This New York rocker is hellbent on breaking the mold and living in the moment, even if it requires going a little bit crazy. (Always for the sake of chasing his musical dream, though.)
Des Rocs is more than a New York City native that got caught up in the music scene. He’s an impassioned performer with music running through his veins and enough energy to last three lifetimes. The electric, forward-thinking rockstar is making the most of every moment he has, from writing songs in quarantine to performing in front of 70,000 people to playing violin in a youth orchestra. Des Rocs, also known as Danny Rocco, takes every singular moment and makes it his own to learn from and grow from. He commands a stage with an electric personality and a stellar musicianship that is unmatched for a hip rockstar in the digital age – and he does it with a kind of passion and finesse that makes you believe he has been doing this his life. (Which, he technically has, growing up touring as a child violinist, but only becoming a solo rocker in 2018.) With a mile-a-minute mindset, hundreds of thousands of Spotify listeners, a solid place in the bustling NYC music scene, and an adoration for breaking the mold, Des Rocs should be much more than a blip on your musical radar.
It’s been quite an uncertain time for just about everyone as of late, but especially musicians who love the hustle and bustle of performing, much like yourself. Has quarantine inspired you in a way to make new music or have you found it hard to find inspiration in nothing more than your own home or a run around town?
Yeah, I mean, it’s been like a kind of a double edged sword because whenever I’m writing, I’m so intimately thinking about what that song feels like live. As I am writing a song, I’m just picturing it being performed live and I’m thinking, “Well, what comes next in the song?” I just kind of pretend I’m on a stage and thinking about what I would do next up there. And that’s all been out of the writing. So not having any shows on the horizon, it’s definitely been tough, but at the same time, you know, I’ve got the time now to really write a lot, which is great. I always say when I’m on the road, like, “Man, I just can’t wait to one day like be off the road for like six months and then I’ll be able to write all the things I want to write.” So now I really have got to take myself up on all that talk from all those pre-COVID times ago.
So it’s working out for you – to some extent – but then you’ll have a lot of material for when you get back on stage, which is super exciting.
Totally. I think writing a song is circumstantial. I think the songs I’m writing now are just very, very different from the songs I would have written had it not been this time, you know? It’s crazy to think that just the kind of scope of everything is going to be very different, even musically, after this, for sure.
Absolutely, and that makes me think about your latest single, “I Know,” which is this hypnotizing, pulsing rock track that teeters on the edge of alternative and electronic. What was the process of writing and recording this song like? Was it completed pre-pandemic or did it come about during?
Yeah, a lot of that was created during, actually. I just wrote it as a stream of consciousness and it just kind of happened all at once. And in that respect, like that song, it’s just like a combination of so many different things. It’s like, I’m not speaking about genre or anything like that. I’m just throwing everything into it. I’m throwing everything emotionally and sonically into a blender and just like pulsing it for a few seconds. That’s just kind of where it comes out – and that’s really my approach with a lot of the songs that I write.
Well, that’s working out so well for you, because I think it sounds so cohesive for even having so many different elements.
Oh, thank you. Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, the way I was thinking about it is like, regardless of if a song feels more rock or more electronic or anything, I just hope that if it’s coming from my soul or my hands, that it is just going to feel like me – whether or not it’s technically one genre or another, you know?
Yes, I understand and respect that immensely. You know, you’ve always kind of taken your love of rock and interspersed different hints of urban, hip hop, and R&B stylings throughout it. What do you think of the term genre in a modern age? Is it a thing of the past? Is it obsolete? Or do you think that it just has a new meaning nowadays?
I don’t think it’s obsolete. I think people – I think human brains – like being able to easily categorize things. It’s really easy for someone to be like, “Oh, this is a rock artist. This is a hip hop artist. This is an alternative artist.” And I just think that in today’s age, when you have every single sonic texture at your fingertips on your laptop, it’s just kind of like an oversimplification of what a lot of artists are doing today. Yes, you can be like, “Oh, this guy has this, he’s got that.” But, really, it’s just so melted down and everything is kind of just swimming within each other. I love living in a kind of post-genre world – that’s how I think about it. I guess it’s helpful to describe certain vibes of certain songs, but beyond that, you know, I think a lot of the genres just kind of are a type of mindset and attitude. I consider myself a rock artist, just kind of in my mindset. It’s what I identify with, but I might make a non-rock song. It doesn’t have to feel like rock at all points, for it to come from a rock artist.
Rock is much more of an umbrella term these days.
