Interview: Rolo Tomassi’s Eva Korman, James Spence Talk Personal, New Record

Where Myth Becomes Memory, the newest full-length album from the U.K./U.S.-based metal group Rolo Tomassi—available this February from MNRK—makes the ethereal into something strikingly personal, like suddenly becoming awash with otherworldly light. The music goes on from there: it’s remarkably intense, suggesting a startlingly majestic expanse behind the surface of the band’s creations.  

The album charts an experience of walking into this all-enveloping space. It’s ominous, but promising, like drifting—or getting rocketed—through the expanse instead of becoming consumed by it. 

Where Myth Becomes Memory sports rich textures, abruptly shifting between ferocious metallic hardcore (or whatever your preferred term may be) and atmosphere-oriented passages that only further fire up the passion. These diverse components don’t feel detached from one another—rather, the earnest, compelling energy flows through the entire journey, making the whole thing feel like a revelation. The rhythms can be jarring, but alluring intricacy proves to be a draw. 

Although Rolo Tomassi remain grounded throughout the experience of this album, there’s a thread of epicness—a look into the sunrise, so to speak—in Where Myth Becomes Memory. At times, the energy and overall force are just remarkable, even while Rolo Tomassi highlight their personal perspectives. The album occasionally confronts seething menace, but it’s not intimidating. Instead, the sometimes-galloping trek is exhilarating, including in an emotional sense thanks to the sheer rush of the multifaceted and unpredictable music.  

You could imagine standing on the precipice with this music—putting yourself on a high, isolated cliffside against the brunt of an oncoming storm, and finding that you can make it.  

Below, check out what vocalist Eva Korman and keys player/vocalist James Spence have to say about the new album, from the impact of watching live piano performances to horror films like Saint Maud and the brightness that the band have continued to explore. 

So, Rolo Tomassi is by no means a new project—you guys have some impressive history behind the band at this point. How does it feel having that history connecting to things? Is it something you remain sort of cognizant of—or are things more about the here and now, so to speak?
Spence: I think, definitely given the fact that we’ve just pretty much had two years on enforced off, I’ve definitely felt really nostalgic in a way that I haven’t really before we’ve released a record previously. But these are sort of exceptional circumstances, I would say. I think usually, whenever we’re about to release an album, it’s always exclusively about the here and now, and the future. But yeah, I think, when you have something taken away from you, and you can’t do anything about it, it’s hard not to be a little kind of retrospective and aware of your own mortality, maybe. I think now, as we approach the date of the release, I’m definitely more just focused on the future and this new record that we’ve written getting out. 

Korman: I think because we’ve been doing it so long—the band is part of our every day; it’s part of our life. It’s part of everything—that to have it taken away, it’s been a very strange couple of years. But I’m very excited to move forward in the new release and look forward to being able to tour again next year. 

Considering that opportunity for retrospection, would you say that your feelings about the music-making process have sort of changed over the years, or is it just one of those things that you feel that you could always come back to?
Spence: I think it’s always gonna change from release to release, as we gain more experience on how to write music and make albums.  

I think the main lesson I’ve learned in the last few years is to be patient. And that’s not always something that I’ve been very good at. And I think it’s a hard lesson to learn, and especially, having done it for so long, there is the risk of being set in your ways and afraid to try new things. And sometimes it takes something like a global pandemic to change the maybe negative qualities, or to at least force you into a different way of working, which has given us different results.  

And I think ultimately, we kind of need that as a band that’s been doing this for so long. I think the aim is to always be making music that’s different, and different to the last thing that we’ve done, so we’re not taking the same steps every time. I think we’re always really conscious, with every record that we write and release, that it has to be something that builds on the previous one. And yeah, I think we’re all of the opinion that this new album definitely does that. 

As for the specific contents of this new album, on a broad level, are there particular sonic points that you wanted to hit? Or was it more about following along with where the music-making process went?
Korman: I think my approach, in general, when it came to writing lyrics was that I had felt after the last record, the process of actually writing it was very emotional. It was very painful. I wanted to just make sure that going into this one; I didn’t put myself through that same thing with being reflective in writing, and having that weight of it affecting me so much.  

So, I felt like with this one going into it, I approached it in more of an explorative way than a reflective way, in terms of what I was writing. I wanted to make sure that if I was kind of bringing anything up, it was just coming from a better place. Because I felt like, when it comes to writing, you put so much of yourself into it, you kind of need to leave some behind.  

And so lyrically, I definitely felt that way. In terms of actually writing the music, I definitely sat with the demos for a decent amount of time before I really started with it, so I felt like I was really getting to know the music in and out before I really started my approach with putting the vocals to the music. We recorded everything completely separately in that I was here in the U.S., and the guys are in England. So that was very different as well. But I felt like if anything—we were just very thorough. 

Spence: I think musically, it wasn’t as though we made any cognizant decisions to be like, we want it to sound like this, this, and this. We’ve never really done that; I think we’ve always very much just written naturally. And it’s always the case that the record, in the way that it sounds, it’s very much a snapshot of us at that time. It’s just very much like, it could only sound the way that it does sound, because it was written at that time. I think if it was written any differently, or in a different period, then it would come out differently.  

