By Noah Adler & Ross Bretherton
Listening to Sober Rob’s music is almost as much of a roller coaster ride as squeezing through the tiny spiral staircase that descends to his bedroom studio. Since graduating from Needham High School in 2014, Rob Connelly has already caught the ears of several music blogs including Nest HQ and The Untz with his knack for producing atmospheric, emotional electronic music that is just as well suited for casual listening as it is for the club. He’s one member of the Pizza Cult, a SoundCloud-based collective of young producers that have quickly gained momentum in the past year. Sober Rob attended Berklee College of Music for a few semesters to continue his viola studies, but is currently taking some time off to focus on his career as a producer. We met Rob at his place in Allston to talk with him about his beginnings as a producer, creative process, and thoughts on drugs at electronic concerts.
How did you come up with your name?
The name stemmed from when I got in trouble the summer going into college. I was on probation, so my friends started calling me Sober Rob as a joke, because they weren’t used to seeing me sober. It just stuck.
What three words would you use to describe your sound to someone who’s never heard your music before?
ADHD, Emotional, Energetic
For how long have you been producing and how did you get started?
I’ve been producing legitimately since early high-school – like 4 or 5 years ago. I started using Garageband in middle school, just cause I had a middle school teacher who had a Roland SP-404 sampler. You just put sounds on it and it has a bunch of effects to play with; that’s what initially got me into this stuff. I learned Logic in High School, and now just use Ableton.
In those 4-5 years, do you feel your sound has evolved?
When I first started making electronic music it was basically because of Skrillex and all of those dudes. I was super into dubstep, and did that until Junior or Senior year of high school. Nobody listened to my music though, and it didn’t really work out. I got into Carmack the summer before going into college, and that really changed my music. Also, learning music theory formally at Berklee has allowed me to incorporate more melodic elements into my music.
And when did you know that you wanted to actually pursue music as a career? Was there some sort of moment of epiphany?
My mom told me about Berklee in middle school. I’ve played viola since third grade, and it was by choice – I mean she always pushed me to practice and stuff… I mean no kids are good at doing that stuff, making themselves practice and play. I was never good at school – music was the only thing I was good at. I never really knew for sure whether I’d do it or not as a career, but there was no other choice. I mean, I love doing music so it just kind of happened. I kinda knew all the way through high school that I was going to apply to Berklee and try to go there.
And how is it being an electronic musician at Berklee? Do you feel like it’s a welcoming place for producers?
The school all around is a great place. As far as being an electronic musician currently, it depends on what exactly you want to get out of the program. They’re really good at going in depth on the older technology and sound and how the sounds we use now have developed – I haven’t gone through the whole program so I can’t speak for all of it, but from what I’ve experienced so far there are a lot of producers there, and they’re really welcoming. It’s just a little outdated.
What environment do you like to produce in best? Are we in it?
Surprisingly, though I like to work down here, my favorite place to work is in the living room around people. There’s something about the energy from people doing stuff around me that motivates me to be creative. When I gotta bear down, I come down here to work.
Are your housemates all into what you do?
Everyone who lives here who goes to Berklee, except Manitee, who is another producer that has been living with us since the summer. He came up to do a show with me, and just stuck around since we were working on music together. We bounce ideas off each other all the time. It’s cool to always be talking with them about new techniques.
You have a collective, Pizza Cult. How did that come to be?
We all met through a little Skype community of producers that formed through soundcloud and it just came about that all of these people were making similar music. So I got added to some Skype chat and it basically stemmed from that. There’s this weird community stemming from all of the small skype chats branching from the bigger chat of about 150 producers, and that’s where we started talking. There are 5 other guys, and most of them are 15 or 16 years old. After we had all met each other randomly, I brought up the idea to Goldwater and Uth Fruit and we just made a skype chat and did it. We did think it out after that, but the roster was pretty random. We just wanted to do something cool.
The Skype chat explains a lot, it seems like everyone in your sub-genre just seems to know each other in some form.
Yeah it’s funny, the soundcloud community is a weird place.
Moving on, you’ve been opening for a lot of shows in the area. What show’s been your favorite so far?
I’d say my favorite show to date is definitely the New York Webster Hall show but that wasn’t here.
Who’d you play for?
I opened for G Jones for Basement Saturdays a few months ago. I wasn’t sure how many people were there exactly, there were probably more at the Louis the Child show – but the crowd for G Jones was really into the heavy stuff instead of the happier, more melodic Louis the Child stuff. I love both.
When you’re opening do you mostly try to play your own music, or mix for the crowd vibe?
There’s something that feels weird about playing your own music live, even though I know that’s what I probably should be playing – I mean, people mostly come to see at least some of my own music but I definitely go with the crowd. I don’t play my own music just to play my own music. I’ll only play it if I feel it’s necessary for the moment, and if it fits in. I’ve been DJiing for longer than I’ve produced, it’s just easier honestly than producing. It’s more of a hobby for me.
But you have to DJ to have a viable career as a producer right now
That’s the weird part. It’s more about what your credentials are to get on stage, not really how good you are as a DJ. Mr. Carmack, for example, is not really great at it.
At live electronic shows, what’s your opinion on the drug culture?
That’s an interesting one, because I used to be really absorbed by the culture in high school. I was curious, and I got sucked into it. Now I just don’t like it at all. I got in some trouble, and realized how stupid it was. Personally, I love the music – I’m not there just to do drugs – and I realized a lot of my friends were just going there to get fucked up and have a good time in a social setting, not necessarily to listen to music. I realized that I want to push my passion for music more than just going to shows for fun.
Sober Rob opens for Dirty Chocolate on Thursday February 25th and for StéLouse on Thursday March 10, both at the Middle East.