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Rolo Tomassi’s track-by-track guide to Where Myth Becomes Memory

From glimmering ambience to blistering tech-metal, Rolo Tomassi vocalist/keyboardist James Spence and guitarist Chris Cayford peel back the layers of Where Myth Becomes Memory…

Rolo Tomassi’s track-by-track guide to Where Myth Becomes Memory
Words:
Sam Law
Photos:
Andy Ford

Rolo Tomassi are believers that you don’t really know a record until you’ve lived with it awhile.

In a sense, scintillating sixth album Where Myth Becomes Memory is about just that: how the passage of time, miles on the road, bittersweet nostalgia and the inherent unreliability of human memory shape and reshape our experience of the art we make and the lives we live. Gearing up to see its 10 tracks brought to life across their first meaningful run of shows since summer 2019, vocalist/keyboardist James Spence and guitarist Chris Cayford might’ve had those songs ringing in the backs of their minds since they turned the album in last March, but they’re quick to caveat that any pre-tour breakdown can only ever be half the story.

“We used to have a saying: ‘If we don’t stop, they can’t boo…’” Chris grins, illustrating how that experience – in tandem with their music – has changed over the years. “We don’t have to use that much anymore.”

“People sing along now, which is nice…” James picks up. “Early on, there was a feeling or sentiment that we were a bit of a novelty band. It was about the chaos and the spectacle of that chaos. Nowadays, we offer something with a bit more substance to it. I can see people engaging with our music in the way that I want them to: in the way that the music that means something to me makes me feel.”

Even before their sweaty onstage realisation, though, there is much to unpack about these 10 tracks.

Aches of distance and dislocation bookend the album and throb throughout, influenced surely by the relocation of primary vocalist and lyricist (and James’ sister) Eva Korman to the United States around the time initial writing began. “The distance between us is a real thing,” James reckons. “But a lot of the time, the lyrics use distance as a unit of time. There’s a lot of stuff about beginnings and ending and miles and space.” And though Eva is reluctant to explain the meanings of her lyrics in more depth, the album’s billing as the concluding chapter of a trilogy started by 2015’s Grievances and 2018’s Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It speaks for itself, with James explaining that it’s less about any preplanned arc than having plumbed these songs trauma and healing for as long as possible. “It felt like whatever we did next would have to be different,” he shrugs. “She puts a lot of thought and a lot of herself into these words, and if she says that, then I trust her judgement.”

Whatever the thinking, it’s safe to say this set of songs bucks the trend of trilogies’ disappointing final chapters: more Return Of The King than Spiderman 3. Chris grins at our observation. “Similar to The Lord Of The Rings, it does feel like this album ends about five times before it actually does…”

1Almost Always

James: “Almost Always is the perfect opening statement for this record. For me, it lays out what we’re about to do across the entire album in one song. There are some really stark contrasts, big dynamic shifts and some really brutal but beautiful heaviness. Lots of soaring melodies and hooks. It’s the sort of song that we would normally close an album with. That we chose to open with it here demonstrates the level of confidence with which we went in.”

Chris: “Lockdown was kind of a blessing in disguise in that it gave us the time that meant, going in, we didn’t have to compromise on anything that we weren’t 100 per cent sure of. Almost Always is a great example of our refusal to compromise. It’s the song, more than any other, that changed the most – quite dramatically, three or four times – between when we thought it was finished and got to having it actually done. I remember not really knowing where it would fit on the tracklist, but when we finally restructured and got that [swelling, shoegazey] opening, it became the perfect song to start with.”

2Cloaked

Chris: “When we first had the chance to play music from this album at Brighton’s Chalk on November 12, 2021, this was the song I’d been looking forward to more than any other. It just hits so hard. I often don’t like what I’m playing on guitar quite quickly, but – almost a year from handing the album in – that song is one that I still really enjoy. It’s also a prime example of what we can do as a band now: writing shorter, catchier songs with choruses, while keeping things different and interesting. Previously, when we’ve written something that feels like a chorus, it could feel wrong to go back to where you’ve been before. On Cloaked, the verse and cleaner section lent itself to that traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. And it became a stronger song for doing so.”

James: “Ultimately, we’ve been trying to bring in almost pop sensibilities for the last couple of records. Cloaked is a super-heavy song with one of the biggest, thickest riffs on the whole record – I remember Chris bringing it to us and saying it still needed developing, we told him he shouldn’t change a thing – but, ostensibly, it’s a pop song. It follows that traditional pop structure. We wanted to do something that worked with real, big melodies but which also had a lot of bite to it. This ticked those boxes.”

