Rolo Tomassi’s James Spence talks to Ben Harding in this exclusive GIGsoup interview. Edited by Michael Liggins
Half way through their headline tour supporting their now five month old record ‘Grievances’, I was able to get an interview with vocalist and keyboardist of Rolo Tomassi, James Spence. Tonight’s venue of choice was Nottingham’s The Bodega, which turns out to be a very historical venue for Rolo Tomassi from a musical and personal perspective. The Bodega is the site where parts of previous album ‘Astrea’ were recorded and James spoke of the significance of the venue and how much it means to him. An hour to go before the band begin their hour long set, myself and James had a chat in The Bodega’s very cosy beer garden.
Fans surrounding us were in incredibly high spirits; beginning to hype up the potential musical chaos which would occur in Nottingham that evening. James lit a quick cigarette before the interview, I was eager to begin with asking about the new album and how it has developed them further as a band.
How do you compare the creative process of writing this album to your previous works?
With this record, it was largely a more collaborative process than our previous albums. ‘Grievances’ has a lot of string work on it, as I’ve never composed strings before, it was an interesting opportunity to get this kind of instrumentation onto the record and I think the end result worked really well for us. This is also the first record where we have tried display ourselves as a studio band, opposed to a live band. We wanted to create something that would stick in the listener’s head for years to come; as when you come to see us live it’s all very in the moment. We really wanted to gain a reputation as a studio band as well as a live act, and in no way restrict ourselves whilst writing this record and thinking about whether it can be perfectly replicated live.
Was there a particular theme you were aiming for with this album?
‘Grievances’ is a very lyrically dark album and I think the more orchestral approach we have on some of the songs, helped portray the more sombre tone of the record. I’d been going through some personal issues throughout the creative process of this album, so I definitely think those experiences are heavily reflected on ‘Grievances.’
Were there any artists you were listening to, while writing this record, which heavily inspired you?
I’ve been a massive fan of bands like Deafheaven, I’ve been a fan of that band since their first EP, so it’s that kind of expansive progressive music which has always inspired me.
You’re just over half way through this tour now, what has made it different to other headline tours?
It’s been fairly different this time round as we’ve been playing festivals before we’ve embarked on a proper headline tour. The record has been out for over 4 months now, so we’ve allowed our fans to listen and digest the record. So when they come see us on this tour, they’ll be very familiar with the new stuff. There has definitely been a higher level of hype around this tour than any other. Five out of eight shows on this tour have sold out, so it’s been amazing to have this kind of response.
You’re touring with fellow label mates Employed to Serve, is this the first time you’ve collaborated?
Yeah this is the first time we’ve ever toured together so it’s been such a fun opportunity to finally collaborate with them; we all get on like a house on fire so it’s been nice touring in such a friendly environment. I’m a massive fan of the band anyway, and their new album ‘Greyer Than You Remember’ is one of my favourites to come out this year, they’re very underrated and deserve a lot more recognition.
You recorded some of your previous album in this venue and some other areas in Nottingham. This venue must be memorable to play in?
This venue has a big historical significance for the band as we recorded some of our previous album ‘Astraea’ in one of the upstairs rooms. It’s quite a nostalgic feeling to be back here, as it holds a lot of memories for me personally as a few of my friends used to do some bar work here, so it’s definitely a good feeling to be back.
Your albums always feature amazing artwork, are you heavily involved in the creative process of these?
We’ve been collaborating with the same artist called Simon Moody since our first release nearly 10 years ago now. We consider him an additional creative force to the band, as his artwork has really helped shape what the music is from a visual perspective. What we have done for every album, is give him the finished pieces of music and he begins to create how he feels the music is visually. The end result is always these amazing pieces of art which I even have tattoos of. I personally think ‘Grievances’ is his best he’s ever done for us and it’s always a pleasure to have him create such strong visual representations.
What are your plans following this tour?
After we’ve wrapped up this tour we’re planning to tour the album more internationally towards the middle of next year. We’ve also begun writing some more new stuff, but at the moment we’re primarily focused on promoting this album as much as we can before we move on to whatever comes next. This tour has been such a success, so we’re really looking forward to what the next year holds for us.
With only a few dates left of their headline tour, Rolo Tomassi are a very driven band and tonight’s performance at The Bodega in no doubt proved this. ‘Grievances’ is incredibly strong and sounds as much live as it does on the record. If this truly is the beginning of Rolo Tomassi’s studio band career, the future holds a lot of exciting possibilities. They’re a band which deserve a lot more recognition than they currently receive.