We sent our roving metal-head and heavy music connoisseur Iqra Choudhry along to meet James Spence (synths) from Rolo Tomassi on their tour dates with Fall of Troy recently. In the hour between the interview and doors, she had an accident on her bike and broke several fingers. Now with most of the functionality back, she’s all splinted up and catching up on work like a trooper. That’s the level of dedication to music journalism we like to see here at Glasswerk…
You guys have been playing lots of festivals this summer. I saw you at Tech Fest – it was the first time I’d actually seen you and it was awesome – and you guys played NASS Festival as well. What’s the response been like at festivals, because you’ve been away from the live circuit for a while?
James (Spence, Synths): It’s been good. I mean, festivals are very different to our own shows. A lot of the time, you’re playing to somebody else’s crowd. But it’s been good knowing that we can go out and play what we want to play and present ourselves how we want to be presented to an entirely new audience. We had a lot of people after Tech Fest weekend saying they hadn’t seen us before and for a festival set, when you’re playing a short set, it’s cool for us to be able to go out and play newer songs without having to worry about putting in songs from our back catalogue which we’d have to include in a headline set. But yeah – the response has been really good.
And how have these shows with The Fall of Troy been going?
James: This is the second show; we had the first show last night and yeah, it’s been cool. We played with them like eight years ago last time they were in the UK, around 2007. So we’ve got a bit of history with them, it’s nice to see them again after nearly a decade and still be able to play shows together.
A lot of people have described you as a genre-defying band; you don’t fit comfortably into any sub-genre. How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard you before?
James: I’d say the roots of it are probably in hardcore, not in the traditional sense, with left-field tendencies. Maybe contemporary and classical influences in it as well? We used to say progressive hardcore, but I think that sounds a bit too up-ourselves, and some people really didn’t like that. It’s not something I lose sleep over – not being able to describe what we sound like. And I think it’s all for the better that you’d have to play someone our music to show them what we sound like and not just say ‘they’re a Category A band’. I think people have preconceptions about how they feel about certain kinds of music – if I were to say ‘we’re this kind of band’ and you’ve decided you don’t like that kind of music, you’re never going to give us any time. People have to listen to us to get what it is.
You guys are a very DIY band as well, which I guess also stems from hardcore roots?
James: Yeah, exactly. I guess the hardcore thing is as much the ethics as it is the sound.
What was the first show that you guys were ever paid for, as a band? If you can remember that far back?
James: The first show we played. I put on that show and I made sure that everyone got paid and that we’d sold enough tickets to make sure we got paid fairly. We’ve never played for free, just out of a moral standpoint. As an absolute minimum, we’d get twenty quid to cover fuel. And that’s still money at the end of the day. To begin with, we were only playing within Yorkshire, and near Sheffield, so we never really lost much, but I don’t agree with anyone having to play for free.
What would you say has been your best show as a band, if you had to pick one that stood out?
James: There have been a lot; I guess some are memorable for different reasons. My stock answer for that question is probably when we played at Leeds Festival in 2010. It’s a festival I grew up going to and always had aspirations to play, so getting to do that was really fun, and we’ve done some other great things since then. We went on tour in Australia in 2013; it was the first headline tour we’d done over there and we sold out a show in Sydney which felt like an amazing achievement. It was a tiny, 100-capacity show, but to sell out a show halfway across the world, that felt really, really cool. It was just absolute chaos. It was in a record shop – they cleared out all the racks and we set up in a corner and played, and it was just total carnage. It wasn’t the best gig we’ve played by any stretch of the imagination, but it was very memorable there are different kinds of bests.
You have a reputation for being a bit of a crazy live band; do you feel like that precedes you, as though people expect your shows to be chaotic and sweaty?
James: Maybe, yeah. A lot of us is what we do live. I guess people might come in with expectations of that – I’d hope that most of the time, we’d deliver.
Going off the time I’ve seen you guys before, I’d say you do. What would you say was your worst show?
James: Hmm. Any particularly bad shows this year, Tom?
The rest of Rolo Tomassi have now returned to the dressing room, back from a foraging expedition for booze.
Tom (Pitts, Drums): It’s been a while since we played the kind of show where everyone came out and was like “that was absolute shit”.
James: It’s definitely happened. But we tend to push the bad ones to the backs of our minds – I try to forget that it ever happened.
If you guys could tour with anyone, money and genre no object, which three bands wold you want to tour with?
James: Good question (looks to Tom) – wanna pick one?
James: M83 and Slayer.
So, are Slayer headlining?
James: No, they can open. We’ll play second gun and then M83 and Radiohead.
So, you guys also just brought out your fourth record on Holy Roar Records. It’s called ‘Grievances’ – what’s the response to it been like? I know you played some songs off it at Tech Fest.
James: It’s been really good. We get to do the fun thing now and play it live, and watch it become something different from the record. You record something and when you start playing it live you realise that different songs come to life in different ways. ‘Opalescent’ has more energy and feels heavier live than on record, but I like both variations of it. It’s been really cool so far. We’ve just been enjoying getting to tour it. We were playing shows before the record had come out and we wanted to play songs, but we had to hold back so we didn’t overplay songs that people weren’t familiar with.
Whilst I’ve got you all in the same room, what’s everyone’s favourite song to play live?
Chris (Crayford, Guitar): Funereal.
Nathan (Fairweather, Bass): Funereal, yeah.
Tom: I’ve got to say something different now – The Embers.
James: Mine would be Stage Knives.
Eva: The Embers.
What would you say have been your influences on this record?
James: For my contributions, for the keyboard parts, I’d say Grouper. For the heavier influences, I’d say it’s the same bands we’ve always been influenced by: Converge and…yeah, mainly Converge.
Tom: Only ever Converge, really.
James: Ten years in, still trying to rip off Converge guitar lines.
Chris: You say trying; I think I do it pretty well.
Tom: We’ve listened to Chon a lot, to be fair.
James: Grand View, that’s been getting a lot of time. Just a real mix of stuff.
What’s the last song you wish you’d written?
James: That’s a really good question.
Chris: The first single off Decapitated’s new album – that’s fucking unreal. Just that song.
James: I’m like that about a song by Iwrestledabearonce – ‘Gift of Death’, it’s called. Some of the breaks in that – I’m like ‘why didn’t I do that? It’d be so much fun to play!’
You guys are a very DIY, get-stuck-in kind of band; do you have any advice for bands that are starting out now?
James: Learn how to do everything associated with being in a band yourselves. Don’t give away any control – don’t pay people to do things that you can do yourselves. Being in a band, if you want to tour, is a lot more than just playing an instrument and being tight; you need to be an accountant and a tour manager and…a visual merchandiser. There are so many intricacies that surround it, and I’d say just try your hand at everything. Learn how to do everything. Look at the way that bands that you tour with do things and think about how you can do things better, and how what they do can work for you. Don’t shirk any responsibility.
– Iqra Choudhry