Rolo Tomassi’s Eva Korman & James Spence Discuss All Things Where Myth Becomes Memory

Rolo Tomassi Closer Review

At no point in their lifespan prior, Rolo Tomassi are the biggest they’ve ever been. The recently released epic, Where Myth Becomes Memory, has had the most amount of anticipation ever held towards any of their records. Now on LP six, following 2018’s masterful Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It, the very album that put them in this elevated position, an incredible listen that blew everyone’s expectations away, Rolo Tomassi now discover, and confidently wield, their sonic stride. Where Myth Becomes Memory rides a similar wave to that of their preceding defining record, without ever losing their creativity or authenticity. An album that feels and sounds like the most honest music around. In my recent review, I stated that this was the best possible follow-up the band could’ve turned in following Time Will Die. This is a feeling shared by co-vocalist/keys and programmer/core songwriter, James Spence, speaking to me from England over Zoom. 

“One hundred percent, it feels like a very natural progression for us. We took it in all the directions we wanted to, especially in touring Love Will Bury It and seeing what worked. For there is a separation between what you do on the record and what we do live. You can have the greatest intentions for what it will be live, seeing if it works or not, but you have to take those experiences and build on them. The main thing was that much of Love Will Bury It worked amazingly live. It got a great reaction, and we could see just how much people connected with it. The contrast between that [reaction] and literally anything else we’ve put out in terms of seeing how people engaged with it at our shows, was remarkable. Nothing we’ve done had meant as much to people as that record did. It was so encouraging for us going into this new album, giving us more confidence to take more risks and write more creatively. The result is the record we’re now releasing.”

Yet there are some unique problems to what Spence has just said about performing the songs live and seeing how they translate. For yes, watch any of the pro-shot live performances the band released from their headline tour in 2018, and you can clearly hear how songs like ‘A Flood Of Light’ and ‘Contretemps’ translated live. A proving ground that has obviously been an obstacle over the last two years in vetting new material live, simply due to sweet fuck-all shows being allowed to happen. 

On top of that, one-fifth of the band – vocalist and main lyricist, Eva Korman – lives in the States with her husband, Jesse Korman, the frontman of mathcore legends The Number 12 Looks Like You, having moved there before the pandemic started. “I feel very lucky to have a soundboard of a similar background and understanding when it comes to being creative musically” comments Eva over email to me when her partner comes up. And according to James, the band will have a few days with her to rehearse, before their February U.K. run with Pupil Slicer and Heriot begins. (A stellar tour package, by the way; “I love their [Pupil Slicer] name, it’s just so brutal and disgusting” comments James at one point.) But that distance between members was always accounted for. 

“We had always intended to write the record that way,” reveals Spence. “It didn’t affect the writing and recording too much. She moved there before Covid started, so we were prepared to do things somewhat remotely ahead of recording and hoping we could at least play things in a room altogether. But then it just wasn’t feasible, as she legally couldn’t have gotten back into the country. So we kinda went in blind. She came back last November for a show in Brighton that we played, and that was the first time we’d played the album’s three singles together. As a five-piece, we haven’t played any of the other songs yet, but the boys and I have as a four-piece. We’ve been rehearsing a lot for the shows in February. It’s a bit of a gamble but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. It’s all part of the fun,” he chuckles. 

And no, Spence doesn’t practice his own vocal parts when rehearsing as a four-piece without Eva: “No, that’d be really weird” he laughs off. 

There’s a very real shared heart and flow between 2015’s Grievances (a great album that not enough people heard), Time Will Die and now WMBM. Though there wasn’t an intentional trilogy plan from the band, as Eva says, “It was something that we felt came together as we started writing WMBM. The idea of a trilogy wasn’t something we’d planned in advance at all but as these records took shape it felt like they were all interconnected.”

Part of that is how the albums quite literally flow into one another. WMBM begins with a huge musical statement, opener ‘Almost Always’, that not only comes out of ‘Risen’ nicely (the last song off their last record), but is also a musical and lyrical mirror of this latest album’s final song, the staggering ‘The End Of Eternity’. (A very fun thing to do is to play this new album in reverse, as it lands the same dynamic beats and emotional resonance even when running backwards.)   

“You noticed that, yes!” exclaims James about the opening and closing songs respective shared DNA. “You’re the first person to clock that! I wrote both sets of those lyrics, actually, and it ends with the same sample that the album starts with. If you repeat it on streaming, the record curves back into itself. It was all very intentional.”

Tracks like ‘Almost Always’ also appear to be THE songs off WMBM for many, myself included. The response to the three singles was so encouraging for the band. In my mind, it’s an album with zero bad tunes or lacking moments. And I think the band themselves would agree. In Eva’s eyes, cuts like the wild ‘Prescience’ and teeth-gnashing ‘Labyrinthine’ are her favourites that she’s most eager to perform live, due to their insane energies. As is ‘Almost Always’, and her bro agrees in that sense. 

