INTERVIEW: Robert Schwartzman

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Photo credit: Zoey Grossman

Originally from Los Angeles, California and born into a family of film and creativity, Rooney frontman and actor Robert Schwartzman is moving into a new direction with his new solo electronic pop project known as StarSystem!

So you come from a family that is very involved in film, how did growing up in that background, influence you as an actor and a musician?

I don’t know, I was actually thinking how when you are close to something you know during like formative years, it obviously has some impact on what you want to do. Or the opposite, such as the extreme opposite, like if you come from a family of roofers and may think, ‘yeah I’m going to take over the family business and I want to build my own business, I love doing this!’ Or if you have been close to something and you hate it and you want to run away from it, or maybe you just have no feeling about it at all. But I feel like I was close to film and music and creative projects, I was close to it because my brother was in a band and I would go see his band play all the time, and I was much younger and it was fun to see a live show; and I had never dreamed of doing music, it was just so cool – the atmosphere, that must have some kind of effect on the mind of people who go see shows when they are young or people who are getting into something at a young age. But I guess I was just around it orbiting these things and my mom for example was a very creative artsy kind of woman,  a spiritual artist and very much likes creativity and pushing yourself to reach for the stars as far as being the best creative person you can be. She wasn’t a mom who was like some parents who you may see on a True Hollywood Story who are like ‘I’m going to take my kid to the audition and he is going to sing and dance for you!’ We didn’t have that kind of a family, my mom didn’t like agents and labels, she was more about education and studying composition and being a very well-educated artist, and always try and better yourself as a creative person, that was more of the environment I felt I grew up in. I really liked filmmaking at a young age, I thought it was really cool, I used to make movies with my friends and we would direct them in the backyard and we really tried to make high quality short films, and then I just learned how to play piano and guitar and then started going to my brother’s concerts and seeing a lot of music in LA. Listening to bands on KROQ, you would hear bands like The Cardigans, Weezer, and Super Drag and all these bands on the radio. This was the alternative stuff dominating the radio at the time, and I had older brothers turning me on to old classic music and I really gravitated to oldies but goodies music, and I slowly just started writing music when I was 16 or 17 years old and then I started Rooney which was an afterschool project. We would try to book gigs all over LA and try to promote ourselves. But as far as growing up in a family, I never really talked about what I was doing with my family, and I still have trouble doing that today. I don’t really like to tell anybody what I am doing until I feel like I have accomplished something, because it’s part superstition and part I’d rather just get it going then talk about it. But I feel like my family are heavily in the film industry more so than all the music stuff so it was always kind of fun to go into the music direction. And to be a touring artist and all that stuff, but I love filmmaking as well and it is something I want to focus on. The only thing I can say is that the family that I grew up in they are super creative and everyone is really intense. And I kind of like carving out my own little world and just honing it in and making it the best I can be and the best I can do.

You started your band Rooney when you were in highschool, and continued it through college, are you still making music with the band today?

No, negative.

Why is that?

I feel like it got too much after a while. I personally feel like I wasn’t inspired anymore, and I wasn’t enjoying it like the way I used to. And I feel like that’s the huge red flag, I feel like for me or anybody doing anything, even like a journalist going to write an article and they are not inspired by it, it’s hard to do a really good job. And I didn’t feel like I was really loving it and connected to everybody. And I feel like we also had so many years, December would have been our 14 year anniversary, so we were pretty young, we were all pre-graduating high school, and we didn’t even really know what we wanted or what we were doing really, we were just doing it. And after a while I was like okay I need to take a step back and figure out why I am doing this, what about it is inspiring, or what this musically is calling out to me in some way? But also there are just too many projects I want to work on and it ends up swallowing you completely and you have no time to do anything.  I love touring and I love playing these shows for people who want to come out and at the same time, some shows totally suck, you’re playing in a city and it’s like awesome and the audience is amazing, and then you play another city and it’s just totally dead. It’s not a knock on anyone coming out it’s just for what ever reason, the support for that show just wasn’t hitting that night. And then it kind of resonated with me that this means there needs to be a new approach and also touring is so time-consuming so you want to make sure when you go out and tour, that it is going to be all worthwhile. After a while it felt like there was no strategy or drive, no real direction and I think for me I wasn’t wanting to write another record. I was wanting to explore musically with something else and use sounds and things and technology that I have never really used that I thought would be kind of fun to change, which is what led to making a solo record a few years ago, and now with like a stepping stone to StarSystem.

