Raised on Radio
I knew the band was something special, that's why I've been in it for four and a half years," says Matthew Winter, bassist for Los Angeles-based Rooney, of his band's rapid ascent. The group has grown from local favorite to second-stage upstart at the resuscitated Lollapalooza festival to main-stage opener. "I'm not surprised about where we are," he adds. "I have every bit of faith in the band."
Winter's bravado aside, more than self-assurance is needed to make it in the fickle world of pop music. It's all about who you know and how hard you work. And given the pedigree of one of the founders, a safe assumption would be that Rooney's success can be directly attributed more to the former. Guitarist/vocalist Robert Carmine (aka Robert Schwartzman) is the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, the son of Talia Shire, the younger brother of Rushmore star Jason Schwartzman (who plays in his own Keanu Reeves-in-Dogstar-style celeb outfit, Phantom Planet) and the cousin of Nicolas Cage. Carmine's connections appear to have bolstered his acting career: He appeared in 1999's The Virgin Suicides and had a lead role in Disney's 2001 teen feature The Princess Diaries. But despite those connections, when it comes to his band, Carmine has made it the old-fashioned way -- by scrapping.
According to Winter, the band -- founded in 1999 by schoolmates Carmine, Winter and guitarist Taylor Locke -- didn't rely on nepotism for its rise to prominence; it was a self-directed affair. Juggling tour dates with geography homework, the members did their best to maximize on guerrilla marketing (handing out more than 10,000 copies of their demo CD to kids at shows) and built a significant fan base on the Internet.
"We've spent the last four years fliering and promoting the hell out of ourselves," Winter declares emphatically. "Small club after small club, and then eventually big clubs, working at getting every single person we knew to go see the shows. We were always looking at it very seriously, recording demos when we could, selling merchandise and selling out shows, and gradually our fan base grew. And before we knew it, it became something that L.A. was catching on to."
What the City of Angels grasped was Rooney's sound: a snappy, hook-heavy throwback to the SoCal power pop of the late '70s, as much a part of California as earthquakes and vanity plates. Winter and his mop-topped cohorts -- Carmine, Locke, drummer (and ex-model) Ned Bower and keyboardist Louis Stephens -- are unabashed fans of radio-friendly pop. While the other kids were hanging out in the parking lot after class smoking cigarettes and drinking 40s, Winter and his pals assembled a band with a musical ethos firmly based on the sound of groups like Badfinger and the Cars.
"I went to high school with Robert, and that's where we formed the first incarnation of Rooney," says Winter. "At the time, we were just looking to have some fun as an after-school activity. I'd spent a couple of years just doodling around, playing in less serious bands. But I liked a lot of stuff -- mostly rock, like the Beatles or ELO -- and we all shared the same passions for melodic rock and roll." That such a thread -- an affinity for '60s and '70s classic rock and '80s cinema (the act takes its name from Jeffrey Jones's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off ) -- sews the quintet together is somewhat curious, considering the members' ages range from jailbaity eighteen to barely-old-enough-to-buy-beer 24.
The youngsters in Rooney have definitely done their homework, though. They're well versed in classic power pop, and recent tours with the Strokes and Weezer -- with whom Rooney shares a nearly identical, albeit distortion-free, pop sensibility -- have exposed them to current purveyors of the craft. Winter, however, says it was the recording sessions for Rooney's debut album that were most enlightening and a dream come true. Producers Keith Forsey and Brian Reeves -- whose production credits include '80s stalwarts Billy Idol, Simple Minds and Pet Shop Boys -- and Jimmy Iovine, Interscope Records' head honcho, came aboard to help polish the band's sound into submission.
"Our manager was one of Billy Idol's co-managers for a couple of albums, so we arranged a meeting with those guys even before we had a record deal. And the chemistry was there," recalls Winter. "We all really loved Billy Idol, and it seemed like they'd done a lot of really good stuff, so they kind of seemed like the right guys for us. We were also happy to have Jimmy Iovine take part, as we really respect the stuff he's done, and he's got a really good ear for music."
Something must have clicked when Iovine first heard Rooney. Not only did he produce one of the tracks, "Sorry, Sorry," on the eleven-song, eponymous debut album, but he handpicked the band for his label. That song, along with the dreamy "Blueside," garnered airplay on MTV and some mileage on modern-rock radio alongside notables like the White Stripes and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who the band also shared the stage with at this year's Coachella festival. Winter says that Palm Springs, California, gig gave Rooney's members a preview of their future on the Lollapalooza dates.
"We really didn't know what to expect, but Coachella was awesome. It was packed, and everybody loved us," offers Winter. "And we got a great spot between the Libertines and Johnny Marr and the Healers. The whole thing was everything we wanted it to be and more."
As a result of all this momentum -- the performance at Coachella, appearances on MTV2 and the Jimmy Kimmel Show, not to mention the strong word-of-mouth buzz after several years on the club circuit -- Rooney finds itself in another great spot. This summer's invitation to tag along at Perry Farrell's reignited alt megafest was gladly accepted.
"From our experiences so far, it seems like the right thing for us," Winter says, "and we seem like the right band to open it up and get the party started. I think fans are happy to have a good, fun, not-too-heavy band to open the show and get everyone in the mood."
Indeed, it seems beneficial for all those involved. A few weeks into the tour, Rooney was moved from the second stage to the main stage. Normally, a relatively mellow new outfit warming up a daylong festival laden with heavier rock might incite a half-hour hailstorm of empty water bottles and shoes, but Winter says the alternative nation has been generally receptive -- at least so far.
"It's definitely night and day between main stage and the second stage. We get to play to about eight times as many people, even early in the afternoon," he muses. "It's a much bigger stage, and everything just sounds bigger. We're just very happy that we get to reach a lot of people who may not have heard us before."
Rooney's first dates with the festival have also offered a chance to rub shoulders with venerated artists like Jane's Addiction and seasoned players like Queens of the Stone Age, providing an opportunity to learn from those with significantly more distance from high school.
"We get to be in close proximity to all of those bands and get to meet them all. So far, everyone seems to be pretty cool and supportive," Winter says. "Mostly, it's nice to watch the other bands and realize there's lots of things we can learn from them."
Isn't that what the brash and ballsy California boys in Rooney have been doing all along? Watching and learning from the masters?
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