Rooney mines the past

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Special to the Journal-World

Los Angeles band Rooney draws its sound inspirations from the English bands of the '60s and '70s.

Mop-top haircuts.

Velvet sport coats.

Frye boots and faded denim.

Incredible melodies and exuberant harmonies.

Could it be The Zombies with a sense of style?

Nah. It's Rooney, a power-pop quintet from Southern California that borrows from the British invasion.

"We're all huge fans of those English bands from the late '60s and early '70s, but I don't feel retro," said Louie Stephens, the band's keyboard player. "I don't feel like we're from another place in time."

Rooney is a 4-year-old band from the west side of Los Angeles. The band released a self-titled debut on Geffen Records in May, and the music press has been going ga-ga ever since.

"Crowning anthems that cross The Beach Boys and Weezer," said Rolling Stone.

"Compares to Brit-pop deities Beatles and Kinks," opined People magazine.

It's all very flattering, but Stephens regards the reviews with wariness.

"I think a lot of people look at the press photo and make their decision (about how we sound)," he said.

One thing is certain: The Rooney sound is refreshingly bright and alluring when compared to that of many radio rock bands. Songs such as "Stay Away," "If It Were Up to Me" and the first single, "Blueside," are hummable slices of giddy rock 'n' roll that recall great power-pop bands through the ages, from The Dave Clark Five to The Plimsouls.

Past Event

Rooney / Palo Alta / The Sounds

  • Monday, September 15, 2003, 10 p.m.
  • Bottleneck, 737 New Hampshire, Lawrence
  • 18+

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"I think we just sort of got lucky," Stephens said last week via cell phone from the Long Beach, Calif., airport where Rooney was departing for New York to appear on "The Late Show with David Letterman." "Our parents turned us on to cool stuff, and our siblings turned us on to more cool stuff. We just took it from there."

At 19, Stephens is the youngest member of Rooney. Drummer Ned Brower, a Seattle native, is the oldest at 24.

Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Robert Carmine is the band's chief songwriter. He co-starred in the movie "The Princess Bride," and his older brother is actor/drummer Jason Schwartzman, who appeared in "Rushmore" and plays with the band Phantom Planet.

Lead guitarist Taylor Locke and bassist Matthew Winter complete the Rooney lineup. They're all from the Santa Monica area.

Carmine and Locke's early jam sessions gave rise to Rooney. For a while the band had three guitarists, but one quit and Stephens stepped in to play keyboards.

"It felt right automatically," Stephens said. "We started playing around L.A. as often as we could, flyered every show and did our best to market the band. We were selling out shows in L.A. long before we had a record deal."

Rooney developed its large following thanks to energetic gigs and lots of Internet mp3 sharing. The buzz attracted Geffen Records, and the band landed on the label and on this summer's Lollapalooza tour.

"We progressed pretty quickly, but I think we're getting a lot better," Stephens said.

"We take pride in the fact that we can make the songs sound like the record at our live shows. But we have a little more raw power live that we hope to communicate on our next record."

Rooney's music is groovy, but so are those hipster fashions they sport onstage. How does a wannabe rocker find such cool gear?

"You just look everywhere," Stephens said. "We shop at a lot of vintage stores and regular stores, too.

"The Rolling Stones, Beatles and T Rex, those bands had cool songs and a look that stays in your head. It's a look that's been missing too long in rock 'n' roll."

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