Rooney brings West Coast tunes to Blue Moose

BY RILEY UBBEN | APRIL 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Sharing the same romantic interest can often lead to bad blood, but for Rooney vocalist Robert Schwartzman and guitarist Taylor Locke, it led to a band.

“This girl whom we both had a huge, huge crush on was like, ‘You guys should meet. [Locke’s] a great guitar player,’ ” said Schwartzman. “I wanted to meet him, and I just started writing some songs.”

The California natives will perform their West Coast tunes at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Blue Moose, 211 Iowa Ave. Admission is $16.

Schwartzman’s love of upbeat, day-at-the-beach pop music was sparked by his brother, well-known actor and former drummer of Phantom Planet Jason Schwartzman.

“It all started with me hanging out with [my brother’s band],” he said. “[The band members] showed me how to play guitar, and the idea of starting a band sort of came from watching them make music at my house.”

Locke was also a Phantom Planet fan, so in 1999, the two decided to start a band with some other musicians whom Schwartzman had met through his high-school jazz ensemble. The singer managed to get his newly formed band an opening slot in a fan-club show put on by his brother’s band, giving the members of Rooney a glimpse at the big time.

“We were actually playing onstage — it was so unreal,” Schwartzman said. “The Phantom Planet fans kind of took us in, so we started booking our own shows around LA and built up our own cool little following.”

Even with the LA success, Schwartzman chose to move across the country to attend college in New York, but the distance only made him more focused on the band.

“I was always writing songs and not writing papers,” he said. “I’d fly home every month and make it back to do a show with Rooney.”

On one of his visits, the band recorded a three-song demo with a producer, taking the time to make each song count. The work paid off, and the attention the demo received made Schwartzman decide that college wasn’t for him.

“[The songs] circulated to a manager and a label, and a big management company was like, ‘We want to fly you to LA to meet with us,’ ” he said. “That December, I went home and we got signed a few months later,”

Rooney released its first two records with Interscope Records and through that, the band was successful in getting its music on radio and TV, performing “I’m Shakin’ ” on the television series “The OC.”

After seven years of being guided by men in suits and ties, however, the band started believing as though it was being held back. During the making of its latest album, Eureka, the band decided to leave Interscope and release the album on Schwartzman’s independent label, California Dreamin’ Records.

“Interscope definitely needed hit songs. That’s [the guys’] agenda, to keep their jobs by making the company a lot money,” he said. “I like [hits], but I still feel as if I want to take chances. I want to feel like whatever is musically appealing to me at the moment I can put it on the record.”

With no record label executives looking over the band members’ shoulders, they felt free to make Eureka, which they believed should be a “beach record” that dares to take a few detours while maintaining the Southern California feel that fans were first attracted to.

University of Iowa junior Bonnie Carter, who first heard Rooney in high school, was overjoyed to find out that the group was back on tour.

“I saw an ad for the Rooney show on Facebook, and I got super- excited,” she said. “To me, Rooney is a band that reminds me of good memories, and I think that makes seeing it live more exciting.”

That fans such as Carter have stuck with Rooney excites keyboardist Louie Stephens, and though he notes that the band plans on taking a new approach to writing its next EP this summer, he doesn’t want to forget the past.

“Hopefully, we can build on what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years,” he said. “We still have all the elements that led to making our first record, but I think our influences have definitely made us more open to trying new things.”

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