EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rooney, Growing Up Before Our Eyes
During an interview in 1973, a reporter once asked Neil Young how it felt getting the perks of being signed under a major record label: more money, more traveling, more luxury. He responded by saying, “I just do what I do. I’m here simply because I like to make music.” While sitting in Rooney’s tour bus, listening to frontman, Robert Schwartzman, talk about his band (and their music), this quote kept replaying in my mind. After leaving a major label, putting together a tour, and releasing their new album, Eureka, it became even more apparent that the only thing these guys want to do is make the music they love and relay it to their fans without impediment.
I spent nearly an hour with Schwartzman, going back and forth between questions concerning Eureka, the tour, and their fans. Though I’ve been quite captivated with Rooney for nearly eight years, Schwartzman’s answers mixed with various analogies left me even more fascinated than when I stepped foot in their tour bus. There’s something enticing about watching a group of musicians growing up right before your eyes.
A lot of you probably remember Rooney’s appearance on The O.C. in 2004; I’ll spare going into detail about it, but the show boosted their popularity and brought a lot of attention to their debut album. In my opinion, that first record captured the soul of pop music and made all of us Rooney fans wonder what kind of foot-tapping songs they were going to release next. Due to creative struggles and label disagreements, it took around four years for their second album, but in 2007, Calling the World was released. Though still keeping within the pop music genre, this album had a little more edge than their last. The writing was better, the singing was stronger, and the overall vibe of the record had more of an alternative feel.
Just a few weeks ago, on June 8th, they released Eureka, their third full length album. Not knowing what to expect this time around, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally heard the record. In my opinion, this is their best album yet, and really shows how much they have matured and come into their own. I have a lot of respect for musicians that can change their sound while still being completely true to who they are as a band. Eureka shows how versatile they can be and just how talented they really are. Schwartzman and I had the chance to talk about the different direction this album has taken and what to expect from Rooney in the future.
Your new album, Eureka, sounds harder and has more of a rock ‘n’ roll edge than your previous records. Was that intentional or something that just happened?
Robert SchwartzmanIt just happened. I think everyone has their own interpretation and opinion of the record. Going into making this album, none of us said “yeah, we should totally rock more.” The songs dictate the feeling of the record or what happens in the production. When I write songs, I know what I want them to sound like. We have all of the songs on demos, too, which is pretty close to a specific concept. There are songs on the record, such as “Not In My House” and “Holdin’ On” that have more guitar, but I think it’s just our sound. Live, we’ve always been a lot harder- more rock n’ roll.
Do you think the direction you went with this record is something you’ll continue to follow, or do you think you’ll go back to that traditional Rooney sound that’s on your previous albums?
I really think this record is the closest to what we actually sound like as a band. I don’t think the other records have quite captured our sound. I think a lot of these newer songs still have a melodic, “poppy” thing to them, regardless of how heavy they are. I think it’s all melody centric.
Who or what were your biggest inspirations for Eureka?
I was listening to a lot of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Steely Dan, and John Lennon’s solo stuff. I really just wanted to make a record that I thought our fans would like. So, I would have to say that our fans are always a big inspiration. When you play shows, you know what people like; I know what songs people want to hear of ours. I want to make the fans happy, because I’m happy when other people are happy. If our fans are psyched about a record, I’m really psyched about it, too; and when people get bummed out about what we’re doing, I get really bummed out about it.
Would you consider your fans and the musicians you just listed to be general inspirations in your every day life as well?
Everything is inspirational. I think it’s all a part of the music in some way. All of us in the band- our feelings about each other, ups and downs…it all works its way into something. The playing, the music, the fighting- it all works its way in there.
On older tours, you covered a lot of different bands and musicians such as The Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, etc…are these people you plan to cover on this tour as well? Or are you doing any cover songs at all?
We haven’t worked up any covers for this tour. It’s been challenging. It’s actually a good problem, because we have too many of our own songs. Sometimes I don’t even know what to play, because we have so much stuff. If I had it my way, we would just play the new album, but I know our fans really like to hear certain songs from the first and second record. It’s been hard to juggle three records and an EP and then try to figure out what covers we want to play. As much as people like our band, I think it can get tiring after an hour and half; you can get burnt out, so we’re trying to keep the sets nice and tight.
In my opinion, I think you guys sound like a newer, updated version of Hall & Oates. Are there any bands that you think Rooney sounds like or that you have pulled your sound from?
I really love hit songs, and I don’t mean that because they’re “so big and famous,” I just think they are so well put together. There’s a reason a song captures the hearts of many people, so to me that’s really interesting. It’s a challenge to make a song like that, and I love that challenge. I’ve always gravitated towards greatest hits collections. However, I would say the only difference between Hall & Oates and Rooney is that they are more soulful. They focus more on R&B and Soul, and are more adult-contemporary sounding. Rooney has a little more indie-quirkiness to it.
If you could pick any band to perform with, even if they’re not together anymore- who would it be?
