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Rolo Tomassi - Interview

  by Paul Waller

published: 29 / 4 / 2010

Rolo Tomassi - Interview


Paul Waller speaks to keyboardist and effects man James Spence from Sheffield hardcore band about his group's soon-to-be-released second album, 'Cosmology', and the strong childhood friendships that cement his band

Rolo Tomassi hail from Sheffield and create the sort of noise that your mother would hate unless of course she once dated Captain Beefheart and had a penchant for mathy guitars, guttural screams and manic blast beats. I caught up with the groups keyboards and effects man James Spence (far right on photo) on their recent tour at the Tunbridge Wells Forum. It was freezing cold but to avoid the sound check we located ourselves behind the venue for a chat about their new LP which comes out this month on Hassle Records. PW: Being myself heavily involved with the DIY hardcore scene in the past I have a real passion for those tiny labels that release records out of pure love with the music. This grass routes ethic is one that your previous label Holy Roar is immersed in, whereas Hassle Records appears to have a lot more commercial clout. What has been the main difference for you as a band between the two? JS: With Holy Roar, we would have stayed with them and released another album because we really like the label. But Alex who manages us and runs the label said that if we wanted to take the next step up as a band and do things full time properly that he didn’t really have the financial backing to support that. He was very honest about it which we appreciated. So we started looking around at options, looking for a slightly bigger independent label who have some money behind them to do things on a slightly larger scale. The difference has been that they have got fantastic distribution worldwide. Because of this we have been able to release our first album ('Hysterics'-Ed) in basically every country in the world. The main difference is just the scale on which we can do things. Since the move Alex has worked thing out with regards to licensing his records out in other countries. PW: I take it you are still buddies? JS: Yeah, we were friends before we ever recorded anything. We played a gig in his living room when he lived in Birmingham, it was from there that he set his label up and we were the third release that he put out. PW: And how have Hassle been treating you? JS: It’s been cool, it’s still a small run operation, I think there are seven people that work there, two guys that run the label and a production manager etc. They are all wicked guys and we get on with them very, very well and we have been treated really well. PW: So no complaints then? JS: Well…. Nothing major, nothing particularly bad. There is always going to be something small that unless you release your own records they can’t 100% represent your band the way you would want them to if you could yourself. But that’s just because no one loves their band as much as the band does. PW: The old style you played as well as being influenced by Dillinger Escape Plan and the Locust had many jazz elements. The new music is leaning heavily towards being almost prog in its scope. JS: Yeah, absolutely. I can see it going that way. It’s only going to get more and more like that. I think with the first album we had never released a full length before. We had put out lots of small releases with three or four songs and it was a lot easier to be very chaotic with it and mash things up. I think though over the course of an album we had more room to experiment with it. That first record still does have a lot of stuff going on in it but we wanted the new album to be more coherent. I think with what we are listening to and how our personal tastes have changed this is a direction that we want to go on a little bit more. PW: Can you foresee a time when your vocalist Eva Spence’s vocals become singing rather than those manic hardcore screams and growls she is well known for at the moment? JS: No, our roots lay in hardcore and with that there will always be screaming in the tracks. We want to be heavy and not one 100% melodic with tuneful singing the whole way through. PW: With the writing process of this new album has that been more of a collaborative effort this time around? JS: The majority of the song writing has been done by our guitarist Joe Nicholson on his computer. He has musical notation software, he writes things out quite methodically like that. He writes about 80% and I write the other 20%. Eva writes the majority of the lyrics and again I do a bit of that as well. She takes away rough demos of the tracks and then writes which really works for her. With this record it is the same process as it has always been. Me and Joe will write riffs in our own time and then bring them to the band. So the music is written by specific people but the band as a whole arranges the songs so everybody gets to put their own stamp on it. PW: You have played with bands previously that are not part of the hardcore scene. For instance you have toured with Blood Red Shoes and are about to go on tour with Biffy Clyro. Is that a conscious effort on your part to crossover to a fresh audience? JS: The Biffy thing we were all very surprised about. As you said we have played in the past with bands we sound nothing like but nothing on this sort of scale. These shows are going to be huge. We are going to be playing to a lot of people that have probably never heard of our band but it’s not really so much a conscious effort. I am a big fan of Biffy Clyro. PW: Aren’t we all? JS: Their first record is amazing and I have a lot of respect for them in the way they have gradually built up their band over the last ten years and to be honest when they offered us the support slot we couldn’t really turn it down. It’s a couple of weeks before the release of our record. We are going to be playing in front of a lot of people every night with them and the Twilight Sad who are again a band I very much like. It’s just a very cool opportunity to play on a very mixed bill. PW: You have been together with the same line up for five and a half years, which for any band is a long time but within the hardcore scene it’s kind of a rarity. Over the years how have the relationships strained if at all? JS: Like any band we argue about really petty things. That’s just how it goes. If you are going to spend that much time in close quarters with people someone is going to have a day where they just can’t be fucked. The thing with us is that we have