Metal Storm logo
Rolo Tomassi interview (07/2019)

With: James Spence
Conducted by: RaduP (in person)
Published: 26.07.2019

Band profile:

Rolo Tomassi

I remember coming across the artwork for Rolo Tomassi's latest album, "Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It" and thinking how odd the title is. If you know the album, you probably can imagine my surprise first hearing "Aftermath" turn into "Rituals". Needless to say, it became one of my favorite albums of last year, so when I heard that Rolo Tomassi were coming all the way to my city, I just had to find out more about it. So I went to the venue straight after work and got to sit around a bit with James Spence to talk about their creative process, touring and emotional release from music.

The tour

Radu: We're here with:

James Spence: James, Rolo Tomassi.

Radu: How is the tour so far?

James: It's been amazing. I think we're just less than a week in, we've done five shows, and everything's been awesome. We're having a really, really good time. The last couple of days have been quite travel-intensive, but it's all part of it, you know? Yeah, happy to be in Romania and to play here for the first time tonight.

Radu: You're just starting to get into countries where you haven't played before, right?

James: Exactly, yes. In the next few days, we have Romania today, we're in Sofia in Bulgaria tomorrow, and then to Serbia, and then Slovenia on Monday.

Radu: Okay, great.

James: It's nice to have a nice period in the tour where it's all a new experience.

Radu: And now that you've also toured the US, what are some other places you wish to go?

James: I'd really like to go and visit some of Central and South America. I think places like Mexico, Brazil, would be really, really interesting. I think there's definitely an audience for heavier music there and it's somewhere that we're asked to go quite a lot.

Radu: Have you been to Japan or Australia?

James: We've been to Japan and Australia already, yeah. We're very lucky.

Radu: That's crazy.

James: Yeah.

Radu: And because I did look on on the concerts that you've had, I'm not sure they're all there. I find this crazy, that you've been to, like, Australia, but you haven't been to Sweden.

James: Yeah, I think that's really strange as well, yeah.

Radu: I guess some Swedes are dying to hear your music?

James: Well, I mean, I hope so. Again, that's somewhere that I'd really like to go. We've never really done much in Scandinavia, just a couple of festivals, but similarly to the Balkans area, it can be quite difficult to root into a tour. Unless there's a specific trip to go there, it's quite a bunch of trouble when you're going by van.

Radu: I don't think a Scandinavian tour would be really a financial loss or anything. I think there's a lot of people in every city -

James: Yeah, yeah, for sure. It just so happens that we've never had the right moment to do it -

Radu: The right opportunity.

James: Exactly.

Radu: Okay. I was watching L.A. Confidential the other day and I came across your band name ["Rollo Tomasi" is a name used in the film].

James: Yeah.

Radu: How did that come to be your band name and why did you misspell it?

James: The misspelling was an accident, but quite a happy accident because it means that when you search for it on Google there's a definite separation between the two things.

Radu: Okay.

James: And I came upon it just watching the movie. I remember hearing that bit and just thinking that sounded like a band name and I made a note of it - this was when I would have been, like, 13 or 14 - so when we formed this band a few years later and we were trying to think of a name, I was like, "We're gonna call it this." There's nothing more to it other than it being a purely aesthetic choice, I think -

Radu: Okay, so it wasn't really tied to what it means or anything.

James: No, not at all. I just think it sounds like a band name.

Radu: Well, it could have been. In the movie it actually means some things, but

James: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I don't want to lie about it, you know? It was just a good name for a band.

Radu: How different is it to write focusing on individual songs as opposed to the flow of the album, like you said you did with the new album, as opposed to with Grievances?

James: It was a really good experience, and one that I think led to better material. I think sometimes when you're writing with a full album in mind it can kind of compromise some detail within the songs, whereas focusing purely on the songs allowed for much more development and growth within tracks individually -

Radu: The songs themselves.

James: Exactly that, yeah, whereas sometimes I think that the approach that we took with the other material, where we were trying to make an album flow, it almost It just derailed individual tracks and made them not realize their potential fully, whereas this approach I think led to better material and actually a better-flowing album without consciously thinking about it.

