Robert DeLong is an EDM Artist on the Rise

Seattle-born, L.A.-based singer-songwriter Robert DeLong has a flare for the alternative. In a good way. The 26 (soon to be 27)-year-old EDM mastermind, dubbed a Young Artist to Watch by MTV, has the music scene in his hands—quite literally. Indeed, among the myriad instruments he manages to maneuver during performances are Wiimotes and Joysticks, rigged like MIDIs and adding edge to his already memorable brand of booty movin’ tunes.

Seriously, though, this whiz kid’s got the chops and multitasks better than the best of us—in front of an audience, no less. He’s a one-man-band who sings, drums, and fiddles with game controllers and keyboards, sometimes going so far as to incorporate guitar, too. His live set is something to behold, a sweaty mid-twenties talent, hair slicked down in an exaggerated comb-over, putting every effort into churning out original numbers while keeping the beat.

“I’m always writing songs,” says DeLong, whose debut album, Just Movement, drops today. Makes sense, since he constantly rocked out in bands back in high school. Now he’s signed to Glassnote, label to the likes of Phoenix and Mumford & Sons.

Recently, DeLong released a video to accompany his catchy track “Global Concepts.” The visual rendition of this f-bomb laden rhythmic ditty features a foggy interior, warehouse-like, smoke somewhat obscuring the agile dancers in the background. Tube lights suspended from above flicker and flash whilst DeLong engages in various aspects of performing, most notably wandering around and gesticulating with Wiimote or drumsticks in hand, or hitting his steel drum to excellent tribal effect as he marches subtly in place. Towards the end, the space is overrun with revelers, morphing into an all-out party you wish you’d been invited to. (The platinum blonde mop you may glimpse amid the shadows belongs to talented dancer James Koroni, the individual responsible for my introduction to and fast fandom of DeLong.)

Another nuance unique to DeLong is his affinity for orange, which he wears with pride in the shape of an “x,” big and bold on a classic black tee, as well as painted with precision on his cheekbone in the shape of a lightening bolt. More on this defining aesthetic to follow.

New Yorkers can catch DeLong in action on February 15 when, as part of a greater tour, he plays The Studio at Webster Hall. Festivalgoers will have several opportunities to indulge as well, from SXSW to Coachella, Ultra to Governors Ball.

Not long ago I sat down with the confident up-and-comer at The Commons Chelsea, one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, where over iced tea we discussed the multi-instrumentalist’s inspiration, interest in hacking HIDs, and what it all means.

What’s it like being dubbed a Young Artist to Watch?
It’s great. I grew up watching MTV, so it’s cool. Wild ride. Exciting. Surreal.

How have people reacted? Any super fans?
Nothing too weird so far. But, it’s definitely getting weirder. After the video came out, all of a sudden friends from high school started reaching out, sending messages. It’s fun to hear from people I haven’t heard from in years. But, it’s just funny.

I bet. Did you always know you were going to go into music?
Near the end of high school I knew I was going to do music. I started out thinking I was going to be in science or something. But, I was better at [music]. I think people knew I was a musician, but I don’t know if people knew I was into electronic music and that I was going to go that route.

What would you be doing if not this?
Since college, all of my jobs have been music related. I taught drum lessons, so that was my thing. If it wasn’t music at all, I guess I’d be going to school.

To become a scientist.
Yeah, I guess. [Laughs]

So, tell me more about this Wiimote rewiring…
You can hack [a] human interface device, anything from Gamepads to Joysticks, and turn it into a MIDI. Basically, the idea is you’re just sending information to a computer and can turn it into whatever you want. It’s the same thing as having a knob, slider, drum pad. It’s all the same if you can hack it and make it work for you. I found out you could do it, it seemed interesting and it’s cheaper than buying a bunch of expensive musical equipment. And it’s fun, people like it.

How many instruments do you have up onstage with you?
Three different electronic things, two computers, game pad, Joystick, Wiimote, six pieces of percussion, drum set, keyboard. Like, 15-20 things. Sometimes I’ll have a guitar. Oh, and two microphones.

Wow. That’s a lot for one guy to keep track of. So, are all your shows like the last time you performed in New York? No pauses between songs, stuff like that?
The show is always continuous and flows together. When I do a longer set, there’s more drumming. I play guitar sometimes, too. It’s high-paced. Jumping around doing a lot of different things.

I’m getting that vibe. You sampled Moby when you last played live in NYC. Have you been a long time fan of his?
When his album Play came out, I was probably, like, 12. That was when I first started experimenting with making electronic music, because it was kind of accessible, mainstream electronic music for the time. It was kind of something I grew up with.

