Jazz alumni Roller Trio have made a big mark on the Jazz map since their arrival in 2011. After the success of their debut album, they're going independent and crowdfunding their second release, Fracture. They met Dav Williams to talk about their musical experiences and future plans, and share some advice with the next generation of musicians.
Featuring Jazz graduates James Mainwaring on sax, Luke Wynter on guitar and Luke Reddin-Williams on drums, Roller Trio are quickly becoming one of the most sought-after jazz trios in the country. They won the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award in 2011 and their critically acclaimed debut album made the Mercury Prize shortlist for ‘Album of the Year’ in 2012. Two years since that nomination, they're about to launch their hotly anticipated second release, Fracture. However, after a period of having the release date constantly delayed, they've recently decided to go independent.
"Someone had to perform the Heimlich on me – it was a dramatic first performance"
Dav Williams: What was your earliest musical experience?
Luke Reddin-Williams: I can remember when I got my first drum kit; I was seven years old and just ended up playing it nonstop for the next week and absolutely loved it.
Luke Wynter: Well my older brother played a lot of instruments and played classical music but I decided I wanted to be a rock star and nagged my parents until they got me a £20 guitar.
James Mainwaring: My mum is a piano and flute teacher so I used to sit in on her lessons when I was very young. She also used to play in an amateur dramatic pit band. They once invited me to play clarinet for the group and my mum kept on giving me sweets to keep me quiet during the gig. Unfortunately, I choked on a Campino sweet as the curtain was going up in front of the whole audience. Someone had to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on me; it was a very dramatic first performance!
Who or what encouraged you to study music?
LRW: I lived in France for most of my life when I was younger and I wanted a move, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do but the only thing I thought I was good at was playing drums and decided that this was the best thing for me to do.
LW: My music teacher at high school suggested I go to music college and I wasn’t aware that there was one and it sounded amazing to be able to go and study guitar.
JM: I have two sides to me really: I sang in a rock metal band and also joined Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra. I found jazz challenging and interesting as I enjoyed improvisation and other aspects like that which led me to studying at Leeds College of Music.
Was there anything in particular that made you choose Leeds College of Music?
LRW: I can’t really remember to be honest, I think I just looked at the most appropriate one for what I wanted to do and that was Leeds. I wanted to avoid going to London.
LW: Yeah same.
JM: Same really.
What attracted you to the course?
LRW: I didn’t listen to Jazz before I came here and I did it as it seemed like the best option.
JM: The guy who led my big band, Ian Darrington, recommended Joel Purnell as a good teacher, and he was!
LW: I did a BTEC when I first arrived at LCoM and had the option of taking Classical, Jazz or Pop. I thought Jazz would be the most interesting and challenging course for me.
Who’s your greatest inspiration?
LW: Jimi Hendrix, he was my first musical idol.
LRW: I can’t name just one. I’d have to say jazz drummers such as Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Mark Guiliana and rock drummers such as Keith Moon. I listen to someone loads (and loads and loads) and learn how they do something and when I have a grasp of what they’re doing I start listening to someone else.
JM: I tend to get obsessed with a band for a few years and then go off them. I’m interested in someone’s career, especially John Zorn’s who is so prolific but also people like Miles Davis and Coltrane whose careers were very inspiring, particularly in terms of their attitude towards music and how they progressed as musicians.
What is your favourite thing about living, studying and being a musician in Leeds?
LRW: I guess it’s really the people. Just how open the city is, it’s a small place but there’s so many different types of nights to go to so that’s why I’ve stayed here after I graduated.
Tell me a little bit about how RollerTrio began?
LRW: So we (Luke and I) started jamming in our house in Hyde Park in late 2010 and we knew James from first year at Joseph Stones, he came over one day and brought his sax and we had a bit of a jam as a three piece and then sort of formed into a group when we were offered a gig a couple of weeks later. Deciding we needed names for our songs, the group was formed.
