Romeo Void

romeo void

Romeo Void formed in San Francisco when Debora Iyall and Frank Zincavage met at the San Francisco Art Institute.  They were both working at their art school over the summer and did a video performance piece.  Not before long they began to write songs & rehearsing them in Debora’s flat, using rugs to dampen the noise.

Peter Woods also took part in rehearsals.  He was playing in a local band called Mummers & the Poppers before he switched over.  Debora Iyall was also a backing singer in the same band.  Jay Derrah soon followed to form the original line up that officially formed on Valentine’s Day in 1979.  Benjamin Bossi, an inspirational saxophone player, would join not long after, combining his riffs to Debora Iyall’s voice.

The lead singer was hesitant at first airing concerns over her weight.  In these modern days, weight is not too much of a concern.  However, the image portrayed back in those times gave a reflection that you had to be skinny to be famous.  Sadly this would be one part of a few reasons why Romeo Void parted their ways in the end.  More about this will be discussed in more detail later on.

Romeo Void’s Music Style

Romeo Void’s style of music changed slightly over the years, but it still kept its original post-punk/new-wave style of music.  There were also tones of jazz, rock, along a genius musical poetry of Debora Iyall which was the main ingredient to this unique band.  The sound of new wave was very evident on their second & last album, but their own unique post-punk style still existed within that new wave sound.

Debora Iyall’s thought-provoking lyrics and Benjamin Bossi’s saxophone blending in between her voice is something that I have yet to hear from any other band since.  It was a unique combination, but Frank Zincavage & Peter Woods also made the music that would identify Romeo Void as a band of their own.  Let’s not forget the drummer, they did go through a few of them though.

Romeo Void’s style of music has been said to have a few connections with bands present in their time and previously.  It has been noted that there is a Joy Division Influence, a touch of Siouxsie & the Banshees, Gang of Four, Blondie and some more of the popular new wave bands of that era to name a few including some other bands from the seventies.

There is also a heavy hint of Bush Tetras also, especially in their early works.  This is how diverse their music branched out in taste, which was the important ingredient to their eventual success.

Much of 1980 was spent performing & gaining a fan base along with a reputation around San Francisco Bay area.

1981 – Breakthrough for Romeo Void

1981 was the year that Romeo Void would begin to make a breakthrough.  415 Records, a music label based in San Francisco that specialised in post-punk bands signed Romeo Void.  February saw them release their first single ‘White Sweater’ which also included ‘Apache’.  Not long after, recording began for their debut album ‘It’s a Condition’

During this time Jay Derrah left the band to be replaced by John ‘Stench’ Haines.  The album was released in July and was met with positive reviews, it was hailed as a masterpiece of the post-punk era.  It certainly remains a masterpiece to this day and it has not lost any of its touch.

Romeo Void’s debut album attracted a lot of interest, leading them to make a few tours including being a support act for U2.  Established musicians were also taking an interest in Romeo Void.  Ric Ocasek was eager to meet the band.  Later in their music career, their best known song to date would emerge as an extended play release.

Sudden popularity put some pressure on Romeo Void.  They were playing live endlessly which no doubt would make them tired, but Debora Iyall stated that it was ‘frightening’ due to having all these new fans that hated her in high school suddenly love her and the band.  While it may have been disorientating, it must have been an exciting time too.  Two years ago Romeo Void were practising in a flat with rugs to dampen the noise, now they were a band in demand.

John ‘Stench’ Haines left the band, his replacement was Larry Carter.

1982 – Never Say Never & Benefactor

1982 saw increased success for the band.  As mentioned already, a collaboration with Ric Ocasek at his very own Synchro Sound Studio in Boston, Massachusetts, would produce their most popular hit.  ‘Never Say Never’ was released as an extended play in January.  ‘Never Say Never’ became a popular song.  Romeo Void’s video to the song was also a popular choice on MTV.  A black & white music video that had an arty feel to it.

