James Spence - Rolo Tomassi - Interview

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

Released in March 2018, Rolo Tomassi's latest album Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It is, to date, the band's most significant and successful album released. Building on the mature foundations of the previous album Greviences, the band experimented fearlessly; while not entirely amputating their genre-bending mix of mathcore, unique breakdowns and dynamic vocals. To cut a long story short, the Sheffield mathcore pioneers produced a modern classic of the genre. 

Over thirteen years of significant progression comes to a head on Rolo Tomassi's massive upcoming tour, which sees the band support metalcore upstarts Architects and headline The Joiners - a venue they last performed at in 2016. Ahead of the bandʼs headline performance in Southampton, I spoke to James Spence (keyboardist and founding member) to talk about what the past twelve months have been like for band, and how excited he is at the prospect of returning to The Joiners...

Well, firstly I just want to say congratulations... It has been over a year since the release of your last album Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It. What have the past twelve months since its release been like in regards to you personally and as a band?

In terms of as a band, what we've achieved has been beyond anything we could have really comprehended. We were happy with the record when we put it out and when we recorded it, but the reaction that it got was just more than we'd anticipated. We had some real highlights last year, that included touring in America, getting to headline Scala in London and playing Download Festival. It was just really good and it kind of felt like we were able to take a bit of a step up that we haven't been able to on previous records.

Not that I need any validation for what we are doing, but it did do that. It felt that it was a culmination of a lot of hard work and not just hard work that was attributed to that specific record, but just hard work over the years. It was just really special. We've had a bit of break at the start of this year, but we are about to start playing shows again and everyone is in a really good place with it.

I understand that as a band you were based in various cities during the recording of your last album. However, Time Will Die... was produced, like your previous album Grievances, at The Ranch in Southampton. With this in mind, does Southampton have some emotional significance to you?

Not particularly. We go there to work with Lewis Johns specifically. The Ranch is a little bit further out of Southampton and I really like that. I like the feeling of being isolated and really being able to immerse yourself in what you are doing. And we know that as a studio space The Ranch can offer that. I've got good memories of that location and the studio; we did the last two records there and we did a single there before we did Greviences. We have a fantastic working relationship with Lewis and it is a place that we've been able to be really productive in and create two of my favourite records that we've done.

That goes into my next question... You've worked with a variety of talented producers throughout your time with Rolo Tomassi. What was your experience working with Southampton based producer Lewis Johns like?

Always very sort of fluid and fruitful, I guess I would say. Lewis is someone that shares a lot of the same influences that we do. It is really easy to find reference points. Everyone understands where we are coming from. I think we have a really good understanding that is just a result of working together for a number of years. Also, Lewis just a very good guy and an extremely talented producer. The recording experiences that we've had there are my favourites of what we've done and that is just a true testament to how good he is, what he does and what a patient and understanding person he is.

We draw in from like a wide range of different influences and knowing that Lewis will either immediately know what we are talking about or at least be able to understand the frames of reference that we can give him, is really important. I think that prior to working with him, one thing we've always struggled to do is faithfully recreate the energy we have live. The last two records I think are the truest reflection of what I've wanted our band to be.

Your upcoming summer tour sees you return to Southampton to play The Joiners. Are you looking forward to the prospect of performing there again?

Always. I see The Joiners as one of the final original remaining grassroots venues. It has always been there for as long as I've been touring. It continues to serve the UK scene and the scene in Southampton. It is always a good time when we come. It is an incredibly well ran venue and I'm just glad to see that it still exists as a pillar within the scene in the South Coast of the UK.

A lot of people work really hard to keep places like The Joiners open and to keep them relevant as well. And it has remained that over the years. It has transcended a lot of stylistic shifts in terms of what is popular in music and is still thriving.

In the three years since you've played The Joiners, you've had a member change in the form of Al Pott replacing Tom Pitts as your drummer. Comparably, what have been some of the most significant changes to your live performances since 2016?

Well, having a new drummer! For anyone that is going to big. On top of that, I guess we have started to consider the 'live show' as it were. We have a touring lighting package that we tour with now. We run lights that work in sync perfectly with the music. Our drummer plays along to a click and we have triggered lighting that adds a completely different visual element to our set. We have always been quite a visual band and there's a lot of energy that goes along with that live. Adding the lighting to that has only exacerbated the energy and the movement in our shows.

The other guys in the band - Nathan, Chris and Al - worked really hard in making that. That isn't something that I'm going to claim any sort of credit in. They have spent painstakingly long hours programming individual lights and learning as they went along with it. I don't think any of them have done anything like it before, but it adds a different dynamic to the set and does make it more of a show rather than just a rock gig.

Does this change how your approach playing songs from your debut album Hysterics then?

We stopped playing them. The set we are playing at the moment is really focused on the new material. It's not to say I'm ruling out playing the earlier material again, but I think one thing we noticed last year when we were touring and it was something that we felt on stage that was pointed out to us, was that the songwriting has developed and the production of the material has developed. The new stuff just doesn't really stand very well next to the old stuff. The new stuff is just so dense and layered. It is just a lot grander, just because the songwriting has matured so much over the years and the stylistic aims of the band have changed. So, it is quite difficult to make everything work together and make a cohesive set. And I want this set to have cohesion and I want it to be huge.

That is really interesting. I guess everything relates to your overall development?

That is definitely something we have to consider when picking the setlist now. We are continuing to make new music and to make new records because we want to push forward with what we do. I want that to be at the forefront of our live shows.

Your busy summer schedule also sees you supporting Gojira, Architects and headlining a variety of venues across Europe. As a band that has performed at some huge venues and festivals, do you enjoy playing at much more intimate locations such as The Joiners?

We are really lucky this time to have such a variety of shows. We've proved to audiences and to ourselves that we can make it work on any sort of stage at any level. I'm really glad that we are able to have the opportunity to come and play more grassroots venues like The Joiners and then to go and play at Brixton Academy with Gojira. For me, that keeps everything really varied and just interesting.

Tickets for Rolo Tomassiʼs headline show at The Joiners can be found at https://joiners.vticket.co.uk/product.php/1565/rolo-tomassi-cryptodira

George Miles - Follow me on Twitter @GeorgeMiles6