September 25, 2007

Spotlight on Rooney

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They’re R-R-Rooney. That band that was all over the place in the heyday of The O.C. Their big brother Phantom Planet, (literally, since Rooney’s frontman is the younger brother of Phantom Planet’s then-drummer Jason Schwartzman) played the theme tune and Rooney rocked the episode of the show where Marissa was a poor little rich girl and Ryan was a kid from the ghetto too good for his station in life. Remember that one? Remember Rooney?
Well, they’re back, and they’re bringing some old school pop into their music. The Sun caught up with lead singer Robert Schwartzman to talk about all the stuff that’s happened in between. Here is an excerpt of that conversation:

The Sun: You guys are pushing ten years together as a band, but this is only your second LP coming out. Do you have stores and stores of material in the vaults?
Robert Schwartzman: Yes, oh my god. There’s so much stuff that people haven’t heard.
Sun: Do you guys play a lot of that stuff when you’re out touring?
R.S.: Not really. We try to stick to the stuff people have heard, just ‘cause it makes the experience more fun for everybody. There are some B-sides people have, some demos that have leaked, but because we made three records this time around to make the second record, there are two full records that are mixed and mastered that are just kinda sitting there. I’d like people to hear those before anything.
Sun: I remember I saw you guys, well, I saw you this summer at Slim’s [in San Francisco], but I also saw you last summer when you were opening for Kelly Clarkson, and I think I remember you saying that you were playing some new material then?
R.S.: Yeah, that stuff we played then was on a record that was gonna come out then, but was pushed. And then because it got pushed, we ended up deciding to make another record. So it was weird touring for a record — we toured a ton for records that didn’t come out. We’re kinda happy in the end that it didn’t come out ‘cause for the amount of work you do to put out a record, you really have to love it, and in the end, it didn’t feel right. We started writing more songs, because we had time on our hands so why not make more music?
Sun: Have you been playing the Calling the World songs on tour now for a while, or are they still relatively recent additions?
R.S.: We toured with Ben Lee, which was last November. After that tour, we got home, and we made Calling the World. A lot of the songs from Calling the World were written after that tour, and then we went right in the studio. So most of the songs on Calling the World weren’t even played live before they were recorded. And when we went on our first tour, we were freaked out because we hadn’t rehearsed the songs a ton because we hadn’t played them live. You would hope that you’d have the time to work stuff out live because it’s a different process, playing stuff live.

Sun: How much of the delay of your album was your call, and how much was out of your control?
R.S.: Starting over and stuff?
Sun: Yeah, I had heard that it was your idea that it just didn’t sound right for your fanbase. Was there a conscious effort to make sure that things were recognizable as Rooney songs?
R.S.: Yeah, I guess I’ve gotten into bands, and then they put out another record and then I’m just not into them because I feel like they’re such a departure from their other record. I don’t know. We really didn’t want to depart and leave all those people in the dust and be like, “This is our new sound!” We didn’t want to reinvent ourselves every record. The other two records that we put away, kind of did lack a Rooney “something.” It’s hard to put your finger on it, but lyrically they were a little … they were way more bizarre, which some people probably liked. But they were very draggy and slow and dark, heavy rock. It didn’t have the charm and the cleverness lyrically, and it wasn’t the kind of thing that you would want to blast in your car, and drive with your friends and sing outside your window. That’s what I like, when people do that to our music, singing excited in summer or whatever it is. It just makes them excited in some way. I thought it was a little too over-thought, making those records. They lacked a sincerity and an organic feel.
People whose opinions we really cared for was like family, girlfriends, certain people at the label [Geffen Records]. When they heard those other records, they were not excited about them. It’s so telling how they react.
Sun: How did they tell you that without … crushing —
R.S.: Breaking our hearts?
Sun: [Laughs] Yeah.
R.S.: When I first talked to the label, and they said that they thought I should write four more songs after we handed in our first record, that’s like a hard thing … I took it fine. I can take things like that. I like being put to the test, but it was definitely a really weird time. No one was expecting to go in and keep making all these records. We thought we were going to be on the road right away. Not like, we put out a record, now go back and do it again really fast. But, I don’t know, nothing was sort of right.
Sun: I think that my main curiosity in what your path has been is when I hear a band’s fourth album, I’m used to hearing the first three, and seeing where things have for them and seeing the evolution. Does this count as your fourth album?
R.S.: To me it does. We’ve been writing and in the studio. It was the fourth studio experience we had. When I hear the other records, they were like two other records with completely different songs, so its not like you’re going to hear the same songs done in different styles, which we did at the same time. But for me its four records, and I don’t know; I’m curious to see what people will think of them. I know what I think of them and I know what my friends think of them and what the band thinks of them. There was a record that got leaked on the internet, demos of the first version of a record that we did, and people always love that stuff because they found it and they discovered it. Like, “This is the best! I really love the ‘lost record’ more than Calling the World.” And it’s like you only like it because you downloaded it and only like ten people have it. Because it’s a secret that they’ve discovered, like a treasure.
Sun: Sort of like a Beach Boys’ Smile kind of thing.
R.S.: Yeah, it’s the one that no one knows about. And they have it, which is why it’s better than everything. I really like all the songs we recorded, but I just know that for the Rooney sound and the Rooney second album, we definitely were not on the right page.
Sun: So if you sat down and listen to all four records in a row, would the middle two sound like Rooney or would they sound like Rooney side-projects? Linear or a deviation?
R.S.: I think it would be a deviation. I think if you put a different band’s name on it, I think it would work for someone else, but they don’t really work for us.
Sun: Since I just mentioned the Beach Boys, you’ve cited them in the past as influences, and surely California was one of theirs. Is there still a California theme or influence on this new record? I’m from California and I definitely feel that from the first album. Do you feel that on the second one too, or is Rooney global now? [Laughs]
R.S.: I don’t know. I guess I feel very close to California and our roots here in Los Angeles. Our video was shot around our house, Ned’s house actually. We do keep things close to home, I think, sonically and musically. I think it does have a sunny, good times vibe to it, and I think one of the most sunny, good times places in the world is Los Angeles and California.
Sun: I’ve been reading a lot of interviews you guys have done, and Matt [Winter, bassist] once described you as Anglophiles, which I found interesting because England, the weather, and the feel there is like the opposite of California, so I was surprised. I definitely see a lot of the California influence, but not a lot of the British, so in what ways would you say your appreciation for British music manifests itself in your music.
R.S.: There’s definitely a ton of bands that we love that are British. The British Invasion movement was very inspiring. So many great bands come out of there. Sometimes people do find our music to be very much like English pop music, but there’s a lot of great American pop bands these days as well. But when we’re over there in Europe, I sometimes feel very close to fans and I feel like they have a better understanding of where we’re coming from musically sometimes. Like, they know our influences better than any American would sometimes. When we play in England, they’re like, “Slade and ELO!” but I’ve never really heard like a fifteen-year-old American kid cite all of those references. Over there, they have a way better understanding of their history, which is probably why they have a great appreciation for rock ‘n roll music.

