Robert Schwartzman of Rooney
It’s been a few years since Rooney released their debut self-titled album and many fans were starting to wonder if we’d ever hear another from them. But Rooney (Robert Schwartzman on vocals and guitar, Ned Brower on drums and backing vocals, Taylor Locke on guitars and backing vocals, Matthew Winter on bass and Louie Stevens on keyboards) may just take the award for hardest working band in the business. Not only do they have a new album coming out on July 17th titled Calling The World, they scrapped two entire albums prior to this one, simply because they felt they weren’t good enough. The band demands perfection on and off the stage, so it should come as no surprise that they would be the first to scrap an entire album and start all over again, but one would have to start to wonder, when is good, good enough? Some bands may be okay with good, but Rooney strives for nothing less than their best, and their best is what they give you with Calling The World, from beginning to end.
The first single When Did Your Heart Go Missing and it’s accompanying video are already eating the faces off of pop fans everywhere. The song, the perfect summertime anthem, oozes fun, dance, pop beats, all the while hitting you right in the gut with the Rooney lyrics we’ve all grown to love – a recipe of half tongue in cheek, half clever and add a dash of wit. The rest of the album follows in the lyric department but the music offers a few new things that we haven’t heard from Rooney in the past. On I Should Have Been After You you get what is being referred to as Rooney’s first mini rock opera and the album closes with the poignant ballad Help Me Find My Way which will leave even the coldest of hearts with goosebumps.
The album gives you a full feel of what this band is really all about as far as what they are capable of musically and how much Schwartzman has magnified his songwriting over the past few years. Never fear though, their California spirit and carefree vibe is evident throughout; they’re not going to let you forget where they came from.
The band garnered many new fans last summer opening for Kelly Clarkson and is currently on tour with Fergie. While this may seem a bit off key for the band, they have been filling in their off days with headlining shows for everyone and promise to be back on tour just as soon as this tour finishes up. In fact, if they had it their way, they’d be on tour forever!
Frontman and chief songwriter Robert Schwartzman recently sat down with TWRY staffers Mary and Stacie to answer our questions about the past, the future, and all things Rooney!
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | June 2007
So, I have to start out by asking about the length of time between your debut album and the new one. You teased us many times with the hints of a new album and then, nothing ever came to fruition. Can you give us an idea of what was happening during that time? I’m sure it had to be a frustrating time for you as well?
Basically we made an album in 2004 and finished it and we were hoping we could put it out. We were actually planning to put it out, we told the fans and everything. After sitting with it for awhile it didn’t really hold up. I think the band really thought it just wasn’t the right sound for us. It wasn’t going to be the best second album to hit people with. It just didn’t have what the first album had, the yummy popness and catchy songs. It was just very slow and kind of dark and too edgy. So we decided to just can it and I started re-writing the record which was pretty frustrating because we were pretty attached to those songs. So, it took about a year to write new songs, find a new producer and go back in. We finally went into the studio and cut a new album with mostly new songs with some re-dos. Again, after awhile, we and the label felt that it wasn’t the best second album again. It just didn’t have the authenticity that our band has.
So the band felt that way as well?
Oh yeah. And at that time we were going on tour with Kelly Clarkson, we were planning on putting the record out, we put magnets everywhere announcing the release in September.
Hey I have a few of those…
Yes, we were set to put the record out. Luckily we didn’t because I don’t think it would have been well-received by our fans or anyone really discovering the band. I had some new demos that I thought were some of the best stuff we had and we met a new producer through a friend and it kind of organically came together. We went in and cut some demos which ended up becoming “the” record. We kept going, the label was really proud of the music, and we thought it was the closest thing to our band that we had ever done, and from a songwriting point of view I thought it was the best stuff I’d written up until then. We felt we had to put that out and the label was super behind it and that’s what’s coming out on July 17th.
So some fans may be familiar with a few of the songs on the new album because they’ve been played live in the past. Tell Me Soon and Paralyzed made the cut, is that right – any others we may have heard in the past?
Tell Me Soon and Paralyzed have been around for awhile, there are some demos that leaked a long time ago. People have those demos. The song called What For that was on the second version of the record that we canned was good so we wanted to hold on to it. There were pretty much nine songs written right before we went and made Calling The World.
