Tag Archives: Kayla Zimmerman

Advice from a Veteran: A Conversation with Rooney’s Robert Schwartzman

Schwartzman onstage at a recent show. Photo courtesy of Rooney-Band.com.

Although he hails from the West Coast, not the Midwest, Robert Schwartzman began his music career where many of our featured musicians do: in school. As lead singer of the SoCal power-pop band Rooney, he’s spent the past decade balancing several different gigs – college, acting (The Princess Diaries), singing, and songwriting.

Unlike many of our featured musicians, he’s a member of one of Hollywood’s most famous families: the son of actress Talia Shire (Rocky), the brother of actor/musician Jason Schwartzman (Phantom Planet, Coconut Records), Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew, and Nicolas Cage’s cousin, to name a few. The band hit its first big break in 2004, guest-starring on an episode of The OC.

Needless to say, Rooney has avoided some of the financial setbacks facing most college musicians, but Schwartzman and his band mates have worked hard to get to where they are today. He recently took some time out while promoting Rooney’s new album, Eureka, to answer a few of our questions about college, life decisions, and the business of music.

Rooney came together when you were still a student. How did you balance schoolwork and music?

Well, my high school academic life struggled more from starting a band than my college years.  Rooney started [when I was in high school]. It was definitely a distraction and affected my grades.  Not just any grades – it was my junior and senior years, so they were the grades that count!  I was accepted to Eugene Lang College at the New School in New York City.  I wanted to be in a big city and I had friends out there.  I was always writing and demo-ing songs, so I brought all my equipment to college. I also played in a band in New York called Dopo Yume with some friends.… I actually did pretty well in college despite my “passion distraction.”

From left: keyboard player Louie Stephens, guitarist Taylor Locke, Schwartzman, and drummer Ned Brower. Photo courtesy of Rooney-Band.com.

Although I moved, Rooney stayed together, and I flew home once a month to perform in LA.  I spent most of my time at Eugene Lang writing songs in my dorm room.  I sent new demos home to my band mates, and they learned the songs while I was away.  We were able to work up new material from across the country.

You left college early, though, right? What happened after that?

I broke the news to my mom that I was leaving school and heading back to L.A. to pursue my musical career, a decision she still disagrees with. I’m not sure it was the right decision, [but Rooney] got signed a few months after I left school and found a manager and made our first album in the summer of 2002.  It all happened pretty quickly once I left college, but we had already put in the years prior to that and had a good buzz in LA – a big city with many labels.  We were lucky at that time, to get a good deal and label support.

Did school help you in any way with music?

Learning is always important, no matter what you choose to do with your life.  It always helps to know more and to bring new ideas into your life and creative self.  I wanted to go to school to study subjects that I had an interest in and to connect them to my writing.  I wanted to meet new people and have new life experiences.  Living in a new city and being exposed to interesting subjects and people was very inspiring.  I also wanted to make my parents happy.

What kinds of classes did you take?

I studied philosophy, media, and journalism, but I took a music business class at UCLA once I got back to LA.  I needed some background info on the business I was entering.  The first thing I learned and still remember is, “What is the first thing on every executive’s mind?  Keep your job!”  And it’s so true … it’s not about the music or helping artists you work with. It’s every man or woman for him or herself.

It sounds like your time at college really broadened your horizons. Did you ever consider leaving your California music projects behind and pursuing another career entirely?

I thought about focusing on acting and starting a new music life in NYC, but I missed my band mates and I missed the musical life that I started in high school.

What is your advice to college students who might just play in a band part-time but want to make it a career after graduation?

Well, [this is] the reason I said I’m not so sure it was a good idea that I left Eugene Lang for Rooney.  I don’t believe in regrets. I think we have to own the decisions we make and learn from them … not waste time regretting them … although it’s hard to let go of certain things.  I’ve seen so many bands nowadays that are having success right out of college or having success while at college and continuing it as a post-grad pop career.  I’m lucky to have met great musicians that I share things in common with at a young age, but I wonder what my life would be like had I stayed in school and met new musicians there … [if I had] let go of Rooney.

Taking a break from recording Eureka. Photo courtesy of Rooney-Band.com.

What do you think would have been different?

I would have been older, maybe less eager to jump into bed with the first girl I saw.  Maybe I would have taken more risks and been more protective of certain decisions.  I’m really not sure what my life would be like had I stayed in school, but I do miss having had a real college education.  I do what I can and I work hard at what I do.  I try to ask as many questions as I can to wise people in the music business.  I can truly say that I’ve learned through experience.  But, hey, there’s always time for school, right?

Right. Now, about the new album: what can longtime fans expect to hear that makes it different from your past work?

People say [Eureka] sounds more mature, which I agree with.  It’s a step in the right direction for us – not only as an album, but how we made the album and how we’re releasing it.  It was made in my home studio, and it’s coming out on our own label [California Dreaming Records].  It’s how we’ve been wanting to do things and how we did things years ago, and now we have the opportunity [again].  It was only a matter of time.  The album is honest and exciting and it sonically defeats all our previous albums.  We produced and engineered this album, so it’s really exciting to have gotten a solid result … in my garage.  The album is diverse, and it shows the different things we do as a band.  We all have different musical interests, some more similar than others.  Eureka sounds like Rooney, but the songs are better and we’ve grown in many ways.

