Rooney: Robert Schwartzman Does It All

  Rooney is a band that you can count on, and with Robert Schwartzman as the frontman, it will be everlasting. He’s an actor, writer, and director on top of his career as a musician. He also composes stellar movie scores, which is just another one of the projects that keeps him busy… but hey, that’s what he loves. In his own words, Rooney is his “baby” and he could never “abandon” it, even if he does get involved with another form of creativity.

  In between his latest endeavors of becoming a dedicated filmmaker, touring every year, and maintaining a lasting relationship with his wife (photographer extraordinaire, Zoey Grossman), Schwartzman found the time to create the latest Rooney track, “Do You Believe”. An optimistic, production-heavy, and subtly intricate pop song that seems to be stemming into yet another stellar, new Rooney era.

I’d like to talk a little bit about this new song, “Do You Believe”, which is produced, and just done overall, so well. I am really in love with it. How did this song come to be? Did you write it knowing that it was going to be a single or is it alluding to a new album? Where did it come from?

  So, lately I have been going to Las Vegas to record music, and usually I like to record in Los Angeles, but it has been inspiring to travel and make music outside of the city. I have been trying to reframe how I make records lately. For so many years when I would make music I would make full-length records, which I kind of miss, also. I just wanted to tell you that. I also love the frequent output of putting out music individually, as well. That process is different — and also rewarding.

  You know, I just tried to buckle down and start writing. I have these windows to make sure that I am writing and time to make sure that I am inspired to start new projects musically. I started to outline “Do You Believe”, and I went out to Las Vegas to record it — which was earlier this year, actually — and anyway, I wanted to put out a new single that tried some new things musically for Rooney. I’m a big fan of a lot of early ‘80s, kind of electronic music, sort of industrial…bands like New Order or Depeche Mode or those kinds of bands. It’s not like an influence that I have brought yet into the Rooney music, but it is something that I listen to a lot. When you listen to a lot of music, it starts to kind of work its way into your writing. I say that it is even the same for a writer like yourself, like when you read a certain author a lot, maybe their style works its way into your writing.

Oh, definitely!

  Or someone who is a designer, for example, might be inspired by a certain look or design that they want to bring into their own work. It’s the same with music. The more you absorb it, it starts to find its way subconsciously into what you are doing. So, yeah, I went in and started drafting the idea for “Do You Believe” and then I went to Vegas to finish it. I thought it kind of would be a good single to put out individually. There are some other songs that I was doing at the same time that feel kind of cohesive with that sound that I would love to put out this year, but so far it has really been about this one single.

It’s a good single, too! I know that you have said in past interviews that you love to travel, and like you said here, get inspiration from different places. Do you find Las Vegas to have a different musical vibe or different inspiration to you as compared to what Los Angeles has?

  Yeah, I think so. I think about this with any artist of any sort of art form; I started writing songs when I was in high school. I wrote my first song when I was like, 16, which was “Blueside”. I was becoming a junior in high school, which is when I started Rooney… Actually, I was a junior at that time. I feel like I have been writing and playing shows and touring for a lot of my adult life, so I think that the more you do it, you start to wonder how you can make it feel fresh and exciting. You never want it to feel stagnant or tired anymore, so I think that, for me, taking a minute and coming into it feeling fresh and inspired is always important. I think that change of scenery, change of environment can be quite therapeutic; just clearing your head and getting out of your normal habits.

  I think the whole Las Vegas idea of going there to work exposes me to a different community, which I really love. I met a lot of locals there, many of whom have become my friends. The studio in which I work in is called National Southwestern Recording, which I highly recommend to every musician I meet, because I think it’s just a well built and great sounding room. But definitely change in environment for me, like, I lived in a hotel for three months on Fremont Street, I wasn’t in my house. I was just kind of breaking those barriers of comfort and the norm to just mix it up a bit and I think it works its way subconsciously into the work.

  I did go into Vegas with a sort of rough draft of “Do You Believe” and I had the lyrics written ahead of time, so I wasn’t going there to feel inspired to write lyrics or something. Some of the other songs that I worked on there were a little bit more in an early stage of creation, so I did really get to flush them out in Las Vegas. I don’t know. I mention Las Vegas because, for me, having made music for many years, I am always looking for ways to freshen it up and make it feel new to me, even though this is like a job or work that I have been doing for a long time. Obviously, I love it, so I keep doing it out of the joy of it, but I think creatively, I want to always make sure that I am coming at it feeling excited about it — not just going through the motions. There is not one record that I have put out that I feel is just like, “Whatever, I’ll just put it out!” All of these songs that I put out, I truly feel passionate about. So, you know, that part of it all has stayed intact, but sometimes I think that conceptually, the way you approach something can make it feel fresh and a little bit rejuvenated. I think change of scenery has done that for me.

