Pick up Rolo Tomassi's new album, Where Myth Becomes Memory, on 2LP colored vinyl over at Revolver's shop.
"In the earlier days there was so much focus on our age, like even in our mid twenties, it was, 'Here's this teenage band," Rolo Tomassi vocalist Eva Korman laughs, recounting how the band's youth (they formed as teens in 2005) overstayed its welcome as a fixture for the press. "Now it's, 'Oh they've been around forever.'"
Seventeen years is a long time, and across that span, the U.K. five-piece have defied genre conventions, beginning with the loopy freneticism of their 2008 debut, Hysterics, to the coiling, chiaroscuro mathcore of 2018's Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It. Over the years, their sound has matured, with the roiling chaos they conjure becoming more precise and thoughtful, honing a patience that's on full display with their latest album, When Myth Becomes Memory (out February 4th via MNRK Heavy). In the past, time was something they were fighting against; now they've learned to revel in what they've been gifted.
Founding members Korman and her brother, James Spence, can't help but beam while speaking about the album, one that they both agree contains the Rolo Tomassi material they're most proud of. "I do feel like it's the happiest that I've ever been with the vocal arrangements and performances in a record," Korman reveals. "Whereas before I felt like [we were] always working against the time that you have in the studio."
"There've been studio experiences I've had in the past where you're so focused on the deadline that you forget that making records is meant to be fun," Spence adds. "This experience was easily my favorite that I've ever had without a shadow of a doubt. I think it really shows on the record."
With Korman's relocation to the United States pre-pandemic, the ensuing travel restrictions made it impossible for Rolo Tomassi to record together in England as they'd done in the past. But rather than let that distance drive a wedge between its players who were continents apart, the band rallied in the unity they found in the work. Though it posed logistical challenges, the pandemic also afforded them ample time to develop and think through the material, leading to a great deal of experimentation.
Vocalist and keyboardist Spence had long been hunting for a piano, and upon finding one for free on Gumtree (essentially the British version of Craigslist), he had it moved into the band's rehearsal space in Brighton. Having the instrument at his disposal meant it took a prominent role in the writing of Myth, becoming the instrumental keystone much of the songs are built around.
"It was something that I'd obsessed over for a little while — the idea of getting a piano and locking myself away and writing a record," he explains. Spence's prominent piano parts serve as a strong counterpoint to the record's oppressive heaviness, adding new dimensions to Rolo Tomassi's prismatic soundscapes.
The instrument informed the group's approach to production, as well, as Spence was looking to recreate the textures in the contemporary classical music he was listening to at the time. "We put additional felt in between the hammers and the strings to create that intimate effect where you can really hear the fingers on the keys."
The guitar, synth, bass, drums and vocals all feel equally tactile and physical, never competing for space in the mix and each emanating a strong, definitive character of their own. Spence credits the drop-B tuning that guitarist Chris Cayford and bassist Nathaniel Fairweather switched to, the energetic presence of new percussionist Al Potts, and the work of longtime producer Lewis Johns for achieving a sound they'd long been working toward.
"[The record] sounds different to anything we've ever done because it is," he says. "It was approached from an element of sound design — that's not really something we've ever done on a record before."
That same attitude toward experimentation was infectious for Korman back in New Jersey. Normally she'd hear Rolo songs develop during soundchecks or band practices, but the distance meant the compositions were more fully fleshed out by the time they were ready for her to begin writing the lyrics.
"It was just such an exciting time to hear everybody's contribution because I'd been so far away and we hadn't played together in a long time," she says. Recording across time zones meant that she would have feedback on the parts she'd recorded the previous day waiting for her in the studio by the next morning. Preemptively, Korman would record a wide range of scratch vocals, which meant more work and planning was involved in her singing process. But without a pressing deadline, the extra takes were something she really enjoyed doing. "It was like, 'OK, like this is gonna be fun! Let's get the foundation down and then experiment around it,'" she enthuses.
As much as time shaped how the band approached writing their new material, it also found its way into the record's themes. Many of Korman's lyrics focus on periods of waiting ("Almost Always") or breaking out of patterns ("Cloaked") — and all of them signal rebirth and renewal.
"I definitely wanted [the record] to come across thematically brighter and more optimistic, which was something I needed in that time of writing it, because it was such an unknown time," Korman explains. "Even when it came to writing it, I didn't know when we would be able to play this record, play these songs or even see the band and to be able to play the songs together."
Across Myth, Rolo Tomassi artfully balance those feelings of uncertainty with bold moments of stunning clarity. It's easy to hear how having the time to slow down and unplug from the relentless album cycle gifted the band an opportunity to approach their craft in new and exciting ways, something that undoubtedly reinvigorated its members, even with an ocean between them.
"I think the joy in that sort of discovery and creativity is something that incentivizes us to just keep going," Spence muses. "[Making music] still feels new and fresh and relevant within our lives, and is definitely something that we can take forward and continue to feel inspired by."