Rhonda are the kind of band you can't quite pin-point. You know they're good, but you can't quite put your finger on what you're listening to. As soon as you think you've got it, there's a new wave of musical influence washing over the speakers. As the dynamic-tide rises, you feel a compulsion to exchange an almighty 'cheers' with the person next to you – and that's when it hits; regardless of your ability to swim, their music will thrust you from the safety of the shallows to the perils of the deep with little to no warning. It's music to dive into headfirst, because no matter what happens, you'll have some fun.
Water-based linguistic imagery aside, Rhonda started as a project between two long time friends, which has since seen members come and go, stylistic changes from one non-definable genre to another, and a history of peculiar gig locations. LoReLi met up with the “post-math-rock / post-rock / post-punk / post-hardcore” guys to talk about the origin, evolution, and ultimately brotherhood of the band.
Posted December 28, 2016
Bass: Domenico "Nico" Delillo
Guitar: Tommasso "Tommy" Pierno
Drums: Alex Stevens
Tommy's Wife: Celeste
T: We started in 2014 I guess, and it was just me with Nico, we'd been friends for more than ten years, way too long, and we wanted to start a band. So I started putting some ads online, only one guy actually answered, who was Diego, our former guitarist, and we started like three of us with a couple of random drummers, and then one day we magically found this guy, and he's gonna tell the story of how we found him.
A: I moved to Beijing from Nanjing in October 2014, and it was the second week of October, it was my birthday, and I went out to Temple Bar, and I was looking for practice spaces (because I'm a drummer, and I just wanted to play drums by myself), so this guy was like, “Well there's actually a practice space right downstairs, because they're everywhere”, and so basically, the week after that, I brought my sticks over, was playing the drums, about an hour in, Tommy knocks on the door and he said “Hey, we're looking for a drummer! Do you wanna try out?” The weekend after that, I played around with these guys, and that was it. It was two weeks after Beijing that I'm in a band...
A: According to people who go to our shows and listen to us, it fucking changes every week. No-one can make their fucking mind up, like, “Oh are these guys...they're post-math-rock, they're post-rock, they're post-punk, they're post-hardcore”, we suck at singing, and we're shy, and we like playing loud, fast music, I don't know what the genre is for that but it changes every week.
T: Once there was a comment by the keyboard player of Macondo you know? Good old Gerald, and he said something that stuck with me. He said “You know, Rhonda sounds to me very 90s.” And in a way to me, it sounds right, I think in a way we represent the music that we listened to when we were teenagers. It's a mix of what we listened to. There no post, there's no pre, there's nothing. We're a sort of riff-y band with no vocals, that's all.
N: These guys, they're like encyclopedias of music. They know every band you can think about. Seriously. I myself have been playing classical music for like ten years, so we actually meet and we have different tastes in terms of music - we just go there, someone brings a riff, this guy brings a tempo, and we try to build a song – that's it.
T: I was in bands when I was a teenager, in my early twenties or something like that but I haven't done that in a long time before meeting these guys. It's because, you know, sometimes it's not about music proficiency, I think it's really about the feeling that you have with certain people. With Nico, we've known each other since forever, and with Alex I think it sort of clicked immediately. We do it because we have fun together, I mean we never wanted to change the world or become a “thing” you know, but, the point is that yeah, we do it because like, we're family. And we were having this conversation a few days ago; if one of us is not in town and we're offered a show, what do we do? We ask for other friends to fill in? We don't even consider that because Rhonda was four of us, now it's three of us, and it's family man. If your brother doesn't show up to your wedding you don't ask “Okay, my brother's not there I'm going to ask his friend to fill in.” you know? That's more or less the way I feel about these guys.
N: Let's be honest, I never studied bass in my life, I used to play some sort of trumpet; it doesn't matter, nothing of this really matters because we find ourselves in the same room and we try to play the songs and music we like, and we try to communicate through our songs and this is the only thing that really matters. We go on stage, and it's the same thing: Just three guys, the music that we like, we put it together, and then we try to communicate with people, and that's the only thing that really matters to me. Am I right?!
A: Our second show was actually at four corners, that's when Diego was really fucking nervous, he stopped the show and was like “Guys I'm really sorry, my hands are shaking”. Basically it was weird because we didn't really know where to start, we still really don't but anyway we went to Four Corners open mic, we walk in and it's like this fucking restaurant with people having dinner and stuff, and we've been practicing for the past two months trying to see how loud we can get, and we get really fucking nervous, and I go up to Tavey and I'm like, “Hey, typically, what kind of music is going on at open mic?” and he was like “Oh it's fine, as long as you guys aren't super loud it should be OK...”