The first single “When Did Your Heart Go Missing” is very upbeat but at the same time, the lyrics are a bit tongue in cheek in true Rooney fashion. I think this is one of the great things that sets you apart from other pop bands, your ability to write the most amazing sounding upbeat song with clever lyrics you don’t always anticipate…is this something that you make a point of doing or is that just sort of how you write?
I don’t know. The stuff that I’ve forced myself to write has never been as good as the stuff that just comes naturally. The stuff on the record that we threw away were songs that I felt didn’t come from the right place at times. There was a lot of writing happening for this album, there were hundreds of songs written, maybe that’s a lot, but there were over a hundred songs written and a lot of shitty demos made. We were trying too hard to write a catchy song. I think that once I just relaxed and had fun with it and was more spontaneous the lyrics were back to the normal Rooney, quirky, clever lyrics. I like when the melody is really poppy but the lyrics are about a dark and weird thing, like a relationship gone sour. When Did Your Heart Go Missing I love because I definitely felt mistreated one time in a relationship when I was like “you were here one day and you’re gone the next? Like how did this happen so quickly?” so that definitely came from that place and the lyrics came together pretty quickly. I took a poetry class online during this whole process, it was a UCLA extension class. I learned more about internal rhyming and different structures so writing that song I definitely used what I learned at UCLA. Every line rhymes, and I don’t think there are a lot of Rooney songs where every line rhymes in a verse, it’s usually like A B A B, so this is all rhyming which I really like. The song came together pretty quickly which I think is always a sign of a song that was meant to be.
The video for When Did Your Heart Go Missing has also just been released, was the concept of the video your idea?
It was a combination. I definitely always wanted dancing in the video, people having a party and good times. I always wanted to show L.A., and show people where we live. We do go to Malibu parties and barbeque and sit out on the beach, we do those things. We go to Echo Park where the night scene is, the performance, we go see shows there. We had our friends from other bands in the video. Someone at our label was actually involved with Dr. Dre and they did “Aint Nothing But a G Thing” and in that video, Dr. Dre gets picked up by Snoop or Snoop gets picked up by Dr. Dre and then go around town and go to a barbeque. It’s a bit of a hybrid of that.
So were you Snoop or Dre?
I was Snoop. The band was Dre.
Check out the video for When Did Your Heart Go Missing
During the party scene Ned attempts to bust out a headspin but we never see the follow through. Can he actually do one?
I don’t know, it looked like a yoga move. I went to a yoga class one time and someone did that kind of handstand so I think that was a yoga move so I don’t know if he actually spun. Ben Lee was in the video though, he’s the guy who’s upside down in the basketball hoop. He’s pretty ballsy to do that.
The song I Should Have Been After You is being called a mini–rock opera, can you elaborate for those who are dying to hear it?
Yeah, at shows, I’m tempted to say, this is our rock opera…
You really should..
But I don’t want to put it in a box before we play it. I like when people can come up with their own definition for it. For a Rooney song, we’ve never really gone to that place that’s that dramatic, but it’s also really catchy too. When we play it it’s pretty memorable and I think it shows what the band is capable of musically. We did a Queen cover, for the Queen tribute album..
Yes, we heard you playing during soundcheck…
Yeah. I think that we always wanted to do that, something that big but there was nothing ever written. But that song was the last song written for the album and I had the verse piano part and the melody and the pre-chorus and then it just kind of all came together. The bridge, which is the piano…have you heard it?
I heard you play it live…it’s amazing…
Thanks a lot! It’s kind of prog-rocky at times..
Yes, we were comparing it to Styx after we heard it..
Yes, Styx, it’s also very Beach Boy-sy, like their later stuff. It’s definitely one we’re proud of. It’s the one we play to people when we want to say “This is our album, check it out!”
Help Me Find My Way has personal meaning to you, you wrote it about your father, I always wonder when people write songs that they are that attached to emotionally if its therapeutic to write a song like that?
Yeah, I think so. You’re definitely putting yourself out there. I think it’s a pretty heavy subject that has never appeared on any of our songs. When it was written, I thought it needed to be on the record, we needed to show that side of the band as well, the more emotional side because it’s all fun and games at times. It is therapeutic, I’m just proud of it because I think the subject matter and the melody fit really well. It’s done with violins. It’s pretty cool, it closes the album and I think it’s a good end for the album. Kind of heavy for the last song.