Radu: Were you afraid that it would sound like a compilation instead of an album?

James: A little bit, yeah, but at the same time we had to try something different. I think with every record we have to take a slightly different approach just to make sure we get different results. I wouldn't want to repeat the same method twice. I would be worried that it would lead to the same results, and we don't want to do that. There's no point in repeating ourselves. It would be a waste of our time and a waste of our listeners' time as well.

Radu: The album does have quite a mellow start, with "Rituals," the first metal song, being only the third track. Why?

James: Well, we wrote - "Aftermath" was probably one of the first tracks that we wrote for the album, and the track that comes before that was originally written as an intro to "Aftermath" but I kind of wanted to separate the two of them because we wanted to have "Aftermath" as, like, a pop track, and when it came to sequencing the record, that was the only place they could go, was at the start of it. It would have felt quite jarring or disjointed to put them anywhere else in the sequence of the album. It wasn't necessarily that we wanted to hold back the heavy material; it was that the only natural place for those two first songs was at the beginning.

Radu: Yeah, but it really felt great to have the punch You have to wait a bit longer so it packs a bigger punch when it finally comes.

James: Yeah, no, exactly. I think it does work with that in mind, but it wasn't necessarily We weren't trying to be like, "We're gonna really, really hold back the heavy material, we want to make this really stark contrast," it was really just "This has to go there -"

Radu: It felt natural.

James: Exactly. It felt natural. Yeah.

Radu: And I remember you saying that these were the first three songs that were specifically supposed to be in the order, and then the rest you just had to puzzle the pieces together.

James: Exactly.

Radu: Do you think it's easier to get the release from writing lyrics as opposed to writing music?

James: I think you can have a really similar release from both. I don't think there's mutual exclusives with either of those two things. I think it completely depends on what you're trying to get out of your system

Radu: Because with lyrics, you can put your thoughts into words and scream them, and I can suppose that's a big release -

James: Of course.

Radu: But can you do the same with, like, playing guitar?

James: Yeah, you can absolutely put your feelings into sound as much as you can put your thoughts into words, definitely. I think sometimes the writing of the music is more about curating a mood and giving an audible representation of something that you're feeling. Sometimes that's something that you don't necessarily have words for. Sometimes music has to be the language of your soul because there's no words that can truly express it. I think I'm often more satisfied with music than I am with lyrics, from a writing perspective. Sometimes I'll write lyrics and be really happy with them, but sometimes I'll kind of feel that I haven't been able to express myself in a way that I wanted to and I feel I'm more able to do that with music. I feel like it's a lot easier.

Radu: Yeah, a lot of people in the past theorized that music is, like, the purest art form. Due to how easy it is to transmit emotion with it. Because painting and sculpture and lyrics have to be tied with real things like words and things you can actually relate to the real world, as opposed to music.

James: Yeah, exactly, and I feel like there's a much stronger theory base that goes with all of those things. It's kind of easier to dissect them, whereas music can be so - I mean, obviously there is theory that goes with music as well, there is really strong theory that goes with the practical side of that, but I find it to just be the most expressive of all the art forms.

Radu: And because we're kind of used to hearing music in a certain way, do you think if somebody has never heard music in their life and they would hear a sad song, they'd realize that it's sad?

James: That's a really interesting question. I think context is really important with all of that kind of thing, and I think maybe you and I know what a sad song sounds like because we have the context for it, because we're music fans, but I think without a really intensive study and a big sample size of people it's impossible to answer that question. (laughs)

Radu: Yeah, because, like, with pop music, a lot of it sounds really alike and we're used to hearing music in 4/4 -

James: Yeah.

Radu: And you listen to a lot of folk music, like Greek folk music, and it's in really weird time signatures. You have to learn to dance to it. It's really complicated.

James: (laughs)

Radu: Back to asking about the mellow start, I read on somebody was talking about listening to your new record for the first time and thinking they were accidentally listening to Paramore.