Can you explain how system is different from Rooney? What can fans expect from StarSystem?

Yeah totally. Well I really enjoy giving a project an identity as far as visually with artwork and stuff like that, I think that is all part of the whole process. And I’ve always loved all of that stuff, I mean with Rooney like I loved working on the imagery and writing the video treatments and being involved in all angles of the project. So for StarSystem it was fun to launch a brand new project with retro Sci Fi imagery, I want to stay consistent because I really love that artwork, and then to me I might listen to certain synthesizers and certain synth sounds and then I look at pictures of outer space and I get the chills, like it feels right when those two are combined so I really love the synthetic and incorporating all these cool fat synthesizers and then incorporating interesting drums loops and being able to mess with certain effects and create interesting fun grooves that are fun to let go and dance to. But also combining that with songs that I think have a verse/chorus and bring in that pop songwriting to dance music. I like when I can sing a verse and have a chorus, so I guess some dance music is more about the beat being repetitive, with keyboard hooks and stuff like that. But I still like to go back to songs that you can play on the guitar, but people can expect more sounds that a band wouldn’t play, less guitars, more keyboards more drum grooves, things like that.

What direction do you think electronic pop music is moving? How do you feel about EDM, are there any artists that you like?

I like EDM, I don’t know I like all that stuff, I feel like I get why it is so infectious and I get why it’s like so cool. I talked to a friend of mine today who is kind of like a punk rocker guy, and we both love a lot of early punk rock from the 70s, and he was mentioning how EDM and DJs are like the next wave of punk and I was like that’s interesting because punk rock really wasn’t massive, it was never playing arenas in its days, but DJs do that so it doesn’t really compare in that way but there is that sense that it is in that underground scene. There is such a big EDM underground scene, that people really know about and tap into, and I think that in that sense there is this whole EDM world that I’m sure is way more dense that I’ll ever know. But from a macro bird’s-eye view perspective I like that people are enjoying the music and having fun and wanting to go out and party and blast this music. Because it means that people are emotionally responding to this music in a really passionate way and I think that really helps music in general, I find EDM to be really innovative it is just different. Sometimes playing with a guitar and with a band feels like so old and dead and boring. Like rocking out with a full band just seems so redundant. There is something really cool about all this new technology. And all this technology is making musicians and artists have to rethink their craft. It is also causing consumers to rethink how they consume music which is also really interesting.

Your brother Jason Schwartzman also has a musical background with his band Coconut Records, have the two of you thought of starting an official band together?

I feel like we are both so specific with what we like and how we want to do things that it is so hard sometimes to collaborate. I remember one time we were writing and like and we literally didn’t start an idea because we had too many that we couldn’t pick one. I’d be like let’s do this! And he would be like ‘that’s cool, how about this? And then it would be like that’s awesome I got this idea and what about this idea?’ And literally we spent hours just going that, this, that, this! And they were all cool but we never really started one because we were both wanting to do a different idea, we eventually did a song and it was cool, the way I see it I think the project we will collaborate on, we will pick something that is more focused to support a specific type of project, rather than like ‘hey let’s get together and write a song today!’ To me it would be interesting to be like lets score a movie and we’ll look at the footage and were sharing ideas and were working towards a specific focal point which helps put these creative bumper lanes on the writing process. And those types of restrictions can also create a healthy collaboration, because you know what you’re working towards. So that’s how I think it would really work, if we were set out to work on something really specific together and we knew what the final goal what we wanted to reach for.

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