If you were in high school during the early ‘00s, your iPod was probably infiltrated by the sounds of California indie-rock band Rooney. And this month’s debut of “My Heart Beats 4 U,” the band’s first single in several years (other than a Christmas track at the end of 2015), was probably a pleasant surprise for you—especially since it sounded like it could have been from the band’s debut 13 years ago.
Fronted by actor and singer-songwriter Robert Schwartzman, Rooney garnered mass appeal with hits like “Blueside” and “I’m Shakin’” back in 2003. Throughout the past decade, Rooney has released three albums and toured the world, but the band’s new record Washed Away is a return to the band’s ethos of gritty guitar rock accompanied by sunny pop melodies. There’s even a new lineup change.
While fans may have wondered where Rooney went since 2010’s Eureka, Schwartzman never stopped working. He released a “solo” record called Double Capricorn in 2011 and a galactic pop EP under the name STARSYSTEM in 2013. Along with his musical accomplishments, he created an app for musicians called 22, and he’ll make his directorial debut with the forthcoming film Dreamland, starring Transparent’s Amy Landecker, Pretty Little Liars’ Shay Mitchell and an appearance by his brother, Jason Schwartzman.
We spoke with Robert Schwartzman about Rooney’s return, his devotion to fans and going back to ‘90s rock roots.
Fuse: Last we spoke, you were working on STARSYSTEM. What made you want to revisit the Rooney project?
Schwartzman: I made that record Double Capricorn, played a few shows and didn’t really go full-on. First of all, I’ve always loved the Rooney project. Everything I did in-between were all just things I was excited to explore—nothing to take away from Rooney. People who know the band and know me... you feel a little territorial over a project. When you go off and do something else, some people can feel sad. I don’t think any of those projects were a threat to Rooney. If anything, I thought they were necessary, because they brought me to a place where I was ready to make a record.
All of the stuff I put out during Rooney’s hiatus, it’s all music I genuinely really like. I didn’t want to put the solo stuff or STARSYSTEM stuff on a Rooney record, but I thought it would be fun to try a sci-fi inspired project or put a record under my name. I felt weird putting a record out under my name. I haven’t been a singer-songwriter like that...I’ve put my work under Rooney. I think all of this time away from Rooney made me excited to get back into the Rooney project. It was just a matter of when that would happen.
It’s been a while since you’ve put out music under Rooney. At least it feels like it.
The whole Rooney hiatus started in mid-2012 and I had already started making a solo record, so I had already put out Double Capricorn already and did some Rooney college shows. In my mind, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but I know from a fan’s perspective it would be like, “Man, it’s been like 6 years.”
The music you put out solo and as STARSYSTEM wasn’t a far cry from Rooney—they were different iterations of Rooney’s music, when you think about it.
Yeah. I would love to put that music out as a Rooney collection of music. Rooney is basically the music I was making in high school. It was called ‘“Ed Rooney,” and I dropped the “Ed” later. This whole next phase should re-embrace this project in the way I always wanted to. I’m really excited because I’m always working on something musically and I don’t like to stop making music. From a fan’s perspective, I don’t know if they know that. You have to show people: the only way they’ll know is if I put out music. I think this record Washed Away is like a reboot of Rooney.
Do you think it’s a throwback to Rooney’s debut record?
From what people have said about it, I think people find it to be a more mature-sounding record, but it still sounds like Rooney. I don’t think it sounds like a bunch of 19 or 20-year-olds making a rock-pop record. At times it’s a little heavier and there’s a little riff-y rock stuff. It’s more of a guitar record, but that was also my intention. I don’t have computers and playback tracks, but it still sounds like pretty polished, thick, juicy rock ‘n’ roll music. I’m really excited about this record—I’ve been sitting on this record for far too long. I’ve remixed and mastered it so many times.
Is Washed Away a concept record?
It’s not a concept record. What this record is, is a mixture of lots of songs that I’ve wanted to put out on a record. To me, these songs are really diverse. When you hear this record, you’re going to find this record to have a lot of things going on. Some of these songs are synth-heavy and some are guitar-heavy. They’re cohesive, but in a diverse way. I like albums—not because they’re conceptual, but because of the flow and the spacing. I want people to enjoy this album as a whole and a collective body of work, which is the goal I’ve had. I don’t want it to be a one-trick pony record. I hold it up in my mind as the most important thing for me. It’s going to be really fun to get back out for this project. I’m looking forward to making more albums under Rooney.
So you did the California Roll tour—such a unique experience. It was a really interesting concept. Would you ever do that again?
I would do that again. It was so fun. I really like that experience. It was sort of a proof of concept tour: it was a way to see how it would work. Any of these endeavors—even the 22 app—that was in beta for a while, I didn’t touch it for a long time because it was hard to get artists on it, but I’m going to use it on the Rooney campaign, so it’ll be fun to see how that goes. I bring that up because that and California Roll are things I thought would be so fun to try. I just find touring to be the same all the time. I thought we could mix it up and take it into our own hands. It’s of that being independent thing I do like to think about. I think it was a little early to do that tour because it wasn’t in a campaign. I think it would be cool to do it now that we’re in a campaign. Doing it under Rooney is cool because there’s a whole other audience that knows of Rooney, but doesn’t know of it that intensely. I would like the California Roll bus to make an appearance before the show where you could go tailgating.
What influenced Washed Away the most? Which artists were you listening to?
I don’t know. When I was recording this album, I was thinking about 90s rock bands. I grew up with rock ‘n’ roll in the 90s: bands like Supergrass, Built To Spill, Oasis, Blur, The Cardigans and Ash. They’re big sounding records, but they’re just songs. I’ve always just liked songs. When I've approached anything I’ve always thought about the song first. Then I think the style of production can dictate the style of the song, because I write and record at the same time. I’ve never written a record on acoustic guitar and then went and recorded it—I just don’t do that. I think guitar music is making a comeback in pop culture. I don’t see it as “trying to be ahead of the game”—I genuinely just like fun, guitar stuff.
In addition to Rooney, you have a movie coming out later this year. You’re working with Jason on it too, right?
Yes. Well, he’s one of the actors in it. It was just fun to work with my brother because any time you can work with your family, it’s awesome. When your worlds collide, it’s cool.
What’s the premise of the movie? Why did you decide to make it?
The movie is called Dreamland. It’s basically about a young piano player, but you don’t think about him as a musician the whole movie. You see this young guy who lives with his girlfriend and her crazy mother. He’s basically trapped, and he’s a young man who has ideas of who he wants to be. He gets a job at this upscale piano bar and meets this Mrs. Robinson-esque character who pursues him at this time when he’s really vulnerable. They have this affair together throughout the movie, and that's what it’s about. It’s his movie: through this affair, we see this character grow.
Johnny Simmons is the lead—you might have seen him in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Jennifer’s Body and The Stanford Prison Experiment, Amy Landecker who’s one of the stars of Transparent. Then Beverly D’Angelo and Frankie Shaw are in it. Jason [Schwartzman] and Shay Mitchell from Pretty Little Liars and Alan Ruck who’s in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s a big ensemble.
I feel like it’s going to be a big year for you creatively. At your shows for Rooney, will you be playing a mixture of everything you ever made?
No, no. I kind of have to ease into it. I’m sensitive to our fans. I really do factor in people’s opinions—maybe even to a fault sometimes. I want people to be excited about it, and I care about our base. I am somebody who stays after the show who meets everybody and takes a bus out to tour. I am an accessible person. If you think about the kind of person I am, it spills into the creative. I’m very conscious of how the videos and artwork will go and how they tie into the Rooney brand identity.
Washed Away comes out May 6.