Rome Pays Off is the new band of Mark Beazley and Crawford Blair, both of whom were members of the acclaimed London-based instrumental ambient group, Rothko.

The original line-up of Rothko, which formed in 1997, consisted of Beazley, Blair and Jon Meade, all of whom played bass guitar. After that line-up of the band dissolved in 2001, Rothko, after having gone through various permutations, evolved to include from 2003 and in its final line-up Beazley (bass guitar), and also Michael Donnelly (bass guitar), Ben Page (keyboards) and Tom Page (drums and percussion).

Rome Pays Off formed last year and released their debut album, ‘There’s No Simple Explanation’ and a companion mini album, ‘Out Walking’, in March. ‘There’s No Simple Explanation’, whose sound mixes Beazley and Blair’s basses, piano and drones, is a minimalist collection of haunting and atmospheric instrumentals. Its tracks are named by the order in which they were recorded i.e. ‘Song One’, ‘Song Three’ and so on.

Rome Pays off will be playing the Pennyblackmusic Bands’ Night at the Half Moon, Herne Hill, London on October 29th with Morton Valance, Madam and the Doomed Bird of Providence. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Mark Beazley about Rome Pays off and ‘There’s No Simple Explanation’.


PB: While Rothko was named after the painter Mark Rothko, Rome Pays off takes its title from a 1984 screenprint by the then 24 year old Jean-Michel Basquiat. What was the appeal to you of this picture?

MB: That’s actually a question for Crawford. He came up with the idea for the name of the group and also the album title. But, for me personally, the print is like an equation, and that’s the appeal of the work for me.

PB: Crawford was one of the original members of Rothko, who went through various permutations and line-ups after forming in 1997. Why did you decide to dissolve Rothko in 2010 and form a new band in Rome Pays Off rather than carry on using the Rothko name?

MB: Since 2003, Rothko were myself, Michael Donnelly, Ben Page and Tom Page, and as far as I was concerned that was always going to be the final line-up of the group. And it was very much a group, contrary to some very ill-informed assumptions. But we hadn’t written anything or played together for a year, and Ben and Tom’s group, Rocketnumbernine, were doing amazingly well, touring with Fourtet and Caribou, and are now supporting Radiohead in New York, so the timing was right for all of us.

And actually it wasn’t my idea to dissolve the group. It was a mutual decision. We had a rehearsal, and it was clear we were just treading old ground, so it was an easy decision for us to make. It was Michael who made the point that it wasn’t working any more, and he was right.

Again the assumption that it was solely my domain is very, very far from the mark. We were a band in the truest sense of word.

In the time that Rothko weren’t writing new material, Crawford and I were talking about the possibility of doing something together, but it took until January of last year for us to start working on things. So we decided to try and record a couple of tracks to see how it would sound, but without the baggage of ten years ago, where it had all become very precious and frankly difficult.

Incidentally Crawford was the engineer on two Rothko releases, the split CD with Dysrhythmia, and the very final Rothko release, the ‘Sunset to Sunrise’ EP. After we’d recorded a couple of tracks, we just decided to keep going with no plan or remit, just to record some new music and just enjoy the process which we did immensely.

So there was no plan at all just as the group ended and Rome Pays Off started. They just happened.

PB: You used Rothko to look at a rich variety of issues including 9/11 and the pastoral verses the urban world, and each new Rothko piece came with an appropriate title. The tracks on ‘There’s No Simple Explanation’, however, come listed as ‘Song One’, and so on. Surely this isn’t just a case of ambience gone wild? Would you rather that your listeners on this occasion put their own interpretations on songs?

MB: I’m not sure about ambience gone wild. We did have an idea to give the tracks titles, but to move away from the sometimes prosaic nature of language that I’ve tended to have used over the years. But, when we wrote them down, it didn’t look right. We knew the tracks by the names we had already given them as we recorded them, ‘Song One’ was the very first track we recorded and so on. We named them in the order that we recorded them, hence ‘Song Eleven’ being the eleventh track we recorded but is first on the album.

So the tracks do have titles, and when we play them live, if you look at a set-list, we use the titles as they appear on the album. And also I think our listeners already put their own interpretation on the music, no matter the title.

There’s nothing to say that in my own new material I won’t go back to suggestive titles, but it won’t happen with Rome Pays Off.

PB: It says on Rome Pays Off’s Soundcloud page that most of the tracks “took a little longer to record than they did to write,” but they were, however, “not improvised.” How they were written?

MB: Some were written on the spot, a slight melody or sound to suggest something else. Then we’d try and arrange those initial small ideas into a complete piece and then record it straight away. And there’s a few of the tracks where we’d written some melodies and then bought them into the studio to see if we could enhance the idea, and then again record on the spot. We were doing two or three tracks each session, and we weren’t overly precious in taking all the squeaks and scrapes out. It sounds how we played it. Some of them were recorded in one take, others took longer. They were most definitely not improvised.

PB: You are joined for live work by Chris Gowers who plays ”tabletop treated guitar”. What is a tabletop treated guitar?

MB: Good question. Chris sometimes plays a laptop steel guitar, and he uses a bow and effects to processe it. He plays it on a table and then it’s treated with effects. Chris also played on the companion album to ‘There’s No Simple Explanation’ – ‘Out Walking’, and on our new album too, ‘We Were Wrong’.

PB: Your covers are always spectacular and the cover for ‘There’s No Simple Explanation’ is no exception. Where did the idea and the photo of the sculpture on the seat come from?

MB: That’s very kind of you to say that. Thank you. Crawford took a trip to New York a while back and he takes fantastic photographs, and that sculpture was in the garden of the apartment that he stayed in whilst he was there. There were lots of images to choose from, but that one really stood out, compositionally too.

PB: You also work as a mastering engineer and have worked on albums such as Gagarin’s ‘Biophilia’, the Memory Band’s ‘Oh My Days’, ‘Alex Monk’s ‘The Safety Machine’ and the Doomed Bird of Providence’s ‘Will Ever Pray’, the latter of whom will be sharing a bill with you at the Pennyblackmusic Bands Night. You have also got another new band, Low Bias, with Gagarin’s ‘ Graham Dowdall. How difficult is it balancing your difficult musical roles and initiatives with presumably a day job?

MB: That’s a good question too! Firstly all the albums you mention above are sensational, a real joy to have been trusted to work on them.

I’m not sure that I know how or that I do manage to balance everything. Yes, I do have a day job too, as a book-keeper which I love. In fact that is why I try to fit everything in, because I love everything I am given the opportunity to become involved for which I am thankful each day. In fact it was Graham Dowdall who gave me the best advice I’ve ever had, a few years ago, when I was considering calling it a day with the music. He said, “Just get on with it.” So I did and working with him on the Low Bias project has been just fantastic. And now the more that I do, the more I feel there is to be done. There’s more music in the pipeline already, and Low Bias are about to go into rehearsals to prepare to play some live shows.

Just one thing, sorry, to mention this, but music and its peripheries isn’t difficult. It’s a love. Being a doctor or trying to combat the atrocities of fundamentalist terrorism, that’s difficult.

PB: What can we expect from Rome Pays Off when they play the Bands’ Night?

MB: We’re really looking forward to playing on the 29th October. It’s a great line-up of bands. It will be our first show for a while, and we’ll be playing tracks from our first album and also from our brand new one, ‘We Were Wrong’, which we’ve just finished recording.

PB: Thank you.









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