“It’s comforting to know that we’ve not been treated as a novelty” runs the title to an interview The Independent carried out with Rolo Tomassi earlier this year. The quote itself is taken from the mouth of vocalist Eva Spence, and they are words which neatly reflect exactly how far Rolo Tomassi have come in the last ten years. Emanating from the same Sheffield metal/mathcore scene which birthed the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, and having undergone various line-up changes, sound alterations as well as a whole decade as an act, they could very easily have become precisely what Eva indicates they’ve avoided; some form of novelty. Instead, they have constantly proven innovative in their sound, their live show losing none of its staggering immediacy and force, without compromising their identity as, at heart, a mathcore act. Since the various ‘Nintendocore’ labels accrued on their debut Hysterics back in 2008, however, the five-piece have enveloped features which sees more space and scope, a development which has been envisaged most extensively on new release Grievances. Far from standing still, they have evolved over the past ten years, adapting and learning while keeping a firm eye on what got them there in the first place. I caught up with the band’s keyboardist James Spence, who shares both blood and vocal duties with Eva, and discussed the benchmark of a decade, recording with Diplo, and how Rolo Tomassi have progressed since those early days.
It feels great. We’re in a good place right now. We’ve just released what we believe to be our best record and have eyes firmly set on the future.
How did things start coming together back in the early days, pre the release of Hysterics?
We were a bunch of school friends that enjoyed making music and came together to form this band when we were aged between 14 and 16. Our tastes were changing and we wanted to make music that reflected what we were into. The musical direction has changed along with the tastes of people within the band.
One of the most obvious changes is that the notable youth of some of the members has given way to adulthood. Was this a feature which you felt created some sort of shock value or had an alluring quality which drew people to the band early on?
I think early on, especially live, there was definitely a sort of shock value to it but I would like to think we had the material to back it up so it wasn’t just a novelty.
Since the early days of Hysterics, has your approach to recording and writing taken a different style, or did you happen across a formula and have since stuck to it?
It changes from release to release. We’re constantly learning, even ten years in, how to be more efficient when it comes to recording. The writing side of it has followed a similar path on the last two records with a lot of demo-ing and refining material. A lot of that was down to necessity with members living in different cities and it’s an approach we’ll continue to use as it’s yielded our strongest material.
I know that for your second album, Cosmology, American electronic producer Diplo took to recording duties. How did that collaboration come about?
He mentioned our name in an interview with Pitchfork so we contacted him about potentially remixing a track and he asked what we had planned in terms of a new record. Over the course of a couple of months we’d figured out coming over to the States to record with him. I still can’t quite believe it happened.
In terms of writing the records you guys also seem to have undergone various approaches, with that of second record Cosmology being done in three months in order to fit into Diplo’s schedule. What is your ideal way to writing new music?
Having as much time as possible to fully explore the potential of what we can do. We spent roughly a year writing Grievances and I think it shows.
Grievances sounds like the work of a band which is becoming increasingly refined and complete in their writing and performing. Would you say this is a fair comment on the new album and where the band is at right now?
I would like to think so yes. It’s taken us ten years but we’re getting there!
How did your relationship with Ipecac Recordings come about?
We almost worked with them a few years back on Cosmology but things didn’t work out back then. When we’d finished Grievances, we talked about American labels and theirs was a name that came up. We sent on the record to Greg and Mike and they were into it. We’re ecstatic to have the opportunity to work with such a highly influential label that has a back catalogue like theirs.
I saw that you covered Deftones’ “Digital Bath” for a Kerrang! compilation. Are you big Deftones fans?
I love Deftones. When we were asked to contribute a cover it was an easy choice to make.
Deftones are a band that have seemed to stay vital throughout the years by continuing to evolve their sound? Do you see any similarities between Deftones and Rolo Tomassi?
That’s maybe not for me to say! I have a great deal of respect for how they’ve evolved and stayed relevant over the years and it would be amazing if we were considered similar in even the smallest of ways.
Before we close, I’d like to draw attention to your live show, which has become arguably your most lauded feature. The tour for the new album covers both the UK and Europe, including a gig back home in Sheffield at Tramlines Festival. Does performing in your hometown, and particularly at a festival like Tramlines, carry with it a special sort of sentiment?
We’ve played at Tramlines every year the festival has taken place, curating a stage on some occasions. It’s great to have it as a mainstay of our summer’s annually and it’s always nice to go home and see family and friends.
Grievances marks your first “proper” release in the U.S. Any plans to tour overseas?
It’s something we’ve been trying to sort for years and now we have a proper US release we have even more drive to ensure something happens. Stay patient and we’ll be over as soon as we can.
And to end on, a quick hypothetical: if you could pick 3 bands, alive or dead, to share a live bill with, who would you go for and why?
At The Drive-In, Converge, and M83. They’re arguably the most important bands in shaping my musical tastes over the last ten years and I’m not sure our band could exist without the influence they’ve had on me.