At Home With: Roger Rafael Romero, aka Feralcat | Pittsburgh City Paper

At Home With: Roger Rafael Romero, aka Feralcat

click to enlarge At Home With: Roger Rafael Romero, aka Feralcat
Photo: Roger Rafael Romero
Everybody is dealing with COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions in different ways. While there's no single right way to cope — social distancing and staying TF home aside — connecting with friends, family, and neighbors is a good place to start. You can contact your loved ones on your own, but you might also be curious how your favorite strangers in Pittsburgh are coping, so Pittsburgh City Paper is reaching out to artists, activists, workers, and makers to see how they're doing.

Today, it's musician Roger Rafael Romero, aka Feralcat.

What has your day-to-day routine been like in quarantine? What would you be doing on a typical quarantine Monday, for example?
During quarantine, I am perpetually in a state of setting a routine. I wake up somewhere in the 6:30-7:30 a.m. range (willingly, no alarms), and can start with anything from riding my bike to reading to scrolling through Twitter and learning that day’s tragedy. After an hour or so, I get into my day of teaching private lessons, Zoom meetings, and playing my sax. Routine is easily broken by inspiration, though. I still need to get everything with deadlines done, but I might f*ck around and write some music. Every day is some combination of all of the above plus television and video games.

What was your last live gig before quarantine set in? Would you have done anything differently if you knew you wouldn’t be playing for a while?
Right before quarantine, I played a couple of back-to-back Fridays at Con Alma. The second and last of the two shows was with Sierra Sellers and her band. It was a bit bittersweet; we had an inkling that that would be our last show for a long time. I had heard about the SXSW cancellation pretty much two hours before I had to get on stage the first Friday for my trio set. The week between the first Friday and the last Friday was the week when toilet paper flew off of the shelves in panic. I was very excited, but the shows instantly began to feel heavier. Like, I should play the crap out of this music because who knows when I’ll get to play it next. It felt pre-apocalyptic.

I would have, if I had any foresight, told myself to play even harder. To be as deeply in that moment as possible, because those moments weren’t going to be there soon.

Have you been working on any new music? Has it been inspired at all by the pandemic (or any of the other major events happening)?
I had a period of time during quarantine when writing music was all I could think about. It felt as though it were my civic duty, as an artist who was then [temporarily] isolated, to use all of the free time, I suddenly had toward making the great things I never thought I had time for. As it turns out, even with ample free time I struggled to create.

For the most part, I get into month-long stints where I’ll write exclusively for either my solo music or for [the] band. For the band, I’ve been writing what will be our first full-length. If everyone in this country wore a mask, perhaps the future of the band getting to tour this music in the United States wouldn’t seem so bleak. It even feels unlikely that we can record the music as we would want to. I try not to give up hope, and instead work within whatever limitations this quarantine has thrust upon me.

Any solo work I’ve done has been published on Bandcamp, namely as demos to music that I will clean up more thoroughly in the fall. I normally don’t try to make work that reflects current events, electing instead to reflect how I feel given the public health/social/economic climate. When the call of George Floyd’s death rang through the streets of America, though, I made a couple of tracks on Bandcamp that were the direct result of protests. Specifically, “the house they promised | protomovement | to be free in america” reflects on my struggle to own a home in baby boomer America, the early stages of mass protests around the country, and the caged nature of our current quarantine.

You had some funny, popular tweets making fun of hypothetical “solidarity” concerts put on by the city. What prompted those? Why do you think they struck a common nerve?
To resurrect the sentiments of a month-plus-old tweet, I was prompted by the gig lineups that I’ve both seen and been a part of in Pittsburgh.

I’ve seen a lot of performative allyship in major American cities, and thought of what a Pittsburgh-specific non-answer to police brutality would look like. The common nerve was likely struck because the concert series weren’t just believable, they were damned-near real (minus the hyperbole in the sponsors). We’ve seen concerts that look just like what I tweeted, albeit with *different* sponsors and *different* artists, put on by Pittsburgh organizations whose behind-the-scenes activities are questionable at best. Artists are just trying to survive, so I can’t really blame anyone for accepting work that comes with adequate pay and a built-in audience. Perhaps this is the time to be cognizant of who we, as artists, can equitably accept money from and how that reflects on our values.

What TV, movies, music and/or other art have you been getting into the last few months?
I’ve played many video games that I will passively continue not to finish, mostly on PC. I got into Animal Crossing on Nintendo Switch right when it came out, so I found solace in my new fake mortgage and the benign capitalist world-building that follows.

I’ve now rewatched Community three times through, and finally got through Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’ve also been hate-watching Entourage, feeling this nostalgic pull from when I was a teenager and saw what I wanted to see. So much (and I do basically mean all of it) of the show wouldn’t fly in 2020.

I’ve read What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay within the last month, and am currently trudging through Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. I’ve been slow of reading these days, because the internet.

Music-wise, I finally got into Code Orange via their new record, Underneath. There’s so much to unpack in this record and I truly believe it’s one of the best heavy albums of the decade. Somewhat of a 180, but there were new records by some of my all-time favorite jazz artists that also came out within the last month or so. Artists Joshua Redman (with Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Brian Blade), Gerald Clayton (with Logan Richardson, Walter Smith III, Joe Sanders, and Marcus Gilmore), and Ambrose Akinmusire (with Harish Raghavan, Justin Brown & Sam Harris) are occupying my brain these days.