Interview: Rocker Robert Schwartzman On His Neighbors From Hell Collaboration

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Rooney front man Robert Schwartzman is all for demons. Tonight, the musician takes his rock alter-ego, SOLOBOB, to the small screen for the season finale of TBS’ Neighbors From Hell, an animated series (starring Molly Shannon, Will Sasso and Patton Oswalt) about a family straight out of hell – literally. Schwartzman wrote the featured song of tonight’s finale Fantastic 15 (now available on iTunes), which, for fans of the show, will be featured at demon daughter Mandy’s 15th birthday party. We chat with Schwartzman about his animated counterpart, how digital music is still changing the game and what he thinks about brother Jason’s part in upcoming film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Neighbors From Hell airs tonight on TBS at 10 p.m.

Allie Townsend: Tell me a little about your SOLOBOB project.

Robert Schwartzman: It’s a name and a concept that I started recording music under in high school. It was while we were doing Rooney, but I was always making these little recordings and I was like, “It’s Solo Bob!” The whole feel to me is wanting to make really fun, upbeat, more dance, drum machine pop stuff. It’s the elements in the songs that give it a lot of character. For me, it’s really exciting because I can run with it and not have to please anyone in my band, which can take a lot of time, making everyone happy. It’s not a band project. It’s me picking what I want, doing what I want.

AT: How did you get involved with Neighbors From Hell?

RS: My brother (Matthew Shire) is on the writing staff. He actually wrote this episode. Originally, he told me that SOLOBOB was going to be in the episode. He’s going to be playing the Fantastic 15 party, which was really exciting for me because I always wanted to be animated, but then it kind of got changed a little bit and finally they still wanted to use an original song. Also, the creator of the show, Pam Brady, came from South Park. She’s a Rooney fan. She really wanted to incorporate some original music into the show and it just worked out. The show’s great.

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I also wrote the theme song for the Iron Man animated show, which came out about a year and a half ago. I really like writing for specific projects. It’s a whole different way of writing when you have certain guidelines and a theme you’re writing to. It’s very inspiring. It’s not just a free for all. You’re telling a story that has to fit the images. It’s like scoring a movie. That’s always been something I’ve really loved and appreciated. I’m into it.

AT: Are you an Iron Man fan?

RS: Yeah, I wouldn’t bash someone for not making a movie that wouldn’t tell the story of the comic book, but I enjoy it. I like big, fun, popcorn movies. Blockbusters.

AT: Sadly, we don’t get to see SOLOBOB in the episode, but if the show gets picked up, is that something you can work on?

RS: I think that would be cool. I think after the finale airs they’ll start to know. I really want to be more involved. They know how much I really love it and go for it. It would be really cool if SOLOBOB would be living next to the family or something.

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AT: SOLOBOB should be the pop star.

RS: Yeah, like Conrad Birdie. He comes to the town and he’s in a helicopter, and everyone’s like, “Oh my god.” I love that. That would be so fun. That’s what I like about this project. There’s not over thinking happening. I just try to make really cool music and find other opportunities for it.

AT: I noticed on the site that you’re giving away a free download for fans who sign up for your mailing list. Did you rethink your marketing strategy after everything went digital?

RS: Oh yeah. I’m always trying to think of something clever and fun to do with the music. There’s so many cool things musicians and artists can do with their products. The only thing I see as a little bit of struggle is the consumer perception of the value of music. You don’t ever want to devalue music. Music is important, it’s necessary product. I always try to make sure that there’s a value, that people appreciate music and realize that there’s a value to it.

I started using the Internet when I was 12-years-old. I would go into chat rooms and flirt. It was the beginning of the Internet for young people. Now, young people grow up with iTunes, with free music downloads – there’s a whole new generation of young kids who don’t see getting music as buying an album. They want to cherry pick. They see it as though it’s better to cherry pick, even when (the cost) adds up to being more than that album actually costs. Or, they’re stealing music and not really feeling any guilt or questioning how much this affects the artist. Socially, it’s become acceptable to believe that music lacks a certain value. My struggle is that I always want to be fair because I think you can do a lot of great things for giving music away for free in order to create interest, but you also never want to devalue it. But people don’t even go buy music anymore. That’s the problem.

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AT: I tried to go buy an album the other week, and I literally couldn’t find it.

RS: A physical copy?

AT: Yeah, I wanted that experience of going to a record store and buying a CD. But I couldn’t do it.

RS: I guess it all makes sense once you experience that. You go into small towns in Middle America and there are no music stores. It makes sense why certain things aren’t present in certain communities. It says a lot about why things are the way they are. When you walk into a huge retail store, you can’t really find records. They only have the Top 100. There’s a division between the labels and the bigger Lady Gaga acts and the smaller indie bands. It’s a bigger gap now. …I could go all day with this.

AT: So, I have to ask: Have you seen Scott Pilgrim yet?

RS: I have not, but it looks really cool. Jason showed me a couple “making of” clips, some cool sword fighting stuff, which I really thought was awesome. I think it’ll be great. I read the script, which was really cool. I’m excited to see it.

(For more on SOLOBOB, visit robertschwartzman.com or twitter.com/rcschwartzman.)

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