Rolo Tomassi

Photos: Chris Ensell
Interview: Paul Klotschkow
Saturday 24 August 2013
reading time: min, words

Rolo Tomassi are a screamy mathcore band who formed in Sheffield, buthave since relocated to Nottingham. They’ve rubbed shoulders with the likes of Faith No More and Foals and are about to tour Australia and Japan, but they might also have made you a cushion or served you a pint in the Bodega. We spoke to sibling members James and Eva Spence...


How did you end up living in Nottingham?
James: I always visited Nottingham, had friends here, played shows here. I mentioned it to a few friends who were looking to move house. The rent on the house that we were moving in to was so cheap I bit the bullet and went for it. Everyone else has followed suit. It started with our drummer moving here a couple of years ago, and then Eva and Nathan our bassist moved earlier this year. Chris our guitarist moved up from Brighton last year.

Your music is quite confrontational and challenging. Was that something you deliberately wanted to do or did it happen by accident?
Eva: We always had an idea of how we wanted to sound and we did want to be a heavy band, but the rest of the stuff fell in to place when we started writing together.

James: It was a reflection of what we were listening to like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge, which all use more unconventional song structures and rhythms and weirder time signatures. Over the years we have made it our own thing rather than it being a direct rip on what those bands did.

I saw you play Dot To Dot 2008 in the Rock City Basement and some guy in the crowd giving you a lot of aggro. Was that something that happened a lot when you were starting out especially considering you were a bunch of teenagers on stage?
Eva: A lot more than it does now.

James: As were coming up because there was no one band that we could go out with that would make sense we were up against it a little bit. We were playing with indie bands like Blood Red Shoes and Foals, and I imagine for people who were going to see those bands, seeing a band like ours would have been a bit much. When you have got a thousand people in a room all it takes is for one person to be unhappy and had a bit too much cheap lager to find their voice and have a bit of a shout. I think age had a big thing to do with it because they thought ‘what are these bunch of kids doing?’ If you are provoking a reaction you are provoking something. I think we always said that we would rather people absolutely hate it or loved it; as soon as you’ve got people who are indifferent to it that’s when you start to become irrelevant.

When did you discover that you could growl like that?
Eva: I had been in the band for a couple of months playing keyboard and we were looking for a vocalist because we were going to be a six piece. We couldn’t find anybody and I said that I would give it a go. I had heard guys doing it but I didn’t know any girls doing it.

Would you practice singing like that around the house?
Eva: Not really, but we practiced in the car, didn’t we? Like in the middle of the carpark when mum was doing the shopping and stuff. When we first started I needed to have really loud music to do it because otherwise I use to feel so self-conscious. Now it doesn’t bother me so much but when I started it had to be to very loud music.

Do you think your singing style has changed over the years?
Eva: Yeah, I actually do singing now instead of just screaming and I have become a lot more confident with that. I’ve become a little bit more experimental with screaming and practicing what sort of noises I can make. I’ve definitely become a lot more interested in what I can produce with my voice and I don’t think I would have that type of interest had I not been screaming from the start.

How do people react when they first hear it?
Eva: We still get messages online saying I didn’t realise your singer was a girl and stuff like that. People still get quite shocked by it.

Two band members were replaced before the last album. How well did the new members settle in?
Eva: They had a hell of a lot of responsibility of pressure on them for joining the band and having to go straight in to writing the third album.
James: We had known them for a few years. I met our bassist Nathan seven years ago when I was looking at a university in Brighton, he was staying with a friend of mine. He plays in Brontide and I used to live with the guitarist from that band. Chris (guitarist) was a friend of his who I would always see when we went out in Brighton. We knew Nathan a lot better than we knew Chris and it was a lot more difficult for Chris, but he has come in and written maybe forty percent of the new record. I can’t think of many examples of bands where they’ve lost members and new members have joined and were writing straight away. He took on a lot and really did us all proud with it.

How do you get the new members to learn the old songs?
James: I write quite a lot of it on guitar so there was some that I could show them and I tabbed a lot of it out. Then things as ridiculous as using tabs that fans had put up online. There’s maybe a bank of ten songs from the old records and EPs that we can play live with them.
Eva: We were just very keen to push on because there is only so many times that you can play the old songs before you get bored. We are constantly just wanting to keep writing and progressing with what we are doing.

What’s it like being brother and sister in the same band?
James: It’s not something that we think about anymore, we’ve almost been doing this for ten years now. It can be difficult because the arguments that can be had between family are far worse than any other arguments. But equally, we have played in bands together since we were thirteen and we’ve grown up with a very similar set of friends, always listened to the same music, it just gets to the point were you don’t even consider it.

