Rooney’s third CD, Calling the World, follows a storyline similar to that of the three bears. Before making it, this California five-piece first recorded a record that was too hot. Next, they tracked a set that was too cold. Finally, to the delight of homeless bears everywhere, they recorded one that was just right.
Even though the band still plans to release these initially scrapped “projects” – perhaps online – do yourself the favor of picking up the group’s wonderful (and available) “official” release. One of its highlights, “When Did Your Heart Go Missing?”, has a kind of cool Cars, ’80s production feel going for it, while “Calling the World,” with a hook that grabs you and won’t let go, is truly Rooney at its best.
Vocalist Robert Schwartzman may be actress Talia Shire’s son, Nicholas Cage’s cousin, and Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew, but his initial acting bug (it must run in the family) has been replaced by full-time dedication to rock and roll.
SSv: Rooney strikes me as a band that explores a past era; one it wishes it had been a part of.
Robert Schwartzman: I don’t know if it’s like a conscious thing. We don’t really get together and just sit there and go, ‘Hey, we need to make music or draw from things that we love from yesterday.’ I think we’re just heavily influenced by a lot of early music. We were in high school in, like, the mid-90s, when bands like The Cardigans or Weezer or Blur or Oasis were around. And I think to us� I think we’re just drawn to good, catchy, very melodic music.
Sometimes people look at our record covers and go ‘This is very Beatle-y or Rolling Stones-y or like Iggy & the Stooges. I think we just take a lot of things in and I think naturally it works its way into our music and our playing and our artwork, and things like that. For me personally, I really love a lot of, like, really late ’50s/early ’60s doo-wop and stuff like that. And that’s the favorite stuff for me. Because we have keyboards and all those sounds, in some ways it’s very ’80s. But for me, I love Dion and Elvis and all that early stuff.
SSv: It’s funny you should mention your record covers because when I first saw the new Calling The World cover, the lettering for your band name looked exactly like how Rubber Soul is written on that Beatles album cover. Was this intentional?
Schwartzman: That Rooney logo we’ve had since we started. That logo’s the same logo that’s on our first album. We intend to use that on everything we do. The artist we hired designed it. Maybe that [The Beatles] was his influence, I don’t know.
SSv: You’re also about the only band I know that has its own flag.
Schwartzman: It’s the California flag, but it’s always been our logo. The Ramones had their seal that they used their whole career. We like when bands use the same sort of image and tie it into different artwork and things like that throughout their career. It’s always been a big thing for us. We have it behind us at our shows and I carry a flag out on stage. So it’s been a good thing to have. Also, we’re a California band. We’re from California and it made sense to sort of use that image.
SSv: You’re currently touring with Jonas Brothers, which I think is a great idea because your music is obviously a lot deeper than what the kids listen to, even though it’s as melodic as Jonas Brothers. How would you respond to those in your fan base who have questioned this career move?
Schwartzman: It’s always upsetting because we read our website. We read comments. We’re very active online, so when kids write us, we actually do respond and read those things. So it’s upsetting to hear long term fans upset about certain decisions. But I think they’re used to us being sort of risky and taking tours that are different for us. We’ve always sort of mixed things up, so I think people should be used to that.
It’s hard because we’re always trying to appeal and expand our following and reach out to new people. And in today’s world, you kind of really have to be risky and do things you wouldn’t normally do and mix it up. We’re not a giant band that’s exploded in a kind of Jonas Brothers way, so for lot of our fans they’ve been with us for a long time; it’s been a very precious thing to kind of hold our band close to them. So when they see other people coming in, it’s sort of like a threat. This tour is one of those tours that brings in a new kind of fan.
I’m hoping that people can adjust and try to realize things from our point of view, which is that it took four years to make a record, to get it out. It’s been a long road. We’ve put a lot of work into it. And in order to survive in today’s music world, you need to make money. You can make money by selling records, or you can make money by having a touring following. It’s just a hard time right now, so I think fans need to lighten up a little bit and realize that we’re trying everything we can to remain a band. We’re trying to preserve our future as an artist in the community.
SSv: Why did it take so long to make the new record?
Schwartzman: It was mainly because we made three albums total. And every record you make takes time. The amount of time it takes to track the songs, to mixing, to mastering. Also writing the music. So when you start all over again, you have to emotionally adjust to the idea of redoing a whole new album. So there was that period of fighting it, and not really wanting to redo it. And then I had to go back and write more music.
Then we started booking tours because our fans were so upset that we didn’t have a record out. The only way to keep fans happy was to get back out on the road. We didn’t have a product in the stores. So all the tours we did, while making another record and writing music, just kept delaying the process.
And I think also there was just some confusion with how we wanted to approach the next record musically; where we wanted to take things musically. We finally met a producer we loved [John Fields], and I finally had songs that we all responded to and we felt sounded like Rooney; had the same things the first album had. Our first record sold well. It had radio exposure, television exposure. But people really found that the record … you could listen to it all the way through and it didn’t really have any bad songs on it. It had a lot of character and was different than the plain old pop records that had come out. We didn’t want to lose what that record had, but we also wanted to take it in a new direction.
So it’s a fine line with how much you move forward from your sound. You don’t want to, like, leave people in the dust and change who you are so drastically, which is sort of what those two records that we didn’t release sounded like; they were too much of a departure.
SSv: Oh really…
Schwartzman: Yeah. We want to put them out. We’re definitely going to release them at the end of the year, like online or something. I would say it was an experimental time and luckily our label stood by us. They funded these musical explorations and we finally sort of came back around to who we were as a band musically, and had the best time at making this record of all three.
SSv: Can you give me a sort of clue as to what things you did differently on these two other projects, just so I can be prepared for when they see the light of day?
Schwartzman: Sure. Specifically, for all the technical dudes out there, we wanted to make a record live, similar to a live show. People say our live show is better than our records so we thought, ‘Hey, let’s make a live record.’ So we went in the studio with this sort of credible indie rock producer guy [Tony Hoffer], who’d worked with Beck and The Fratellis and all these indie guys. Our goal was to make a record all on analog, all on tape, with very few overdubs. We wanted to restrict ourselves without having to over saturate the tracks. So we recorded every song live, but it sounded a little sluggish. The songs didn’t jump out at you like our songs usually do. They weren’t as instant. I think lyrically I strayed a little bit and they [the songs] were really bizarre lyrically. It didn’t have a lot of life to it. It wasn’t like a sunny, exciting, uplifting pop record.
Then the next record we made was, like, the opposite. It was super produced. Super processed. A ton of layering with, like, fifty guitars on one song. Just beefy rock music. We sounded like a metal band. I love certain metal bands. I love all kinds of music. So, to me, I was having fun in the studio trying out different kinds of things for our band. It’s hard to step outside what you’re doing and go, ‘Is this right? Does this sound like Rooney?’ Because you’re so wrapped up in the process and you’re like, ‘This sounds great. I’m having a good time.’ It took some time after we’d finished it.’ We even shot a video for the single off that record. We did a photo shoot. We completely moved in the direction of releasing that record.
And then it got pushed to ’07 and we had six months to sit around. And so we said, ‘Why don’t we challenge ourselves and make a whole new record?’ So I had a bunch more demos. We met a new producer. We kept the songs on spec. We ended up doing the record with John Fields and it was the best of both worlds. It had a more natural, organic sound, but it also had the big pop appeal. Layering in the correct ways; making a big pop record, with lots of parts, but also not going overboard where you lose sort of character that the band has.