Robert Schwartzman and Rooney ride a wave of new music into Norman 

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The sunny sounds of California indie-rock band Rooney provided the soundtrack for many high school students in the early ’00s. With a sound inspired by the likes of ’90s power-pop and ’60s British rock, Rooney made its mark on pop culture with hits like “I’m Shakin’” and “When Did Your Heart Go Missing?” It also helped having actor and singer Robert Schwartzman, who emerged as every teenage girl’s ultimate crush after his turn as Anne Hathaway’s boyfriend in The Princess Diaries, at the helm.

Rooney is back nearly six years after its last release, sounding as fresh as ever. Washed Away, released in May, harkens back to the band’s debut with its mixture of gritty guitar work and chipper pop melodies while moving the group’s sound to new heights.

Schwartzman is ready to make the world fall in love with Rooney all over again with a new lineup and an upcoming tour.

Los Angeles-formed Rooney is the product of Schwartzman’s love of every aspect of music. He’s drawn to everything from The Cardigans and Granddaddy to Electric Light Orchestra and The Supremes.

“I just love great songs, clever writers, smart arrangements and harmonies,” he said. “I try to make albums, front to top, top to bottom, start to finish, filled with the best songs I can make.”

The group went on hiatus after its third album came out in 2010 so the members could take some time off and pursue other endeavors. During the six-year break from Rooney, Schwartzman kept busy with steady work, from acting in short films to launching the iPhone app TwentyTwo.

But between releasing a solo record and writing the score for his cousin Gia Coppola’s 2013 film Palo Alto, he yearned for the band that jump-started his career in music and knew it was time to go back.

“It felt like time to get it going again. I love playing the Rooney songs and playing for the Rooney community,” he said. “It didn’t feel right not to have it alive and well. I’m here to keep it going, make sure people know I care and I want to be here. It’s not about talk; it’s about doing.”

He certainly stuck to his word. With a new label (Beachwood Park Music) and a renewed sense of focus, Schwartzman said Washed Away gave him the change to flex his musical muscles and imbue Rooney with a new sense of purpose.

Technical work

“I enjoyed working with synths and drum machines this time around, and I also got to lay down lots of ambient backing vocal counter melodies, which felt new and unique compared to previous releases,” he said. “It’s cool when you stumble onto a new sound or idea that you’re not used to or comfortable with. It keeps you on your toes and makes you rethink things.”

That is especially the case when you don’t go into a project with any sort of concrete plan. Schwartzman’s creative process has always been organic, letting the music take shape as it goes along instead of trying to instill too much meaning early on.

“Lyrically, I just follow where the words want to go. I’m not very conscious about why, what, where I’m going,” said Schwartzman, writer of Rooney’s entire discography. “I just go with it and shape it when an image starts to show itself. Anything can happen while making music, so even if I stray from the original vision or theme, maybe it’s for the best.”

Although Schwartzman is certainly no stranger to producing, Washed Away afforded him the opportunity to compose, engineer and mix the entire album. He might identify first and foremost as a songwriter, but Schwartzman finds the more technical aspects of studio work just as rewarding.

“I’m hands-on with recording and like to play around with the software, which helps me stumble onto new ideas. Writing and producing are very connected for me, so the two seem to have blurred together,” Schwartzman said. “It’s very liberating and empowering to use today’s technology and not have to wait for anyone’s approval. I like to be hands-on, to be in the hot seat. I like the pressure of having to get things going, so taking all these responsibilities feels good.”

Schwartzman, with the album finally done and out, can focus on the group’s upcoming tour across the U.S. this month, including a stop Saturday at Opolis, 113 N. Crawford Ave., in Norman.

Rooney has enjoyed a strong fan base ever since it debuted over a decade ago, and Schwartzman recognizes how important that is to maintain.

“There’s a lot of music out there, a lot of bands to listen to, and people have given time, energy, money, love, sweat and tears into Rooney, and I don’t see that as a small thing,” he said. “I like to think it’s because the music moves people and no matter how many years ago certain songs came out, they stay relevant.”

That is part of the reason performing on tour means so much to Schwartzman, and he wants to make sure fans feel just as uplifted as he does.

“I’ve made it a point to focus on the live show, playing a high-energy, very tight-sounding show and playing songs that excite the audience,” Schwartzman said. “The beauty of a show is the feeling of being together and enjoying the moment, making the most of it. That’s how I see it, so I want everyone in the room to feel that.”

And as for the future of the band, Schwartzman promises he won’t take six months to release another album.

“Rooney’s my baby, and it’s time to get this baby on its feet, walking, talking and growing up,” Schwartzman said. “I’m happy to be back with Rooney, and it all starts now with this next chapter. Let’s all get Washed Away together!”

Print headline: Tidal wave, Robert Schwartzman and Rooney make a comeback with Washed Away.

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