Thanks to this, 415 records signed a deal with Columbia Records.  Romeo Void would record a new album under the Columbia Records label.  In November ‘Benefactor’ was released.  This reached a peak of 119 on the billboard 200.  It had sounds of commercialism, but the distinct sound of Romeo Void was still noticeable.  ‘Never Say Never’ on the album was a toned down version with no swearing.

It also had the original play time reduced.  There was now increased pressure on the band, now they were associated with a high profile music label.

A music video for the song ‘Chinatown’ was also made.

By the end of the year, Romeo Void decided to take a three-month vacation from recording and touring.  It was time for a rest, but those three months would turn out to be a lot longer as Romeo Void would be out of the limelight for at least eighteen months although they were recording a new album in between this gap.

1983 – Other Projects & New album

1983 saw Romeo Void out of the limelight.  All of the members were taking other interests.  Frank Zincavage was working with an unsigned band ‘The Big Race’ which had a playing style of Simple Minds and Echo & the Bunnymen.  Peter Woods was working as a proofreader.

During this time Larry Carter left Romeo Void.  Either in between this three-month break or just before recording the new album.  Romeo Void was taking a new direction in their music, but Carter wanted to carry on with the harder sound, much like ‘Never Say Never’.  In the end, it was an amicable parting.

The band got back in the studio in October to record their new album ‘Instincts’.  Aaron Smith would replace Larry Carter, he would also be their final drummer.  Aaron Smith was an experienced drummer by the time he joined.  He was a drummer for ‘The Temptations’ for three years.

At the time of joining Romeo Void, Aaron Smith was a drummer for hire.  He was in much demand, working with other bands in the 80’s and continued in a role as a drummer for hire.

1984 to 1985 – Instincts, Tours & Break Up

1984 saw the album ‘Instincts’ released in October.  It was a more subtle, mellow album than the previous two, it was more towards a commercial new wave venture thanks to being signed by Columbia Records but the distinct originality of Romeo Void could still be recognised.  Whilst a change in direction may have seemed worrying, the album reached to their best position, number sixty-eight in the billboard two hundred.

‘A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)’ was released and peaked to their best yet, number thirty-five in the Billboard Hot One Hundred.  Romeo Void was also back on the road with a nationwide tour.  The crowds were pretty much the same numbers from previous tours, sometimes lower.

It has been stated that the reason behind this was the change of direction of their music.  A music video was also made for ‘Say No’ from the same album.  They also appeared on Bandstand, a popular American music show.

In between the tour, Columbia Records cancelled their promotional support for the band.  Romeo Void continued with their tour regardless and also toured Europe in 1985.  After the tour, Romeo Void would break up.  Debora Iyall had also signed with a new manager to pursue a solo career during the tour.

what happened?  Why did Romeo Void, a band that had so much going for them with increasing chart success all of a sudden disappear from the limelight?

Reasons for Romeo Void Breaking Up

There have been a number of reasons why Romeo Void broke up.  Many of these reasons have come to light and in more detail over recent years.

  • Deborah Iyall was under pressure to lose weight by Columbia.  Columbia spoke to Iyall and allegedly used some band members to convince her to lose weight, but they could not bring themselves to do it.  There was also much talk about her in the back room of Columbia also.  This is stated as a main reason behind Columbia pulling support midway through their tour in 1984 and is discussed in more detail during the VH1 Bands Reunited feature aired in 2004.
  • The constant touring was also a factor that contributed towards the breakup.  Looking through some archives of tours from the 80’s Romeo Void were a very busy band indeed.  It has also been stated that they were starting to get fed up with touring and practically living with each other, leading to squabbles and as one source has mentioned, perhaps a lack of direction.
  • Another revelation in VH1 feature Bands Reunited from 2004 was certain band members were jealous over the attention Debora Iyall was receiving.  Some of the other band members did not like this and it is also mentioned that this was also a contributing factor for the break-up.

