The healing power of a popping vibe corner
Jawns-loving Detroit Lion Romeo Okwara drops advanced gems, PLUS a beautiful Reese Cooper boot SpyBlessing
Romeo Okwara — you may know him as a defensive end for the Detroit Lions, who recently signed a 3-year contract extension because he DOES HIS D*MN THING on “the GRIDIRON”…
Even more impressive?? Blackbird Spyplane recently signed Romeo to a coveted “Blackbird Spyplane Interview,” which was so GOOD that we re-signed him to a 10-minute phone-call extension on the spot, because this man has Mach 3+ levels of taste and charm !! You might find him getting off big-gas Japanese fits in GQ… taking beautiful photos with a Leica and posting them to his IG… or collecting SPICY vinyl on some rarefied audiophile s**t…
Romeo was born in Lagos, Nigeria, moved to the U.S. at age 10, went to college at Notre Dame, spent his NFL rookie year in NYC playing for the Giants, and just copped a place in Detroit… We asked him to look around the crib & tell us about a rare & cherished possession, and he replied without hesitation: “Gotta be my Hi-fi sound system… That thing is my teleportation device.”
We called him to learn more — and wound up going turbo mode on life, love, sound systems, Greek tapestries, and the magic of VIBE-CORNER construction…
Blackbird Spyplane: It feels easier than ever these days to treat music as background noise, or just listen to a song on laptop speakers or sh*tty headphones, but with a Hi-fi system it’s the main event — you post up and let SWIRLING CHUNES ENGULF you luxuriously. Tell us about your setup…
Romeo Okwara: “So I’ve always been into vinyl — as a kid in Lagos, my parents had records at the house, and I’d hear the music and see the speakers and the player, so those have always felt familiar to me. In college a girlfriend got me my first record player, which was one of those suitcase players from like Urb*n Outf*tters, with a Stan Getz LP and a Frank Sinatra LP and a Bob Marley and a Zeppelin…”
Blackbird Spyplane: The dorm-vinyl starter pack !
Romeo Okwara: “Ha ha, yeah, the classics. So after I graduated from college and had a little more money in my pocket I started exploring different systems. When I was living in New York I went downtown — there’s this place In Living Stereo in Noho, they sell Hi-fi components, amps and loudspeakers, all that good stuff, and I went in there one random day and just sat for 6 hours — listening to records, moving speakers around. It was an experience. I mean, it’s an investment: you’re putting in significant capital. But for me I knew it would be worth it for that environment you can create. Like, I remember listening to a Coltrane record that day and I felt like I was in the middle of an orchestra.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Do you have naturally ‘good ears’ or did you have to train them?
Romeo Okwara: “I’ve been training them. I’ve always had music playing but I decided to, like, take it to another level — sitting in that room, listening to all these speakers and records, hearing the little differences, that opened up another world to me in terms of sound.
“I tried 5 or 6 different speakers and loved these Devore Fidelity Orangutans — the way they played horn sounds especially, it was just so warm. Amp-wise, I landed on this Japanese brand called Shindo Laboratory — it’s the guy’s last name, and his stuff has this beautiful green aesthetic ‘cause he was a French wine drinker and I guess he incorporated some of the dark green hits from wine bottles into the gear, and he names his amps and pre-amps after wines like ‘Monteille’ and ‘Aurièges.’”
Blackbird Spyplane: Bonne maman! That tube amp is beautiful…
Romeo Okwara: “That’s what I gravitated to. I’ve always loved the look of tube amps glowing in a dark room with a record playing — that was the vibe I was after. And then the capabilities? I can’t explain the sound that comes out. It’s magical.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Yr turntable looks wild. I Googled these and saw they go for $9,000 each, which I thought was nutty until I saw that the same brand sells different ones for $32,000 each!!
Romeo Okwara: “My thinking was, if you’re already going crazy with the preamp and the amp you can’t get a shitty turntable! I got this Clearaudio Innovation Compact and, yeah, it looks like a spaceship, seated on three little pins. It’s great. I was like, I don’t want to go over the top — even though some people would say $9,000 is over the top — but I was, like, this is gonna be an investment in my mental health, and I’m gonna use it every day, and it’s true. Playing football is so pressurized, you’re in these high-stress situations all day, so being able to come home to this environment, creating a space where I could relax, sip on whatever and listen? It’s the best purchase I’ve made in my life.”
Blackbird Spyplane: What’s your advice for someone who wants to build out their own Hi-fi setup?
