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Rolo Tomassi

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Article for Subba Cultcha.

They say that waiting is the hardest part, and anyone who has witnessed the kinetic speedball explosion that James Spence helps to create on stage, as part of UK underground pioneers: Rolo Tomassi, will have no problem imagining how hard it must have been for the young dynamo to spend the summer cooped up at home waiting for the fervour that the September release of their debut album ’Hysterics’ would elicit.
“Oh absolutely, it’s been tough. I can’t want to get back on the road.”  James states when quizzed as to whether this summer has been a  little cabin feverish. If a week is a long time in politics, then the gap between Rolo Tomassi’s last original release and ‘Hysterics’ is a virtual lifetime. Barring the repressing last year it’s been over 18months since  the release of the Rolo Tomassi 12” EP.

So why the wait and has it been worth it? Bands can be funny beasts, to the listening masses  there are only the end results, the live shows and the releases, it is often hard to remember the investment bands put into an album, how long they have lived with the songs. There has been  a spate of great young British bands recently who have disbanded shortly after their debut albums, a pertinent example being the demise of schizophrenic Guilford rockers Meet Me In St Louis who’s debut was so long in the making that by the time it came out the band had moved so far on and were so over the album that they couldn’t keep it together. It’s with this in mind that the gap between the Ep and ‘Hysterics’ makes me a little nervous as to the  well being of the Rolo Tomassi camp. “Well we were still at school and we wanted to do this album properly so we basically took a year off” confirms James as to the delay in releasing ‘Hysterics’. They have not been idle though. ‘Hysterics’ is a huge leap forward musically and also sees the band departing Holy Roar Records and joining hot little indie label Hassle  and so now count amongst their label mates Alexisonfire and Anti-Flag. They have also been crafting their most accomplished work to date. It’s a blunt force trauma of a record that hits you from every angle possible, it is also a more complete sound. Despite this new depth, though, it manages to avoid moments that might bring with it the tag ‘maturity’. This might usually be seen as a negative but for Rolo Tomassi it is quite the opposite.  There is no denying that they are a young band, any more than they are a band with a female vocalist, to gloss over these seems more contrite to highlight it.  They are primarily a live band, indeed that is the way they write, no Billy Corgan style 100 track guitar overdubs here, and the  energy and anger of youth that the band  produce live is translated wholesale onto tape without compromise.  Songs like ‘Scabs’ and ’Abraxas’ pulsate and explode in the headphones like the band do on stage.  “Absolutely everything we do is written for live. If we can’t reproduce it live we change it.” States James.

Rolo Tomassi trade on opposites, quiet and loud, menacing and seductive, light speed key loops versus half time drum slams and that old confrontation of male versus female. It seems contrite to highlight but the juxtaposition between  the Spence siblings, James and little sister Eva informs the heart of the band more than the protagonists maybe wish it did. It seems impossible to read a Rolo Tomassi feature without the presence of  hell raising screamer Eva being raised and paraded like the one stop badge  to define the band.  “I’ve never thought about it like that, or with it put like that but I guess it has helped yes,” says James when asked if in some way it has helped to have a female co-writer to balance out the perspectives.  Although many of the songs on ‘Hysterics’ are written from an ambiguous sexual identity about subjects that come from universally accessible source, it is noticeable that the protagonists seem to be more rounded and aware than some all male bands manage.  They manage to avoid tackling every subject in the well worn grooves of simply boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy loses girl and writes angry song.

Talking with James you realise that more than anything else the band are simply a collective of hardcore music fans and record collectors that are giving back into the very thing that they have loved for years. “It’s all there is,” notes James about record collecting, “I’m totally obsessive, I have to have everything that a band I like has released. I’m constantly trading play lists with friends. Music is all there is.” It’s something that’s highlighted by the bands MySpace site where their releases are meticulously catagorised, from their early demo tapes through to ‘Hysterics’.  To coincide with the release of ‘Hysterics’ the band will hit the road for a gruelling 6 week tour that takes in the length and breadth of the country. They will finish the tour playing with Blood Red Shoes but the first half sees them taking Mirror!Mirror! and Throats on the road. It’s one of the perks of taking another step up the ladder. “We always look at who’s playing when we’re considering shows and that’s very important to us but this is the first time we’ve really got a say in who goes out on tour with us. They are both amazing bands.”

As you read this ‘Hysterics’ will be being loaded onto and swiped off shelves up and down the country. It’s a record that you need to own this year, it’s the fulfilment of a 2 year old promise made on the Rolo Tomassi EP and it does not disappoint. There will be endless reams of hyperbole spilled about Rolo Tomassi this year but the best advice anyone looking to witness a band playing genuinely adventurous music with a passion they didn’t download in a ’startaband’ kit from can take is to catch Rolo Tomassi live, now. You might not understand it in the moment, but in time you will rave about the fact you were there.


Written by Jonathan

September 23, 2008 at 10:33 pm

Roots Manuva – August 2008

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This article originally appeared on Subba Cultcha.