Having been a band for a little while now, we sort of have a house style, and a way of writing, and a particular kind of chemistry when it comes to writing, and an understanding that comes with making music for so long, that we already have a sort of framework there. It’s about the detail you add to that, and the extras that you want to bring in. 

And I think certainly for me, as someone that writes keys and piano, the majority of the music that I listened to, and am listening to now, it’s still really heavily piano-focused. And it’s not like all of a sudden, our band is gonna just strictly be ballads or classical piano concertos. So, it’s more about finding a way that I can kind of write that in and make it sound like it belongs in a Rolo Tomassi record.  

And that’s kind of, I suppose, the challenge: it’s making the music sound honest to what you like, whilst also sort of holding on to the identity that we’ve already built. So, I think that’s kind of what I always want to do; I always want for it to grow and for it to keep sounding interesting. But it needs to sound like us still, as well. So, it’s trying to find a balance of all of those things.  

Are there other artists or stylistic ideas that felt particularly inspirational around the creation of this album?
Korman: I feel like whenever I go into writing, I kind of like a blank slate of not trying to compare it or pull too much from too much, and just kind of come from where I’m coming from without too much influence—which is really always how I’ve written. Like, I find that when I’m in the depths of it, I’m not even listening to that much other music, other than focusing on what we’re actually doing when I come to writing.  

Spence: In really focused periods of writing, I almost stop listening to music, because I’m really guilty of just replicating what I’m listening to rather than creating any sort of original ideas. So, it’s kind of like, you have to forget about everything you like to then try and make something that’s going to at least sound more like you, I think, if you kind of just try and push everything else aside. I mean—I do listen to a lot of music otherwise. I think, when I was younger, for me, it was all just about hardcore shows and punk rock shows and the energy you get from that.  

And I kind of really rejected classical music as sort of really uppity and not somewhere that I found that had much of an identity. But in recent years, I just love going and sitting down in churches and watching people play piano. I think you always kind of want what is most separate—it’s just a different experience, I suppose. And yeah, but that, to me, was really inspiring. 

I suppose otherwise, in terms of the mood of the music, there are a lot of movies that we really like and enjoy and used as kind of reference points for music videos and things like that. And maybe the more general aesthetic of the album. There’s a few horror films that we really liked. I’m not a really big horror person, either. They were just ones that really ticked the boxes, like Saint Maud and The Witch, those kinds of things. I suppose it’s more about curating a mood.  

So, as for the themes of the album, would you say that there’s a sense of catharsis by the end? Is that the general direction that you felt things to go? 

Korman: Absolutely. Like, I feel like I really did want the record to come across a bit brighter and more optimistic. I don’t know if the journey through that maybe takes you quite there. I think the dynamics of it feel quite dark, but when it came to the end of writing it, I definitely felt a lightness. And I think the closing track really does express that as well.  

It’s definitely a cathartic process for me to write; I feel like it’s getting a lot off my chest. I think it’s putting a lot out there. This record in particular was kind of a bit of a journey. So, I feel like it was exploring in that, whether it was the way that we were writing or the approach that I took with it, which was being more looking forward, where am I right now, I’m not looking back to what happened and what I’ve been through. But yeah, I feel like it has a brighter meaning to it. And it’s not so dark as maybe it might sound in places. 

Spence: One other sort of creative influence—and this has been like, I will always constantly refer back to this. And it was definitely something that I referenced a lot in the last record as well—is the book The Eternal Lightness of Being. And the choice in that book is, what is it going to be like, lightness or weight? And it’s as heavy or as light as you need it or want it to be, right? Like you have to make the choice, whether it’s going to be something that’s heavy and burdensome, or something that’s kind of light and just, it just is.  

For me, it was: we have the choice, as the people writing the lyrics and the music, to make it be as weighty and as heavy as we need it to be. And I mean, that sort of heavy—not as in musically. I mean heavy, whether that’s emotionally or something that’s going to kind of be a weight on you. And I think yeah, there are definitely more instances on this record where we chose lightness, and not out of ignorance either. Maybe just because it’s healthy to have that balance sometimes. 

Do you feel as though it’s gotten easier over time to incorporate those lighter moments?
Spence: One hundred percent, and I think a lot of that is probably down to the reaction that those moments that we put on the previous record got.  

And I think previously, that felt like a bit of a gamble. We weren’t sure how it was going to pay off, or whether we could kind of make it coherently work on a record, but I think we were so delighted and boosted by the reaction that it got that it just gave us the confidence to push that element and that side of the band even more, and we knew that we could make that work on a record even more.  

So, it was just a case of taking the good feeling we got from the reaction of the previous record and feeding that directly back into the music. And it’s something we’ve always done, taking the reaction you get, certainly from playing it live, and the kind of energy that you feel in a room, and putting that back into writing.  

I think that’s why I’m most excited about this album. This record has been done for us for a little while now. We will have been sitting on it for, like, a year. I think an album only really comes to life when you start playing it and seeing how other people are engaging with it. And, yeah, that’s what I’m kind of most stoked on at the moment, is seeing that, and allowing it to come to life for other people, and seeing what that does for us. 

Watch the video for “Closer” here:

For more from Rolo Tomassi, find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Rolo Tomassi and A Ford

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