Rolo Tomassi: Weapons of Math Destruction

On February 18, experimental Sheffield mathcore noiseniks Rolo Tomassi celebrated their tenth anniversary with the announcement of their fourth full-length album, ‘Grievances’. Formed by siblings James and Eva Spence – the only remaining founding members – in 2005, the band self-released their first few releases before signing to influential hardcore label Holy Roar for their first EP proper. They released their debut album, ‘Hysterics’, on Hassle Records in 2008, and have been garnering great critical acclaim ever since, especially for their intense and incendiary live shows. For their latest release, the five-piece have returned to Holy Roar and seem to be as full of fire as they ever have been, as James explains…

**You announced ‘Grievances’ on the tenth anniversary of the band. How significant was that for you? ** “I’m just pleased I’m still getting to do what I enjoy doing the most. Obviously ten years is a long time to stick at one thing for, and there aren’t that many bands our size who have been going for that long. I think it’s a real testament to the fact that we all love doing what we do so much that we would continue to do it for this long.”

**You mention bands of your level – is it hard to sustain a career and existence at that level? **“I mean, none of us consider this to be a career. We all have jobs outside of this to sustain ourselves in our own ways outside of touring, but again, I think that goes to show the amount of love and care we have for what we do. We still think at ten years in that we have more to offer and there’s more that we can do with this band that’ll challenge ourselves creatively. I think that this is the best album we’ve made in our ten years. I started this band when I was 16 and I never thought I’d be talking to someone about our fourth record!”

**When you started at 16, do you remember what your actual ambitions were? **“Yeah – we just wanted to play shows. We wanted to tour. I was in love with the idea of touring and just going away and playing shows. And we did that within the first year of doing it – we wrote a bunch of songs, recorded a demo, hassled people until they booked us to play and then from that, we started setting new goals for ourselves and having new ideas of what we wanted to achieve and what we wanted to do, and it’s always been a case of slowly building on that. We’ve always just maintained this thing of doing small, achievable things and we’ve been presented with some bigger opportunities along the way like touring abroad and playing massive festivals. The love of creating music and being with your friends is what’s kept us going.”

**How do you maintain your energy levels? Your live shows are so intense and energetic, but it must be different doing that at 26 than at 16. **“I think 16 is very, very young to be in a band and I’d like to think that still at 26, by the standards of a lot of other musicians and bands, we are still relatively young. We definitely still have that on our side. In terms of physical performance for the shows, I definitely have to exercise to be able to maintain my energy levels, and that’s definitely something I’ve considered more in recent years and I know that Eva’s the same. It’s physically demanding, so you have to make sure you’re in shape. It’s a different kind of physical fitness to going for a run or going to the gym and it can be incredibly demanding on your body, especially if you’re going away for like a month. But the passion is there and I guess that’s where a lot of the energy comes from, especially when we’re working – it’s a release from what you’re doing the rest of the time. You’ve got that 45 minutes a night to really expel a lot of energy and you just summon no matter how tired or hungover you might be. You can always pull it from it from somewhere.”

**How do you balance life outside of the band with the life of the band? Is it difficult to have those two things existing at the same time? **“I think we’ve just found a way of doing it. Everyone just makes it work. You make the sacrifices necessary to make everything work. And that’s something I’ve been doing for the last six years, so I don’t even have to think about it anymore. I know what I have to do to survive when I’m out of the band and you just reach a level where you know your limits and you know what you can and can’t do. It can be difficult having to consider what five separate people are doing, and we’re based in different cities now – I’m living in London, we’ve got three people in Brighton and our guitarist is in Nottingham – but everyone’s dedicated and flexible to make it work and do what we need to do.”

**This is probably a question for ten years ago, but do you have any ambitions for it to become a full-time thing? **“To be honest, I like the balance of having work outside of the band. I think they both serve each other quite well. I feel like I definitely have maximum enthusiasm for doing the band because it’s something to look forward to outside of work. I know that’s incredibly basic, but I really like that. And I work in music as well, so the two different aspects of my life cross over quite nicely. And I think the records may not have the same energy and vitality if it was just on its own, but I’ve never really known any different.”

What specifically does ‘Grievances’ mean to you? “I was talking to Eva about this and for me, with the last record, Astraea, we felt we talked a really good game but the record didn’t quite hit what we were talking about. But I feel with _Grievances _ we nailed everything we were talking about on the last record, so for me it’s a massive step forward creatively and artistically. We did things we’d not really done before, like getting other musicians in to play on tracks and I worked with another musician on arranging strings. We really didn’t want to be held back by a worry of playing everything live – we went in with the idea of making a studio album and making the best record we could make in a studio and just worry about playing it live later. It was a very liberating process to just focus on writing music. We’ve really built a reputation over the years as a live band – which is great, and we pride ourselves on that – but there’s got to be a point where you realise the music is going to long outlive the live side of it. Even when we stop playing shows, the records are going to be there for anyone who wants to hear them to hear them, so we just need to – and I don’t mean this in an arrogant way at all – preserve our own legacy.”

**And you’re doing that by signing to Holy Roar… **“That came at a really interesting point. Obviously we did the first EP with Alex [Fitzpatrick, label owner] a really long time ago. I’ve known Alex forever. I was out with a friend who handles bookings for the studio we were looking at recording in and we’d reached the point where we sounding out what we were going to do and I ran into Alex at the pub we went to. I’d not seen him for about a year, he asked who was putting the record out and I told him we weren’t really sure and he just said ‘I’ll do it!’ on the spot. And at that point, we didn’t want to talk to anybody else. We’ve all known him for a really long time and even the members of the band who weren’t in the band when he put the first EP out have worked with him in different projects. It just made total sense, especially with the ten year anniversary. It really felt like a piece of the puzzle being put in to do the record with him again, like a really nice full circle kind of thing.”

Grievances will be released on June 1 through Holy Roar Records.