JM: I had a trio with Mick Bardon and Tim Horne whom I met in college (sax, bass and drums). It was a very experimental group but Tim moved away and Nath (the guy at Brudenell) wanted support for Ivo Neame's band, Phronesis. We (Luke, Luke and I) were jamming as a new group for about a week before we performed at the gig but most of the songs we wrote ended up on our first album.
LRW: After that we were booking our own gigs and toured around mainly Yorkshire, but we also performed in Manchester, London and Dublin. Manchester became a real place to prove ourselves as a group when we gave a performance at Matt and Phreds. We were asked to give three 45 minute sets which meant we ended up writing over two and a half hours of songs just for that gig. However that was great because a lot of the material that surfaced because of that gig then found its way onto our album. Since the launch of that album we’ve done gigs further afield in countries such as Holland, Turkey, Spain and Germany working towards our most recent launch.
Where’s the best place you’ve performed at?
LW: I enjoyed performing in Turkey just because it was so different.
LRW: My favourite gig was the one we did in Hamburg; I think that was the best performance we’ve ever given as a group.
What has been your greatest achievement as a group?
JM: I think that this second album is our greatest achievement so far as the production with this band has always been a real challenge due to the nature of the three instruments and in terms of not having a bass player. We’ve actually recorded the album twice, first time at Real World Studios but it proved a nightmare to mix due to the room we recorded live in. After trying to mix it for ages, we performed the tunes more at various gigs and now we can play them a lot better, so we just recorded it again in three days, this time in Ilkley (Rebel Elements).
LRW: Yeah I agree, it’s been a real learning curve. We’re very pleased with the results of the second recording session.
Where would you most like to perform after the release of your second album?
LRW: I really want to go to France, we haven’t been there yet and I’d like to play there once before I die as I haven’t really been able to go back since leaving to study in Leeds. America is another country which would be interesting, in particular New York to see what people think of us.
LW: People often talk about New York as the musical centre of the universe in terms of Jazz so it’d be interesting to go there and do that. Maybe Japan as well because James told me a story about a group who sold lots of records after performing at their first ever gig there so I’d expect an enthusiastic response.
LRW: Yeah basically anywhere where people would love to have a good time.
JM: I think America would be a really good step as it is a massive country so there is bound to be a potentially big fan over base there.
"Learn to be able to do what you want to do without limitations"
If you had any advice for a prospective student, what would it be?
LRW: Find your own voice and find people that speak the same language as you and if you do find them, don’t let them go as it’s rare to find someone like that.
JM: Don’t get sucked into a tradition or style but also don’t forget where your influences came from and who you were before you came here because you could come here and forget the real reason for trying to learn if you don’t remember that.
LRW: Don’t just learn for the sake of learning but do it because you want a challenge and want to make something interesting.
JM: Challenge everything that someone tries to teach you. It’s all useful stuff but it’s about internalizing it and applying it to your own music. It’s not about becoming the next Charlie Parker, more about finding your own musical style. I ended up with good recital marks because of that. People are there to help you find out what you want to do.
LRW: It’s not like school where you’re trying to get good grades just to pass but you’re trying to learn stuff so you can incorporate it into your own style to become a fuller musician and to be able to do what you want to do without limitations. I’d also say read Effortless Mastery, a book by Kenny Werner, which completely changed my life. It helped me to let go and just be able to play without analyzing every note.
JM: If you’re just starting out I’d recommend getting involved with BBC Introducing as that can be a really useful platform to help you get gigs.
Photo Credit: Tom Arber
LRW: Don’t be afraid to send your stuff out to people and try even if it is not quite the finished article. You never know what will come out of it. Our first demo recording wasn’t the best but people listened to it and realised there was potential there. Work hard and believe in what you do.
More information about their second album will be released on their website in due course so don’t forget to keep in touch with the band on Twitter, Facebook and via their website. You can also listen to Roller Trio’s tracks by simply clicking on the SoundCloud playlist on the right hand side. If you'd like to support Roller Trio's second album release, please follow the link to their IndieGoGo project page.
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