“For me, most definitely ‘Almost Always’” tells Spence. “That track encapsulates everything about this record, so crushingly heavy but also so beautiful too. There’s that bit when the drums properly come in and I cannot wait for that to hit live and see the front row reaction to it. It’s the standout track on the album creatively. There are just so many moments on that song; when the vocals come in at the end or when the drums go half-time. It gets me in all the right places. It’s a journey.”

As a long-time follower of Rolo Tomassi, one thing that struck me about WMBM is hearing Spence’s vocals again, feeling like a throwback to their earlier days. (See the chaotic end of ‘Mutual Ruin’ or the huge climax in ‘To Resist Forgetting’ for that kind of dual-screaming approach.) A once integral part of their sound that was noticeably absent from their previous masterpiece, though Spence would do vocals live during certain parts of the Time Will Die material. Rolo are very thoughtful about writing new music, allowing each track to be its own thing and have its own space – which is probably why their albums come together so well – and more time to think about what WMBM would sound like further shaped this vocal writing. 

“It was something that happened very naturally. There was just more space for me on the record, certainly with the singing. It just worked. You know what, maybe that was one of the products of doing things separately? We had more time with the demos and more time to think about what to do with building the songs up from a production perspective. Doing it all remotely, we went through everything with a fine comb, especially with the vocal arrangements. Eva and I wanted to both feel really prepared to go into the studio. Usually, we would spend time away from the rest of the band working on vocals. We had more of a focus on it this time around. Ultimately, there’s more clean singing on this new record than any other Rolo album. On ninety percent of the songs, there’s at least a singing part. We wanted to really layers the vocals, making it all super grand. If Eva sings more, then there’s more room for me to sing too.” 

“This album is very vocal heavy which was not nor is ever a conscious choice before we started,” Eva adds. “In fact, truly, I just play off what the band have written and go from there when it comes to vocal arrangements. There’s never a plan really before I’ve heard any music and as writing started on this and I received the demos, it all came together very naturally. On this record I felt it called for more layers, more texture, and more dynamics with the vocals than we ever have so James and I really pushed that. In saying this though I do like to be mindful of allowing the music to have the space it needs with every song that we write.”

That extra time to really sit and think about this record bleeds into other details. Like how in “Mutual Ruin” and the short but eerie “Stumbling,” you can hear James’ actual fingers pressing down on the keys, the piano being a much larger focal instrumental element. You can hear the air around such sparser parts, lending the record deeper space. Then there’s other minute details, like the spoken-word– courtesy of bassist Nathan Fairweather, reading the previous verse aloud – under the savage instrumentals of songs like “To Resist Forgetting” around the 1:30 mark. All (the) small things that just add to this already hefty record’s imposing scope. 

“These were the kind of details we included because we really had the time to do so and thought so much about it. I wanted it to be a record that could give you something new on repeat listens. Those are my favourite kinds of albums. There’s more to it than just the surface level. Certainly, the way we chose to record and prepare the piano, that was all intentional. A lot of the artists I listen to have that heavily felted style where they mic up the keys themselves, not just the strings and hammers. I just think it sounds so intimate and beautiful, and when played in the right way, it has warmth to it but can also be so haunting. Stripping everything that we do back to that, it only serves as a bigger platform for the heavier tracks around it. Just completely pushing the dynamics further than we ever have before, and it’s so cool that you’ve noticed all of this.” 

WMBM is many things, and one thing it most certainly can be is jarring. Yet in a way that works, a way that challenges you and draws you back in. It’s a jarring record, but necessarily so, and one that takes time for its varying contrasts to make sense. I personally love that about it, the track-flow being so arresting. Turns out, once the songs were all done and dusted, piecing this mammoth LP together in a way that made sense was a hard task. 

“Sequencing this record was one of the hardest things we had to do,” confirms James. “We felt that there was a lot of different ways we could do it. Because there was so much more piano on this album this time around, it was important we balanced it out and had it in all the right places. That transition from ‘Cloaked’ to ‘Mutual Ruin’, where the drum-fill ends and it just hits, it is jarring but it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to go “whoa, what!?” To really hear what you’re listening to. The first three songs are so different yet represent three different identifies of our bands. ‘Almost Always’ is a super expansive opener, which probably would’ve closed any other record that it was on. Then there’s something very direct and heavy like ‘Cloaked’, what our band sounds like now in 2022. Then ‘Mutual Ruin’ is almost like a throwback to early Rolo, namely with the co-vocals and how Al’s [Pott] drums are.” 