Aww, an audible homage. Thoughts on our fair city?
I love this city, but Manhattan is a little terrifying. And it’s a little colder here. Do prefer the warm. Other than that, it’s beautiful. It’s awesome. Good people.

Who else besides Moby inspired or inspires you?
The songs on the album especially are an amalgamation of a lot of songs over the last four years, so it’s a wide variety of things. I grew up in Seattle, so there’s the whole indie singer-songwriter vibe that I kind of grew up with, like Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, Modest Mouse. I think you can hear that whole Seattle sound in the way I write melodies. As far as things I’m listening to a lot right now, I’m listening to Lucy and Sports. I also grew up listening to a lot of Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Talking Heads. Those are some of my constant jams.

Can you tell me what inspired the lyrics behind “Just Movement”?
“Just Movement,” the first track, is sort of the thesis statement for the album. It was written right after college, a time of mental exploring. Just movement: the idea that, if you take this reductionist perspective, everything we do is just atoms moving around. It’s all meaningless. But, once you break it down, where do you go from there? Just movement, the double entendre. Dancing, philosophy. Take it or leave it.

Have you yourself always been into dancing? I’m thinking, too, of “Global Concepts”…
I go out dancing a lot. Do a lot of jumping around on stage. I think that’s an awesome thing. It’s the oldest response to music that human beings had, so it only makes sense to think about that. For a long time I was in the indie scene and no one dances. Everyone looks at their feet.

[Laughs] Shoegaze. How would you describe the music scene in L.A.?
It’s actually pretty cool. There’s definitely a burgeoning DIY electronic scene in Los Angeles. L.A.’s big. There’s always something happening. You can always see new music. It’s good stuff.

So, how did the face painting start?
The whole thing was a group of me and my friends called the Tribe of Orphans, a bunch of people who hang out and go to dance events and stuff. It kind of just evolved over time. My girlfriend Heidi face paint[s] at shows.

So she’s your professional face painter. Does she paint in real life?
Besides face painting she does studio painting and stuff, so it’s great.

Why orange?
Initially? That’s the color paint that shows up the best under black light. It glows the brightest.

Has anyone ever said something to you about your “x” symbol? How it very much resembles the “x” symbol of The xx?
Yeah, people have said that before.

Does it piss you off?
It does a little bit. It doesn’t really. I didn’t even know about them, that that was their symbol. The “x” just was kind of an organic development. My girlfriend had painted it on my headphones probably three years ago or something, so it was before that first The xx album came out. It was just kind of a simultaneous [thing]. We both did it. And then they became famous first. It’s just an “x.” It is what it is.

Emblem wars aside, what’s the greatest challenge of all this?
I think the greatest challenge is to not get sick all the time from running around. But, I have a lot of energy and this is what I wanted to do, so it’s all working out. So far. I get to do what I love. I love playing shows. That’s what it’s all about.

Photo by Miles Pettengell

Zooey Deschanel Separates from Husband Ben Gibbard

What a tough week for marriages! First there was the shocking Kardashian-Humphries break-up that blindsided all Americans who had put their faith in a pair of famous people who had seemingly started dating out of nowhere as if it were arranged entirely by publicists and reality TV producers. Now a coupling that was certainly made in indie-rock Loveland is now calling it quits: The New Girl star and She & Him chanteuse Zooey Deschanel and Death Cab for Cutie-frontman Ben Gibbard have broken up.

The couple got hitched in September 2009, and it seemed like perfect, adorable, twee bliss. Alas! What could have gone wrong between the doe-eyed Deschanel and the adorably round-faced Gibbard? The couple have not released any statements giving any indication as to the root of their maritable troubles. Perhaps Zooey was more of a Wes Anderson fan while Ben was a Spike Jones kinda guy. Maybe Zooey preferred the brooding tunes of Conor Oberst and Ben was more into the brooding tunes of Bon Iver. Irreconcilable differences!

There’s one thing for certain: we can certainly expect some terribly obnoxious break-up songs from these two. At least Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries are creatively bankrupt, right?

Ben Gibbard on Death Cab’s New Album & His Favorite Spots to Eat in Seattle

In the three years since Death Cab for Cutie released their last album, Narrow Stairs, all four of the indie-pop rockers have settled into adulthood. Lead singer Ben Gibbard (third from left) married actor Zooey Deschanel, bassist Nick Harmer (left) also tied the knot, drummer Jason McGerr (right) celebrated the birth of his second child, and guitarist Chris Walla made a permanent move to Seattle, the band’s unofficial base camp.

