L.A. quintet Rooney lead a charmed life — so charmed they don’t even know it yet. Blood-linked to one of the industry‘s hippest bands (front man Robert Carmine is the brother of Phantom Planet drummer Jason Schwartzman, and Rooney’s very first show was a P.P.-fan-club shindig at the Troubadour), blessed with teen-dream looks (Carmine put an acting career on hold for the band, and drummer Ned Brower is a former model) and hardly lacking in songwriting talent, this supermelodic group were dealt a winning hand. And the cards have continued to fall in Rooney‘s favor: They materialized from nowhere onto the side stage of Weezer’s tour earlier this year and are now opening for the Strokes, thanks to heavy-hitting management and major-label clout. With boy bands proving surprisingly durable as a commercial force and the sudden ubiquity of garage-pop, could Rooney be the first crossbreed of the two . . . N‘Sync with guitars, a Cliffs Notes Weezer?
Let’s backtrack. For all their built-in benefits (and what are they supposed to do, walk away from these?), Rooney are not some Svengali‘s Frankenstein, in fact taking shape in reassuringly organic fashion three years ago: ”I went to school with two of the original members,“ Carmine recalls, ”and Taylor [Locke, guitarist] I knew through a girl that we both liked. He had another band, and he was really serious, so committed, and a great musician — and I was new to this.“
Yep, Rooney is the 19-year-old Carmine’s first and only band. ”Robert had been working up some songs in his basement, inspired by his older brother,“ says Locke, ”and this [collaboration] was the first time he even had arrangements for his songs, ‘cause it was just him and his guitar before that. We started making them into full rock songs.“
Rooney began gigging, with original bassist Matt Winter and soon joined by Brower (the band’s veteran at 24) and keyboard player Louie Stephens. Though musically retro (their Weezer obsession is tempered by an array of ‘80s influences, including ELO, the Cars and Hall & Oates, filtered through Carmine’s older siblings), Rooney are operationally a band of their time. ”We‘re definitely a band of the Internet generation,“ says Locke. ”We probably have more fans online who’ve never seen the band live than we do people who‘ve come out to gigs. So the Web site was huge — plus Internet chat rooms, Yahoo clubs — and then we just worked the Southern California area, playing a lot of O.C. shows and a lot of Hollywood shows until there was enough of a buzz in L.A. for some labels to take notice.“
Rooney were spotted by The Firm (the all-powerful movie-star management company that recently moved into music), and the band had a choice of labels, picking Geffen so they could be stablemates with Weezer. This move paid off immediately, as Rooney landed the Weezer tour before they even had a release on the shelves; the band’s debut is only now at the mixing stage, with just a three-song EP available as a taster. But no amount of cuteness or connections will write you a song, and Rooney clearly know their craft: The EP‘s opener, ”If It Were Up to Me,“ wears its Weezer worship uncomfortably on its sleeve, but the sub-Police verses of ”Pop Stars“ and grandiose, Jellyfish tear-jerking of ”Losing All Control“ hint at a band developing its own voice.
”If you look at the progression of modern rock from the ’90s through the millennium,“ laments Locke, ”things have gotten pretty heavy recently, really amped-up and in-your-face, and a lot of the lyrical content is very down, dark and heavy. And we just don‘t feel that way! We kinda wanna lighten things up.“
Bizarrely, Rooney’s backward-looking stylings (they resemble the class of 1975 in 1975, and claim to have little interest in current musical trends) have attracted an adolescent, training-bra following. This and their apparently instant appearance in the industry‘s fast lane have set the indie-snobs sneering, questioning the cred of a band who are playing major tours without having endured the rites of passage of small-label releases and agonizing van treks.
”Y’know,“ sighs Locke, ”with those people there‘s always one more due to pay. We didn’t do nine months across the country in a van, that‘s true, but the music was ready, so why should we do that?“
Ultimately, the record-buying public cares more about great pop tunes than notches on the belt, so Rooney are fortunate to have the opportunity to parade their wares to large audiences this fall with the Strokes and let the people decide. Their performances — which are as yet more competent than impassioned — will determine whether they join their tourmates on word-of-mouth drool lists or instead get elbowed into the TRL teen-machine. Can they be the first to do both?