Here’s a story you don’t here much anymore in this YouTube sensation(!), social media era: Aspiring musician practices for hours daily and plays live shows until he’s spotted by a label exec, who signs him to a record deal. That’s what happened for Robert DeLong, the Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist whose striking debut album “Just Movement,” comes out on Feb. 5 through Glassnote Records. Trained as a drummer, DeLong has created a sound that reflects his dance music influences and an indie-rock sensibility that’s as club-ready as it is headphone-friendly. Its release is just days away, but stream the full LP exclusively on Billboard.com below:
“I practice a lot,” says the 26-year-old. “When I’m in town and I have a show, I try to run the set three or four times every day. It’s nice. I grew up in a very academic music world, so that’s just what you do.”
DeLong grew up in Seattle, steeped in the city’s music scene (he cites Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, and Pedro the Lion as influences). He came to Los Angeles for college and started frequenting club nights at Avalon and some of the more “shady” Inland Empire raves.
“We’d always see Sasha whenever he was in town,” DeLong says. “When there started to be a lot of dubstep events I’d go to that, but that’s sort of petered out for me.”
DeLong played in rock bands and studied jazz, later earning a living teaching drum lessons. Having grown up listening to Pat Metheny and other contemporary jazz, electronic music was more of a hobby. “I was always fiddling around with it, but more in the style of Board of Canada,” he notes.
He booked himself gigs and small tours, mostly on the West Coast and around L.A., at venues like the Viper Room and Los Globos, where Glassnote’s West Coast A&R Marc Nicolas found him in May 2012. “Marc came out and dug the show,” says DeLong. “He called Daniel [Glass] and he was into it, and that was it.”
Despite not being a DJ, “Just Movement” plays almost like a mixtape. From the baile-twerk of “Global Concepts” to the Ben Gibbard-esque “Happy,” there is a range of emotional, rhythmic, and musical ideas that all adding up to what the artist comically describes as “indie songwriter electronic dance hybrid something.”
Each track has been road-tested, having sonically shifted with DeLong’s own tastes. “Most of the songs started out in a more indie singer-songwriter style,” he says. “Over time, I started to change them as I started to play them live. I was listening to more dance music and as I started infusing that into what I was doing, it slowly evolved into what it is.”
The album’s first single, “Global Concepts,” is a dance floor-designed pop gem. Suprisingly, it was the result of “four hours, literally in a closet with a timbale and a microphone.” Like much of the album, the song engages in some self-aware navel-gazing along with the “hook,” as DeLong describes it, that “your body is going to naturally respond to music in a certain way.”
The video features DeLong in one long, single shot, playing on his usual live setup and dancing sporadically with other people. “The most important thing for me in the first video is to show that I perform stuff, that I’m not a DJ. That’s the confusion always,” he explains. “I’m a terrible DJ.”
Instead, DeLong’s explosive and captivating live shows encompass all of his many influences. As an electronic one-man band (minus the bass drum on his back), he sings, plays keyboards, programs live, and plays the drums. His set-up is elaborate and impressive, consisting of two computers (one running Logic and Ableton, and another for the “gadgets” – joystick, sliders and such – that get converted into MIDI), a drum pad, timbale, a small percussion tree, keyboard, MIDI controller, drum kit, and two microphones (one for effects and one for main natural vocals). “I didn’t set out to make that thing, it just happened,” DeLong chuckles.
Usually the live show concludes with a sweaty DeLong whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a full-on drum set assault. Even the typically jaded audiences of L.A. are not immune to the DeLong effect. His month-long residency at the Echoplex last fall affirmed his status as an entertainer and performer, capable of winning over new fans during the course of a show.
“The nice thing is that for people who aren’t into dance music, there’s the rock, songwriter component so people can attach themselves to melodies and not be put off too much by electro sounds,” he says.
While most of the album was recorded prior to his signing, re-working some production aspects and re-recording all of the vocals at the House of Blues studio in Encino over the course of two weeks for what he happily calls “an awesome and most tiring event of my life.”
From the title track’s opening line, “I wanna be anywhere but here,” it’s clear there’s some pathos being expelled by the songwriter: these are not filler lyrics. “It’s kind of a thesis statement for the album,” DeLong says. “At the starting point, everything in the universe is just things moving and vibrating, that’s all you have.”
For DeLong, the album is reflective of his own journey through life up until present day. “All these songs were written in that state of being twenty-something, figuring out what’s going on in my brain.”