If you’re into dance music, you’re probably used to seeing the one-man robot creaking his bolts to make glowing machines light up like Cash Cab with beats and squeaks for your hypnotic pleasure. Robert Delong is game for your mechanized expectations, but reprograms the situation entirely as a one-man electronic band with poetic vocals that give his music a deep, often dark versatility that speaks the truth and moves the youth.
He caught fire in late 2012 and throughout 2013 after the release of his still-hit single, “Global Concepts,” a thoughtful commentary about the existence vs. purpose and impact of youth that we’ve all drudged through with angst and questions ourselves with a Moombahton-style groove that feels like it’s banged out on a garbage can. “Because, I” has one of the most unexpected, dark beginnings to a dance song that I’ve ever heard, but he brings power vocals to big soaring sections that cast shadows of Bono with edges of Phoenix for a masterful blend of indie rock and dancetronica.
Delong took a moment to talk with CincyMusic.com about this new phase in his life of music before his upcoming show at Bunbury this weekend.
CM: You’ve had quite the jaunt around the world over the last year and a half. How has breaking out fresh been for you?
RD: It’s been great. This year has been calmer than last summer, when we had I think it was about a week off in December between things happening. I’ve spent some time writing, producing. Hopefully you’ll see some of those things coming out soon. Just a lot of that, traveling a little bit less. Kinda spent some time redesigning the rig, and the show. It’s kind of cool – now, you have sort of an integrated visual thing where the music connects directly to the visuals, so you have a lot more visual content. I don’t think it will be ready for Bunbury, but it’s pretty cool.
CM: Part of what makes your music stand out is the fact that you’re clearly a poet before a producer. When did you start writing? When did your inspiration really start to come through as an artist?
RD: I don’t know, I mean, I was just always writing songs my whole life. I really got into it more in high school, playing pop punk bands and that kind of thing. And it was – yeah – just stuff that. For this album, kind of listening to a bunch of different folk and indie rock bands, and stuff like that. And all the while I was, you know, recording with other people on the side, and what I was doing was just kind of a little side project I was working on in my garage. It kind of became a sum of all the influences of all the bands I was playing with and things I was working on – also a lot of the stuff I was listening to – it just kind of evolved into this monster.
CM: So then where did you get your break along the way? From working with other bands, or producing on the side?
RD: I had all these songs that I had written and was recording, and was trying to figure out what I thought sounded the best live. I had done things like small coffee shop electronic performances, and then kind of went from there. I liked the one man model, where you control everything that you do on stage, and just kind of grew into that. As I started performing, eventually started to grow, was getting booked other places. Friends came out, then there friends came out, and eventually I ended up meeting Glassnote management through that and signed from there.
CM: What really strikes me about your music is that it stands alone in the depth of its vocals. It’s not something you always see, and you’ve taken a different approach. Where does inspiration like that come from?
RD: From everything. Writing music, you take in everything… news, culture, reading about trends. I read a lot of popular science literature, stuff like that. That kinda creeps in there, all those things. I’ve always really been kind of a nerd. (laughs) I grew up I guess in kind of a conservative Christian home, so I had that kind of background that taught talking about philosophy and things like that. In a way, that kind of thinking sinks in and comes through also.
CM: So then could you say that your evolution in music kind of parallels your evolution as a person?
RD: Yeah, absolutely. The album that I released, it’s kind of an album that to me, sort of paces my development into, you know, a person separate from a set of impulses.
CM: What got me on the topic was your song “Basically I.” It’s epic. The first time I heard it, I thought, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m gonna get behind this.” But then it kind of sucked me in – It’s just so realistically dark. How do you find balance between influences like that to create a positive dance anthem that people want to move to?
RD: I guess, you know… I guess it’s kind of the idea that, you know, everyone is gonna die. It’s something that comes to everything living. In order to celebrate life, you kind of have to embrace the fact that it’s, you know, a transient experience. That’s what I was sort of trying to get at.
