They’ve sold over five million singles worldwide and built up an impressive stack of Platinum records, but it’s on the live stage that Rudimental truly shine.
Widely considered one of the best festival acts in the world right now, Rudimental have left their mark on audiences at Lollapalooza, Bonaroo and Glastonbury, just to name a few of the more prominent dot points on their live résumé.
Last in Australia to support Ed Sheeran on his national tour late last year, the UK group will return to the Brisbane Riverstage in May to show off their chart-topping sophomore album, We The Generation, and revisit a few favourites from their first LP, Home.
We caught up with Leon Rolle, aka DJ Locksmith, to talk about fatherhood, food fights and fame.
Leon, you just released your second album, We The Generation. Were you worried about the sophomore slump? A lot of artists seem to struggle with their second album…
Not really, no. Not at all. It’s a case of us being a tight-knit group. We live in our own bubble when we make music, you know? We don’t listen or pay attention to the outside world. When the album was done and dusted, actually, I was so eager to listen to some new music, because I hadn’t heard anything for so long.
We’d just been in our own world, creating this sound and making sure it evolved and avoiding outside influences. That’s the way we work, you know? I think that’s the best way you can work.
Obviously, there is some pressure – you want the second album to do as well as your first, because you know your career basically relies on it. But it never phased us.
We’re all brothers, and we knew we’d succeeded anyway, regardless of what happened next.
Your first album was massive, obviously, and you’ve been on the road non-stop since then. From an outsider’s perspective, you look at the amount of touring you guys did, and it’s kind of mindblowing that you even had time to record a second album.
Mate, I can give you a prime example of how much we were on the road while we were making this album. There was one point when we were touring with Ed Sheeran through America, and we had a studio tour bus!
We were driving around America in a studio tour bus. It had space for a drum kit, a vocal booth, all our keys and our computer, as well as six quarters and a living room.
We actually ended up in Arizona, in the hottest temperatures I’ve ever experienced in my life, and the air con broke on the studio tour bus. We were making music, literally, in our boxers, trying to get a record finished. It probably didn’t look that aesthetically pleasing, but the results were definitely pleasing on the ear.
It sounds like you were in an episode of Breaking Bad. You guys were just standing there in your tighty-whities, cooking up product.
It literally was! Oh my god! That’s the perfect analogy. It was just like Breaking Bad. But we were making music, not drugs.
Don’t sell drugs, kids.
But this studio tour bus was massive, and we spent a lot of money on it. But it paid off! We got a couple of tracks done on the bus, Never Let You Go and Bloodstream. It definitely paid off. I mean, I’m here talking to you today about the album, so the studio tour bus did something right.
You have a young son. It must be difficult to spend that much time away from him at this stage of his life.
It’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. You’ve got to remember, the first two years of his life, I spent pretty much every day with him. I’d wake up to go work at 9 and I’d finish at about 3:30, and then I’d spend the rest of the day with him, and I got to do that every day for the first two years.
Then, all of a sudden, there was just this whirlwind of success and emotions, and suddenly I was constantly on the road and away from him.
It was heartbreaking at times, and I had to learn how to deal with it. There were times when I was a mess, mentally. I was trashing dressing rooms and all sorts.
But you come through the other side. Like I said, I’ve got my brothers in the group beside me, and they helped me get through it. We helped each other get through it.
When you’re at home, do you feel pressure to make that time at home with him really count?
I think I’d only feel that way if I didn’t enjoy being with him, you know? If you don’t enjoy being with your son, if you don’t enjoy being with your missus, then you’re going to feel that pressure that you have to do it. But because I enjoy it and I love every minute with my family, when I come home, it’s an easy job, you know?
No matter how tired I am, no matter how weak I feel, it’s just an easy job to walk upstairs and read my kid a bedtime story. So I don’t see it as pressure.
And you can sleep when you’re dead.
Does he like your music? What sort of music does he like?
He’s got no choice but to like it! No, I’m kidding, but he does like it. He’s had the experience of coming on stage and waving to a crowd of 50,000 people. He’s grown up with these audiences that we’ve played in front of.
His first stage experience was in front of 50,000 people when he was about four years old. He was hiding his face away and acting really shy. And then he turned six years old and I brought him to our own festival, which is called Wildlife Festival, and he literally walked out on stage doing the peace sign to the crowd. He just looked like he belonged. So to see that transition was amazing.
So he’s going to get up at school plays in front of, like, a hundred people and think, ‘What’s the big deal?’
Oh, yeah. It does help with his confidence, for sure. And he’s got every instrument under the sun around him as well, he’s got access to drum kits and guitars whenever he wants. I’m not going to pressure him into doing anything, because I know he’s a bit like me, and I don’t like being pressured into anything. That’s why I didn’t learn any instrument classically. I just learned them when I felt like it.
So you’ll let him find this stuff on his own.
