Just because LA-based singer/songwriter/producer/DJ/Drummer Robert DeLong uses Microsoft Sidewinder controllers, Wii-motes and joysticks during his live shows, doesn’t make him a video game nerd. “I guess I grew up playing Super Nintendo,” DeLong says. “The only game I ever got good at was Tony Hawk Pro Skater II, and now I don’t play video games at all.” You’d never guess that was the case when peering at his elaborate setup, which includes integrated video content, equipment fit to please a world-class gamer and enough tricks up his sleeve to support the idea that he may be the illegitimate child of Inspector Gadget. But then again, I assume DeLong is full of surprises. His calm demeanor and attentive gaze had me assuming he was the quiet kid in class – smart and thoughtful, but his frequent bursts of laughter show he’s bound to undercut with cunning wit when least expected.
Delong didn’t start in the live game as a DJ and electronic innovator. The 28-year-old musician lent his talents as a classically trained drummer to numerous bands over the years before pursuing a solo career that eventually found a focus in production and dance music. “Honestly, it just kind of evolved this way,” DeLong says. “I didn’t know anything about the DJ world until I started performing it in, and that was a few years before it really took off in the states. I didn’t have any context for what being a DJ was like, but I assumed there was a lot more to performing electronic music live. I was into Kraftwerk, and they were doing it back in the 70s. Now it’s my style that really sets me apart, so I’m always trying to push it forward.”
And there’s no denying that DeLong’s intricately involved, high-energy shows are the complete opposite of why many electronic artists are the subject of cynicism today. With the question, “Are they even doing anything?” being tossed around in response to the ever-popular DJ set, DeLong’s live shows are the perfect foil to the standard, as he jumps from instrument to instrument, live loops his own vocals, delivers complicated drum solos and mixes on his multi-laptop setup to create another impressive layer of sound. DeLong is in his element while on stage – he’s a person who revels in complexity and the opportunity to apply critical thinking. “With so many moving parts there are chances for things to get weird, but it’s kinda fun, you know?” DeLong laughs, with a look that tells me he’s one of those people who has gotten himself into trouble just to see if he could find his way out. “Things could get fucked up, but you just roll with it!” If anything went awry at his Rough Trade show, you’d have no way of knowing – DeLong pummeled through his set list revisiting older tracks and introducing fans to everything on the new Long Way Down EP, with the help of a robotic narrator, new-and-improved hypnotic visuals and what seemed like an endless setup of noisemakers and instruments. DeLong didn’t simply perform – he crushed.
DeLong performs in face paint, a tradition left over from a time when his raver friends, “The Tribe of Orphans”, used to deck themselves out before attending his first club shows in Los Angeles. Today that tribe has been extended to include DeLong’s fans in every city he plays. DeLong’s longtime girlfriend and a team of face painters offer their services to any audience member who wants to don the signature markings. It’s little elements like this that make his shows such an interactive and enticing package. But with a full length LP under his belt and another on the way, DeLong knows much more about being a successful musician than simply cultivating a fun and inviting atmosphere.
“For the recording process, it’s pretty in the box,” DeLong says. “I use computers and studio equipment, and then later I reengineer it for live performance; if there’s time in between writing in the studio and when [the tracks] go on the record, it will evolve the songs to a point [for playing them] live so I’ll reintroduce some of those ideas into the recordings. But it’s at a point now where things are almost turning around too quickly for that, which is cool.” DeLong’s debut LP Just Movement was the cornerstone of successful 2013 and 2014 international tours, where he made festival appearances including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Bunbury, Breakaway, Life is Beautiful, Made in America and numerous others along the way. The varied album that some might perceive as unfocused (even DeLong referred to it as a “hodge podge of things he’d written over six years” and that recording it was like “reciting lines from journal entries I wrote in 2007”) it still an excellent demonstration of the many things of which DeLong is capable. Moombahton-infused dance tracks like Global Concepts show off excellent production skills and intoxicating drum breaks, while songs like Survival of the Fittest show a darker side of DeLong, his skepticism of the direction the world is going, and powerful lyrics that are surprisingly cohesive with the harder drops (he’s not playing this one on this tour, but I still like the song – so shout out!) DeLong admits that it is sometimes difficult to communicate the live energy into his studio recordings, but it hasn’t stopped him from pumping out new singles, some of which are already gaining traction as radio hits. “The Long Way Down has been the most added to alternative radio for the last five weeks,” DeLong says. “I don’t what that means in the universe, but it’s cool!”
