Dubbed the “thinking man’s Guetta,” Robert DeLong’s rehearsal space is strewn with techie paraphernalia. Beyond the instruments, there’s the weird stuff: a joystick and Wiimote rigged to laptops and vines of entangled cabling. It’s like being invited to the weird kid’s house who has started experimenting with homemade bongs — disconcerting but alluring. This is DeLong’s den, a paradise for tech junkies. If you’re wondering what he gets up to with his joysticks, watch and listen to the “Happy” track. Quirkiness aside, the self-confessed nerd behind the recent album "Just Movement” is awkwardly honest about his cultish following, geeky tendencies and flirtation with fame.
Talk me through your look — it’s pretty chilled out — what’s the thinking? And what’s with the face paint?
I've had this hairstyle for over a decade now (laughs). Well, the whole T-shirt thing and the face paint thing came from my girlfriend really, she painted this X sort of thing on my headphones and it went from that to T-shirts and face paints.
Anything more symbolic?
I wish there were.
Would I be right in saying that you keep your look pared-down to keep your set just about the music?
I suppose in a way. I like having a uniform, essentially. It’s pretty simple but also memorable.
Are you starting to get a cult following of fans in your tees with painted faces?
Yeah, it’s picking up. It’s cool, it’s crazy.
You’ve said before that you’re a nerd. Does that mean you enjoy your own company?
I did spend a lot of time alone, I guess. We lived kind of far from anybody in the outskirts of Seattle, so I spent most of the time running around the yard and playing with my instruments — I was a bit of a nerd.
You’ve also got a bit of a thing for toys – joysticks and Wiimotes. Were you into computer games as a kid?
I was but not super [into them] though. My parents would never let me have a console, which was great, to be honest.
You were more into the tech side of computers?
I used to write text adventure programs: “You come to a tree, do you want to go left or right.” They were terrible; they barely worked.
What did your friends think of that?
Friends, right? No, I did [have friends]. Most of my friends were kind of computer nerds, so it kind of worked out.
Nerds have notoriously terrible dating experiences. Have you got any stories?
My favorite was eight or nine years ago. I took this girl on a date and at the end of the night there’s that moment where you’re wondering, what do I do? Do you hug them, do you give them a kiss, or is it going to go on? So I saluted her and walked away (laughs hysterically).
Bizarre! Were you better with books – science, for instance?
Science was always my favorite subject, and then obviously music. I loved school. I still spend a lot of time watching TED talks and reading tech and science articles – I’m into that stuff.
Your vocals in “Global Concepts” mention “substances, I abused.” What did you get up to?
(Laughs) Um, yeah.
Were you a bit of a stoner?
Still a stoner but shush. I live in Los Angeles so everything is OK.
MTV has labeled you one of their “Artists To Watch.” Any fans taken the watching part to a creepy level?
Yeah, I’ve had the strange experience here and there after a show with the weird person following me around.
Have they tried to steal any of your stuff or lunged?
Oh, the only thing that people steal are my drumsticks but I do throw them at the end at the cymbal and it’ll bounce off and hit somebody in the face.
And has that MTV title added any pressure?
I think it’s great. You have to go through MTV to get to the masses, so I think it’s cool that they acknowledge that I exist.
Are you happy to embrace the masses?
You know, I’ll take what I can get, I guess.
Is that the same with girls?
No, no, I’ve had a girlfriend for the last four years.
You’ve been described as both “the anti-Guetta” and the “thinking man’s Guetta.” Your sound is more intellectual, but do you want a slice of his fame?
I wouldn’t say that I’m the anti-Guetta. Money’s important to me in the sense that I can buy more gear. Fame is the same thing. If I get famous that means I’m playing to bigger audiences and more people are hearing my music, and I love that.