“Oh the Roots of 1999 would not have liked this record (Slime and Reason), I’m not making bachelor bedroom hip hop anymore.” Rodney Smith, aka Roots Manuva premier elect of UK hip hop, is responding to the question of what has changed in the UK hip hop scene and in the Roots Manuva world in the decade since he dropped ‘Brand New Second Hand’ which, crazy as it seems, will reach double figures next year. Has it really been 10 years since everything?

Roots Manuva is back with a brand new LP, the glorious ‘Slime and Reason’, launching with two devastating singles that in two easy strokes have created a one man battle for song of the year. First off the dirty frolicking slice of scuzzed up dancehall that sees Roots laying down sweet temptation for the ladies of Hackney by offering promises of such stunning rituals as pulling a wheelie in exchange for some intimate attention. It’s the first example of three collaborations from Slime and Reason to feature the mystical skills of baby faced producing prodigy Toddla T. The two seem to have found a harmonious balance that allows Roots to sounds as free as at any point in his career, sliding freeform lyrical meanderings over tight beats and pelvis agitating bass. Secondly, in follow up single ‘Again and Again’, Roots has produced a track who’s melodies will stick to your with 10 times the staying power of anything Duffy or her cohorts ever produce. The Shy-FX produced single version featuring a horn section that sucks up a lethal dose of summer and injects it straight into your heart like a reggae loving extra from Pulp Fiction. It’s a knockout one two that declares Roots Manuva is back and has produced the album that may finally see the masses become aware of what many have been shouting from the rafters since 2001s touchstone ‘Run Come Save Me’ LP.

Talking with Roots Manuva is not the easiest thing in the world, anyone who saw him capitulating at chess against Trevor Nelson in Ibiza will know he’s a man who can easily lead you off on a wily tangent to avoid speaking about his craft and simply let the music talk for itself. Those of you who follow his Twitter updates from his site will know he recently had to fly to Paris and Berlin to service what he sees as the promo beast and he is as duplicitous in interview as on record. His records and his persona straddle the line of observational, biographical and socially informed and the dryly comic. It’s a line that has in the past caused him some discomfort with Roots remarking about his last album ‘Awfully Deep’ “I’m less concerned with trying to be Mr Stand Up reflecting on life this time. I was pretty disturbed by the misinterpretation of the last record!” It’s still a juxtaposition on Silme & Reason, for every Again and Again there’s a “The Struggle” detailing the travails of Roots’ personal life so it might explain the overtly comic nature of his recent videos. The videos of Slime & Reason come across like an urban Benny Hill flying around in ice cream vans and suffering a mishap laden afternoons cricket. “I hate making videos man”, cries Rodney when asked how much he likes to get involved in the process. “But I come up with the ideas, like the cricket idea (Again and Again) was mine. I usually come up with the idea I’ll hate the most and pick that. I love videos but I hate the process of getting that idea to the screen. they’re hard work!”

This summer has seen some big one off and festival shows such as Ibiza Rocks, and the upcoming V Festival and Bestival. Asked what he thinks of these shows compared to the more intimate headline stops he notes. “With my shows they can pretty much go off anywhere you know. It depends on the mood, on the audience but they can go off anywhere. With a festival show you got to play a certain type of show. It’s more about the hits. Bt the new stuffs gone down really well.” Being a uniquely british urban voice is there a barrier to breaking through outside these shores? “ Nah man, Europes just a different vibe, they approach it in a different way to the UK fans, in the UK you get some who only like the first album or some who only like the second album and I think on the continent it’s more of a blur so yeah, they’re good shows to play.”

With Slime & Reason landing in september and a full scale Uk headline act in the autumn there is going to be a lot more of the promo beast for Mr Manuva to cope with, but backed up by an album that, despite not being his masterpiece is his best and most accessible work to date it will be a sacrifice worth making. The only reasonable choice this autumn is to get yourself good and Slimey!

Roots Manuva

Written by Jonathan

August 19, 2008 at 12:15 pm

The Blood Brothers

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This interview originally appeared on

Love rhymes with synapse melting genius noise as The Blood Brothers get celebratory on the road.
Interview with Morgan Henderson (bassist/keyboardist)

There’s a famous scene in 24 Hour Party People where the ideal Joy Division drum sound is encapsulated in the phrase “faster but slower”. It’s a scene that could well have been played out featuring Seattle’s eclectic noise warrior’s The Blood Brothers, who over five albums have been executing the conundrum “heavier but softer”. Since the turn of the century The Blood Brothers have been redefining heavy music, carving new seismic waves across blood stained vinyl grooves. In 2003 they released the album ‘Burn Piano Island, Burn’, which not only saw Piano Island ignite but also a frenzied wave of media and fan acclaim. Continuing their growth by joining V2 and changing up their sound to a new level the band unleashed the modern masterpiece Crimes. Crimes is a career defining album, it marked The Blood Brothers out as one of those band capable of genuine invention and renewal. Whereas ‘..Piano Island…’ was a transcendent album in terms of layered heavy music ‘Crimes’ took the band in a new direction that allowed the jazz/melody elements to finally breathe, it showed an evolution of sound that allowed fans to imagine any number of possible routes to be followed over the coming albums. With ‘Young Machetes’ this progression is continued at breathtaking pace and takes another step into cementing The Blood Brothers seat of honour in the annuls of modern musical history. Which explains perhaps why bassist/keyboardist Morgan Henderson is in such celebratory mood.

