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Always Innovative, Never Imitated: Rolo Tomassi on Pushing Creative Boundaries

Monday, 31 January 2022 Written by Will Marshall

Nobody makes music quite like Rolo Tomassi. Since forming in Sheffield in 2005, they have morphed from kids playing glitchy mathcore to where they are now: a band trading in heavy music free from the constraints we might usually expect.

Constantly pushing musical boundaries has been their forte for years, with their 2018 LP ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’ further cementing their status thanks to its blend of keyboard textures, atmospheric guitars and teeth-bared brutality. Now, with its follow up ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’ imminent, vocalist and keyboardist James Spence and guitarist Chris Cayford are in a reflective mood. “When we recorded [2015 album] ‘Grievances’, we had an idea of how we wanted it to work,” Cayford says. “And, actually, it just dovetailed really, really naturally. I think with this record, it took more effort in order to do that.” 

Spence continues this train of thought, pointing to teachings carried over from ‘Time Will Die…’ to this process. “[We learned] to trust our instincts; that taking risks with things like going more poppy in certain areas was worth it,” he says. “It wasn’t like I came away from that experience thinking, ‘We need to do this and this better next time.’ It was, ‘Well, we can do this and people seem to like it when we push certain things to even further extremes.’ Maybe we should feel comfortable doing that.” 

That Rolo Tomassi—completed by vocalist Eva Korman, bassist Nathan Fairweather and drummer Al Potts—are considered an extreme band won’t come as a surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with their music, but what they’re keen to stress is that there’s more than one way to be extreme. It doesn’t always mean heavier, or meaner. 

“Even trying to make that [poppier sound] work in a metal band is a form of extremity,” Spence states. “It’s pushing what people think can be heavy music.” Cayford agrees: “There are massive benefits to doing that. Everyone loves heavy bands, but because of the quieter parts of our music, it makes the heavier bit sound heavier and vice versa. It’s mutually beneficial, in a weird way.” 

Challenging preconceptions of what metal can be is part of their DNA, but so is challenging themselves with what they write. As they describe it, Rolo Tomassi is the “ultimate passion project” that they keep coming back to because there’s always more to say and more to achieve. To hear Chris tell it, their desire to keep going ends up opening new avenues. “As one door shuts, about 10 others open and you have more space to play, more areas to work with,” he says. “That’s what we’re continually doing and probably why the dynamics of what we do are getting further and further apart.” 

When it comes to writing new music, it’s a slow process. They’re careful to only start when they know the time is right, and when the habits and preoccupations of earlier work have had time to fade. “We drive away from the recording studio and it gives you more ideas, it flourishes ideas out of you,” Chris begins. “[But] directly after recording it will just be too similar to what I’ve been writing for so long.” 

Instead, they walk away to take a break and reconnect with other genres or interests that took a back seat. “I really disassociate myself from heavy music and listen to other things, do other things,” Cayford continues. “Then it just becomes a point in time when you pick up the guitar again and you aren't directly influenced by what you’ve written or you’re listening to. And that’s the point you start to realise you’re working on something new.” 

The pandemic forced Rolo Tomassi to write in isolation, something they aren’t used to, but both Cayford and Spence feel that the songs benefited from that shift as they were able to share more complete pieces with each other that could then be moulded into the songs on ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’. 

“One clear distinction this time around was that those initial ideas that we started with ended up being far more developed earlier on, just because we had more time to work on them,” Spence offers. When they were eventually able to gather—with the exception of Korman, who lives in America—the songs came together more quickly and they felt that the time spent working was more productive. 

Despite distance and challenges, ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’ is a unique album, even in such an eclectic catalogue. From the blackgaze-ambience of the six-and-a-half-minute opener Almost Always to the knotty savagery of To Resist Forgetting, it is a cohesive whole that perhaps stands as Rolo Tomassi’s crowning achievement. Still, despite this attention to detail the band have no preconceived notions of what it should mean to people—they only ask that they appreciate and understand what they’ve tried to do. “It’s all so personal isn’t it?” Cayford says. 

He enjoys seeing fans interpreting the music in their own way, whether they take the original meaning from it or something entirely new. “It’s also really difficult to judge from the inside looking out,” he says. “The album I know is completely different…it gives you a different opinion and feeling. It takes so long, it’s only now I can understand ‘Grievances’ or hear it how someone else would hear it. I’m not even there yet with ‘Time Will Die…’” 

While both agree that it’s impossible to write an album without some common threads of meaning emerging, it’s important to Cayford that “people see that a hell of a lot of thought and care and passion goes into constructing what we do, because that’s the music we enjoy. If people can get on board with that and see that side of it, that’d be really cool.”

Rolo Tomassi Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed February 16 2022 - SOUTHAMPTON Loft
Thu February 17 2022 - BIRMINGHAM Mama Roux's
Fri February 18 2022 - SHEFFIELD Network
Sat February 19 2022 - GLASGOW Cathouse
Mon February 21 2022 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Tue February 22 2022 - MANCHESTER Club Academy
Wed February 23 2022 - BRISTOL Fleece
Thu February 24 2022 - LONDON Oval Space

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