3Mutual Ruin

James: “Mutual Ruin was never originally going to be the third song on the album, but as it came to life in the studio, it felt like one that we needed to front-load on there. [It fit our target of] trying to do more with less, work better on arrangements and build around existing parts rather than overdoing it with too many ideas in a single song. It has that inedible energy, with those D-beat drums and an almost repeating chorus pattern. At the beginning, the vocals are harsh, just raw as hell: really on the verge of what Eva can do performance-wise. But then it really benefits from the contrast as it breaks down and closes out on this little piano piece. From a very selfish perspective, that’s one of my favourite things that I’ve ever written – just me, closing out a song. Incorporating piano into truly heavy music is something that’s difficult to do, definitely. I’ve been trying my hardest to fit that kind of influence into what we’ve were doing for a while, so to have it be so successful here like a little victory.”

Chris: “I think it’s interesting that some people now say it feels like one of the harsher songs on the record. I don’t think of Mutual Ruin like that, but I guess it’s kinda true. When we were in the studio, starting with that textural drumbeat and single piano key, then bringing the guitar in quite obnoxiously with that kind of HM-2 that just demolishes everything, I was like ‘Are we doing this?!’ It’s a prime example of why songs seem so different when you start playing them and seeing other people’s reactions.”

4Labyrinthine

Chris: “Now this is a song that I think of as harsh. I think that song’s quite nasty, to be honest. It encapsulates how heavy we can go and how violent and horrible we can make it while still sounding like Rolo Tomassi. At the same time, I also love how the melody slowly creeps in through Eva’s vocals. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album.”

James: “If you’re looking for the difference between how we sound on this record and how we sounded on Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It, this is a song that really sticks out. It isn’t on its own in terms of heaviness – there are similar tones and riffs on Cloaked and Drip – but the way this is presented has a lot of industrial embellishments, with a lot of programming of electronic drums over the top. That was one of the benefits of being so prepared going into the studio: we had the framework of the song, but we knew we needed something to bring it to life. It was fun to have that time to experiment. We’re always pushing ourselves to do new things, and we definitely felt that here…”

5Closer

James: “After Labyrinthine, Closer showcases the complete opposite side of the record. It was originally written as a piece of standalone piano music. I didn’t necessarily even have Rolo in mind. I’d been listening to a lot of that kind of music – pianists like Ólafur Arnalds and Hania Rani, and bands like Rachel’s – and I wanted to write something as a reaction to what I’d been enjoying. I wanted to challenge myself. It was only after months of wanting to do that that I started to hear it with drums and guitar, and the vocal melodies started to present themselves. It showcases the best of that gentle, melancholic side to what we do. I think it’s really important to us that we have a place on our records for songs that sound like that. We listen to a lot of music that sounds similar, and we want our band to sound like a refection of what we like: to stay honest to ourselves as musicians and as fans of music.”

Chris: “For me, the shoegazey side has always been a huge influence: artists like Slowdive and Kevin Shields. That beautiful [shimmering] shoegaze sound is my favourite that a guitar can make. Starting a song like that, it can begin with James coming up with a piano-piece, then the rest of the band working around that to add the heavier stuff in. Or it can be vice-versa. But where he writes something as beautiful as Closer, we’ve learned not to do too much to contrast with it, to compliment and boost it instead.”

6Drip

Chris: “This was the first song that I knew would be on the album. In an effort to not write music that sounded the same as Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It, I didn’t play at all, and left my guitar in the cupboard for like nine months. When I’d picked it up again, though, Drip came ridiculously early on, finding its own momentum and going its own way. It’s so intense and overbearing from start to finish that there are points where it’s quite hard to listen to. Not that it’s super heavy or gnarly – a lot of it isn’t – but there’s something about the atmosphere that’s quite foreboding and sinister and slowly gathered as we were writing. It’s a bit of a beast.”

James: “Separately from the main body of the song, it’s got this amazing intro. That’s something that Nathan [Fairweather], our bass player, worked on a lot. He and I were living together at the time of writing and he spent a lot of time obsessing over how he wanted to make something that was sort of intense, industrial sounding, layering it up and up with a clear idea of how it would explode into the song. Nightly he was woken up by a brutal drip outside his window, which was driving him mad as much as writing the intro to the song. When we were finished, he asked to call it Drip because he’d never forget the one that had been keeping him awake.”

