Adam Johnstone, lead guitarist for Australian power pop group Romero, died on October 17. He was 32. Johnstone’s brother and bandmate Dave shared the news in an Instagram post, revealing that Adam had been living with cancer since 2019. Dave wrote that Adam “passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his family and friends.” Find his full statement below.
Adam Johnstone grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and began playing music with his brother Dave when they were kids. Encouraged by their parents, they jammed in their basement together from a young age, with Dave gravitating toward drums and Adam picking up the electric guitar. Their early repertoire mostly included covers of Blink-182 and Rancid, as they told Pitchfork’s Evan Minsker last year during a Rising interview.
“Our mum was actually an art and music teacher as well. She was always very supportive of us, but even before we sort of chose instruments that we ended up playing with, we’d be banging on crap and playing on keyboards and all that sort of stuff,” Adam told Pitchfork. “We had ended up being at the school that mom taught at for a few years as well. So the art and music room was our playhouse too. When we finished, we could just go and pick up anything we wanted to and play it.”
Adam and Dave formed Romero in 2018 along with singer Alanna Oliver, bassist Justin Tawil, and rhythm guitarist Fergus Sinclair. Adam and Dave had previously played in the band Summer Blood, and were considering sitting out additional musical projects after that band broke up. Then, Adam met Oliver, who played him one of her demos on her phone. Gobsmacked by her voice, Adam decided to start a new band.
“When Romero happened, all the sound that we had came really natural and it all felt a lot easier,” Adam told Pitchfork. “It just felt like it was meshing together a lot better. There wasn’t any pressure to write a certain way. We were just figuring everything out. That in itself was exciting to be around.”
Romero issued their debut studio album Turn It On! last spring; Adam Johnstone’s lead guitar riffs are a defining trait of the record. In announcing his brother’s death, Dave Johnstone summed up his unique sound thusly: “It goes without saying that he was an incredibly gifted musician. He knew how to write a fucking riff. I had a front row seat to all of his songwriting, and it always had such a haunting, nostalgic and tortured beauty to it, like he was relaying so much pain through the only way he could communicate it, channeling it through a tunnel of love and letting it bleed through his guitar.”
Speaking with Pitchfork last year, Adam reflected on the state of Romero as they prepared to release their debut album. “I think playing with your best friends, there’s nothing better than that,” he said.