all been close friends since we were about five. This sets us apart from a lot of other bands. Eva is my younger sister, I made friends with our drummer Ed Dutton on my first day of primary school and he’s been my best friend since then. The bassist Joe Thorpe has been with us since the start of school at the beginning and Joe Nicholson came to our school when he was about eight. We have all known each other for so long and before the band started our relationships were already so firm and cemented that it makes us that bit stronger as a band. This is probably why we have gone all this time without any line up changes or anything like that. PW: I always find it more interesting when a band keeps original members throughout their career. As a fan it’s fun to see the group grow and develop as a unit. When bands start to chop and change members I sometimes get the feeling that I am watching a completely different band. Unless I go and see the Fall who are always different but always the same. JS: Exactly. PW: So with the new album, you have called it 'Cosmology', right? Why this title? JS: It’s a word I first saw on the internet. A bunch of my friends were taking an exam unit called cosmology and I’d never heard that word before. I found it quite interesting and when I wrote it down it made my imagination explode. There is so much imagery which comes with that word and literally as soon as I wrote it down I knew that I wanted to call the new record that. This was before I even looked into the meaning of it. When I actually looked into it’s meaning I found that it’s an incredibly broad term. The most concise way of summing it up is cosmology is the study of the universe and man’s place in it. That is one of the many meanings actually> It goes into a lot more detail of things that I don’t particularly understand but that’s what I took from it. Lyrically for me and for what Eva wrote as well the words on this album are about our last 18 months, experiences on the road and a lot of self assessment and how the band became our universe and all this writing was what we did in it non stop for three months. We would wake up and practice to get it written and that was our place in this thing. PW: So the inevitable question here would be have you produced in your mind a hardcore concept album? JS: Not really. It’s one of those things that if you are going to write a lot of lyrics in a short space of time there are going to be a lot of similar themes that come up. I wouldn’t say that it is a concept album but there are definitely themes that I have written about before and of course the name 'Cosmology' just sounds like the title of a prog concept album and sort of in a tongue-in-cheek way I find it quite funny. PW: You travelled to the USA to record with uber DJ and mixer Diplo. What did he make of your particular racket? JS: He was into it. PW: He name checked you guys first, is that right? JS: Yeah, he mentioned us in an interview he had done with 'Pitchfork' which I was incredibly surprised about because of the kinds of artists he works with. So we kind of chanced it to see if we could get a remix out of him as he liked our band but he said that he would rather do something on a bigger scale and asked us what we had in mind with regards to our next record. At this point we hadn’t written anything. We were like "This is amazing". We couldn’t really turn down the opportunity to work with someone who is really into our band and one of the biggest producers in the world of the kind of thing that he does and of course that couldn’t be further removed from what we are doing. We could have gone anywhere and made a throwaway hardcore record but this was so interesting to do. We had to go for it. PW: Is he aware of any other hardcore bands from even in the same vague style as to where you guys are coming from? JS: Not really, no. It’s kind of a weird one. He came and saw us play at SXSW. It turned out that he was recommended us by another DJ from Bristol called Mumdance who at the time we had not heard of but we have since met. Yeah, that’s an interesting one. He didn’t name check any bands to us. PW: The guy that does your artwork Simon Moody I think is incredible. What does he have in store for the new LP. JS: The only thing I’ve seen is the front cover. Simon is probably our closest friend and collectively we have known him for several years and we completely trust him with it. A lot of people would be checking it daily but we are just leaving him to it. We gave him the album title and lyrics and now he’s doing his own thing. I actually live with him now and I’ve been getting little glimpses of it and I have been very happy with what I’ve seen so far but we are just happy to give him total control as we have been so impressed with what he’s done in the past. I know we are not going to be misrepresented in any way. For instance in the booklet for 'Hysterics', there are a lot of animals in it, there is the owl that has kind of become a logo for us and there is a cat in there as well. I think they will both be a part of the new record as well. PW: Before we freeze to death out here there’s just a couple more things. You are a huge hardcore fan yourself. Growing up is this the life you wanted to live. Because it seems to me you are living the dream really? JS: Yeah, completely. Since I was thirteen I have been idolising people in bands and constantly romanticising the idea of going out on tour and there was absolutely nothing else I wanted to do and now I have been touring since I was sixteen. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I've had for anything in the world. PW: How about your parents, how do they feel about all this? JS: They love it. Several of us were in sixth form and Eva had started college and we thought we can either do this full time or go to uni. My parents at the time could not have been more supportive about it. My mum said this might be the only chance you ever get to do this. You can go to university when you want. That was so good to know mum and dad were behind us with it. They are both big music fans and have played in loads of bands and, yeah, they were really keen for us to do what we wanted to do. With that we returned inside the Forum to get the blood circulating around our bodies again and of course when the band took to the stage they stormed it. Big thanks to their manager Finian for getting this sorted as well. This interview was published originally on Paul Waller's blog http://wallernotweller.wordpress.com.

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