7Prescience

James: “Prescience was another of the first songs we knew would go on the record. It’s just a great example of how we fill in the blanks for each other. The rapid-fire riffage is all Chris, but the song breaks in the middle into this sort of melodic moment of relief that was a part I’d written on the keys. It shows the great balance of Rolo songwriting. Another moment that I really like is the subtle horn arrangement towards the end that feels very ‘Hans Zimmer’, like something from a sci-fi soundtrack. That came from our producer Lewis Johns. We weren’t really sure how he was going to fit brass into this but we told him, ‘Feel free to have a go anyway!’ Now, I can’t imagine the song without it.”

Chris: “I definitely want to learn more about having atmosphere being what brings things together rather than musical notes or types of playing. Being able to go from super clean to super heavy might feel counter-intuitive sometimes, but there can be an unspoken atmosphere where those parts just work together. It’s a weird subconscious continuity that can be difficult to put into words, but that song is a great example of it. Also, the second half definitely feels like the soundtrack to a Christopher Nolan film!”

8Stumbling

James: “Like Closer, Stumbling was originally written as a piano-piece. It’s got something of a lullaby quality to it. But I didn’t want it to feel like an interlude, and brought the vocals in with that very much in mind. I think it fits in perfectly and acts as like a breath in the journey of the record itself, illuminating the heavier parts, too. It could very easily have been a full-band song. There are a lot of parts that would have been suited to being very heavy – particularly the end – and there was a version that I wrote with drums and the idea that the band would come in. But, ultimately, it’s much more powerful on its own. I’m very proud of it. I hope we get to play it live at some point, so that I can wheel out a piano and get my Elton John on!”

Chris: “Listening to an album can be like watching a film; you need those peaks and troughs. You don’t just want to write 10 songs independently and just put them together, or to just write 10 songs that are all heavy. It needs to be a journey for the person listening. This is a place in the album to take a moment, slow down, and think about all the things that have happened up until this point. It sets you up and calms you down for what are probably the two biggest tracks on the record…”

9To Resist Forgetting

Chris: “This is my favourite song on Where Myth Becomes Memory. Sometimes people ask things about your guitar playing and time-signatures, like, ‘How come you wrote that in 13/10?!’ and it’s just like, ‘I didn’t write it in 13/10, I just wrote that riff. It starts where it starts and ends where it ends!’ Even when I was showing this to James and Nathan they were like, ‘You’ve outdone yourself. What is the timing of this?!’ But it doesn’t sound that weird to me. I just really love that riff and how all the other instrumentation sounds around it. It’s got my favourite clean section, and I love James’ vocals, too. It was a really prime example of how well he and I can dovetail.”

James: “It has this immense energy to it. I learned to love the groove and the riff once I’d gotten my head around how to play it. It was definitely one of the more challenging things to put keys to. Ultimately, the cleaner part at the end is about wanting there to be a sense of relief, finding that last riff and big sound to close out. It’s definitely the song that I’m most excited to play live that we haven’t yet. It’s going to stay in the set for a while…”

10The End Of Eternity

James: “I took the title for this song from the novel of the same name by Isaac Asimov. It’s sort of a pulpy sci-fi book, but the final line is, ‘It was the final end of Eternity, and the beginning of Infinity…’ I liked that idea that an end is a start. Even with this being the end of the record, the end of a trilogy, there’s also going to be something coming after that. Musically, it stands out on its own. I was listening to Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers a lot during writing, and I wanted to write something like the title-track from that record. But it sounds like American Football and a lot of the sparkly, traditional-sounding emo we listen to, too. It’s a song on the poppy side of what we do, but balanced out by a lot of those harsher post-hardcore vocals and some really choice fills from our drummer Al [Pott]. It’s such a great closing statement.”

Chris “The End Of Eternity is probably the song that I’ve listened to the least since we finished because you really need to take in the rest of the album at the same time for it to make sense. We never have, and probably never will, end on the most technical aspect of what we do. Our albums slowly introduce you into that part of our music, then come out of it again for a simpler, less complicated exit. When we knew that this would be the last song, it gave us a bit more space in terms of where we needed to go. I love Eva’s vocal. I love Jamie’s contrasting piano line, which clashes with the guitar in parts, and is complex in its own way. But, after everything we’ve been through across 10 songs, it’s basically the sound of all of us coming together, tying everything up in unison for the end this album deserves.”

Where Myth Becomes Memory is out now via MNRK

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