Interview with Roller Trio

Luke Reddin-Williams, James Mainwaring and Luke Wynter
Luke Reddin-Williams, James Mainwaring and Luke Wynter by Ezgi Aktas

Roller Trio, as I mentioned before, was here in Istanbul last week for a gig at Salon. It was a fresh and energetic gig that reflected the young blood of the band. The concert’s highlights were James’ powerful tones and improvizations, Wynter’s loops and airy guitar riffs and Reddin-Williams’ stormy beats and attacks. I was able to meet them before the concert thanks to Ezgi. And now you can sip your coffee while reading the interview. Enjoy!

I would like to start with a classical question. How did you come together? What was that electricity that connected you to each other?

Luke Reddin-Williams : The whole band really started just as me and Luke the guitarist. We started just having jams in my living room in my old house and we did that for a few weeks. It seems apparently that we kinda had something going on between us, which was really good. And I needed James because I lived with him a few years back. One day he just happened to come to our house during one of those jams we had and he sat in with us and ever since then, we have been playing together every week.

You are emphasizing that you are not actually a jazz band but I think that you make free jazz or rock jazz. What is your description of jazz?

Luke Wynter : We went to the music college and the college teaches you to play jazz in a certain way. I guess what we do doesn’t fit that description, sort of that traditional description.

LR-W: We started doing the jams as a kind of backlash to the education because it was getting too much…, you know, traditional. You want to do something else. That’s what that was so it comes out in our music.

James Mainwaring : There are a lot of people who don’t go to gigs because they don’t like jazz. There are a lot of people who come to us saying “Wow! I hate jazz but I like you guys!” as we started out playing rock and that kind of stuff so we are trying to avoid the “jazz” word.

LW : People have some certain expectations when it is jazz.

Well, you are right. Most people perceive jazz as a genre that has some certain features which are usually classical. You generally emphasize that you are a jam band. Is it how you compose music or do you sit down and think about the songs?

LW : When we play together, while jamming, we record it and we listen to it and pick the best bits to make it into a complete thing.

LR-W : I think I’ve got about two years of work of rehearsals on my computer. We recorded every single one.

I was just going to ask about that. So you are recording your sessions in order not to forget.

LR-W : We can forget what we have played literally ten minutes later. We can’t exactly remember how we did it.

LW : Well, we play like two hours so we can’t remember everything.

LR-W : Yeah. I just went through them all and listened to everything and heard the whole thing. 80% of them were not used and there is a little 10% that turned into actual songs.

Roller Trio by Ali Guler

Then you have enough material that you can use in 4 or 5 albums. Cool! Was Mercury Prize nomination a surprise for you?

LR-W, LW & JM : Yeah. Definitely!

What has changed after that nomination?

LW : We got our music to a much bigger audience, to the people who wouldn’t have heard of us otherwise. Things like this, coming to Istanbul, would be impossible.

LR-W : And just more people at the gigs, you know. A lot of people that we have been seeing recently at the gigs say “I just saw you on TV and thought I should come and check you out.” They would have never done this otherwise. Besides, I think it has given us more respect in music making as well because we were awarded for something we did.

I see. Did it add to your budget as well? Are you thinking of moving to another place or having your own studio maybe?

LW : We can’t have a studio. No, not that much. But it helps, though. We still have bills to pay. I think we will stay where we are at the moment. We play either in Luke’s bedroom or in my basement.

LR-W : It’s incredibly crammed. You gotta do something with what you have got.

LW : Yeah, make the best of the situation.

LR-W : You can do it. You just have to try really hard.

Well, I hope you can get over these obstacles in the future. Could you say that you have found the band’s sound or are you in a constant search?

LW : We are getting closer to the sort of sound.

LR-W : It’s constantly changing, though.

JM : We are a jam band. We are trying new things and putting that into music. We have some limitations like not having our own sudio, not having too much gear and too many gadgets. When we first started, we only had a few pedals each. It was so simple and we had to deal with what we had. We kind of couldn’t get our sound so there might be some changes.

You are also going to have a collaboration with Ray Kane and take part in his film project. How did this project come out?

JM : I know Ray from “LIMA”, that is, “Leeds Improvised Music Association”. He is kind of a honorary member there. He used to make videos and do all the artwork for them. He also does videos for bands like TrioVD. I have always been a big fan of his work. We applied for the Peter Whittingham Award and we got it among thousands of proposals. In this project, we are collaborating with electronic musician Radek Rudnicki, too, who also has worked with live visuals. I am in Radek’s project Space Fight who have done gigs with surround sound and visuals.

As far as I know, there is going to be a live performance of this film, which will be really interesting. Could you tell us how that process will work?

JM : All we are gonna do is get into the the studio and probably improvise for the film. And we’re gonna play all the tracks live. We’re gonna use the computer as an instrument and compose the audio for the film, and use all live sounds. Then we’re gonna cut and paste them in different areas and stuff. Then we’ll probably learn how to play it live.

LR-W : It’s like a new project for us. It will be fun.

Roller Trio by Ali Guler

Well, I am looking forward to it. Getting back to the album, I would like to learn how you composed “The Nail That Stands Up”? There are some oriental motifs in it and I was really surprised when I listened to the album for the first time.

LW : Some of the stuff like the choice of notes and rhythms, we get them from different kinds of folk music. I’ve heard a bit Turkish folk music and a bit Indian music, and music from the Balkans like Macedonia. Rhythms are very different than ours. We have 12 notes between C to B but Turkish music has 5 notes between C and C-sharp.

LR-W : I listen to Indian music, too.

JM : There are lots of different music in Leeds. We have such a tradition.

LR-W : We listen to anything if it is good.

As I have been listening to the album for quite a long time, it seems to me that you don’t like writing ballads. There is only one slow song in the album, which is R-O-R. Is there a particular reason or is it just the way it is?

LW : I thought that, too.

LR-W : I don’t know. Whatever comes out, we put it down. We didn’t try to make it sound anything.

LW : It’s like, when we play, we start making things together. We don’t really start and say “Let’s make a tune goes like this.” We don’t say anything, we just play and because I think we do it a lot, we know that kind of music vocabulary. We can kind of communicate with that.

LR-W : We do have like some more softer sounds but they’re not just on the album.

JM : We don’t change anything while we’re jamming. If it’s soft and quiet, it goes like that. Sometimes we say “This might be really loud and spiky.” Sometimes it’s more like hip hop or sometimes there’s more melodies.

So that’s the reason why there are those mood changes in a single song.

LR-W : Stuff like that happens completely out of playing live. We’d be jamming a song and then we all change at the same time. Sometimes some part of the song, you know, is more composed but I think it does help. We’ve got a certain connection going on. We all know what the other guy is thinking.

LW : Yeah, I think you’ve got to understand little things that tell you what’s coming next.

LR-W : Yeah, the body language.

LW : You play and don’t think about anything or what it means.

LR-W: I think with this music because it is improvised every single gig that we do is always different. There is always something different about it. Maybe a little bit we change a tune or someone plays a riff that we haven’t had before. It keeps it fresh and fun.

We are looking forward to listening to you live tonight. And we’ll see what kind of surprises you will have for us. Thanks for this nice interview.

JM : Thanks. See you at the concert, then.

For Turkish, click here.

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