It’s 2005. The first Guitar Hero game is released, Marilyn Manson gets married and James Blunt releases the musical shitshow You’re Beautiful. Meanwhile, in a small village on the outskirts of Sheffield, a bunch of teenagers are having a band practice in their drummer’s shed, unaware of the adventures that lie ahead. They are Rolo Tomassi.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 10 years,” admits vocalist Eva Spence. “It’s crazy that we’ve made it this long, that we’re so enthusiastic about it and that we still want to do it.”
And it’s undoubtedly this enthusiasm and drive that has kept the Tomassi train rolling during the past decade, leading them to become bright lights in British hardcore while staying resolutely understated./o:p
They’re the definition of the DIY mentality that still thrives in the UK underground – from Eva’s mum packing her lunches in the early days of Rolo Tomassi, to the band making and selling their own merch (including cushions from Eva’s Night Of The Living Thread accessories company).
They’ve ignored genre trends, held down day jobs and weathered lineup changes that have left Eva and her brother James as the two remaining original members. And after all these trials, they’ve kept on going, have now signed to Mike Patton’s Ipecac label in the US and Japan – a move Eva describes as “ridiculous” – and are poised to release a ferocious new record, Grievances./o:p
“It’s a bit of a diary – it’s all written from personal experiences and a much darker place,” Eva says of the latest chapter in her band’s life. “We’d had a bunch of time off where a few of us had moved to different cities and we were all settling down. Our drummer [Edward Dutton] had left, so we’d just got a new drummer [Tom Pitts] as well.”/o:p
With members dotted around the UK, in Brighton, London and Nottingham (RT’s lineup is completed by guitarist Chris Cayford and bassist Nathan Fairweather), recording the album wasn’t exactly straightforward. Demos were sent to Eva, who’d then record melodies on her phone to send back to James, in a process that Eva describes as “disjointed”, which also led to the creation of a more desolate record.
“We weren’t playing shows, ’cause we had to get the record finished, so there was a lot of pent-up frustration and energy, and I feel that’s come through in the songs,” she reveals. “There had been so much going on, it felt right to write a much darker record to reflect on that, especially with how [2012’s] Astraea was an uplifting, euphoric record for me. I wrote positively in Astraea, so I wanted to write something gritty that had more edge, because I didn’t really get it out on the last record.”
Grievances is Rolo Tomassi’s fifth full-length record in 10 years, which is far beyond Eva’s expectations. She joined the band when she was just 14, originally as keyboardist, before transferring onto vocals – “I’m a much better screamer than I am a keyboard player, ha ha!” – and it wasn’t long before the band’s demos started making waves across the burgeoning UK hardcore scene.
“We were approached by Alex Fitzpatrick from Holy Roar Records, ’cause we’d recorded a demo on an eight-track that James had put on MySpace. He heard it and asked if we wanted to play in his living room,” Eva recalls. “ Then he put out our EP, and it went from there to play more shows, and as more people heard about us we were being booked to travel across the UK. We were just five friends who wanted to make music and were given some really cool opportunities on the way.”
Rolo Tomassi toured Europe, and played SXSW in 2009 (though, aged 18, Eva was too young to get into most venues). Touring at such a young age was a thrill, but it also exposed Eva to some negative experiences, such as verbal abuse from knuckle-draggers in the crowds.
“I’d feel frustrated about having stuff shouted at me all the time, and the years when that was happening I was between 15 and 18 – which is when I was a minor – and there would be guys in the crowd shouting things, which would frustrate me quite a lot,” she says. “Generally I held my head high and wouldn’t let on when we were playing, but I really didn’t like it.”
Away from the shows, she also learned how to take care of herself on a day-to-day basis, growing up more quickly than others her age.
“When I’m away from home, our touring party is all guys, so as a girl, if I forget anything, no one else is going to have remembered it, so I’m quite organised in that sense,” she explains. “Whenever we go away on tour, I’m super-organised; I have to look after myself – I think it comes from being a teenager in that environment. It isn’t comfortable, there are long drives in the van, you can get homesick, so you have to look after yourself and be responsible.”
Talking to Eva today, you feel a sense of confidence and excitement about the prospects for Rolo Tomassi’s future. She may seem like a shy 20-something on the surface, but a decade of survival, self-sufficiency and screaming for a living has undoubtedly had an effect. Yet while some things have changed for the band, others are coming back full circle: following four albums for various labels, Tomassi have returned to Holy Roar for the release of Grievances.
From an outside perspective, this might look like a step backwards, but the label is one of the driving forces in the UK hardcore scene, with bands such as Bastions and Rough Hands on their roster. And as the singer of a band whose sound could be described as an acquired taste, Eva believes signing to a major wouldn’t have brought them any benefit, and feels “there’s much more pressure on bands who are on major labels, and I wouldn’t change what we have right now”.
Despite coming from this hardcore world, the name Rolo Tomassi has found its way onto gig posters up and down the UK and for festivals ranging from Damnation to 2000trees, as they’ve earned their name as one of the most intense, unpredictable live bands the North has ever thrown up. The scene has continued to evolve, with Eva noticing she’s no longer the only woman getting up onstage at shows.
“Personally, I think it’s really great there’s lots of bands with females in them; that’s a little triumph for the ladies in heavy music,” she says. “It’s fantastic that more bands have female members coming out of the woodwork and getting out there. Bands like Vales, Employed To Serve and Svalbard are smashing it right now, which is great to see. It’s awesome there are more women springing up in the hardcore scene.”
Eva’s quick to play down the notion that she’s paved the way for this to happen, though three years ago her band was supported by fellow Yorkshire noise-makers Marmozets, who recently signed to Roadrunner and whose rise Eva describes as “incredible”.
The future may not be as clear-cut for Tomassi, but their leader is fearless. After the loss of members, geographical distance between the five, and the continuing struggle for survival documented on Grievances, Eva confesses she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Things haven’t been straightforward for us,” she admits. “I don’t think they ever are with any band; there are always difficulties to get over. And if you let that define what you’re doing and bring you down, then it’ll have an impact on your band, so we’ve always just powered through, which is why we’ve lasted this long.”
And if the band’s heart and passion remain as strong as they have during the previous decade, we’ll still be hearing Rolo Tomassi’s mathy noise in 2025.
GRIEVANCES IS OUT ON JUNE 1 VIA HOLY ROAR. THEY TOUR THE UK WITH THE FALL OF TROY IN AUGUST./o:p