Romeo Okwara: “Go to an audio store and listen. Decide on whatever price range, that is what it is, then listen to a bunch of things in that range. People’s ears are different. Speak to the pros in the shop and see what they recommend — and try to make sure it’s a purist who’s into it for the love of the music, so they’re not just selling you on some expensive bulls**t!”
Blackbird Spyplane: Tell us about an LP you had to work to track down, and tell us about one that means a lot to U personally…
Romeo Okwara: “I don’t know if it’s that rare but I really got into Miles Davis over the past couple years, and Sketches of Spain was an album I found myself streaming a lot — then I was browsing through this record store in L.A. and spotted the vinyl, and I freaked out. That was a happy discovery.
“And my dad has sent me records from Lagos — he loved Fela Kuti, and he shipped me his copy of Upside Down. It arrived all torn up and whatnot, with sand in the sleeve. I love having that.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I know u travel a lot — have u hit up any of the Hi-fi bars in Japan??
Romeo Okwara: “I haven’t made it to the listening bars. When I’m in Japan it’s the classics — I hit up Kapital, Visvim, Needles. Those are the go-tos, and just stumbling onto vintage and thrift stores. Blue and Green in New York actually has a crazy Hi-fi setup in the back room, though — I was just there a few weeks ago.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Can U put us on to some under-the-radar Detroit spots?
Romeo Okwara: “There’s so much music history here, between Motown, the birth of techno, or with Jay Dilla, who I love — he’d spend hours flipping through different record stores around town, and I’ve been meaning to kind of retrace his steps. I go to Peoples Records, and I want to check out Melodies and Memories, which was a spot Dilla frequented. There’s also a gallery here called Library Street Collective — they support this Louisiana painter Jammie Holmes, whose stuff I love.”
Blackbird Spyplane: All right, let’s talk about some other elements in yr vibe corner. I’m seeing a beautiful vintage kilm ottoman… a Richard Corman Basquiat portrait… What’s the chill pastoral tapestry hanging behind yr speaker?
Romeo Okwara: “I did a 3-week study abroad in Greece, studying art history, and my professor, Robin Rhodes, was like the real-life Indiana Jones — he helped excavate the Acropolis, all these temples. One day we were heading through this mountain range called Arcadia and we stopped at a little coffee shop and the store next door was selling tapestries. I was like, This looks like where I want to live, so I brought it back with me.
Blackbird Spyplane: And what’s up with the profound emanations from that blue lightbulb, king?
Romeo Okwara: “It’s just a mood thing — I have these hued lights you can change to different colors depending on your mood. Yesterday I was feeling blue!”
-Romeo’s on Instagram here.
-Library Street Collective’s site is here, Peoples Records is here, and Melodies and Memories is here. Blue in Green is online here.
-Our favorite L.A. Hi-fi bar, In Sheep’s Clothing, published an “Intro to Hi-fi Audio: Vintage Edition” guide here.
🥾🥾 Yooo!!! Today we’re giving away some BEAUTIFUL FOOT-GORP, i.e. these Reese Cooper Inc. stunners, the Wilson Boot in beige …
We’ve been feeling these since Reese began teasing them on IG a few months ago. The initial batch dropped and all but a few sizes got GOBBLED UP, but this coming Friday 4/23 at 9 a.m. PT RCI is releasing a limited REPLENISHMENT…
The goal in designing the Wilsons, Reese tells us, was to create boots that could put in work on these trails (they’re named after L.A.’s Mount Wilson, where I personally once almost got heatstroke while GORPING OUT DUMMY HARD on a bike ride) without looking over-the-top on these streets:
“I like to wear the most comfortable supportive stuff always,” he says, “but you don’t always want to look like you’re wearing performance gear. I love hiking boots but they can have so many god d*mn panels. So I spent a lot of time drawing these, over and over, over-complicating things and then saying, what can we delete, what doesn’t need to be there?”
The result are some TUFF but ELEGANT beauties, made in Italy from Italian suede, with an RCI insole, Vibram outsole and 3 different laces — O baby…
We’ve teamed up w/ Reese to give a pair to a lucky Cla$$ified-Recon Tier subscriber — enter between today and this Thursday, 4/22 at 9 p.m. PT. and GOOD LUCK !
Every “Blackbird Spyplane Interview,” w/ such luminaries of the arts & jawn sciences as Jerry Seinfeld, André 3000, Emily Bode, Lorde, Online Ceramics, Nathan Fielder, Phoebe Bridgers, Rashida Jones, John Wilson, Ezra Koenig and more, is here.
Blackbird Spyplane is a 100% reader-supported electronic-mail miracle so tickle the upgrade button playfully and enjoy MANY perks in the “inner $anctum”…
🌼🌸❀✿🌷 Jonah & Erin