I'm unfashionably punctual in arriving at The Well in Leeds, the venue for tonight's show and the agreed location for my rendezvous with Rolo Tomassi, so when I call their tour manager from the door around five minutes before the designated time, he tells me they're still soundchecking and to give them twenty minutes. No worries: I make myself comfortable at the bar with my book and a beer. From this vantage point I watch the expectant crowd, already hyped ahead of the gig filter in.
Now, I always maintain that you can tell a lot about a band by its fans: specifically, the T-shirts they wear. On a good night, T-shirt spotting can prove an interesting pastime, and Rolo Tomass's fans are amongst the best. Talk about diverse! Aside from the vast array of shirts bearing the band's own name, I spot a Sonic Youth shirt early on, swiftly followed by Municipal Waste, The Strokes, The Stone Roses and Fight Like Apes. The band's wide-ranging appeal has a lot to do with its unclassifiably divergent style, and it's this that I’m musing on when I receive a call to go outside, where I’m introduced to drummer Edward , before I'm led to a quiet corridor backstage with the allowance of 'five to ten minutes'.
The origin of the band's name is widely documented, and besides, asking a band about the origin of its name is band form, and shows a shameful lack of imagination. What I wanted to ask was, in addition to other bands and given the referencing of 'L.A. Confidential', what other musical influences, and elements from the worlds of film and literature exert an influence on Rolo Tomassi.
'An awful lot of stuff, really,' Ed says. 'I mean, when you say films, at the moment there's the soundtrack to the 'Tron Legacy' film. That's by Daft Punk, which is incredible. We listen to that a lot; 'The Social Network' soundtrack by Trent Reznor... ' And he's off: 'Generally, with music, there's just so, so much: very wide influences... just lately we've been listening to a lot of Radiohead... dance music... Gold Panda...'
He continues to expand on the list he's starting to build, and I have to admit I haven't even heard of half of the acts, and I'm really beginning to appreciate just how sponge-like these guys are in terms of their sources. I have to admire that, not least of all because engaging with so much material, drawing on it and boiling it down to throw out something that reflects all of it and yet somehow sounds completely different, and also manages to retain some kind of coherence as output is no mean feat.
With all of those different and seemingly conflicting things going on, I'm curious to know how the band's creative process works.
'We just don't really think about how different everything is that we put together,' he says, 'it just comes together. We just try to find a natural way of it going together. If something doesn't work, we might change something slightly. Obviously, that might mean slightly stylistically as well, and can often get great results.'
I had on my list of questions something about noisy music being perceived as angry, leading to the question if they're angry. I skipped it, because it felt ridiculous asking such an affable, mild-mannered and thoroughly pleasant - content-seeming, even - guy if he was angry. Seeing the band on stage a couple of hours later, I wondered if I'd made the right decision. No, they don't look angry - far from it - but they sure as hell sound angry. Instead, I ask him about the band's image – or apparent lack of. After all, they certainly don't conform to the metal look, or any other particular look for that matter. In fact, you'd probably walk past them in the street, and you'd definitely not think 'heavy noise with math rock and jazz elements' if you clocked them sitting in a bar. Looks can indeed be deceptive. You're obviously not an 'image' band. Is that a conscious thing, or...?
'We wear what we want, basically. I wouldn't say we're very image-conscious... but at the same time, we like what we like. We would never go and spray-paint ourselves gold.'
I put it to him that Rolo Tomassi are broadly considered a noisy band (I have friends who simply can't listen to them, filtering them out an an infernal screaming racket. Me, I love noise and can more than appreciate the texture and nuance, but still...). 'We have a very noisy bass player,' he laughs.
Why do you think it is that noisy music is popular at the moment? I ask.
He pauses to consider. 'It's difficult to judge,' he hedges. 'You say popular, which means you think of popular music.' It's a good point. 'I think there's a lot of heavier sounding bands that are playing in popular scenarios, but I don't find...' He pauses. 'I dunno, perhaps they're not quite as popular as you might think... ' he says, before adding, 'I think there's a lot of compromise that goes on in rock bands.'
I suppose it depends on what you mean by popular, it's perhaps hard to define 'popular', I say.
Ed concurs. 'Yeah, I mean, when you ask that question, you think what bands are getting played on the radio, what's selling a lot of records, who's shows are sold out, playing big venues and stuff... I think think that there are some heavier bands out there, like Foo Fighters are incredibly popular, but at the same time there are so many more bands out there that stick to their guns. There are bands that play whatever they want and don't get anywhere.'
I'm always fascinated by locality and have myself, spent a lot of time digging the Leeds scene in recent years. I find it odd that Sheffield, the band's hometown and a city of comparable size to its neighbour over the border, simply isn't on the radar. I ask Ed why he thinks the Leeds scene, which has wholeheartedly embraced his band, should be so much more vibrant than that of Sheffield.
'It's totally different,' he opines. 'Sheffield... it's kinda bad. Everyone's gone to university there, and it's such a huge university town, and there's lots of music and clubs, and you've got big venues, like The Plug, and there's no leeway for bands to play venues around 200 ... and then you've got The Corporation. It's tiring: you play there, like, ten times and... there's lots of big shows going on so, yeah, it's just a big university city. Students go there, but Leeds has smaller venues, like The Packhorse and The Fenton, The Library, and The Brudenell...'
'And Royal Park Cellars,' I add. I'm still kicking myself over the fact I missed them performing that tiny dingy basement room a couple of years ago when they played the Brainwash festival.
'Yeah, so you can do all of them, and they're all different, and they're all great as well, and they attract a lot of bands from the US, and Europe....'
Aware that I'm pressed for time, I skip over a few of my more tangential questions and get to something I'm particularly curious about. I invite Ed to tell me about the new label they’ve set up, Destination Moon (another film reference, this time a 1950s sci-fi feature). What prompted you to take things into your own hands?
'We had a good relationship with Hassle Records, the couple of albums that we got to do with them, that went well, and ultimately we came to the conclusion that the way the record industry's going, it's quite unpredictable and not many records are selling a lot, not even the big bands, they get signed up with very expensive deals and then not selling much and getting into debt to the label.' he expands by explaining – articulately and in some detail – the way the band can manage their own affairs, by knowing their own audience and the belief that bringing things in house would enable them to have different sets of people taking care of different aspects of the business. 'That way we can do it to our own schedules, with our own cash so we can fund things, and we're not in debut to anyone, so ultimately, as soon as we break even and start making money back it's our money again... whereas working for ourselves we can push our own things and ... Being on a label was great for us. What we learned is that we think we can do a pretty good job ourselves.'
I have to agree: it's a well-considered strategy, and what's more, he really seems to know what he's talking about. With that, I thank him for his time and he sees me out of the backstage area. He's not only been warm and welcoming, but above all, shown just how sharp and savvy a bunch Rolo Tomassi are. There's a lot going on in those young heads of theirs, and not just musically.
'Eternal Youth' is out now on Destination Moon.