By Alec Wooden
On the surface, Los Angeles-based rock band Rooney has had it rough over the last 12 months. They’ve lost a label (Geffen) and a bass player (Matt Winter), all the while cutting a new record for the first time without benefits of mountains of label aid, engineers and producers. It takes little time talking to guitarist Taylor Locke, however, to figure out that the opposite is quite true. Instead of “losing” a label, they feel freed from one. Winter is gone, but has become no less a friend and avid supporter. And Eureka, the new and aforementioned uphill climb of a record, has left the band energized and excited about controlling their own direction more so than at any time in the past decade. One week into the band’s summer tour, Locke talks about all the reasons why, perhaps now more than ever, Rooney feels right at home within themselves.
What are we to expect sonically from Eureka?
Everyone these days uses the word “organic” in every album review … so I’ll try and shy away from that. The record has a polished sound to it, but slightly less so than our past records. Louie [Stephens, keyboardist] played lots of upright piano, which lends a cozy, barroom feel to the songs. I played more slide guitar than usual. Ned [Brower, drums] takes a lead vocal on one track. Matt [Winter, recently departed bassist] played much more active bass lines. However, you’ll still get plenty of synthesizer hooks, and of course, Robert [Schwartzman]’s voice, which are hallmarks of our groups’ sound.
Talk about the mentality of making this record, now that you’re independent, older and wiser.
Eureka is the first record we’ve done on our own. We didn’t work with a producer or an engineer, it was just the five of us. Also, we didn’t have an A&R person, or even a manager at the time. So what you hear is completely unadulterated Rooney. It’s the most true to our voice as a band, because there was literally no one outside of the band to influence it. The same goes for our EP last year [Wild One]. Having said that, it still sounds close enough to the Rooney people know from our past releases. Certain songs are musical departures, but there are plenty of songs that are good old Rooney.
Was the songwriting a collaborative process, or a solo affair? Is that different from records past?
Robert demoed up a bunch of tunes, as per usual. Louie contributed “Into the Blue,” and Ned and I co-wrote “The Hunch”. There were lots of other tunes by all of us in contention for the record. In the end, we went with mostly Robert’s material, because that is the foundation for the Rooney sound.
Longtime bassist Matt Winter left the band earlier this year. What have things been like in the wake of his departure? Was it strange hitting the road again for the first time without him?
We are handling the change quite well. In fact, Matt came to two of our shows, and even jumped up onstage and played on “When Did Your Heart Go Missing”. We respect his choice to leave and pursue other things. He played his ass off on Eureka, so we’ll always have that. The chemistry is different, but its quite positive. When someone doesn’t want to do something, they shouldn’t have to! It’s a rock ‘n’ roll band, not homework. The whole notion of being an artist or joining a band is to follow your muse, so if it doesn’t feel right, you gotta move on.
Who has stepped in and what’s the new dynamic like?
The young, talented and handsome Brandon Schwartzel is our new bassist. He learned a ton of songs even before our first rehearsal with him. On this tour, we are changing the setlist every single night, which keeps us on our toes. However, it keeps Brandon especially on his toes, because there are songs being thrown at him hours before showtime that he has never played before. We’ve been really impressed with his delivery of the goods, and he’s a super fun guy to be on the road with. We attempted some rehearsals as a quartet, with Robert handling bass, and me as the lone guitarist. It was fun, and some songs sounded pretty cool. However, our arrangements were built for a 5-piece, so we’d be selling the songs short by doing anything less.
Do you enjoy being on the road?
I love the road. This tour is long, and I’ll be honest, I was concerned to see the schedule at first. But we are a week deep, and having fun. Playing as many nights as possible (minimal days off) is my preferred method. I’m out here to perform, not sit in a parking lot somewhere.
Take us through some of the regularities of a day on tour.
We do a group huddle before each show. We’ve never missed one. I like to warm up my voice. That’s about it. Ned likes to take as many showers as possible. Standing naked in a parking lot and pouring bottled water over his head is considered a “shower” when a traditional one is not available.
Talk about Rooney’s live show – what do you try and do every night you go on stage?
We’ve been at it for awhile now. We don’t have any stage production. No fancy set dressing or planned moments. We just play the songs. We change the set list every night to keep the kids on the internet talking and comparing notes, and to keep ourselves interested. We’re all pretty focused on our jobs up there. I don’t like to make too many mistakes. We only have an hour in the day to go up there and get the music right. I like hearing our harmonies in tune, and I’m pleased when I pull off all my guitar solos properly. We try to deliver our best, no matter where we are, or how big or small the crowd is.
What was it like hearing your music on television for the first time?
The OC was the first big one. We were actually in the episode. It was not unlike shooting a music video. We went up on the set, strapped in and lip-synched the song a bunch of times. It was fun to see it on TV — we threw a party and we played live after the episode aired. TV reaches lots of people, so its always a big deal.
You guys have “come of age” as a band during a really interesting time in the music industry. I’m curious, as you become veterans in music, how your views of the current state of the industry are changing. Is it natural to become cynical as you get older and increase repetition within an industry? How do you avoid that?
We got very very lucky to get in and out of the major label system when we did. We signed with Geffen at a time when their “machine” was still effective. The promotional push they gave us was a great jump start to our career. On the second record we broke through in Europe, and that was so exciting. The major label system has since suffered substantially, both from illegal downloading and a lack of visionary label folks signing visionary artists. Things got stale. When we had the opportunity to leave, we jumped at it. It’s a great feeling to be operating on our own. We’re always looking at new ways of doing things. And yes, WE ARE CYNICAL! But to a certain extent, that suits us just fine. It keeps us defending ourselves from the bullshit that’s out there.
Rooney plays Juanita’s July 2…
… and The Loft on July 10.