You worked with Diplo on your second album who is a massive name now and was on the rise then. How did that happen?
James: We played South by South West in 2009 and he saw us there. We were unaware of this and later on we saw that he name dropped us on an interview. We got in touch and were like, "it’s really cool that you like our band would you like to do a remix or something?" He got back and asked us what were were thinking for our next record. We hadn’t even started writing it by that point and he said that he would like to be the producer. It was a really weird whirlwind. We wrote the record in three months just to fit in to his schedule. He played in Stealth in the summer of 2009 and myself and Ed went and had breakfast with him the following day to chat about stuff. Six to eight weeks later we were flying to America to record. It was an absolutely bizarre turn of events. He explained to us that the show he saw us play at he couldn’t even get in and sat on some bins outside and watched us through the side of the tent. Now he’s just everywhere, he’s huge.

What did Diplo bring to your music?
James: A lot of it was helping Eva with the vocals. At that point he had done stuff with MIA and had mainly worked with female solo artists. When he usually produces people he’s also helping to write the music, and when he came to us as a rock band we had already written the record. A lot of it was adding the flourishes, completing the album in the studio and helping with the vocals.

In contrast, you latest album Astraea was recorded all over the place...
James: If the Diplo album hadn’t have come up we would have done the second record with Jason (Sanderson) who did our latest record and the first one. We never went looking for a big name producer. Going back to Jason was the natural progression of things for us. It was pretty poor timing because he had just lost his studio through a leasing legality, he got massively screwed over by his landlord. We begged, stole and borrowed any kind of space we could. We recorded the drums upstairs at The Bodega. Guitar, bass and some of the keyboards were done at the house that I’m still living at now. We went back to mine and Eva’s parents house to do the vocals and finish off the keyboard and pianos. It was pretty intense and I wouldn’t want to do it like that again. It was really stressful, especially when it’s in your house. When you are recording something so intense you need time to be able to get away but with it being in my house I literally couldn’t.

As a young woman, how do you deal with being in a masculine, testosterone heavy environment?
Eva: It sounds even worse saying this but it used to be a lot worse when I was younger. When I wasn’t even eighteen it was dreadful, I don’t think people really understood how young I was. But now it doesn’t happen that much. I think I’ve heard everything that could be possibly shouted at me and now I’m just like "whatever", if you are going to come and shout at me I don’t even care; shout until you are blue in the face, you are just an idiot. Sometimes I will have a laugh about it after the show.
James: Now that we do our own shows it is something that happens less and less. The worse time that I can remember it happening was when we did The Dillinger Escape plan tour. People came up to us afterwards and apologised on behalf of the person. It’s cool that people recognise that it shouldn’t be happening.

How do you balance band and work life?
James: It’s difficult because we don’t play the most commercially viable music. When we were living with our parents it was a lot easier. Since I’ve been working my appetite for touring has gone through the roof. Touring is like a holiday; it’s awesome but it makes you appreciate everything rather than...
Eva: ...Taking it for granted, which I feel in the past we have done when we were living at home and going away and able to say yes to everything that came our way. But it’s nice to have the balance, the normality, and a bit of routine, then being able to go away and having a crazy couple of weeks away with your friends. It’s nice to have that to look forward to. We all enjoy our jobs, where we work are very good at letting us have time off and are understanding about it.

You took Kappa Gamma out on tour - why did you choose them?
James: I just love the band, absolutely love them. I knew a few of them from being around town and seeing them in the same bars. They are a phenomenal band and taking them out on tour was literally down to that. The house show we both played happened at the last minute and it was such a weird night, we had a really fun couple of days.

How did they go down with your crowd?
James: I think it was better taking them out in Europe than it would have been in the UK. I find that European crowds are more attentive and more open to different music. They smashed it every night and went down really well at all of the shows.

You seem like a band who knows what they want to do and have got it together, but what is the worse piece of advice you have ever been given?
James: My Head of Sixth Form told me not to bother and go to university. That is something that sticks out still. I wouldn’t be able to do what makes me happy if I had done that. When I’ve been walking to work I’ve been seeing all of the graduates and I wonder what would have happened if I had done it the other way. But I’m more than happy with my lot at the moment.
Eva: To be honest, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t have wanted to go when I was younger anyway. I would much rather go when I’m a little bit older and know exactly what I want to do.
James: Maybe you just go to escape from where you are from. For us from farming villages north of Sheffield, for a lot of people it’s literally the only way out of it unless you up and move.
Eva: I probably will go back in to education at some point but not now. If I think back to what I would have studied then to what I would study now it’s completely different. If I had gone to study something like Textiles, I would think what a waste of money to study something that I have already learnt everything myself pretty much.

