Album Reviews Q&A: Gayngs, Rolo Tomassi
Welcome to a new feature on the BBC Music Blog: short Q&A interviews with artists who've entertained the BBC Album Reviews team with truly special releases over the past few weeks.
We begin what will become a series by focusing on two bands that have decorated May's schedules with long-players of very different, but very brilliant design: Gayngs and Rolo Tomassi. The former love 10cc, the latter shriek kids into a merry sweat. Both are ace, so read on and be sure to listen later.
Inspired by a variety of soft-rock staples, most notably 10cc's über-anthem I'm Not In Love, Gayngs aren't the most likely of buzz acts on paper. But the US collective, led by Ryan Olson and featuring the likes of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and members of Solid Gold and Megafaun, have delivered one of the most critically celebrated albums of 2010 to date, Relayted. Olson answers our Album Reviews Q&A.
Given the inspiration for the Gayngs project - perhaps the greatest soft-rock ballad of a generation - how does it feel now you're the other side of the process, with the album out, basking in the glow of a slew of superb reviews? Unexpected?
This whole thing is quite insane. Yeah, the fact that anybody besides me and my friends get to hear this band is crazy to me. It turns out I love England and it's nice to see that people are still taking time to hear an entire album. The most far-fetched thought about Gayngs for me, initially, was the idea of playing the songs live, and that's happened. It turns out that getting to play a bunch of songs with my friends, songs that are a bit sideways for us, is endlessly entertaining.
How easily did the 25-person-plus 'cast', if you will, for the album come together? The core was the three, right - Zack Coulter and Adam Hurlburt from Solid Gold, and you? Was it a word of mouth thing, where you'd receive a call or email out of the blue?
The initial crew came together right away: Zack and I got together one night and laid down The Gaudy Side of Town. The next day I called [Megafaun's] Phil Cook and started to plan a session at [Justin] Vernon's place. Adam, Zack and I worked on tracks once a week or so for a few months, I had [jazz saxophonist] Michael Lewis come over, then we met up with Megafaun at [Wisconsin studio] April Base. [The Rosebuds'] Ivan Howard killed it. Justin wanted to mix it. Editing and tracking folks in Minneapolis, wait for Vernon, mixing in Fall Creek. That's how that went down.
As Gayngs seems to have been conceived largely as a studio affair, just what should fans expect from the live experience? I see US dates are booked in for the autumn - can we expect to see you in the UK soon?
It'll be a 10-piece band, and songs will be reworked. We have a pretty solid set up; it's going to be fun as hell. I think England should happen, but I'm not sure how these things are going down.
Have you received any 'seals of approval' from artist who may have been influential in the concept of Relayted? Obviously Kevin Godley appears in the Cry video - what was it like to have him involved?
That was so cool of him. He has no idea how much that Cry video blew my third-grade mind, it was so sweet to have him be down. Also Prince showing up to our show at First Avenue in Minnesota - the dude was being entertained, for real. That is too big of a seal to deal with.
The video to Cry is a tribute to the Godley & Creme original - can we expect any more videos in this nodding-to-the-past vein?
I'd like to do No Sweat with the original actors from Oran "Juice" Jones' The Rain.
Sheffield-born synth-punks Rolo Tomassi released their praised debut album, the aptly titled Hysterics, back in 2008, while some members were still in their teenage years. But the Diplo-produced Cosmology sees the five-piece taking their sci-fi screamo into new territories via excursions into immersive prog and explorative passages that suggest they're closer aligned to the likes of The Mars Volta than any straight-up metal act. Keyboard player and co-vocalist James Spence, brother of lead singer Eva, answers our Album Reviews Q&A.
Cosmology was recorded in the States, with a big name producer on board and a bigger budget behind it, compared to your debut. Was this step up ever daunting, before the process started? Did you have that realisation of: "Wow, we're a 'proper' band"?