As the saying goes, nothing lasts forever.  Romeo Void, however, can be proud that they lasted longer than most post-punk and new wave bands.  Six years from the day of the formation, gaining a following and signing for a major record label is something that was not very often achieved by bands of that same era.  If Columbia never signed them, it would have been interesting to have seen what direction they took instead if they never signed up to Columbia.

After the Romeo Void Years

After their last tour, they went their separate ways.  Debora Iyall released a solo album with two former members, but it never took off so returned to her first love, art.  Iyall has been on and off in the music scene as a soloist, but is still going strong, working with other figures from the same era.  Benjamin Bossi was getting hearing problems after years of playing the saxophone, he had to quit completely in 1989 (stated in VH1’s Bands Reunited) but has appeared most recently in collaboration with Debora Iyall.

Aaron Smith continued to be a drummer for hire for a number of years.  Frank Zincavage remained in the music scene whilst Peter Wood went back into education and worked in Japan.

Romeo Void reformed in 1993 briefly to play for a friend who was suffering from Aids and made new material, but nothing got any further.  A compilation album was also released the same year, ‘Warm, In your Coat’.  In 2003 VH1 got them back together to perform ‘Never say Never’.  In this episode, former members explain how much they loved it and how the end of the band happened in more detail.

They still continue to have an influence on many bands today.  They have been gone for a long time, but they definitely have not been forgotten.

Romeo Void Discography

Its a Condition (1981)

The debut album for Romeo Void.  An excellent early post-punk album that helped get the band get recognised by established musicians from the time.

  1. Myself to Myself
  2. Nothing for Me
  3. Talk Dirty (To Me)
  4. Love is an Illness
  5. White Sweater
  6. Charred Remains
  7. Confrontation
  8. Drop your Eyes
  9. Fear to Fear
  10. I Mean It

Never Say Never (1982)

An EP that included the hit single that would be one of their better-known songs.  This version of Never Say Never was a full version (the album version was cut down).

  1. Never Say Never
  2. In the Dark
  3. Present Tense
  4. Not Safe

Benefactor (1982)

Second album for Romeo Void which included a shortened version of Never Say Never.  Undercover Kept was also released as a single.  Chinatown has a music video created but I believe this was never released into the charts.  Benefactor was re-issued in 2006 that included the Never Say Never EP.

  1. Never Say Never
  2. Wrap It Up
  3. Flashflood
  4. Undercover Kept
  5. Ventilation
  6. Chinatown
  7. Orange
  8. Shake the Hands of Time
  9. S.O.S.

Instincts (1984)

The final studio album for Romeo Void.  A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing) was released as a single and music video, it gave them their best chart single position.  Say No was also produced as a single along with a video.

  1. Out on my Own
  2. Just too Easy
  3. Billys Birthday
  4. Going to Neon
  5. Six Days and One
  6. A girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)
  7. Say No
  8. Your Life is a Lie
  9. Instincts
  10. In the Dark (Released as a bonus track in 2003 re-issue of the album.)

Warm, in your Coat (1992)

A compilation album released with a collection of songs from their three released albums including an unreleased track, One Thousand Shadows.  This track was supposed to have been produced for a film but was never released.

  1. White Sweater
  2. I Mean it
  3. Charred Remains
  4. Talk Dirty (To Me)
  5. Myself to Myself
  6. In the Dark
  7. A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)
  8. Out on My Own
  9. Just too Eay
  10. Wrap it Up
  11. Flashflood
  12. Undercover Kept
  13. Chinatown
  14. Never say Never
  15. One Thousand Shadows (unreleased track)

Useful Links for Romeo Void

I spent a little time researching what I could of Romeo Void.  Most of it was from online newspaper archives including more popular sites that appear when doing a regular search.  Some links are below which you will find useful.

I attempt to make my articles as equally biased as possible without any need to create any negativity.  If you think any information here is incorrect or perhaps have a memory to share then please leave a comment below.

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