CM: So in a way, you’re setting the stage of reality to party in the moment with it?
RD: Definitely. That’s a fun way to think about it.
CM: A lot of your popularity came from the explosion of "Global Concepts.” How have you grown and changed since that release?
RD: It’s been a lot of change. I think the newest song that was on the record that came out last year is still about two or three years old to me, so the oldest song is about six years old. It’s kind of an interesting thing; stylistically I’ve changed, because I’m interested in a lot. Then also, I mean, the things I talk about, things I want to talk about now musically, or even lyrically, are very, but maybe not very different – I think I’m still always kind of right in that little shoegazing philosophy, that sort of thing from a writing perspective. I think you’ll see, especially in some of my newest things, since I’ve been doing a lot more. I was just a wide-eyes kid that didn’t really know anything about the music industry or anything in the past, and now obviously it’s a lot different 300 shows later.
CM: So would you say it’s not really living in the past, but you’re executing in almost like a former self?
RD: Haha, yeah. You know, it’s kinda funny when you get on stage – at least for me – you just kind of connect with that that thing that you’ve done that you do, and for some it’s like, I don’t know. But for me, it’s really easy to put yourself in that place. But it is kind of funny to think about it, because it is kind of like what you said – you’re reliving a former version of yourself, out there with what you were thinking about, what kind of melodies you liked. So, it is kind of funny for that reason.
CM: You started to touch on how your music tastes and preferences have grown. What’s sucking you in right now?
RD: I do a lot of different things, so there’s a lot that interests me right now. Some of my new tunes – I have like four or five new tunes that I’ve planted – in the vain of more of… almost like future disco… with kind of weird vocals. It’s still pretty neurotic, and I guess pop music in the most general sense of the term. Everything from that, to like, you know – I have a song that I finished on piano too – and I don’t know what I’m gonna do with them. I kind of write in a lot of different styles, so I guess when I’m going to go put an album together I’m probably gonna go figure out which things I have that make the most sense together, and take other thingsthat I want to keep and send them in a different direction.
Yeah, I dunno… I listen to a lot of older music. A lot of Paul Simon, a lot of Talking Heads… a lot of everything, just neat stuff im probably go figure out which things I have that make the most sense together and take the other things that I want to keep and send them that direction. Yeah I dunno. I listen to a lot of old music. A lot of paul simon, a lot of talking heads, a lot of everything, just neat stuff. I also listen to St. Lucia a little bit, I like them. It’s kind of an interesting, almost Phil Collins-like, sort of new pop thing.
CM: Since you’ve been on the festival circuit for a while now, how are venue shows different from festival performances like Bunbury?
RD: I like venues because it’s packed with a bunch of people, so there’s a little bit more of that raw energy in that way. It’s fun. The cool thing about festivals is that, you know, you get to introduce yourself to a lot of new fans – special fans – all at once, and there’s always that high-energy vibe at festivals. I did Bunbury last year… we got a really good response. I remember it was pretty hot last summer, so we’re hoping for better weather (laughs).
CM: Let’s hope so for everyone. What can people expect from your show? What about you in the future?
RD: If you know Robert Delong, it will be a Robert Delong show, louder than last time. If you don’t, it’s a dance party. A house electronic singing performance. I’ve actually been working on some new tunes, hoping to have a single or EP out on that soon. Hopefully next time this year I’ll be out and around for that.
CM: Awesome, hopefully you’ll be back around with your new setup to party with us. Anything else you wanna share that’s interesting in your world?
RD: That I’ve watched all the episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise and Deep Space Nine in the last year. I’m just doing the music thing, you know? And I got a new haircut.
Robert Delong takes to the River Stage early Sunday evening before Holy Ghost!, so it’s a one-two knockout punch to get down with the get down on the last night of Bunbury. If you’re sitting at home, debating on whether or not you want to make this happen, just remember Delong’s most pressing question in “Global Concepts:” DID I MAKE YOU FUCKING DANCE?? I certainly hope he did, friends. I certainly hope he did.