Interview Robert DeLong: ‘I’m A Vampire’

Nocturnal DJ uses a Wii remote on stage - but Robert DeLong is anything but a gimmick.

Robert DeLong

is a busy man. Limbering up for a tour that will sweep him up in the next few weeks and spit him out in 2014, he sounds quite disorientated when he answers the phone.

When asked where he is right now, he actually has has to stop and think. It’s been a rollercoaster few months for the Washington native, having released his debut LP, ‘Just Movement’, in the spring after years of refinement.

Often shoved under the EDM umbrella, his music has more in common with the indie pop of Death Cab than it does with Skrillex, he takes traditional song structures and polishes them with a digital veneer.

Out of this he’s built a dedicated following of fans, the core of which is formed by a self-styled army who refer to themselves as the “Tribe of Orphans”. Sounds cheesy, probably is.

It was due time to find out DeLong’s perspective on gigging, Wii remotes and what the hell that orange ‘x’ on his t-shirt is supposed to mean.

You’re a bit of a technophile. The live show includes Wii remotes, joysticks and endless cables. How do you feel it adds to the performance?
I’ve always wanted to do an electronic performance thing, and to me, I see a lot of electronic performances and I see somebody up there and they have no idea what they’re doing. They could be playing Nintendo, they could be watching movies on Netflix or something. So what I wanted to do was to have visual elements that correspond directly to what sounds I’m making. So, for instance, the Wii remote acts a controller and if I shake it it’ll speed it up, for example. The joystick controls the instruments and my synthesiser. It’s all very obvious and direct but these are the things I use to perfect the sound. I wanted to make it interact for the audience.

So there’s more than just a MacBook Pro on stage.
Yeah there’s a couple of a computers and a LOT of other stuff.

It took a while for album to surface and it contains songs from the last four to five years. Was it a relief to finally release it?
Definitely, yeah. It is a collection of songs that have been written between four years and two years ago. It’s nice to be able to get it all out there. At this point I still have songs that I’ve written in the last two years, obviously. That’ll be another album’s worth. This is just a collection of songs that were coherent or made sense together. It’s cool to get it out there officially, finally. And I think some people like it, which is cool.

Was the recording process tough in itself?
I kind of write as I record. So it’s just been a gradual evolution. The songs have evolved over time and I’ve gone back. Before we finalised the album I went back and recorded all the lead vocals again. And then we went into a proper studio to mix the album. It took about 3 weeks of mixing and not sleeping and then it came out.

It sounds like a bit of a nocturnal process.
Yeah, I pretty much only work at night. I’m a vampire.

What have you been doing up until now?
I went to school and I studied audio engineering and graduated about five years ago. Since then I’ve just been pretty much recording people, teaching drum lessons and playing in bands. Then I was always working on my own music and that, at some point about two years ago, took over.

Can you tell us what your groupies, The Tribe of Orphans, are about?
That’s the core group of fans in Los Angeles who dress up and get their faces painted before they come to the shows. They bring the dance part!

What does the orange ‘x’ on your merchandise represent?
I wish I had a good answer. I’ve tried making stuff up before but it’s just that I had my girlfriend paint some stuff on my headphones before I played some of my first shows, and that was one of the things she painted that just stuck.

You’ve gotten the EDM tag from a lot of journalists. How do you feel about that?
EDM, Electronic Dance Music; it’s a pretty redundant statement given that dance music is generally electronic. The music I make has a lot of dance music elements and a lot of modern, electronic sounds in it. But obviously what I do is I write songs that are kind of singer-songwriter. There are classic songs that are finished with electronic sounds and styles. I don’t mind. There’s obviously a need for some people to understand it but I don’t think about it too much. It’s difficult because what I do touches on a lot of different genres. And when you see the show it’s a bit more dance-oriented than maybe the record is. It’s kind of a continuous experience where every song blends into each other. It’s a wild ride that way. I feel sort of neutral about it; people can say what they want.

Your father is a drummer. Is that what kickstarted your love for music? What else influenced you growing up? You have a pretty eclectic style.
Growing up my dad was really into jazz. He played jazz and he was also in big bands, so that was the first music that I got into as a kid. From there, living in Seattle, it was a case of getting into pop punk in Junior High, as you do. The indie thing was taking over, with Death Cab, Modest Mouse. Those were the scene. I definitely pull a lot of my vocal melodies from those kinds of bands. And then I moved down to Los Angeles when I was 18 and I kind of got more into electronic music and I started playing in rock bands down there so that influenced what I do. And all the while I was listening to folk music.

With your packed schedule, do you think you’ll be able to fit in studio time?
I’m booked pretty much until December. I don’t think I have a full week at home until then. I’m always writing stuff and there’ll be some remixes coming out soon. I’ll be working on some film and video stuff, which is fun to work on on the road. Probably it’ll be sometime early next year or mid next year that I’ll go into the studio and properly set up another album.

Robert Delong plays Bristol Thekla on 21st August, Brighton Green Door Store (22nd) and Reading & Leeds Festivals (23rd-25th). The ‘Happy’ single is out 7th October on Glassnote / Island Records, and he plays Electrowerkz on 30th September.

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