Death Cab’s new release, Codes and Keys, due out later this month, is a reflection of this newfound stability. “Everything I make is like a series of postcards from my life and the lives of those around me,” Gibbard says. “The tone of the album, which is very emotionally even, is a reflection of where we are in our lives. That’s something that infiltrates our entire process. For example, I enjoy playing live shows, but I’m less eager to be away from home than I’ve been in the past.” As for dining on the road, he says, “On tour I always end up eating some variation of the same thing every day. Playing shows kind of fucks up when you can eat dinner. If we’re playing at 9:30 we can’t have a proper dinner at 7, because it’ll still be in our stomachs, bouncing around two hours later. But by the time the show’s over, it’s already too late for dinner, so I usually end up eating on the bus. Maybe we’ll become so successful that restaurants will stay open late for us, but I don’t think so.”

Once a dedicated vegan, Gibbard is still a healthy eater, but he indulges in the odd french fry. “I just ran the Los Angeles Marathon and the best thing about the experience was being able to eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. I love Maneki. I think it’s the oldest Japanese restaurant in Seattle. It’s a James Beard Foundation-honored place, but it’s also a little hole-in-the-wall—a locals-only kind of thing. When we’re in the city we usually end up going to Crepe Café, a bistro that serves a lot of small French plates. We live in LA, but we have a place in Seattle and we always look forward to going back to that little spot. We try to eat healthy because, well, gross foods make you feel gross.”

The Kills Cover BlackBook’s May Music Issue!

What luck! In a week that turned out to be all about the kill, we’re introducing our brand new Music Issue on newsstands now, featuring cover stars The Kills. Coincidence? We think so! Anyway, read all about the everlasting musical union between Mr. Hince and Ms. Mosshart — and the new album they made — here. Also in our May issue:

Before Mark Ruffalo hulks and smashes in next summer’s Avengers, he pauses for his directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious; read a revealing interview with the actor about the rock drama and the darkness that inspired it. UK music sensation Anna Calvi has opened for Interpol, but she never met lead singer Paul Banks — until now. The Arctic Monkeys, rockstars before they turned twenty, evolve on their new album, Suck It and See. New York’s Gang Gang Dance explain where their trippy, tribal, genre-defying sound comes from. Our sometime fashion guru Gavin McInnes puts SXSW on blast. Avant-garde musical artist Planningtorock takes us on an impromptu tour of Berlin.

Plus Rose Byrne, Taylor Momsen, Chloe Sevigny, Death Cab for Cutie, Dolly Parton, Richard Ashcroft, Tinie Tempah, and more!

Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard on ‘You Are A Tourist’ Live Video

Later today (at 7pm EST to be exact), Death Cab For Cutie is shooting the video for their latest single, “You Are a Tourist.” Until someone comes forward with legitimate proof otherwise, the video is being billed as the first-ever scripted, single-take music video to be broadcast while filming. Got that? Anyway, Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard revealed to BlackBook that he can’t believe no one’s attempted to do this before.

“It’s funny to be a part of something that’s the ‘first of it all,’ I’m kind of shocked that nobody’s ever thought of doing this before,” Gibbard says. “In what now amounts to about 30 years of music videos, it seems that somebody would’ve, but we’re yet to be shown anybody who has. The idea is courtesy of the band’s friend and director friend, Aaron Stewart. “Its actually an idea Aaron Stewart-Ahn–who’s a film director in his own right–came up with. He directed half of the video for ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ from our last record and he’s filmed a few videos for the Decemberists.”

“He came up with this idea that nobody’s ever done a live music video before. There have been one-take music videos and performances broadcast live but never a one-take music video that’s actually been the video, so we took that idea and rolled with it. Can anything go horribly wrong here? “We hope everything goes according to plan, but at the same time, if something goes wrong, something goes wrong–it’ll just be what it is. And for somebody like me who hates taking photographs and doing video shoots, it’s nice to know that whatever we’re doing is It, and we’re not spending days upon days doing little tiny shots of stuff.”

Watch the stream below at 7pm, or check out YouAreATourist.com.




Can’t see the stream on your mobile device? Click here.

Death Cab’s new album Codes and Keys is out in May.

Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard Survives Scorpion Attack

In 1998, the now-defunct TRL launched its reign over pop music, the Backstreet Boys and Third Eye Blind topped the charts, and an unknown band called Death Cab for Cutie released their first album, Something About Airplanes — a carefully-crafted collection of tunes recorded in a house in Bellingham, Washington. Ten years later the band is still making songs but have since moved labels from Barsuk to Atlantic Records, made their own mark on MTV (recently winning a Video Music Award for the song “I Will Possess Your Heart”), and captivated boys and girls the world over who appreciate a little erudition with their music. This year saw the release both of Death Cab’s sixth studio album Narrow Stairs (which reached #1 on the Billboard chart in its debut week, scoring the band their first number-one album and a couple of Grammy nominations) as well as the re-release of Airplanes, with a bonus disc of the band’s first Seattle show in February of 1998. Ben Gibbard spoke to us about the re-release, his budding acting career, and the unintended benefits of being stung by a scorpion.

I want to you to take me back to the time of Something About Airplanes. What was 1998 Ben Gibbard into? What were his hopes and dreams? At that time that we were recording the record, I was in my last year of college. I was finishing a degree in environmental chemistry, and I was working at — this is going to sound crazy — but I was working in an environmental testing lab at an oil refinery. I had this internship that I worked at one or two days a week, and between that and school, we would all figure out what times of the week worked out, we were recording in our house, and we would all meet there and make the record. And at the time I think that the most that I could ever hope for, or the ideal state of living at that point, was to sell enough records to have touring be something that wasn’t lofty. We could make enough money to maybe cover a couple months between temp jobs when we got back.

So your fallback plan was to be an environmental chemist? At the time I was working at this job, I had gone through lots and lots of training at this job for my internship. So I kinda kept my employers like, I would go in and be like “Hey listen, I’m going to go on tour for a few weeks, and if you need to let me go that’s fine, but it’ll take you six months to train somebody to where I am, so I’m only going to go for two weeks, is that OK?” and they’d be like “Yeah, OK, go.” So it was kind of a nice thing to hold over my employer’s head.

There was a 14-year-old commenter on one the posts from when Death Cab took over the website Stereogum for a day. He wondered about what your first show was like. What can you tell him about it? The first show I ever played as a kid, I was in a band, a high school band. We were called Oddfellows Local, after the REM song “Oddfellows Local 151.” I remembered being so nervous between songs, but when I was playing, it felt so natural, it felt like exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I felt very much at home.

Do you have any advice for that commenter, as a young musician? I think the advice that I would give anybody who’s starting out in playing music is just that you’re doing it for the right reasons — that it’s fun and that you can’t not do it. None of us started a band because we wanted to be rich or famous. We started it because we loved each other and we loved playing music with each other. And the bonds that form with your band mates are very strong and really unique, and they’re something very special. It’s the collective that makes the music great. And I think it’s really important to recognize that and coddle that.

OK, now I’m going to bring you back to the present. It was just announced that Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, based on the David Foster Wallace book, and directed by John Krasinski, is going to Sundance. Are you going to go? Yeah, I think I may actually. I’m not quite sure yet. I still haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know. The movie went through a number of different cuts, first I was in it, then I was out, then I was back in, then I was a different character. It’s a little complicated to be able to follow it. But apparently now I’m back in the movie, and I’m anxious to see how it turned out. I know that John’s been laboring over it in the very limited amount of time he’s had to work on it, with his TV show and his movie career. So I’m really proud that he finally got it all put together and I’m really excited to see it.

What can you tell me about the AIDS benefit album Dark Was the Night and how you got hooked up with Feist on that? Well, you know Leslie and I are friends, and when we were recording Narrow Stairs, she would be in San Francisco when we were recording, and we were just hanging out after a show and somebody had mentioned this compilation, and it just kind of came through that it was all folk covers, and I just suggested like “Well, I’ve always loved this Vashti Bunyan song called ‘Train Song.'” I’ve always loved the idea of traveling to see somebody that you’ve haven’t seen in a really long time, and you’re not sure if the spark is still going to be there. And I kind of like the idea of doing it like a duet, where he sings, then she sings. The hardest thing about singing with her is that her voice is so acrobatic, so trying to match her vocal was difficult because I have a pretty matter-of-fact singing voice.

The video for “Soul Meets Body,” directed by Jon Watts, is one of my favorites. How much input do you have in your music videos, and do you have a personal favorite? I kind of shy away from videos that are literal interpretations of the songs, because then they’re redundant or unnecessary, so we’re always looking for video treatments that kind of feel the spirit of the song rather than just rip the lyrics out and re-create the lyrics. With Jon, we looked at a lot of treatments, and we weren’t trying to be like, “Let’s try to get Spike Jonze.” There are all of these great people doing videos who are young, hungry, and they want to do it. Jon came with this great idea which was the video for “Soul Meets Body,” and really we just want directors to make us look as good as possible, but move forward with their ideas and execute their vision.