I think that once we were in a plane heading towards Los Angeles the realisation of what was actually going on set it. Prior to that we'd been so focused on just getting the writing for the record finished that we hadn't actually had the chance to take a step back and see just how crazy the whole situation was. I think we all found it more exciting than daunting once we'd had time to think about it.
The album sees you exploring more adventurous arrangements than ever before - have you found that you've developed significantly as musicians within this band, given how young you were when it started? I take it the 'prog' tag doesn't scare you at all?
Absolutely. I've been playing the piano since I was nine but the last five years of playing keyboards in this band have definitely challenged me and made me a better musician for it. After touring Hysterics for almost two years, as a unit we were a lot tighter and more in tune than ever when it came to playing together and writing the new record, which made us more confident when it came to exploring new arrangements. The 'prog' tag is something we openly put on ourselves, so we're not scared of it at all!
Do you think that being in this band since a young age has made you grow up faster, or has it sheltered you somewhat from the realities of the everyday?
I think it's a bit of both. Speaking for myself, especially in the earlier days of our band I dealt with the majority of the organisation for tours - we have a tour manager now who does a fantastic job in taking care of everything. When I was running things, it meant being in regular contact with older and vastly more experienced people and learning a lot from them, subsequently having to be a lot more mature than I probably was at the time. With regards to being sheltered from realities of everyday, I work a full-time job when we're not touring so I can afford to live away from my parents, pay bills etc. I'm very fortunate to have incredibly sympathetic employers who have been happy to let me go on tour and this is certainly a unique situation and still pretty far removed from reality!
Would it be fair to say that your own music tastes have probably developed considerably while in the band, which has had an effect on the band's sound?
Being on tour, with other people from different bands who have varying tastes in music, has opened me up to so much new music, especially considering the variety of different bands we've toured with. Obviously the first common ground that any two bands have is a love of music, so it's probably the one thing that is brought up most in day-to-day conversations of tours and can really enrich tastes. Aside from that, more and more people that like our band will have their own points of reference as to what and who they think we sound like, which often makes for interesting listening. It all has some impact on what our new material eventually sounds like.
To these ears, the Rolo experience live is a little different to that on record - not that the latter lacks the energy of the former, more that it's directed a little differently. Are you a band that sets out to explore all the possibilities of the studio? Do you ever write without really considering how the resultant song can be performed live?
In the past, we were keen to make sure we could replicate everything we did in the studio when we played lived, but with Cosmology I think there's more room for improvisation and expansion between what we recorded and what we play live. It came up whilst we were recording and Diplo's opinion of it was that we should do everything we could to make the recording sound big and interesting. Even if we couldn't do it live, because of the physical live energy of our band it wasn't an issue that something like a layer of pad synths couldn't be played live. We all still have an eye on playing the song live when it comes to writing, though.
The BBC review of Cosmology mentioned that the current rock scene is in pretty rude health - you've recently toured with Throats and Trash Talk. Are there any bands around right now who you think might soon experience the kind of rise you've enjoyed over the past few years? How crazy has it been to meet bands that inspired you?
I think the rock/hardcore scene is enjoying a really productive period right now, and the amount of great bands is ridiculous in the best way possible. I'd say that Trash Talk are going to do nothing but rise, considering the response they got on our tour together and the press response to their band. They're honest and true to the majority of things that get written about them and, most importantly, an unreal live band. I don't think we've ever toured with a band as consistently good as they are night after night. It's been surreal getting to meet bands that we've been inspired by. With Trash Talk again as an example, I was told to check them out before last year's South by Southwest. I was blown away, we then see them live, get to hang out with them and then go on tour with them. It's the kind of situation I've always dreamed of in terms of being able to make things like that happen so easily.
Lastly, do you have any favourite albums of 2010 so far?
My favourite album of the year is Heartland by Owen Pallett. I've also really enjoyed the new Daughters, Jaga Jazzist, Trash Talk and Fang Island albums. It's exciting that we're only halfway through the year and, for me, this year has already surpassed 2009 in terms of releases that I've enjoyed.