Yeah, I’ll let him find his own way. And if I see that he’s getting to a point where he’s not actually finding his way, then I’ll start pressuring him.
Ha! You know, you’re in an unusual position, because Rudimental are massive, but because of the nature of the group — you use a lot of guest vocalists — you must still have a degree of anonymity.
Not complete anonymity, sure, but when you go out with your family, you’d have a degree of privacy that an artist at your level wouldn’t normally have. You can kind of have your cake and eat it, too. Are you grateful for that?
It’s beautiful, I love it. I actually love it. It’s so funny, I did a TV show in the UK and I went out to eat with the family afterwards, and there was, like, one guy in the entire restaurant who recognised me, and the restaurant was packed. He was like, ‘You was on that TV show!’ And I’m so shy, I just don’t know what to do in those situations. As he was holding out his hand, I was just kind of pedalling back, like, ‘No, I don’t want it!’
I never wanted fame, you know? I mean, I don’t mind it, but I never really wanted it.
Yeah. We talked about the studio tour bus earlier, but when you’re at home, you’ve got your own studio. You guys have got your own label now, too. And you run your own festival, Wildlife Festival, with Disclosure. You’re incredibly self-sufficient. Why is it important to you to have that level of control?
Because this doesn’t last forever. This doesn’t last forever. We’d be fools if we thought it would. So it’s important to have that control, so you have different avenues and different ways, not just for making money, but so you can continue to be involved with the music industry for years to come. We just want to explore as much as we can.
I feel like we’re latecomers to the music industry, actually. I’m 29 now, I was 26 when we started to blow up. So we’re not the Justin Biebers of the pop world. So it feels good to be aware and appreciative of everything that’s happening around you, and to be involved with everything.
I reckon if we blew up when we were 16, we’d have been sick of it by the time we were 21. Whereas we walk into every gig, we walk into every TV show, bright-eyed and bushy tailed and we just want to get stuck in.
The festival you guys run with Disclosure is interesting, because you guys could so easily have been at each other’s throats. You guys could so easily have been Blur and Oasis. But it seems like there’s a lot of love there.
100 per cent, there definitely is. We got into the industry around the same time, as you probably know. We always thought we were going to do something together, whether it be a collaborative effort or some sort of festival. It feels really special that we did this with them.
It’s so funny that you say that, as well, because the first time we met them, we actually did have a fight.
Ha! Do you remember what the fight was about?
We had a food fight. It was just a food fight, but it was so funny, because we didn’t even know each other. You kind of know you’re going to be friends, you know you’re going to be buddies, when you can have that freedom of throwing food in someone’s face and getting their girlfriend to clean it up.
Sure. That’s a life bond, right there.
Exactly. There you go!
Speaking of collaborators, the final track on your album features the late Bobby Womack. How did that collaboration come about?
It was nuts. It’s unbelievable to think we have the legend, the late legend, that is Bobby Womack on the record.
We played a TV show together, Jools Holland, and we had the privilege of performing in front of Bobby Womack. We had our stage, and then about 20 feet away from us, there was Bobby Womack in his red suit, who was going to perform after us. But as we were performing, and I’ll never forget this, Bobby Womack just started going nuts. And then when Bobby Womack performed, we were all going absolutely crazy.
I didn’t think for a million years that we’d ever get to know Bobby Womack, in any shape or form. But as we were heading into the dressing room, I get a tap on the shoulder, and it’s the guy in the red suit – it’s Bobby Womack. And he literally said, ‘You guys are crazy and I want to work with you’. I didn’t know what to say, you know?
The first words out of my mouth were, ‘I don’t think you understand how many times I’ve scratched you’. He looked at me like, ‘What?’ But the thing is, my mum used to buy vinyl records, and I used to love scratching her Bobby Womack records. I’d always get in trouble for scratching Bobby Womack, so I remembered him from a young age.
So I think he was a bit confused by that, but we kept knocking on each other’s doors and talking about working together. It’s so sad, because we would have loved to get into the studio with him. But instead, when he passed away, his wife got in touch with us and told us that one of his final wishes was to send us his vocals so we could use them somewhere. We built a track around those vocals, and it ended up being one of my favourite tracks on the album.
You’ve worked with legends, you’ve played all these shows around the world, and you’re only 29. What’s left on your bucket list?
Oh man, lots of stuff. I want to continue to make great albums, you know? I want to feel how rough and rugged this music industry can be, and I want to throw it back in its face and make something amazing.
I think this whole music industry is too instant, and I think that’s backwards. It’s really a journey, and you have your ups and downs, and it’s the way you come out the other side that matters. I think Bobby Womack taught that to us, actually. He went through a world of triumphs and tribulations, but he came out on top. So I’d love to go through that journey for a little bit longer.
I’d also love to dabble in some acting and some other forms of entertainment to see if I’m good enough to do that. Who knows?
Rudimental play the Riverstage on Saturday 7 May with Jess Glynne and Thandi Phoenix. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com.au.