I’d love to tour with Weezer again. I really liked that tour; they’e great guys and I feel like our music is very compatible. If I had to choose someone to open for Rooney, I’d pick the Rolling Stones…just saying.
Going back to Eureka, how does it feel to release this album on your own, without any big label backing you?
It feels good. We started making it around March of 2009, but we were recording on and off. Leaving a big label was a whole, new world for us. It was something we needed, so it was good. We were all slowly suffocating.
Were you happy to do it? I’m sure it was scary, but once you got out, was it a breath of fresh air for all of you?
Yes, absolutely. It felt like walking on thin ice. You know when someone falls through the ice and they’re trapped underneath? It’s kind of like that. Being on a major label, you never know when you’re gonna fall through the ice, and when you’re under there, you have no idea how to get back through, but you can see things happening on the other side. I’d say we were able to break back through the ice and get out of it. Now I’m just hoping we don’t catch hypothermia. That’s sort of where we’re at right now.
Were there any songs on Eureka that were based on personal experiences, or were they things that just came to your head in the process of wanting to make a new record?
They’re all very personal. I’d say “I Can’t Get Enough” is the least personal song on the record. However, it’s based on a concept of something I’ve experienced. I like when things are blunt and people just say it. There’s something about hip hop music that’s really charming and sincere. As heard-it-before as the music is, there’s something kind of cool about hearing “yo baby, you’re so sexy” in all of those songs. Actually, “I Can’t Get Enough” was originally called “I Can’t Get It Up.” I was trying to come up with something kind of crazy, like “oh, I can’t believe he just said that.” It’s very memorable when things are sort of bizarre. Though, I think Rhianna has a song that goes “come on rude boy, can’t you get it up.” Hearing that is just so crazy to me; it blows my mind how risquÃ© lyrics are in pop music today. Anyway, on this record, I didn’t write “The Hunch” or “Into the Blue.”
I was about to ask you about “Into the Blue.” That’s a great song, my favorite on the album. Do you know the story behind it?
Louie actually wrote it. I don’t really know the story behind it, but I know the story of the first time I heard it. We’ve never had anyone else in the band write for the record. This was the first record that other people wanted to write. It’s the third record, and everyone really wanted to be featured as a writer. It was kind of scary for me, because I had never experienced my band-mates being so adamant. I didn’t want to knock it down, because I’ve always said it’s an open game: whoever wants to write, write…but at the end of the day, we’ll pick the best songs. I think people have trouble with that concept because I don’t think they felt it ever came to fruition. It’s hard when you judge people’s songs, because you take it very personally. I feel like I’ve been getting judged from day one with my songs, so I don’t really take it personally anymore. However, it became a sore subject making this record because people were getting really sad that their songs weren’t getting picked. Louie submitted three or four songs, “Into the Blue” was one of them. Right away, we were all really into it. It was automatically in the safe zone, because it stood out right away. Louie got his pool cleaning license a couple of years ago and he basically spent a lot of time in a pool- floating around, enjoying it- and then he wrote this song.
What record do you feel is the most personal or the one you hold closest to you?
I like them all, honestly. When I play songs off the first record, I’m surprised because I forget they are good songs. I realize it sounds a little egotistical to say that, but we were around 17 when we made that album- so, when I go back and listen to it, I think we made a really great record. There was this director named Roberto Rossellini who made this very innovative film as his first movie, but everything he did after that, people just panned, because they kept comparing it to his first film. I’m not comparing myself to him, but in some ways I sometimes feel like I can relate to that…especially when people only like songs from our first record. I’m glad we struck a good chord with people on our first record, but it’d be nice to move forward and have those same people grow with our band.
A few of you in Rooney have side projects: you have Solobob, Taylor now has the Roughs. As a band, do you guys think you’ll ever take a little break from Rooney for all of you to work on your own stuff and show your versatility as musicians?
I think when people’s songs didn’t get picked for the record, it created this sense of rebellion in everyone to go off and do their own thing, but I think it’s healthy to have that because people need another outlet. I think it’s cool that everyone has their own thing. We’ve been playing together for over ten years, so it’s easy to get sick of doing everything together. Doing other projects helps all of us really appreciate Rooney. Let’s say you’re married and your sex life isn’t so great, so you start sleeping with someone else, but then that’s not as good, so you think “shit, I really had something good. My relationship was really great.” There’s a little bit of that with doing other projects; you begin to realize that with Rooney once you take a break. It’s all been fun and it’s healthy to have other creative outlets.
Do you have plans to take Solobob on tour or is it something you just do for yourself?
I don’t really know. I have all of these different projects and I like that they have their own identity. I don’t think I’ll ever just do one thing. Solobob quenches my thirst in one way. It’s like going to dinner: I want to eat Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and Italian food. I don’t want to just eat Chinese food all the time. Solobob is my Japanese food. It’s so specific, but I don’t look at it as my solo record. I really love synthesizers, drum machines, pop music…those are things my band doesn’t really like, but I think it’s cool, so I do it just for fun. I do want to put it out, I just don’t know when.