ABOVE: ROBERT SCHWARTZMAN. PHOTO COURTESY OF ZOEY GROSSMAN
Unsurprisingly, given his genes—he’s the cousin of Nicolas Cage and Sofia and Roman Coppola, and actor Jason Schwartzman is his brother—Robert Schwartzman is a born performer. Schwartzman grew up in and around the entertainment industry, with roles in The Virgin Suicides and The Princess Diaries leading to more than a decade as the frontman of California rock band Rooney. Since then, Schwartzman’s begun making music of his own and has since ventured into founding a tech company and scoring a new film.
Last year, he released his debut solo record, Double Capricorn, which displayed a funkier side to Schwartzman. Now, he is venturing into brand-new territory with a spacey electronic synth-pop project, STARSYSTEM. “Our Love,” the first single from Pleasure District, its debut EP, is a danceable gem that showcases Schwartzman’s versatility.
We caught up with Robert Schwartzman while he was in New York about M&Ms on pizza, the evolution of his music, and his new app, 22.
HOMETOWN AND CURRENT LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
ON SPACE AND TIME: I’ve always wanted to do a project with space imagery, because I’ve always loved these amazing sci-fi electro book covers. I’ve always loved science fiction. I feel like space imagery has no boundaries. It’s a space that we are still discovering. Our world is still figuring things out about the universe. There’s so much to be discovered out there. I wanted this project to not have any boundaries creatively. I feel like it can go anywhere. With my solo record, it was like a stepping stone to get to this project musically. I play those songs live in the STARSYSTEM show, which is cool. I didn’t want that solo record to not be performed because those songs mean a lot to me. For me musically, it definitely ties into STARSYSTEM—the arrangements and instrument choices in the music. It is more synth-y and drum machine-y.
A COMIC BOOK WORLD: I’m working on this comic book called STARSYSTEM; we have an illustrator who is a comic book illustrator and we’re working on the characters. I’ve been writing the story. It’s set far into the future. It’s this discovery story of this captain of a ship who discovering the universe. So, people who are following the project are reading these stories and can listen to the music. I think things can kind of go anywhere. I don’t think there’s any reason to limit things. Dreaming big is always a good way to go about things. I think the story is interesting enough that it could spin off into its own series or movie. That would make it even more exciting.
GROWING INTO A SOLO MUSICIAN: As far as the sound, we were in high school [during Rooney]. Everybody, as far as the shaping of the music sonically, they all have their thing that they do that they bring together. You geek out on the music, and from there it begins. After Rooney, I wanted us to be able to do something different. I didn’t want to get back into a Rooney situation of having a lot of cooks in the kitchen. I wanted to run in any direction and be flexible. The song “Do What You Want,” I did with some other guys I’ve been playing with live. For the most part, I like to record music as I write it. A lot of these songs were written as they were recorded. So, it wasn’t just sitting around with a guitar and writing a song. It was writing to sounds, loops, and different instruments, which inspired what the song was going to become.
DANCE-SPIRATION: I still listen to all types of music. I really like the dance party vibe. I just met someone who said they were dancing when they were listening to the EP. It’s so cool to hear that it’s making you want to move or dance. I’ve been listening to a lot of funk and soul. A lot of ’80s and ’90s R&B.
THE FUTURE OF STARSYSTEM: I think there’s a lot of stuff happening right now that STARSYSTEM could work with. There’s a lot of cool indie-pop stuff happening right now. There’s so much music, first off. I’d like to build our own audience. I’d like bands to say, “We’d like to play STARSYSTEM in the future.” I feel like it has its own thing. It’s still song-driven music, it’s not just sound-driven. I think STARSYSTEM can appeal to different types of people, so I think that it might lend itself to different types of tours. So, we’ll see what happens.
PROJECTS ON THE HORIZON: Well, it’s not an acting project, but there’s a film project that I’m working on in the new year. I just scored a movie called Palo Alto. It’s getting some good attention at festivals. I’m really excited about that. I’ve always wanted to score a movie. I’ve always loved film and music, and I’ve liked how they can cross paths.
ON A POSSIBLE ROONEY REUNION: I don’t know. I guess it just depends on everyone involved in the project and where they’re at and what they want out of it. Bands get back together for different reasons. Some do it for a great offer and they can’t turn it down. The answer is, I have no idea. Something could happen. I would never say “no way.” I really love playing the Rooney catalog of music. There are songs that were just a huge part of my life for so long. I’ll always play them somewhere.
PIZZA TOPPINGS: A lot of fans that come to the shows who found out about me from The Princess Diaries definitely want to know the answer to that question [his character in the film receives a pizza with “SORRY” written on it in M&Ms]. Or they’ll bring me a gift of M&Ms. I think having done The Princess Diaries, it was a fun experience and it’s cool to have made fans that are now into all this music. That movie is still so relevant to our culture. It’s always on. It’s kind of a rare, nostalgic thing. I get tweets all the time about it. We were all so young. We were in high school. It’s followed us a long way.
TRAVELING INTO TECH: I don’t know. I think I’m happy with these projects. I’d like all of the things I’m working on that I’m excited about to have a long, healthy life. I see myself making music, working in film, and I recently released an app, 22. We’re always adding new features and building it out. We’re trying to perfect it as we get more data from people. It’s an interesting process because it’s a constant build. We’re so early. We’re still in a beta phase. The biggest thing for us is getting the word out. We’re trying to get it on people’s radars. We built it for indie artists to have a voice, connect with fans and create new content. I used it today to record a new version of “Our Love” while I was in my bedroom. It’s on the fly and out there for people to hear it. We want new artists or any artists to download it, make recordings and engage with fans. I’ve always found my biggest strength for how I handled interacting with everyone was to put myself out there personally. I’ve always gotten the feedback from people that they like that there’s vulnerability with content and connection. Everyone has a voice and we want to have a platform where people can be heard.
STARSYSTEM’S DEBUT EP PLEASURE DISTRICT IS OUT OCTOBER 8. FOR MORE ON THE PROJECT, VISIT ITS FACEBOOK PAGE.