Rudimental’s DJ Locksmith on Fame and Fatherhood

They’re about to release their second album and start a world tour but Rudimental’s DJ and frontman Leon Rolle – aka DJ Locksmith – took time out to talk fame and fatherhood with Annie Ridout…

Leon Rolle, 28 – he turns 29 on Christmas Day – is in UK dance four-piece Rudimental and goes by the stage name DJ Locksmith. He lives in east London, when he’s not touring, and has one son

How did you come up with your DJ name?
It was a while back, when I was in school – I was 13 or 14 and being mischievous, as you are at that age. I managed to borrow, I like to say, a caretaker’s key. It was his spare set and had keys to all the doors, lockers. So everything that had access via a key – I had access to.

I went to three different schools but this one was Islington Arts and Media in Highbury. I was in Year 8 when I borrowed those keys and I started renting out rooms to the sixth-formers. As they were a spare set, I had them a while. And I never got found out. So I was known as locksmith.

Where do you live now?
East London.

And you have one son – tell us about him?
He’s a little rascal. He’s five and he’s called Leonyedus. I’m in to mythology – Greek battles – and Leonyedus was a Spartan king. He was one of the best trained soldiers of his time.

How is it, having to spend so much time away from him?
Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. Fortunately, for the first two years of his life I spent every day with him. I was working as a learning mentor in a school and it was 9-5, so I spent every night with him and most mornings.

The bonding process was really strong with him, his mother and myself – that whole family vibe. His mum and I broke up in December, it’s really hard, but we’re closer than ever; she’s my best friend. You never know what will happen in the future but we’ve had to show Leonyedus we’re still a family – so we do lots of things together.

Leon and Leonyedus - www.theearlyhour.com

When Rudimental started to take off it was a culture shock – not just for me but for the whole family. We were gone for weeks on end. It was even more difficult for me, as I do a lot of DJing for the band so I’d often be in the studio, then doing a live gig, then I’d leave to DJ on other side of the world – so it was pretty strenuous in the first year as it was non-stop.

It hasn’t changed but I’ve adapted mentally to cope. Time at home has to be precious, because those are the moments you remember.

Did you worry, at the beginning of your fame, that it would take you away from him?
I wasn’t aware of how hard it would be because we didn’t know how successful Rudimental would be. We’ve been doing it nine years and it’s only the past three and a half years it’s taken off. I thought we’d just have a hit single and reap the rewards but there’s more hard work to be done.

The reach of our music is far and wide – the US, Australia – even Asia. Not many bands have patches all over the world like that.

When I was younger, my dad wasn’t a massive influence in my life; wasn’t around that much. I swore to myself I would be around as much as I can

When you’re not touring, what does an average day look like?
Leonydus has started school now, he’s in Year 1. He’s loving it. Because Rudimental don’t have a face, as such, I can walk on the street and no one really knows who I am. I get noticed most out of everyone as I’m at the front when we’re on stage but even so I can do school run at 8am, no problem.

I make sure he’s got his packed lunch ready and all his books then say goodbye and I’m off doing promotional stuff in the day, studio time, meetings – all the other things that come with being in a band.

In the music industry, artists don’t usually wake up at 8am. We like to start our day at 12. We’re lazy bastards. But I’ve always had to wake up early – I played football and got up to train, then when my son was born I realised I’d never sleep like I used to, so I’m always up early.

By 12, the other boys are waking up, wanting to get stuff done, but I want to pick up my son at 4.30pm. I have to make a sacrifice and let his mum pick him up. Her job fits in with the school hours – if it didn’t we’d need childcare, or help from grandma.

When I was younger, my dad wasn’t a massive influence in my life; wasn’t around that much. I swore to myself I would be around as much as I can. It’s not an obligation – I just don’t feel the same when I’m not with my son.

We want him to do all the activities he possibly can, so after school he does swimming, music lessons, boxing. He’s pretty active. Like me, he has a short attention span unless he’s being physically entertained.

I’ve just taught him how to take a shower by himself because he was scared for a while. Now he gets his own PJs on. And he’s getting better and better at FIFA. There’s also homework to do, teaching him how to read. All the normal stuff you’d expect a good parent to do. We love giving him as much attention as possible.

Leon, Leonyedus - www.theearlyhour.com

How do you spend your weekends with Leonyedus?
If we’re not in the park, playing football, we’re at a birthday party. We do a lot of going to the cinema – we do it in different locations to open up his mind, so that he can see different places. So we might go to the other side of town, or daytrip outside of London so he can see other parts of the UK and knows that London isn’t the only place that exists.

Summer is really difficult because on weekends, 99% of the time I’m not here. If it’s not UK festivals, it’s one somewhere else in Europe.

This weeks’ timetable means I’m not going to see my son much for three weeks. Today, after the show (I don’t know where we’re playing, I lose track), we fly to Ibiza, then back for the album launch in Hackney Empire, on Saturday we go to Germany, then on to America for a few weeks.

I took a couple of days off recently just so I could have that time with him. The breakup was traumatic for me, but it can be for the kid too so we try and keep things as consistent as we can.