Of course, and you spoke about passion, which a lot of your fans can definitely pick up on through your different releases over time and how you interact with them. You always seem to make it a little bit of a precedent to go on tour as often as you can.

  Oh, absolutely! That’s been my whole approach from the beginning and I don’t think it’s a put on. It’s a genuine part of this experience for me. Meeting everyone who is coming out to the show and spending time just to say hi is something that I care about, you know? The appreciation of everyone there. It’s interesting, because the bigger the shows we play, the harder it is to maintain that relationship with everybody. So, sometimes if the venue is bigger, you have to kind of find a way to find everybody after the show. Everyone kind of just disappears, so I do the best that I can to be present. I think that we have tried to work that into the meet and greet now, because it is a nice, organized way for everyone to be able to hang out ahead of the show as opposed to after of the show.

I know that fans can feel that mutual appreciation. And I know that you guys are the absolute best with your fans and I trust that 100 percent. But I do want to ask: you ask your fans on social media what they want to hear on your tours. Do you truly take these comments into consideration when making these setlists?

  Definitely. I mean, I want to know what people what to hear. I was looking at the data on like Pandora and Spotify and everything, and I’m always curious to see what people are gravitating towards; what songs people naturally want to hear more. Sometimes when you look at that list of the top 20 songs, there are a couple in there that you’re like, “Oh wow, that one?” toward. Like “Love Me or Leave Me”, for an example, seems to get a lot of engagement on Pandora, for example. That one is interesting because it isn’t a song that we play very much, so we started playing that a couple of years ago to work it into the set. You know, I want people to come out and be excited about the show. Hearing from people, it is definitely coming from that place of wanting people to weigh in on that experience, because who better to ask for feedback from than the people who are into this music and have been supporting this music for a long time?

  I think also, as you know, with any artist, sometimes people fall in love with you for a specific reason. There could be a moment or a song or a thing or an experience they had that made them think of Rooney. It’s a mixed amount of feedback. It’s not just coming from people who know all the Rooney music. They might just know a few songs that they are familiar with, so you have to kind of balance out that feedback. I think feedback in important, like even when you give customer feedback, when you leave comments on Yelp for feedback on a restaurant or a product. It’s how you look at that feedback that is also a part of the process. You know, you can’t please everybody and just be like, “Well, we’ll play every song here!” You have to kind of read the room a little bit.

For sure. You do cover a lot of different Rooney eras on your tours, which gets everyone into the show. Do you still enjoy playing the older songs or hit songs that might bring people, including yourself, back to a simpler time in the world?

  Yeah, for sure! I mean, let’s put it this way. If there’s a band — I think about this, too, a, lot — if there was a band that I grew up listening to or just a band that I’m a fan of, there’s probably a handful of songs from that artist, although I really love that band, there are probably a handful of songs that I really, really love and am obsessed with. I definitely want to hear those songs when I hear them play live, you know? If they don’t play those songs then I will definitely be a little bummed out. I try to put myself in that perspective and be like, “Rooney might mean the same thing to someone else that this band means to me,” so I want to make sure that I give people that same sort of emotional excitement that I get from other shows, as well. That is definitely a part of my thought process; wanting to incorporate songs that really get people excited about coming to see us.

  I have to say, it’s pretty cool and I always think about this, I’ve toured every year since 2016. That was sort of the goal: to be back in every city at least once a year. I think Rooney right now, we are not playing the sort of game that we used to. We don’t have some label that is spending gazillions of dollars on radio and marketing and all of those sorts of story-building pieces that all of these other artists get right now. You know what I mean? We’ve paved our own road, so to speak, and we’re just trying to walk down that road right now. I’m always really pleasantly excited that so many people have stuck with this project. There have been a lot of supporters out there who have come out to see Rooney and want to hear these songs live again, and I really appreciate that. Whenever we go on a tour, I’m like, “Oh god, we were just here like a year ago! Are people going to be here tonight?” and then people come out and I’m like, “Wow, this is amazing!” There really is passion here within this project.

It’s amazing, you’re right. How important is it for you to go out on these yearly tours or when you can?

