We meet the dynamic Wing brothers
Alex Rigotti
17:43 13th September 2019

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Tom and James Wing settle into the room. They’re 27 and 29 respectively, two brothers who have bounced around from band to band before settling on their current lineup. Tom is usually the one to answer questions, as James sits back in his chair, often thinking about what he’s going to say before chiming in.

These brothers are in The Roves, and their dynamic is the secret to their success. James is 29 and Tom is 27, but it feels as though they’re stuck decades back. Maybe I’m just being too cheeky, but their interests surpass their age. They watch The Sopranos, and they even bring what looks like an ancient Sony tape recorder to the interview (which actually turns out to be from 2002. Shows what I know). The only recent influence I can really connect with is their mutual love of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. 

That particular quality manifests in the jangle rock of the Roves, inspired by people like Frank Sinatra. Their dad would play Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen (“and a few questionable ones, too”), and eventually that sound seeped into their music. The Wing brothers loved music, and they always knew it was going to be their future. Of course, other things took their interest; Tom liked to draw and James was a fan of books and dressing up as the characters. Eventually, it all came back to music. For Tom, Rubber Soul was the album that inspired him, whereas James prefers Bob Dylan’s Bring It All Back Home. 

Tom and James have always been close; as kids, “James was kind of very much the same, but then maybe he was way more animated, the centre of attention… I was like the quieter one.” Eventually, as they grew older, they stopped fighting, “We used to argue way more as teenagers, but we got over that,” recalls Tom. “Just growing up, your egos slowly are evaporating, so you’ve got a bit more empathy and patience for each other.” This is the secret of The Roves: their incredible relationship and chemistry with each other. “All of us are slightly reserved, our characters are all quiet. We all went to the same things, the same comedy shows, the same music”.

This eventually translated into making a band, in which the history is quite complex. According to the brothers, they formed a band with their friend, Rhys, but it collapsed three years later. After all, they were quite young, meaning that they didn’t have the contacts or know how to book a gig. In Tom’s words, “we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing”. Tom and James parted ways with their own bands, and James picked up characters along the way who had been in and out of the band in the studio and writing lineup. Eventually, Tom was ready to leave his band, and so he rejoined James’ band and renamed it The Roves – its current conception. 

Most of their songwriting is done on the guitar, which James didn’t really play at first. As he puts it, being able to play the guitar allows you to have more control over the process, but he was never too concerned with knowing too much on the guitar. He even avoided learning the guitar strings out of superstition, preferring to refine his lyricism instead. “You wanna get to a transcendental place for yourself – you wanna be like, ‘oh fuck, I didn’t know we could do that’, because it gives you a great feeling” James explains. “And then other people being into it is an after-effect but the main sugar rush is the thing of , ‘you didn’t know you could do that.’ You don’t want it to be all planned out… whatever you’re doing, you wanna push it” 

Gigging was a lot harder, though. There were many obstacles and fears that the band had to get over. They didn’t know how to book a gig, initially, and the ones they did play went terribly – see ‘Theolonious on Monk Street’ for just how badly. The song details an angry audience member who took issue with the Roves playing at a jazz gig, claiming that they weren’t ‘proper jazz’. “It was like, real shit gigs,” Tom elaborates, “real shithouse, terrible gigs. We would play in Acton and Archway and we didn’t even know anyone. We were from North London, but we didn’t even know how to get a gig at first. It was just kind of pointless, but I guess not that pointless, because it taught us a lot about it."

It’s the reason why the brothers kept pushing on, despite music gigs were getting tougher and tougher. It’s where a passion for music is essential, something which the brothers had no shortage of. “Everything about music was in our blood… it never occurred to us that you would give up,” Tom says, clearly impassioned. “You never lose that urge to play live. You had to go through that phase… get a bit streetwise about stuff to then realise what not to do and go through that trial and error period, and that had to happen to us. We kind of learnt from that, which was a good thing.”

That wasn’t the only obstacle, either, “I’m always scared of losing control of something… especially the image and the brand” Tom admits. “James likes to have control over how we make records and stuff. We’re scared if someone comes in, that you don’t really trust, that has more influence and starts ordering you around. You’re like, this is great, because we’re getting to a higher place and more people are hearing the music and you’re scared you’ll lose control of the music. but that hasn’t happened yet.”

Having recently completed the ‘EuroSafari’ tour, James and Tom know about the ups and downs of touring. It’s an increasingly common topic, which has been addressed by everyone from Billie Eilish and James Blake. Have the Roves felt the pressure of touring yet? “We’ve only been on the road for a week at a time, or ten days at a time,” James explains. “We fucking loved it, the whole way through… going out, having fun, then getting up.”

“I would imagine it would take a bit of a toll on people,” Tom concedes. “You’re playing every night, you’re tired, you’re burning out, you’re playing the same setlist to a different crowd. It’s easy to say ‘don’t drink or use any vice’, but when it’s all right there and it’s free… you go to England, and it’s two three beers, but when you go to England, it’s a fridge-full of beer.”

Still, The Roves are yet to have been plagued by fame. They’re grounded, good-witted and eager to document the world around them. Most of all, they’re two brothers who have a close relationship each other, who weather life’s choices as they come. It’s special to see – here’s hoping it won’t devolve into 90s Gallagher antics too soon. 

Their new single ‘Hey Little Man’ is out now on El Rancho Records. 

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Photo: Press