INTERVIEW: Rooney’s Robert Schwartzman chats tour, ‘The Unicorn’ and music and film balance!

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Robert Schwartzman is a man who wears many hats. Be it writing the sunny tunes of Rooney to directing films, with the newest being ‘The Unicorn’ that drops early 2019. Music making as well as involvement with films has been part of his creative journey for almost twenty years and his love for both is clear in our interview. Last Friday, I met up with Schwartzman when Rooney was in town at Brighton Music Hall to talk everything from the current tour to integrating music with the films he directs to trying to balance all of his pursuits.

With 2016 being the first release for Rooney without the dudes that had been with Schwartzman since the beginning, it is something he still makes a priority and it can be seen with the release of his new single ‘Do You Believe’ that just came out a few weeks ago. With his tour just coming to a close the other night, the band will still be active with new tracks being released as well as potentially a new LP in a year or two but for a sure look into what he’s been keeping busy with, enjoy our interview below!

You are almost at the end of this tour. You’ve been doing Rooney for so long with obviously other pursuits. Going into this tour, I know I heard you sound checking with some older songs, what has been your plans for these sets?
I’ve been trying to mix it up a little bit. I mean it’s fun to have a lot of music because I think it’s an opportunity to get more creative with the show and choose different songs but I think the tricky thing is trying to balance what we know people want to hear with what we might enjoy playing in the show. Which I think most bands say that too but we’re definitely not a band that hides from previous albums. We know the songs that people want to hear and I’d rather people be happy coming to the shows and having a good time. Then try to not play stuff just because I don’t want to do it. If you look at a lot of bands that have been touring for forty years or whatever, they’ve been playing their hits the whole time. And if you’re lucky enough to have songs that are some kind of hit or crowd pleasers, you’re lucky to have that. So I don’t know why you wouldn’t play those songs so for me that’s just my mentality. Wanting to play the best music that is going to make for a great show, that is going to get people excited and also working in a couple new songs here and there is important to me. Because if you make new music, you don’t want to just not include it. Because it is your most recent work. And like ‘El Cortez’ came out last summer, it’s got a lot of good songs. ‘Do You Believe’(new single) just came out. There’s new music and we’re not a band that’s just living off of the past. We’re trying to continue to pave the road ahead with new ideas and be creative and make new music.

So I’m not writing songs just for the sake of it. I’m writing them because I like to work on new music and they sound good live so it’s like why not get them going. And also the crowd gets into it. I think people get surprised actually when they hear a new song and right away, it grabs them. I think they’re pleasantly surprised because I think they’re not expecting to sort of be taken into the future. I think they’re just excited about what we’ve done before but if we can maintain what people like about the band and also be forward thinking, then that’s a great balance.

And from reading and obviously researching what you’ve been up to lately, when it comes to your films, maybe in particular with ‘The Unicorn’ the songs you include on those soundtracks and what you do strictly for Rooney, how do you decide what the song is going to be for when writing it?
Well, on ‘The Unicorn’, there’s a scene that takes place at this club and I was working on ‘Do You Believe’ around that time and I thought it would be really fun to put it in that scene. And it worked really well then I wrote this song that we recorded and put in the movie that’s a new song that will be on the soundtrack next year. It’s a little bit of a different flavor. It plays instrumentally in the movie and it plays at the end credits. But it’s really cool, it’s nice to bring in the Rooney stuff because I still want to keep making music. And if I couldn’t write something that wouldn’t work in the movie, I wouldn’t try. I’m not going to try to jam in some song of mine just because I made a movie. If the song works and really help the scene because it’s all about the quality of the scene. Trying to capture a great moment and the music is so important to movies. If it doesn’t work and it doesn’t help it, then I’m not going to try to do it.
Anyway, so it’s kind of worked out. On ‘Dreamland’, I got to write songs that were in the movie as well. I’m still interested in film music. I like that process so I would love to keep doing it.

