Robert DeLong: Weird Tunes on a Wild Ride

[Originally published on Virgin.com, July 2013]

Virgin chatted with electronic wunderkind Robert DeLong before his set at Firefly Music Festival in Delaware, where an impending rain loomed, and the overcrowded press area led us to the backseat of a golf cart.

To someone unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe it?

I always say it’s something like indie songwriter-meets-electronic dance music styles, and then there’s a wild live show with lots of gadgets and stuff to go along with it.

Your single, ‘Global Concepts’, that’s an awesome song. What inspired you to write it?

I locked myself in a closet — I had just moved to a new apartment so I didn’t have a studio space set up — so I locked myself in the closet for about four hours one day, with a timbale, a microphone and my computer, and that’s the weird shit that came out. I don’t know, it’s just a weird tune; I wanted to write something kind of moombahton, which is like slower house, kind of a Latin influence. So yeah, that’s the weird shit that came out [laughs]. Lyrically I think it’s connected to a lot of stuff on the album.

And you released your first album, ‘Just Movement’,  only recently; can you tell us about your path to get here?

The record was something I’d written over four years, by myself, self-produced. But I guess everything got started with this project about two years ago, when I really started to focus on it. It was a year ago that I signed to Glassnote Records,  and I just finished the record. It was just a large collection of songs, and this last August we went into the studio and formalized it.

A year ago did you think you’d be here now, playing festivals?

No, I didn’t know anything! I mean it has been a lot of work and planning up to this point. It’s not like it happened overnight, even though I’m sure for most people it  shows up on their radar overnight.

The orange face paint – you always wear that onstage. Is there a story behind it?

A lot of my friends in LA were really into the electronic scene, and when they went out to shows, they’d have tribal-ish face paint and get dressed up and do their thing. So when I started playing shows, they started doing that, and it caught on and people got into it. My girlfriend started painting people’s faces at shows, and obviously I got my face painted, and it became the design for whatever reason.

Has living in Los Angeles influenced your songwriting?

Definitely. I’m writing all the time, and I think LA has been a huge influence. I grew up in Seattle, so I gleaned a lot of the Seattle songwriter and indie vibe. But living in LA was really when I was introduced to dance music and started getting into electronic music, by going to big festivals down there and by going out to clubs. So I think that, yeah, it’s been a huge influence on my music, and it’s kind of a feedback loop down there. As you get into the scenes, you start meeting a lot of people that are doing similar things, and you’re influenced by them. It’s a cool place for that.

Who are some other people you’ve been working with down there?

Mostly bands. Flinch and 12th Planet, and then indie bands like HOTT MT, Races, Capital Cities. It’s a cool scene. It’s eclectic, and at least in my experience, everyone’s pretty accepting, which is not what you would expect.

Have you played any particularly memorable shows?

Yeah, it’s been kind of a wild ride, playing these festivals that I either grew up hearing about or going to. Coachella and Sasquatch were some of the biggest moments for me, because obviously in LA and Seattle, those are the biggest festivals, and those also had really great crowds and really great response. Every show is great, every show is fun, and it’s always crazy playing and hearing people sing your lyrics along with you. It’s bizarre [laughs].

Has that happened more as the tour goes along?

Definitely more and more, and club shows especially, because those are the people who are coming out just to see you.

Finally, does anyone ever throw strange artist comparisons at you?

Yeah, all the time. It’s interesting because I’ll get everything from electronic artists, like, I don’t even know. People say pretty obvious things, like whatever’s popular in EDM. Everything from Tiesto to Diplo or something, but then “meets”, and somebody will say something really weird, like, “meets Modest Mouse”. I’m trying to think. I’ve definitely gotten some weird ones, but I’ll have to think about that more.