The Long Way Down EP is different. Even though it’s only a glimpse at the next full length album, which DeLong says is coming later this Spring, it shows a deeper commitment to songwriting and vocal exploration. While the dance sounds are still present, this is a more realized concept with fresher takes on electronic components, more raw emotion in the vocals and darker themes overall. “This is more song-based than the previous album,” DeLong says. “It’s more of a tight pop-oriented album, and that’s more of the world [from which I come].” The title track, which he describes as “more of a hip-hop groove” explores the idea of death, what comes after, and how there’s really not a damn thing a person can do to change that ( . . . or at least that’s what I took from it.) Even though DeLong has lived in LA for the past 10 years, he attributes his love for indie rock to the music scene he immersed himself in during high school. “I can’t escape melodically. A lot of my music ideas, at least subconsciously, have to come from all the music I was raised around in Seattle,” DeLong says confidently, noting Deathcab for Cutie, Modest Mouse and David Bazan of Pedro the Lion among some of his favorite artists from those influential years.
After finding ourselves talking about weather for several minutes (because, uh, that’s rad) DeLong says the music in Seattle stills errs on the side of somber, a direct response to the overcast skies and perpetually rainy environment. Those “emo feels” come to life in Long Way Down, through DeLong’s powerful lyrics and some special guest appearances. “The guys from Youngbloode Hawke live in my neighborhood so we worked on a tune together, and MNDR and I have a song together,” DeLong reveals. “This record will have some more collaborations, and that’s something I will get into even more as time goes on. It’s super fun, working with other people that do similar stuff. I’ve found with electronic music, it [can be] difficult [to collaborate] because we do the same thing. I like working with people who have different skill sets.” Of course, that must be hard for DeLong to find considering he’s established himself as a musical “jack of all trades”.
DeLong recently wrapped up his mini-tour of the Northeast where he made stops in Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, Providence and Buffalo among other cities, and the next couple of months will be dedicated to wrapping up the new LP. After that’s all said and done, it’s back to the festival circuit. “Everyday I see the emails come in saying that we’ve booked another festival, and a lot of that is [because] Livenation is taking over the world,” DeLong says with a smile. His first festival dates are fast approaching with Buku Music Festival in New Orleans taking place March 13-14. “[Festivals are] cool because they’re a great way for artists to expose themselves to fans who are there to have a good time, to experience music and are open to things,” DeLong says. “Because mine is such a live show, it’s a great way to win people over.” Festivals also mean getting to see plenty of weird shit. When I ask DeLong about the strangest thing he’s encountered during his festie life he laughs and says, “You know, I get this question all the time, and the funniest thing is probably when there’s that couple basically having sex in front of you.”
So while DeLong may be helping to facilitate the conception of the next generation of video gamers, he doesn’t consider himself one. But do you really think he has time for that anyway? 2015 is a new year for DeLong to position himself as the alternative to your run-of-the-mill dance show, and that means more music, more festivals, and more opportunities to grow. “Things come up, and I say yes; I say yes to everything for better or for worse,” DeLong says without missing a beat. When I asked if he had any new gadgets to add in 2015 he said, “I’ve been working with this steering wheel that you would use for video games, but it’s kind of big and doesn’t really mount well.” After pondering it for a moment he adds, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll end up bringing that after all. We’ll see.” And thank god for that.