Robert DeLong calls at precisely 6 pm, not one minute later, for our scheduled interview. He’s a few days away from the start of his headlining tour with morgxn, and his speech is frenetic, yet calculated, as he talks about the new material he’s putting together for the road. Just a few months ago, he released the EP See You In The Future; he’ll be playing several songs from the EP as well as sharing “some new surprises and tricks up my sleeve.”

Self-described on his Facebook page as “Electronic Rock and Roll,” Robert DeLong – and his music – exists in two worlds simultaneously: Spotify’s artist radio will include “a weird mix of everything from Sir Sly to Big Gigantic.” In concert, he’s looping vocals and playing with a laser harp, all the while sharply dressed in a suit and tie. With “high-fives and tears and lasers and all that stuff,” his performances are interactive and exciting and best experienced in person and in the moment.

Later this year, he plans to release new music (details are yet to be determined), as well as continue to tour through the spring into festival season in the summer. Below, DeLong discusses the origins of the laser harp, creating a magnetic live performance, and See You In The Future.

SUBSTREAM: I saw you open for AJR, and you used the laser harp at that show. How did you bring the laser harp to your performance?

Robert DeLong: It’s something that I’ve known about for years. Jean Michel Jarre was one of the most notable users of the laser harp, but it’s been around for years – it’s been around since the late 70s or something, or at least the concept of it. I’d seen live videos of him playing with it, and I was like, “That’s amazing, I want one.” [I] ended up contacting a guy in Italy that makes them and had him custom make one for me, and make sure it was road-ready and got it shipped here – and then spent about a month figuring out how to make it work. [Laughs.]

SUBSTREAM: That is so fascinating to me that it’s been around that long, since the 70s, because I see something like that and – even in 2019 I see lasers and I’m like, “oh, future, outer space.”

RD: Conceptually, it’s not a very difficult thing. You have lasers, and if you break the laser, then it has an optical receiver that says “oh, this laser’s broken” that’s sending a MIDI note, and then it has vertical control as well which sends MIDI information, and then I changed out all the stuff in my computers, cuz I’m a nerd. [Laughs.]

SUBSTREAM: Outside of music, are you pretty nerdy and tech-oriented, or is that something that only comes out in your music?

RD: No, I’m certainly nerdy and tech-oriented in a lot of ways. I’ve always been a computer nerd from the beginning, and that’s kind of how I arrived at what I do now…. As a kid, I was into 3D graphic design and programming – and eventually when I started playing in bad punk bands in junior high, I was like, “well how do we record this?”. Then I just learned music production software, and that was the beginning of it for me. Once I’d dived into that world, I was like, “oh, this is what I want to do.” And here we are.

SUBSTREAM: You had played in bands for a while before starting this project. Is there any single moment you can point to as, “ah, this is when it clicked, this is what I have to do now”?

RD: Yeah, I don’t know – it was things building on other things over time…. I was playing in a bunch of bands – some of which were better than others – and I was a drummer pretty much exclusively, maybe singing some background vocals here and there. I’ve been writing a lot of songs over the years, and at some point [I] was like, “I’ve got a decent amount of material, I should figure out how to play it live” – and I really was just trying to avoid being in another band, because bands are a pain.

SUBSTREAM: Why are bands a pain?

RD: You know, it’s fun, but there’s a lot of moving parts, and it’s hard to keep your friends sober for rehearsal [Laughs.]. I figured out something on my own, and… really the moment that it started to take off was 2011, a couple of my close friends threw me a warehouse party where we invited people out, and we ended up packing the thing out. The vibe was strong, and that was kind of the – “alright, this seems viable – maybe I can make a career out of this” – so here we are.

SUBSTREAM: Here we are. Eight years later.

RD: I know.

SUBSTREAM: When you’re writing music, how much of the live show is on your mind?

RD: I almost don’t think about the live show at all when I’m writing.


RD: And then I try to deconstruct the songs in post – and they end up changing, obviously, in some ways – some of them end up changing drastically, and some of them end up being almost verbatim like the recording. It really just depends on what I want to do with the song – what elements seem important to perform, if I want to make it a completely live looping thing. There’s some songs where it’s basically me singing, and then a drummer playing along to the track – [it] depends on lyrical content, or sonic things going on in the song that I want to visually represent; it’s different every time.

SUBSTREAM: Will the way you interpret a certain song change from tour to tour?

RD: Some of them, yeah! Some of them have been drastically reimagined over time – and that was kind of how I arrived at my first record [Just Movement]. I toured that material for a while before I ever even released that record and [that] changed it enough that the recordings represented that era of me performing those songs. But it really just depends. Some songs are almost completely different every tour, and other songs – they sound like Robert DeLong playing those songs.

SUBSTREAM: When I saw you with AJR you had a drummer and a bass player on stage with you; are they going to be performing with you on this upcoming tour?

