If every act of creation is first an act of destruction, then Marius Lauber has been doing a lot of breaking. Lauber, way better known as Roosevelt, is making music at a time when creativity and endlessly shifting ideas of originality have become brand statements as much as they are artistic ideals. Conventional understandings of ingenuity are changing in music, and remixes are more akin to reimaginings and less about repetition than they are about pulling apart the building blocks of a song and stitching them back together with a distinct sound. “That’s the nicest compliment,” Lauber says, “that people recognize my sound. For that matter, I think it was really important to establish what that is.”
Roosevelt entered the scene in early 2013 with inventive, jungle-inflected remixes that favored vibrant grooves and emotive melodies. These remixes were as much new songs as they were remixes, filtered through a consistent and catchy lens that spotlighted Lauber’s abilities both behind and in front of the laptop. “You can be more detached from the music,” Lauber says of his DJ work. “You didn’t write the original, you didn’t sing on it, so you aren’t as caught up in the details.” That creative freedom helped Lauber grow as a musician, leading to his début EP Elliot in 2013, featuring original songs.
“People heard the remixes and then realized there was a certain ‘Roosevelt’ sound,” Lauber says. Elliot was a turning point for him. Roosevelt had always had a sound, but it now had a voice as well. Lauber had contributed washed-out vocals on his earlier remixes but he was now writing and singing (and playing multiple instruments) on album-length work. Elliot fed into the release of his first full-length album, Roosevelt, last year.
A pop album at heart, the self-titled LP was a critical and popular success. Tracks rarely broke the four-minute mark, with recognizable structures matched up against nuanced, unexpected, and playful instrumentation. “Writing my own material, I can get really stuck on a chord or something,” Lauber admits. “To break out, sometimes I’ll get a new instrument or keyboard and find new things. I normally buy a ton of used equipment on eBay and just try them out and see how I can use new sounds.”
Currently, Lauber is hard at work on Roosevelt’s sophomore album—in the middle of touring, DJing, and a small band shake-up. “Right now it’s kind of everything all at the same time,” Lauber says, but he’s been energized by reexamining what he can achieve with an open aural canvas. “The first album was more or less a collection of the stuff I’d done from before,” Lauber says, “but sometimes I really enjoy having no deadline and being completely free with how I manage my time. When you’re in the studio for hours you can think a little bit more about the stuff you were doing the day before. Right now I kind of enjoy that there is no strict deadline of the album so I can explore where it will lead me.”
That exploration has led to more atmospheric and open ideas about the Roosevelt sound. “The thing I enjoy right now is the concept of creating a record,” Lauber says. “I’m going in a more experimental direction. I know I want a certain amount of tracks on the album that have a typical song structure, but I also know I want an ambience and soundtrack to it. It’s a bit more loose and it’s giving the album a different feel. I already feel way more free in a way and way more willing to try out new stuff.”
Through all of its music, Roosevelt has tried to find emotion in the middle of the dance floor. Lauber found his voice and writing style as an additional layer to his work. Tracks convey feeling more than they narrate. “I don’t really want to tell stories with my lyrics,” Lauber says. “I use lyrics in kind of the same way a keyboard player might use a sound. With some words you can color a track in such a specific way.”
In the interim, Roosevelt has released a series of new remixed songs and three EPs, Remixed 1, Remixed 2, and Midnight Versions. Lauber’s mind is as active as his discography, and his sound is already evolving, allowing the new tracks more room to breathe and build. That future sound is captured in the tension between limitations and progress. “My approach has been to be the most futuristic band in the world with a strict limitations,” Lauber, who has a love for and collection of instruments from the Seventies and Eighties, says. “It’s something I thought about when I was doing the video for ‘Montreal’—how can we limit ourselves with the equipment, but also use it and do the most futuristic thing we can think of?”
While DJ sets continue to figure into Lauber’s life, Roosevelt’s live show are full-band affairs, evolving Roosevelt’s sound in organic ways. If Lauber’s early work was focused on establishing a sonic identity, this next phase is about pushing out past the signposts. “The first record I wanted to have a proper statement around what Roosevelt is about,” Lauber says. “Right now I feel like I have the freedom to try things.”
Roosevelt is out now.
Styling by Javon Drake. Grooming by Nate Rosenkranz at Honey Artists.