This year finally saw the release of the self-titled, debut full-length from Roosevelt, the brainchild of Cologne’s Marius Lauber. It had been in the works for a few years, and as if to make up for lost time, Lauber and Co. hit the festival scene hard with their endlessly upbeat dance-pop bangers and headed straight into a US and European tour. As it drew to a close, John Bell caught up with Marius in London ahead of their sold out show at XOYO.
Your sound embodies a very European aesthetic, and your popularity in the continent reflects that as you near the end of a massive European tour. But you began the tour in the US – how did you find the crowd compared over there to your audiences back home?
You can definitely notice the difference with the crowd in the US – I think they’re sometimes a bit more impatient, so you definitely have to have special moments in your set. We didn’t change the set, but we’d have to have certain moments, like buildups and drops. I was happy that we had these moments though, because they needed them to go crazy otherwise we wouldn’t really have got them. In general I find it more interesting how similar the crowds there can be. You can be in Seattle on a Monday night and suddenly you forget that you’re there – you don’t see much of the cities anyway, we mostly see the backstage – but I mean that in a really positive way, that there’s a kind of mood in the room that’s kind of universal and not specific to a certain place. There’s a special connection that’s happening every night, and that’s what I love about touring the States.
2016 has been a very busy year for you with festivals, TV performances, etc. Talk to me about some of your highlights. How did you celebrate the release of your debut record, which had been in the works for a couple of years?
Yeah it has. On the day the record came out we played Lowlands festival in the Netherlands, which was quite a big show for us, but the highlight was playing Primavera festival and playing around Barcelona. We’ve just had a really nice run of festivals, and it was nice to have the release in the summer; it’s quite a summer record and it’s great to go so smoothly into the touring season in autumn.
You’re based in Cologne; for those who might not know as much about its music scene as compared to say Berlin, can you tell us a little bit about the city and its music scene?
At the moment I like it because it’s not so touristic like Berlin; you have your group of people that you know, and the music scene there is really diverse. So there’s not as much of an isolated scene like techno or rock or whatever, just people that ‘do music’ know each other, which I think is really healthy. All the studio places are often shared by different kinds of artists. Maybe that’s even what shaped me in my musical education, because I was in the studio with COMA, a techno-pop act from Cologne, and maybe without them I wouldn’t have turned more towards electronic music. But what keeps me in Cologne is the size and the connection that people have.
You were playing in bands before, right?
Yeah, but I was still making kinda dancey music; in the last band I was playing in I played drums and played four to the floor beats, so for me it didn’t feel like a completely different, but it was a lot more guitar based.
What have you been listening to on tour? Are there any other Cologne-based acts you can recommend?
There’s a band called WOMAN from Cologne. They’re really close friends and I really love what they do; it’s kind of more electronic RnB.
You’ve also got an interesting roster of acts that you’ve remixed. What do you look for in an act to remix? What do you look for in a song to remix?
When there’s an opportunity to remix for someone, I mostly listen to the vocals and see what I can do with them, because I mostly see it as a reproduction rather than a remix, so I see if I can use them for my kind of style. I don’t really like remixes that chop up everything too much, I like to keep the structure, and mostly I do the instrumental from scratch. Sometimes I use the original synths, but I really need the vocal part to connect with me.
I really liked the Blossoms one you did, I kind of didn’t expect your two names to be put together…
It’s a funny story, though, because their guys didn’t like the first remix at first. That final version was the first version, but then they asked me to do a dancier remix. Then the band actually got to their label and said they really wanted the first one. So it was a weird process for me, but I’m really happy they picked that first one.
You’ve talked about how Roosevelt was always meant as a live effort, performed as a band and not limited to just you and a laptop. Does this affect how you write a track? Do you start by yourself and then explore how it can be directed live? Or do you write with a live direction always in mind?
I think they’re both healthy for each other; so playing live is really good for going back to the studio and as is the other way round. But in terms of the arrangement I try not to think too much about the live show, because obviously with three people right now we are a bit limited. And some of the layers in the production don’t happen live, so it’s a bit stripped down.
Yeah, I was going to say, the songs on the album feel really clean and refined. Have you had any problems translating some of the songs?
We get different approaches to certain songs. With a track like “Heart”, we approached it to play it exactly like how it is on the record, but then with a track like “Night Moves”, which has quite a fast, dance tempo but still sounds quite chill on the record, we try to put more energy into it live. So it really depends on the track, but in general I like to bring in more energy live. Also with the guys in my band, what’s more important to me is that they understand a certain dynamic, so for example to not give a hundred percent of the power in the first chorus, because they know it must come in the end part.
Your music might be defined by its escapism, not only from its fun and dancey sonic appeal but also lyrically: “Night Moves” for example reassures us that ‘the night moves on and on’. Indeed, you’ve said before that the reason you make music is to escape. Do you ever write for introspection, or would you use a different avenue of music for this?
It’s only feels that way looking back at the album. I know what you mean by that approach to the lyrics and it almost feels like on the second record I maybe want to have a different approach to things. But I guess that the way I write lyrics and the way I write songs won’t ever change dramatically.
What else do you take inspiration from?
Visuals have always been really connected to my music. Sometimes when I see a film that doesn’t have much music to it, or has a really quiet score, it can inspire me to go and make music for it. And sometimes in the writing process I have a movie on a screen while I write. I watch a lot of Werner Herzog films because he’s visually a mastermind, but sometimes I also put on new blockbusters, it’s really diverse.
As I mentioned earlier, 2016 seems to have been the year for you. What are your aspirations for the coming year? Do you feel galvanized by the release of the debut to start on the next, or are you still in the honeymoon period of this record?
That’s a good question. I guess I will see when I finally get home. A break also means going back into the studio. I can’t just do nothing; maybe for a week or so but then I get too bored. Playing bigger venues now is so motivating for me, so to know that with the next record I could play to even more people really inspires me to go back into the studio. I think I will start on the new record early next year. Right now I just feel really motivated and inspired to make a start.
Roosevelt’s self-titled debut album is out now via Greco-Roman.