RD: For the most part, just the drummer – the bass player had some other stuff going on. So I’ll have the drummer with me for all the shows. Unfortunately, the bass player will not be joining us for the Philly show, but it’ll still be a party, don’t worry.

SUBSTREAM: Looking at old performances, you have not always had anyone else with you on stage – at what point did you decide, “you know what, I’m going to bring someone else up here with me”?

RD: For the most part I have always been a complete solo act. Honestly, I’ve been touring for a couple years with my drum tech, who is also a good drummer, and I was like, “hey, why don’t you jump in on a tune.” [I] was like, “oh, that’s tight – why don’t you jump in on another tune” and it just expanded to “well, you’re playing half the set anyway – why don’t you just stick around?”. For me, it’s a lot of fun – it’s been a welcome change for me, because having other people on stage, just being able to feed off their energy and to add some more live elements to the electronic grooves and stuff like that. It’s fun; it’s a new aspect of my show…. You know – I got lonely, really.

SUBSTREAM: I like what you said there about just wanting energy to feed off of. A lot of people that are not familiar with electronic music – a lot of people in to “guitar” music – will say, “oh anything electronic, that’s not human – what, they just press play.” But what you do when you get up on stage, you’re looping vocals, you’re playing a million different instruments, you have a laser harp; there’s a very live and in-the-moment element to what you do.

RD: Totally, I mean really it’s coming from the point of being a percussionist, being a drummer; I always enjoyed the aspect of going to a show and really seeing people interact with the sounds that they’re making in a very direct way – you watch a drummer, that’s the most direct thing of all. You watch somebody hit a drum and then it makes a sound. And so I took that mentality back to electronic performance, honestly because I liked so much electronic music and was so bored with so much electronic performance – or non-performance, really. I love a good DJ and dancing all night to a cool, curated playlist, or something, but I really love watching somebody perform something in an innovative or exciting way.

SUBSTREAM: On your Facebook, you used the words “Electronic Rock and Roll” to describe your music. As we’ve been saying, you take a lot of electronic stuff, obviously, but you come from a background of playing in bands. When it comes to your fans, do they tend to be people who come from the world of rock music, or are they people who are into electronic and discover you that way?

RD: I think it’s honestly pretty evenly split, and I think that’s a testament to the sort of outlets that I have for performance. I do a lot of stuff with alternative radio, so that’s more of the rock crowd that shows up to that stuff and I get a lot of fans from that; then the other side of that is I do a lot of festivals and stuff where… in recent years, it’s been heavily leaning towards the more electronic side of things. I think, in the end, the modern era, especially with younger people, they don’t know the difference – it’s all the same to them. Electronic music, rock music, indie music, rap – it’s all mixed together, and everyone can like everything now, which I think is amazing – I grew up in an era where it was like, “Well, you only like emo” or “you only like jazz.”

SUBSTREAM: Your last release before See You In The Future was the album In The Cards; how do you feel the EP was different from the album? Did you try to make any conscious choices thematically or musically in what you were creating?

RD: Absolutely…. It was a progression in some way. The EP, specifically, I call it – I don’t know – hyper-alternative-future-pop, or something. [Laughs.] It’s kind of an extrapolation on what I’ve always done, but in some ways, more pop than anything I’ve ever released, and in other ways, probably more hi-fi from a sonic standpoint and being more direct and in-your-face, in some ways. And then I guess thematically, the EP, lyrically… I was coming from a point, writing these songs, with vague anxieties about the future and that was sort of the… See You In The Future title, [which] obviously manifests itself in different ways, lyrically, in the four songs.

SUBSTREAM: On the EP, you have the collaboration with k.flay, “Favorite Color Is Blue” – how did it come about to work with her?

RD: We had met each other years ago at a festival in San Francisco, and kind of loosely kept in touch – and then ended up moving into the same neighborhood about two years ago, Silver Lake, out in Los Angeles…. We went and got coffee and ended up at the same bar a few times, and then after hanging out one saucy night, we were like, “Hey, let’s write music” – and then that was really it. We got together a few days later, and in four hours, we finished that song. It was awesome – it was very natural. We’re both good at very different things; I’m more of a producer, and I spend a lot of time on everything, I work a little bit slower – and she’s very off-the-cuff, so quick – which is what makes her amazing. She’s such an intuitive songwriter, and I tend to be very calculated in a lot of ways, and I think it worked. It was a good rapport, for sure.

SUBSTREAM: Do you see yourself doing any collaborations – either working with her again or with other outside people – in the future?

RD: Yeah, yeah – I’m definitely actively working on some stuff right now, and hopefully some of that stuff will be coming out soon. A couple collaborations in there – I love the collaborative process, other artists that are out there touring. It’s just so easy to understand each other because your lives are so similar and so I think when it’s good, and you guys click creatively, it’s cooler than something that either of you could ever make on your own, on some level.

Robert DeLong is on tour now with support from morgxn; visit for a full list of dates.