Conjure up the image of a one-man band and you'll probably imagine a bearded dude with drums on his back, a harmonica on a harness and a guitar carefully slung around his shoulder so it doesn't interfere with his belt-mounted mini-amp.
Unless you've seen Robert DeLong.
The singer/songwriter's sound arsenal includes a full drum set, guitar, MIDI interfaces, keyboards, laptops and hacked video-game controllers. He plays them all during his one-person shows. Tapped as a "2013 Artist To Watch" by MTV, Billboard and VIBE, DeLong has a busy spring on deck: He's playing the Ultra Music Festival, Coachella, Governors Ball, South By Southwest (SXSW) and Popscene SF -- not to mention X Games Tignes in France this Thursday, Mar. 21, at The Melting Pot in Val Claret. (Not above booking the smaller gigs, DeLong's even playing a show in the tiny ski town of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., on Mar. 30.)
DeLong is supporting his debut album, "Just Movement," which dropped last month via renowned indie label Glassnote. (The label's current roster includes Phoenix, Mumford & Sons, Childish Gambino and The Temper Trap.) The result is an electronic dance record with melodies reminiscent of The Postal Service and even a touch of Vampire Weekend.
XGames.com caught up with the Angeleno (by way of Seattle) a few days before he headed to SXSW and chatted about geekdom, running and a potential dance-off between his fans and Gaga's Little Monsters.
XGames.com: You played "Late Night With David Letterman" the day before Valentine's Day. What was that like?
Robert DeLong: It was super nerve-wracking. Probably the most pressure I've had to play one song, but it was fun.
Tell us about that: How do you approach different shows, like Letterman vs. Coachella?
It's obviously a lot different environment [when you play a show like "David Letterman"]. The audience isn't there to see you, so [playing "Letterman" is] more of a showcase, showing off things you can do instead of getting people pumped up.
You were named as a "2013 Artist To Watch" by MTV. What was that like?
That was pretty exciting. I grew up watching MTV, so it's an honor in that sense. There's no pressure with [it] -- just an awesome thing to have happen.
You're a multi-instrumentalist; tell us what your live shows look like.
The live show is just me on stage. I run around and make loops -- I have two computers, a keyboard, drum pads, game controllers (Wii remote, joystick) and timbales, an array of percussion and a drum set. So at different parts of different songs, I move to do different instruments -- run around and make loops and sing along and all sorts of stuff. It's kind of a crazy one-man show.
Some EDM musicians are accused of just pushing play, if you will. Are you making a lot of music on the fly?
It's a combination of a bunch of things. Some songs, I build up every element during the song. Some songs, I'm triggering different parts of the song to come in after I build a loop. Some songs have a track running the whole time, but I'm playing something with it. So it depends on the tunes. Anytime you see me doing something on stage, it's something that's actually happening.
How much improvisation happens during your live shows?
It depends on the tune. I have a few songs that are completely different each time. As I build loops, I decide how I want that to be. Anytime I get on the drum kit, I have some solo moments. Those are totally improvisational. And then, obviously, I have [as] much leeway with vocal[s] as I want, but they stay mainly the same. The show is different every time.
Are there other performers who have informed your one-man show?
I don't know anyone doing anything that's super similar. I've seen different one-man electronic-music artists and they all have their own different way to approach it. My method is unique to me, I think. But I'm doing things people have done before: looping and singing and playing drums. With the game controllers? Maybe not so much. I definitely feed off other performers.
You use Wii-motes, joysticks and game controllers; how did that happen?
The whole game-controller thing, I just had them lying around. I saw on the Internet that people were experimenting with them and making musical instruments out of them. So I started messing around with them, and a couple of years later when I was starting to perform this stuff, I'd throw one in and see what I could do with it during a set. People responded positively to it and that's where it all came from.
I have a Wii remote I can shake around and it does stuff. I have a flight-simulator joystick and a game pad, too. I also have something called the Midi Fighter, which is an arcade controller.
What's your gaming background? Are you a gamer?
Not at all. I don't play any video games. I was never allowed to have a video-game system growing up. By the time I was in college and could have one, I was too busy playing music.
Why weren't you allowed to have a video-game system?
My parents weren't into it. But they allowed me to have a computer, so I spent my hours making music on a computer. I feel like that was a good move on their part.
I'm definitely a nerd. I spend a lot of time on a computer.Robert DeLong
What was your first computer?
It was an old AMD 286 and it was slow.
How do you feel about playing South By Southwest?
Awesome. It's going to be a busy week; I have 12 shows in seven days. I have a few people going down with me to help with sound and setting up, so we'll be able to get in and out real fast. I['m] just pumped up because I played two South By shows last year, but this year I'm playing a bunch of cool parties and there's so much cool stuff going on in Austin.
My first shows are during [the] interactive [part of the conference]. So at least I'll be able to hang with other nerds and talk about tech stuff.
Do you define yourself as a nerd?
Sure. I'm definitely a nerd. I spend a lot of time on a computer. A nerd in the sense that every musician is a nerd; we spend a lot of time alone in a room.
Do you train to prepare yourself for your frenetic shows?
Definitely. When I'm home, I run every day, probably five [to] seven miles. When I'm on the road, I try to run whenever possible. If I'm playing shows, it's a workout. I find you have to do some aerobic [activity].
Who is The Tribe Of The Orphans?
The Tribe Of The Orphans is a name a group of my friends gave themselves when they went to electronic events and paint[ed] their faces up and stuff. As I started playing shows, they would do the same at my shows. And then it caught on and people wanted their faces painted when they were at shows, so my girlfriend started doing that when I played.
It's a group of fans who always come out and [are] all pumped up and have their faces painted and let loose. It's kind of a cool thing. It makes it easy for anyone [new] to the show to get introduced, since people are evangelizing for it.
If there was a dance battle between The Tribe Of The Orphans and Lady Gaga's Little Monsters, who would win?
Oh, I don't know. I'll say The Tribe Of The Orphans.
How do you discover music: websites, friends, going to shows?
Nowadays I discover music by going to shows or [through] friends who tell me about it -- other musicians and stuff. Generally it's always been friends who keep up with music and inform me. I've always been bad with keeping up with new music on my own.
I've always listened to everything. Obviously, there's a lot of things I hate. I listen to every genre and there's usually something to like about everything. I feel like I take as much as I can from any song or performer and put it into my music.
What do you do when you're not playing music?
Like I said, I go running a lot. I bowl. We go bowling. But honestly I don't have much time to do other things.
Do you listen to music when you run?
I don't listen to music when I run. It's the only time I turn it off.
Tell me about that.
It's my time to spend time in my own head. Usually I run to the top of a hill and have a nice lookout. It's time to not think about anything. Usually when I come back from a run, I'll have a good idea and want to get right back into working on music. [Running] is a nice reprieve.