Rolo Tomassi
James Spence on the band's thirst for new sounds, and why making music in London is almost impossible...

Math-core mob Rolo Tomassi have spent 13 years blurring boundaries and ignoring genre boxes.

With a sound that melds ambience and brutality, metal, math-core, jazz and ethereal soundscapes, the quintet have solidified a reputation as one of the UK’s most forward thinking bands.

On the eve of the release of their fifth album, ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’, Clash spoke to keyboardist James Spence from Brighton as they open yet another new chapter in their innovative career.

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How are you feeling about the release of the new album?

It’s kind of like waiting for Christmas I suppose. There’s this huge sense of anticipation and all that’s going to happen is I’m going to wake up and it’ll be like another day. It feels like we’ve waited an absolute eternity to put this record out, since the end of September last year. It’s probably the longest period of time we’ve had to wait to release anything but we’ve been able to build a bit of anticipation. We put out the three singles, we wanted to let the music do the talking and just return with material that we thought was stronger and better than anything we’d done.

What has happened in your lives since fourth album ‘Grievances’ and how has that fed into ‘Time will Die…’?

I was living in London when we put ‘Grievances’ out. I was there for 18 months and I didn’t like it. In the time I lived there I barely wrote any music at all and that scared the hell out of me. I just didn’t have the time and I was struggling to make ends meet. I knew that I would have to move if I wanted to do another Rolo record and that was something I wanted to do more than anything. This band’s been my life for 13 years.

So I made the decision at the start of 2016, three months into touring ‘Grievances’, to move here [Brighton]. I moved in with our bass player Nathan and our living room is just a wall of amplifiers and keyboards and the vibrancy of the city definitely had an impact on my creativity.

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It feels like we’ve waited an absolute eternity to put this record out...

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What is this album about? We’re picking up themes of freedom, release, rebirth. Is this linked to your escape from London?

In terms of the music for sure. You can hear there’s a lot more expansiveness and space within the sound. And that’s exactly what I felt moving here. Eva [Spence, James’ sister and vocalist] handled the lyrics. We had the album title before we started working on it and we used that as a brief for everything.

It’s from a Richard Brautigan [American postmodern author] poem. It really struck a chord with me. It really set me off and I was immediately drawing a lot of influence from it. Giving that to Eva she was able to it thematically. Speaking broadly the main themes are time, love, death and grief. Eva’s had a lot she can write about with all of that in mind. Some it’s really positive and comes from a place of love and hope, and some of it deals with grief. Lyrically it’s always been very autobiographical and she uses it as a means of therapy.

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I’m a massive control freak, I’ll be honest with you....

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Tell us about the writing and recording process…

It was recorded in Southampton at The Ranch, where we recorded ‘Grievances’, with producer Lewis Johns. It was a lovely experience. Quite a stark contrast to ‘Grievances’. We did that in December in the winter, it was dark and the weather was horrible.

This time around it was a real heatwave and I think a lot of that light that’s in the record is reflective of how beautiful it was when we were there. In the past [James and Eva] would split the lyrics a little more 50/50 but this time round I wanted to focus solely on music. I’m a massive control freak, I’ll be honest with you. I have a really clear idea in my head of how I want everything to be and sometimes in the past I’ve struggled to release that control to everyone else.

In the past I would write lots of guitar as well but Chris is a considerably better guitarist than I will ever be and it reached a point where it was ridiculous I was trying to write guitar parts for someone who can play so much better than I can! I just focused on being the best pianist, keyboard player that I can be - my role and contribution was just that.

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How does it differ from ‘Grievances’? Sonically, ‘Time Will Die…’ feels lighter and airier. What has inspired the album musically?

We were listening to a lot of different music, I was listening to a lot of ambient music, things like Stars Of The Lid, Eluvium, Tim Hecker... and we wanted to bring in a lot of different influence. We wanted to build on ideas we touched upon on previous records and turn that into something that was worth writing another record for.

Five albums in you have all the time in the world and you have to make sure something is worth doing. At this point all we’re doing is either improving or destroying our musical legacy! I hate it when bands I love put out another record for the sake of doing it just because it’s what they do. I wanted this to be the boldest thing that we’d ever done.

We’ve traditionally closed most of the albums we’ve done with a really long track that will be bigger and brighter than anything else on the record. We thought, why don’t we do more of it? There’s nothing stopping us writing more of these mini epics and we’ve got a bunch of these tracks that are spread across the record.

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At this point all we’re doing is either improving or destroying our musical legacy!

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Why did you pick the three songs; ‘Rituals’, ‘Aftermath’ and ‘Balancing The Dark’ to introduce the album?

There’s quite a stark contrast between ‘Rituals’ and ‘Aftermath’ and I wanted to showcase that there are two very different sides to the record. ‘Rituals’ felt like a very obvious song to come back with because it’s just absolutely savage. ‘Balancing…’ showed development in the songwriting. While it doesn’t sound poppy at all, it does follow a pop formula. We don’t really do songs with choruses and that’s got one.

‘Aftermath’ is a pure pop track and we’ve been trying to write something like that for so long. We’d have been idiots to not release that as a single. It shows a real development in what we do.

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We’re constantly trying to change and evolve and develop...

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You’ve built a reputation as innovators. Do you feel pressure to be progressive on every album?

Yes 100%. That’s the difficult thing about being in a band that doesn’t have any rules. You can do literally anything and people expect you to. I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to keep writing music fresh, I think if we ever got comfortable and settle it’ll lead to really mundane results.

We didn’t want to repeat the second record twice. It would have been really easy to write ‘Grievances’ Part Two but here would have been no point to that. We’re constantly trying to change and evolve and develop what this band is and what it can be. There’s always been a duality within our sound of the light and the dark. We said the third record, ‘Astraea’, was about the light.

Then ‘Grievances’ had its black cover art and an almost black metal influence. On this record there’s more of a balance between the light and the dark. It’s almost the end of a trilogy of records. God knows what we’ll do on the next one.

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‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’ is out now.

Words: Dannii Leivers

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