James: Right.

Radu: There's no question about that. I just brought that up.

James: That's quite funny, yeah. I have no problem with that. I like some of Paramore's music.

Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It

Radu: So what does the album's title mean to you?

James: To me, it's kind of about forgiving the past and moving forwards and trying to find positive forces to change the negatives in your life. I think we were relating to the previous record, Grievances. Grievances was about a lot of things we were unhappy about personally, and Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It is about forgiving those faults and mistakes and moving forwards, with love as the overriding force that can change that.

Radu: Probably explains why the music is also a lot more positive.

James: Exactly.

Radu: And the title comes from a poem, right?

James: Yeah, it's a short poem by Richard Brautigan.

Radu: Following up Grievances was a big task. How do you feel about having to follow up Time Will Die?

James: A mixture of excited and a bit stressed. I think none of us could have anticipated the reaction that this album got. It's the best-received piece of music we've ever released, and -

Radu: It's what got me into you, actually.

James: Right, and it's awesome, and I'm so glad that it seems to have helped us reach so many people, but I think we would be lying if we said that that doesn't mean

Radu: The world's eyes are on you?

James: Right, or that there's anticipation of what we might do next. But I think we need that pressure and we need that challenge to rise and to

Radu: To overcome.

James: Yeah, exactly. It would be really, really easy to just be complacent and to write another really similar-sounding record, but we know that we have to really, really push ourselves to do something that's kind of above and beyond this. We started writing music at the start of the year -

Radu: So you're already in the process of -

James: Oh, yeah, 100%. I think it's really important - we've found that if you begin writing new material while you're still touring the last one, you're able to put some of what you're getting from the live experience into the new material, and that kind of helps really, really refine the sound and recreate some of the feeling and the energy you're getting at the shows, which has been the best it's ever been while we've been touring this album. It's been amazing seeing how much people have connected with it and being able to put some of that back into the music is hopefully going to lead to even better results going forward.

Radu: Okay. Let's say your label or anyone was doing a Radiohead tribute record with each band covering a song. Which song would you cover?

James: That's such a good question. I would probably do "True Love Waits" or "Sail Me To The Moon," second song on Hail To The Thief? Yeah, either of those two tracks. Probably "Sail Me To The Moon," actually. I think we could do a really full-band version of that.

Radu: So you mean to tell me that Radiohead have more songs than "Creep"?

James: Of course, come on!

Radu: Who would have guessed?

James: Yeah. (laughs)

James Spence (photo by Ellie Mitchell)

Radu: If you could have any director direct a music video for your band, who would it be?

James: Ooh, that's such a good question

Radu: But they have to be living directors.

James: Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course, of course. There's two names that immediately come to mind. One would be Denis Villeneuve, who did Blade Runner 2049 and Prisoners. I think his work is absolutely stunning. And as well, someone else I would really, really like to work with - there's an English comedy show called The League Of Gentlemen, and they did some offshoot shows called Inside No. 9 and Psychoville, and there's two guys, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, I would really, really like to work with them. I think they've got a really, really interesting eye for horror and classic thriller sort of stuff and I think we could make something really interesting with them.

Radu: Those are some interesting choices. Most people just go straight to David Lynch.

James: Nah, come on. Yeah. [Ed: Rolo Tomassi is my new favorite band.]

Radu: Okay. Well, that would be it. Thank you very much.

James: Great. That was an awesome interview. I hope you enjoy the show later.

Thanks once again to SSUS for transcribing the whole thing in like a few hours.

Posted on 26.07.2019 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.


Comments: 1   [ 2 ignored ]   Visited by: 88 users
26.07.2019 - 23:26

Saw them supporting Gojira, they basically did every metal track from the latest album, couldn't've really asked for more (well, wouldn't have moaned if they did Aftermath as well); this latest album and Clairvoyant from The Contortionist are the only new albums from the last 3-4 years that have really inspired full-on infatuation with me. Nice interview man.

Hits total: 3189 | This month: 48