The new album lands upon themes of death, regret, letting go, renewal, and rebirth, concepts that help ground it, making it as impactful as it is. Though Korman doesn’t like to spill ALL the beans on what their songs mean to her; she’d much rather people listen and come to their own conclusions, embracing what the songs mean to them. As she’s been on the other end of that:

“There are definitely songs I’ve loved and [then] found the meaning is so far from what I took from it and I know for me it has affected that connection that I’ve felt to the lyrics. I don’t really look too deeply into that any more. The lyrics that I write work as a time stamped significance through my life at this point, and if you find meaning to apply within that, I encourage that!”

The title of Where Myth Becomes Memory is cryptic, but when you break it down, it reveals a lot about the subject matter: finding a place, literal or metaphorical, where you can take a falsely held belief about yourself, life or the world, and just let go, allowing it to now be memory. It’s a journey, as Spence mentioned before about ‘Almost Always’, and that really is the most common phrase that could describe this full-length and the ten songs housed within. I bring my idea about the namesake to the Rolo siblings. Not to wholly de-mystify the record – where’s the fun in that? – but to find out what it means for two of the people who helped create such a sprawling album. 

“For me, the title is definitely related to a journey” says Eva (there’s that journey description again!). “It ties in time and nostalgia, it’s expansive and open, and it draws in reflection, experience and growth. I liked having an open title so that you can draw your own interpretation from that and apply it to what it means to you. While writing it I approached each track as its own entity and then looked on the album as a whole to pull through the themes. I felt like at the time of writing we were still in a space of navigating our way around making a record together while so far apart and when it came to the track listing, it was important to convey that journey through how each song sits across the record.”

“I really like how you’ve articulated that, better than I have in any interview I’ve done so far,” admits Spence with a chuckle when I tell him. “We wanted something abstract. It means something to Eva, it means something different to me, and it probably means something slightly different to you. It can be any of those things. Eva takes a very personal and autobiographical approach to what she writes, and while she’s happy to talk about things broadly, it’s just not the specifics. For me, it’s largely what you said, but also about how memory is an unreliable thing. Often to make ourselves feel better, we replace memory with something else. When she brought the title to me, it really resonated with me. During a pandemic in which I’d had a lot of time to really think about all the things we’ve done over the years as a band. At some point, I was just so bored that I would’ve literally taken the worst day on any tour for anything we’ve done over this. I almost conned myself into believing that us sitting at a border in some Eastern European country for like ten hours was preferable to being stuck at home. So I replaced my own memory with the myth of what was possible alternatively. It’s a round-about way of saying it but the meaning of it to me has changed multiple times. It’s also just a good title for this collection of songs, as we as a band don’t necessarily have one big clear message that we broadcast in our music. There is artistry to it and we’re protective of that.” 

Rolo Tomassi has never released the same album twice. 2008’s bat-shit Hysterics is different from 2010’s grandiose Cosmology (which was produced by Diplo; “He came to us, he mentioned us in an interview and we emailed him about doing a remix and he instead asked about our next record” recalls James) and Cosmology is different from 2012’s well-rounded Astraea, which now turns ten and oddly enough, isn’t on any streaming service other Bandcamp. Here, they’ve definitely found “their” sound, going from Time Will Die into WMBM. One that’s developed and changed over the long years, a length of time I reflect upon with the brother and sister duo with the decade milestone for Astraea and what those albums mean to them as they now eclipse them with their best works yet. 

“I can’t believe that record [Astraea] turned 10 this year and I wouldn’t have realized had you not have mentioned that!” mentions Eva. “I honestly haven’t listened to it in such a long time as the focus really has been on the newer records but I can reflect fondly on the writing and recording process of Astraea. I feel like it serves as a time stamp for that moment in my life and I see that time in a positive light.”

“There’s been points where I revisit them,” chimes in James. “It’s weird, so much time has passed that it’s like an old photo. You recognize the person there but you’re not sure if you can relate to them now in the same way. The feelings I get when I listen to those old records isn’t so much the creative choices that went into them but the periods of time around them, what was happening at the time of making them, certain shows and certain people. We never anticipated we’d have a fourteen year career worth of albums. It’s exciting but thinking about it too much, the weight of it would just crush me” he says with a smile. “It’s exciting that we’re still here and talking about new records. That people are as excited about us and it as they’ve ever been.”

Written by Alex Sievers

Where Myth Becomes Memory is out now via MRNK Heavy. Listen here

Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory tracklisting:

1. Almost Always
2. Cloaked
3. Mutual Ruin
4. Labyrinthine
5. Closer
6. Drip
7. Prescience
8. Stumbling
9. To Resist Forgetting
10. The End Of Eternity

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