Sun: When records are reviewed and bands are profiled, the writers will usually spit out ten or twelve other bands to compare the sound, something the reader might identify with in case they’ve never heard it. But in your case, I don’t think I’ve read one thing about you guys that compares you to anybody contemporary.
R.S.: Yeah.
Sun: Do you think that by hearkening back to older eras, you’ve created a niche for yourself today? Are you the only ones doing what you’re doing because of that?
R.S.: I can’t say that I’ve heard a band recently that’s put out a record, or has the online presence or whatever, that really does push the things that our band has. And I wish there were more bands! Because then there would be more tours we could do with people. But its kind of frustrating to be a band today, making music we do, and then trying to find bands to play with because its hard to find good matches. I know that we have similar things to other bands, but I would say overall as a band and sonically, I can’t say that I’ve heard other bands that sing in three-part harmonies live and has keyboard, drum, and guitar solos, and with sing-along choruses through ever track. I don’t think that’s happening right now.
Sun: It’s interesting you say that because I’ve seen you with Kelly Clarkson and I know this summer you were touring with Fergie and you’ve toured with Travis and the All-American Rejects and the Strokes and Weezer and everyone. Even though you guys are the only ones doing that musically, and its hard to find someone to tour with doing that, do you feel like once you find a piece of a band’s music that relates to yours, their fans might relate to your music that way?
R.S.: I would say for us, when we think about tours, we definitely would rather tour with a band that is similar to us musically in some way, and we’ve gotten that at times. But I’d say that then there’s those times that we kind of need to get out on tour and expose yourself to people, and there’s like nothing happening, so you take a tour that’s a little more like a curveball. Like Kelly Clarkson or whatever, but you do it because you’re exposing your music to people and it’s a great opportunity to get in front of a big audience and play your music. We’ve gone on tours with certain people that people were surprised about, but we don’t do it because we hear something we can relate to in their music. We do it more because it’s great exposure, and we want to keep working and being able to play for people as much as we can. Not sit in L.A. and hope people find our record.
Sun: [Laughs] Is who you tour with a management and label decision or do you pick who you tour with yourselves?
R.S.: It’s presented to us, and then we lay out the options and figure out if it’s the best idea for us.
Sun: You guys also get to flit a lot between headlining club gigs and opening in huge arenas. Is there a big dichotomy in one night going out with Fergie and then another night, you’re playing at Slim’s?
R.S.: It’s kinda cool to be able to play in a bigger room and then do a smaller show because they definitely do have different vibes. It’s also because if you’re opening for somebody, it’s a whole ‘nother thing than headlining because you’re out there really trying to win people over. When you’re headlining, people are there because they really care for you, they wanna enjoy it, and it’s almost like you’re at ease. I really love headlining most of all. When we switch off between bigger rooms and clubs, I have a much better time doing the club shows. You’re face-to-face with people in a smaller environment and people are getting into it. It’s so much fun to do.

Rooney’s sophomore album, Calling the World, is available at Borders, Target, iTunes, Amazon and most major music outlets. To read more of the Sun’s conversation with Robert Schwartzman of Rooney, visit