How have you been balancing it? I know the last full length was in 2016, ‘Washed Away’. The first one where it was just you, just Robert.
Without the other guys, yeah.
The other guys yes. You’re still making this a focus for you, you’re still making this a priority even though it’s been almost twenty years. Still balancing it recently with doing the films, directing. Maybe how do you go about that balance?
Go back and forth?
Yeah exactly you’re doing both still so actively.
I’m trying my best. I always feel like I’m not doing a great job of it. When I’m on Instagram looking at all these other bands, I see what they’re doing and they’re always posting. They’re always doing shit then I feel like I’m not doing enough sometimes. Because when we’re not on tour, it kind of gets quiet and I start transitioning into focusing on a movie project. So I’m still active personally but for Rooney as a project, it’s not like Rooney’s out doing something. So I’m trying to figure out how I can keep the momentum with Rooney while pursuing other things and that’s the tricky part. But my commitment has been making new music, touring. At least once a year has been my goal or doing some kind of live music thing because live music is really important to me. And I really enjoy it. It’s really tiring, it’s really hard, it goes up and down but at the end of the day it’s fun to travel. It’s fun to meet people on the road. It’s fun to stay physically active and musically active. The trick is trying to keep the quality really good because it’s one thing to be active but if I can’t be active and make good things I don’t want to do it. I’m still learning how to do it every day. But I really love working on movies so it’s brought this whole new element to my life.
It’s a little bit in your blood.
I love it, it’s so fun.
Obviously researching, I know your brother Jason started doing music first too with Phantom Planet and Coconut Records you did that together. It’s in your blood to do both.
No yeah definitely. We grew up around movies. I mean I grew up around film makers on sets watching movies get made and get released. So I feel close to the process of it. I also really like business so I like putting the project together too. I enjoy that challenge. I guess the sort of trick is to figure out how to be in this new music industry. In my own way. When the music industry went through a great transition over the last five years, I started to feel like I didn’t understand it anymore and really kind of got down on it. And it made me really not want to do it as much. What I mean is play the game. Work it at radio, all of this stuff. There’s a game that you play when you do something and all the promo and all the stuff that’s involved with it. It’s great but I just didn’t know what it was all for anymore. I was like why am I doing this? I never questioned making music. The act of being creative and writing is not a question for me. It’s just where is it all going, what does it lead to, do people give a shit? Like if someone says, ‘my fifteen year old me is freaking out right now’, it bothers me a little bit. People post that a lot online when they come to shows and stuff and that’s fine. What they’re saying, in my mind, is they discovered this band or this hit them at a time in their life and they get to relive that moment. But I’m not touring to create a past moment. Like if I see a band that I grew up loving, it reminds me of my past but that’s not why I’m there. I want people to be excited about what we’re doing now. Just being a band touring, doing stuff, excited now. Like I’m a fan of this band, I can’t wait to go see them play. Not like I’m here because of something else from the past. So those kinds of things, when they happen, make me feel ‘should I even be touring right now?’

So I’m still learning how to do it in today’s climate. I don’t know what it means. I’m trying to figure out ways to feel more independent every day and I’m trying to do the same with movies and being able to have my own world that I get to participate in.

And speaking of the current, hoping people are coming out to see the new music that you’re making. I know you released the new single and ‘The Unicorn’ is planned for 2019.
Yeah, beginning of next year.
Beginning of the next year to the masses. Maybe focuses or goals for you over these next few months, next year? This new single, is it a sign of a potential new Rooney record, is it focusing more on the movies?
I think over the rest of the year I’m going to put out a couple more songs and keep putting some Rooney stuff out. Then I start setting up the movie release for next year. I’m going to do some travel. I want to take a break. I’m kind of a little fried right now. I need a nice trip or something. I want to work on a new movie in the new year after we do ‘The Unicorn’ release. I’d like to make a new LP, I’m feeling like I need to make a new album. The songs stuff is great but it feels a bit fragmented to me and I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. Even if I made an EP, it would be kind of cool but I still miss making an album and doing like full promo. So it might take another year, it probably wouldn’t be out till 2020, but honestly time flies so it’s not that long. If I put a record out every couple years, it’s not a problem, so anyway we’ll see!

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Colleen has been writing about music since 2009. Interviewing bands since the glory days of Warped and has continued to do so for now over fourteen years. As well as doing freelance for other publications, the love for everything rock continues today.