What’s the general writing process for you? Are you someone that sits down with the intent to write and is able to just bang out a song, or do you find yourself writing bits and pieces as things inspire you throughout life?
It happens like that. There’s definitely times when you hear someone say something and you think ‘hey that sounds cool’. I like wordplay and I like words that rhythmically go together and sound cool rhythmically, for this album my voicemail was full forever because its all song ideas. I’d be driving in my car and see a lyric. So I never really have gone back and turned those into songs, but usually I like to start a song and just work it through from the get go. At times I’ll write down a lyric and try to make it work somehow. There’s no real method for me for writing songs, if I’m excited about something and I get the chills I go with it and try to write something..
What comes first, the lyrics or the music?
When Did Your Heart Go Missing was music….
So it can go both ways.
Yes, some of the songs are definitely lyrics first..sometimes the same moment that you write the melody the lyric hits you right there.
There’s been mention of some of the lost tracks coming to life as well via special releases or imports…any more details on that or do we need to wait it out?
It’s something we have to figure out with our label and the timing of when we would put something like that out. We don’t want to put those songs out before this album’s out. We want to let this record sit in with people before we put those songs out. I think once this record cycle is over it will be like B-Sides on iTunes, but they should absolutely be heard.
On your headlining dates are you finding its people who have been fans for a long time, people who were first introduced to you on the Kelly Clarkson tour last summer? A healthy mix?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I’ve met some people that were at our first shows and then kind of drifted away, and now they’ve returned and they’re like, it’s good to be back. And thats always good to see. I think it’s natural for people to grow out of a band, whether they are good or not. Fans will leave because they don’t like who you’ve toured with or the video you’ve made or the choices you’ve made. I think we definitely haven’t seen some familiar faces at these shows. I’m hoping that when this record is out we’ll start to see more of the old school people and of course new people. Our fans have helped us sell more records because they’ve told people about us. I think they’re the most open about it. The funny thing is, I remember when we were in LA playing shows all the time, we had this really hardcore following and even when we toured with Weezer the first time, we had a really tight fanbase and then new people started coming out when we had a song on MTV. And then those new people started becoming the new hardcore people and the other people were like, I cant be here now. It’s funny, as new people come in and the older people think that, what they don’t realize is they were once that same person. It comes full circle. The way I see it is if you like the music someone makes you support them. I think we’ve been lucky enough to hold on to most people. At these shows, the Fergie dates we’ve been doing, are unique shows because tickets aren’t for sale and they aren’t advertised so people don’t even know we’re doing those shows. If they want a ticket and email us asking about them I don’t even know how to get them. So this tour is a unique tour but we’ve been headlining in between to make up for it and to give people a chance to see us. Once the record’s out, we’ll come right back in August and back in the fall. We’re going to come back a lot for everybody.
I have to say, when I saw you open for Kelly Clarkson, and you announced that you’d be doing a signing after your set, I was going to go talk to you about setting up an interview, and when I got out there, it was like Elvis had just played, screaming girls everywhere…how does one get use to that?
We’ve done signings where there have been really short lines and some where there have been long lines. So we just think, I guess we played well tonight because theres a lot of people, or I guess we stunk. It all depends. We love it when a lot of people come out. We like to see our fans, not just wave goodbye to them and disappear. We like to come out, shake hands and sign. The more people that come out, the better. I don’t think any of us are like “Wow, we’re awesome!”
The Fergie tour wraps up about a week after your new album comes out. What are the plans for touring after that? Are we going to see you do your own headlining tour, is anything scheduled yet? Maybe hook up with a big tour? Hints?
Yeah, we book tours way in advance. I can’t confirm exactly what we’re doing but the plan is when the record is out we’ll be on the west coast for awhile and then we’re just going to keep working after that. I think that we’ve been waiting so long, and we spent so much time in L.A. that we’re so sick of being home and we’re like once we go, let’s go, let’s not go back. We’ll stay in a bus, we’ll stay in a van, play as many shows as we can, anywhere, any time.
So do you think it will be a solo tour?
There might be a good band that makes sense to play with that offers us a tour. How things look now is it will be a Rooney tour, we’d rather do that anyway.
Do you ever fear that fans aren’t going to stick with you due to the length between releases?
