Rolo Tomassi are currently the toast of the British hardcore scene. Their furious debut Hysterics earned itself a number 1 ranking in Thrash Hits’ Top 10 albums of 2008, as well as a fistful of four- and five-star reviews elsewhere (including here in Music Feeds). But while Hysterics is undoubtedly a significant achievement in its own right, it is the precociousness of this Sheffield five-piece’s talent that has really got people excited. For any band to have crafted a debut so assured would be one thing. For a band with an average age of 19 and a sound that is so eclectic and technically difficult to achieve, it is mind-boggling.
When I speak to synth player and sometimes vocalist James, the band are just back from a gig in London opening for indie hipsters Foals. It is 4am UK time and everyone else has gone to bed. But when I wonder out loud if I mightn’t be keeping him against his will, James Spence is quick to assure me that he actually “quite likes doing interviews”. Even if he is still a little hoarse from all the screaming earlier on in the evening.
We kick things off by talking about the band’s songwriting process. Hysterics is such an intricate album, with tempos, time signatures, moods and genres all veering so wildly that I wonder how they do it. As it turns out, while the group’s guitarist, Joe Nicholson, is apparently the main creative force behind the music, the writing process itself is generally pretty democratic.
“We tend to have various collections of riffs that we’ll learn and eventually piece together. We arrange the music into songs as a band and that’s how everyone gets their say in the creative process. We’ll chop and change and try different ideas until everyone’s happy. It’s literally a trial and error process until we reach what we feel is right”.
And considering they are so well versed in a range of musical styles — everything from indie (James’ top three records of the year, for example, are Saturdays=Youth by the M83, Alopecia by Why? and Deerhunter’s Microcastle) to jazz (Joe claims to be a big fan of Coltrane, amongst others) — how did “what they feel is right” end up being hardcore? “At the most basic level,” James says, “we all have backgrounds that stem from rock music. I grew up listening to a lot of pop-punk bands and gradually made what seemed like a fairly natural progression through to hardcore. We all influenced each others’ tastes when we were first getting together. Everyone kind of goes off at their own tangents, but hardcore and rock are the lowest common denominators.”
At this point, the conversation turns inevitably to a discussion of lead singer and all round enigma Eva Spence, who is also James’ little sister. At the tender age of 18, Eva is a bundle of blonde-haired cuteness, the absolute last person in the world you would expect to find emitting the blood curdling screams that cut their way through Rolo Tomassi’s torrent of heavy guitars and thumping drums. But then nothing about Eva is particularly ordinary. Take her 18th birthday, for instance.
“We were playing a house show in Brighton, but it soon got pretty out of control. What started as a little party at the end of a weekend festival turned into 200 plus people showing up at a house and us playing in someone’s bedroom to about 75 people. It was absolutely intense!”
Eva does have her calmer moments, however. On the odd occasion that she feels like using it, as for example on Hysterics’ wonderfully eerie opener ‘Oh, Hello Ghost’, she has a singing voice very much in keeping with her angelic façade. Is this something the band are keen to exploit in the future?
“When we come to write new material, vocal arrangements are something that we’ll definitely put a lot of thought into. Eva has a fantastic range in terms of her screaming but she can really sing too. I think it simply depends on how the music sounds first and what styles will work best with that.”
They should trial some of that new material over here, I suggest. And it turns out that Rolo Tomassi are hoping to wing their way down under at some point in 2009. When they do, are there any Aussie bands they’d particularly like to play with? “My knowledge of Australian bands is fairly limited, unfortunately,” James apologises. “I used to like the Living End when I was younger though. So maybe we could hook up with them.”
The Living End eh? Who’d have thunk? If you’re reading this The Living End, I think that was an invite! I hope you’re up to the task..
Rolo Tomassi’s ‘Hysterics’ is out now on Pod through Inertia.