  It’s really important. I mean, I do it because I love to do it. If I didn’t love it then I wouldn’t want to be on the road. No one is forcing me to go on tour. I definitely put that pressure on myself, because I want to be out and I want to be playing music, so keeping it going is important. It’s also challenging, you know? Going out and touring, it has a certain physical side-effect. It takes a toll on you physically. It’s a lot of planning and a lot of logistics and hurdles to overcome. You’re kind of at the mercy of the market, like consumer behavior. Are people going to show up or no? Are people going to show right now? What other shows are in town? What’s your competition? There is a lot of planning that goes into it. There is truly a strategy to touring and I think that that is the part of touring that people don’t think about.

  Actually, I never even thought about it until I became a musician. There’s an innocence to just being a music fan; no one really thinks about the day-to-day craziness that involves this kind of lifestyle, but regardless of that, I’ve been touring since ‘02, so 16 years of on and off touring, and I’ve gotten kind of comfortable with the kind of chaos that is life on the road. It’s important to me to do those kind of things…you want to do all of it from a genuine place of love and passion. Without that, I don’t see myself being on the road, and I think part of the reason is because people keep coming out to see the show and it’s just a really good time. If you’re playing for an empty room, you don’t want to go back there, so part of the reason I even tour so much is because people keep coming out.

Absolutely! With the different styles of songs you put out, and the different generations of fans, there are definitely enough people coming out to experience Rooney for the first time, or the third time, or the tenth time.

  Yes, absolutely. I hope it keeps going.

Rooney actually has been around for quite some time now and it’s seen different styles, different places, and even different lineups. Did you ever think of starting fresh, maybe changing the name to go along with this new lineup, new style, and new approach? Or was it that you wanted to stick to your gut and move forward with this Rooney style and Rooney project?

  Yeah, well, years ago I started this project called STARSYSTEM. It’s actually on Spotify still. I then did solo stuff with a different lineup playing my solo album. Even doing STARSYSTEM or the solo stuff, something just felt like…I was thinking, “Why am doing this?” [Laughs] “I should be playing as Rooney.” I love playing all of those songs, I worked hard at it for years, and it’s like my baby. I don’t just want to abandon it. My thought was that whatever I am trying to get out of these other projects, can I get that out of Rooney? And the answer is yes! I mean, Rooney has a history of putting all of these songs out, but also, there’s nothing stopping the future of this other project from evolving, as well.

  I’m always trying new things. I would say that “Do You Believe” is a bit of its own style. It’s different than like “Blueside” or “[I’m] Shakin’”. So, there can still be growth, boundaries broken, and evolution all under the same band name. I think that’s the trick: knowing how to refine yourself as you go. I think that you want to keep growing, or at least, that’s my goal. I don’t just want to plateau. It’s tricky, too, because people think of Rooney as a time in their life, again, going back to when you can capture an emotion in somebody. I hope that by putting new music out constantly, that people will begin to grow with me, as opposed to getting frozen in time. I want that constant growth and the only way that that can happen is to put new music out.

Of course! That makes so much sense. It seems like you, personally, are always challenging yourself and starting new projects. Like, you have this movie called The Unicorn that debuted at SXSW this year. What can you tell us about that?

  It’s like a new road for me. You know, I’m getting to pursue an art form that I love and grew up kind of wanting to be; which was a director. That was always my goal before I started Rooney. I was out making movies all the time and then I even went away to film school and I just wanted to make movies. I got caught up in the music industry and I got really into performing live. I really enjoyed doing the live show, so I kind of deviated at a younger age into pursuing music. But in taking some time off from Rooney in 2011/2012, I started writing a screenplay called Dreamland with my friends and I kind of started figuring out how to pursue this dream of making movies.

  Since that time I made Dreamland, it came out at Tribeca [Film Festival] and its on Netflix now, for all your readers to check it out if they want. Then I was hungry to make another movie again, so I started working on The Unicorn last year and we shot it last summer. I was editing the movie partly while on tour with Rooney when I was away last summer. I came back, though, and I worked on post-production in L.A. and then we were invited to debut at SXSW. Since then, we have debuted at Sun Valley Film Festival, we debuted in Shanghai, China at the Shanghai Film Festival. There are a bunch of film festivals that we have played at and are going to keep playing at until the movie comes out next year. The date is TBD, but it will be announced soon.

  For me, what I can say about it is that I love movies, I feel passionate about movies. It’s like music. Music is like a movie and movies are like music. So, they’re very connected to what I’ve been doing with Rooney for the past years. I’ve been able to write original music for the movies that I have directed, so I have been able to incorporate — in a natural way — what I have been working toward creatively for years with music. Working with actors and all, it’s just a community that I really enjoy, so I’m excited about. It’s a new path, but I’m trying to keep it going and keep doing music. It’s just a balancing act, really.


Catch Rooney performing live at Brooklyn Bowl on September 20.