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Rolo Tomassi’s James Spence: “If Your Aim Isn’t To Be Your Own Favourite Band, What’s The Point?”

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 1 February 2022 at 15.00

"It’s encouraging that there is that pull to what we do and that people still want to jump in and get involved"

Rolo Tomassi are set to release their new album 'Where Myth Becomes Memory' on February 04 via MNRK.

Further blending the most stunningly beautiful and viciously brutal sides of their sound into an exploratory and expansive set of soundscapes, the band continue to push and pull on any sort of expectation you should have of them. In their 17th year of existence, they have never sounded sharper or shimmered brighter than they do right now, and that is something to celebrate.

To delve into the intricacies of bringing this wonderful collection of anthems to life, we sat down with keyboardist James Spence and guitarist Chris Cayford...

It feels like the only place to start is on your last record, ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’, which was the most acclaimed of your career so far. As you considered your next step, how did what that album did for you help to cement your decisions?
Chris: "We definitely took some risks with that record, and I think that they paid off. I feel like many people agree too, and have commented on how vast the audio spectrum was. It was some of the heaviest stuff we have ever done and some of the lightest, and the question was always, ‘Can we get away with this?’ With other albums we have done, the songs on them, no matter how heavy or light, have all had the same atmosphere around them and are all quite dark. Whilst ‘Time Will Die…’ felt like polar opposite ends of the spectrum at times. It showed that we can write music like that, and how we want, and still pull it all together in a tangible and relatable way. We can push this band further than we thought was possible. We can write anything we want now, and it won’t sound like four different bands. It will all sound like us. That’s liberating.”

James: “I think that the reception it received also showed that pushing the extremes of our sound is something people are receptive to. The main difference between ‘Grievances’ and ‘Time Will Die…’ was the poppier moments, and I'm pleased people received it in the way it was. We always want the music we write to reflect what we listen to and what we like. We’re not a band that has got popular because of one song. We have evolved and adapted as our taste in music and who we are as people have evolved and adapted. So with ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’, we have been more confident in our choices from the get-go. Compositionally, I feel like we have also been doing more with less over the last few records. We used to be about cramming as much as we could into one song, and sometimes it would sound great, and sometimes it would sound a bit too busy. We’ve pushed that a lot more with this record, being minimal and pushing that one idea as far as we possibly can and getting the most out of it.”

In many ways, it’s about creating an atmosphere and a world for those sounds to live in and the textures that exist with that world and atmosphere. And the only way to make that is by trying what feels right and working until it makes sense…
Chris: “The thing is that we are not prolific writers. I’m certainly not. We don’t really write loads of stuff and try and see what appears. An idea won’t get brought to the rest of the band until the person writing it is completely happy with it. So I think ‘Drip’ was the first song that we had full fleshed out, wasn’t it?”

James: “On the heavier side of things, yeah. ‘Closer’ was a song we have had for ages and was never really meant to be a Rolo song. It was a piano piece written a couple of months after ‘Time Will Die…’ and I think it’s the song that could have most appeared on that record.”

Chris: “But yeah, I personally picked up a guitar a bit longer after that album came out, and not a lot of time had still passed for something new and good to come out. Even within my muscle memory, I would end up playing the same things. I need to almost cleanse myself of everything that has happened. So that’s how what we end up creating comes to life naturally. So ‘Drip’ sounded different and felt like it could go somewhere. Then everything else I made started to sound different enough and better and on a level that we want to get to.”

James: “I think every record you need that one watershed moment. You can probably split this record into the heavier and the softer moments, and the songs that did give the foundations would very much be ‘Drip’ and ‘Closer'. The tone, the sequence, and the overall feel just worked, and you then break the back of a record with moments like that. They become the springboard to finding out what the bigger picture should be and realising what else needs to be brought in.”

​And the thing is, nobody else is in control of what Rolo Tomassi should be apart from you. And if there isn’t anything lighting that fire for you, then you’re not going to force it…
James: “And when you throw a pandemic in the mix of that and touring and moving around is off the table, then we will take our time with it. Nothing was dictating that time was against us, and we had to get back out on the road. We have the luxury of time in a way we haven’t before, and that allowed us the space to explore everything that we wanted to and push ourselves as much as we could. We only recorded it in January of 2021 because we reached a point where if we didn’t give ourselves some sort of deadline, we would be obsessing over details that we wouldn’t usually. And even then, we booked three weeks of studio time, assuming that Eva [Korman, Vocals] would need five days to do vocals. She couldn’t travel because she lives in the US, so she did it all remotely, which gave us all five more days of going over the bits and pieces as much as we wanted to. And those things were the bits that ultimately helped bring the record to life.”

Did being apart from each other affect how things were feeling and sounding in ways you didn’t expect?
James: “Usually, we would be in a position where we would all get together to practice in Brighton and go through the songs that we had. But that wasn’t feasible because Chris is in London, Eva is in the states, and the rest of us are in Brighton. Then there was the rapidly changing laws and restrictions. But occasionally, we were able to steal a weekend, book out a residential studio and write non-stop. Primarily we hadn’t been able to see each other and hang out as mates, so those pockets of time were all the more special as we were able to be people who like spending time together. That is something that, when I think about it now, definitely contributed to where the album ended up sounding and feeling because we had to be productive in those moments.”

Chris: “Ultimately, the nuts and bolts stayed very much the same. I’m sure that there are tonnes of bands who have to be in the same room all the time to write music together, and we are fortunate that we aren’t one of those bands. But we relish the time that we do get.”

James: “We’re not a jam band. There has to be a certain level for things to be at for us to feel comfortable working together on it. But because of the time, we had way more finished music to make songs out of. Individuals write the music. The band makes the songs. So there was so much more to get done in the periods when we were a band. It helped with the way we wrote music.”

You’ve mentioned that this is almost the final part of a trilogy with ‘Grievances’ and ‘Time Will Die…’. Is that something that you realised more when you had songs and structure?
Chris: “Each of our albums can only be made off the back of the last one. So ‘Grievances’ was a dark moment, really moody and full of pain. Then ‘Time Will Die…’ is more ethereal on the back of that. Then, ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’ is more direct, focused, and considered.”

James: “If you’re in a band and your aim isn’t to be your favourite band, then what’s the point? The thing is that I only have a clearer picture of what an album is and what it means when we can go out and play it. It’s only then that you’re able to experience the tangibility and connection. I also love knowing that what the record means will be entirely different for everyone who listens to it. We don’t control what it can tell, and that’s nice. So we can say it’s a part of something bigger, but it’s also about allowing it to exist and be out there in the world.”

And that is why you are still here and still doing it over 15 years from when you first started the band. It’s the journey told through the people who appreciate what you do…
Chris: “This is still such a massive passion project for us, and we do it when we want to do it. That goes a long way to still wanting to do it and still having the same level of passion for it. We want to do it at the end of the day. We all have separate paths in life and do different things, but having this one tangible thing in the centre that holds us all together is still really lovely. There aren’t many things in life that are that constant joy. It’s rare to have something like it there for some long. Sometimes people never even find it. But this is something I will always want to do, which is something to savour. It’s such a cool thing to continue bringing into the world.”

And it’s a special pride you can have in it, with every album that you make and every person who discovers you along the way…
James: “There’s nothing cooler as a fan of music to discover a band with a massive back catalogue of music to get stuck into. And we are that band now! Some people are getting on board right now with these new singles, and they’ve got six more albums to make their way through as well. That’s sick. It’s encouraging that there is that pull to what we do and that people still want to jump in and get involved. It cements even deeper why we do this. We just can’t wait to get started again.”

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