Is he also into music, and do you encourage this?
I don’t think I had any choice; he’s been on stage with us since he was little. When we first started getting big audiences, like at Lovebox – when he was three – I took him on stage. He was really shy, in my arms, putting his hands over his face and it was a very touching moment.

At our own festival – Wild Life, in Brighton – this year, I brought him out again and he’d really grown in confidence. He ran out and he was all over the stage, doing peace signs to the crowd.

What music do you listen to together?
He’s at a stage where he literally soaks up anything he hears – anything with a catchy melody he’s good with. I keep telling his mum to stop playing chart music in the house and car and to start playing soul – Marvin Gaye – to take him back to his roots.

He doesn’t come to all the gigs but sees us playing to big crowds – hopefully that opens his mind and makes him think things are possible

I listened to everything in the charts when I was growing up – from Capital to daytime radio, but when I got into making music, I broadened my horizons. When I was about 10, I started nicking my mum’s vinyl and playing them on her singles turntable – scratching on those vinyls – Anita Baker, classic Michael Jackson. I’d scratch her records to death and she wasn’t best pleased, so she got me turntables and a mixer and I never looked back.

My mother put me into everything: acting, musical instruments (keys, clarinet, guitar). Because I was so physically active, I found learning instruments, especially classically, not entertaining so drifted more to acting, DJing and playing football.

It’s weird how similar my son and myself are. I know what I can put him into to keep him focused. I know how to feed him; to manipulate him – I know my son very well.

How does it feel to be doing so well, are you used to the success or does it still feel like a dream?
It takes a change in something normal that we’re doing for me to think ‘wow’ – how has it got to this. But the biggest thing for us is longevity. With longevity comes more security for my son. At the minute, we’ve been successful but haven’t achieved that all time goal. Being successful is just an opinion anyway. But longevity – having that name, taking over the world; that’s the goal.

What are you most proud of, career-wise?
Mostly that I can provide for my son – anything he wants or needs is usually not a struggle to get. Also, for him to see us doing as well as we are – he doesn’t come to all the gigs but sees us playing to big crowds – hopefully that opens his mind and makes him think things are possible.

Do you think you manage to juggle work and family?
I feel like I am. But I think the secret is not putting too much pressure on yourself as a parent in my situation. I only recently learnt that putting pressure on yourself means the time you have with your son is spent constantly thinking ‘I’m going to be leaving soon’ and it becomes detrimental to the time you have together. Push that to the side.

Enjoy time with your family and the time you have away too – appreciate how much you miss them; don’t take them for granted. I salute my son’s mother – she spends pretty much every hour with Leonyedus. Once I took him away for a couple of days and thought: man, I need to go on tour – I haven’t slept well for a few days.

What’s the hardest thing about being a working dad?
Time away. And the rate at which my sons grows. It’s so fast. And when you’re away you miss so many amazing things – different lingo that he’s picked up, different mannerisms that he’s grown accustomed too, seeing his character develop.

I can’t tell you who my favourite collaboration was as the rest will get jealous

I’ve always been scared of going on a two-month tour and losing that bond with my son. But it hasn’t happened; he’s just as strong as all of us.

What advice do you have for other working dads?
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You’re doing it for your family. You’re doing it for their security, for the future, and you’re building a platform for them to succeed in their life – it’s all for a good reason. Just try to make it clear and communicate with your family as much as you can.

Technology is amazing: Facetime, we can call from any country in the world. I literally don’t know how The Beatles, Earth Wind & Fire – who had massive tours – did it. How did they communicate with their families day-to-day? We’re fortunate that we can Facetime – even during the show; I leave my phone on and he can see the whole thing.

Lastly, how’s it going with the group, what’s in the pipeline for Rudimental?
Our second album is about to launch. We’ve worked so hard, continued to make sacrifices in our personal lives; to complete it as well as tour for the last two years off the back of the first album.

My favourite track keeps changing. At the moment, it’s one on the deluxe part of the album, called Run. I can’t tell you who my favourite collaboration was as the rest will get jealous; they’re all amazing in individual ways.

Collaborations include: Will Heard, Anne-Marie – who are both up-and-coming. In fact, Anne-Marie is signed to our own label Major Tom. She’s our first signed act. Then we worked with Lianne La Havas, Ella Eyre (again) MNEK, and we have tracks with legends like Bobby Womack.

The world tour starts this weekend and we’re going to continue to just make music and see what happens.

Track list for We The Generation, out this Friday – 2nd October:

‘I Will For Love’ Feat. Will Heard
‘Never Let You Go’ Feat. Foy Vance
‘We The Generation’ Feat. Mahalia
‘Love Ain’t Just A Word’ feat. Anne-Marie and Dizzee Rascal
‘Rumour Mill’ Feat. Anne-Marie & Will Heard
‘Common Emotion’ Feat. MNEK
‘Go Far’ Feat. Will Heard
‘Foreign World’ Feat. Anne-Marie
‘Too Cool’ Feat. Ella Eyre
‘Bloodstream’
‘Treading On Water’ feat Sinead Harnett & Will Heard
‘Needn’t Speak’ Feat. Lianne La Havas
‘Lay It All On Me’ feat. Ed Sheeran
‘New Day’ Feat. Bobby Womack

Pre-order your copy here.

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