T: We play many venues, we do it for the fun. We don't make money out of this, we don't care about that, but we have fun and that's like mostly all about that I guess.
N: For sure we don't do it for the money. It's for the fun for me. I love playing with you guys, the feeling of going on stage, and playing music you like, you just want to communicate something to people, which we never do (because we're so...)
A: That's sort of the thing, it's like, we've been playing for over two years now and I guess it's enough time to develop your stage presence as a band, and we just look at each other really, and like put our backs to the audience... our shows become jam sessions, with other people kind of just watching.
A: We played a festival out in Yuncheng and that was weird as fuck.
N: We were supposed to play the second day, but we played the first day, it was raining A.F. we played at 2:30pm, how many people, like twenty? No, there was hundreds of people. Largest crowd ever... and that's Celeste – Tommy's wife! I just want to say this, how does it feel to be married to a rock star?
Celeste: ...Rhonda is a very important band.
T: I was at an event a couple of weeks ago, and I don't know why, the host of this event, when I was making a comment about music, about the Guqin, which is an instrument that I know shit about, I just made a comment about the scale, and the host of this event just said “Oh, he made this comment because he plays in a very important band.” And since then, it started as a joke with my wife. Back home I'll say “You know you should respect me more, because I play in a very important band.” She doesn't really care about that. We played in the middle of nowhere for like nobody, expect for some policemen, because it was pouring down like the end days, and I had to catch an early train, to get married. To go to Guangzhou, and to get married. Actually I postponed it for that, it's something that she will never forgive for the rest of my life. I postponed my wedding to play Yuncheng. That's the spirit.
Celeste: Remember what you told me? Your flight to Guangzhou is cancelled, and I bought you a train ticket, yeah and I bought him a train ticket to Xian and he had to fly from Xian, and he said he wanted to kill me on the train.
T: It was bad, that was the worst train I ever took.
A: I think one thing that you might be interested in is Tommy was saying earlier how, basically, we've sort of become this big fucked up family that's like really always at each other's throats, but in a good way. Basically our sound is the product of an argument between somebody who has this taste in music, versus somebody who has that taste in music, and then Diego had this ability to take this really hardcore, heavy distortion and add pop elements into that. A lot of songs that we wrote as a four piece, you could tell at what point in the song we segue from a super hardcore part into a nice pretty little melody, and that was our dynamic. So when Diego left actually, he left a pretty big fucking vacuum in his wake, and we were just like (I think for a month or two after that), we struggled, and we actually got into fights that were different than just sort of petty back and forth. I don't want to call it an existential crisis because that's adding way too much weight to it, but we were just like “What the fuck do we do now? Now that we've lost this kind of like pop song-writer element”.
Since Diego left, we've had to kind of forge our way into a more sort of like post-hardcore, (I don't even know why I keep saying that word), post, but like distortion heavy... I bought some mallets, and we're doing more like six – seven minute songs that are like a lot of crescendoes, things like that. So, what was so weird is that at our last show here at DDC was when Diego was back, so we played half of our set with songs that we'd written as a three piece, then Diego got on stage and we played all of our old songs, and you could really tell the band that we had become was something, I guess people were saying “oh you sound a bit more powerful”, and Diego came on it was more “melodic”. We really don't have any choice now that Diego's gone, this is the dynamic that's been formed in his wake, and we're just going to keep going in that direction.
T: Honestly, we do what we like because we like it, and the feeling that you have when you're on stage – but not when you're on stage, like, when you're in a room you know? And you're really working hard on something, and you realize that it's taking everything of you, but when that something clicks, and you can feel the chemistry between you and people that are together with you in the room, you just feel that, you know, I love this, that's why I'm into this you know? Just for the feeling. Just for the smile.
N: You just play the music you like, you try to talk to people through your music, and I feel blessed seriously. This is probably the best thing I've ever done in my life. I feel so blessed, I'm not a real musician, but the fact that I can go on stage and communicate with people through the music that I play, it's really something unbelievable.
A: I guess, the main takeaway I want to say is that you don't have to be a musician to be in a band. You don't have to be some really intense DIY punk to start a band, you can do whatever you want, it's not limited by genre or anything like that, and it's like one thing that we've found is that you can play an absolutely shitty show, where you guys are just terrible, but if you guys are having fun, then the audience responds to that. All you have to be, is a group of people with a minimal amount of coordination, and a minimal amount of talent, but a lot of fun, and then you'll have a good time, and people will have a good time too. And that's the Rhonda style.