As far as favorite videos, it was a miserable video for me, but I really l like the video for “I Will Follow You in the Dark.” I loved the concept, and the execution is really great. We shot that in Romania, and it was on a totally dark soundstage, and I was jetlagged for about two days, but I think it turned out really well, and I think the concept was beautiful.

You’ve survived a scorpion, uh, let’s call it an attack, recently. Did you show it who was boss? I will say that it was very painful, but over the course of the evening, I got stung, and then we played a show, then I was driving — we played in San Diego and I was driving a rental car back to my girlfriend’s place in LA — and they were like “Are you OK to drive?” and I was like “Yeah, I’m fine.” You know, I felt fine. I think after an hour of jumping up and down, the poison would have made its way through my body to the extent that I would have known if I couldn’t drive. So I was driving back up, and then I started feeling this really strange euphoria running up my upper back and then my neck, and by the time I got to LA I was really kind of high. Like, a really strange euphoric sensation that I can only attribute to whatever the scorpion put in my body. I’m not trying to be that guy that’s like “Yeah, I was fucking tripping out on scorpion blood.” You know, I got stung, it was poison, my leg was killing me. It felt like I poured boiling water on my thigh. It was painful, but at the same time it was a strange kind of euphoria, and then by the time I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t feel the bottom of my feet or my tongue. So it was an odd 24 hours as the poison moved through my body. I wouldn’t recommend it for psychedelic purposes, but it was an experience, to say the least.

Band Wagon

CHRIS WALLA

1. “The One Thing,” from the third INXS record. Still the best. 2. “Mr. Roboto,” by Styx. Please tell us your secret. 3. Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night).” I love this song. (I love.)

NICK HARMER

4. Nena Hagan’s “99 Luftballons.” A favorite pastime of mine in elementary school was designing fallout shelters to live in once the nuclear annihilation of earth occurred. This song perfectly captures the ridiculousness of it all. In German. At least that’s what I think she was singing about. 5. Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home).” Other than the fact that this song starts with a riff that reminds me of R.C. Pro-Am on the old Nintendo Entertainment System, it has the coolest countdown to a chorus ever. It’s like, “Just so everyone knows, the chorus is coming. Get ready to sing along!” 6. After the Fire’s “Der Kommissar.” I had to include this track on my road-trip cassette because, even though ATF is British, this song is a cover of a Falco song that was originally sung in German. So, it kind of fits with my theme.

BEN GIBBARD

7. “One on One,” by Hall & Oates. They were my favorite band when I was a kid. Even today, I stand by my claim that Daryl Hall is the underappreciated king of the vocal ad-lib outro. 8. “The Safety Dance,” by Men Without Hats. I remember being genuinely disturbed by the video for this song. It’s probably the reason why I have a strong aversion to medieval fairs to this day. And hippies. 9. Toto’s “Africa.” The lyrics to this song made absolutely no sense to me when I was younger. Upon revisiting them for this article, the same conclusion was reached.

JASON McGERR

10. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” I was a huge Michael Jackson fan when Off the Wall came out, but it was Thriller that I wore the label off of—so many hits, so many repeat listens. And finally, I learned how to moonwalk. 11. “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” by Yes. The original drummer from Yes, Bill Bruford, played on one of my all-time favorite albums, Fragile. After Bill left the band, I stopped buying their records—that is, until I heard “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” 12. David Bowie’s “China Girl.” The man hired Stevie Ray Vaughan to play guitar on a pop record. Genius.

Death Cab for Cutie’s new CD, Narrow Stairs, was just released.

Photo by Darcy Hemley

Death Cab’s Cutie Clip

imageMusic makes images seem more urgent, or poignant. That’s the beauty of the video for “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the 8-minute-plus single from Death Cab for Cutie’s upcoming album Narrow Stairs. Ben Gibbard doesn’t start singing until more than halfway into the song, and for that first bit, we’re watching a lone girl wandering through city streets and temples, sleeping on planes, waiting for trains. But it matters. The sonic urgency increases, and we wait for Gibbard to chime in, to serenade the girl we’re following. The song and the video are beautiful in their simplicity, and they know that all they need is each other to make perfect sense. Take a look for yourself after the jump.


Death Cab For Cutie Tickets