explains. “It was a real growing process for my vocal abilities.”
The resulting tracks are closer to the effervescent, electronica-laced pop-rock of Gwen Stefani, Pink and Avril Lavigne. In addition to the radio-ready “Letting Go,” the team created such confections as likely first European single “VIP,” the new-wave “So Sweet” and the club banger “Rock Ur World” (with both single and remix versions, naturally), among others.
Romi’s mentor and friend Roman Tykhovskyy helped her assemble her new band, recruiting Chicago stalwarts like keyboardist Eric Woody, guitarists Kenneth Pritchard and Brian Kelly, and bassist Cole Blodgett. “I love my band,” Romi enthuses. “They’re really talented and cool guys.”
Even as she rehearsed steadily with the band, Romi worked by day for an advertising firm, doing street-team promotions targeting the city’s various Eastern European communities. Ever the good student, she absorbed the tricks of the trade and used them to boost turnout at her shows.
With the record completed, she immediately began preparing for a world tour, slated to include stops in Eastern Europe and Japan. “I see myself as an international artist,” she says. “I speak English, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Spanish, which I learned at school and from friends, and I’m ready to meet the whole world.”