Since you’re an expert, what unsigned or up-and-coming bands do you think  we should check out?

Castledoor.  Miles Fisher.  The Bridges. [My side project]  SOLOBOB!

Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to us.  Any final thoughts for your White City fans?

Love Chicago!!! Best music fans around!!! All I can say is I love playing in Chicago, and it’s always a highlight on tour.

Kayla Zimmerman

Eureka is out June 8, and Rooney will play the House of Blues with Hanson on August 13 (tickets are $30 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster).

Connect with the band on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and Rooney-Band.com, and follow Robert at his personal Twitter page.


Mos Scocious Lets the Good Times Roll, Chicago Style

Mos Scocious brings their unique mix of sounds to a recent show.

Tucked inside a relatively quiet block in Lincoln Park, a small bar explodes with an upbeat, unique blend of rock, soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop, and blues at 10PM sharp on the first Wednesday night of every month, courtesy of Chicago’s own Mos Scocious.

This little venue, the Tonic Room, which is about the size of my two-bedroom apartment, is packed with fans of several different walks of life that go crazy when Mos Scocious takes the stage around 11:30. The party is just getting started. Securing a spot by the cozy fireplace, I witness a musical amalgam – rap in one song, slow blues in the next, then a medley of The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” and “She Loves You.” People dance, take pictures, and raise their glasses to the music. It’s “First Wednesday,” and everyone is having a good time.

From left: Bradley Butterworth, Rob Dicke, and Josh Rosen

Mos Scocious is comprised of three recent Columbia College grads: Josh Rosen [bass, guitar, vocals], Bradley Butterworth [guitar, bass, vocals], and Rob Dicke [drums], all of whom met in Jazz Performance classes in college. The motivation to form the group came from both inside and outside of the classroom. “Just being amongst talented artists and musicians has inspired us more than any class ever could. However, theory and ear training classes were essential to help turn our inspiration into tangible musical ideas,” Rosen tells me following the show. Those ideas came together in the spring of 2006, and Mos Scocious was born.

I asked Rosen where the name comes from. “It’s a Creole phrase that loosely translates to ‘All-Around Good Time.’” Seems fitting for a group that took its favorite parts of  every genre to create its own, totally unique sound – a sound Rosen says was undoubtedly shaped by Mos Scocious’s beloved home city. “Chicago has not only influenced our sound, but it is our sound. We are inspired by everything the city has to offer. Everything we experience in this city comes out in a small way in our songs.” The band termed its sound “freak-funk” because  “[it’s] the sound from the underground. It’s toe-tappin’, groove-based music that isn’t confined to any musical boundaries.”

Mos Scocious’s eclectic sound is due in          large part to the diversity of the members’ geographic and musical backgrounds. The band says, “Our hometowns are all spread throughout the Midwest. Brad is from just outside of Detroit, MI; he brings the Rock/Fusion/Jam vibe. Josh is from Cleveland Heights, OH, and brings the Motown/Blues/Funk vibe. Rob is from Peoria, IL, [and] he brings the Jazz/Soul/Latin vibe. Put us all together, and it’s a nice little salad with a BIG sound!” The variety of influences comes out in each and every song. Mos Scocious has been known to cover Gnarls Barkley and The Sound of Music and then crank out a fan favorite: a rap called “Garmonbozia,” also known as “The Alligator Song.” When they break into the song at Tonic Room, a fan next to me starts dancing so wildly that he bumps into everyone around him and almost spills his drink.

In addition to First Wednesdays, the trio has several Midwestern and East Coast dates under its belt. After playing numerous other Chicago venues  — the Kinetic Playground, Subterranean, Cubby Bear, Reggie’s, Martyr’s, Gallery Cabaret, and Elbo Room, among others — Mos Scocious recently brought their sound to Minnesota (Rochester), Ohio (Cleveland and Columbus), Illinois (Peoria and DeKalb), Michigan (Flint, Royal Oak, and Rochester), and New York (Binghamton and New York City). They also recorded an LP called Ibble Dabble in 2008.

When the opportunity arose to book a recurring hometown gig, the band accepted. “We were asked by Michael Berg and Jess Blanc of 3D-MAS Productions to play on their Wednesday Night Affair at the Tonic Room about 2 years ago.  There is no place we would rather be on a Wednesday.  It’s a great place to hear live music,” Rosen says.  “For us, it just became a very comfortable place to play.  We were approached by Berg in December to start up a once-a-month residency at Tonic Room in February. We couldn’t have been more excited.”