Yeah. I always think that when it comes to rock, if you have thought about it, I don’t think it’s rock, you know what I mean? If you were just like, “Oh, it’s got buzz guitar and drums,” then I’m like, “Well, that’s not fucking rock.” That’s just something that’s just trying to be a rock song. I think rock is just like an aura, an energy. You just feel that shit. That’s rock. Like I feel like every Travis Scott song is 10 times more rock than 10 individual rock artists combined. You know what I mean?
Very true. It’s an attitude that you have to go into making a song with. If you say, “I want to make a rock song,” you’re not going to make a rock song. You want to be a rockstar who is just going in to make music.
Exactly! Of course, the whole genesis of rock is rooted in rebellion and just doing whatever you want, because it’s like the most ultimate form and purest form of individual expression. I think that should guide anyone who wants to make rock music. Don’t worry about what people have done in the past and what things have historically sounded like, just be rock and you’ll make rock.
Absolutely, and I think you bring that to life on stage very well, too. In addition to just liking your music and just listening to it, you know, as I told your publicists, I have been enamored with your music almost as much as I have been enamored with your stage presence for awhile now. How have you honed your craft as a performer? How did you become such a force in front of a crowd?
Thanks. Well, I’d say that, first of all, I just grew up always a performer. I always was like a psychotic child, going a mile a minute. I am very surprised that I wasn’t put on serious medications that early. I was just playing like a complete psychopath. I was constantly dancing and singing and going crazy. For me, it’s like, I spent so much of my life working a shitty day job and doing music at night. Music has been part of so many of my formative years, like wishing and dreaming and hoping I could do a night after night, year after year. Not working on it at 2:00 AM in some like horrendous, run down rehearsal space in the middle of Queens, taking the subway back, sleeping a few hours, and then going back to that shitty day job. So every minute I’m on a stage, I’m so profoundly grateful for it. I’m so present in the moment where, to me, it’s like the ultimate gift is to be able to do what I’m doing. I’m just so enamored by it that I just hope it comes across in my music. I just kind of lose my mind doing it, like when I was a kid. I’m just like having the greatest time of my life on stage.
It’s so special to find yourself feeling the most free when on the stage… and to just be what you want to be and living the dream that you’ve always had.
Yeah, absolutely. Like I remember being in a band a couple of years ago, I was a guitar player and we played this show. We were awful, but some guy was there to review it or something, like a Pitchfork type guy. We just came out there and were just like all the other shitty bands, but we went crazy. We just lost our fucking mind, because we’d just been slogging it out for months and months and months. I remember reading the review of the show afterward and they were like, “The opener was certainly very interesting, but God damn, it feels like they were locked in a cage and somebody just let them out,” or something like that. I feel like that’s the line that governed a lot of how I feel on stage.
That just sounds so fun, even just to be at. It wouldn’t have mattered if you knew the music or not, because just to feel that energy and that excitement coming from the artist is amazing in itself and audiences resonate with that.
Yeah, I think it’s contagious. If you’re not having a good time and you’re not loving every second of what you’re doing, then I think people are going to pick up on that. You know, I wouldn’t play shows if I didn’t love them. It’s like those 45 minutes on stage are the greatest 45 minutes of the day and the other 23 hours and 15 minutes on tour are pretty fucking brutal. You’re driving all day and eating at gas stations. You’re just… living pretty brutal, so I think you have got to love it for it to be worth those 23 hours and 15 minutes.
Oh, of course. You’re truly making the most of being a performer and doing what you love and that is so commendable, but you must have had some especially important moments or milestones in your career that even top that. Has there been any time in this journey so far that has just meant the absolute most to you either, personally or musically?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one year ago today I was touring with Muse and we played a show in Denmark. It was just like the most magnificent show I’d ever played in my life. You know, it was just like such a special experience. I remember looking around at the stage during that set and looking at the guys in the band and we were just laughing, you know, like we were just cracking up because we couldn’t believe how good the show was. Not to mention to be playing with Muse, a band that I grew up obsessed with and worshiping. That was really special. And, obviously, just being asked to open for The Rolling Stones was a huge honor in itself and a personal milestone without a doubt.
That’s so wonderful. You’re having these amazing experiences touring with Muse and opening for The Rolling Stones, but were these like planned, bucket list goals you wanted to reach, or did they just happen to have come up and you ran with it?
