“The music you listen to when you’re 14 is the music that sticks with you the longest.”
I can’t remember if that was from an article I read, someone falsely fed me information, or something I legit heard on The Oprah Winfrey Show but it’s always been embedded in my brain. The reasoning, if I recall, is because that age is the age you always want to go back to. That’s where nostalgia starts. It’s the perfect age, really. You’re old enough to form an opinion that’s different than your parents but still young enough to not be consumed by SAT scores, college applications, and the impending doom of “the real world.” Your rebellion is innocent but you didn’t feel like it was.
So in 2003, I was 14. I vividly remember sitting in the parking lot listening to The All-American Rejects, driving to my friend’s house blasting Yellowcard, pouring my emotions on Livejournal while Something Corporate played, and of course…Rooney.
As someone who grew up in the suburbs of a small town in Washington State, my Twin Peaks state of being was absolutely entranced by this band whose album cover mimicked the California state flag and chose their name to honor one of the best movie villains ever (Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, duh). Rooney embodied that California dream and their sound perpetuated it. It was carefree, simple, and innocent. That debut album became the soundtrack to my early teens and to this day, makes me remember the most mundane memories as some of the most extraordinary moments of my life.
I never got to see Rooney live while I was in high school. I never got to see any band really. My dad was very against me traveling into the city to see a rock band of any sort so I watched (in extreme envy) as my friends would go and see Rooney, come back with Rooney merch, and scream that they just had the best time. So when I walked into The Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles for Rooney’s release show for their new album Washed Away, I was completely enthralled that I was able to finally see one of my favorite bands live, even if it was 14 years later.
The venue was packed to brim and every single person was stoked to be there. It’s rare to find that now, especially in a town like Los Angeles. The moment frontman Robert Schwartzman took the stage, the room filled with shrieks and shrills, and I became 14 again. The experience as a whole was surreal. There was no denying Schwartzman was having a good time; in fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone have that much fun on stage. The crowd was already pumped but Schwartzman’s energy elevated it to new heights.
With a band like Rooney, whose last album before Washed Away was 2010’s Eureka, they essentially run on nostalgia. However, Schwartzman doesn’t run away from that fact; he full embraces it. “I like to work on the setlist a lot. I’ve also been really into designing the set flow,” he explained. “I choose those songs because I love to play them. You should embrace all of [your music]. I just want the show to be exciting and the songs that have come out on other Rooney records have had a longer life so the people who come out to the show have a deeper connection to them, as do I. So I personally crave wanting to play them. When you make a new record, it’s an opportunity to start incorporating them into a set instead of throwing away the back catalogue.”
As I continue talking to Schwartzman, that same energy he harnessed onstage comes through in normal conversation. Something that I couldn’t help but admit to him at the end of our time together was that this interview in particular was something special to me. I became aware of Schwartzman, like most girls my age, as the best friend-that-you-should-totally-choose-over-the-popular-jerk in 2001’s The Princess Diaries. In the movie, there are a few scenes of him playing piano and messing around with a harmonica but it wasn’t until a couple years later that he became more than that boy from that one movie. That moment you found out he was in a real life band, it was game over. With Rooney and their self-titled debut, that music helped shape who I am today. So yeah, that 15 minute conversation was a big deal.
But of course, I’m one of thousands of people who connect with Rooney. As evident by that show at The Teragram, they’re more than just that nostalgic band you listened to in junior high and high school.
“I don’t try and write music that isn’t…myself. There’s always the hot trend of today and I don’t try and fit into that. Maybe people like the music because it is what it is and it doesn’t fit too seamlessly into other things. It’s not too this or too that and doesn’t mesh with what’s happening on the radio. There’s a commerciality to Rooney but at the same time, it’s its own thing too. It’s not a perfect puzzle piece. We’ve always had to rely on our fans, who truly champion the project. It’s a product of the people who love and support and celebrate it and that’s how it works. I can’t quite explain it but I feel very fortunate for that to happen with this project because I don’t feel like every band has that.”
“Good people like good music?” I asked him. He paused and simply said, “Yeah, I think that’s it.”
“I really care about good songs. I push myself and don’t stop working until the album is filled with good songs. And I feel like people pick up on that in their own subconscious way. People can feel that I really love these songs and that I’m really excited about this band.”
I’m really lucky that I get to meet a ton of people and get the opportunity to tell them what they mean to me. With Schwartzman, it sparked something different. Maybe it’s because he was born into this world, and people who have grown up with this environment become accustomed to how they interact with others. Either way, it was comforting to know that someone is equally as excited as you are about a project that continues to impact your life. After my spiel to him about what an honor it was to speak with him for those brief moments, he thanked me for still caring after all these years, for coming to the show, and hoped that I would be able to make it to more in the future. And all I could say was, “Always.”
Listen to Washed Away below.
Photo Credit: April Salud for THE RADICAL