Ryan DeRobertis is a true testament of how great songs placed in the proper ears can get you far. Leaving all pretension behind and creating a gimmick-free dance party has been a successful path for DeRobertis. I’ve watched his steady ascent from tracks on bandcamp and soundcloud to becoming one of the nations most exciting new producer/performers. In trying to get a sense of DeRobertis' impressive trajectory, I sat down with the relatable and nerdy 22-year old and talked about his music’s context, the name change, the possibility of a Hit Vibes 2 and more.
Side note: As we walked from back stage to Paper Tiger’s side stage/temp green room, I asked how El Paso went. After a brief description of the show, he asked for this to be off the record, but later that night, spilled the beans on stage: the band got pulled over, searched and probably harassed by border patrol outside of El Paso. It was a total bummer moment- luckily they went on their way and made it to SA in one piece.
Sobre Sound: Can you tell me about how things were around the time of Hit Vibes and Gin City being released:
Ryan DeRobertis: “I was finishing up my last semester at Boston College, I had been doing Saint Pepsi releases pretty much about once a month and neglected my academics to do this [music career] because had been getting over a 1000 views on a song, which was more than I was use to, so I “wrote” [pause] - made this song called “Better” the day of, well not the day of the bombing, but a couple of days after the Boston Marathon bombing and we were on lock down [at BC] because they found that kid about walking distance from the school and they wouldn’t let any one out and I stayed inside a made this song that turned out to be better than anything I had done before, so I kept trying to create stuff that would fit with it, so I made what’s track 3 of the album and built the rest around that. “
“After I dropped out, I “attended” a digital audio production school that I never really went to, I was majoring in poli-sci and then switched to music as sort of this hail mary move which turned out to be the worst decision. I was miserable and it drained the rest of the energy I had out of me and I stopped going to class." Its easy to look back and laugh at those days knowing what ended up happening, but “it was a tough time, even up to when Gin City came out."
When "I hooked up with a manager, he started pushing stuff like remixes I was doing, which is how Fader" and others got ahold of my music. "There was buzz generated before that, like being named one of Stereogum’s “Bands of The Week”, but once I got hooked up with Constantine, he was going for me as far as PR was concerned and then my style sort of changed because I wasn’t messing with sampling so much partly because I’m a keyboardist and guitarist first and foremost."
I’m sure you get asked about the Saint Pepsi thing all the time, but did PepsiCo issue a cease and desist immediately? It makes me think of the story about Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
"We never got the full story from them because we knew it wasn’t a conversation that needed to be prolonged. As far as the time line went, I put out "Fiona Coyne" and "Fall Harder" out as Saint Pepsi and things were fine, Todd, the owner of Carpark Records, a very open minded dude, and I had the idea of doing a shirt with a disco ball that had the Pepsi colors – we threw those on the internet, they sold out real quick and then "Fiona Coyne" started getting played in like Old Navy and H&M and places like that, and I definitely wasn’t expecting that to happen, so we went 2 months without any conflict.
"The first day of CMJ, I was at a meeting with Carpark and at the meeting my manager got an email from the Creative Advisor of Pepsi who like “We know you manage Saint Pepsi, we’d like to get on a call.” And I was like “OH NO” – Chris asked “what kind of call”, she said, “it’s a friendly call.” so the idealist in me was saying “maybe they want to do some cross marketing, maybe they want to use one of my songs in a commercial or something.” The team was like: “Fuck no. They’re trying to get you down.” My manager was throwing the analogy of David vs Goliath directly to them, which I thought was a little over dramatic. They ultimately said it was to “protect their brand.""
Has the name change had an overall effect?
"Yeah [he looks away] “It’s definitely been more negative than positive because a lot of people thought, and still think, I created a new project to get away from what I was doing like with Hit Vibes/Gin City era and now that I sing and stuff... I was going to put Prom King out as Saint Pepsi had we not had to change the name. Musically, it seemed the like the next step- taking what I liked about Hit Vibes and Gin City, putting them together into a record that made sense.
"I still feel like I’m picking up a lot of the audience that doesn’t really understand the full story and later this year [within 60 days???] kinda hoping to have a Hit Vibes 2 mixtape out, with more stuff that people expect to say “Look, I’m going to do what I ever I want.”
Since Prom King sounds different from your previous material, was the process of creating it different?
“It was actually more similar than you’d think, I have a friend named Liz in North Carolina who helps me" mix things. There’s this program called Tiny Chat and with Hit Vibes and Gin City, we would go into a Tiny Chat room, "I would broadcast my audio and she would tell me what she thought, like change this synth patch and make a little more trebley, fade out here instead of here. She’s like my Quincy Jones of the project."
How did you hook up with the members of your live band?
"Scott and I met doing a production of Guys and Dolls Jr. in Sagmore Middle School, I was in 6th he was in 8th, we’ve stayed friends ever since and he was in the first band that I ever played in. I met Decklin as a freshmen in college, he hit me up on Facebook because we liked a bunch of the same music and became friends. When I started working with my manager Chris, he introduced me to Jessie our drummer, just as a friend, it was before any of this started happening. But around the time "Fiona" came out, I signed with this booking agency, AM Only, and my booking agent, Max, thought there was something there with those 2 tracks and started harassing talent buyers and festival bookers and telling them “This guy, we’re going to be doing his record next year and he’s going to have a live band and you should check him out!” and I was surprised like, “I’m going to have a band, huh?!?” It was sorta my idea because I told him I could do it and then within a month we had Lollapalooza booked, Firefly, Electric Forest", SXSW.
How have you approached adapting the songs to a full band live performance?
"The more that we’ve played these songs, the more its become a little more free form, but when we started we went front to back. I have a lot of auxiliary coming out of the interface but I play guitar and keys on songs, Scott plays bass and electric bass, Decklin’s got an array of pedals and Jessie uses an electric drum sampler."
There are many groups/producers out there that make electronic music but then you go see them live and it’s a rock band. Is that something you want to avoid, or if it comes across as rock music then so be it? I noticed the kick drum during sound check was kinda subby and not so tic like coming across as more beat oriented as opposed to analogue drum.
"My favorite band is called Prefab Sprout, they’re this sophisti-pop 80's group, and their lead singer, Paddy McAloon, who use to say: “if you ever saw us live, you wouldn’t know we were a rock band first and foremost” and I don’t necessarily abide to that as far was what we do. Every song on the record, I hear a certain way live. So “Fall Harder” rocks a little more when we play it live, we do “Ridiculous” like a 4-on-the-floor disco." And I noticed not traveling with a sound guy can have an effect to. "But I feel like keeping the energy and keeping the crowd happy is what’s most important."
so you mentioned a Hit Vibes 2?
"Yeah, here I’ll show you" [he takes out his laptop] "I started this new project that I haven’t really been hyping. As you know, I got the name Skylar Spence from a song off Hit Vibes, and likewise, I started this new project about a month ago called Cash Wednesday:
Following the interview DeRobertis took the stage and introduced the full band as Skylar Spence and then played Saint Pepsi songs.