Photo Credit: Sam Bond
It’s said that that the most stressful things that you can do in life are get married, move house and change jobs. But that’s for us mere mortals; were that list to be re-written for bands, it might read a bit differently. Instead, it would probably go more along the lines of; lose band members, ditch record label, try to record a new album. And if that is how the list goes, then Rolo Tomassi should, by rights, be gibbering wrecks by now.
But the band currently milling around us don’t much look like they’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. As they peruse the lunch menu, down coffees, and delight in finding an iron in the East London studio that they’ve abandoned the (currently flooded) North for on this rainy afternoon, they seem… pretty relaxed.
Which, given the changes in their camp over the last twelve months, seems like a pretty unlikely thing to be writing. Having parted ways with guitarist Joe Nicholson and bassist Joseph Thorpe – the former to go to university, the latter for ‘personal differences’ – and finding themselves at the end of their deal with old label Hassle, for most bands we’d be ringing a distinctive ‘death knell’ bell. But rather than lowering the coffin of their career with the words “Rest In Noise” carved angrily on the lid, Rolo Tomassi are celebrating the birth of their third long player, ‘Astraea’, on their very own label, Destination Moon.
The idea that a band who ostensibly appear so young should even be on their third album at all seems, in itself, slightly ludicrous, even without considering the tumultuous time that appears to have preceded it. Look at that reason for Thorpe’s departure again; personal – not musical – differences. For a group who had grown up together, and had previously talked of being friends since they were of primary school age, one can only presume that the dynamics had fractured to an extent that Rolo Tomassi itself almost became untenable. But when the core of the group, siblings Eva and James Spence, along with Chris Cayford, talk of where they’re at now, the fundamental changes that new members Nathan Fairweather and Edward Dutton have bought to the party are clear; they’re utterly enjoying being Rolo Tomassi again.
“In the past, songs were finished before we’d learnt them, and there was only one way it could be done.” James enthuses, “But now, we’re having the most fun. Everyone’s really getting along, on a personal level, and in terms of how the band works and writes, it’s better. It’s hugely positive, it’s certainly renewed my enthusiasm for doing it.” “It’s more fun now I’m in the band. Definitely.” Nathan pipes up, before the whole band dissolves into giggles.
To some extent, previous long players ‘Hysterics’ and ‘Cosmology’, had always appeared to be Vehicle Spence, with James writing the lions’ share of the music and Eva taking on the main lyricist roles. This time around, they’re at pains to make it clear that everyone had an impact on ‘Astraea’. “It’s definitely been a collaboration between the five of us,” Eva emphasises, “James and Chris have been the ‘main brains’ behind it, but we’ve all contributed to it a lot more than we have in previous releases. Everyone got their little mark on it.”
Along with the changes in personnel, the decision to release the record on their own label appears to have been pivotal when it came to recording what the band clearly believe to be their best album to date. “It meant that we were just focussing on making the record and the music as good as we possibly could,” James confirms, “Rather than having to meet a deadline that was set by someone else, or worrying that there were enough songs on it that could be used as singles. It just took a little bit of the pressure off.”
“We’d just got the end of the deal we had with Hassle, and asked ourselves what was the label was doing for us, that we couldn’t do for ourselves? Especially in terms of the size of the record label, you know, the size of record labels that would potentially be interested in our band, it’s not like there’s a major label that’s going, ‘Here’s thousands and thousands of pounds!’” He laughs, “With where we’re at, it was the most logical move, I think, to do it ourselves. So many bands are doing that now, and it means that the power is in your hands.”
Having recorded their last album, ‘Cosmology’ with a veritable ‘superstar producer’, Diplo, in glamorous Los Angeles, this time around they returned to their roots, and enlisted the help of ‘Hysterics’ producer, Jason Sanderson. However, the lack of a label budget to blow clearly meant slightly less salubrious surroundings needed to be sought for ‘Astraea’. “Jason had lost his studio, he’d kind of been screwed over by the person he was letting it from. And we wanted to do it with him, so we just made it happen.” James states, “We recorded anywhere that would have us.”
The end result of all this toil and turmoil is a record that defines exactly what this new version of Rolo Tomassi are; melodic, complex, and gifted with the ability to switch between angelic and satanic purely by way of Eva’s astonishing vocals. Lyrically, it’s a much more positive affair than would have been expected from the Rolo Tomassi of old, which given the upheaval they’ve been through, seems pretty surprising. “I’d had a bit of a difficult year, but came out of it feeling more empowered and stronger than I’d felt before, and I think that is reflected in the lyrics.” Eva explains, “Most of the time, it’s always been negative stuff that I’m writing about to get off my chest. This time, there was definitely a bit more hope in there.”
Rolo Tomassi’s new album ‘Astraea’ is out now via Destination Moon.
Taken from the November 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.