So first off how’s the tour going, because I know you’ve had a few cancelled shows and there have been some health issues, but how’s it been generally? The tour has been really great, because this tour has been like a constant celebration. Especially with the bands we’ve had who are friends and every band has been so great to listen too every night.

Cool, and how are the Young Machete songs going down, and how are they fitting into the set? Oh, good, it’s interesting actually because certain songs that we would have assumed would be more well received maybe haven’t been and songs that we didn’t think we’d bother playing we’ve wound up playing and people have been cheering because they knew the song. So that’s been an interesting aspect of it, but, yeah, it’s all been positive.

Ok, so you’re a band who when they tour tours intensively, so when you’re playing the same songs every night do you notice them changing from the record, and have there been any off of Young Machete’s that have taken a surprising direction? Well as far as noticing the songs changing what I’ve notice is specific to the rhythm section. Mark and I tend to communicate on that level where it’s a fluctuation of energy in certain parts. For example maybe on certain parts the idea on the record was to have a certain part a little bit more mellow or a little more intense and live we’ll try and make it a bit more obscure in some ways, that might be just a slight rhythm change or a slight accent or maybe we’ll play, like on Giant Swan imparticular there are parts that we really changed the strain in that song.

Interesting, ok so you’re know for having complex song structures and steering away from the normal straight up stuff. With that in mind do you guys have to be in a certain headspace to write, or do you write constantly, on the road for example? Well for me the way I write I cant specifically, well I mean I’ll record little ideas down sometimes, but I don’t make an effort to write out songs whilst on the road, but I definitely come up with ideas that I want to try later. That’s kind of the extent of the writing that I get done on the road.

Your shows are super intense, and when you toured Piano Island you played a show in London with Pretty Girls Make Graves… Jordan was at the merch stand selling t-shirts, calmest man in the world, and 15mins later onstage a man possessed.. so how do you get that energy up every night and do you have any live inspirations? Well as for the inspiration part I’m not sure… as for the energy I mean we’re just up there having fun, and when its fun you just get up there. I mean for me personally there’s no need to put anything on to make it more exciting or whatever… I mean for me I don’t feel like I have to have a performance… to jump around or not jump around, I mean sometimes I feel like making what I play be as intense as possible but not nessicarily thrash around and hype the visual aspect, and other times I’m don’t even care about what im playing and just want to thrash about. It’s just about keeping it fun, and it’s so natural for us to do what we do, so you don’t need to get into any special mindset to get up on stage.

Ok, going back through the press from Crimes and through to Young Machetes and there seems like there is this perception that Crimes was more of an extroverted record, and that the themes and politics of the record were more world view base, whereas Young Machetes is seen as a more intense personal record. Is that a fair thing to say and is that something that you feel ties in with the “dollars and cents” personal politics Jordan has been talking about in interviews? Or do you feel that there’s elements of both in both records and it’s the times and not the themes that have changed? Well, I don’t think that that’s entirely accurate, and that’s because the lyrics have always been about a multitude of things, and that operate at the level of a personal experience and that are more social commentary. The only real difference between Crimes and Young Machete’s is that we were more outspoken about that this is what this records about, and I think that people used that to latch onto the fact that that was what Crimes was about, and as we weren’t as outspoken with Young Machetes saying that this album is about the same thing again that people just assume it isn’t. But we always write about a multitude of topics which to me have always been pretty consistent . So I guess the common perception is that that record (rimes) was an extrovert record because we said it was and made noise about it but it also had personal themes as well.

Cool. I also wanted to ask about the artwork because that was quite a departure for you guys as well as young Machetes is the first time you’ve moved away from the painted style artwork. Yeah, well definitely, I mean that was the first time that we’d incorporated a definite human and also there are pictures of us within the packaging, and I think that was just a desire to try something new and to my mind it came off really well. Which is really important because its another aspect of tying up what the record is about, because, you know I’ve bought records purely based on the cover, and something about that cover has told me how that record was going to sound. Sometimes rightly sometimes wrongly, but you know, it’s important from our point of view that we think it relates that.

Finally, obviously you were working with Guy Picciotto and I just wondered how easy it was to fall into that working relationship with someone who you admire so much and what kind of energy he bought to the table? Well Guy is a special person in the fact that he is so creative and so he brings in a lot of ideas and a lot of ideas flow around him. He just made it fun…and he’s different to John (Goodmanson) because John is an engineer so he’s much more concerned with that…not that Guy’s not concerned, but you know they are different sides to the same coin and both aid different aspects of the process. It was just an incredible, fun experience.

Written by Jonathan

June 28, 2008 at 10:38 pm