Electronic whiz and Bothell native Robert DeLong may have set up residence in Los Angeles when he moved there for college, but his absence from the Northwest just makes each of his homecoming dance parties that much more wild. His new album In the Cards delivers another burst of his percussive, indie rock–influenced style of knob-twisting, joystick-swirling EDM. And while the record and his kinetic one-man electronic band live performances have started garnering DeLong national attention, he was already kind of a big deal in Seattle, selling out concerts and performing to a big crowd in Memorial Stadium at this year's Bumbershoot. This Friday (November 20), DeLong will play the new tunes in front of a sold out audience as he headlines the Showbox for the first time.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with DeLong about the importance of making live electronic music a physical performance, face painting, and his love of Death Cab for Cutie.
How have the new songs morphed since you released In the Cards in September?
It’s kind of fun, it’s like rediscovering these songs in a lot of ways. Basically the album was mastered and finished about six months ago, and I wasn’t thinking about the songs specifically until I started performing them about month or so ago. Songs like “Sellin’ U Somethin” have taken on their own new life, and are totally different for live performance.
How did growing up in Bothell influence your music?
I think everything that you encounter sonically and environmentally changes the way you think about music and the kind of songs you like. I grew up in the era when band like Death Cab, and Modest Mouse, and Pedro the Lion, and Jeremy Enigk were kind of on the rise. That was the scene. That was all very songwriter-based music in the context of rock and indie rock. And I think because of that, I’ve always clung to a certain style of songwriting and certain melodies; I can’t escape them. I was just listening to some early Death Cab last night, and I still utilize a lot of those ideas. It’s sort of inescapable for me. It’s part of my songwriting DNA.
Considering you’re now headlining the Showbox, do you have a favorite concert you’ve attended at the venue?
There’s a lot of good ones, but I do remember one that was really fun. It was the holy trinity for me at the time: Death Cab, Pedro the Lion, and the Shins played a show together. It was pretty radical.
On stage, you’ve got a fairly elaborate setup and are always always quickly moving between drum pads, MIDI interfaces, and other instruments. Why do you find it important have that live element of actually playing so much of the music live as opposed to just having some of it cued up as backing track layers?
Growing up as a drummer strongly influenced the way I think about performance. Being a percussionist, a lot of times you’re doing double and triple duty. So because of that, it was just the way I gravitated towards performing. I’m also a high energy guy. I love to exercise and try get some energy out on stage. I’ve always been interested in trying to create something that was very physical.
The first time I saw you live, I kind of nerded out about how cool it was that you use a video game joystick to control some of your MIDI manipulation. How did the joystick an an instrument idea come about?
It was never a concerted effort or intentional decision I made at one point. Literally, I had these things lying around and I was a nerd, so I was just messing around and trying things out. As this project started taking off and I started playing shows, I was like well I don’t have the money to buy new MIDI controllers, but I have these game controllers laying around, so…. When I used them people immediately were like oh, that’s cool. That’s fun and creative.
There is the stereotype of electronic artists just being dudes that stand behind a laptop on stage and push a button. You’re kind of the antithesis of that. Is that something you’re intentionally fighting against?
Yeah, that was a lot of the reason why I started doing what I’m doing. I loved electronic music. I loved all the cool sonic qualities and all the new textures you can get in electronic music, but, coming out of the rock world, I was so bored by so many electronic performances. A lot of times the coolest thing about performance would be the [background] visuals, but I missed the sort of musical or musician element. So that kind of led me down this path.
Do you have any pre-show routines?
I guess the first thing is that I get my face painted before I go on stage. Then I do vocal warm-ups and a few drum pad warm-ups to get my hands ready to play. I jump around and try to psych myself up, pretty simple, standard stuff.
How did the face painting initially come about?
It was through my girlfriend and her art school friends. They would paint their faces for electronic [music] events. So when I played shows, it was a natural reaction for them to do it there too. Most of the people at my early shows were just people I knew, so it’d be like everyone in the audience except ten people would have their faces painted. So those ten people would be like, “Hey, I want my face painted too!” So it just kind of blossomed from there and became associated with me. Before too long I found out how cool it was not only to involve the audience, but also when you kind of put a mask on somebody, it’s like they’re more open to party and experience something in a different way.
Nov 20 at 8:30, The Showbox, Sold Out