You were invited to the Kerrang Awards earlier this year...
Eva: It was so much fun, it was absolutely ridiculous. We only got told we were going about ten days before it happened.
James: I don’t know who had dropped out...
Eva: Unfortunately our drummer couldn’t go because he was doing jury duty. It was really weird but really fun. I felt a little bit out of place.We were like, "what the hell are we doing here?" It was the kind of party where you think you’ll never been invited.
James: You could tell that a lot of people there were seasoned in that kind of circuit of music industry events. It’s strange, the bands make up about thirty percent of the room, so there is this seventy percent of people and you are like, "who are you and what are you doing here?" I really enjoyed being at the event and the fact that we were invited was really cool, but there are things like when you walk outside and it’s like, "I’m so and so from so and so", and you think "come on, this is a party. You don’t really need your game face on at the moment." We drank solidly for twelve hours.

You are about to go on tour to Japan and Australia. You’ve been to Australia previously, is it similar to going on tour in the UK and Europe?
James: Every continent that we have played shows on has been different. Whether it’s been how gigs work or what you can buy at service stations.
Eva: Australia is my favourite place that we have visited. I’m not saying that the people who come to see us are any better, but just as a whole Australia is just insane, I’m so excited to go again.
James: We did Australia twice in 2010. We did the touring festival called Soundwave. We were the first band on the smallest stage.
Eva: We were one of four UK bands on the bill.
James: All of the English bands were hanging out and there were tons of legends. A lot of the time in Australia you have to fly from show to show, which was outrageous.
Eva: They would have whole planes which would be full of the bands. When you walked on the plane in First Class you would have Faith No More and Paramore. Who was the band behind us?
James: Eagles of Death Metal.
Eva: They were just nutters. And Jimmy Eat World were in front. That’s been one of my favourite tours that we have ever ever done just because of how surreal it was.
James: This time around we are going to do some headlining shows in smaller venues. It’s a bit more of an extensive tour and covers more of the regional places as well.
Eva: With the festival they rented big hotels. To actually be touring Australia the way we tour the UK and Europe we will have a bit more freedom in terms of having a look at places out of the way. Before that is Japan. I’ve been waning to go to Japan since forever.
James: We were approached by a Japanese label on the back of playing Great Escape last year. We exchanged a few emails and it’s the kind of thing that has happened in the past and you never really expect anything to come of it. But it go to the point where they invited us out to play these shows. They are going to release the record out there. It’s a label festival that we are playing at. They put these label showcases on in several different cities.

How is Night of the Living Thread doing?
Eva: It’s been a bit hard to keep on top of now that I’m working as well, but it’s still going pretty strong. I’m working on a whole new collection which I’m hoping will be ready to launch before we go away in September. I’m sewing every day and still loving it, I'd love to do it full time. I do custom stuff. I finished a Hulk Hogan cushion yesterday. Last Christmas was ridiculous, it was the busiest that I have ever been. I’m hoping it’s the same again this year for custom cushions and bags and stuff, because that is my favourite thing to do. I think it's what gives the company the most attention as well.

How is FC Bodega doing?
James: Killing it. The team at the top are unbeatable all season. All we need to do is win the last game of the season to finish second, which is as good as winning the league when the team above you are that much better than everyone else. We play in the Sunday Sixes Premier League at Arnold Hill.

What’s it like now you based Nottingham?
James: We were formed in Sheffield and we still get called a Sheffield band, but I’ve lived here for five years and everyone lives here now and we very much consider ourselves to be a Nottingham band. There is so much going on in Notts; there’s kind of this higher-tiered indie stuff which is bringing a lot of attention to the city and there’s tons of over cool stuff going on right through to the DIY stuff like JT Soar. It’s a cool time to be involved in music in Nottingham and we are hoping to get more involved and do more within the city as we establish ourselves as being a band that is based and works out of here.

So you feel like a Nottingham band?
Eva: Definitely.
James: Even things like knowing the other bands that helps us have more of an affinity with the scene than we did with Sheffield. We are from villages half an hour outside of Sheffield, that was just the nearest point of reference. We played a lot of shows there growing up and it’s where we are from, but it’s cool to feel part of the community. It’s little things like being involved with The Music Exchange and backing local things. There’s stuff going on here that I get on with personally and what I like about music. So it’s nice to try and make our mark as an established band.

Astraea by Rolo Tomassi is out now. They are playing at Arctangent Festival on Friday 29 August and will be playing gigs throughout Europe, Japan and Australia during August, September and October. Eva Spence also runs Night Of The Living Thread, an independent store of handmade fabric goods.

Rolo Tomassi website
Night of the Living Thread website

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