I mean, non nonspecifically, yeah. I want to play my music in the biggest rooms possible. I want to play it to most people every single night. I want to play in arenas. I want to play in the stadium. So just to be able to do that was amazing, but it left kind of a bittersweet taste, you know? It’s like, I love the bands and the opportunities, but I’m not the fucking headliner on this show. I was like, “Now I have to go back into the clubs and really put in the work so that five years from now, this is my headlining show.” And that’s how I think about everything, like it was a nice little la la land to do that, but the real work is still to be knocked down, you know?
Absolutely. It’s amazing that you can take some of the most important moments in your career, personally, and then use it as drive for your next project, musically.
Oh, yeah – without a doubt! The second I got off the stage with The Stones, after being in front of like 70,000 people, I said, “Shit, I got a lot of work to do,” you know what I mean? That was my first instinct when I went back to my hotel room in like Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to make some dope shit. I spent all night producing new beats and writing, working to make that moment happen every night again and again.
For people who are yet to be familiar with your stellar discography, what are two or three songs you think they should start out with that you feel best represent who you are and the music you make? I’d personally throw in “Dead Ringer,” just because it’s my favorite.
I’m surprised you said “Dead Ringer,” because that one was never like a super popular song. That’s really cool. Oh man, thank you. I would say “Wayne” is like a really good entry point into the sort of inner workings of my musical brain. And probably “Let Me Live / Let Me Die.” I’ll also throw in “Dead Ringer,” because that is your personal favorite, but also one of mine.
Oh, why thank you. You know, Danny, you’ve been a musician predominantly through the age of streaming and social media, so even though your music draws inspiration from a time long before that, you’re working with the most modern of technology and marketing strategies. Do you think that doing what you do, at this time in the media, works to your advantage – even having an old sound?
Absolutely. It’s like making these records on my 2014 MacBook Air in my bedroom with my headphones on can reach millions of people. I think no other artists in any other era of music who is unsigned and is just doing things on their own and living that truly independent lifestyle would be invited to open for The Rolling Stones. You would have to have a whole giant team and like all this professional shit. I think just living in a digital age and being able to speak directly with fans and kids all day every day is just such a unique advantage that I have, too. Like, I really don’t think as far as my career is concerned that I would have been able to do well in another era, because right after an album came out you would have to like go away for 18 months, make an album, and then tour it for 18 months. I just love that nothing sits on a shelf now and I’m just like a very DIY approach person. Even with my music in general, I make it really fast and really intensely. I just think that this modern world is so suited for what I want to do – especially being able to put out songs all the time and just constantly evolve musically.
That’s the best perspective. I love how you talked about speaking directly with your fans, to talk about what they want to hear and listen to what they’re saying, which I don’t think a lot of artists in the past got to really do.
Absolutely. Yeah. Just like having an outlet and just being able to like talk through the things I’m thinking or feeling and just like hopefully give greater insight into the music and what it means. I just love diving into the comments and, and even when people are, I like shitty comments. I’m going to think about like, if I was growing up and one of my favorite artists commented on my shit, that’d be so fucking cool. I just love that I’m able to give that to people.
Absolutely. No, that’s a really special moment for everyone involved. Now, I have to ask, is it true that you are a trained classical violinist?
Yeah! I used to play violin when I was a little kid. I would like to tour with this little youth orchestra. I was just good enough to be the very last chair in a good orchestra. I was sitting in the very, very back. I liked it, though. I didn’t really play, but it didn’t really matter. I got to have some really amazing experiences when I was younger playing violin…. Then I discovered the guitar and it was kind of all downhill for my violin.
That’s insane. Do you intertwine what you know and love about classical music into what you do now as like a modern era rockstar? Or are they just two separate things in your head?
Definitely intertwined, because I think about the violin similarly to the guitar. They are both the ultimate instrument of expression. You can feel somebody’s soul from the way they play that instrument in a way that may be harder with like a piano – nothing against piano players, but they just press a button that you present to me. Like you can control the tenor and the emotion of the notes you’re playing on string instruments, even though the piano is a string instrument, but you know what I mean. I think there’s a lot of crossover. I remember growing up playing violin and like I technically was not nearly as good as the other kids, like they had the technical knowledge that I just really didn’t have, but goddamn I had the best feel. I could feel those songs, like I’ll feel them without a doubt. I would miss beats and I would miss notes and rests, all because I was just using the instrumental as a form of expression. Classical violin is so restricting, like you’re supposed to play what is on paper. I just wanted to make up my own part to play. So I naturally went from that and now here I am.