Fun was far from what Robert Schwartzman's high-school band project, Rooney had become. “I started this band when I was 17 and living with my parents. I am not worried about the future, it’s all fun and games. And then it gets serious, you sign a record deal and suddenly there’s a legal contract and you’re 18 or 19! It gets intense. There is a loss of innocence,” explains Schwartzman, the band's singer and songwriter who is currently working on his solo project, Starsystem.
On hiatus at the moment, Rooney had incredible initial success being one of the bands to be featured on Fox's hit TV show, The O.C. and they had a respectable number of such as “I’m Shakin”, "Blueside" and "I'm a Terrible Person" taken off their 2003, eponymous debut album.
Schwartzman had used his big brother’s band, Phantom Planet to clear mine fields in the music business as he saw it, as he watched their ascent in the early days when the band rehearsed in their family basement and sold out shows at LA venues like the Troubadour and Roxy.
His brother is “Rushmore” actor, Jason Schwartzman who was the original drummer in Phantom Planet, best known for the O.C. theme song, “California”. Rooney began with tours supporting Weezer, The Strokes and Jane’s Addiction but their record company failed to run with the initial buzz and momentum that took other O.C. soundtrack alumni like The Killers and Death Cab for Cutie to the next level. Instead they were put on tours with the Jonas Brothers and Kelly Clarkson.
The music on their second album “Calling the World” highlights this schism with a hodge-podge of musical styles failing to help the band find their audience. The sunny vibe of “When Did Your Heart Go Missing” had the band at their indie best, while the power pop of Van Halen on tunes like “Tell Me Soon” and trying to jump on the vampire trend with “Are You Afraid” all but squandered their chances.
“Major record labels are like banks. They give you this money and buy you Youtube spots but they sign bands because they want to make money. And they want to market you in a certain way. I wasn’t built for that.”
“Doing a duet with Robin Thicke on the MTV awards, I’m not knocking that but if that is what it takes to be on top then I don’t know if I want to go there. I’m not that guy who has to do a lot of push-ups, dress up and look really slick. I am more interested in creative projects that are fun and interesting.”
So this time with Starsystem he is doing it independently. “I feel lucky to have had the experience of seeing the industry from the inside with a major label that was experiencing all the changes that were going on in the record industry. But I find this new climate now really interesting. I am now building a brand from scratch again, using all these new social media tools.”
He’s even built an app called 22 that can support bands who want to connect directly with their fans. “I have spent the last eight months working with a tech company and engineers to build this app. It takes time and it’s all self-funded but I think it could be a really great tool.”
Looking forward to his gig at Slim's, he enthuses “I love San Francisco, my grandparents used to live there, and have lots of relatives in the Bay Area. I am definitely going for Chinese at the House of Nanking and checking out CityLights. I’ll probably stay a couple of nights before driving back to LA.”
In case you have not figured it out, the relatives he speaks off are The Coppolas proving in this quagmire that is the fame game, success is not guaranteed even if you have talent and the best of connections. But if you are borne off an indie spirit, a redefinition of success could bring you closer to pleasure in your craft at least. And what could be more fun than that?
This is part of a 2-part piece with Robert Schwartzman, to read the first part, please click here.