What else does the future hold for Mos Scocious? Although many students are forced to either drop out of school or give up music to pursue full-time careers after graduation, Mos Scocious is becoming a career for Rosen, Butterworth, and Dicke. Rosen says they’re in it for the long haul. “Our future plans are to make Mos Scocious our full-time job. This includes touring, writing, recording, marketing, living, loving, etc. It will take a lot of sacrifices, but we are up for the challenge and are ready to take over the world!” It sounds to me like they’re going to have a really great time along the way.

Kayla Zimmerman

Check out Mos Scocious on Myspace, Facebook, and  Sonicbids. And catch the band live at Tonic Room on April 7 and May 5 (2447 N. Halsted, 10:00 PM, $5) as well as at Gallery Cabaret on April 9 (2020 N. Oakley, 8:00 PM, Free).

A Lil’ Bit of Time with a Chicago Idol

LiL'BiT with funk/soul legend George Clinton in Atlanta. Photo by Adam "DJ BLAK" Horne.

Gary, Indiana native and Indiana University grad LiL’BiT describes her sound as Soul-Pop-R&B-Blues. “My inspiration comes from any and everywhere. I like to write about stuff that nobody else is singing about, songs that talk about the things that the everyday Jane or Joe is living through, songs about love and relationships, hard times, stuff in the news, etc.”

LiL’BiT lists Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton, Norah Jones, Laura Lee, Tevin Campbell, and Shanice among her many influences. She got her start as a playground rapper at age 10, where the name LiL’BiT first stuck. When she started singing at 22, she kept the tag but otherwise never looked back.

She recently graduated with her Bachelors in Communication, but LiL’BiT has been balancing school and music for years. Her first lyrical inspiration came in the 7th grade, when she wrote a poem about autumn for her teacher. “That was my very first poem, and she got so excited about it, she showed [it] to all the other teachers in her department.”

Her formal training is in theater and dance, but she says that the speeches and analytical writings she produced as a Communication major at Indiana University helped boost her songwriting abilities. “I also love to buy books and read online articles on songwriting and singing to improve my skills.”

Keeping up with school has been a challenge. It certainly had an effect on her practice schedule. “College hindered me musically because I put my education first. That choice made life extremely difficult. I was working plan A and plan B simultaneously.”

But did college help LiL’BiT get her music heard? “I kept my school life and music career separate,” she says. “Time will definitely tell [if] that has helped me or hurt me. I took many dance, theater, and music classes in college, but few knew I was a singer . . . not my teachers, not my classmates, not even my parents!” Yet she does believe that the classes she took, even those not directly related to music, helped her develop skills in time management and self-discipline.

LiL’BiT typically works solo but is open to collaboration – it’s a lot of work to craft and record songs, then promote them on Myspace and Facebook, all by herself. “Most of my songs were written solo.  However, [sometimes] the subject matter or title came from a friend, and I’ll just make a song out of it.  Of course, I share half of the creative rights with those friends. Working alone has been out of necessity.  I would love to work with others . . . I think.” She recently took the first step in this direction, recording several tracks with a member of the “awesome Chicago band” called Animate Objects (http://www.myspace.com/AnimateObjects), and she’s proud of the results.

As she browses law school catalogues for the fall 2010 semester, it is unclear what the future holds for LiL’BiT and her music career. Law students are notoriously busy, and LiL’BiT is a dedicated student who puts her education first at all times. But she hopes to continue singing for as long as she can. “I met a really cool attorney who formed a band while in law school.  He was able to work both sides while in school and continues to do so now, even as a new lawyer.” As of late, LiL’BiT has been balancing law school applications with practice at CPE Sound Studios, located in the West Loop (345 N. Loomis St.), or in the free eighth-floor rehearsal rooms at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State St.).

What has been the high point of her career so far? “Meeting the one and only Michael Jackson.” When the King of Pop visited their shared hometown of Gary in the summer of 2003, Lil’BiT shared a special moment with her idol. She was discouraged by her lack of success in audition after audition and had focused on her new day job instead. So, in order to raise money for a friend, she planned to wear a jacket decorated with over 200 vintage MJ pins and sell them to fans at the appearance.

She didn’t expect to get even a glimpse of the legendary performer, but journalists swarmed her as soon as she arrived. “That jacket garnered so much attention that, within just 3 hours of devising our plan, we were being introduced to Mr. Jackson himself, who let out a very mild-mannered, ‘Wow!’” It was a life-changing moment. Just days after that encounter, she placed in the top 15 finalists in the Chicago Idol competition and was inspired to fully recommit to her music.

So what’s next? After recently moving back to the Chicago area from Atlanta, LiL’BiT is looking ahead and considering suggestions that a possible name change might better reflect her development as an artist. While she hasn’t had a chance to play live recently, she hopes to “change that in 2010 . . . It would be a dream to tour.” In her song “The Possibilities,” she emphasizes the importance of making the most out of life and following dreams.

So far, it looks like she’s off to a pretty good start.

Kayla Zimmerman

You can find LiL’BiT’s music at http://www.myspace.com/mslilbit and  http://www.soundcloud.com/LiLBiT. Check out her Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/msLiLBiT.2010.