There was a moment when we kept canning these albums where everyone in the band was getting pretty down wondering what we were doing. There was definitely a time when we were super confused and pissed off like everyone else was. It was frustrating because here we were telling people we were sorry but we were feeling pissed off about it too. In the end we had to make sure we had the right record. In the long run, people are going to forget about these three years if they have a record they really like, so hopefully that will make up for it. In some weird way, something about taking the time we took I think has been a good thing. I swear, the first record, people feel like it’s held up over time, and when they feel that way I think they fall in love with the band more. It’s not like we’ve been drunk, sitting out on a beach in Hawaii or something. We’ve been working franticly to put together a record and up against a lot of weird crazy shit that we cant really go into but a lot of business stuff and political stuff. I think that in the end it’s been a good thing and the main reason is that we have a record that we believe in.
I’m always impressed by how tight your live show is. What do you attribute this to other than just being great musicians? Playing together for so long or just being damn good at what you do?
I think it’s because we are really picky. We’re perfectionists, each one of us in our own way. If someone misses one little note, it ruins the show for us. Matt’s bass tone last night was cutting in and out at times, but it sounded fine in the house. The whole night he was like in his pajamas depressed. It’s really ridiculous, stupid things that seem silly to an outsider but get to us. We’re picky about our tones, and the mics we use and the gear we use. We rehearse a lot. If somebody is off, we’re pretty hard on them. We play the parts that are on the record. Some bands write new solos that aren’t on the record. If there isn’t a piano part in a verse but Louie is playing one live we say, that’s not on the record, lets not do that. Or if there’s a harmony we’re singing live that isn’t on the record we usually don’t do it. I remember going to see a band called Grandaddy in LA and they had a record called The Sophtware Slump that had weird keyboard sounds and tape machines with birds chirping. I went to see them live and everything was there, the birds, the tape recorder. I said to myself that I want to definitely sound like that. There’s nothing worse than seeing a band you like that sounds like shit live. You leave thinking ‘aww I love them but they stink live’. Theres also more than just sounding good, you have to put on a show. Some bands sound good live but they don’t interact with the crowd. Some fans like that because its like indie and they’re “taking it in”. For me, people working together on the song is important, it’s so important to get everyone involved.
If you could change places, with someone in the band for 48 hours, who would you change with and what would you do?
Probably either Louie or Ned. I love playing piano and keyboards and I usually write on piano but I love playing drums as well, I love how they feel when you just bang them. The band thinks I’m a shitty drummer but I actually think I’m a good drummer so if I worked harder I’d be better. I keep trying to convince Ned to come sing a song and I’ll play drums.
Describe each band member in one word and one word only.
Ned is …very ambitious…Ned’s very positive, which is good.
Well is he positive or ambitious you have a one word limit!
I would say…Ned is very positive.
Taylor is very intense.
I would say Louie is very private.
I would say that Matt is very…trustworthy.
and myself…AWESOME…I would say..I don’t know awesome comma…I don’t know, it’s hard to describe yourself.
Any pre-show rituals?
We don’t drink or do any drugs before a show. We’re not drug addicts by the way. Booze affects the way you work so that would affect the show.
So is that a band rule?
It’s a band rule. But a ritual…we always do a “WHOA Rooney” and we say a couple words about the city we’re in, something fun. We’ve always done it, I think there’s been one show where we missed it and we freaked out.
If you woke up one morning as a member of The Beatles back in their heyday, which Beatle would you want to be and why?
John Lennon I really love, I love his sarcasm and songwriting. They’re all amazing so it’s hard to say which one.
This may be something I should already know the answer to but…I know for awhile you were going by Robert Carmine, Carmine being your grandfather’s name.but the new press release uses Schwartzman. Are you no longer using Carmine?
What was the first album you ever bought for yourself and do you have any memories tied to it?
I remember very well. Okay two albums – in kindergarten I remember having the tape of Thriller that I use to sneak into kindergarten and I’d listen to Thriller instead of listening to like a fairy tale or whatever they piped through. Secondly, I remember buying Billy Idol – Rebel Yell on tape and listening to it and dancing around in my room all the time. Then I left it on a plane and it destroyed me. I guess I didn’t realize I could just go buy another one and I was devastated. I just remember that feeling of losing my Billy Idol tape. So terrible.
Live photos of Rooney taken by TWRY Staff members: